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August 31, 2005

Take my amp... please.

I got my new rack case (one of these) yesterday, as well as getting two basses back from San Francisco Guitarworks. The Alembic needed a loose wire found and fixed, and now that's it's been refretted and all fixed up, it sounds amazing and plays equally well. I'll probably still sell it since I've just got more basses than I need, but it's tempting to just hang on to it. I guess I'll let the eBay bass buying community decide for me, via a reserve auction. If somebody wants to pay what I'm willing to part with it for, then fine... otherwise I'll keep it for a while. The MTD 535 fretless now has lines on it which look great and are really helpful. It sounds just as good as ever but now I can play very quickly with good intonation, though I still have to watch closely to make sure my fingers land in the right place. (I have no idea how contrabass players manage to play in tune.)

The rolling rack case thing is cool, though it's sorta huge. The rackmounted components I have are much shallower than the rack, which leaves lots of room in the back of the case. So it's very front-heavy. The wheels are cool, though; they look like inline skate wheels. I put all the stuff in the rack (with some help from Kim) and cabled the whole things together for the first time. It worked and sounded good right away, which I guess means that my cabling fu is getting better and all the manual reading I've done has paid off. I actually understand how all this gear works. A few minutes of switching programs and playing through various combinations of them made it abundantly clear that the two effects units are both programmed to impress you with fancy presets that don't daisy-chain in a pleasing way. Individually they sound good but one into the other is just too much. Since that's the way I intend to keep them hooked up, I've got some serious tweaking of knobs to do, which is what I expected. I'll probably record a dry bass track or two and dump it onto my iPod for convenience instead of sitting there with an instrument on my lap and my nose buried in the rack stuff with all the manuals on a table and the controller pedals at my feet. Just describing it makes me feel encumbered. I already know most of the sounds I want, which is probably a dozen total. There are some surprise features of the G-Major like phase-reverse in the chorus and flanger effect and hi cut in many of the effects that I think would sound great, though, so maybe there are some unexpected sounds that will result from experimentation. I'm also curious about whether the G-Force's whammy effect is usable or if it sounds crummy like most under-$1000 pitch shifter devices. (I've only heard a digital whammy effect used well on a bass once, on the song "Wall" from Living Colour's album Stain: iTunes Music Store sample link, which has the whammy sound at the end)

I totally get why someone would want to do MIDI mapping, now that I have two effects units connected. MIDI mapping is a feature in which you can select a MIDI program and have that map to a differently numbered internal program, so MIDI program 50 might correspond to program 1 on one device and program 37 on another device. That'd save a lot of effort in copying things around. The G-Major and MB-1 are really excellent effects units but I suspect that most of the time I'd want to use a combined program that has only one or two effects total (not including EQ), meaning that one of the devices would spend most of its time set to the cleanest sound program while the other one did something. So most MIDI programs would map to the clean program one one device and a subtle but cool program on the other device. They each have at least 100 program slots that I could use, but I doubt I ever will.

August 30, 2005: Due Process? What's That?

Hmm: Pentagon to host 9/11 march, show. A "Terrorists Attacked Us" parade? A "We Gave Up Trying To Find Osama" parade? Cuz we all forgot already. Cuz we had no idea there was a war on. Can we have a "We Support The Troops But Not Their Commanders" march? How about a "We Know Saddam Wasn't Involved" march? A "We're Too Good For Torture" march? A "We Support The Constitution Which Prohibits Gitmo" march? No, of course not. That would require someone to admit that they were wrong.

So as I asked earlier, do London police not have tasers, forcing them to shoot suspected terrorists in the back? But wait, they actually used one to capture a geniune terrorist suspect. Maybe he'll even get a trial with, like, proof and stuff! Or maybe they'll just say "oh no a young male Muslim with brown skin!" and shoot him a few dozen times at point blank range. Again. That would certainly save a lot of effort with the interrogating and the evidence and the lawyering and all that *sigh* paperwork.

