Standing in line for The Grid – position 23,704.

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You may have noticed that I’m not the most prolific blogger around. But hey, this website is not to going to build itself. Or is it?

The Grid is a new web platform that promises “AI websites that build themselves.” Just throw a mess of media at it; text, photos, videos, URLs, whatever, and it will “automatically shape them into a custom website.” It’s a bold but theoretically achievable goal. So far over 50,000 people have felt confident or curious enough to plunk down $96 to be among the first The Grid users. A few weeks ago the site open the system to 100 beta users. They expect to roll it out to the remaining founding members in phases over the next 6 months.

I signed up in March as founding member #23,704. I plan to experiment with it by converting this WordPress blog to the The Grid platform. If that goes well, I will likely rework my business site with it next.

Interest in signing up? Use this link, THEGRID.IO/#23704, and they will kindly kick back a founders finder fee ($25) to me! Then you tell three friends, and so on, and so on. Thanks in advance.

Never loan a book. Give it away.

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Books can transport one to places and experiences like no other medium, but transporting the books themselves that accumulate over decades of reading is, to me, becoming less and less appealing.

I have always cherished my humble book collection from the common paperback reprints (mostly science fiction, art, theater, humor, popular science, and a bit of philosophy) to the rarer niche treatises (plays, pop ups and technical manuals for stage and closeup magicians.) While I will always admire a clever binding technique or a beautifully illustrated coffee table tome, my desire to own them as objects d’art is waning. I believe this is attributable to their increasing ease of acquisition.

Tracking down a desired volume was once a mini-treasure hunt. Whether it was a quick drive to the nearest Waldenbooks or a months of searching through the dusty shelves of used book stores, the search and discovery of the physical object was often as satisfying as the book’s content. Today a few seconds of Googling leads to an overnight delivery of almost any paper-bound compendium, if not the text and illustrations themselves digitally served up for instant perusal (in varying shades of legality.)

bookOne of the many upsides of this accessibility is that I find my previous desire to collect, if not horde, books has turned 180 degrees. Douglas Coupland is credited with saying “Never loan a book to someone if you expect to get it back.” My glass-half-full-of-karma paraphrasing of this quote becomes my new motto. “Always give your books away and don’t accept them back.”

Today I completed a delightful vacation-read, an autobiography of comedian Fred Allen, while on a Mediterranean cruise. Deck chairs are much more compatible with paperbacks than iPad e-books. Upon finishing the book, I inscribed it (or perhaps defiled it) with the following thoughts that may be of mild interest to the book’s next reader.

Dear Reader,

Fred Allen was one of the top American radio stars of the 1930’s – 40’s and was considered one of the sharpest comedy minds of his day. In “Much Ado about Me” he chronicles his earlier career, from his start on the professional “amateur circuit” in 1920’s Boston through his rise to national success in the Vaudeville “big-time.”

The book is also a fascinating glimpse into the unique lifestyle of Vaudevillian performers during the dying days of that short-lived (50 years) entertainment medium. Chapter 14 in particular, titled “The Life and Death of Vaudeville,” describes for the modern reader a vivid picture of the work-a-day life of “the acrobats, the animal acts, the dancers, the singers, and the old-time comedians who have taken their final bows and disappeared into the wings of obscurity.”

I finished reading this book while aboard the Norwegian Epic off the coast of Cannes, France and am subsequently donating it to the ship’s library. If you enjoy this oeuvre as much as I did please send me a note with your impressions.

Tracy
June 5, 2015

I included my email address and dropped the book off in the return slot of the ship’s library. My hand-scrawled message may see fewer actual readers than any message in a bottle ever cast to sea, but I do hope someday to hear from a reader on those same waters who found and enjoyed the stories in that book.

Humbucker to Single Coil in 2 Minutes

I had no idea what I was doing when I bought my first guitar. I didn’t know a Humbucker from a hole in the ground. My main goal was to buy the coolest looking guitar on the H&H Music Store wall.

Decades have since passed and, while I may know a bit more than that first day, I am still attracted to unique guitar shapes and styles more than I am to sound. If a striking design sounds good too, well that’s just a bonus. (My favorite Parker Fly happens to deliver the best of both worlds.)

CLGs (coolest looking guitars) always seem to have Humbucker pickups. I have envied the crisp sound of Strats and the twang of Teles for a while now. Recently, I typed “make a humbucker sound like a single coil” into a Google search, more as a joke to myself, never expecting any real solution. I was surprised to find lots of info on the subject. Several mods involved Coil Splitting, an aftermarket fix that requires major surgery to the internal wiring.

