Tag Archives: entertainment

Up, Up, Up

As I went through today’s snail I found that my CenturyLink invoice had risen by a not-insignificant 28%. CenturyLink bundles a bunch of stuff. There’s the POTS (and its requisite long distance), DirecTV, and High Speed [cough, cough] Internet. When I mentioned Internet, my kid – ever the quick wit – quipped…

“You mean we *pay* them for that???”

I nearly dropped a nut.

centurylinkHe’s right, though. This is rural Florida and the Internet service well and truly sucks. They SHOULD pay us, rather than the other way around. At the far end of a 12,000-foot copper haul to the DSLAM, you just KNOW I’m not makin’ it up.

But that’s not why the bill went up. It was DirecTV. DirecTV’s portion alone rose by fifty-four damned percent. And I know why. A couple of promos, granted when we signed up last year, expired. As if that pap that passes for content was worth the promo rate in the first place. A thousand channels of crap. Thank the almighty Lord in heaven none of us give a flyin’ shit for sports!

The lot of ’em – what a rip. I mean, study after study, survey after survey, who’s at the bottom along with lawyers and used car salesmen? Cable companies and phone companies, that’s who.

I wrote the check.

SimCity

Or should I just call it SimShitty, as some have taken to calling the recent launch?

The other day Pam plunked down her sixty bucks, minus five with a coupon, plus another fifteen for a strategy book… lemme check the math, that’s seventy smackers, plus some Florida tax… damn, my head’s swimmin’. And for what? Not a lot.

She’s gone through the tutorial and that’s about it. The Origin servers are all down and there’s nothing else to be done. No serv-o, no play-o. The stuff she learned in the tutorial’s largely forgotten. After all, what you don’t put to use in 24 hours of learning is gone the next day, the brain folks love to tell us at training seminars. Use it or lose it.

SimCityOkay, everything’s social now. I get it. But SimCity’s largely a game where a single player tries their hand at lording over an infrastructure that happens to include, well, a simulated population. It’s not like your city’s populated with Aunt Jane or the dork you went to school with or… damn… your boss. No, the social part of this title is nothing more than a bag on the side.

So tell me… why’s it necessary to connect to Origin’s server to play?

Oh, yeah, DRM. Those evil thieves… er customers… are trying to steal your stuff.

Listen up, Electronic Arts.

You’ve got this customer, her name’s Pam. She’s known about you since you were one of many. Back when I used to game. Think Archon on the Apple ][. Yeah, that long ago. She got into The Sims. I bought her a box to play it on. She bought every expansion pack. Then Sims 2. I built her a (then) kick-ass box to play that on and she bought all of those expansion packs, too. Sims 3? Yup. I think she has all of those packs. Books and guides for the lot of ’em, too. I know, I just packed and moved ’em all – a pretty big box – from Jersey down here to Paradise. So Pam knew Sim City from when I played it on the Amiga, and Sim City 2000, too. The ads and previews for the newest SimCity were pretty damned enticing. And not one review – as far as I know – had mentioned this insane reliance on a server connection. So here’s this customer, a good customer, a spendy customer, that threw Electronic Arts a pile of greenbacks for a promise.

And EA failed her.

Over the past few days she’s checked in to try to play, all hours of the day and night. All servers are down.

You failed her bad. There’s no reason to require a remote server connection for single player play. None.

If Pam listens to me, or to our son, or to countless others with similar experiences, she won’t be back.

Shame on you, Electronic Arts.

As big as you are, you really should know better.

Coffee Stop

black coffeeThe airport was crowded, busy, and the girl in front of me was ordering this coffee-drink. You know, the kind of coffee-drink with the fancy-ass name that takes two breaths to say, and dammit it had better be exactly right or else… You’ve heard the expression high maintenance? The epitome, right there in front of me, at the front of the line, standing at the service counter. So she made her order and I rolled my eyes.

The kid behind the counter glanced at me, I met his eye and said simply, “Coffee. Black.” The kid turned to his work… and turned back almost immediately with my black. The girl sputtered, started getting arrogant. I smiled and slid a fin, a crazy over-payment for the black, across the counter, turned and walked away. I didn’t look back.

I wouldn’t mind meeting up with her again in the middle of the apocalypse, watching her cope. It’d be cheap entertainment.

