Old Farts With Guitars

Spring Cleaning

The website has been largely ignored and that’s entirely my fault. This morning, I took a good long look at it and decided it needed a facelift. Right now it is in progress. It may change again according to my whim.

I always make the same promises… I’m going to try and post more. Maybe.

The secret to Egoraptor’s success on DanceOn

I’ve been watching with amusement the rants of Lindsey Stirling fans and their complaints that my son, Arin (aka Egoraptor) is leading in the vote count on DanceOn.com. I’ve been participating in my usual Paparaptor stalking style up until this morning, when I found myself unable to log in to the website and vote for my son. I have no idea what the voting will mean in the actual overall weight of the contest. The website description hasn’t given a clue. I’ve been opening a half dozen copies of Google Chrome at one time and calling DanceOn’s Egoraptor page, so that I could circumvent the 30 second timer. I actually saw the tip from one of Lindsey Stirling’s supporters. But I digress.
Apparently my votes triggered some safeguards on the site and my login no longer works. UPDATE: Apparently there was a problem with Authentication using Twitter. That has been resolved and I’m now able to vote. Thanks admin at Danceon.com. That’s OK. I seriously doubt my votes will mean a whole lot in the overall trend and it will allow me to get back to practicing my guitar, which I should have been doing instead of voting so my son might win $50,000.

OK, I’ve digressed enough. This wasn’t really about me being locked out of the site, because I’m just a 60 year old fart and my votes don’t count for much. The real reason for this post is to share with you my years of wisdom(?) on why Arin is in the number one spot on this web site, even though #3(Lindsey Stirling) has more subscribers to her Youtube channel than Arin.

Let me preface this by saying that I am a fan of Lindsey Stirling. She’s a very talented young violinist and she clearly has found a niche that works for her, she writes her own music, produces her own videos and it doesn’t hurt that she’s cute as a button. She’s got over 3.6 million subscribers to her Youtube channel. I’ve subscribed to it. She’s definitely a breath of fresh air compared to much of what is put out as popular music today. But again, I digress. I’m not here to critique her. Let me just say, I think she’s awesome.

Lindsey’s fans (at least the ones posting on the DanceOn website) are aghast that somehow, Arin (Egoraptor) has managed to slide past Lindsey in to first place in the voting (which the website still hasn’t mentioned how that will be weighted into the final tally). Lindsey has 3 times the subscribers that Arin has on his Egoraptor channel and about 3 times as many subscribers as the Game Grumps channel, which Arin also produces and is a major participant.

Here are my thoughts.

1. Lindsey Stirling has 52 videos on her Youtube channel with +471 million views since she started her channel in 2007. Arin (Egoraptor) has 76 videos with 179 million views since he started his channel in 2006. By those figures alone, one would expect Lindsey to have a distinct advantage. But the spoiler in all this is the GameGrumps channel. Game Grumps came into being on July 10, 2012. To date, the channel has 1.2 million subscribers, with 317 million views. But GameGrumps has uploaded almost 1100 videos. For most of the first year of GG existance, two videos were released each day. Other than a brief period in late May and early June of 2013 that continued, until about mid June, when GameGrumps added the Steam Train programs to the mix. That upped the average daily uploads to 4 3 videos, or about 45 30~40 minutes of content per day to their catalogue. UPDATE: I can’t count. The average is 3 per day. Usually 2 Grumps and 1 Steam Train.

2. Audience immersion. The GameGrumps material is in your face. The Grumps, Arin and Dan and Steam Train (the other program on the Game Grumps channel) with Ross and Dan talk to their listeners rather than play music. Two completely different approaches. Sometimes it’s just about a video game they are playing. Other time’s they talk about things in their lives or topics in the news or literally just about anything they happen to think of. But mainly, it’s about things that draw the listener in. The Grumps and Steam Train are genuinely nice people who happen to be very engaging to the demographic of their fans. To give you an idea of where the Grumps may roam, check out the Grumps video posted 11-19-2013, Game Grumps Wind Waker 19 where Dan talks about dealing with depression and OCD in his life. If you’re between 12 and 30 years of age, you probably can relate or have a good friend who has gone through the same situation.

3. Views. The GameGrumps and Steam Train videos released on 11-19-2013 have each amassed between 130,000 and 150,000 views in about 24 hours. That’s a lot of views. On an average day, GameGrumps averages around 800,000 views of their material. Based upon 1.2 million subscribers and 800,000 views per day, statistically, about 66% of the Game Grumps subscriber base checks the Grumps Youtube page each day. If you assume an average length of 10 minutes (their videos actually average about +11 minutes), that’s 8 million viewer minutes per day, most of which is actually listening to thoughts, jokes, and opinions.

Lindsey Stirling gets about 1.1 million views per day, clearly more than the Grumps. Her videos average somewhere between 5 and 6 minutes. Her subscriber base is 3.6 million subs. So, statistically about 30% of her subscribers check her site daily.

4. Fish out of water.
Actually it makes a lot of sense. Lindsey’s views come from people who want to listen to her music and watch the elegance of her videos. Lindsey dances in her videos. This isn’t terribly far outside of what she does in her performance videos. Just no violin, which is her strongest suit. People watch her, and a lot of her younger fans wish they could be like her.

