Laser focus

September 2, 2018
 by Paul McGowan

The sharper our focus the narrower our view. We often miss seeing the forest because we’re focused on a single leaf. More than once I have been so pleased with a new setup that I never noticed the channels were reversed.

I remember back to the 70s when PS Audio’s co-founder Stan Warren and I used to go out to lunch together to discuss circuitry. We’d pack up in Stan’s little VW and head west from Santa Maria to a little turnout halfway to Guadalupe. There, we’d roll a nice fat one and smoke it down before starting our discussions on building new circuitry.

One of the problems with this design approach is we reeked of pot when we came back to the office. Then I found a miracle cure called Ozium. This slender white and blue aerosol spray can was effective for the elimination of some pretty nasty odors like those in a dentist’s office when that drill smoked out tooth decay. The general wisdom of the crowd was that once applied in a reasonable dose, the smell of marijuana smoke was completely eradicated.

Armed with our trusty can of Ozium and a bag of the good stuff, we headed for our usual spot confident we’d not be discovered back at work. An hour later, following an intense design discussion on how to lower noise in a moving coil amplifier circuit, we stopped at the local market to put an end to the munchies. As I walked through the checkout stand the cashier raised a single eyebrow and smirked.

“You boys must have had quite a lunch.” She waved her hand back and forth to clear the imaginary smoke.

We were caught! How could she have known?

Certain the Ozium had eliminated any trace of our misdeeds I told Stan about the incident and shared my frustration over our new found miracle not working. Stan shook his head and reached over to pull the tightly rolled plastic baggie full of pot out of my shirt pocket.

It’s true. Sometimes we’re looking so hard in one direction we miss the Mack truck that runs us over.

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43 comments on “Laser focus”

  1. Funny story Paul, just curious, all those years driving near Diablo Canyon Nuclear power plant in San Luis Obispo county and all the controversy generated by this facility, did these experiences in any way shape or influence your thought process in terms of clean power and the Power Plant design, perhaps in the same vein that birds influenced the early aeronautical engineers?

    Further, at your own admission, a certified bass freak, did you happen to experience the movie Earthquake and the Cerwin Vega Sensurround craze of 1974? This probably also coincided with the advent of Jonas and Ken’s company, M&K. A lot of industry veterans were hangin around Jonas Miller Sound in those days.

    In the fall of 1974, out of curiosity, went to experience the movie Earthquake at the local theatre but didn’t really get it because the sound system there wasn’t that good to begin with and whatever contraption they installed for the LFE was something of a joke.

    1. Perhaps Diablo did but it was so hidden and only of occasional interest. I have long been interested in power generation for many, many years – and some of you know aside from Power Plants I am interested and a big advocate of fusion technology as a means of breaking the carbon cycle that’s killing our planet. I’ll take solar and wind in the meantime, but I believe fusion is our only hope if we’re to break our addiction.

      I never saw Earthquake but certainly knew M and K. In fact, that was my first subwoofer, though I think I’ve told this story before. I tried every position and setting on that sub to augment my Acoustats and finally got one to sound right – then noticed the volume was at zero. I sold the sub the next day.

      1. Be careful what you wish for, you never know when your wish may come true. Fusion power may be a lot closer than you think. Perhaps dangerously closer. As someone who has to know everything that is going on in the world all of the time this didn’t escape me. It’s a patent for a portable fusion reactor granted to Lockheed Martin earlier this year. They say it will be capable of generating 100 megawatts. They claim they’ll have a working prototype by the end of 2019 and it will be small enough to power an airplane and undoubtedly one hell of a laser weapon.

