Silent Here, Noisy Elsewhere: Bringing Peace to the Home Studio

Yes, yes, I know.  I have been a very negligent blogger.   I don’t want to say it’s been

Alesis MultMix USB 2.0 in its Peaceful Configuration
Alesis MultMix USB 2.0 in its Peaceful Configuration

a while since I posted hereabouts, but…well, it probably wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if the header image changed to “rolling tumbleweeds.”

And no, my recent silence has not had anything to do with the Leafs’ early season struggles.   My inconstancy would better be blamed on a prolonged period of fiddling about with various warring  gadgets in Mission Control.  Although some might describe what I’ve been doing as an exercise in amateur audio engineering, to me it feels more like I’ve been involved in an extended diplomatic mission to bring peace to the electronic devices gathered in my little high-tech office/studio/closet/electricity sink/rabbit warren.

The Dell XPS 700, for example, occupies a small plot of real estate not far from the Alesis MultiMix 16 USB 2.0 mixer.   This mixer is a piece of equipment that is designed to take audio inputs (from microphones, guitars, tape decks, iPods, keyboards, etc.) and provide an audio signal that can be amplified  through conventional means, or captured via USB in a computer running the appropriate software.  It’s an integral part of my home digital audio workstation setup.

The digital and the audio, however, were not previously getting along that well.  The mixer, of course, shared deep cultural ties (not to mention a pair of output cables) with its northern neighbour, the Behringer Europower EP2500  power amp.  The amp  is a device itself strongly allied (via a couple of 30′ cables) to a stacked pair of Elite loudspeaker cabinets.  Being so closely affiliated with powerful straight-up sound reinforcement equipment seemed to provide the Alesis mixer with little incentive to cross the cultural divide and open lines of communication with its digital neighbour to the west, the Dell computer.  I had tried to bridge the gap with a USB cable from time to time, but playback filled with clicks indicative of a sampling rate mismatch and some generally unpredictable routing and playback results made it clear that, although physically connected, the two solitudes were not communicating.  Someone was going to have to actively intervene in the long-standing petty dispute being waged between these two regional powers.  Thus began my effort to bring peace and co-operation to this region.


I know I promised to try and post some odds and sods that didn’t make it in to my Maple Leafs Annual article.  I haven’t had a chance just yet to go digging through the digital archives, because I’ve been working almost literally all weekend (aside from a spin on the lawn tractor and a brief visit with my family) on this charity event that’s coming up in two weeks.   Spouse and I have helped with the organization of this event every year for many years now, but this year’s  a little different:  for one reason or another, we’re down several members of the organizing committee, so much of the work has fallen directly on our (Spouse’s) shoulders.

We’ve also been crazy busy at work, and it’s been very difficult to manage to find the necessary time to put together an event like this during working hours, and to remain focussed on the necessary details.  For example, I did some work a few weeks ago to get some media exposure for us, and managed to get a live radio interview with our Honourary Chair (a young woman who at one time made use of the very services we’re fundraising for) on a local station.  It took a bazillion phone calls and emails to get it all set up and to arrange for another committee member (someone who knows the necessary details) to participate in the interview too.  The last thing I had to do on Friday was confirm all these details for all the participants – and I came damn close to completely forgetting to do that.  I was so busy with other stuff in my real job that it very nearly entirely slipped my mind.  That would have been bad.

Anyway, cross your fingers and hold your breath.  Here’s hoping we can pull this together and raise some money for the kids.

I’m donating a signed copy of the Maple Leafs Annual to the charity auction, in case anybody is interested.  I’m going to sign it with my hockey player autograph (#17 inscribed beneath my name).

Maple Leafs Annual 2009-2010: IT’S HERE!!!


My complimentary copy of the 2009-2010 Maple Leafs Annual – the Leafs season preview magazine containing my article on the arc of the Leafs’ rebuild and published by the “lunatic millionaires” who are “allergic to money” has arrived! Can you believe it, my piece was published on page 85, well known in the trade as the single most important page in any book, magazine or Jehovah’s Witness literature.

cropped MLA arrives copy
Well, that's a weird smile...but look at the mag!!

I would love to write all kinds of witty stuff now about that, but I need to spend some quality time with the articles. More on the content later.  Incidentally, you can learn more about how to get your own life-affirming, magical and money-generating copy by clicking on the little picture of the magazine cover in the upper left corner of the site.

My initial reaction, having just opened up the box and frantically turned pages to confirm that my bit actually got published (in order to ensure that this is not part of an elaborate joke being played upon me by family and “friends”), is that the magazine looks terrific.  Alec Brownscombe should be very pleased;  I know I am.