Faces of the 'No Fly' list reveals that government employees with Top Secret clearance, judges, and even U.S. military officers are on the TSA's bad guy list. Hey TSA, how about supporting the fuckin' troops? Like, we're at war. Duh. It reminds me of Good Morning Vietnam, when Robin Williams pretended to be Gomer Pyle asking people he met, "are you the enemy?" If we have a list of bad guys, arrest them already. If we have a list of maybe possibly bad guys, investigate them to see if there's enough to arrest them for. Otherwise leave us alone. I know I'm in the minority in America by saying this, but for me, freedom trumps defense in depth, especially when the defense is so utterly botched. Lewis Black has a funny bit about airport security, claiming that if we need to be patted down, then obviously the X-Ray machine didn't do its job. That's not correct, since there could be nonmetallic weapons that the X-Ray machine wouldn't catch, and in general this is called Defense in Depth. But every security measure involves a trade-off, and this is apparently a really ill advised one. Somebody from the TSA, please prove that this security measure is worth it. For example, exactly how many suspected terrorists have been identified, caught, tried, and convicted thanks to the no-fly list? Zero? Time to admit you failed and tear the whole thing down and try something else. The whole idea of a secret governmental "we don't like you" list is abhorrent and just begging for abuse. People abuse accounting systems for personal grudges; imagine how many people have the ability to sneak their ex-wife's new husband or the boss that fired them or the guy that dumped them or their dick neighbor onto that list, and the problem is obvious. We may never know whether all this nonsense saved even one life. We're just supposed to take it on faith that all of this is well managed, necessary, and is working, even when we can see the ridiculous number and character of false positives and the pathetic mechanism for removing bad data.

August 25, 2005

I was trying (and failing) to reconnect with former bandmate Robin Eckman for some recording I'm planning to do this fall. Apparently he's busy. Wow! Go Robin!

August 22, 2005

People go apeshit over 4 year old used laptops that are probably worth $200: Panic ensues in rush for cheap laptops. "I took my chair here and I threw it over my shoulder and I went, 'Bam."' Here's an interesting excerpt:

More than 1,000 people turned out at the Richmond International Raceway in hopes of getting their hands on one of the 4-year-old Apple iBooks, which retail for between $999 and $1,299.

No. 4 year old iBooks do not retail at all, much less for $999, because they're not made anymore. New laptops called iBook with totally different specs are retailed for $999ish. I didn't see any details about which particular models were being sold, but if they're the 333Mhz G3 variety (which were being discontinued just about 4 years ago), they're on eBay right now for $200ish. The reek of stupid is all over the sale and stampede and media coverage of it.

Our local regulated-monopoly embarassment / fleecing establishment, PG&E, had a little boo boo on Friday. There was an explosion in an underground power station that injured some poor woman and scared the crap out of quite a few people. It happened 1 block from my employer's office. (Don't miss the latte sipping yuppie onlooker picture!) So far we've tried corrupt regulated monopoly (PG&E); we've tried ultra corrupt fake deregulation (Enron); some folks just can't stop shouting about how great public power would be (which is strange in a city where the two major political groups, the left and slightly-less-left, can only agree on how sucky a job the government does at everything). I'm ready for an illegal black market power company that just strings wires without permits, has unlicensed non-union illegal aliens for workers, uses nuke plants and tire fires and biomedical waste incinerators, and bills customers whatever it feels like by way of the Russian mafia's virus-gathered stolen credit card database. How much worse could it be? Crazy energy prices, awful service, poisonous power plants, dirty dirty lobbying, and now stuff is literally blowing up. Bring me Harry Tuttle's power company!

August 19, 2005

Yesterday was my last day in the office at SEC Ventures, at least until December. As a contractor there's not really quitting; there's just "becoming unavailable". Of course nowadays (and especially in high tech) the line between contractors and full time salaried exempt employees isn't as clear as the IRS would like, but I try to stay clearly in contractor-land. I work from home, mostly, and set my own hours, mostly. So Tuesday is really my last day, and people are traveling so there won't be a last day in the office that's the Day of Closure. Plus, I might come back in December for Winter Break for 5 weeks, so who knows. In any case I updated my resume today... in what will likely be yet another fruitless attempt to get recruiters to stop asking me if I'm interested in working on a super exciting project full time in New Jersey that happened to have one keyword match between the job description and my resume.