Arin’s views come from people who listen to his viewpoints, jokes and opinions every day. Every day Arin plays a video game. Sometimes he’s good at a game, other times he’s awful. But the viewers come to listen to him be funny, usually at his own expense. This is no different. His fans are coming to hear and see him doing something else that he’s not comfortable in doing and his observations on what he is doing. This is what he does best. People watch Arin and they realize, “Hey this guy is a klutz, just like me.”

5. Social Media
From the DanceOn comments on Lindsey Stirling’s latest DanceOn video comes this quote from Fred, “How come Ego has 130k views?? We ”only” have 74k, which is already the double of the others’ (around 35k)…
And WTH, he got only 30 Likes, still ZERO Tweets and 26 comments… We have more than 10 times these stats, yet we are 3rd? Makes no F-ing sense at all!”

Makes perfect sense to me. Arin’s social media isn’t Facebook, Google Plus or Twitter. It’s Reddit. Egoraptor has a sub-Reddit. GameGrumps has a sub-Reddit. So does Lindsey Stirling.
The Egoraptor sub-Reddit has about 6 to 10 people pass through and read the message board every 15 minutes. That’s about one or two people more than the Lindsey Stirling sub-Reddit. But the GameGrumps sub-Reddit averages around 400 people through the sub-Reddit every 15 minutes. In all cases, these are people who actively seek out information about the personalities of Egoraptor, Lindsey and GameGrumps. It’s powerful.

Like I said at the beginning, I’m a fan of Lindsey Stirling and have nothing but kind things to say about her. She’s not running the campaign for votes on DanceOn any more than Arin is running his campaign. But it’s incredibly disturbing to see the fans of such a talented and lovely young woman looking for any excuse why their preferred celebrity isn’t running away from the rest of the pack. The few who are complaining make the fans look like a bunch of whining, spoiled children who aren’t getting their way. Each Youtube artist in this selected group of 8 brings their own particular group of fans to the website. Each Youtube personality appeals to different demographics within the Youtube audience. Vote for your favorite and stop worrying about what the other people are doing. The fact that your celebrity isn’t in first place doesn’t mean the ones who are ahead of her are cheating.

How would you feel if your celebrity was in first place and everyone else was accusing her fans of cheating to get her there?

Hungry For Worms? No, Hungry for Words!

There has been some confusion about where this quote originally came from. It was used in Metal Gear Awesome, by Egoraptor back in 2006.

The quote actually came from an old “Reading Is Fundamental” public service announcement that ran during Saturday morning cartoons in the late 80′s. It’s one of those things that when you are a kid, sticks in your head and for some reason known only to you, it remains funny and one of your own personal inside jokes.

Which Key?

This gets a bit wordy, so if you’re into light reading, you might want to click away now!

My current interest is in the blues. If you’re playing blues guitar, you may never play a major scale in your life, but you should know what they are if you’re ever going to play in more than one key. The blues is usually based on some variation of a 12 bar pattern that repeats over and over. I’m probably not telling you anything new there.

The 12 bars are usually based on a I-IV-V configuration that consists of 4 measures (bars) of the I chord, 2 measures of the IV chord, 2 measures of the I chord, one measure of the V chord, one measure of the IV chord and 2 measures of the I chord. That is probably the most simple pattern and the reason for this article is not the pattern. If you’re reading this, you probably already know about the variations in the 12 bar pattern.

So what is a I-IV-V chord sequence anyway?

Simply put, I-IV-V is the I chord (or the root chord). This is also the key that the song is in.
The IV is the chord based on the 4th note in the major scale of the 1 note (confused yet? It hopefully gets easier).
The V is the chord based on the 5th note in the major scale of the 1 note.

So… First, let’s look at the C Major Scale, since it is undoubtedly the easiest one to follow. The C Major scale consists of 8 notes. They are:
C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C. ? The last C is the C that is one octave higher than the first one.

This means a 12 bar blues in the key of C uses the chords I = C, IV = F, V = G.
Simple, eh?

Major Scales
The construction of a major scale isn’t logical, but since birth, virtually every piece of western music you have heard has been based on it.

So, you know what the major scale is supposed to sound like almost by instinct.
It’s the Do-Re-Me-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do you probably were taught in elementary school.
It starts on Do, or what you call the 1 note. Fa is the 4 and So is the 5.
Not very helpful since no musical instrument has any of these notes.

They aren’t really notes, but instead they are intervals between notes.
You can’t know what Re sounds like without first hearing Do.
Do is the root or the I. But enough about that. It is a combination of notes and the intervals between the notes that make up the major scale.

Major Scale Construction.

Interval W W H W W W H
Note 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

So, now you know how the major scale is built. Which notes make up the major scale?

The answer is, it depends on what your 1 note is.

Quick and dirty… You can memorize this and go no further.
You will be able to play the 12 bar blues in any key you like. The 1 note is the I chord and it is also the key in which the song is played.

Interval W W H W W W H
Note 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Key Of: C D E F G A B C No Sharps, No Flats
Key Of: G A B C D E F# G One Sharp, F#
Key Of: D E F# G A B C# D Two Sharps, F# C#
Key Of: A B C# D E F# G# A Three Sharps, F# C# G#
Key Of: E F# G# A B C# D# E Four Sharps, F# C# G# D#
Key Of: B C# D# E F# G# A# B Five Sharps, F# C# G# D# A#

For the Flat keys it works like this.