Like “Brewster’s Millions”, But Less Plausible…

This is how I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that print journalism must be anachronistic, irrelevant and doomed:  I have been asked to write a piece on the Leafs for publication in an actual hold-it-in-your-hand, you-could-drop-that-thing-and-bruise-a-toe book.   And get this:  I am told that I will be getting paid to do this thing.  From this latter fact, I conclude that the publishers of this tome are almost certainly lunatic immigrant millionaires with a tenuous-to-non-existent grasp on the English language.  Believing that they are allergic to money,  I suspect they have resolved to rid themselves of the cursed lucre in the most pro-social way possible;  by contributing to the publication of a well-respected and important medical journal filled with scholarly research.  I just pray someone has a camera when these well-meaning but misguided philanthropists are presented with the finished product – I foresee an instant and compelling portrait of blinking uncomprehension and, quite possibly, some feces throwing.

I can’t give out a lot of details at the moment, mostly because I don’t want you to steal this gig from me, but rest assured I will be pimping the book like a madman once it has been brought into existence.   As much as you are now staring at the screen, cursing the rotten luck that leaves you bereft of detail, I can promise you that you will someday remember fondly the happy times before this godforsaken book was mentioned by me in every sentence.

I’ll bet you can’t wait to be that unhappy.  In the meantime, I am busy trying to figure out how the hell I am going to manage to get everything done that I will need to:  for example, not only do I now have to find the time to research and write the piece, if I am going to be a writer I also have to make sure that I spend the correct amount of time bellyaching about how making the deadline is going to be a bitch and so on.  I guess this post is a pretty good start on that.  I must be a quick learner.

All kidding aside, I do have some degree of concern about taking on yet another project:  at present, for those of you keeping track, I am (theoretically) in the middle of:

And those are just the projects I’ve blogged about!  I also have it in my mind to convert some old VHS video to digital (I spent a large part of last Saturday wondering why I haven’t yet converted my copy of Leafs/Kings Game 7 in ’93 to an iPod-friendly format so that I can watch it whenever I feel the urge.   This, as much as it may be a cry for help,  is not a lie.)   There are also three or four crates of old vinyl LPs that are practically begging for my attention, so much of my (formerly?) beloved music desperate to enter the 21st century at last.

Anyway, no doubt some of my time tippy-tapping away at my article will take away somewhat from the time I have available to examine my navel here for your benefit;  you must be devastated, I can tell.  I have to say, though, that over the last week or so, I’ve enjoyed spending a few minutes in front of the blank screen with the cursor blinking and a hundred poopy jokes wanting to be written.  I guess I’m having fun writing, and I’ve pushed back a little bit at the multi-armed time-eating monster that my job has recently become.  I have been forcing myself to make just a little bit of time to sit here and flap my virtual gums at you, and it has made me feel a bit better, so I am going to try (see the list of projects above) to keep it up.

Seriously, stop laughing at me.


Note:  The Spitfires lost to Brampton last night 4-2.  I recorded the game via Freecorder, loaded it on to my iPod then carefully avoided hearing about the score;  I listened to the game after I went to bed at around 11:30.  About two hours later, I was bummed out – and sleepy.   Anyway, Dad and I won’t be seeing the Spits claim the Championship Trophy tomorrow night in Brampton;  I just hope I haven’t jinxed them too badly.  We want another W!

In the Kitchen: A Walk on the Wild Side

Credit me this much:  tonight, I did the food preparation thing without a recipe.   Yup, workin’ without a net.

No don’t go getting too excited, it wasn’t anything terribly complicated.  Tonight’s offering was tandoori chicken, which I made by lathering a pre-mixed tandoori paste (store bought) with some plain yoghurt (as per the directions on the tandoori paste bottle), marinading a couple of chicken breasts in the resultant mixture and then cooking the breasts in the oven.  That last thing is what I did without recipe details;  not exactly Sorbonne material, but a significant step forward in terms of my own self-confidence in the culinary arena.  I chose 375 for the oven temperature, principally because that seems to be a common request for chicken-cooking recipes, turned the breasts after ten minutes and tested them for completion after twenty-two. 

There was still a wee hint of redness internally, which could have been a signal of “not cookedness” or could have been a result of the hue of the tandoori paste.  I took no chances and fired the breasts back in the oven for another six minutes.   When I removed and checked them that time, they were moist – and obviously done.

I think it was quite delicious.  I augmented this small culinary victory by hitting the (new) elliptical trainer for twenty minutes tonight.  This was my first attempt at completing an entire exercise routine program, and I am proud to say that I managed to finish up without throwing up.