SSD

When I built Whisky, my current work-a-day desktop, back in November 2009 I wanted to boot from one of those blazin’ solid-state drives. Bummer, though, either they were seriously expensive or performed poorly. Poorly, of course, was a relative term; for the most part even the poorest smoke conventional hard drives. Still, as the build expenses mounted the SSD finally fell off the spec list.

Sometime after the build, Seagate brought their hybrid drives to market. Hybrids combine a conventional spinning disk and conventional cache with a few gigabytes of SLC NAND memory configured as a small SSD. The system sees the drive as it would any other drive; an Adaptive Memory (Seagate proprietary) algorithm monitors data use and keeps frequently used stuff on the SSD. You’ll find people arguing over whether or not a hybrid drive provides any kind of performance boost. I wrote about my experiences with the Seagate Momentus XT (ST95005620AS) back in June 2010. Today when I build a multiple drive system I routinely spec a hybrid as a boot drive. It’s cheap and it helps.

Corsair Force Series GT CSSD-F240GBGT-BKSo about a month ago I ran across a good deal on a fast SSD, a Corsair Force Series GT (CSSD-F240GBGT-BK) and I jumped on it. The specs are just tits: sequential reads and writes of 555 and 525 MB/s respectively. (Sure, that was with a SATA 3 interface and my motherboard only supports SATA 2; I wouldn’t see numbers like that, but still… It even looks great.

Integrating the thing into a working system was a bit of a challenge, mostly because I didn’t want to purchase additional software simply to clone the existing boot drive. I’ve got no trouble paying for software I use; it simply seemed like too much for something to be used but once. So part of the challenge was to find a cost-free alternative.

Strategy and Concerns

The general strategy would be to clone the current two-partition boot drive to the SSD, swap it in and enjoy the performance boost. The SSD partitions would need to be aligned, of course, and somewhere along the way the C partition would need to shrink to fit onto the smaller SSD.

The top concerns came down to security and reliability. Erasing a conventional hard drive is easy: repeatedly write random data to each block. You can’t do that with SSDs. Their blocks have a specific (and comparatively short) lifetime and so on-board wear-leveling routines become important. When data is overwritten, for example, the drive writes the data elsewhere and marks the old blocks for reuse. And unlike conventional drives, it’s not enough to simply write over a block marked for reuse; the entire block must first be erased. The bottom line is you can’t ever know with certainty whether or not a SSD is ever clear of confidential data. Disposing of them securely, then, means total destruction.

As for reliability, a conventional hard drive has to have some pretty serious problems before it becomes impossible to recover at least some data. There’s generally a bit of warning – they get noisy, start throwing errors, or something else that you notice – before they fail completely. Most often an SSD will simply fail. From working to not, just like that. And when that happens there’s not much to be done. This makes the issue of backups a little more thorny. If it contained confidential data at the time of failure you’ve got a hard choice to make: eat the cost and destroy the device, or RMA it back to the manufacturer (losing control of your data).

Considering backups, you can see that monolithic backups aren’t the best solution because they’re outdated as soon as they’re written. Instead, a continuous backup application, one that notices and writes changed files, with versioning, seems prudent.

In my case, this is to be a Windows 7 boot drive and and all confidential user data is already on other storage. The Force Series GT drive has a 2,000,000 hour MTBF, fairly high.

Software

SSDs are fast but they’re relatively small. It’s almost certain that existing boot partitions will be too big to fit and mine is no exception. Windows 7 Disk Manager will allow you to resize partitions if the conditions on those partitions are exactly right. There are commercial programs that will do the job where Windows won’t but my favorite is MiniTool Partition Wizard. I didn’t really want to do that in this instance. The fundamental problem I had with pre-shrinking is that it would involve mucking with a nicely working system. Come trouble, I wanted to simply pop my original drive back in the system, boot and get back to work.

For cloning and shrinking partitions there are several free or almost free applications. I found that most of them have drawbacks of one sort or another. I’ve used Acronis before – Acronis supplies OEM versions of their True Image software to some drive manufacturers, it’s an excellent product. But their free product won’t resize a partition image, bummer. I used EaseUS some years back, too, but a bad run-in once with their “rescue media” – in that case a bootable USB stick. My disks got hosed pretty bad from simply booting the thing and I… wasn’t pleased. Maybe they’ve gotten better, people say good things about ’em, but I wasn’t confident… Paragon seemed very highly rated but in testing I had too many validation failures with their images. Apparently the current version is worse than the back revs. Whatever, I was still uneasy. I ended up settling on Macrium Reflect from Paramount Software UK Ltd. For no rational reason the name of this product bothered me, sending it to the bottom of the test list. Macrium. The word makes me think of death by fire. I was reluctant to even install it. About the only negative think I’ve got to say about Macrium is that it takes a fair bit of effort to build the ‘rescue disk’ – bootable media to allow you to rebuild a failed boot volume from your backup image(s). The rescue media builder downloads and installs, from a Microsoft site, the Windows Automated Installation Kit. WAIK weighs in at more than 2 GB. The end result is a small ISO from which you can make bootable media of your choice. Except for that final burn – you’re on your own for that – the process is mostly automated; it just takes a while. Probably has to do with licensing or something.

