Saturday, December 29, 2007

CESLA Uniform Project

CESLA is the Coalition for Educational and Scientific Literacy Assistance.
[Their] mission is to aid children of educationally disenfranchised rural populations. The advancement of critical thinking principles and problem solving techniques is encouraged. An emphasis is placed on the promotion of hands-on science centers and museums as an intermediary to the communication of science and technology... The ultimate aim of this organization is the advancement of rural learners into science and technology careers.

To further promote child education advocacy, an emphasis will be placed on AIDS and substance abuse awareness, early childhood development, as well as general health care and vaccinations.
The Uniform Project
Why Uniforms?

In South Africa, all state schools and most private schools school uniforms are compulsory. The concept of school uniform is believed to serve two purposes - to instill a sense of belonging and pride in the school and also to eliminate any idea of competition in the matter of personal dress. Most schools have very precise requirements and every school issues a uniform list which covers all items from general day-today wear (often including shoes) to more specialized sports wear and equipment...

South African Education
It is estimated that well more than half the adults in KwaZulu-Natal are unemployed, with the figures being much higher in the vast rural areas of this province. Additionally, HIV/AIDS transmission rates here are the highest in the world! According to Dawie Bosch, a South African child-rights advocate, " the context of HIV/AIDS, things are possibly -- and probably -- getting worse for children,"

The reality is, these orphans and vulnerable children are being denied hope, because they can not purchase uniforms or school supplies to attend school!!! One of CESLA's goals is to provide at-risk children access to education and basic resources like food and school uniforms.

This is a very worthy cause. Please consider a donation to the project (links are towards the bottom of the page).

Monday, December 24, 2007

You Never Know

About a year and a half ago I bought a small scale guitar for my oldest son. He used to want to play (with) my guitars all the time so why not? Well, time did tell. His interest in guitar quickly diminished and I thought my hopes for another musician in the family were dashed.

We went to my mother's house for Thanksgiving, and to our immense astonishment J immediately took to her piano. Within a day he was playing tunes on it. I couldn't believe it! And, he kept on with it the whole time we were there. My mother even said she would give us the piano and we seriously considered renting a U-Haul to bring it home with us.

A while back I had purchased a Yamaha PSR-293 in the hopes of using it as a MIDI device for my recording endeavors. I haven't used it much at all, and we considered selling it when we were moving. No one was using it. Why not?

Good thing we didn't since J now plays it every day. He found a beginners keyboard course book and has been teaching himself how to read music & play ever since. Pretty cool, in my humble estimation. We need to find him a good teacher to augment his own efforts. I'm so glad we kept that keyboard. You just never know...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Floyd Style Bridge Set Up

Can I just say, setting up a floating Floyd Rose style tremolo is a total pain?

I'm not talking changing strings on a Floyd--I'm not sure why people think that is difficult. I am talking intonation set up. Even with the cool Peterson Strobe tuning software I bought it was just absolutely no fun at all. No wonder luthiers charge a good penny to get it done.

I won't go into the specifics, since they are already posted. I just want to say that I would sure like to find or come up with some tool that will hold the saddle in position while you tighten the saddle screw. Instead, you try to hold the saddle in the position that you guess it should be in... while you try to keep the string out of the way... while you tighten the saddle screw again. Retune the string and test the intonation. Got it right? Great! Didn't, and you get to repeat the process again & again... with each string. Bleaaaah!
If it wasn't floating, I am betting it would be much easier. Setting up the Wilkinson tremolo on my hacked Strat was cake by comparison. Next time, I think I am letting my local luthier take care of my Schaller Floyd.

For what it's worth, the Wilkinson tremolo; Planet Wave locking tuners; Graph Tech string trees; and graphite nut on my "Super Strat" make for a superior tremolo set up. Even with aggressive usage, it stays in tune as well as the Floyd any day--ultra dive-bombs and all. It's not floating but it definitely gets the job done.