        A lot of scientists and engineers have assured the world that certain things were safe that turned out not to be. There are things I think are safe, there are things I’m quite certain are dangerous, and then there is that gray area I’m not sure about. Fusion energy is one of those things I tend to be suspicious of. This is based on the notion that when a lot of potential energy or kinetic energy are concentrated in a small space the possibility of catastrophe is great. Probably the single most dangerous thing you own is your car battery. It can kill you in several ways even when it is dead. An exploding tank of gasoline is another. Nuclear fission was said to be safe. If Chernobyl didn’t convince you it wasn’t safe then Fukushima must have. That accident may eventually cause the extinction of human life on earth and there is no way to contain it. An experimental in fusion reactor is being worked on in Southern France. They say it is perfectly safe. If it fails in a runaway chain reaction, there will be a huge crater where south central Europe used to be.

        The most powerful laser in the world is at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories East of San Francisco. 192 laser beams are focused on a small target 2mm in diameter with the expectation that the aggregate power would ignite a fusion reaction to a minute amount of fusion fuel deuterium and tritium, the two fusionable isotopes of hydrogen. To the scientists’ astonishment it failed.

        Why did it fail? What did they overlook? You can learn a lot from studying how and why things fail. I’ll take a wild guess but who really knows the truth? One of the aspects of laser light that makes it powerful is that the light is in phase. This results in an efficient transfer of energy from the light beam into the target. The wavelength of a laser lightbeam is very short. 192 beams traveled separate paths to converge. How could they have possibly converged in phase? They couldn’t. Out of phase they cancelled each other out. Just a guess. I’ll post more about engineering failures below. BTW, another sign of danger I look for in anything is a molecule that contains a benzine ring. These define what organic chemists call the aromatic class of molecules. Benzine and molecules containing multiple benzine rings like anthracene and phenantracene are extremely carcinogenic and to be avoided at all times.

  2. Thanks, guys. Hope not to offend, but hey, I had a pretty wild life growing up. I used to want to hide it for fear of being judged but at my age now I figure it’s something worth sharing and I don’t care about being judged.

    1. Paul,

      Luckily, our generation has the option to share or to keep private most of our youthful indiscretions.

      Personally, buying my first car at 14, my adolescent adventures primarily involved excessive speed and contests to see how many revolutions we could spin a car on a snowy Colorado winter night.

      It will be significantly harder for the current generation to hide their youthful explorations of freedom when stories are tattooed on their bodies and uploaded to the internet for all to see.

      Keep the stories coming. Besides, you now live in Colorado!

      1. Ha! Yeah – I was going to say something to Paul like, “but…That’s ILLEGAL!!! You Wild Man”, but then…oh….NOT. When I was in college it was a $5 ticket the cops didn’t bother giving out. Though that was in another Liberal Intellectual Theme Park like Boulder ; )

        On the other subject, I remember earlier, back when my next-oldest brother and I were still at home in high school, “helping” my mom decide what engine she should order in her early-70’s Mercury Cougar.

        Us: “Mom – you NEED the 351 4-barrel (Cleveland V-8).”
        Mom: “Uh…why?”
        Us: “It’ll help you pass other cars when you need to”
        Mom: “OK”

        Loved mom : )

        That car used to shock the crap out of people who thought they had a Fast Car. At least in our Little Town. We were accused of modding/cheating (due to its mild-mannered exterior), but it was Factory.

    2. As long as you’re not a Democrat I don’t care what you did. 😉

      BTW, where did you autograph my book? I couldn’t find it anywhere. Should I return it to you to be autographed? Yoo know zumtink, a lot uf it iz in Cherman. Yavol! Thanks anyway, it’s a beautiful gift and I’m sure I’ll thoroughly enjoy it. Thank you very much.

  3. “Sleeping on the interstate oh oh oh
    Getting wild, wild life
    Checkin’ in, checkin’ out! Uh, huh!
    I got a wild, wild life
    Spending all of my money and time oh oh oh
    Done too much wild, wild…”

    – Talking Heads

    Somehow I have a hard time imagining you being wild, Paul. Just don’t see you passed out in a gutter OD’ed on heroin like Johnny Rotten ; )

      1. Oh crap, you’re prolly right. Though I was thinking in terms of OD’ing without actually dying ; )

        PIL is still together?? That is indeed shocking ; )

        That’s what I get for mixing up my Decades.