Today was a day of sorta-pre-closure in a different realm. I got the power amplifier for my new, Frankensteinian bass rig. That meant that it was time to bust out the cables and hook it up to make sure it works and to hear what fancy stereo bass effects sound like when connected to speakers instead of headphones. Oh crap, it uses a different kind of connector on the back from every bass and guitar amp in the universe. Off to Radio Shack for parts! Gotta make me a pair of adapters. I made them, they didn't work, and so I actually read the manual and realized that I had (deliberately) shorted the signal pin to the inverted signal pin instead of leaving the inverted signal pin floating. This small diagram from the power amp user manual might clarify why this is bad. My adapter shorted the tip to the middle part. A mono plug shorts the middle part to the longer rear part. Yup. I shorted signal to ground on the high voltage side of a power amplifier. Ohm's law says that as resistance goes to zero (short circuit) current goes to infinity. Either a fuse blows or circuit breaker trips (which is their purpose in life), or something heats up from too much power zooming through it and catches on fire.

This is why it's good to test stuff like this at super low volume. The clipping light came on far too often and the audio getting to the speakers was very faint and really distorted (from the clipping). The integrated circuit breaker never even activated. I powered it off in a hurry assuming that a loose wire was shorting out a bit and needed some attention. Nope. I had carefully soldered it in a really stupid way and so it was shorting out very efficiently! After a bit of reading and head-slapping, I desoldered and resoldered the thing, plugged it in, and... victory! The iPod playing through the power amp sounded fine. I cleaned up a tiny bit and replaced the iPod with the G-Major effects unit and plugged my Modulus Quantum 4 into it.

This rig sounds good. A bit of speaker rearrangement to maximize stereo separation... amazing. Payoff. I've been practicing a lot lately, ramping up for ensemble auditions at school next week, so I was already warmed up and ready to jam. Combine that with insanely good tone from the instrument and the gear and good things happened. This is just with one of the preset sounds, made for guitar. I can't wait to get some decent material, some sounds of my own, and get this mofo on stage and tear it up. I'm also really excited to get my fretless bass back with lines on it, and see what kind of playing and tone I can get out of that throught this rig.

Now that I have all this stuff, I took a moment to add up how much it all cost, and looked up retail prices. The MB-1 hasn't been sold for years so I dug up some old street prices for how much they were going for when new, and scaled the SRP of the pedals to match. It all would have cost $1,887.23 new; I paid $698.50. eBay (and my inclination to buy used gear in general, since there are such excellent reviews and a good used price list available) saved me $1,188.73.

I have some pictures taken at the peak of messiness during cable surgery.

August 17, 2005

There's a reason our Constitution's Fifth Amendment talks about due process of law. It's to prevent public executions of innocent people for "suspicious" behavior (getting on a subway train = terrorist) while looking like a suspect (not white = terrorist). Apparently there's no such thing as Taser in London's police department. (via Tero)

Marcus Ranum uses digital but maintains that Film Kicks Ass. (NSFW - his photos are art nudes with the naughty bits covered up.) I think audio is probably different - human hearing has limits that current digital recording techniques exceed by far, and only the mixdown gets compressed in a lossy fashion. CD quality is close but not perfect, but that has nothing to do with the original quality of the master recording medium, which is usually a higher bit rate, higher resolution, multitrack digital audio stream with no compression. I'm actually grappling with that right now, trying to collaborate on a multitrack song that's over 9 minutes long. Even at CD quality that's about 47MB per channel per track (some are stereo so 95MBish). I don't think the same problems apply anymore in audio recording, though the issue of future-proof media is very real (where are your digital masters, and will you be able to get at them in 15 years?).

Suze Orman has a great term for IO loans: Loser Loans. I like NAAVLP better. It's amazing just how many people are buying these things but maybe it's 'cuz they don't understand them. The risks are severe and real but people seem to think that a recession and a war or two are a sign of great things to come.

Krista is really funny.