Saturday, December 08, 2007


I was a late-comer to Sixth Sense, I caught it on DVD as my first introduction to the creative genius of Shyamalan.

Thus far, all of the movies that M. Night Shyamalan has released have ranked as some of my most favorite. His directorial style and presentation has been impressive & captivating. I look forward to each release with his name stamped on it. In my house, his name means "quality work."

With each release you definitely get the impression that here is a guy who really loves to make movies, from the actors he chooses to work with, the locations he shoots, the props used, and onward to most minute details. No compromises. He is passionate about it all.

After all that though, the thing that impresses me most are the stories he presents in these films. He may be a filmmaker first and foremost. However, the one aspect that sets him above the rest to me are the stories he chooses to tell.

It is the stories that captivate me the most in his work. I have the impression that if a story doesn't cut it, he's not making the film.

Now, of the films he's made (that I have seen) he has written virtually all of them: The Sixth Sense; Unbreakable; Signs; The Village; Lady in the Water all have that one thing in common--the solid base of a powerful story. (Apparently he wrote the screenplay for Stuart Little, a nice movie but unoriginal, relying more on effects and the actors involved I believe then the story. Still, as I say, a nice movie if unmemorable in my opinion.)

Like most, I enjoy a good action movie with stunning effects, but I won't watch them repeatedly in most cases. For me, the intricacies of a well written & crafted storyline will win the day every time.

Not everyone shares this view unfortunately which is probably why more movies with this element are not written these days. Apparently Lady in the Water was not as well received as it should have been. I don't read movie reviews or watch review shows so I am basing this on the observation of others. I have to ask, what's not to like? Ooops, it had action. It had effects. It had some killer acting. But not enough--particularly action I suppose. The story was central, and I guess that wasn't enough for some critics?

Who cares? Well, I do. Simply for the fact I mention above. If story based movies are not well received, less of them will be made. It's a real shame and it diminishes our culture. How many cop & gangster, alien & terminator shows do we really need? Let's find some balance here please.

My favorite recent television show, Heroes, falls in line with this balance. I love the storyline. I love the plot twists. The first season of that show, and the ending was simply amazing. I was hoping beyond hope that they (the writers) could make it work--that they could, particularly, make the ending work. And they did! It ended so well to me that if they never had another season for whatever reason it still would have been one of the best television runs I have ever seen. The story worked. The writers did it. Incredible.

So I end here. Writers go forth! You rule. When you make it work, we all win. Tell us the stories that entertain. Tell us the stories that captivate. Tell us the stories that inspire, that motivate. Tell us the stories that matter.

Then hope the producers don't ruin your work...

Friday, December 07, 2007

Missing Broadband

When we moved we couldn't move our cable modem account. We couldn't get DSL out to our new home either. Satellite was too much and unreliable. We ended up with a Novatel Sprint USB whatever you want to call it, mobile access device?

Being away for the weekend and blogging this over a wifi connection at the location we are staying, man... do I miss broadband.

I should Torrent the heck out of all the Linux distros I could ever want (for now). Fill up the entire HDD.

That was the one killer thing about moving. Losing my 6+ Mbps connection. Oh well. You do what you have to...

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Klark Kent: The Rhythmatist

I thought this was a cool shot of Stewart Copeland. It was inside the November '07 Sam Ash GearGuide.

I have never been to a Police show, which is quite unfortunate as I have wanted to see them live for a... very... long... time.

At any rate, Mr. Copeland ranks as my favorite percussionist of all time.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Where's Damone?

I was just checking out the Damone site and they haven't posted anything new since June. There are some tour dates listed for the UK in December, so they are still around I guess (which, IMO is a good thing). They put up links to a couple of videos on YouTube "...chronicling the recording of our album Out Here All Night." It's pretty interesting to see them cranking out such a well produced CD in an apartment bedroom. Wild. It reminds me of that Cranberries disc title, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?

Brad Sucks, the self-styled "one man band with no fans" works similarly. Writing and recording his music from his house or apartment as far as I know. At least I have never read that he's bought studio time or anything like that.