        Coincedentally, I’ve been texting this morning with a former girlfriend from 30 years ago, and we remember Completely Different Things. It’s really interesting.

  4. Radio station KRIZ, Phoenix, Arizona, circa ‘72. I worked 7-Midnight. I was new. All night guy comes in, fires up a large doobie. I hear the front door open and tell him. He sprays Ozium… no worries! Chief engineer walks into the control room and exclaims, “Somebody’s smoking dope!”

  5. I was so proud of my PSA stuff !
    And now I read this. Shocking. It’s a disgrace this behaviour.
    Thank God in my hometown (Amsterdam btw.) we don’t do this.

  6. Thanks for the laugh. It reminds me of a very similar story that involves waiting in line at a DQ.
    I knew there was yet another reason I have a bunch of PSA gear in my house! Birds of a feather…
    I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday weekend.

  7. I smoked pot… I was a heavy blues rock musician at that time….. Saw plenty in short time.

    When I started seeing people around me killing themselves and getting killed by others… and how it led easily to darker things . (from affluent neighborhoods) .. I quit the music business.

    Its a shitty thing to bring up and glorify. Get a list of all the musicians who performed at Woodstock One. I was invited to attend, and turned it down. Now… find the time of the Woodstock Two. What year was that? Get the timeline and see how many of the musicians of Woodstock One were still alive at that time. Sickest generation to ever live in the United States. I see it as being jerk to brag about. Not cool. One dead after the other…. Its stupid to brag about.

    1. Sorry stuff was hard for you, but it is questionable to whine about half a Century or so later. Pot smoking does not result in death, and does not necessarily lead to the use of death-inducing drugs.

      You live where, BTW? How’s drug death working out where you live?

      1. Promote it with young people and it leads to nothing good for many of them…. Most of the unrest and divisiveness we see today is a result of what came out of the culture change of the sixties. I am done with the bull shit. I saw it happening and changing before my eyes. Most people have no idea how happy they can be…. That is why some think they are happy with at least something that makes them feel something good, which is no more than a pre-op while staying alive, for awaiting what they do not want to face. And, its history repeating itself…. It not a new thing. Societies have degenerated long before ours has. (smiley face)

        1. Seriously dude, the health and social consequences of pot are in the statistical noise realm …when compared to almost any other inebriant. The fact that many of us tried other substances when we smoked pot had almost everything to do with the fact that both pot and the hard crap were sold by the same illegal supplier.

          I’ve talked with all kinds of people about this topic, from law enforcement to doctors to legislators, as soon as someone repeats something along the lines of what you wrote I know they aren’t a serious person when it comes to command of the topic. But, that’s were we are as a nation: Fewer and fewer of us actually understand right from wrong, fact from fiction, and more and more of us simply repeat nonsense that fits what we already think we know.

          Sorry about the comment, but I am appalled at where we are as a nation. Not every advanced country is this uninformed, but it is a trend. Keep it up and consider yourself as contributing to the devolution of civilization.

    2. Never knew anyone who died from smoking a joint or beat up their wife and kids for that matter while buzzed. Where i grew up in the late 60s, elders and teens drinking alcohol to excess was the norm and recall my first visit to the local pizza pub one evening while in high school and witnessed more than one of my friends older brothers passed out on their bar stools, sad indeed.

      The medicinal benefits of THC and cannabinoids are well documented today which has led to legalization in nine states thus far, (alaska, california, colorado, maine, massachusetts, nevada, oregon, vermont, and washington).

      Granted, abuse of any substance can be dangerous and is never recommended including all white powders, sugar included. A lot of people who are taking Ambien could be taking a CBD tincture, just one of many examples to focus on the healing powers of cannabis.

      An intelligent friend of mine once stated, “drugs weren’t intended for everyone” but to classify psychedelics and cannabis with Meth or Heroin is a little short sighted. The social stigma invoked in the movie Reefer Madness was misplaced nonsense.

