Winter Solstice 2023

Image – an unusual snow day in Wickenburg (2014-12-31)

Solstice Notes

The first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere is marked by the winter solstice, which occurs on Thursday, December 21, 2023, at 8:27 P.M. Arizona time or 0127Z if you’re into Greenwich mean time. Today is the shortest day of the year with only 9 hours and 53 minutes of sunshine at our latitude here in Wickenburg.

We’re not expecting any snow of the magnitude depicted above this season. The snowfall in Wickenburg on New Year’s Eve 2014 was the most snow we have ever seen in town since we moved here in early 2011 when our house was finally completed. As a matter of fact, we can count our snow days on one hand over our nearly 13 years of living here.

Music Notes

The 61-key digital keyboard shown below is the replacement for an older version of the same thing that I’ve had since March of 2010 (and there were many before that). This one has much more capability and I have been enjoying exploring the different voices, songs and styles included in the unit.

I have been playing keyboards (without much formal training) since age 5 or so. I have messed with MIDI quite a lot although that isn’t my peak interest now. I’d much rather play favorites and try to compose some things now and then.

The new keyboard is a Yamaha PSR E373 which is still considered an entry level unit, but it has a lot more features than I probably can figure out how to use. I have an app for the Smart Phone which allows me to record sound and video from the unit. Maybe I will post some of it on social media and link it here one of these days.

Here is the new unit in my studio (a.k.a. Master Bedroom):

This is Yamaha’s Blurb about this keyboard:

The PSR-E373 features a newly developed tone generator that delivers stunning improvements in sound quality as well as high-quality effects. You can enjoy a comprehensive library of 622 instrument Voices perfect for playing in any genre you choose, as well as unique Super Articulation Lite Voices that reproduce the subtle nuances of stringed instruments such as the cello and mandolin that are typically difficult to emulate on a keyboard instrument, delivering realistic and authentic performances.

The old keyboard will be retired to the Motorhome for practice when we’re on the road.

2022 Bluegrass Music Festival

Yesterday, 11/11/2022, Damsel and I attended the first part of the opening session of the 43rd Annual Wickenburg Bluegrass Festival Weekend Classic. The Everett Bowman Rodeo Grounds are hosting the Festival as usual this year. The Rodeo Grounds are also hosting food vendors and various other vendors like jewelry, folk art, crafts and some other merchandise. The T-shirt vendor sold us a hooded sweatshirt with this year’s festival logo freshly silkscreened on it (pictured above – clickable). We try and buy a T-shirt or a sweatshirt each year we attend the festival.

A group called The Arizona Wildflowers came on stage first to perform a set of tunes. These three sisters and (recently added) 8 year old brother performed some great tunes including some gospel and other favorite tunes. We thought they were great! In the (clickable) image above, you can see little brother almost dwarfed by the bass fiddle he was playing. Everyone in attendance seemed to enjoy their performance as much as we did.

We made the tour of the vendors to see what was available; as I mentioned before, we bought a Sweatshirt for me. We also bought a beautiful pair of Moonstone Earrings for Damsel. At this point, we were ready to head back home. We can’t leave the dogs alone for very long, so we said adios to the Bluegrass Festival until next year.

Radio Wickenburg

kswgWhen we’re in the Phoenix/Wickenburg area, we listen to KSWG-FM 96.3 “Real Country” radio. The genre is country and western but the difference between this station and those we have in the Los Angeles area is that KSWG plays both old and new country hits.

While we seldom hear Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard in L.A. it is a regular thing to hear the old classic C&W stars in Wickenburg and Phoenix. They also play many of the current country music hits as long as they’re not that hip hop crap played on the L.A. C&W outlets.

As soon as we cross over the Harcuvar Mountain pass on US 60 in La Paz County, we are within the station’s coverage area. We then tune the SUV radio to 96.3 and enjoy the remaining 60 miles of the drive to our new home town while listening to Real Country.

Barbie’s Piano

barbie-piano.jpgWhy is this Barbie Piano special? Well, because, this one has provenance.

You see, back in 1980, I worked for Mattel Toys in Hawthorne, CA as an engineer in the preliminary design department. I designed electronics for prototypes of all sorts of toys, including remote control cars, self-guided racers, sound effects for a hot wheels airborne transport toy, and the piano sounds for Barbie’s Piano.