Interval W W H W W W H
Note 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Key Of: C D E F G A B C No Sharps, No Flats
Key Of: F G A Bb C D E F One Flat, Bb
Key Of: Bb C D Eb F G A Bb Two Flats, Bb Eb
Key Of: Eb F G Ab Bb C D Eb Three Flats, Bb Eb Ab
Key Of: Ab Bb C Db Eb F G Ab Four Flats, Bb Eb Ab Db
Key Of: Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C Db Five Flats, Bb Eb Ab Db Gb

More to come in the next post!

Quality Of Life

No doubt about it, I’m not a kid anymore. You know that when people stop referring to you as “wet behind the ears.” I never knew what the meant anyway.

LIfe started out for me with a definite bent towards music. I played accordion for a number of years, until the accordion joined most Americans’ most hated list, right up there with bagpipes. Dick Contino, Myron Floren and Frank Yankovic notwithstanding, the Beatles and the British invasion of the sixties was the death knell for the accordion. Other than John West, playing the Cordovox in Gary Lewis and the Playboys, the sixties were devoid of any accordion heroes. So who was I to fight progress? I switched from being an “accordionist” to being a “keyboard player.” In the mid-sixties, other than Mike Smith, who played a Vox Jaguar for The Dave Clark Five, and Alan Price for The Animals, there weren’t many mainstream rock and roll keyboard players to emulate. My roots with the Natural Music Studios gave me an entré into the world of six stringers, which I immediately loved! I beat my first guitar nearly to death. It was a mid-fifties Fender Esquire, which was given to me by the studio owner so I could learn (and teach) guitar. Along the way, I owned any number of other guitars and basses as I slowly transitioned myself to stringed instruments from the keyboards.

From my first band back in Junior High School, the Rubber Soulz (thanks, Larry Koliha, Dave Goudelock, Gary Case, Mike Sand, Chris Allison) where I played keyboards to my last, Spere, with Monty Spears, Ken McAfterty and Steve Biggs, with me on bass guitar, I had an absolute blast.

But my dad didn’t. He was one who loved music, but not musicians… at least not sixties musicians. He grew up on the big bands and musicians who wore suits. Don’t get me wrong, dad approved of each of my brothers and I learning music and playing instruments. But to him, being a musician was a parlor sport. He held professional musicians in pretty low regard. So while he encouraged me to learn and play “for fun,” when I decided I wanted to try and make money, playing dances, clubs and bars, that was another story.

“You’ll never make a living playing that thing,” referring to whatever stringed instrument I happened to have hanging off my shoulder at the moment. I heard that phrase probably a hundred times, as I was leaving for practice or heading out for a weekend gig. To my dad’s credit, he did co-sign a number of finance contracts or loan me the money to get the equipment I needed or wanted to play. I always felt it was begrudgingly given, but nonetheless, it was almost always given. My dad’s opinion and approval had always been important to me as a kid, so his sudden dislike for what I was consciously trying to turn into a chosen profession was very difficult for me to deal with.

I played and he harangued about how what I was playing wasn’t music. The big bands were music. Guitars were gutter instruments. “You’ll never make a living playing that thing.” It hurt, a lot, but I wasn’t ready to give up.

In February of 1972, Spere broke up. Our guitarist, Monty wanted to play Jazz. We were playing down and dirty power trio rock ala, Grank Funk, Black Sabbath, James Gang and as much Deep Purple as we could squeeze in without an organ. The rent was paid up in our practice hall for the rest of the month and I was confident that Steve, my drummer friend and I could put together another band, so we kept the rented practice space. I was working at my day job, at a hi-fi and electronics hobbyist store when the call came in from Steve. “Hey, how come you’re taking your stuff out of the practice room? I thought you wanted to start another band.”

Of course, I hadn’t removed anything, but apparently someone else had. My Acoustic 360/361 bass amp was gone, as was the amp head for the Plush guitar amp. Also on the missing list was my Fender Contempo organ that I had used to help pound out melodies for our lead guitarist for tunes he didn’t know. So I trudged down to the practice room to find the hasp gone from the door of the room. I went to a local hardware store and got a new lock and hasp and re-secured the room so as to save what I had left there, and safeguard Steve’s drums. The next day I got another call. This time everything they hadn’t taken the first day was gone as well. Steve’s drums were still there, but Steve’s set was pretty much a hodgepodge of different stuff he had picked up over the years and the thieves probably weren’t interested in the return on investment they would get from it. Gone was the rest of my gear, my fretless Precision Bass, another Telecaster I had picked up, our mics, stands and the crude PA I had cobbled together.

“You’ll never make a living playing that thing,” kept echoing through my head as I headed home to let my parents know I was no longer a working musician. In spite of feeling very sorry for me, my dad said, “Now you know it’s time to grow up and be a man.” That wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear, but I figured he was right. After all, since I was old enough to remember, my dad was always right and always willing to share his wisdom. But that cold day in ’72 was probably the worst day of my life.