Finally, I bought a copy of Genie Timeline Pro to provide the day-to-day realtime backup insurance, mentioned earlier, that I wanted.

Preparation for Migration

I started by installing both Gene Timeline Pro and Macrium Reflect and familiarized myself with each. I built the rescue media for each, booted from the media, and restored stuff to a spare drive in order to test. It’s an important step that many omit, but a backup that doesn’t work, for whatever reason, is worse than no backup at all.

I did some additional maintenance and configuration which would affect the C: partition. I disabled indexing and shrunk the page file to 2GB. The box has 8GB RAM and never pages. I suppose I could omit the page file entirely, but a warning is better than a BSOD for failure to page. I got rid of all the temp junk and performed the usual tune-up steps that Windows continues to need from time to time.

Satisfied, I imaged the System Reserved partition and the C: partition of my boot volume, verifying the images afterward. For each partition, which I backed up with separate operations, I used the Advanced Settings in Macrium Reflect to make an Intelligent Sector copy. This means that unused sectors aren’t copied, effectively shrinking the images. Then I installed the SSD via an eSATA port. Yes, this meant it would run even slower than SATA 2 but it saved a trip inside the box.

It was at this step that I noticed the only negative thing about this drive. The SATA cable is a bit of a loose fit. It doesn’t accept a retaining clip, if your cable is so equipped. Ensure there’s no tension on a cable that might dislodge it.

Creating Aligned Partitions

Partition alignment is important on SSDs both for performance and long life. Because of the way they work, most will read and write 4K pages. A very simplistic explanation is that when a partition is not aligned on a 4K boundary, most writes will require two pages rather than one which decreases performance dramatically and wears the memory faster. (There’s more to it than that, really, but you can seek that out on your own. The Web’s a great teacher. Being the curious sort I learned more than I needed to.)  Windows 7, when IPLed, will notice the SSD and build correctly aligned partitions for you. Some commercial disk cloning software will handle it automatically, too. But migrating users are on their own. Incidentally, it’s theoretically possible to adjust partition alignment on the fly, but if you think about the logistics of how this might be done – shifting an entire partition this way or that by some number of 512 byte blocks to a 4K boundary – you’ll realize it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Better to simply get it right in the first place.

Fortunately it’s easy!

Using an elevated command prompt (or, in my case, a PowerShell), use DISKPART. In my case, my existing System Reserved partition was 71 MB and change, and the remainder of the SSD would become my C: partition.

diskpart
list disk
select disk <n>
(where <n>is the disk number of the SSD)
create partition primary size=72 align=1024
active
(the System Reserved partition needs to be Active)
create partition primary align=1024
(no size specification means use the remaining available space)
exit

You can also use DISKPART to check the alignment. I’ll use mine as an example.

diskpart
list disk
select disk <n>
(where <n>is the disk number of the SSD)
list partition
exit

My partition list looks like this.

Partition ### Type             Size    Offset
------------- ---------------- ------- -------
Partition 1   Primary           70 MB 1024 KB
Partition 2   Primary          223 GB   73 MB

To check the alignment, divide the figure in the Offset column, expressed in kilobytes, by 4. If it divides evenly then it’s aligned. For Partition 1, the System Reserved partition, 1024 / 4 = 256, so it’s good. Partition 2’s Offset is expressed in megabytes so we have to convert to kilobytes first by multiplying it by 1024. So, 73 * 1024 = 74752 and 74752 / 4 = 18688, so it’s good, too.

Whew!

It’s worth noting that what DISKPART didn’t show in the list is the tiny unused space – about 2MB in my case – between Partition 1 and Partition 2 which facilitated alignment.

Someone pointed out to me that partition alignment can be checked without DISKPART. Fire up msinfo32. Expand Components, then expand Storage, then select Disks. Find the drive in question and divide the Partition Starting Offset fields by 4096. If it divides evenly you’re all set!