August 14, 2005

Yesterday we grabbed a Scion xB from City CarShare, put a luggage cart in it and strapped on our backpacks, and headed over to the Bernal Heights Hillwide Garage Sale. It's a one-day annual event with about 90 individual garage sales all taking place in the same neighborhood. We went to the previous two and got lots of good loot for not a lotta money. Same thing this time.

Sony boom box, $5. 8 liters of Silk soy milk, $2. Age of Empires for Mac (CD-ROM and manuals), $0.25. Big fluffy bathmat, in excellent condition, $1. Big power strip / surge protector with all the plugs spaced way apart to accomodate wall warts, $2. 15 music CDs, $16. Petmate fresh flow cat fountain, $5. That's about 1/3 of all the stuff we got. We filled up our backpacks and had our hands full and had to retreat to the car to unload twice. Then we headed over to someone's house who offered to give us a free TV if we'd swap the old one out for a newer one, because it was mounted on a hospital-style wall mount bracket. So we brought our stepladder and I did the big-strong-man act and off we drove with the TV.

You might be asking yourself at this point why someone with an LCD projector used as a TV would also want a free TV set. Well, the LCD projector died and is currently en route to repair so we are sans TV which means we might miss Battlestar Galactica which would be utterly unacceptable. I have no point of reference since I don't own a plasma screen TV nor a big flat screen TV nor a rear projection hulkolith, but I have to say that I fully expect the repair cost to be painful, in the hundreds of dollars. When the thing works and works for years you sorta forget how expensive parts are, until one day you are reminded that this thing used to be a corporate luxury item and everything about it is priced accordingly. Fortunately more and more people are questioning why they'd pay $7000 for a dishwasher-dwarfing fragile electronic device when they could just stick a little box on a coffee table and point it at the wall and pocket $6000. So the new gear is getting much cheaper, and that puts a comfortable ceiling on how much repair can cost. $800 in parts and labor on top of the $150 evaluation fee to see what's wrong and I might as well just donate it or sell it on eBay for parts, and get that Dell 2300MP that comes in perfect working condition with a warranty and HD and DLP optics (instead of LCD) and a 130% brightness boost over the one I have now.

eMachineShop is totally cool. Even though you have to use their CAD software which only imports flat drawings from other CAD apps, and even though it's a Windows-only app, what a cool idea it is to be able to order machined parts of your own invention online. It kinda makes me wish I was building something.

Speaking of yard sales, I'm getting more and more psyched about the idea of having one of our own. We have so much stuff that's too nice to just give away but not worth enough to sell individually on eBay due to the time overhead of listing and shipping it. Example: Diamond Rio 500. Worth $15ish on eBay. Multiply by one half-full attic and it's time for a purge. Can't wait to see this stuff go to a buyer and get out of my life without my having to spend a half hour per item to make that happen. I think that if we make an inventory list and put it on Craigslist, that'll cut down on the tremendous Craigslist flake-out risk, which is why I haven't just put in on Craigslist. That's just another way to waste time trying to sell something of minimal value: post it on Craigslist, have 50 people email you, and then have 3 people in a row negotiate a time that works for both of you only to flake out and fail to show up. I'm not making this up: we had trouble giving away a case of decent beer on Craigslist. We kept listing it and people would promise to come pick it up off our porch and then would just flake out. For weeks it went on and on. Finally we threw it away because it had been outside skunking itself to death in the sun and rain for weeks. Damn you Craiglist flakes!

It's like having to wait for the phone guy, the cable guy, the power guy, the satellite guy, and the plumber all in one week, except you don't actually get a phone line or cable or power or satellite TV or fixed plumbing. You're just waiting for them to hand you a crumpled $10 bill. Not worth it. Change the rules so that the flakes have to show up all at once and take away the hassle of negotiating time and place and the implied promise of reserving it for someone (make it first-come-first-serve), and it's suddenly a lot more appealing. So psyched.

Speaking of Craigslist, HousingMaps is brilliant.

