Remember the Brannock Device?

When was the last time you had your feet measured for shoes?

I honestly can’t remember. Decades ago? I’m not even sure I’ve had it done as an adult.

There was a time when shoe salespeople did that. They took one of those metal things and measured for length and width. I can’t remember the last time I saw one of those in a shoe store. (FYI, it’s known as the Brannock Device.)

Now, when a sales person asks if you need help, they also ask, “What size are you looking for?” expecting us to know the answer. Heaven forbid that they’d have to touch our feet.

I remember the old-school shoe salespeople would measure, then bring out several styles of shoe, put each shoe on, then check the fit. Not just with the thumb “where’s your toe?” trick, but they’d squeeze the sides, tug for snugness. All of that.

And you left with great fitting shoes.

I bring this up because my newest running shoes, Asics Cumulus 16 (I’ve only logged 41 treadmill miles on them), hurt my feet. I assumed it was because the guy at Sports Authority talked me into these orthotic inserts for people with weak arches that cost half as much as the shoe, but now I’m wondering if it’s because I bought the wrong size.

They’re 2-1/2 sizes over what I think my size is. All my other shoes are a size larger and they fit OK. If you’re asking why I bought them so large, you’re guess is as good as mine. Call it a brain fart. Or ADHD “I want a pair of shoes these seem good lets get the hell outoutofhere” shopping.They seemed to fit snuggly in the store. And they still fit snuggly — my foot doesn’t slip in them. But something about them hurts my feet.

As an experiment, last night I dug out my nine-year-old pair of Brooks Beasts, just to see if there was a difference. They’re only a size larger than my suspected shoe size.

They fit like a glove. And were a heluva lot more comfortable than the Asics. They just didn’t have much “bounce” to them, but they’re nine, so that’s not surprising. Nine is 72 in shoe years, after all.

2016-05-13 16.52.27

A tale of two shoes, the new and the old.

So why don’t I just take the orthotics out of the Asics? Because I don’t have the original insert. The Sports Authority guy said, “Throw those out. The inserts manufacturers use are cheap crap.” And I listened and threw them out.

For the moment then, I’m stuck with over sized uncomfortable shoes or dead shoes. (I also have three pairs of Pumas, but those just LOOK like running shoes. They don’t offer the lateral support I need as an over-pronator.)

But come June 4th, the Fleet Feet in Brookfield is having the Milwaukee Running Expo from 8 am to 4 pm featuring booths for running shoe and nutrition brands where you can try on shoes, sample products, and get running advice from experts.

Fleet Feet is a running shoe store I only just read about in the May 2016 issue of “Runner’s World.” According to the article, Fleet Feet are still old-school about feet. They’ll measure your feet. They’ll watch your running style. Then they’ll come up with suggestions for the best shoe and make sure it fits.

Yes, you pay more, but they’re a full-service shoe store. Sure, you could buy much cheaper online, but these people, from what I’ve read, KNOW running. Their service goes beyond just selling you a shoe.

Disclaimer: I am neither affiliated with Fleet Feet nor have I even visited their store.

-30-

Run Ed Run Part II

Revenge of the Splints.

And then …

I had no and then. Sorry. But what I did do is over the last two years, I’ve tried to lose a little weight. I ate salads for lunches and managed to lose 16 pounds.

And I managed to gain ten. But I didn’t become disheartened. Instead I took a long hard look at my eating habits. I’ve learned that I don’t eat because I’m hungry. I eat because it’s a mindless habit. 10am is snack time. Noon is lunchtime. 2pm is another snack. And so on. Well, I’ve tried to limit how much I eat. I’ve become a nibbler. Between a good breakfast and dinner I will now eat a few pretzels, some carrots or snap peas, an orange or an apple. And that’s it.

So I’m down six pounds at last count.

As the weight has come off, I’ve tried to run. And I discovered something else about myself: I’m an impatient bastard.

I want to be in shape NOW. I want to run fast and long NOW. So I started up on the treadmill a couple months ago and instantly set it for a 12 minute mile.

I did that a few times the first week. At the end of the run I was gasping for breath. And my shin splits started to nag me again.

It was a conversation with my doctor that made me see the light. I said, “I can’t run like I did in my twenties.” And he said, “That’s because you aren’t in your twenties.”