But there was one link to a provocatively titled forum post – Make ANY humbucker sound like a single coil in 2 minutes. A laughingly bold claim? Click-bait if there ever was any, right?

I took the bait. It lead to a video by Scott Grove with the afore-mentioned title. Scott is one of my online guitar heroes and has hours and hours of YouTube videos full of great playing, advice and instruction. To make a long story short, the Humbucker to Single Coil conversion involves grabbing a screwdriver and removing the post screws from the back side of each Humbucker. Scott’s video explains the technique in detail, and this forum thread debates the pros, cons and alternatives.

IMG_2972A few minutes (with an allen wrench in my case) was all it took to transform the magnetic output of my Parker to a brighter, downright twangy sound.

Every guitar is different and your mileage my vary, but try out this quick mod and see what you think. It can easily, and quickly, be reversed by simply replacing the screws.

Fix a Guitar with a Toothpick

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There is a lot riding on that little strap post at the end of your guitar. In my case it serves double-duty by holding the strap and a TriplePlay MIDI pickup bracket. Over-tightening this screw can lead to trouble. Once the wood inside the guitar is stripped, the screw will just spin in place and never truly tighten – unless you know the toothpick trick.

Jamie, a repair tech at Guitar Center, showed me this quick fix for strap post security. He removed the screw and dropped a short piece of toothpick into the hole. This gives the screw new wood into which it can bite. The previously free-rotating screw now stays in place firmly with a rock solid hold on the TriplePlay bracket.

AdrenaLinn Sync to sync no more.

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After five years on the market, Roger Linn has discontinued sales and development of his awesome modulation effects plugin AdrenaLinn Sync. It’s unique filter effects will mostly live on in the hardware version but, sadly, the convenience and flexibility of the software version will cease to be installable “on new computers after May 10, 2016″.

In an email sent to Sync owners in April, Linn laid out two reasons for the software’s demise. Firstly the five-year old 32-bit code can no longer be installed in Mac OS X Yosemite. From Roger’s email:

I don’t know how to write plug-ins, so AdrenaLinn Sync was developed in conjunction with a small software developer called Way Out Ware (Jim Heintz). I did the design, graphics, presets and testing and Jim did all the underlying code. While it was a great plug-in at its release in 2010, its 32-bit format has gotten someone old and our installer can’t be installed into Mac OS X Yosemite. I’ve been waiting for three years for Jim to deliver a 64-bit Yosemite-compatible update–much less a 64-bit VST or AAX version–but he seems unable to finish it. And he prefers not give me access to the source code, so trying to find someone else willing to finish it isn’t an option.

In addition to the decaying code base, the online service Sync uses for copy protection has raised their annual licensing fee to about double of Linn’s “current annual income from AdrenaLinn Sync.”

tantra-bigI’ve been a fan of Linn’s “beat-synced effects” since its first incarnation in the M-Audio Black Box from 2006. I will miss the freaky noises and elegant interface of AdrenaLinn Sync. It is sad to see this creative tool vanish due to the political and financial realities of the software business.

My collection of metal-clad guitar pedals will unchangingly flange and distort well into a postapocalyptic future. Software-based guitar system, by their very nature, are built atop the shifting sands of chipset revisions, OS upgrades and VSTs of the month. Some might recommend “freezing the system” and never upgrading the OS as a solution. It’s an utterly practical solution, but completely defeats the advantage of software-based instruments. How many keyboard players do you know who are still running Ataris or C64s?

Looking forward, LTantra, a VST plugin by Dmitry Sches may be a worthy replacement. I will be testing it out over the next few weeks.

Farewell AdrenaLinn Sync. May you forever beat-sync effects in software heaven.

B. B. King plays tribute to his influences

In this video from 1972 B. B. King speaks and plays tribute to many of his guitar heroes; Blind Lemon Jefferson‘s flaminco-esque solo work, the clean touch of Lonnie Johnson, the dominant 9th chords of T-Bone Walker, Charlie Christian‘s diminished chords, and Django Reinhardt‘s clarity.

Best wishes to the king.

Felix – Yet Another Mobile Guitar Rig

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After more than a year of watching dust gather on a pile of depreciating music gear, I now return to my mobile guitar rig project. Having vacillated between a computer DAW approach and a tablet approach for a few weeks, it is time to move forward with a hybrid laptop/iPad system.

302900_231781686889200_1784968778_nThe iPad-only based system would have been a cool rig, but it presented challenges and roadblocks at almost every turn. Abandoning that limitation opened more options than one can count. While this quickly led to choice paralysis, luckily a combination of preorder impulse purchases and prematurely announced gear finally shipping coalesced into a perfect storm of incentive to move forward.  The latest version of the THR Guitar Rig is now, the newly code-named, Felix.