Not brilliant: A South Korean man has died after reportedly playing an online computer game for 50 hours with few breaks. Kim and I went through a phase of extensive online gaming but (a) we didn't pay for it (b) we didn't lose our jobs (c) we didn't waste away in front of the screen. (Quite the opposite, in fact.) At some point you have to service your biology. Even Colin Laney knew that and he was dying in a cardboard box in a Ginza subway station, and he wasn't playing a game; he was trying to find the next big change in the world. But Colin Laney is a fictional character and in the real world we're dumber, I guess.

Speaking of denial leading to illness, people still manage to find ad-hoc arguments about herbal remedies that don't work. Example: "I just wish it had been a bigger study with bigger dosages." Translation: we need to spend more money proving a negative. Oh gee, you didn't use my kind of the plant, using my extraction method? Clearly your methodology is faulty. This is called an ad-hoc argument; you change your proposition when your original proposition is refuted. Oh you tested bad echinacea. Never mind what the good kind is, if we tell you that you'll prove that it doesn't work any better than a placebo, and we'll have to talk about the part of the plant, and wait for you to use the right part of the right plant but prepare it in the wrong way.

It's not quite accurate to say that you can't prove a negative but that's pretty close to the truth. More importantly, exhaustively proving that something doesn't work isn't necessary. Science doesn't require that you disprove all alternatives to a proposition in order to make that proposition true. Just show that it's true. If a proposition can't be tested and verified, it might as well be false, because what difference could it make if nobody could tell if it were true? See also The Dragon in my Garage.

Here's a proposition: no one has ever scientifically proven that echinacea works. That your uncle Bob took it once and felt better isn't proof. A bunch of people bought it and saying that they got over their colds faster isn't proof. All you have to do is prove that it works - any part of any plant with any method, and you've made a major medical discovery. It wouldn't even cost that much, but it would cost something, and just selling whatever you want (and claiming that your secret recipe is the Very Best Secret Formula) is cheaper than actually selling something that works. Sadly, snake oil salesmen have far stronger incentives than debunkers or regulators, so the snake oil salesmen win.

I'll stick with Pseudoephedrine when I get a cold (or DayQuil if it gets really annoying, since that adds a cough suppressant and a headache reliever), because it actually does what it's supposed to do — relieve the symptoms so you can function more or less normally — and has been proven to do so. You take Pseudoephedrine and it obviously works. (Obviously if it worked in a study but didn't work for me I'd skip it.) It dries out your nose and keeps it dry, possibly too dry, headache dry, which is where the headache comes from. Hello Western medicine: it works, but it has side effects. So let's take more medicine with more side effects to counter those side-effects! But at least the stuff definitely works. It's up to you to decide if you want to bother or not. Often I'll take nothing at all for the majority of the time, because my immune system will take care of the cold for free, in exactly the same amount of time that echinacea is supposed to. I could take a nice expensive placebo to make me feel like I'm doing something, but really, I get a lot more relief from a nice spicy Thai dish that cleans out the nose and sinuses pronto, than from wishful thinking and expensive additives to my pee.

I found The Transparent Society initially disturbing but ultimately enlightening. I'm a total privacy weenie but as a technoweenie I recognize that keeping one's data secret is a losing battle. Information wants to be free, especially peronal information in a world of nosey people who want to sell you stuff. In light of that it's funny to see stuff like Privacy is in the eyes of the beholder. Everybody wants privacy for themselves and full disclosure and intrusive surveillance for everybody else. "Portland's top brass said it was OK to swipe your garbage—so we grabbed theirs." Nice!

August 13, 2005: Mo' dolce pix

Pictures from Venice and San Gimignano are up. Also, there's this, which is hilarious.

August 12, 2005

I haven't seen a whole lot of spam lately, which suggests that my antispam measures are working pretty well. Still, I noticed these and found them funny: You Might Be An Anti-Spam Kook If... and Spam is that Which We Don't Do.

I want to have a party just so I can use Ask the DJ. The little cartoon dancing girl with the mohawk might be my favorite feature. Since the app already has the code to do beat matching (figuring out what tempo the current music is at), it's not a big stretch to have a little dancer groovin' in time with the song. Cute!