Well duh. Obvious, now that someone said it.

So how do I run at my age? Slowly. Building up gradually. I went back to step one. I used my treadmill’s programmed functions to run a slower pace.

I started running at a slow pace for 12 minutes. Just enough to sweat, but not so much that I was winded.

And it’s working. In the last few weeks I’ve worked up to running 1.5 miles in a little under 20 minutes. Still not so fast that I’m gasping like a fish out of water, nor too stressful that my shins are protesting.

Plus I’m doing various lower leg stretches and using a yoga roller tube thingie.

I just have to be patient, no matter how much I’m chafing at the bit to set a personal best in time or distance.

One step at a time, as they say.

I just have to remember to go slow and easy and with time, I’ll improve.

I’m running again and that makes me happy.

-30-

Run Ed Run Part 1

Back in 2007, I bought a pair of running shoes. Brooks Beast I think they were. I still have them, but I never used them for running, despite my best intentions. They became walking and everyday shoes, which seems like an awful waste of money since they were top of the line, around $130 at the time, with all the lateral support an overpronator like me needed.

The problem was two-fold. I was overweight by a lot and I had shin splints.

I’ve always been a runner. A casual runner. As a kid I loved to run. Growing up, I was the fastest on the block and on the playground. I remember the girl down the block, when were were in middle school, challenged me to a race. I forgot what I was supposed to do if I lost, but she said if she lost, she’d kiss me. To be honest, I’m not sure if I won outright or if Linda lost on purpose just so she could kiss me.

I used to brag that in high school I teased the kids on the track team because even they couldn’t catch me, but I think I made that up. I only teased the football players.

But I never ran in organized competition. I wish someone had encouraged me to back then. Running and swimming were my two best recreational sports, but my parents never pushed me to participate in athletics.

My mom wasn’t a sports mom and my dad probably gave up after I showed I had no aptitude for baseball. My defining moment came in the outfield when someone hit a ball to me and I was sitting on the ground reading a Bazooka Joe comic from my gum wrapper. The ball rolled by and my dad never spoke of sports to me again.

I was in my twenties when I started running more seriously. I ran on the road. I ran at my college’s indoor running track. I ran fast. I ran for distance. At one point, I managed a mile in 5:30. Not bad for a two pack a day smoker.

In distance, I was running 12 plus miles a day. I tried to eat right. I read and subscribed to every running magazine.  I even read The short story, “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,” by Alan Sillitoe (I wonder if that was a pseudonym? Sillitoe, writing about running?). Jim Fixx, despite his untimely death, was my hero.

Yes, I was a runner.

And then, shin splints. I tried to run through the pain, it did go away after about 3 or 4 miles, but it hurt the rest of the time and I barely had the strength to walk up stairs.

So I quit running. I tried biking. That was OK, but it’s more dangerous in winter and it just didn’t give me the same endorphin rush.

Then my thyroid went wonky. I gained so much weight and was so puffy, I looked like the Michelin Man before my doctor finally diagnosed it.

And the weight has been slow to come off.

I’ve tried running a few times since I quit, but the shin splints kept coming back and because of my weight, I didn’t have the wind any more for.

So I thought running was gone from my life. But then, last year, we bought a treadmill. I had so many plans for that! Yeah, I was going to get back into running, lose weight, and yeah! I bought myself a new pair of running shoes: Asics Cumulus 16. I had plans!

Yeah. The treadmill gathered dust for almost a year, as did the shoes. I refused to wear them for any reason but running. To put them on and go outside to the mall, well, that would be admitting defeat, wouldn’t it?

And I didn’t want to admit defeat.

So the treadmill languished. The running shoes silently mocked me on the floor by my dresser.

And then…

(to be continued)

-30-

Sometimes you can go home

In my last blog, I mentioned I was upgrading my stereo and was waiting for my final (for now) purchase: a pair of Polk Audio Monitor 7A loudspeakers.

To my aural memory, as unreliable as that can be, those were the best sounding speakers I’ve owned.

They arrived yesterday and I set them and you know what? They do sound beautiful.

For the last eight years, my main speakers were a pair of NHT SB2 loudspeakers, and to be honest, they did the job. For their price at the time, they are a great value and if someone asked for a speaker recommendation, I wouldn’t hesitate to list NHT as a possibility.