I apologize for things being a little slow around here – the last few days have been busy at work and all my leisure time is being taken up, believe it or not, writing a script for an educational video that is going to be made by a committee that I sit on.   The screenplay that I have to come up with is simple and prosaic in the extreme, but I am learning about the tyranny of the blank page nevertheless.   I am using an awesome freeware tool to help me organize the project and format the script – it’s called Celtx, and it’s available (for free) here.   The package seems quite powerful – it has features that allow you to organize all the various elements of an audio/video production (like the characters, props, locations, sets, shots and so on) as well as automatically formatting the finished product according to an industry-standard template.  It’s even got tools for converting stageplays to screenplays (and vice versa) and tools for compiling a comic book script.  Well worth exploring, if you’re at all interested in creating your own audio-video content.

To Bell Sympatico in a Handbasket: A New Outlook for Outlook 2003

It never ceases to amaze me how seemingly intractable problems can be so troublesome on one day and essentially resolve themselves in a flash the next.

digital overlord
The Digital Overlord

Yesterday, in addition to offering up nearly 2,800 words on the subject of my adventures with murderous aquatic pets, I also spent a significant amount of time (perhaps three and a half precious vacation-day hours) trying to batter it into Microsoft Outlook’s electronic brain that I would like it very much if it would perform its designated function and actually pick up my freaking email for me.   The problem arose when Spouse and I departed our previous residence for the friendly environs of Juniorvania;  in this particular section of the province, there is currently no one offering cable internet access, so our choices for broadband internet access were relatively limited:  we had to choose the one that rhymes with “Bell Sympatico”.  No, wait, that’s not a rhyme, that’s the name.  Dammit.

Because Bell is incapable of correctly performing, on the first attempt, even the most modestly difficult customer service task (such as “signing up a new customer”), and because their incompetence in this regard seemed to be the straw that was breaking the camel’s back (or, more accurately, asploding this particular camel’s brain), Spouse ended up taking over the task of enlisting us in Ma Bell’s Internet army.  The account, therefore, was in her name.  To the victor go the spoils, and Spouse’s prize for her perserverance in the face of ridiculous stupidity was assignment of the initial email address associated with the account.  The Sympatico service actually comes with a complement of 9 additional mailboxes, but the user is responsible for setting those up once the physical service is attached.  I consider myself somewhat technically proficient but I have to confess that I was not able to meet the challenge, initially, of wading through the Sympatico propaganda to learn the arcana associated with this minor task – getting myself an email address.

Now THAT’S a Minibus

Spouse and I went for some lunch to a little burger and sub shop in St. George yesterday.    I took a picture of the sign out front (depicted in the photograph below):


I’m not sure what utility there is in a mass transit vehicle that is twelve inches in length;  but you really can’t beat the price.

The work continues here in Juniorvania;  we have completed our work on the eastern front, and have begun focussing our efforts to the north (the front of the house).  My entire body aches, and as soon as I am done at the keyboard, I am going to go put a bottle of Motrin in a bowl, pour some milk over the pile of tablets, and eat them like Rice Krispies.  I spent the better part of today’s work session cutting out the numerous stumps from various trees and shrubs in the eastern portion of the front garden (most, if not all, of which were cut down long before we got here).  As a result of these labours, I am now prepared to swear an affidavit to the effect that the reciprocating saw is, without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest of man’s inventions.  The wheel, though sporty and sure to attract a lot of buzz, runs a distant second to the blessed miracle of the reciprocating saw.

On an unrelated note, I must again marvel at Mike‘s diligence and industry:  though he is on vacation and travelling afield, he has nonetheless managed to continue to post daily.  I think I will excuse myself now and go make myself a dunce cap and sit in the corner for a while;  he makes me look very, very bad by comparison.