Migration

I used Macrium Reflect to restore the partition images I created earlier. Rather than allowing the software to create the partitions (which would negate our alignment effort) I pointed it to each target partition in turn. When the restore was finished I shut the system down.

I pulled the SSD from the eSATA port and pulled the existing boot drive from the system. I mounted the SSD in place of the old boot drive. (Windows gets upset when it finds multiple boot drives at startup, so it’s a good idea to have just one.) I took extra care with the data cable.

I powered up and entered the system BIOS, walked through the settings applicable to a drive change, saved and booted.  Things looked good.

Living With the SSD

Wow! Coldstarts are fast. (See below.) So fast that getting through the BIOS has become the perceived bottleneck. Applications start like lightning, especially the first time, before Windows caches them. Shutdowns are snappy, too. (See below.) There’s no shortage of anecdotes and benchmarks on the ‘net and I’m sure you’ve seen them. It’s all delightfully true.

But all wasn’t perfect. After a week or two some new patterns seemed to be emerging.

Every so often, unexpectedly, the system would become unresponsive with the drive use LED full-on solid, for some tens of seconds. Most of the time the system would return to normal operation but depending on what application was doing what at the time, the period of unresponsiveness could sometimes cause a crash. Sometimes the crash would be severe enough to bring on a BSOD. The biggest problem I have with BSODs or other hard crashes is that it causes the mirrored terabyte data drives to resync, and that takes a while. Usually the System Log would show Event ID 11 entries like this associated with the event:

The driver detected a controller error on \Device\Ide\IdePort6.

And once, following a BSOD, the boot drive was invisible to the BIOS at restart! A hard power cycle made it visible again and Whisky booted normally, as though nothing abnormal had ever occurred.

Hard to say for sure, but it seemed as though these oddities were happening with increasing frequency.

Firmware Update

Prowling the ‘net I found others reporting similar problems. What’s more, Corsair was on the case and had a fresh firmware update! The update process, they claimed, was supposed to preserve data. I checked my live backup and made new partition images anyway. The drive firmware update itself went exactly as described, took but seconds and left the data intact. The next boot had Windows installing new (or maybe just reinstalling?) device drivers for the drive, which then called for another boot. All this booting used to be a pain in the ass but when the box boots in seconds you tend to not mind that much.

Benchmark performance after the update was improved, but only marginally – nothing I’d actually notice. The troublesome hangs I mentioned seem to occur on bootup now, when they occur at all. They seem less ‘dangerous’ because they don’t interrupt work in progress at that time. So far, anyway, I just wait out the length boot and log in, followed by a cold shutdown. The next coldstart invariably goes normally, that is, very, very fast.

What’s going on? Maybe some periodic housekeeping going on in the drive? Maybe some housekeeping that was underway when I interrupted with a shutdown? Or maybe it’s that data cable? Remember, I mentioned it’s sort of a loose fit without a retainer clip. Time will tell.

Videos

I goes without saying that SSDs are fast. Many people like to judge that by how fast Windows loads. I threw together a couple of videos to illustrate.

System Startup with SSD
00.00 - Sequence start
01.30 - Power on
04.06 - Hardware initialization
13.20 - Video signal to monitors
15.83 - BIOS
23.93 - Windows Startup
39.83 - Login prompt
44.93 - Password entry complete
54.50 - Ready to work

Power on to Windows startup duration is 22.63 seconds.
Windows startup to login prompt duration is 15.90 seconds.
Password entry to ready-to-work duration is 9.57 seconds.

 

System Shutdown with SSD

00:00:00 - Sequence start
00:08.32 - Shutdown initiated
00:24.27 - Shutdown complete

Shutdown initiation to power off duration: 15.95 seconds.

 

Socks

I’ve been doing a lot of cleaning up lately. “Streamlining,” we’re calling it.

I found this on some backup media in a backwater directory with a bunch of other rather unrelated files. I remember the piece but, unfortunately, I haven’t got the faintest clue as to the source. Made me chuckle. Again.

Enjoy.