      Everything in moderation …

      1. You’re missing the point. Getting drunk means someone does not know how to live. So? If they smoke pot, they do? I had access to research papers back in the 70’s when I gained access to a library located at a major psychiatric institution. A team of doctors (psychiatrists) studied the brain effects. They found that marijuana neutralizes the brain in a manner that allows for one to displace his values and to adapt ones contrary to the values he had received. One doctor stated… “This makes for a powerful propaganda tool.” Guess what? He was correct! America has turned to shit as far as core values in many ways. Its why we see insanity on a every day basis and now have become accustomed to as accepted norms. No one dares defy what we have been fed. We do not even know what has hit us. Its a tool. An effective tool. Its also a rich man’s toy. And a poor man’s escape hatch that never quite gets him there.

        1. If you are claiming that pot actually does that — you are completely wrong.

          Pot DOES *generally* lead to a lack of motivation. A fact that many continuing smokers have factored into their reductio in usage.

          Compared to alcohol or most pain meds, pot is absurdly harmless.

          The other thing that bears mentioning is the history of pot being illegal. If you know that, then you will understand that many of the continuing negative attitudes stem from the start of the previous century when making pot illegal was an racial control/punishment tool. That attitude definitely persists.

          All of these statements of mine are easily validated to at least the level of “generally true”. Trafficking in nonsense is best left to comedians, who themselves sometimes get into trouble over doing so…

      2. I used to like “reality is for people who can’t handle drugs”.
        I actually quit drinking and all drugs in 1998, but now due to chronic pain, I take more in one dose prescribed, than when I had a two year habit in the early ’90s.
        The thing was, alcohol wasn’t the problem, I used to drink a lot more in the ’70-’80s. But it was the one substance that would lead to going on 36 hour coke binges.

        Finding papers proposing that pot could be used for mind control. Maybe they were the same people that were dosing people with LSD, without telling them. Now that could mess up some people. I usually found LSD to last too long. Ecstasy was ideal for music, less visuals, but great for listening.

        Do you really think all of these racists were sitting around smoking a joint while they were deciding where to burn the next cross? My money is on alcohol and maybe bad speed. I never knew anyone who became more violent and hate filled after getting stoned.
        Think of the income from taxes and licensing. That money could be used for treatment, education, so much more. All those that were convicted of possession could be released and/or have it removed from their arrest record. The money we would save from locking up these people, who are more apt to be from poor, minority communities, could be invested in education and jobs. And we eliminate the gangs and cartels from profiting.

    3. Considering that marijuana [pot, reefer, weed, grass] is now used medically, and some states recreationally, I don’t think it is shameful to discuss one’s past experience.
      Using Woodstock Two as an example, tells us very little. The reasons musicians chose to skip Two were probably based on a variety of reasons, dead musicians way down on that list. Altamont killed the large festival concept. The original Woodstock was a once in a lifetime event.
      Marijuana is without a doubt the safest mind altering substance, that I am aware of. I think a whole generation experimented with more dangerous substances because of the lies and propaganda. Remember the movie “Reefer Madness”? Once we smoked pot and didn’t go crazy, we moved on. In those days coke was considered safe, a rich man’s high. I remember a lot of those deaths involved alcohol. Mixing alcohol with heroin is dangerous. Smoking pot is not, with the exception of someone with mental problems, and in many cases they are finding marijuana can be substituted for some psych meds.
      It is easier to make a list of drugs I haven’t done. The only drug that wrecked my life was crack. While daily use of speed will kill you in 5 years, pharmaceutical stimulants are still used, very sparingly for a few conditions. And the big one, the opioid crisis. Glorifying the use of heroin would be a bad thing. That crisis was created by the pharmaceutical companies, and then by the solution. By making MS-Contin and Oxycontin tamper proof, led those with habits to switch to street heroin. With addicts buying an uncontrolled substance, they have no idea the potency. If 2 dime bags were good, well the next 2 may have fentanyl in them. And here is where you should be outraged, the best way to treat those that want to quit is Suboxone or methadone. In many parts of the country there are waiting lists. Then you get in and find out that Suboxone is over $400 a month, plus $400 intake fees and a monthly fee of appr $200. Methadone you can usually pay daily, but you have to go 6 days a week in the beginning. And in the ’90s you could come in dropping dirty for pot or coke and stay on the program. Now they throw people off the program after a few dirty drops. And the kicker is the only reason the opioid problem is considered a crisis, is that white suburban teens are dying. During the crack epidemic, where was the outrage? Although the drug wasn’t killing people, it was causing desperate users to commit crimes, and gangs fighting over territory.
      And in States that have legalized marijuana they are reporting less deaths from opioid overdoses.
      Legitimate users with chronic pain are finding it harder to get the meds they need, as most Drs are afraid to write for fear of lawsuits and scrutiny from medical boards.
      I can tell you numerous stories of bad experiences involving hard drugs. I was detained in Las Vegas and photographed just for being in an area known for drugs. I can’t think of one bad experience with pot. Sharing a joint with a topless Canadian woman in a swimming pool in Negril is just one fond memory. Getting high at concerts, cruising the countryside with the 8-track cranked up.
      I am looking forward to country wide legalization. I think we will see it in our lifetime. The “war” on drugs has been a miserable failure.
      Paul’s story is fine, your overreaction is misguided.