Tomorrow night, we are off to see the Ticats/Stampeders game at Ivor Wynne.  It’s the Cats’ last home game of another lost season.  I am getting used to a lot of losing – Spouse and I (courtesy of Joe) were down to the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Tuesday night to see the Leafs defeated (in a shootout) by the Anaheim (don’t call us Mighty) Ducks.  It was an interesting enough game;  the Leafs were awful in the first period, so awful that we witnessed one of hockey’s greatest rarities:  George Parros scored on a breakaway.  No, that’s not a typo.  The notably mustachioed habitual pugilist was the benefactor of a communication breakdown between Leaf defencemen Tomas Kaberle and (rookie) Luke Schenn.  Still, getting the breakaway is one thing, but actually putting the biscuit in the bucket is quite another.  I don’t think George’s mom has ever seen him score on a breakaway, even in road hockey.  Anyway, I suspect some choice profanities were uttered by Ron Wilson in the Maple Leaf locker room during the first intermission, as the team was wholly different in the second and third stanzas.  Antropov tucked a rebound home in the second to draw the Leafs to within one, and they pressed throughout the third for the tying marker, failing to click on a 38-second 5-on-3 advantage.  When the Ducks iced the puck with about a minute to go, though, I turned to Spouse and said I felt the Leafs were going to tie the game.  Not fifteen seconds later, they did.   Overtime solved nothing, so the game went to a shootout, unfortunately for the Leafs (they’ve been terrible at this aspect of the new NHL since its inception).  Curiously, Wilson chose to pull Toskala (who’s 0-2 in shootouts already this year) and insert Curtis Joseph.  Tough assignment for Cujo;  he had to have had more than a little trouble getting ready to face the first shooter, having sat on the bench and opened the door for his mates for the previous two and a half hours.  The first Anaheim shooter?  Teemu Selanne (gulp).  CuJo whiffed on Teemu’s quick wrist shot and got beaten by a Corey Perry deke, while both Leaf shooters missed the net;  game over.

On the Ticat front, as mentioned above, it’s been another lost season.  The Ticats were only recently officially eliminated from the (highly egalitarian and scrupulously inclusive) CFL playoffs, but in reality it’s  been a foregone conclusion since around the August long weekend.  Cat fans are focussing on the new QB in town, Quinton Porter.  He’s shown some poise and a great arm while standing in for an injured Casey Printers.   Porter seems to have developed some chemistry with his wideouts, something Printers has seemed unable to do.  Suddenly, Prechae Rodriguez seems all-World at times and Scott Mitchell has also managed to make some great catches with Porter on the field.  The young QB has played well enough to set up a bona fide QB controversy brewing by the time training camp starts next summer.   I am hoping to take my camera, and my 800 mm lens to the game tomorrow night.  I’d like to try to get some good close-up shots of the players, and try my hand at sports action photography.   As for the outcome of the game, I anticipate watching a lot of Stampeder touchdowns tomorrow – as well as Porter has gotten the offence going at times, the Cat defence, especially the secondary, seems prone to coughing up huge passing plays.  I am sure that Calgary QB Henry Burris is grinning like a Cheshire cat in anticipation this evening, and has found that he just can’t stop rubbing his hands together.

Zombies, Melamine and the Home Depot

One project that needs to get done soon is the augmentation of certain shelving in our kitchen.  One of our cupboards, specifically the one that is chock full o’ tumblers, has only three shelves (including the bottom surface of the cabinet) inside, though it is more than 40 inches tall.  My mission, and I had no choice but to accept it, was to obtain additional matching melamine shelves, either cut or have them cut to the proper width, and hunt down the hardware (nickel posts) necessary to put them up.

Should be easy, no? Just head off to Home Depot…

Several hours later, I was one of the several dozen zombies shambling around the local Home Depot each desperately trying to locate his personal needle in the giant orange haystack.  When I fell to the floor in a fetal position and began wailing uncontrollably, one of the “associates” shrewdly determined that I needed some assistance and directed me to the appropriate section.  I had made the idiotic error of attempting to look for shelving for kitchen cabinets in the “kitchen cabinets” section.   Idiot!  The shelving is obviously in the “lumber” section.

Turns out they didn’t have any pre-cut melamine in the “maple” finish we have in our cupboards.  Result?  Junior needs to purchase a $50 4 foot by 8 foot sheet of melamine in order to acquire two 9 and 3/4 inch deep by 22 3/16 inch shelves.  Oh, and I needed to pick up a circular saw – happily, there was a sale on a nice DeWalt model in the power tool section – and some finishing veneer (in a tape-like roll) for fancying up the front edge of my shelves (gotta circle back to the lumber section for that);  better get some safety glasses to minimize the vocalized concern at home (back to the power tool section) and….the hardware, the posts, the things on which the shelves rest, the ones that stick in the holes in the side of the cabinet – where are they?

Well, there’s a special “shelving hardware” section.  It’s nowhere near either the section marked “shelving”, the “kitchen cabinets” section or the “lumber aisle.  In fact, I swear I had to wander down a dark alley, leap a 6 foot concete block wall, scale a downspout, enter through an open second storey window and give the large man guarding the door a password before I was permitted to enter the inner sanctum of shelving whatsits.

Two hundred and sixty bucks later, I had my shelves (in raw, uncut and unassembled form) shoved in the back of the Probe and I headed back to Juniorvania.  I’ll spare you the suspense, the cuts were plotted and executed with little or no finger loss, though Spouse received a generous coating of sawdust as a result of being pressed into service as the human clamp holding my sheet of melamine still on the “sawhorses”, otherwise known as folding chairs and recycle bins.  Note to self:  purchase a “Workmate”, tout-de-suite.

