Is it legit?

Reading this month’s crop of audio magazines I get immersed in the articles and ads.  I suppose most of us do as well.  I find that when I run across an ad or an article on a new piece of high-end gear, the first question that always comes to mind “is this legit?”

I suppose what I am asking is if it qualifies as true high-end audio?  And, what exactly does “true high-end audio” mean?  I guess one could say a $10 Wal Mart surge protected strip is not a high-end power conditioner.  But then there’s a high-end company selling the very same extension strip with a fancy power cable for a lot of money.  Legit?  I guess we could say a mass market table radio isn’t high-end, but then there’s high-end table radio’s out there as well.  Legit?

What makes some products high-end while others aren’t?  Is it the way they perform or sound?  Or is it the perceived image they project?  What are the rules for classification as high-end?

Interesting questions and ones we need to ponder.

BTW, I mentioned yesterday that we’d get a PWD firmware update page together and that’s now finished and available here.

The update’s free.  Have fun.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Becomming Japanese

“I can eat anything you can eat” I boasted to my Japanese distributor, in yesterday’s post, thus laying down the challenge that found me in one of Tokyo’s best known sushi bars.

It was a local’s only affair with no pretensions to fancy or expensive.  This tiny restaurant was all about the food and the owner had closed the place for the night: feeding only me, my distributor and a few dealers who were there primarily to watch this loud mouthed American eat a healthy portion of crow.

The meal began simply enough with all six of us lined up at the sushi bar enjoying a few beers, and lots of friendly “Kanpais!” which is the Japanese equivalent of “cheers”.  The chef was working hard at bringing out the first appetizers and they certainly looked innocent enough.  My expectations were that we’d get little sushi plates with our first courses on them, but instead I was surprised to find that the food was placed directly onto the shiny black counter in front of me at the bar.  No plates at all.  No chopsticks either.  This reminded me of the first time I went to a fancy dinner and found multiple copies of forks and spoons in front of me.  Which implement does one use to start with?  I politely waited to see what the others would do.  They politely waited to see what I would do.  It was a standoff.

“How do you eat this?”  Not a good start for someone trying to impress my hosts of just how Japanese I was.

“Just use your fingers.”  He demonstrated by picking up the sushi, gently dipping the smallest portion into his soy sauce and eating it.  I later learned that the word Sushi actually means “finger food” but that night it was all new to me. Cool!  This would be fun.  If I ate with my fingers as a kid my father would pop me on the head with a spoon.  Here it was the way to do it.  I picked up my piece of sushi and proceeded to drown it in my soy sauce and eat it.  I saw every eye on me and they weren’t giving approving looks.

“You cannot enjoy the fish if you use so much sauce.”  Approving nods went around the bar as they gently dipped just the smallest edge of the fish and rice morsel in the soy sauce.  I had also noticed that unlike me, only the tiniest bit of the green Japanese hot mustard called wasabi was used.  Mine was a grey mass floating in a pool of soy sauce and I cringed at my un-Japaneseness.  I had a lot to learn.

The evening went on and the food got increasingly “challenging” as the chef would prepare something, place it on the counter in front of us and watch carefully as each consumed their share.  It was nearly two hours into the meal and we had just finished eating live clam.  My hosts delighted in watching my face as the chef took a live clam, still wiggling every time he whacked it, and quickly divided it up amongst the six of us.  This thing was still moving!  ”Chew it lightly and then release it so you can feel it move in your mouth.  Very fresh.”  I smiled and said I would but I didn’t.  I pretended to follow the suggested protocol but instead bit down as hard as I could to end it for the little fellow quickly.

Next came plates and chopsticks and on those plates was a deep fried shrimp head complete with antenna, eye balls, what looked like a mouth and something fairly disgusting coming out of the severed part of the head.  ”Mmmmmm” I said as I crunched the little fellows.  It is good to make such noises to show you enjoy your food.  Nothing challenging here was the message.  Actually, between the many beers and the great chef’s abilities, I was actually able to enjoy these shrimp heads, much to my surprise.  Down they went and I was ready for more.