If you've listened to any kind of music ever, you've almost certainly heard the awesome sound of the Leslie Rotating Tremolo Speaker System. Digital simulators are very available. In fact, it can be argued that the One True Organ Sound that people think of when they aren't thinking of a pipe organ is the sound of a Hammond B3 organ through a Leslie speaker. But what is that thing, and how does it work? The answer can be found at Unearthing the Mysteries of the Leslie Cabinet. If you get bored by the graphs, skip 'em and scroll down to the part entitled "Specific Examples Of Normal Leslie Use". Yeah, you've heard it before.

How much do I have to pay for a CD that comes in a case that isn't so delicate that it's broken when I get it? Those stupid little teeth that hold the CD from the center are always breaking so that the CD is just rattling around in the jewel case, waiting for an opportunity to jump under the CD when you put it away so they can scratch it. The little clips on the lid break too.You know exactly what I'm talking about, which is the problem. Who designed this piece of junk and why are we still using it? I can go to Walgreens and buy a box of more durable, slimmer CD jewel cases for about a quarter each. C'mon.

I argue that project management is sufficiently complex that it deserves to be considered separately from domain expertise and name a few antipatterns.

Via Tero: Liberating Iraq one General at a time. More proof that our administration and military/intelligence culture lacks a moral compass. "Do whatever it takes to get what you want" is the motto of the corrupt, no matter how you rationalize it. "I had to torture those people to save lives" is bullshit. We fought like that for thousands of years and rose above it because it was too awful to tolerate. Now we've forgotten what that was like so we're turning back the clock to the inquisition? WTF? How did we let these people get in power? It's like they're trying to give terrorists things to point at to prove that we're the Great Satan. Torture is over the line (on the bad side). That's the line that makes Us better than Them. Cross over to the Them side and you're not welcome back on the good guys side. You don't get to be a good guy by doing horrible things when it suits you. When someone orders you to do it, say no. Stick a big middle finger in someone's face. Get court martialed. Refuse to be an instrument of evil just because someone else told you to do it. It's called being a moral person and it's what makes us better. It's what makes our way better than the terrorists' way, because they will cross any line to get their way, no matter what, and we live by rules. We fight and die for the idea of living by rules. Remember that. Doing the wrong thing (torturing enemies) because it's easier than doing the right thing (playing by our own rules even when our enemies don't) is a sign of weakness, not patriotism. They're wrong, they're weak, they're desperate. Letting them drag us down to their level makes their accusations ("everybody plays dirty, so what we do is normal") true. It shames the people who've worked so hard and sacrificed so much to elevate American ideals (you know, the ones about justice and equality and democracy and freedom and due process of law and a jury of your peers). If you're not prepared to die for American ideals, you're not ready for the American military. Sadly it looks like we've got lots of people who are ready willing and able to put American ideals aside in order to save their own skins. It's a vicious cycle: we undermine the cause worth dying for, and start to believe that no cause is worth fighting for - that we're only here to save our own skins and that that justifies anything. We can't let that happen. We need new leadership, with actual moral depth (as opposed to sound bites that come from a political advisor), very badly.

I know what you're saying now. "Whoa dude, downer." Enjoy White House Denies Existence of Karl Rove and Our Global Food-Service Enterprise Is Totally Down For Your Awesome Subculture. Marvel at Robert J. Lang Origami. Relax, It's Just Weed. Behold a really funny cartoon that epitomizes debugging. See Dance Monkeys Dance, a Flash movie built upon some comedy by Ernest Cline which has nothing to do with the famous "Dance Monkey Boy" Steve Ballmer video nor the kooky Developers Developers Developers remix. If fat balding sweaty tech executives don't do it for you, try The Coffee Dance instead. Either way you may need to refuel with the Triple Tofu Tower. Make sure to leave your business card.

August 6, 2005: Harmonic Convergence

My master plan to overhaul my music gear is coming together. Converging, you might say. No, don't ask me... I don't want to... *sigh* OK, fine, you want it, you got it: BWAH HA HAAAA. I know, you can't mention having a master plan without following a BWAH HA HAAA, I was just trying to get out of my BWAH-bligation. *cough*

If you're still with me after that horrible stupid pun, thanks. Here's your payoff: Pinky the Cat (WMV video). A very loving cat.