After that loss, the idea of ever playing again just didn’t make sense. There were probably people I knew from the 70′s through the 90′s who never even knew I played. I bought a few instruments over the years. I remember probably half a dozen different acoustic guitars, a couple of spinet pianos and a Fender Rhodes electric, but I never really got into playing any of them and they all got sold or traded for something else. I got married, had kids and worked at something where I could make a living, according to my dad’s advice.

For Christmas of 1994, I traded my last acoustic guitar in to a pawn shop as a down payment on an old used drum kit for my youngest son. He was 10 and really wanted to learn drums. I was not going to discourage it, because by this time I knew what a disservice my dad had done to me by not supporting my professional efforts.

Within a year or two my family figured it out before I did. On a birthday, I think it was my 45th, Maurette and the boys got me a Fender acoustic bass guitar. Nice guitar and it got me interested, so I picked up a Squier Telecaster also. But after a few weeks they ended up in cases in the closet. I was too busy and didn’t have any clear path.

Then, back in 2010 after both kids were gone and Maurette and I finally came to terms with being empty nesters, I decided to resume playing the guitar. I scoured the Internet looking for some material I could do as a home study. I just didn’t want to go in front of some 20 something guitar teacher who would make me look really awful in private lessons. I happened upon Griff Hamlin’s Blues Guitar Unleashed course and ordered it. The next Saturday I headed into town and came home with no less than 3 electric guitars (all pawn shop finds) and a new Epiphone EB-3 bass. I think I also picked up a couple small amplifiers that day as well. I made myself a promise that within a year, I would get back to where I was when I quit at 19.

After the year was up, I figured, either I wasn’t as good as I remembered at 19 or re-learning at age 57 is a real bitch! I’m inclined to believe the latter, because I’ve heard crude recordings of my bands from about age 16 through 19 and they weren’t too bad!

Now, I can’t wait to get home in the evening, kiss my wife and head into my practice room. I practice probably over an half hour a day and noodle for another hour or so every night. I’ve played a few jams, but no other public performances.

At 59 years, I know I’ll never be another Stevie Ray Vaughan or Joe Satriani and that’s all right! I’m again doing something that I truly love. It makes me wonder how much different my life would have been had I never given it up. Whether I would have made a living at it or just had it as the “parlor entertainment” my dad always supported, I think my life to this point would have been considerably different. But that’s all spilled milk and I’m not going to look back and wonder what might have been.

With all the joys and pitfalls of career, raising a family and living a life that I have truly enjoyed, I can honestly say I have never enjoyed my life as much as I am doing right now! Most of the people I know well, wife, kids, friends all see the difference and they tell me it’s a good one. And I can’t disagree!

Free Software! Yeah, buddy! (Part C)

So I’ve become somewhat comfortable manipulating various audio files around and Ardour is a really user friend and relatively easy to learn piece of software… at least relatively speaking. It’s still a beast, but it’s strangely addictive.

After working with Ardour for probably a month or so, I decided I wanted to add something new to the system. I wanted a MIDI Digital control surface. Simply said, it looks like a mixer. It’s a box with a bunch of buttons, knobs and sliders on it that connects to your computer with a USB cable. It is supposed to integrate into Ardour to allow the user to use it as a mixing console. The sliders are even motorized so that when you’re playing back a previously mixed recording, the volume controls will track the positions where you originally placed them. It’s a Behringer BCF-2000. If you would like to see one in operation, just go to YouTube and search on that model. There are a number of people who have done some pretty funky things showing the sliders moving around without human intervention. Pretty cool!

Before I bought it, I checked to see that the Control Surface was supported in Linux and by Ardour. It was. In fact, I saw (via Google) a bunch of different tutorials for setting the control surface up with Ardour.

I ordered one through Amazon. For some reason they had a white version of the controller for somewhere around $30 less than the charcoal gray one, so I ordered it. Turns out there is a waiting period of around six weeks for the white ones for some reason.  Finally after about 4 weeks of waiting, I happened to check the prices again. The charcoal one had been adjusted to the same price, so I cancelled the order for the white one and ordered the dark one. Within 4 or 5 days, it arrived. I was SOOO stoked!

I opened it, read the manual (which said nothing about Linux) and then went to Behringer’s website, where I did find Linux drivers. I also looked around and found a couple handy utilities for it that run under Linux.

Upon first attempt to install the Behringer, I met absolutely no success. I tried one set of directions “guaranteed to work” by a Linux user who had reportedly done this on several different machines. Maybe if he had done mine, it would have worked… but mine didn’t. There were several other attempts made, usually after wiping the hard drive and restoring the Linux box to the state it was immediately before the Behringer arrived. Before all was said and done, I’ll bet I did 20 installations and attempts at making the Behringer hook up with Linux and Ardour. All were unsuccessful.

The closest I ever got to making it work was once, I recorded a couple of test tracks and then attempted to mix them. The very first time I tried to move one of the sliders on the Behringer, the Linux machine threw a segment fault error in Ardour. Next time I booted Ardour, there was no link up with the Behringer. Reboot, retry, repeat! No other attempts ever got that close again. This over and over process was carried out in small parts every evening with just one or two hours. All this time, I’m not practicing my guitar and not spending any time with my wife. It got me absolutely nowhere.