But in comparison to the Polk Audios? The NHT has a 1 inch tweeter and a 6.5 inch mid-range/woofer, but the Polk has a 1 inch tweeter, a 6.5 inch mid-range, and additional 10″ woofer. The Polks have more bass, but because the mid-range only has to handle mid-range (whereas the NHT’s mid-range is also it’s woofer), the sound is fuller in the middle frequencies. Plus, for whatever reason, the sound stage is wider.

These are just awesome speakers and I can say that now because I again own a pair and I’m not relying on my memories from 39 years ago.

2016-04-03 14.18.55

Polk Audio Monitor 7A (grill removed)

2016-04-03 14.18.41

Comparing the NHT SB2 (top) to the Polk Audio Monitor 7A (bottom)

So for the time being, I’m very, very happy.

Life is good.

-30-

Upgrade!

I’ve gradually been working on upgrading my stereo system.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I’m moving away from Home Theater and back to where I belong: vinyl two-channel stereo.

It’s where I began my journey into hi-fi back in 1977 while in the Navy. One day, while I was in Radioman school in San Diego, I went out to a stereo store just to look around and walked out with my first stereo system. I had a Yamaha natural sound receiver, a Dual turntable, and a pair of Polk Audio Monitor 7 loudspeakers. (Not owning a car then, I’m at a loss as to how I got that stuff back to my barracks dorm room).

To this day, I still think those were the best sounding speakers I’ve ever owned. Now I understand sound memory and how you tend to color things with your emotions, but everything I’ve read seems to indicate those were some damned fine speakers and possibly the best Polk Audio ever put out.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Anyway, over the last few months I’ve been upgrading pieces, starting with the source end of things. I had a Technolink TC-753LC phono preamp (that’s an amplifier that boosts the weak signal that comes from your turntable into something your receiver can use. Now I’ve heard a lot of good things about the TC-750LC phono preamp, but I found that none of those applied to this one. This one hardly boosted the signal enough for my receiver to use and I had to crank the volume up inordinately high and the sound was still barely there. Plus, there was a horrible background hiss.

So that was the first piece I swapped out. I got a used Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 Special Edition. The difference was night and day. The hiss was gone and it boosted the signal significantly better than the Technolink did. For equivalent sound levels from the speakers, I used to have to crank my receiver to -10db and with the Graham Slee, I only had to crank it to -22db.

2016-03-12 19.31.41

Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 SE

And the sound was full and open, giving a much wider sound stage.

Next, I replaced the cartridge. The old one was very old. I couldn’t even find a replacement stylus for it. It was an Audio Technica AT-4414S. Since I did like the Audio Technica house sound, I stuck with them and picked up a new AT440MLB. If I thought the phono preamp improved the sound, this cart really made the music come alive! I could hear highs like cymbal crashes that I’d been missing all this time.

As far as my turntable and receiver, I’m still happy with both. The turntable is a vintage AR XA and it still plays beautifully. The receiver is a Marantz, and even if it’s a home theater receiver instead of a true stereo receiver, it is very nice. Maybe one day, I’ll try to pick up a vintage tube amp or something, but for now, the Marantz stays.

And I just won the missing piece off of eBay. Yes, I am waiting patiently now for my pair of Polk Audio Monitor 7A loudspeakers to be delivered.

Then, I’ll be happy. Or as happy as one can be in this hobby.

-30-

 

My kind of salesman

I’ve been researching new turntables and new phono preamps. I’ve read reviews, compared stats, all that fun stuff and narrowed my choice of turntable down to the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC after eliminating several options, such as:
• U-Turn Orbit and Orbit Plus. Probably the most affordable beginner audiophile table out there and American-made.
• Rega RP1. This is Rega’s entry audiophile turntable.
• Denon DP-300F. They make decent AV receivers and amps.
• Teac TN-300. Teac used to be the go-to maker of reel-to-reel tape decks back in the 70s.
• Audio-Technica AT-LP120/USB. The only direct drive turntable on my list. They make competitive phono cartridges.

So I had made my choice and had reached the saturation point of just reading about turntables. I wanted to see one.

I took a drive over to Ultra Fidelis in Tosa. I hadn’t even know they were there, until few weeks ago when I drove down North Avenue.