I collaborated with another prototype designer who did the mechanical development. My job was to develop an electronic piano sound. I actually got a patent for the ‘decay modulator’ circuit, which was the heart of the semi-realistic sound. When a key is struck, the tone fades out gradually just like a real piano.

When it came time to demonstrate the toy to Mattel’s president, we brought the model in, sat Barbie down on the bench and I made my first and only professional musical debut as I plunked out “Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ using Barbie’s hands on the keys.

keyboard.jpg“I love it,” said the president as he clapped his hands with approval, “let’s get it into toy development and go with it!” After the piano went into production, even though I was not working at Mattel, they called me in and gave me this one when it was new.

I saw an original Barbie Piano on eBay today with a selling price of 160USD. And that was without the bench and the instruction/songbook. I imagine that this particular one might be worth a bit more with my signed statement about its development and my role in it.

While this one has never been owned by a child, I used to indulge my granddaughters and let them play with it. As a consequence, it’s not completely pristine and the little wands used to play the tiny keys are missing. A mistake, to be sure, but you should have seen the pride in their eyes knowing granddad invented this toy.

Please, click either image for a wallpaper-sized close-up.

Cross-posted from our family blog.

Gun Love

Sorry for the thin blogging as of late. We’ve lost two computers in a week and trying to recover. The laptop lost it’s hard drive and the old workstation had a power supply failure (we think). Meanwhile, watch this short video of Damsel having fun at the range.

She’s a real gun lover . . .

A WWII Tribute in Song and Pictures

Maybe some of you folks have already seen this. A friend sent this to me today, and I had not seen it before. I grew up in the years just after WWII, my Dad fought in it and I found it deeply touching – so keep the tissues box handy . . .

Image: Aerial View of WWII Memorial, Washington D.C. (Photo by Rick Latoff/American Battle Monuments Commission)

The elderly parking lot attendant wasn’t in a good mood!

Neither was Sam Bierstock. It was around 1 a.m., and Bierstock, a Delray Beach, Fla. , eye doctor, business consultant, corporate speaker and musician, was bone tired after appearing at an event.

He pulled up in his car, and the parking attendant began to speak. “I took two bullets for this country and look what I’m doing,” he said bitterly.

At first, Bierstock didn’t know what to say to the World War II veteran. But he rolled down his window and told the man, “Really, from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you.”

Then the old soldier began to cry.

“That really got to me,” Bierstock says.

Cut to today.

Bierstock, 58, and John Melnick, 54, of Pompano Beach – a member of Bierstock’s band, Dr. Sam and the Managed Care Band – have written a song inspired by that old soldier in the airport parking lot. The mournful “Before You Go” does more than salute those who fought in WWII. It encourages people to go out of their way to thank the aging warriors before they die.

“If we had lost that particular war, our whole way of life would have been shot,” says Bierstock, who plays harmonica. “The WW II soldiers are now dying at the rate of about 2,000 every day. I thought we needed to thank them.”

The song is striking a chord. Within four days of Bierstock placing it on the Web , the song and accompanying photo essay have bounced around nine countries, producing tears and heartfelt thanks from veterans, their sons and daughters and grandchildren.

“It made me cry,” wrote one veteran’s son. Another sent an e-mail saying that only after his father consumed several glasses of wine would he discuss “the unspeakable horrors” he and other soldiers had witnessed in places such as Anzio, Iwo Jima, Bataan and Omaha Beach. “I can never thank them enough,” the son wrote. “Thank you for thinking about them.”

Bierstock and Melnick thought about shipping it off to a professional singer, maybe a Lee Greenwood type, but because time was running out for so many veterans, they decided it was best to release it quickly, for free, on the Web. They’ve sent the song to Sen. John McCain and others in Washington. Already they have been invited to perform it in Houston for a Veterans Day tribute – this after just a few days on the Web. They hope every veteran in America gets a chance to hear it.

GOD BLESS every veteran…and thank you !


Dr. Sam and the Frivolous Action Blues Band

She Never Cried

It just occured to me that this lyric from the country music group Confederate Railroad could apply to the Junior Senator from New York:

She never cried when Ol’ Yeller died,
she wasn’t washed in the blood of the lamb.
She never stood up for the Star-Spangled Banner
and she wasn’t a John Wayne fan.
Her baby-blue eyes hid the warning signs
that woman was bad to the bone.
She never cried when Ol’ Yeller died
do you think I’ll cry when she’s gone?

Now all we have to do is ensure that the last part about her being gone comes true.