After probably two weeks of trying to get the Behringer to work with Ardour on my computer, I finally decided to bite the bullet and try Windows. Off I went to CompUSA and bought a new 1 terabyte drive and a copy of Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit. That way, if I didn’t like Windows 7 (which I had never seen before), I could yank out the new drive and go back to Linux or even dual boot one operating system or the other.

It took about an hour to install the drive and install Win7. I had several options available then. I have an old copy of Adobe Audition, but it is old enough that support for Control Surfaces was minimal. I installed it. It recognized the Control Surface, not as a Behringer, but as a Mackie board and accepted it. Don’t get me wrong. I love Adobe Audition (used way back when it was Cool Edit, probably back around 1995 or so), but it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that Ardour had. So I looked around and discovered that Cubase 6 Elements would probably do about everything I wanted. I went to Steinberg’s website, paid for and downloaded a copy of it. Another 45 minutes or so and I had Cubase 6 Elements installed and working with my sound card. I turned on the Behringer and nothing happened. Then I read something in the manual for Cubase that said any USB devices should be powered up or connected before Cubase is started. Close Cubase, Power cycle the Behringer. Start Cubase. Now, according to Cubase directions, I went to the Devices section and selected Mackie as my control surface. As soon as I did that, the Behringer sprang to life. The sliders followed the virtual sliders on the screen. I was able to create a profile for the surface. The learn function of Cubase let me click on an onscreen function and then wiggle a control on the Behringer and the two find each other.

Since then, I have done literally dozens of different recordings, mixes and various audio manipulation and abuse with Cubase 6 and the Behringer.

Bottom line, it cost me $75 for the hard drive, which I really didn’t need. A hundred bucks or so for the copy of Win7 and another $99 for Cubase. So for less than $300 I could have saved myself at least 20 hours of frustration. At my age, the $300 still isn’t trivial, hindsight always being 20/20, I would gladly have forked out the $300 to save myself the hassle I went through.

Having said all that, I still like Ardour better than Cubase and if I could be reasonably assured that I could make the Behringer (and a few other pieces of hardware added afterwards) work, I’d re-install Linux.

Since I did the Windows 7 installation, my kids bought me a Tascam US-1800 USB mixer/sound card. It’s a great piece of gear in a 1 up rack mount cabinet. It has 8 XLR mic inputs on the front panel and pair of Line level inputs (suitable for direct plug-in for a guitar) as well as 4 channels out. Installing it was as simple as going to Tascam’s website and downloading the drivers for Windows 7 and then plugging the USB cable into my computer. Cubase supports it. I can switch back and forth between it and the in-cabinet Delta1010LT in a matter of seconds via the control panel of the computer. I seriously doubt it would have been that simple under Linux.

For others, Linux may be the answer and I still have to admit, I have a soft spot for it. But the hidden costs of my experience with “free software” has put me back in the Windows camp, at least for now.

Free Software! Yeah, buddy! (Part Deux)

So this new computer is happily running Linux and I’m starting to get used to it. It does pretty much everything I ever asked my computer to do. There is Bluefish, an excellent HTML editor, to replace an ancient copy of Homesite (for Windows) that has been on my computers for time immemorial. Open Office does pretty much everything to suit my needs. It opens and plays nice with all my archives from my antique copy of Office XP. Thunderbird is an excellent email program, which has been on my Windows computers for years after Outlook 2002 became outrageously flaky. Everything just works. However, it did take me considerably longer to get everything the way I wanted than it did with Windows.

Now comes Ardour and the ALSA/Jack audio part. I linked up with an excellent support site operated by the electronic music department at Stanford. The site is called PlanetCCRMA (google it) and is run almost entirely by one man, Fernando Lopez-Lezcano. The man is brilliant, both as a musician and a computer geek.?His best quality (from my viewpoint) is that he could explain the theory of relativity to Larry the Cable Guy so Larry could understand it.

I installed Ardour and a bunch of ancillary programs necessary to make Ardour actually do something useful. Also, a 10 channel audio card got installed about the same time in the computer. It’s a Delta 1010LT, made by M-Audio and came highly recommended from the Linux audio community. After installing the software and the sound card, it should have been a simple task to tell the computer to stop using the built-in sound chip and start using the new card… or at least you would think so.

The service used for most Linux audio is called PulseAudio. It was added to most flavors of Linux a few years ago to allow multiple sounds to be played at once, such as playing a mail chime while you’re watching a YouTube video. The service used to support the high end audio that Ardour produces uses a process called ALSA (Advanced Linux Sound Architecture) and is controlled by a program called Jack (if you’re a Linux guru and my explanation is not quite exact, please forgive me). Apparently the two sound services don’t always play nicely together. Some applications are written supporting PulseAudio and some are written supporting ALSA. Some support both. But if PulseAudio is running, ALSA cannot and vice versa. So if you have Ardour open and need to watch a piece of a DVD, that DVD playing application better have ALSA support in it or you’re going to have problems. In an ideal world, there would be a mediator to allow them to co-exist. It’s being worked on, but it ain’t ready for prime time, yet.