Ah, it gives hope to those of us aspiring to producing decent home recordings. I used to have a Tascam 4-track cassette deck. That was cool and really easy to work with. Would that multi-track computer software was half so easy to use. I could actually knock out decent sounding demos on the Tascam, but all the software I have tried has so many options I almost don't know where to start. All I am really after is programming up some Hydrogen drums tracks and then laying down guitar parts. How hard can it be? Maybe I should have kept the Tascam...

Monday, July 09, 2007

No Audigy Prodigy

Spent all day Saturday trying to get the Audigy 2 ZS Platinum front panel inputs & outputs working in my AMD64 box. Reloading drivers, updating software, on & on & on.

No luck.

Finally, gave up. I ultimately figured it was pointless and would only work properly in another system (like the old K7 box were I had initially installed it and where it worked perfectly).

The front panel has a connector that looks like a floppy drive power connection. I didn't think anything of it. I didn't have it connected when it was in the K7 box. (Google is your friend.) Somewhere I read that if I hooked up power to that connector, it might solve the problem.

It did.

Unreal. All that grief for nothing, but it sure was nice to have it working again! Back to recording again! Yeah!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

OTA HDTV with the KWorld ATSC 110

The KWorld ATSC 110 PCI card receives both Analog NTSC as well as Digital ATSC over the air signals. This post deals only with the OTA HDTV portion.

The software that they bundled with the card was useless to me, I thought I was getting a full meal deal that I could use right away with the card to begin viewing OTA HDTV, instead I got a non-functioning software key that would not unlock the trial version of the bundled application. Nonetheless, as you will see, the card itself works very well and was a really good bargain from newegg at the time I purchased it. I don't see it listed on their site at the time of this writing; it may be discontinued. They do have a listing for a ATSC 120 model. A step up? Don't know...

Anyway, I needed an alternative application to use with the card and fortunately I did.

I found a freeware app called WatchHDTV and initially had it working somewhat under Windows 2000, but the app is really designed for Windows XP so I was lucky--it worked under Win2K but not very well. It performs quite well under WinXP. The weird thing about running it under Win2K was that I had to load the bundled trialware viewer and then WatchHDTV. I guess WatchHDTV used some of the drivers from the other application, but that is moot at this point.

Let me list the requirements that got my card working for me:
Quick set-up steps:
  1. Install the ATSC 110 card & connect to the UHF antenna (brilliant right?)
  2. Boot Windows XP, download the necessary software (again, earth-shattering insight).
  3. Install the ATS 110 drivers and reboot as required.
  4. Install the K-Lite Codec Pack
    1. In the Select Components dialog box, scroll down and DO select MPEG-1/MPEG-2/DVD under the DirectShow video filters option. There are two options under this category: libmpeg2 & libavcodec. If one doesn't work out, uninstall/reinstall and try the other.
  5. Before you click Finish, select Configure ffdshow video decoder (you can do this later if you wish, but let's just get it over with). Click Finish
  6. In the ffdshow config window select Deinterlacing --> Click Apply --> Click OK
  7. Unzip WatchHDTV1.950 & WatchHDTV TS1.120 to locations of your choice.
  8. Navigate to WatchHDTV TS1.120 and run regwatchhdtv. Close that window.
  9. Navigate to WatchHDTV1.950 and run WatchHDTVInfo
  10. Select your BDA Tuner (probably only one in the list, it will be labeled something like 713x BDA ATSC Tuner)
  11. Select your BDA Capture (again, only one in the list, something like 713x BDA Digital Capture)
  12. Select your MPEG-2 Video Decoders (in my case ffdshow Video Decoder)
  13. Select your AC-3 Audio Decoders (again ffdshow Audio Decoder)
  14. As for DVR-MS Filters, I don't really know which works best or does what. I selected StreamBufferSource
  15. WatchHDTV Transport Stream Filters: if it says Stream Filters aren't installed, run regwatchhdtv again. Close/Reopen the WatchHDTVInfo and you will find the missing options (repeat your selections above). I chose WatchHDTVTSSource (again, though I don't know which of the two is better or why... experiment I suppose. You can always go back to WatchHDTVInfo to rearrange your settings.
  16. Finished? Click the Create decoders.txt button & then OK
Basically, WatchHDTV is set up now to run. Now all you need to do is get a list of your channel information (you can use something like TitanTV, enter your zip code and get the channel information you need). Open up WatchHDTV --> Click Setup --> Select Channel Setup