In each pair of socks, one is male and one is female. Heat (such as the heat of a dryer) sets off the reproductive cycle. In the dryer the socks have sex by rubbing along each other as they are tossed around. The female, once impregnated, sneaks off to give birth, alone, while the male stays behind. The female sock gives birth to a litter of baby metal coat hangers, which promptly consume their mother, leaving behind very little. This detritus is eventually caught by the filter in the dryer, and become what is known as lint. The baby coat hangers, looking for cool, dark places, make their way to your closets, which is why there are always more hangers than the last time you looked. [Note: they are attracted to others of their kind, so that a totally empty closet will usually stay that way, while a closet with a large number of hangers will have the greatest number of new hangers.] Eventually, the hangers turn into moths, which eat your clothes [after all, they have to get the fabric for the socks from *somewhere*]. Having gorged themselves, they descend to the bottom of the closet and extrude a hard outer layer. In this stage they are known as ‘mothballs’ [now you know why!]. Once they have fully developed, they eat through their casing and stand revealed as fully adult socks! To complete the cycle, they go out in search of a mate. The most common place they find their mates is at the bottom of a pile of dirty laundry, a place that is infamous for being a haven for unwashed, single socks. If you don’t believe me, go check.

Eye halve a spelling chequer

This is an old favorite. I figured I’d preserve it here so I could link to it from elsewhere with the assurance that it wouldn’t drop out from under me.

Sauce unknown. Lost to the ages, I guess. Have fun. Or not.

Eye Halve a Spelling Chequer

I have a spelling checker.
It came with my pea sea.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.

Eye ran this poem threw it,
Your sure reel glad two no.
Its vary polished in it’s weigh.
My checker tolled me sew.

A checker is a bless sing,
It freeze yew lodes of thyme.
It helps me right awl stiles two reed,
And aides me when I rime.

Each frays come posed up on my screen
eye trussed too bee a joule.
The checker pours o’er every word
To cheque sum spelling rule.

Bee fore a veiling checker’s Hour
spelling mite decline,
And if we’re lacks oar have a laps,
We wood bee maid too wine.

Butt now bee cause my spelling
Is checked with such grate flair,
Their are no fault’s with in my cite,
Of nun eye am a ware.

Now spelling does knot phase me,
It does knot bring a tier.
My pay purrs awl due glad den
With wrapped word’s fare as hear.

To rite with care is quite a feet
Of witch won should be proud,
And wee mussed dew the best wee can,
Sew flaw’s are knot aloud.

Sow ewe can sea why aye dew prays,
Such soft wear four pea seas,
And why eye brake in two averse
Buy righting too pleas.

Guitar Addition

Ah, that kid o’ mine sure knows how to push my buttons!

He wants my guitar, my beloved Splatter Strat, that I bought back in 2004. (I recently wrote about some modifications I made to it – see Supercharging the Stratocaster.) He can’t play, but he wants to. I’ve told him over and over that he can use it any time but he wants it nearby, not where I store it. So every time he sees me eyeing another axe he goads me: “Go on, just buy it!”

He knows.

Well, the other day, just shy of 7 years since I bought the Strat, I bought a limited run Les Paul Studio 60’s Tribute.

Gibson Les Paul Studio 60s Tribute
Limited run Gibson Les Paul Studio 60s Tribute in Worn Cherry Burst.

Damian’s birthday’s coming up, Pam and I reasoned, and with a month or so before school starts it’s a good time to help him establish a practice schedule… I gave him the Strat with two conditions: I could play it when I wanted and he’d give me first dibs if he considered getting rid of it. We threw in a VOX Pathfinder 15R and a bunch of other goodies. He seemed pleased.

As am I. Oddly, I was originally looking for the Les Paul Studio Faded because of the outstanding reviews – not to mention the price and availability – but when I played the two side by side the choice was clear. Wow, those P-90 pickups were white-hot. Needless to say, it helped that Pam really liked the finish!

It’s taking some getting used to. The first thing I did was change the strings to my favorites and get into the requisite setup. Amazingly, it took almost no tweaking at all! The action’s just a tad higher than I prefer but only the tiniest bit. I think I’m going to try to get used to it. The sound is, well, like a Les Paul.

Oh, and Damian? He’s been practicing some every day. His fingers hurt but I’m pushing him to increase his session duration. He’s listening, which is good.

Eventually he’ll not only look like a rock star, he’ll make noises like one, too.

Roxy & Dukes Roadhouse

It was a few weeks ago that my friend Will had mentioned Roxy & Dukes Roadhouse, saying it looked like someplace we should check out. For some reason it popped into my head as I was polishing some chrome on the bar-hopper. Their lineup for the evening was Mr. Choad’s Wild Ride presented by The Slipper Room In Exile. The Slipper Room is a variety club on the Lower East Side, currently closed for renovations. Could be fun.