Once the cuts were made, it was time to attempt to apply the finishing veneer.   First, a space needed to be cleared in the workshop….and several hours later, I was too tired to wrestle with the boards and a hot iron (needed to heat the glue on the rear of the veneer roll) with any confidence;  certain that I’d be ironing my fingers at least as often as the boards, I decided to demur until tomorrow.

I did spend some time, while at the Depot (and in the course of an earlier unsuccessful trip to Rona)  lurking among the pre-assembled sheds and wondering about their suitability and adaptability as a rehearsal/recording studio.  I have come to the conclusion that they are just a bit too small, and – if I am to achieve my dream of a stand-alone little haven for music and musicians – I am going to have to do a design/build job.   Time to learn what I can from Doug about framing walls and designing trusses.

RUNTIME error.

Anger. Frustration. Despair.

These are the emotions experienced by an otherwise rational person trying to decipher the apocryphal meaning concealed deep beneath the outer veneer of something disguised as language and otherwise known as a “simple” introduction to any programming language. Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful that my fellow netizens – some of them, anyway – have taken the time to write pages and tutorials detailing their knowledge and understanding of such subjects in an organized way; that is one of the things that makes the open source community such a wonder for me. There is a pervasive ethos that is all about helping the other guy understand how things – code – work, or at least trying to do so. I have benefitted greatly from the knowledge and wisdom of others in this way, and I recognize that when one is presented with an equine gift, one ought not to studiously examine the nag’s teeth.

But dude. If you’re going to take the time to write, in your “PHP 101” materials, the following sentence:

My goal in this series of tutorials is very simple: I’ll be teaching you the basics of using PHP, and showing you why I think it’s the best possible tool for Web application development today. I’ll be making no assumptions about your level of knowledge, other than that you can understand basic HTML and have a sense of humor.

you should probably wait for a little bit longer than, oh, say THE NEXT PARAGRAPH to drop the term “development environment” on me. I need the Fisher-Price beginning.

You know, I like to think that I’m a little more tech savvy than the ordinary guy; I operate and maintain this site, I’ve used open source software to convert .avi files from PAL to NTSC style video (and to re-synch the audio thereafter), I can bluff my way through simple image editing with the GIMP, I can spot (and trace) a simple spoofed email, and I taught myself my first programming language (FORTRAN) when I was ten, from a book that my Dad had brought home from work; I didn’t have a computer to actually run the programs I wrote in response to the “Problems” in the text, but my solutions were identical to those set out in the “Answers” portion of the book and by the time BASIC came along and I managed to somehow get a little face time with a Radio Shack TRS-80, I had an appreciation for the beauty of well-written code that I think was somewhat uncommon among fourteen year olds in 1980. All of that experience tells me that “development environment” likely has something to do with describing the virtual box within which the php code that I want to write will be created. I’m even relatively certain that the virtual box needs to be built “on” the web server that’s going to ultimately execute the php code that I write.

But I wish to the Flying Spaghetti Monster that I wasn’t already guessing about shit like this, two paragraphs in to the lesson. I might have a little more confidence that this learning exercise isn’t going to be excruciatingly painful. Is it so hard to simply say, “Look, you’re going to need a place to write this code, and that place can’t be on your local computer, the one you have on your desk or your lap or whatever – it needs to be on something zippy and powerful like a web server, so you’re going to need to download an application and then put it on your server to make sure you’ve got a little php sandbox to play in.”


UPDATE: 10:45 p.m. and I’ve finished the first lesson. I have to give the author his props, the rest of the lesson was generally very comprehensible and not nearly the exercise in Stalinist self-denial I was expecting. It would seem, however, judging by some of the comments at the bottom of the post, that I’m not the only one who had a little trouble getting started:

Sunday, October 15, 2006


9:54PM PDT · Anonymous User [unregistered]

I say this guide need more ‘explanation’.


Not Exactly Fiat Lux, But For Me…Not Bad

One of the things I’ve been struggling with recently (yes, that was me that you saw wrasslin’ on the floor with the toaster, an artichoke and some precast concrete yesterday) is Blender.  Blender is an the open source 3d modelling, animating and rendering package.  For the Luddites in the virtual room (yo, represent) that means it’s a program that helps a digital artist (or in the alternative, some dude who’s whacking away at the keys with precious little that one might call a plan) create and bring to life a virtual 3d world with virtual 3d objects that can move and change form.   It is an amazingly powerful piece of software, and it’s free – how can you not, as a self-respecting nerd and computer geek, open it up and start poking around to see what you can accomplish?