It may look a little confusing but it's not too bad. Here are the corresponding entries from a TitanTV listing (click image(s) for larger view if needed):

The controls in this dialog are self-explanatory. Once you are done, click OK and you are on your way to Over The Air (OTA) HDTV viewing!

There are also other applications/features available in WatchHDTV. A quick glance in the folder indicate scheduled recording & playback, etc. but I haven't gotten around to using those so far. WatchHDTV may not be the ultimate PVR but for what I want I think it will work out just fine. For a fully functional PVR, the bundled Beyond TV application may be worth spending the bucks for the non-trial version. I didn't bother (yet?). There's also MythTV or KnoppMyth for the more adventurous and/or Linux users. Your mileage may vary. I attempted a KnoppMyth installation once. You can see how well it worked out by the lack of posting here upon the subject--that's not to say you won't have better success then I did of course. Go for it.

Well there you have it. The ATSC 110 is a really cool card handling both analog & digital signals. It works under WindowsXP as well as Linux. It's not too difficult to get it up and running (for free) once you have all the pieces to the puzzle, and best of all, it really works! :-)

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Super Strat

What happens when you a take a circa. 1986 Fender Squier Stratocaster that you have been playing for the last 20 years and decide it's time for a change? Buy a new guitar? No way! It's hot rod time!

I have been talking about doing this for years. The Seymour Duncan Everything Axe Set looked like the ticket (and ended up being so in a round about way--I could not find it in black so I ordered the pups separately over time).

So, over the last little while I have been collecting the needed parts & tools and during a break from the breakneck speed I am running at work I threw it all together to see what would happen. Can you really have it all in one guitar? Strat quack & humbucker warmth & power. We would soon find out...

Most appointments on this guitar are recent, some go way back (an old Seymour Duncan Classic Stack in the bridge [replaced during this project], the graphite nut, mid pup phase switch & Dunlop Straploks). At some point in the last year or so my wife picked up black vol. & tone knobs & pickup covers for me and they looked great against the original white pickgaurd. Not too dramatic a change, subtle enough and yet it sets the look off quite nicely.

I knew there would have to be some heavy rewiring (since all the pickups were being replaced)--but it would go beyond that. There was no way I would even come close to approximating my favorite Strat tones with the mini-humbuckers pups in the neck (Lil' '59) & bridge (JB Jr.) if they were wired standard. Enter the 3-way On-On-On mini-toggles (there was only one place in town that carried them!). They would serve as Series - Single Coil (aka split or tapped) - Parallel switches for both of those pups. A new 2-way On-On switch would replace the old as a phase switch for the middle (Duckbucker) pup--there is no sense in going the other route since it is intended to sound Start-y. Why would you want to split or put it in parallel? You wouldn't, IMO. There's no need.

That was not all though. Oh no. After all these years, I actually wanted to be able to use the tremolo bar on this guitar without having the thing go out of tune after the first bend. That required some simple yet effective modifications that have worked out incredibly well.

First, I already had a graphite nut in place--shouldn't be any binding there. Next I tossed the cheese ball roller string trees in favor of a couple of new Graphtec string retainers. Finally, for the headstock I replaced the original Gotoh Schaller-style tuners with a new set of chrome PlanetWaves locking tuners.