But my problem was even more serious.  Since the new audio card was installed, no audio was coming out of the computer.   Off to Google-Land I went.  Days later, I found what appeared to be the solution.  Everything seemed to work on the screen.  The right indicators were there, just no audio.  The box the card came in had been opened, so perhaps it was returned and was defective.  It came out of the Linux box and got plugged into my older Windows XP computer.  Installed the Windows drivers and it worked, first time!  So it wasn’t the card.

Back to the Linux box. Another day or two went by in Google-Land as I attempted to figure out what the hell was going on. Finally, in frustration, I sent an email off to the PlanetCCRMA mailing list. Fernando suggested that I get something that pretty much was guaranteed to work out of the box in ALSA/Jack. Download a drum synth program and run one of the demo loops while trying to figure things out. Oh, by the way, I should go into the mixer program for the card and turn everything up, as usually all that stuff is muted in Linux. BINGO!!!! For three or four days, I had been chasing trouble when the only thing holding me back was that the volume on the card was turned down. Nirvana had been reached, for the moment.

I played a bit with Ardour. For such a complex piece of software, it is surprisingly simple to learn and understand the basics.  Within a few days, I figured out how to import existing audio into Ardour, so I could start with a complete backing track to record my pathetic attempts at impersonating a guitarist. Adding a track wasn’t too tough. I found out a great deal in a very short period of time while playing with Ardour. I was happy!

BUT THAT WAS ABOUT TO CHANGE!!!

 

 

 

Free Software! Yeah, buddy! (Part One)

Anyone who knows me knows I’ve been a geek for pretty much all my life. When I was 11 years old (back when dinosaurs roamed the planet), I had a workbench in my bedroom, with soldering iron, a Simpson Volt-Ohm-Milliameter and a Knight-Kit oscilloscope (homebuilt). There was always a twin bed rather than something larger, because I needed the room for all the various junk I used to drag in to fix/cannibalize or otherwise tinker with.

That carried over to my later years as well. I worked as a counterman at an electronic parts house for a year and had to regularly inventory several thousand RCA vacuum tubes.

So, when Radio Shack came out with their first computer, the TRS-80 Model I, I had to have one. I even “lowered” myself to go to Radio Shack to buy one. No self-respecting geek would be caught dead in Radio Shack, but with an investment of that much money, I wanted a stable brand for my first computer, and Apple wasn’t it (yet). Since then, there has always been at least one computer involved in my life and usually many more. I’ve been through PC-DOS and MS-DOS and DR-DOS, from Windows 2.0 (sorry, I missed 1.0) through Windows 7. I fooled around with BSD Unix, FreeBSD, and half a dozen different flavors of Linux, Lindows (Linspire), Mandrake, Slackware, Debian, SuSe, Knoppix and Ubuntu. But I found RedHat Linux somewhere around version 5.0 and it always made so much sense to me that it became my favorite.

What attracted me to Linux was the concept of free software. Now, the free software advocates tout it as “Free as in Freedom, not free as in beer.” But the fact of the matter is that it is pretty much also free as in beer. I bought my early copies of RedHat. Anyone could download the software for free via the internet,?but at the time, the idea of downloading a full installation copy of Linux via my 33.6k modem was a non-starter. My first application was to design a PC based router, that would let me use my single modem connection to run two computers on one connection. I had just bought a new computer and given the old one to my kids to “learn” about the internet and I needed a method to get two computers online. That required a third computer, which I dug out of a dumpster somewhere… but I digress. I learned a lot about computing building a web server, mail server and a file server for use on my home network at a time when a lot of homes were lucky to have just one computer. I had 3, even if one smelled like old fish and coffee grounds!

Let’s move forward to late 2010. I’ve been using Linux now for at least 12~15 years and I’m pretty comfortable getting around most of it. It’s improved a lot, but the complaints are still out there that it is not a user friendly environment. Suddenly, I’m playing guitar again and I want to build a Digital Audio Workstation, the heart of a home recording studio so I can record my progress as I learn. Where do I turn? Why, Linux, of course!

There is a program out there called Ardour, which runs on Linux. According to all reports it is the cat’s meow of Digital Audio Workstations, on par with Cubase and several other semi-pro and professional pieces of software for Microsoft Windows or Apple’s OSX. Best of all, it’s available for download via the internet free of charge!

So, off I go to my local CompUSA store (no not the one you remember from several years ago that went bankrupt. This is owned by Tiger Direct and is truly a geek’s paradise) to buy parts to build a Digital Audio Workstation. Within a day, the computer was built and Fedora 14 (RedHat’s experimental, free software offering) was installed. The machine breathed fire, it was so fast! Everything was wonderful, except I had to find modules so I could play MP3 files on the computer… and install another piece of software so I could play DVD’s on the computer. Then there was the issue of getting a Flash animation player to run on the computer. I had to have that, as my son is an animator on the internet and I have to be able to see his cartoons. Several hours were spent online trying to find out how to make that work with Google Chrome, my web browser of choice (which installed perfectly, thank you). Google said they had a self contained version inside the Chrome browser, but it turned out it was only on the 32 bit version of the browser and I was running the 64 bit version. Adobe had instructions on how to cobble everything together. Those directions didn’t work on my computer.