Inside, the sales area is, for lack of a better term, cozy. Speakers are lined up along the walls and components sit in racks.

I was looking at the turntables when Bob, their only salesman besides the owner, walked in.

He asked what I was looking for and I mentioned I was in the market for a new turntable and phono preamp and was interested in the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon.

It was gorgeous in bright yellow.

Bob asked what I had now and why I wanted the change.

So I told him I had an Acoustic Research XA and I wanted to get something newer. The AR XA doesn’t have a cue lever and it lacks anti-skating.

He explained that if the tonearm is set up correctly with a quality cartridge, anti-skating wasn’t necessary. As for cueing, that shouldn’t detract from what a great turntable my classic was.

He also said that he could take a look at my turntable, add a high end cartridge (he suggested a Grado Blue), and tweak it up so it would run and sound as good as any new turntable I was considering.

He also showed me some phono preamps, then told me that Cambridge Audio was releasing a new moving magnet preamp which they’d be getting in a few weeks if I’d like to look at that.

Then he asked if I’d ever heard the Vandersteen speakers. I said I’d heard OF them, but had never heard them.

He proceeded to set up a pair of the Model 1Ci and we sat back and listened to them sampling different types of music, playing them at low volume and high, and before I knew it an hour had passed.

The Vandersteen speakers were the best I’ve heard in a long long time and I left amazed and drooling.

And it occurred to me, Bob had talked me out of buying a new turntable, he had told me to wait until a $50 cheaper (but just as nice) phono preamp came in, and he’d earned my future business just by sitting and listening to music with me.

That’s salesmanship.

-30-

I was sold a bill of goods

Music has always been important to me. Even as a child, I had a large collection of records that I played on some sort of children’s record player. It had one of those little flippy styluses, one way was for 33-1/3, the other way was for, I’m not sure, 78s? 45s?

My record collection contained a set that featured the great music of the world. Each record contained something different. Like classical. Or folk. Or musicals (I believe there was one devoted to Rogers and Hammerstein). Or historical (music of the American Revolution, Civil War, etc.) And so on.

I also owned records like “Peter and the Wolf” and my all-time favorite, “Popeye’s Favorite Sea Shanties” as performed by Captain Allen Swift and his crew. I’m sure I drove my parents crazy playing “What do you do with a silly sailor” over and over and over and over and over and over again. By the way, I still have it.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Popeye’s Favorite Sea Shanties

As a teen, I got a sort of real, kind of, phonograph: a Realistic Clarinette III. That’s also when I discovered Black Sabbath and I cranked up those six inch paper cone loudspeakers until they distorted.

Anyway, time passed and I had purchased a somewhat decent stereo system in the Navy (well, I purchased several and managed to blow most of them up), which I brought home and then played the hell out of, until 30 years I realized my system was now archaic. Worse, the speakers just didn’t sound right any more. Either age or abuse had taken it’s toll on the tweeters of one of them. Not to mention my turntable had been destroyed in a horrific accident.

I needed new speakers. But this was 2008. Nobody just had a stereo any more. Everyone had a HOME THEATER SYSTEM! (Say that in a deep, loud voice.) So I bought into the whole booming explosions and surround sound thing and spent almost $2000 on a system. At first, yes, I loved the hell out of it. I’d watch the beach scene in “Saving Private Ryan,” to hear the deep boom of explosions, the lobby scene in “The Matrix,” and the depth charge sequence in “U-571.” That one gets down below 25hz!

But now, a decade later, I’ve come to realize that the bloom is off the rose. I hardly ever use my system to listen to movies or TV, mostly because the only time I ever watch movies is when the family has gone to sleep and then I can’t crank it for fear of waking people, but also because I don’t really watch a lot of current movies. I like vintage black and white movies and classic television and they don’t usually have surround sound.

But I still love my vinyl. And I’m realizing that it was peer pressure of a sort that got me to buy a home theater system when what I really only wanted was a vinyl audiophile system. I have five speakers when I only need two (six if you count the subwoofer, but you always need a subwoofer). I have a complicated audio video receiver when all I really needed was a stereo receiver, or even just an integrated amp.

So let my tale of woe be a lesson to you. Don’t buy more than you need. Except for subwoofers, bigger is always better.

-30-