Then came the bridge. My old bridge block has always been junk. Some kind of cheap alloy with no mass. I wanted a steel block for more sustain and hopefully a more musical tone. Next the bridge. Something had to be done. Years of sweat and grime had coroded the saddles and screws badly. They would have to be replaced. I did my research, priced it all out and made my decision. I would forgo the saddle/screw replacements in favor of a drop in replacement bridge (with included steel block). I went with the Gotoh licensed Wilkinson VSVG bridge from Stewart MacDonald. It turned out to be a solid choice. The intonation screws are inside the saddles and lock down firmly. The saddle height set screws do not protrude out the top or the saddle making general playing and particularly palm muting comfortable. No more chewing up your hand on the bridge during aggressive rhythm attacks. But does it all work? I can say that it does with a resounding YES! You can actually play using the bar, even for dive bomb bends and the instrument still remains in tune. Amazing!

Yes, but how does it sound? That takes us back to the electronics. You know, there is not much room in a Strat control cavity and I was not about to start hacking out chunks of wood with a router or dremel--you can totally destroy the intrinsic tone of a guitar doing that kind of thing. It was not an issue though. Since I have never been a fan of two (or more) tone controls), I simply took out the one between the volume and the other tone pot. Now, it's one each--a master volume and tone (just the way I like it), and I had plenty of room for my mods. The Lil' 59 was already in, so I wired up the Series/Split/Parallel switch and hooked it up in the pickgaurd hole where the tone pot used to be. While I was at it (as I did not have the other replacement pickups yet) I drilled another hole and prewired the second humbucker S/S/P swich and installed that as well. Finally a bit at a time the rest of my parts started showing up and when I found a spare moment, I was ready to begin. To make a long story shorter, I have ended up with what I wanted:
  • Bridge: Series/Split/Parallel Seymour Duncan JB Jr. (I considered two other pups for this spot--another Lil' '59 or a George Lynch Lil' Screamin' Demon)
  • Middle: Phase switchable Duckbucker
  • Neck: Series/Split/Parallel Lil' 59
The Bridge pup sounded too muddy to me, and after consulting with one of the techs at Seymour Duncan, he suggested moving from a 250K (darker) to a 500K (brighter) volume pot--which I did. I think it has made enough of a difference that I can say I am satisfied. Quite a relief. I didn't want to swap pups until I found the right one, if what I already had would suit my needs. I believe it will.

The tone pot is one of the original 250K. For some reason I decided to replace the .047 tone capacitor with the same rated ceramic cap. It sounded awful!! I had another one of the original caps and put that back in as soon as I could. The tone control with the ceramic cap was unusable! Issue resolved...

I should have put in a new 5-way selector while I was at it, but no big deal. The original still works well enough (the screws are rusted though, I should have replaced them when I replaced the pickguard screws).

So... how does it sound? (I'm getting to it, be patient.)

First, wired straight I do not think you would ever be able to approximate Strat tones by any means. My favorite Strat positions have always been the 4 (mid/neck), 5 neck, and 2 (mid/bridge): in that order. If I could get those, I would be happy. With the switching options on the bridge & neck, I can approximate those tones. I think (aside form the 5 position) the Duckbucker really helps in those instances for sure--and, for the first time, I have really started using the mid pickup on it's own. That's something I rarely if ever did in the past. The Duckbucker actually sounds pretty good on it's own. The Lil' '59 sounds very good in series (standard humbucker mode) and so does the JB (now that I have that 500K volume pot--it really only provided a slight difference, but it cleaned it up enough for me tone-wise to make it musically useful to me). It can do heavy rock, has decent sustain, and nice harmonic responce--works for me. My Warmoth has a full-sized JB, perhaps they share some characteristics but they are obviously not the same pups. Don't expect a mini-JB to match the awesome might of the original, but the Jr. can hold it's own as long as you don't expect it to knock you down like it's big daddy.

So there you have it. A hot-rodded 1980-something Japanese made Squier Stratocaster given a new (and useful) lease on life. It was not too long ago that the frets were so worn out, and in such bad shape that I thought it was done for. My local luthier saved the day and made it more playable then ever. It made the perfect guitar to do some experimenting with, and in the end it's now worth more then ever before in all respects. With all of the tonal options available on it (19 variations based on the current switching configuration), it truly is an incredibly versatile instrument.