But after about a week, I had everything running on my computer to make me happy. Now was the time to make it into a Digital Audio Workstation.

A Good Man

My older brother died last week. He was 65 years old. He just dropped dead of a heart attack while preparing breakfast for a men’s prayer group at his church last Saturday (March 26, 2011).

I commented to the pastor of his church that if you’re going to go, a massive heart attack, at your favorite house of religion and among good friends is about the best way I can imagine to go. That’s certainly a much better description than any bawdy jokes I could make about it. Fact is, other than the timing, I’m sure he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

What else could you want? A few more years? Certainly. The opportunity to say goodbye to family and friends? Of course. But would he have traded out his way of going for a longer method that allowed him the chance to say goodbye to everyone? I doubt it. We all live our lives on the promise of tomorrow. My brother included.

He loved his kids. That goes without a shred of doubt in anyone’s mind. Family was his first calling, always! And that’s what brings me to this recollection of his life, Family.

For Don, family wasn’t just mom and dad, his brothers, his wives, his kids. To him, family was the people he met last night, last week, last month. The only friend he didn’t have was the one he hadn’t yet met. It was one of his most endearing qualities. It was also one of his most frustrating personality traits! My brother was the kind of guy who if he had only a nickel and a quarter to rub together, would gladly give the quarter to you and ask you if you needed the nickel as well!

As we sat with the pastors, listening to them recount their recollections of brother Don, my younger brother and I, along with his ex-wife and the mother of his children shared several fleeting glances, grins and a lot of eye contact. While the pastors were warmly speaking of his love of people and his willingness to do anything for anyone, at almost any time, we were thinking that those things which endeared him to strangers drove us absolutely nuts! What the pastors saw as unbridled selflessness was to us a dereliction of those things necessary in order to maintain a marriage and a family in modern society.

While they spoke of his willingness to help a friend (to him, there were no strangers, only friends he had yet to meet), they spoke to us of his flightiness. He would drop everything at a moment’s notice to help someone, even if it meant being late for or losing a contracting job. It was more important to him to be of help to those in need than to provide a stable paycheck to his young family.

How do you talk about a man like this without sounding like a scrooge? How does one possibly speak ill of a man so widely loved by those around him because his priorities didn’t line up with your own? You don’t. So pretty much everything that I found to be a shortcoming in him was perceived by others as a strength of character.

In short, my brother was a man who was loved by nearly everyone who knew him. He always had time for a friend. Anyone who had a problem had a piece of him and his time, often without having to ask. He did countless favors for friends. He left a legacy of goodwill and fond memories among those people whose lives he touched and there were many. He was taken advantage of countless times, by those much less scrupulous then he, but he didn’t care. He didn’t have bad experiences, only learning ones. And with each one, he learned it was important to keep giving, because the gratification of the successes always exceeded the frustration of the failures.

So all the things about him that I found to be his failings never really mattered much to him. After all, they weren’t his failings. They were just my expectations of what an older brother should be. The things I found to be important in life were rarely important to him. He died loved by nearly everyone whose life he touched and that number is huge. It’s not a legacy that has ever been important to me. I doubt he ever saw it as a “legacy” but being there for others was always important to him.

He always lived his life on his own terms. Now, by his beliefs he is in heaven with mom and dad and all those friends and family who have gone before him. I’m not enough of a believer to make those assumptions. All I’m left with is the fact that my phone will never again ring with his Caller ID showing up. I’ll never again hear him tell me he’s sitting at the airport, “just watching the planes take off and land.” I’ll never hear him again tell me he just wanted to call me up and make sure everything is OK in my life. He’ll never again tell me of his latest multi-level marketing scheme or the latest “great idea” he has.

I’ll never again worry that he’ll grow old without a roof over his head or a dime to his name. But most of all, I think I’ll think about those people whose lives he would have touched in a very postive way, those people who are down on their luck who will never know this man who would buy them lunch so they won’t be hungry, or fix their bicycle or give them hope for a better tomorrow.

Thank you, my brother. You’re a good man! I will miss you more than I could ever tell you.

 

Shiny Objects

Before I proceed any further, I want to make sure the person who inspired this post is acknowledged. His name is Griff Hamlin and he has produced several DVD based learn-at-home guitar courses. I’m currently studying his Blues Guitar Unleashed (BGU) course. Let me say that I am very impressed with his course material and I believe it to be worth every penny I paid for it. Griff has my undying respect and admiration for turning his dreams into goals and his goals into reality. Griff, if you’re reading this, thank you, thank you and thank you!

This isn’t a plug for his products, although I’m quite happy to offer a plug to anyone thinking about buying a learn at home guitar course. I heartily endorse them. Along with the purchase of any of his courses, he sends along frequent mailings of his own musings and observations of the learning process. About six weeks after I purchased his BGU I received an email from him with the subject Beware of Shiny Objects. In it he describes his own distraction by “shiny objects.” In the course of this email, his shiny objects are guitar stompboxes. He then goes on to warn students about having one course and searching the internet for more guitar courses. While it certainly could be seen as self-serving, after all he does sell guitar courses over the internet, it’s obvious that he isn’t against using other course material in addition to his. He doesn’t quite make the point I expected in the message, but I suspect that’s in the interest of not being preachy. What he doesn’t quite get around to mentioning is commitment, goals and the importance of goal setting.