OK back to the topic at hand: music gear. I bought three basses last fall and managed to talk myself into selling only one of my older ones in exchange, which of course was of lesser value. I'm still waffling about whether to get rid of the Alembic, which I've always loved the look and sound of but kinda disliked the playability of. Back in November I was thinking about selling it because I had just gotten the Modulus 4-string that doesn't sound quite as good but looks absolutely kick-ass and is a breeze to play. Well, I decided to give the Alembic one last chance - if I could just set it up properly it might be great, but I had never been able to tweak it to my satisfaction, unlike every other bass or guitar I've ever owned. I tried, and failed, again. By that I mean that either the strings were uncomfortably far from the neck, or the buzzed in one place or another, despite my patient and methodical efforts to tweak it. Dammit. I decided to invest the $75 or so that it costs to have a repair shop set it up, wondering if my lack of specialized tools might be the problem. Nope. The neck was slightly warped, which explains why it wouldn't behave. The repairperson said it'd cost about $450 to plane and refret the neck, plus $75 to set it up. That means removing the metal frets, planing the nekkid fretboard to the right shape, and inserting new fret metal. It's not a trivial undertaking and even tiny mistakes could essentially ruin the instrument, either by making it impossible to tune or impossible to set up so that it's comfortable to play. Given that it was already impossible to set up properly, I had him go for it. He also included some cleanup work on a couple of places where the wood had been dinged and discolored. He even cleaned the brass parts so they're not as tarnished now. Well, damn. The whole thing is a lot easier to play now, and looks great. It's still a pain in the butt to slap on it (actually, slapping is fine, but popping is really hard) because the neck pickup is so close to the end of the neck. But aside from that, awesome. So now I have two 4-string fretted electric basses. The Modulus is easier to play in the three articulation styles I use (fingerstyle, slap/pop, and two-handed tapping) but its tone is not as good as I had hoped. Now I understand what the reviews were saying about needing to process the sound (through a bass amp and cabinet, or an amp/cabinet simulator gizmo). Still, I think it's a shortcoming of the instrument that the direct, clean sound isn't as good as the other two instruments I have that have Bartolini pickups. So, I'm kind of in a frame of mind to get rid of both of them and buy a single, fantastic 4-string fretted bass that doesn't have a damn thing wrong with it. I'm not really interested in going ballistic on fancy woodworking and rare woods and LED and all that, which is what makes a $3000 bass cost $30,000; I'm just looking for one instrument that sounds great, looks great, and is versatile and easy to play.

Fortunately I already have one like that, except with 5 strings. 5 string basses are cool, and useful, but I still prefer to do slap and pop and tapping techniques exclusively on a 4-string fretted bass. The problem is, in a word, muting. It's hard enough to do 2-handed stuff and keep track of which strings need to be muted with extra fingers or the palm of your hand or your forearm, without having yet another string that has to be kept silent. For slapping, the string spacing on a 5-string bass is typically closer than on a 4-string bass, and the low B string on a 5-string bass generally sounds like crap when you slap it. Again, it just gets in the way. So, maybe if an MTD American 435 comes up on eBay, I'll grab it. Dunno. But I think I need to pare down my bass collection to a small set of kick-ass basses and just sell off the rest.

Enough about instruments. I've also been replacing my 13-year-old bass rig, bit by bit. Again, eBay is saving me a ton of money on this, and Harmony Central reviews are helping me make good decisions. I really like the TC Electronic G-Force (reviews)to the point where I keep telling my friends "hey I got this great new toy, check it out" until they remind me that I already told them about it 5 times. Sorry guys. Can't stop playing through this thing. It's doing exactly what I had hoped it would: encouraging me to explore different sounds and articulations that only sound good because of heavy effects processing. Of course it sounds great with the usual set of bass effects but I already had a more traditional bass effects unit, so together I think I've got the classic tube sound for normal bass parts, and a much more sophisticated and flexible digital effects unit for the more bizarre and textural parts that I want to play. I've been denying myself the time sink of hooking them up together and spending hours tweaking them to create sound programs of my own because I still need to work work work and make money before school. For now I'm just playing through the presets that are made for guitar, and it sounds great.