Oh, and I even did my own setup on the bridge for it. I must not have done too badly. It plays well and the intonation is correct (it should be considering the software I bought). Not too bad, huh? ;-)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ubuntu Edgy Server Troubles

One thing leads to another but finally it all worked out (for now).

First, I found that my VIA C3 Linux Software RAID server (scroll down in this link for details) couldn't take a simple cp backup without taking a dive. Unreal.

I got a reasonable deal on a 500GB external drive. USB 2 of course. That was my first problem. The junk board didn't have USB 2 connections so I had to upgrade it with a two port USB 2 PCI card. Great.

My first attempt at backing up my /data & /home partitions with a simple tar command (no compression) ended in a kernel crash. Next I tried an arcane cp | tar type command (to maintain file permissions). I will have to see if I can find it again. Anyway, it ended the same way. What's going on here?

Time for some custom kernel action. I built a couple on my VMWare build server (basically the same OS sans the RAID setup, and the kernel source & build tools installed.) I have the VMWare build box on the AMD64 box--much faster kernel builds. It's very easy to do. Customize you configuration and use these instructions to build your packages. Nothing to it. I got rid of extemporaneous fluff that wasn't needed for my C3 box, configured it so that Reiserfs and RAID 1 & 5 were compiled into the kernel (as opposed to modules), and hoped that would do the trick. No dice.

I was even reduce to running simple cp -av commands for the back up, I mean really, what OS is going to choke on a copy command? Still no luck. It still broke.

Ok, one more shot with software and then we are trying something drastic. I grabbed the latest stable linux source from and again compiled yet another kernel. Surely the bugs were gone and I would see success. Nope. It was apparent (and I had a hunch all along that this was the case) that the processor just could not deal with the load. Sure, there was enough memory on the board but it just wasn't going to happen. The C3 is just too weak.

Drastic Measures

I pulled my Windows 2000 drive out of the AMD64 box (with all my neato PCI cards in it: RME Hammerfall; NTSC/HDTV tuner card; etc.) and put my RAID disks into the case. I used a standard (none C3 specific) kernel to boot and everything was running smoothly--except no ethernet. Oh brother...

The kernel modules for the NIC was loaded but ifconfig showed nothing but the loopback. I was forced to track down the configs to make it work. You would think it would all be in /etc/network but not quite. I will spare you the details and get to the point: you make changes in two places--or perhaps one really (if you have the right NIC driver loaded). In my case I made changes to /etc/network/interfaces & /etc/iftab.

Here is what interfaces looks like (I have a static IP address for it, makes like easier on my network & it is a server--if you believe it or not):

# This file describes the network interfaces available on your system
# and how to activate them. For more information, see interfaces(5).

# The loopback network interface
auto lo eth1
iface lo inet loopback
# This is a list of hotpluggable network interfaces.
# They will be activated automatically by the hotplug subsystem.
# The primary network interface
iface eth1 inet static

The only real change I made here was replacing eth0 with eth1. Even without modifying the next file, it would come up after a lengthy wait while the system autoconfigured the NIC. The next file /etc/iftab could have remedied this issue without even touching the previous file I believe--you'll see why shortly:

# This file assigns persistent names to network interfaces. See iftab(5).
# eth0 mac 00:00:0d:33:50:83
eth1 mac 02:R2:D2:C3:P0:07

I could have just changed the MAC address of the NIC for eth0 and I'll bet everything would have come up just fine. Instead, in my case, eth0 disappears and eth1 takes over. No big deal. It comes up just as it should. I may go back and "fix" it for semantics I suppose but I doubt it since if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Ok, so the network is now working, but I forgot to mention during all of the crashes when the drives were in the C3 box I was doing reiserfsck check on the md devices all the time--even on the external drive. I will have to say ReiserFS is pretty dang solid. When it did come up with errors reiserfsck --fix-fixable /dev/mdx would generally do the job. Unfortunately, since you cannot unmout your root filesystem that one was a bit of a trick. A couple of times though --fix-fixable didn't work and I had to use the more drastic --rebuild-tree (absolutely back up your partition before running this command). Since I was now able to actually get a good backup onto the external HDD without the OS dying, it was a good time for --rebuild-tree where needed. It was nice and fast, and it worked without any issues on the partition that needed it.

