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


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


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


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


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


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


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.


The BE Guitar – Clearly Different


It’s hard to argue with Rob O’Rilley when he says that the visual design of guitars has been stagnant for 50 years; “Everyone is playing the same model. The visuality of it is a huge part, but also the functionality is a huge part.” Being a fashion-conscious musician, he decided to take on both of these challenges himself. He also chose to take on investors to help him push his dream axe forward.

Dragon’s Den is a reality television show where budding entrepreneurs pitch ideas to a panel of venture capitalists. Rob successfully secured angel funding for the business there, and followed it up with a successful Kickstarter campaign.

image-beguitar-fullToday his Killarney, Ireland shop is in full production, and his BE Guitar is garnering good press. Rob’s business goal is as clear as his guitar; to sell 2000 instruments in the first year. Sure it looks cool, has innovative functionality, and is reasonably priced for a hand crafted instrument, but how does it play? I should know in a week or so when mine arrives.

From the BE Guitar Website:

Features such as Personalisation, its genius balance bar and optional iphone interface brings guitar design to a new level. Matt black charcoal finish, gloss white fretboard and transparent acrylic centre gives BE-Guitar its stunning look.

This plexiglass picker will become the centerpiece of an entirely new iPad-based guitar rig I am designing. Inspired by JamUp, the best guitar multi-effects software on the planet according to none-too-modest developer Positive Grid, I have decided to shelve the THR Rig, my first laptop-based digital system, and go all out i.

The Cognitive Need for OSX Finder Labels.


October 2013 brought sweeping changes to the features and financial models of many Apple software products. As Mavericks, the latest version of the Mac OS, moves the technology forward it presents many baffling changes that evoke like the proverbial “two steps backwards” phrase. For my day-to-day workflow the most disruptive change is the elimination of File Labels.

The new Finder Tags are great, but they are no substitute for the ability to quickly label a file name with a color. Having now lost the  ability to quickly “swipe a virtual highlighting pen across the name of the file,” I find it has much more of an impact on my daily computer use than I would have ever guessed it might.

Tags are great for sorting, searching and long-term organization, but Labels are a much better method for quick and sure visual identification, visual organization, and short-term flagging of files in lists.

But what about that tiny colored dot by the file names? Doesn’t that serve the same purpose? It does not. Here the cognitive problem the dots create:

labelsWith labels, one could quickly skim a list of file names and simultaneously see the color associated with each. One action, one thought.

With Tags, these two pieces of information are no longer in the same place, or within the same glance. With eyes focused on one, the other is in peripheral vision. As mentioned before, the dots are very small, and the distance between the name and the color dot varies depending on the width of the Finder column. This causes ones eyes to shift back and forth trying to connect these two bits of information. Trying to use Tags in the same way as Labels, one end up reading file names multiple times just to verify. I find that I no longer grab files with confidence that they are the one I marked earlier without several eye-shifting checks.

Labels eliminate reading, and often even thinking about, file management allowing one to better concentrate on the work they are doing in the first place.

Sure this all happens in milliseconds, but the latter takes longer, and it creates stress and doubt. Consider that one might perform this action thousands of times per day, what was once rather effortless becomes burdensome.

I’m not suggesting that Apple change or eliminate tags. I am just asking for Labels to come back, or for some other way to quickly highlight files. If you feel the same way, let Apple know on their OSX Feedback Page.

UPDATE: March 26, 2014

Problem solved for now. Tran Ky Nam Software’s utility XtraFinder adds several cool features to the OSX Finder. The free app was updated today with the option to show Finder Labels!

Vidpro Video Stabilizer Giveaway


Last month I mentioned my buddy Jesse over at Jesse’s Gear posted this video demo of the cool VidPro SB-10 Camera Stabilizer for iPhone, Android and Digital Cameras. This week, he is giving one away to a lucky follower. The drawing is this Friday (Sept 30, 2013) so you have just enough time to hit up his site and check out the entry instructions, summarized below:

Step 1. Follow @jessepepin
Step 2. Tweet his review post
Step 3. Click REFRESH on your email client all day on Friday, just like the last scene of The Social Network, to see if you win.

George Duke at NAMM 2008

Today we say farewell to George Duke, keyboard legend. He brought his amazing jazz fusion style to Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention for over 25 years. He other cool collaborators over the years included Jean-Luc Ponty, Miles Davis, and Micheal Jackson (Off the Wall, 1979.) I hope you enjoy this clip of Dukey on Fender Rhodes piano as much as he enjoyed playing it.

VidPro’s $50 Steady Cam

Jesse’s Gear posted this video demo of the VidPro SB-10 Camera Stabilizer for iPhone, Android and Digital Cameras. The product name is heavier than the camera your likely to put on it. The aluminum alloy and steel construction look solid, and the price seems reasonable for all its bubble-leveled gimbal goodness.

The cost for this Merlin-esque apparatus is about the lowest I’ve seen for a stabilizer. I may have to grab one just to keep in my car for those unplanned shoots when a shakily-held iPhone is my only available ax.

Be sure to check out the rest of Jesse’s blog and you’ll wish that you had Jesse’s Gear.