My distributor had a long conversation with the chef and turned to me with great disappointment.  Apparently the Puffer fish they were expecting did not arrive and we wouldn’t be eating it that evening.  I later learned that this is an extremely poisonous fish and it takes great skill of the chef to serve only the portions of the fish that don’t kill you.  One wrong move and you’re toast.  I suppose it’s not good form to kill your customers either, they probably don’t pay the restaurant tab when you do.  None the less, we wouldn’t be challenged that evening with the deadly fish.  Instead they opted for spine.  Yes, the spine of a fish.

The chef had a giant creature laying on his table that he expertly extracted the entire spine out of and handed it over to the woman assistant that watched his every move.  The two of them never spoke to each other: the one seemingly reading the other’s mind and reacted perfectly, instantly, every time.  She carried off the precious spine and a few minutes later it was returned to us on small plates, apparently being deep fried again.  All eyes were on me to see if I would eat it.  Heck, I’d come this far.  I gingerly crunched the spine, chewed it up and swallowed.  Approving looks all around the guests at the table.  I passed.

Coming up on midnight I had eaten everything placed in front of me.  I am not sure I had ever eaten that much food and clearly everyone was a bit uncomfortable with all the beer and food but we were soldiering on.  My host said “You have done well Paul-San.  Better than any American hi fi manufacturer yet.  You are almost Japanese.  We have one more challenge for you.”  Ok, they’d thrown their best curve balls and I got through them all.  It was nearly over.  What could possibly be more challenging than what I’ve had so far?  Natto.

Natto is not a fish.  Rather, it is a simple concoction of fermented soy beans.  For the truly diehard natto eater, there are apparently varying degrees of challenge to this meal, even for the Japanese.  As you can imagine, fermenting something takes time.  The more time you ferment something the greater the change to the original substance you start with.  Thus, a very special version of this classic Japanese dish happened to be the specialty of this restaurant.  Aged for a long, long time this was considered to be a challenging delicacy to be eaten at the end of a meal in this restaurant.

Six small bowls were placed on the sushi bar, one in front of each diner.  All eyes were upon me as I stared down into the natto.  If I hadn’t known better I would have guessed someone had blown their nose into my bowl.  Great gobs of slime stared back at me.  It was, perhaps, the single most disgusting “food” I had ever looked at.  Was this some sort of joke to see if I was dumb enough to eat it and then they could all have a good laugh?  You know, like when you convince the new employee that everyone dresses for Halloween and no one but he does?  They waited.  Then I noticed the smell.

It’s one thing to close your eyes and consume something that looks disgusting.  It is quite another to eat something that smells as bad as it looks.  I had come this far and these guys weren’t getting the best of me.  This was, after all, a challenge and I had my honor at stake.  Heck I had the honor of all Americans at stake!  I dipped my chopsticks into the goo, pulled out a long slimy, stringy piece that had trouble separating itself from the mass in the bowl and put it in my mouth.  Crap.  It tastes like it smells.  I grimaced and swallowed, hopeful I wasn’t going to pull a George Bush Sr. and hurl.  It went down, I survived.

Applause from the five companions and the sushi chef erupted as I opened my eyes.

“You are now Japanese.”  That was a great honor and a meal I will never forget.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

The challenge

Get a couple of beers in me and I can manage to say some pretty stupid things.  Things that get me in a heap of trouble.  In this case it took only one beer and as soon as I opened my flap and issued my challenge I knew I should never have opened my mouth.  You can’t stuff a challenge back into your mouth once it’s out in the open.

This whole story started a number of years ago when I was on my first visit to Japan.  One of the very best parts of my job is the worldwide travel.  Setting up audio systems, meeting with customers, dealers and the press.  It’s really something I treasure.  Not only do I get to meet some of the brightest and most passionate people on the planet, but I get to experience their cultures.  In particular, their food and eating rituals.

I love Japanese food.  If I had to choose one food to eat for the rest of my life it would be Japanese.  And thus it was with a great deal of anticipation that I looked forward to my very first visit to an authentic Japanese sushi bar.  At that time I still ate fish and loved sushi, sashimi and everything they made, save for any land animal products.  I suspected that the sushi I loved here in the States would be bested by a real Japanese sushi chef.  I mean, after all, this was where it was invented, cherished and revered.  This would be a meal to remember.