      1. Jeffstar — Thank you for that. I agree 100%.

        Not only has the war on drugs been a miserable failure, it has destroyed the lives of millions who have an arrest record because of it and have broken no other laws. It is simply shameful.

  8. I love it! The medicinal side of audio to enhance the whole aural (and olfactory and sometimes visual) musical experience. If we had the wisdom we now have, in our youth we wouldn’t have had as much fun! “I may grow older, but I refuse to grow up.” “I don’t wanna grow up, I am a Toys-R-Us kid.” Wait, where is Toys-R-Us? Where are all the audio shops? CD’s? Hey, I found an LP! “Life changes!” Sigh!

  9. BTW Paul, if you want to make world class recordings you need a world class piano. You need a Steinway D. If you can’t afford a new one buy a used one in good condition. It will be just as good. Before you buy take an experienced piano technician and a pianist with you to check out the sound and whether or not it has any defects. I don’t want to hear any of acuvox’s effing crap about Bosendorfers either. They don’t sound as good, they’re much more expensive and most world class pianists prefer to play on a Steinway D because of the sound, not because of the brand name. Don’t be tricked into buying a Yamaha either. If you don’t get one I’ll never speak to you again. Just kidding.

  10. Although I’m well aware of the medicinal benefits of hemp, unfortunately I have a 45 year old son who, through smoking the stuff for perhaps 25 years, together with too much alcohol, has totally scrambled his brain. He’s unemployable, living on social security and is another life ruined.
    PS to Paul McG. I sure admire your honesty.
    Stay away from it is my advice!

    1. Ken, it’s a shame about your son, but my money is on the alcohol. I smoked pot for 25 years, before quitting all substances. I encountered a lot of people in recovery, alcohol was the only substance that when abused for many years could do irreversible damage.

      Alcohol is the only substance I saw that could destroy a person permanently. It is a syndrome known as wet brain. Of course their are a subset of people who have mental health problems who shouldn’t be using any substance not prescribed by a Doctor. If you haven’t had a Doctor who specializes in substance abuse, and mental illness evaluate your son, have it done. At 45, if he is willing, they may be able to help him. His whole life may not be ruined, well, depending on the damage the alcohol has done. I have seen it go both ways. And the only way there will be any possibility is if your son is willing to do the work, and change his ways.
      Feel free to PM me, if I can be of any help. If a Doctor determines there is no permanent damage, having someone to talk to while detoxing, who won’t be judgemental can be the difference between success and relapse. I have experience.

      1. Thanks Jeff.
        Unfortunately he refuses to think that anything is wrong with him, believing that dope is the answer to any maiden’s prayer, the curer of all ills. Nothing could be further from the truth.
        Regards. Ken P.

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