So now you would think all was right with the world. The server running smoothly on nice fast hardware--life is good. However, I had this nagging feeling that / needed to be checked--since it had been crashed several times. You can't unmount root when it's running of course, so an extensive test required outside intervention. Enter everyone's favorite LiveCD, Knoppix.

I wanted to get Knoppix to assemble /dev/md0 (my RAID1 root device) with mdadm but I was never able to get it to work for me. Instead I ran a simple reiserfsck check on each unmounted partition that was part of the array. It's RAID1 (mirroring) so each disk is simply a copy of the others. The first two disks came out fine, no corruptions. The third, hdg1 was not so fortunate. reiserfsck wanted a --rebuild-tree on that one. Uh, no thanks... since I had no idea what that would do to the other two drives when it was rebooted without Knoppix. Enter the aforementioned mdadm, an extremely useful & powerful tool for RAID administration even if it is not well documented (at least I should say, I didn't find everything on it that I was looking for even though "google is [my] friend.") I decided that the simplest fix would be to "fail " the drive with the corrupted partition, reformat it, and then put it back into the array. I don't know about you kids but this was what I came up with (via this article) and it worked perfectly well for me:

# Fail the corrupted partition
mdadm /dev/md0 --fail /dev/hdg1 --remove /dev/hdg1

# Reformat the partition
mkreiserfs /dev/hdg1

# Add the partition back into the RAID device
mdadm /dev/md0 --add /dev/hdg1

The OS knew right what to do and added hdg1 right back in as the spare drive for the RAID1 device (which was the initial configuration of this particular configuration--two drives mirroring with one spare).

Ok, so now I am confident that all my partitions are clean, even the external drive, and my RAID1 & 5 devices are working properly. What else could possibly go wrong now?

I really cannot say what change(s) I made that caused the following disaster but the recovery was really quite simple in the end--even if it did take almost all day to finally stumble upon it. Here's the list of things that went terribly wrong in no particular order:
  • Samba ceased to start automatically
  • Webmin ceased to start automatically or not at all.
  • /etc/mtab & mount would only display the root filesystem as being mounted (even though nothing had been changed in /etc/fstab). mount -a would not resolve the issue either, but even though they were not listed /home & /data were still available. Very, very strange. Totally disconcerting.
  • Swap would not automatically start.
I would manually start Webmin and proceeded to change various boot time options. One option that caused me terrible grief was the and/or options at boot time. Do yourself a favor and don't enable these in Webmin. The box would lock up hard and keep the root filesystem in a read-only state. This causes a world of grief because the OS needs writing capabilities. In this state you couldn't even manually start some of the services you wanted. Fortunately I found a command that would undo this particular disaster:

mount -w -n -o remount /

I've seen this before, but in the midst of my sorrows, I couldn't remember it. Once / was back in rw mode, I could then start Webmin again. Play around with boot time settings, and still have problems. Something was wrong with the init scripts. Something terribly wrong, and I hadn't a clue how to fix it.

I decided that I would try to find a package through aptitude search that would allow me to reset the init scripts to "factory default" since I had obviously blown mine up somehow. Wonderful tool aptitude, highly recommended. This is what I did:

sudo -s
apt-get update
apt-get upgrade

# After finding what I was looking for
# via aptitude search I issued the
# following command

aptitude remove initscripts

# Ugly messages follow about breaking
# things and uninstalling other important
# packages but I went ahead with the removal
# anyway (making note of the other packages
# that were getting whacked as well).
# Time to put everything back based on my
# notes of the
packages removed

aptitude install initscripts ubuntu-minimal system-services upstart-compat-sysv

Reboot... The moment of truth... And there it was! Everything, was back to normal. All the filesystems mounted--showing up in /etc/mtab & when the mount command was executed. Samba & Webmin started automatically. "No runs, no drips, no errors." "All was right with the world."