Downing a beer with my distributor in the hotel bar, before we were to be picked up to go to the restaurant, he mentioned that the sushi bar we were going to was one he felt comfortable taking a westerner to.  It was a safe sushi bar, one he had taken many Americans before and I should not be nervous about the food or eating anything too weird.  He was very happy to have made sure my first visit to Japan would be a safe and pleasant one.  I was horrified.  I like jumping into the culture with both feet.  I don’t seek out American food when I am in another country.  I want the real deal.  I want to eat what the locals eat.  I want to go to a sushi bar that any self respecting Japanese would be excited to go to.

“I appreciate you taking me to dinner but I was kind of hoping for a real Japanese eating experience.”

“This is a real Japanese restaurant, it is just not so …. challenging.”  He paused to think of the right word before he said “challenging”.  He thinks I am a wus.  A typical American sissy.  The beer started kicking in.

“I like challenging.  I like sushi.”

“But I don’t want to offend you.  I don’t want to have your first visit a bad one.  We go to the safe restaurant.”

“Look, I don’t want safe food.  I want real food.  I can eat anything you can eat.”  There it was.  It just escaped out of my mouth and I don’t know where it came from.  It just popped out and now there was no taking it back.

He just stared at me for a couple of seconds.  ”But I am Japanese.”

“I eat like a Japanese.  As long as it is not meat, I will eat anything put in front of me.  In fact, I will eat more than you will.  I will have the last bite.”  No sooner had I uttered that challenge than I wanted to retract it.  It was bad enough I said “I can eat anything you can eat” but this?  The most challenging thing I had ever eaten was sea urchin.

The challenge had been made.  The gauntlet had been thrown.  One male to another.

The biggest grin I had ever seen on his normally stoic face went ear to ear.  ”Ok, I will make the change.  We will go to a very special Japanese restaurant.  I will invite a few of our dealers to join us.  You wait here.”  I didn’t like the way he was grinning at me.  It was as if he knew something I didn’t.  Of course he knows something I don’t, he knows everything I don’t and he’s grinning like a man who had just won a bet.

The car picked us up about a half an hour later and we were whisked off to parts unknown, arriving at a small (read tiny) sushi bar.  We waited outside for the dealers to arrive.  In all we were 6 people and we entered the restaurant.  Inside were 6 seats at the sushi bar.  A few tables were behind the bar but they were empty.  There was not one other customer in the room.  A sushi chef, a lady that seemed to help him out and someone back in what looked to be a kitchen behind the bar were the only other people.

“This is one of the best sushi restaurant in all of Japan.  They have agreed to close the restaurant tonight and serve only us.  I told the chef he may serve us anything he wishes as long as it is not meat.  You will have a real japanese meal tonight.  There was that grin again.  The dealers were grinning at me as well.  I felt alone.

I sat down at the bar and beers were placed in front us.  My first Japanese sushi experience was about to begin.

Tomorrow the meal.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Gluten free apricots

It isn’t always easy to know what is true and what is just plain wrong.  My three-year old grand-daughter announced recently that she can no longer eat apricots because they contain gluten and she is allergic to gluten.  Never mind that apricots don’t contain gluten.  Never mind that she loves bread.  Never mind that the entire town of Boulder seems to think they need to be gluten free.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her about bread but I did let her know apricots were ok.  She’s unconvinced.  Apricots are off still off the menu.

Isn’t it always the case that we get pulled into believing this or that?  It’s not that what we get swept up in isn’t true for some people and in some situations.  No, the fact that it is true in some cases just lends credibility to our beliefs that it probably applies to us as well.  Take the battle over digital interconnects.

We’ve long known that digital interconnects make a difference and there’s plenty of evidence showing why: certainly chief among them jitter when we’re dealing with S/PDIF.  My friend Bill Low of Audioquest has a great demo using a simple boom box for the “reference” system that’s quite eye opening.  But what of computer audio?  Personally I detest the term, but that not withstanding, there’s plenty of folks hearing differences in CAT 5 vs. CAT 6.

The thing is, unlike S/PDIF and good old fashioned digital audio, computer audio is quite different.  For most applications the data are sent asynchronous.  This means there’s no clock to rely on and therefore jitter isn’t an issue.  Think about network audio for a moment.  Network audio is agnostic as to the wires and distance it has to travel.  This is why you can download an HD Tracks or Blue Coast digital copy, store it on your computer and play it back later through your home network without a problem.