We found the place easy enough, although I thought it would be closer to downtown. I needed to execute a quick U-turn in a dimly lit gas station because I initially passed the entrance. The guy by the pumps gave us a funny look from under his turban as I rumbled the bike around, as did the LEO in the parking lot across from Roxy. Parking was ample and easy and we carried our lids inside. The place takes reservations but we had none. Didn’t matter, we were a bit early for showtime and took a table for two in front of the stage.

A waitress soon appeared with a couple of coldbeers. I was a little put off when she told me that in order to run a tab they’d need to hold my ID and credit card. Being a privacy/security freak I was ready to fall back to greenbacks. I spoke of my disapproval of their policy as I fingered my wallet. She took my Mastercard, presumably to swipe for my initial order, and quickly reappeared to tell me I could have my tab while not turning over my credentials. Not quite sure why it went that way but it made things easier than dealing with the interruptions of incremental payments as the evening progressed.

If you follow the Roxy link and check out the menu you’ll find that it’s kind of limited. I had the Rockabilly Road-dog Ripper and some fries, a footlong in a bowl of bread, sauerkraut, onions and peppers, etc. The dog overhung the bowl by a good deal and when I lobbed off the end it fell to the floor. (Sorry!) I’m sure I wasn’t the first to do that… Anyway, Roxy’s isn’t the place to go for dinner but the selections fit the venue and atmosphere perfectly – the beers are cold and the snacks are good.

So was the entertainment. Mr. Choad’s Wild Ride was a four-part combination of deliberately cheesy stand-up, exotic dancing, and strength/agility acts. Don’t think The Sands, think Fremont Street. That they’re based in the Lower East Side is perfectly appropriate. The entire show was quite entertaining, very real, a lot of fun.

Afterward I was pleasantly surprised to find that the tab for food and night-full of coldbeers was under forty bucks. Very, very reasonable. Between that, tips, and the $10 cover, this was a seriously inexpensive – and very entertaining – night out.

My conclusions? Recommended stuff, two thumbs up, we’ll absolutely be back to see other acts.

The ride home through the mix of town and country roads was uneventful. It’s a blast meandering through little towns, late on a summer night on a loud bike. From the standpoint of others… well, there’s pretty much no middle ground; people either love it or hate it. Doesn’t matter much to me.

81 Support Party

Dingo's Den
Dingo's Den in Clifton, NJ during the day, photo found on the Web.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Coming off the Garden State Parkway, Pam and me had followed the GPS through a maze of dark residential streets. We rounded the corner onto Van Houten Avenue to find the street in front of the Dingo’s Den choked with bodies and motorcycles. This tiny place was hosting the Hells Angels Winter Party?

We eased the truck past, found parking several blocks away, walked back. A passing outbound girl warned that it was “very, very crowded and hot” inside. “As long as the beer’s cold,” I thought. We pressed on.

Inside was packed. And loud. But service was good and soon we were in the back near the band, beers in hand. It had been quite a while since I’d been in a club like this. Dark, dirty, jammed with people, fleeting smells – some recognizable and some not –  and seriously loud. The kind of loud that required shouting over, and even then… I missed it. A lot.

We only had the time to take in two of the four bands. Ghost & the Big Sky was first. Very good, tight drums & bass with competent guitar work. Then Trailer Park Mafia. Their 70s/80s metal renditions were instantly familiar. They did a blazing version of Motorhead’s Ace of Spades.

Soon enough it was time to go. Somehow, the outside world seemed much, much quieter.

Forward Into The Past

Some music is timeless. My son – he’s 17 now – likes the Beatles. No matter that the band broke up when I was in middle school! Well, as it turns out we’ve got quite a few Beatles LPs (er, vinyl records, those plastic things with the grooves that played music for us old farts) in our collection down in the basement. It was time to do some conversion and put this stuff on his iPod.

I started to research those USB turntables that promise to quickly and easily turn LPs into MP3s and found them lacking. Well, at least those in the range I was willing to spend. Frankly, the hardware I was finding sported specs that kinda sucked, mostly because of the included cartridge.

LP Digitizing Workstation
My basement LP digitizing workstation, Ethernet cable dangling from the floor joists above. That's the back of my furnace in the background and the handle of a 1 KW floodlight leaning against the desk. Also visible is a Discwasher kit to the left of the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour LP. Bought new for 99 cents during the summer between grammar school and middle school, that was the very first record I ever bought.