IMG_2760Felix is a magic bag of techno-toys that “must never be used for anything bad.” This is debatable by those who hear me play. Nevertheless, this latest guitar-rig-in-a-bag extends the original vision and may end up doing dual duty. Thanks to the innovative features of the iConnect AUDIO 4+ interface, this design will be a full featured noise maker with and/or without a DAW. More to come on the system as it develops.

The Houston Astrodome at 50

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To mark the Houston Astrodome’s 50th birthday, the City of Houston opened the building to those interested in making the trek to South Houston to visit the relic. Over 20,000 people took them up on the offer. For myself, it was a semi-surreal experience standing in the expansive space of the worlds first indoor stadium in the 21st century.

Like most locals, I haven’t been in the building for a decade or more. I can fondly recall the echoes (literally) of concerts past including Pink Floyd and Micheal Jackson and family. My earliest memories of the 8th wonder are a rodeo (a big deal in Houston) my dad too me to in the mid 70’s with a feature appearance by Sonny and Cher. I remember Cher changed costumes a dozen or more times in a small tent right on the stage.

These memories are long before the building closed and became a storage facility for the flanking convention center and stadium.

I will be heading back to the formerly-named “Astordomain” compound next week to install interactive exhibits at the annual Offshore Technology Conference (OTC 2015) at Reliant Center. Multimedia is my day job. Check back next week for more info on those.

Pencil Drawing Digital Workflow

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My Papermate Sharpwriter and Moleskine Notebook are irreplaceable, go-to tools. I’ve tried alternatives in tablets, apps, and various Wacom products many times, but I keep coming back to this graphite-on-paper solution. Here is my typical sketching workflow. It uses a couple of quick PhotoShop tricks that make simple sketches look like they require actual skill to create.

Sketch-Book-at-Jupiter-big1. Draw something.
A line sketch with no shading works well with this technique. I like to keep this kind of explanatory drawing simple and quick. I usually do a rough line sketch, erase most of it, then use what’s left to trace over the final darker lines. We will create the cool shading in step 6, but feel free to experiment with your own levels of detail and amount of shading.

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Learn 3D in One (Intense) Weekend

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Got 20 hours? That’s all it takes to start adding 3D graphics and animation to your skill set. Even if you’ve never ventured into the third dimension of graphic design, you can dive in and start creating impressive imagery right away with this very friendly course from the generous pseudo-simians at Grey Scale Gorilla … for free.

Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 1.18.51 AMIntroduction to Cinema 4D is a comprehensive learn-by-doing video tutorial series that walks you through the basics of working in 3D and the most important functions of Cinema 4D. The Gorilla guys keep the course interesting and moving by presenting usable, practical examples that relate to graphic production.

This is not some long-winded tour of every program button, trudging through software menus section by section. The pace is brisk and the enthusiasm of the instructors (Chris Schmidt and Nick Campbell) contagious.

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The iPad-charging Powered USB Hub Alesis IO Hack

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After reviewing dozens of available USB devices, guitar inputs, and obscure gadgets, I have given up the quest for a ready-made device that will satisfy my desire for a USB hub that charges the iPad, from batteries, while it hosts other USB devices. Currently, there is no such product. But one crafty, Dremmel-wielding hacker has created that very thing.

Untergeek tore apart an Alesis IO Dock and inserted a USB hub internally between the iPad and the IO Dock. It is almost as simple as it sounds if you know your way around soldering, hot glueing and warranty voiding. Here is a video on how to DIY it.

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The Hubbub Guitar System – Part 1 – The Plan

Hubub-Feature

hubbub – noun – A loud confused noise from many sources.

The Hubub is a fitting moniker for our current iPad-based guitar system project; a melange of synth sounds, MIDI signals, analogue guitar, and the digital mayhem that ensues.

It’s doubly appropriate since a customized USB hub will be required to make it all possible, or at least practical. A primary goals of this setup is that it should run entirely from rechargeable batteries, sans power leads. It’s a lofty, but worthwhile goal. Over the next few weeks we shall see if that goal is achievable in a cost-effective way.

hubub-diagramTo the right is a diagram of the planned system. The main challenge of this computer-less approach is maintaining power for the iPad. Powering the USB hub, and the devices attached to it, from a battery is easy enough. But music software tends to drain an iPad battery quickly, so we want to be able to charge the iPad while in use. There doesn’t appear to be a product available that accomplishes this goal without a computer somewhere in the mix.

But we are working towards a solution. Soon many, if not all, of the devices below will be happily hooked up to an iPad air, buzzing along from rechargeable batteries.

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