When you download this music, say from Cookie Marenco’s Blue Coast server in northern California to your home in Oshkosh Wisconsin, there’s no direct pipe and CAT 5 or CAT 6 don’t play in at all.  Heck, those packets of music may have gone in a circuitous route from Cookie’s server, to New York, then down to Michigan and finally to Wisconsin.  In fact, it’s quite likely that the music was never sent as a complete stream at all: part of the data going one way, the balance going the other.

Yet when all the little packets are finally assembled together, they are queued up in your computer and placed onto your hard drive in perfect order.  It’s why your download of the latest Blue Coast product sounds the same as my download despite the fact mine went to Colorado through Syracuse and yours went to Wisconsin through Gnome Alaska.

There may be issues on a local home network such as grounding and noise being injected into your DAC, via the network cable, that contribute to different sound quality depending on that cable, but jitter and bit accuracy of the data shouldn’t among our concerns when it comes to computer audio sent over the network.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Throwing out the baby

Reader Patrick Calley emailed me this gem “A few years ago I visited a dealer to audition the Wilson Sofia loudspeaker.  He told me it was on loan to a very good customer who was interested in buying them, for an in-home audition.  Three visits later, over the course of a few weeks, the speaker still “on loan” to this customer, I asked why it was taking so long.  The dealer’s reply, ‘he’s trying to convince himself he likes them”.

Of course this has nothing to do with the Wilson’s which, I assume, are great loudspeakers as most of Dave’s stuff is.  But I find it interesting because how many times has this happened to you?  It has certainly happened to me.  It happens with food I am wary of, cars I should like, clothes that should fit me, and yes, of course, music that everyone else is raving about and I sit listening and scratching my head.

Sometimes this feeling is, in my experience, absolutely valid and worthy of sticking with it to make sure.  Your expectations are one thing and what you’re getting is quite something else.  Change your expectations or validate your senses?  I can recall a friend of mine telling me the best move she’d ever watched was Christopher Guest’s Best in show.  I watched it and scratched my head.  Why?  Because I didn’t realize it was a tongue in cheek mockumentary.  I now consider it one of my all time favorites but only after changing my expectations.

The customer who was trying to convince himself to like the Wilson’s was, of course, reacting to the dealer and the world telling him these are the best speakers.  But it wasn’t working for him.

If you’re clear about your expectations and a product doesn’t meet them, it’s ok.  Just make sure the two are aligned before you throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Macro micro

I finally got my little tape mastering studio setup in the back room.  It consists of an Otari MTR-10 tape deck feeding a NuWave Phono Converter through its auxiliary inputs and then into my computer through USB.

I am monitoring everything on a PWD.  I use the HDMI connector for tape and USB for the computer output.  176kHz/24 for PCM and eventually DSD will be included.  It’s a reasonable setup and as I mentioned in an earlier post, I have a pair of Era loudspeakers in a home audio configuration for monitoring.

My idea is simple.  If I want to achieve a perfect sound on my stereo system when I am done mastering, why not start out mastering on the very same system I want to eventually listen to?  Turns out this may not be the best idea.  I am having great trouble hearing small changes; yet I recognize that fixing these small changes results in a better overall recording.  Intense work at the micro level yields the best results on a macro level.

I recall a conversation I had years ago with Keith Johnson, master recordist at Reference Recordings about loudspeakers.  Because his recording pretty much hit the mark every time, I naturally wanted to know what loudspeakers he used to master his work.  What he told me surprised me.  He used a homemade pair of near field monitors as best I remember.  This made little sense at the time and when questioned about that he merely said “it’s what I am used to”.  Perhaps now it makes a bit more sense.  I think many mastering studios and recording engineers prefer near field monitors, relative to a home stereo setup like you and I might listen to the end results on.

What I am discovering during this mastering project is that I may need a micro view of the music in order to wind up with a great macro view.  I think it’s somewhat like digital photography.  I use Photoshop quite a lot and when I am working on what will eventually be a large print photograph, intended to be viewed from several feet away, I routinely zoom into the picture to find and fix small problems.  This focus on the micro brings great benefit to the macro.  I am getting the sense mastering may be somewhat the same.