I still have an old (but still kinda nice) turntable. Sony, Decent magnetic cartridge, linear-tracking, not too bad. I even have an Onkyo receiver that has a built-in phono pre-amp. That’s a bit of a rarity in receivers nowadays, as the need for one has pretty much gone away. I hauled out the gear and did some testing as I pondered the reality that was sinking into my head…

Analog music – turntables and vinyl records – have all but gone away. Some DJs still use them for mixing stuff but even that’s largely going away, leaving only the quote-audiophiles-unquote. And it’s a given that whenever a market targets a group labeled with some word that ends in phile you can add a zero or two to the price on any related gear. Wow.

I found my old audio gear to be in perfect working order, a testament to decent care while in storage. On to the computer. From parts, I thew together something to handle the digitizing chore: A 1 GHz Celeron box; all of 256 MB RAM; a 250 GB hard drive; Soundblaster PCI 512 card; Windows XP; an ancient program, CDWAV, I think it came with an ancient version of Cakewalk Pyro. Yeah, that ought to do it.

The setup makes uncompressed WAV files: PCM, 2 16-bit channels, sampled at 44,100 Hz. I pull the files up to my desktop and use Nero to correct out the clicks and pops, separate the tracks and burn a standard audio CD. Then use iTunes to import the CD to MP3. The intermediate CD saves the analog-to-digital and cleanup work, the most labor-intensive part of the process. The CDs, BTW, are in most cases good enough to allow iTunes (Gracenote, actually) to figure out the album/song titles.

My digital library is now experiencing steady growth.

Resource Contribution

Astute repeat visitors may have noticed the new Spamstains page. Let me explain.

Like everyone else, this blog receives an astounding amount of spam. Doesn’t matter much, really; the tools running tirelessly in the background do a pretty good job of culling the junk. But like a grease trap in a fast food restaurant kitchen the spam traps need periodic purges. It’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it.

The new page collects some of the best fragments of spammy junk I run across in that cesspool. Besides the obvious giggly entertainment value I’ve actually found a perfect use for the material.

Ever get an unwelcome telemarketer call? Sure you have. Ever at a loss for how to respond? The job just got easier. All you need to do is access the Spamstains page and read aloud from it to your intruder.

Better than simply hanging up, you can waste their time just like they waste yours. And it requires no thought or creativity on your part, for my spammers have taken care of that for you!

You’re welcome.

Hailey’s Harp and Pub

Last night I attended the first annual whiskey tasting at Hailey’s Harp and Pub. It was a huge success!

Pam still reads a pulp newspaper and it was there that she spotted the ad. She thought that our friend Will (also a whiskey enthusiast) and I might enjoy the nearby event and offered to drive. (Can’t beat that, right?)

About 30 of us convened in a back room of the pub to eat, sample whiskeys and converse with Whiskey Master Kevin Loser. Our host (and pub owner) Chris got the evening going with a few stories and jokes while the first of some 7 whiskeys were poured. Kevin took over and began with a high-level description of different whiskey types and common distillery operations. Each new pour was introduced with a great deal of detail. Between tastings, plates of finger foods appeared, prepared by chef Johnny O’ to compliment that particular whiskey. Delicious!

I already had varying degrees of familiarity with most everything we tasted, save one – the Redbreast. The 12-year-old didn’t impress me but it was followed by the 15-year-old which was simply outstanding. A triple-distilled pure pot still whiskey is unique. A Web search will bring you lots more information about the whiskey, here’s a good place to start.

The pace of the event was good. The hours passed quickly and afterward we had a pint in the pub proper, taking in some live music. Chris spent some time hangin’ with the three of us, talking. (Nice touch, spending time with the noobs.) He runs a nice hands-on operation and customers know him by name. The house was packed – normal, I’m told.

Hailey’s has a great atmosphere, everyone made us feel welcome. It’s someplace I’ll definitely try to visit more often. Besides, I want to explore their menu.