The last two pieces of the puzzle are still missing: a stereo power amplifier, and a pair of identical speaker cabinets. Right now I have a bass amplifier that has a preamp (which is basically a volumne knob, an equalizer, and a compressor) and a power amplifier in the same package. I don't need the preamp, and I don't really like it that much anyway compared to the MB-1, and the power amp is monaural. The really cool sounds from the G-Force are stereo and sound much, much better in stereo than when they're merged into mono, so I want a stereo power amp and stereo speakers. So, I have some work to do there, again on eBay. My current rig has two speaker cabinets (one has a single 15" speaker, the other has two 10" speakers) and the amp has a crossover, but based on actual use and bulk, that's neither necessary nor practical. In other words, I've lugged that 15" speaker cabinet to gigs and not needed it, because any decent venue has a PA system and a sound board, and there's no need for that kind of volume coming directly from my amp on stage. The house's monitors and PA are fine, and actually being super loud on stage is a serious problem because instead of everybody in the band being able to hear everybody else, whoever is standing in front of the speaker gets blown away and can't hear anything else. (Being able to hear yourself clearly is nice; having so much sound pressure in front of your speakers that passing flies liquefy is bad.) It's also bad for hapless audience members who hear a really awful mix and run away with their hands clasped over their ears shrieking in pain. That's why some folks go for a really minimalist rig like this one.

Oh yeah... looking at that picture from that show almost four years ago reminds me, Lindsey Boullt has a new CD out which is cool and sneaky and shredrific. I got it, it's cool, rock on Lindsey.

Also, a plug for the repair guy who made my Alembic a joy to play again: SF Guitarworks, who just made the 2005 Best of the Bay list in the Best Place to Get Your Ax Sharpened category. Congratulations Geoff! They had an open house tonight, which we went to, and enjoyed the live performance by The Life On Earth. Spacey rawk. Acid jazz electronica loopiness, sorta. (Samples are here.) Kim won a T-shirt. Also there was Ted, a guy I met in my super fun interesting Human Biology class a few semesters ago. He got his BS in Philosophy and Religion and is an MA student planning to move to Paris next year to continue his studies. Cool! Go, Ted.

I only found out about the open house because I was there on Thursday dropping off my MTD 535 fretless to have Geoff put lines on it. I tried the whole "fretless bass with no lines" thing; it's too distracting and difficult, and as much as it feels like cheating to put lines on the thing, that's just pure shallow ego talking. What matters is the music and the sound and the performance, not bass player showoff points that come from playing without lines or with a blindfold on or with the thing behind my head. So, I need lines to be able to cut loose; I've learned that now that I had the Ibanez (fretless 6 string with lines) and this one (fretless 5 string without lines). Fretless bass is too interesting of a sound to have to constantly be obsessing over whether my fingers are in the right place, and to be choosing betweein playing notes out of tune or staying away from the areas of the neck where the side dots (on the side of the neck facing me) don't line up with where the note is on the neck because of parallax. If lines mean better notes, more options, less concentration required, and the exact same sound, gimmie dem lines. So even though it's kind of terrifying to hand over such a nice instrument to someone so they can do something like that to it (cut slots and add maple fret lines in the neck!), I trust the guy. Can't wait till it's done and I get to play the thing again. It'll be fun to cut loose and rip on a fretless that actually sounds great. Through that G-Force thingy... aww yeah.

August 3, 2005: Lighter fare

Take the Optaros/SpikeSource open source survey and maybe you'll win a PSP.

AudioScrobbler is really cool. Also, it's nice to see that other fans of Karmakanic are also addicted to the same song I am.

Improving Thomas is just odd. Is this serious? No. Maybe. Wait. No way. But...? What the hell?

Funny: Roberts Solves Travolta's Night Troubles,