I have tried headphones as the ultimate micro loudspeaker and find them too near field for the task.  A set of bookshelf loudspeakers, placed in close proximity to the work station seems to work well.

More on this project as time goes by.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Validating our system choices

Acceptance is important to most of us.

To have our work accepted means much.  To have our decisions validated by others we respect makes us feel good: confident in our choices.  It’s one reason we’re happy when a review comes out confirming what we perhaps already know.  It’s also the reason many wait for the review before buying, being on the cautious side.  Not wanting to step out and perhaps get ridiculed.

When we setup our system at home, kickback and really enjoy, one of our first impulses is to want to share that experience with others.  But buried in there is also the desire to get the nod from others, to make sure we’re not off base.  I think it’s just part of our nature to belong to the group and to have our efforts validated and accepted by those we let into our lives.  Those that may potentially judge us and our decisions.

In some cases we guarantee peer acceptance by the equipment we choose rather than the performance we achieve.  People write me for advice and use their system list as their calling card, validating their system choices as if I too might judge them based on what they have chosen to create music in the home.  How many of us would even think to call ourselves Audiophiles when our only claim to high end audio was a pair of Radio Shack speakers and a Yamaha receiver?

And yet I think it’s ok to do so for the brave among us.  I admire people who have made much with little.  I have heard great music come out of some of the cheapest systems I can imagine and inevitably the owner of the system cares enough to have set it up right.  I have also heard the opposite: more times than I care to remember.  Great equipment setup incorrectly.

Being an Audiophile has nothing to do with the amount of money you’ve spent or the brands you’ve bought.

It has to do with your care and interest in how the music sounds.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Oohs and aahas

I am in the process of setting up a new listening room at PS Audio.  It’ll be Listening Room Three and a simple one.

Here’s a situation where I don’t want to invest a lot of time and money into perfecting the room or the system, but rather focus on cobbling together an excellent setup from “stuff” I have around the office.  I am building this room so I can master the many hundreds of hours of tape I recorded years ago and hopefully turn out some gems worthy of your attention (if I get the artist’s permission to distribute them).

I am writing about this setup because it may be closer to what many of you have to work with and unlike the mega system I have in Music Room One.  In fact, this setup uses an older pair of Era loudspeakers I had laying around.  These originally retailed for $1,200 the pair, the company since out of business and you can probably pick up a pair on eBay for a few hundred dollars.  I am powering it with our older A100 low cost power amp based on a B&O ICE module, good cabling from my stash of PS Cables and, of course, a couple of Power Plants to make sure I don’t have any power problems.

The room itself is an office with a drop ceiling, drywall sides and carpet.  Certainly no attempt has been made to help the room.

Yet, within perhaps an hour it sounds wonderful.  The speakers disappear and the soundstage is wide, deep with proper tonality.  All that’s missing from the system is a subwoofer.  I will fix that shortly.  I have my eye on a REL on eBay.  This whole setup is well under $5K even if I had to go buy it new.

What makes the system sound so transparent?  Setup.  Because the room is quite small from front to back I am forced to sit within a few feet of the loudspeakers.  My first inclination is to toe them in, pointing right at my head.  I always do this.  It’s almost always the wrong thing to do.  I just can’t help myself.

When I first fired up the system I put on Diana Krall’s Isn’t it a lovely Day from a CD of mine.  Sounded good, Diana is nicely centered with a reasonable amount of depth of soundstage and tonally she is about right.  Unfortunately the entire presentation is trapped between the two speakers.  Too much toe in.  But I am afraid to toe them in less because I don’t want to loose the great focus of the center image.  I go against these first instincts.  I point the speakers straight ahead.  Zero toe in.  Doesn’t look like it could possibly work from my seating position.  But it does.

The soundstage now exceeds the boundaries of the two speakers.  Depth is even better than before and surprise of surprises, Diana’s voice is exactly the right size and maintains perfect focus (if she wasn’t I could put the pair closer together slightly).  The speakers are now no longer in the room.  I add a couple of small diffusers on the back wall and everything gels perfectly.  It now sounds like a small version of Music Room One.