Karaoke

Last night I enjoyed a new experience and, well, it led to some rather unexpected results. I visited a karaoke bar!
Okay, go ahead, label me deprived or something. The fact is, it’s been more than a few years since I stopped hanging out in bars for the sake of just hanging out. The activity just doesn’t hold a whole lot of appeal for me. Sure, I did my share of it back in the day but I’ve usually got way better things to do with my time. So almost every time I find myself in that environment I learn something. And karaoke… I guess it’s a trend that just passed me by.
Here’s my basic interpretation of how it works. The establishment primes its customers with alcohol while playing loud music. I think it has to be loud so that everyone needs to shout to converse. It gets the voice primed. The alcohol serves as lubricant. Then they open the mike. The operator (or MC, I guess – what do you call the guy who guides the show?) sets up the songs and works the equipment. He seemed to have the ability to mix the song’s actual vocals back in so that more reserved participants would have a little help. Lyrics are displayed on strategically placed video monitors. Available songs could be chosen from a large binder – a couple of them, actually – that could be found on the bar. The night progressed and the lubricity rose, with mostly predictable results. A couple of people were actually pretty good. Most were not, but all were entertaining to one degree or another.
Before you ask, no, I didn’t take the mike at any point, which was probably a good thing for the other patrons. I must confess, though, before the night was over I did peruse the binder of songs. The lubrication, in the form of a few Coronas, was working as expected. Had I found some Zappa I might have given it a whirl. And that leads right into the unexpected results I mentioned earlier.
Time and time again I was surprised – astounded, actually – by song lyrics. Everything I knew was wrong! Top-40, metal, didn’t matter. Stuff I kind of thought I maybe sort of knew? Nope.
I’ll never listen to music the same way again.
There’s one tune that I hear kinda regularly on the satellite station at the gym. It sounds to me like they’re singing about making and eating some kind of soup. I guess I’m wrong about that one, too.

Last night I enjoyed a new experience and, well, it led to some rather unexpected results. I visited a karaoke bar!

Okay, go ahead, label me deprived or something. The fact is, it’s been more than a few years since I stopped hanging out in bars for the sake of just hanging out. The activity just doesn’t hold a whole lot of appeal for me. Sure, I did my share of it back in the day but I’ve usually got way better things to do with my time. So almost every time I find myself in that environment I learn something. And karaoke… I guess it’s a trend that just passed me by.

Here’s my basic interpretation of how it works. The establishment primes its customers with alcohol while playing loud music. I think it has to be loud so that everyone needs to shout to converse. It gets the voice primed. The alcohol serves as lubricant. Then they open the mike. The operator (or MC, I guess – what do you call the guy who guides the show?) sets up the songs and works the equipment. He seemed to have the ability to mix the song’s actual vocals back in so that more reserved participants would have a little help. Lyrics are displayed on strategically placed video monitors. Available songs could be chosen from a large binder – a couple of them, actually – that could be found on the bar. The night progressed and the lubricity rose, with mostly predictable results. A couple of people were actually pretty good. Most were not, but all were entertaining to one degree or another.

Before you ask, no, I didn’t take the mike at any point, which was probably a good thing for the other patrons. I must confess, though, before the night was over I did peruse the binder of songs. The lubrication, in the form of a few Coronas, was working as expected. Had I found some Zappa I might have given it a whirl. And that leads right into the unexpected results I mentioned earlier.

Time and time again I was surprised – astounded, actually – by song lyrics. Everything I knew was wrong! Top-40, metal, didn’t matter. Stuff I kind of thought I maybe sort of knew? Nope.

I’ll never listen to music the same way again.

There’s one tune, maybe some kind of rap, that I hear kinda regularly on the satellite station at the gym. It sounds to me like they’re chanting about making and eating some kind of soup. I guess I’m wrong about that one, too.

The S Word

I was cleaning up some backwater directory and ran across this oldie. According to the datestamp I must have saved it well over a decade ago. Nope, don’t know the origin. But I think it’s still funny, and still true as ever.

If you find the S word offensive then definitely don’t read on. Otherwise…

Continue reading The S Word

OS/2

OS/2
OS/2

I was cleaning off my desk today, picking up some of the clutter and carting it down to the basement archives when I ran across this sheet of stickers that made me smile. It got me to thinking…

Some months back I was participating in a discussion of old operating systems and talk turned to OS/2. I decided then that it might be fun to try to install Warp in a VM for goofs. Back in the dark ages even though the bulk of the install was from CD you needed to boot the install from floppy. It took some searching to find an old laptop that still had a working floppy drive, but find one I did and soon had the required floppy images.

It didn’t matter. The install failed.

That was under VMware Server 1-point-something-or-other. I soon learned that VMware didn’t support loading OS/2.

Oh well, it could have been fun.