Now, I’m not exactly the guru of goals, so don’t get me wrong. This post is more a case of “I am starting to get it,” rather than one of “Here’s what I’m doing and you should too!” At the ripe old age of 58, “I am beginning to realize something I wish I had discovered 45 years ago.” Since I decided to resume a life long yearning to play the guitar, I have been running on the momentum of a dream… Wanting to play the guitar. But I’ve been going about it the wrong way, even with this course in my DVD player and on my music stand.

I started off like gangbusters, practicing an hour or more every day for a couple of months. Then I started getting distracted by shiny objects. My first guitar learning shiny object is Griff’s own forum supporting his music courses. It’s a great tool to have a community of other pickers working in the same direction. The support among the members is extremely good. But what I’ve fallen victim is actually thinking that just showing up will make me a better player. It won’t. The real meat of the forums, the course related sections have seen little of me. Two sections have become major time sponges for me. One is The Lounge, where you can post about anything you want, a social bull session. The other is the section on gear. Debating the merits of hip-hop music in The Lounge or finding out how many guys have Epiphone/Gibson Les Paul Goldtops will not make me a better guitarist. In fact, the time I spend there, I am stealing from the time I have to practice. It’s a shiny object. I’m doing it because it’s more entertaining than pentatonic scales. But then the evening is gone and I’ve learned nothing of consequence. This is no one’s fault but my own. I lack the discipline necessary in order to pursue my goal!

So I let the shiny objects of the forum lead me in a new direction, GAS or Guitar Acquisition Syndrome. I saw many shiny objects. Now I have to answer the question, “Considering I haven’t played in public since some time in 1973, do I really need to have 10 guitars sitting here in my music room? Do I really need 3 amplifiers? Do I need 2 different distortion “stompboxes?” The answer is of course, “NO!” Has buying any of this equipment (other than the first guitar and amp) made me a better guitar player? “Hell NO!” Does the fact that I have 3 other adjunct guitar courses sitting on my desk make me a better guitar player? No, especially since they aren’t even opened yet. All it does is add to the number of shiny objects. Yet, I still find myself looking through every email from Guitar Center and Musician Friend. Is there anything there that will immediately turn me into a better player if I buy it. No, I can’t buy myself more practice, more talent, more dedication or more skill!

There is nothing wrong with the shiny objects themselves. It’s just that I cannot let them distract me and become the focus of my efforts.

The only thing that will turn me into a better guitar player is practice and a purpose. Without a purpose, even practicing will eventually hit a brick wall. A purpose means GOALS! When I was young and playing in garage bands, I wanted to make a living playing an instrument (mainly keyboards back then). I wanted to be a rock star. I wanted to get laid! But those really weren’t goals. Those were dreams. Some came true. Others, not so much.

Now, I’m 58 years old and trying to pick up where I left off. Why? Well, I certainly don’t expect to make a living by playing. I have no illusions about being a nearly 60 year old rock and roll sensation. The ones who are 60 year old rock stars got to be that way when they were in their teens or twenties and stuck with it. And I’m happily married for nearly 30 years, so the groupie thing has no appeal. Why am I doing it? Initially it was because I wanted to be 20 again, but that’s not only a dream, but an impossible fantasy. But I’m still motivated, so what am I working towards? Sitting in a 10X12 room playing pentatonic scales all evening on 6 different guitars certainly isn’t making it. Why am I doing it? I’ve asked that question of myself a lot.

First and foremost, I want to prove to myself that I can do it. But what is it I can do to prove that? I’ve been sitting here for nearly 6 months. My wife says I sound a lot better than I did, but to me, I sound the same. A little faster, a little less sloppy, but basically unchanged. How do I measure my improvement? GOALS! Exactly what every motivational speaker I’ve ever heard over the last 40 years has told me. But for the first time in my life, I suddenly get it! I need a measurement of performance, improvement, success…. Whatever you want to call it, I need it.

Some long forgotten motivational speaker I listened to once said, “Goals are dreams with a deadline.” Suddenly I understand that! I’ve spent uncounted hours in my music room practicing and practicing, with no yardstick to measure my progress. Yeah, I know I’m playing better than 6 months ago, but I can’t quantify it. How much longer do I without some concrete evidence of improvement before I simply give up out of frustration? The answer is GOALS!

So here are some goals… Dreams actually, because I haven’t yet put a timeline on them.

1. To make a recording of each lesson as I complete it, so I can listen to my ability improve.

2. Answer a few challenges in the “Other Member Recordings” and post something, good bad or ugly to the BGU forums.

3. Become confident enough to visit an Open Mic Night at a local bar.

4. Organize, co-organize or at least participate in a local jam of other members from the BGU forum.

5. Attend and appear onstage at the BGU LIve event in 2012 (if it happens).

Right now, these are all dreams, because they don’t have dates attached to them. with the exception of BGU Live 2012, which will have a date. My next blog entry will associate timelines with the dreams I choose to turn into goals. They may get re-arranged, some more added, some dropped. If I don’t make them all by the date, I’ll re-schedule. But when I put a date to something that will be my commitment to it.

And for now 10 guitars IS enough!