It’s instructive to remember about setup.  Whatever you do, getting the speakers to disappear, the soundstage extending behind and beyond the sides of the two speakers along with proper tonal balance can be achieved with nearly any loudspeaker setup at any price.

Don’t let the fact your system is inexpensive or expensive stop you from getting oohs and aahs from you and your friends when it properly disappears and all that’s left is the music, clear, plain and simple.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Silver Bullets

We all like the idea of a silver bullet.  You can kill werewolves with one.  Fix what ails you.  Make your system sound better instantly.  Some actually work.  Others don’t.

I remember when I got my first car.  I was 16 years old, wanted a ’56 Chevy 2-door with a Hurst 4-speed on the floor so badly I could taste it, but didn’t have the funds to get what I wanted.  I settled on a ’56 Ford station wagon: red, 4-door with a “three on the tree” stick shift.  It wasn’t cool.  And that is why I could afford to buy it.  Within a week of ownership I neglected to latch the hood solidly and it flew up against the windshield at 65 mph on the Riverside Freeway; and promptly fell completely off as soon as I pulled to a stop on the side of the road.  Without the hood, the car was taking shape as a cool vehicle.  The very next day I bought, at great expense from the Pep Boys, a chrome air cleaner.  This was my silver bullet.

I had been convinced from my friend who knew everything there was to know about cars that a chrome air cleaner would help my car go faster.  The logic was increased air flow to the carburetor due to the smoothness of the chrome.  Less resistance.  Made perfect sense.  I swear that car went faster after the air cleaner was installed.  And besides, as I drove down the street it was the single point of pride in that car I could look at.  My claim to cool.  My silver bullet.  It worked.

In audio I too look for silver bullets and they are as valuable as icing is to a cake.  The finishing touches.  But they are not the cake.  They cannot stand on their own.

At times I reach a point of dissatisfaction with the overall sound of my system.  Changing the icing on the system won’t help.  Time to remove the bullets and start fresh with the fundamentals of good system setup.

All the fancy cables, tweaks and surefire miracles can’t take the place of a good, solid restructuring of the listening room or the system within that room.

Make sure you’ve gotten your fundamentals in place before you start icing that cake.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

You should be more careful

I upgraded my iPhone from the 4 to the 5 and find it quite a nice device.  I have much of my library on the phone so I can stream music via bluetooth whenever I want and the camera on the device is really extraordinary.  I am happy with it as a pocket device.  That is until it stopped charging at night.  These mobile devices tend to get very cranky when their batteries are low or drained and for some reason the little Lightning connector Apple instituted on these phones was getting flaky,  Before long my phone was dead.  Bricked.  Sigh.

I bought the phone through Verizon so I figured I’d head back to get it fixed or replaced.  It was quite dead.  Have you been to a phone store lately?  You know, the stores where’s there’s two or three quasi competent sales people waiting on ten or twenty customers?  The ones where there’s a maitre d’ at the entrance with a list of people ahead of you?  Such was the case at the Boulder Verizon store and I added my name to the list.  It was 2pm on Wednesday and Terri and I had tickets to the planetarium that evening so I should be able to get through the store in time.

“How long’s the wait?”

“We’re running between 45 minutes and an hour.”  The maitre d’ was a young girl that couldn’t have been older than 20, chewing gum like it was her last piece and doing everything she could to not blow a bubble in my face.  ”What can we do for you?”

“My phone is dead, won’t take a charge anymore.”

“Oh, it’s an iPhone 5?  Yes, we see the charging problem a lot, I am sure we can get you a new phone.  Why don’t you connect up to this charger and plug it in while you wait.  Just to make sure it’s not your charger.”  She pointed to one of the display tables and we disconnected a tablet and connected my phone instead.  Still dead, no sign of life whatsoever.  Time, 2:30 in the afternoon, I should be seen by 3:30.

These phone stores don’t make it comfortable for you to wait.  Instead, you have little choice but to browse around through the various phones and tablets on display while you try not to bump into the other people waiting.  You can’t leave because if they call your name and you’re not there you go to the back of the queue.  I am there long enough that I start to get familiar with the people waiting, watching what they do to try and look nonchalant.  There’s the really old lady and her teenage grandson: she’s sweet and clueless, he’s clueless and full of pimples.  She can’t figure out how to store a phone number.  I could help with that but I keep my mouth shut and wait, surprised her nephew of 16 can’t figure it out.  Then there’s the big fat guy with size 14 shoes, untied.  He’s eying the one occupied seat currently held hostage by a young lady babbling on her cell phone.  He lies in wait looking like he doesn’t care but I’d hate to get between him and that seat should it open up.

The gum chomping maitre d’ is now telling new customers it’s running closer to 90 minutes.  Not one person has left the building since I arrived and it’s now 3:45.  The manager of the store is a big fellow.  He’s the only one dressed in slacks and shiny shoes.  For the past hour he’s been walking around the store yacking on his cell phone and yucking it up with either a friend or a girl friend.  ”Ahh, that’s really sweet” says the manager into the phone.  Yup, definitely speaking to a girl.  He is oblivious to the 10 people waiting to speak with someone.  If he worked for me he’d be looking for a new job.

Two skateboard “dudes” come in and sign up.  They are now number 11 in line.  Finally, someone is behind me.  The one’s pants are below his butt.  I am fascinated.  By what mechanism do these pants stay attached to him?  If I put my pants that low they fall around my ankles.  Miraculously his stay in position.  I suspect suspenders but don’t see any evidence to support that theory.  Perhaps they are secretly pinned to his underwear?  Truly one of the great mysteries of our time.  ”Hey dude, check out this phone I found.”  He turns to his buddy with delight at finding my phone.  Mind you, we’re in a phone store, there are phones on display everywhere and he zeros in on mine.

“Um, sorry, but that’s my phone.  Please put it back.”

“Oh, sorry dude.  You really should be more careful where you leave your phone.  You never know what might happen.”  Really?  You mean some knucklehead like you might steal it?  Here in the phone store?  I was going to open my flap and give him what for, but decided his comment was so funny it deserved to stand on its own.

It’s now 5:30, the phone manager is still talking on his phone.  Two of the four staff that used to be helping customers have packed up their stuff, donned their coats and left the building.  There are two sales people left plus the manager and I am next.  6 pm, they call my name.

I explain my problem to the sales guy. who apologizes for the wait.  ”Yes, we’ve seen that before.  Let me get you a new phone.”  Ok, finally I am getting somewhere.  My account is brought up, the arrangements made and by 6:15 I am out of there in time to meet Terri at the Fisk Planetarium for the 7pm show.  The phone will arrive by Friday so I can travel to New York that afternoon to help out at the NYC Marathon.

Friday comes and nothing.  I ask our receptionist to call and find out what’s going on as I am now at the airport waiting to board the plane sans working phone.  ”I called Verizon and got the manager on the phone (you remember him).  He said he can see where you were here on Wednesday but there’s no record of any phone.”  Figures.

When I land I try the dead phone one more time just to see and by some miracle it reboots and turns on.  Battery’s low but it’s usable.  Glory be.  At the hotel I manage to put the charging cord in just right, balancing it precariously between the edge of my laptop and the table.  But it works!

On my arrival back in Boulder I decide to forego another exciting experience at the phone store and go straight to the Apple store.  They, of course, also have the maitre d’ but this fellow’s nice, gives me an appointment with one of their geniuses.  Ok, I am not real big on the name.  ”Genius” is a bit presumptuous specially in a university town where the labor pool is still working on their “genius” status.  None the less, I am escorted back to tech support and wait for my genius.  All I really want is a new phone, but I wait.

“How can I help?”  My genius is a pleasant looking fellow that takes immediate charge of the situation.  I explain about the squirelly connector and the need to replace the phone before my warranty runs out.  ”I think I can probably fix this right now.”  Sure you can, I think.  Heck, any genius could I smirked.

My genius got a small paperclip out from under the bar, fished around inside my phone’s connector and out came the biggest piece of lint I’ve ever seen.  Twice what I can pull out of my bellybutton on a productive day.  ”Lint?”  My jaw drops in surprise.

“Yes, lint.  I’ll bet you wear jeans?”  Since I was wearing jeans at the time I am not giving him genius status for that observation but the lint fix?  You bet.  Pure genius.

“Thanks.  You really ARE a genius.”

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.