And there you have it. Many disasters and many (recovery) lessons learned. Using Knoppix to run reiserfsck on the root partition RAID1 drives was nice. I wish I could have figured out how to make it assemble the RAID device under Knoppix though. That would have been even better, and a necessity to checking a RAID5 device if your OS blows up completely.

Now, I have to find a permanent home for the drives (an the OS that lives on them). A box with good airflow & a CPU /MoBo /RAM with enough capacity to meet my seemingly simple needs. I'm not leaving them in the AMD64 box. I need to put that back together so we can use it as the big workstation with all the toys in it.

Well, when all is said and done, at least when I move the drives again I should be better prepared for some of the weirdness that may occur...

Monday, March 12, 2007

Tube Screamer TS-9

Updated June 15, 2007: Check out the Ibanez Tube Screamer History page. It's clear(er) now from checking out this site that it is in fact the TS-808 that would be the ideal pedal in this series. Analogman offers custom mods to the TS-9 that give you exactly what you need. I want one of these!!

I have been interested in getting this pedal for a long time. A vintage model is probably prohibitively expensive but I have also read the the TS-9 reissues do not use the same circuitry as the originals. (Another Hammett reference for those who read my last post where he is quoted in Guitar World Jan. 2006) I've read that it is much less expensive to get the reissued model and have it modified to get the vintage sound then it is to buy an original. So what difference is the modified circuitry making to the reissues that is missing in the first place?

Everybody's favorite, Wikipedia says, "...The classic Tube Screamer sound includes a "mid-hump," which means that the circuit accentuates freqencies [sic] between the bass and treble ranges (mid-frequencies). Many guitarists prefer this sort of equalization, as it helps to keep their sound from getting lost in the overall mix of the band."

A couple of articles for electronics folk delve into the "secrets" of the Tube Screamer and Tube Screamer modifications. Rather then modifying a stock reissue model, it may be simpler to obtain that classic tone by going to another source: Maxon. A company who apparently built Tube Screamers for Ibanez from 1971 -2002. The Maxon OD-9 looks like it is just what I am after, and the OD-9+Pro looks interesting as well with quite a number of options for, "...effectively function[ing] as a 4-voiced monster, offering everything from the classic, bluesy tones of the original 808 to the searing saturated chunk demanded by today’s extreme metal music."

Kirk Hammett: Why the taped hand?

See that tape around Kirk's picking hand? I have seen a lot of bizarre (or sometimes reasonable) reasons that people thinks he tapes his hand. Someone e-mailed me asking about it and I dug this bit out of 20th Anniversary of Master of Puppets edition of Guitar World (January 2006). The definitive answer from the man himself:

[Question] There have been many theories spread on the Internet about why you tape your hands. So once and for all, why do you do it? --Jerry Glass

If you look at the side of your hand, right below your pinkie, you'll see there are some wrinkle lines. At least there are on my hand... [laughs] Because of my playing style, I'm constantly hitting the strings and palm muting and, generally, beating up my right hand. Over the course of a tour, those wrinkles start busting open and bleeding. I put tape over the wrinkles so they don't break open and bleed all over my guitar, 'cause if a string gets in there once your hand is cut --wow!--that stings! Plus, it lets me play faster since it reduces drag between my hand and the strings.

Once, when we were on tour, I looked out into the audience and saw a kid with both his hands taped up like mine. I was cracking up so much I had to give him a backstage pass. --Kirk Hammett, Guitar World, January 2006, 112.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Cool Rails

I have had Hot Stacks in the mid & neck positions on my Warmoth since it was put together. They were never the ideal match for the JB Trembucker in the bridge and too bright for an intrinsically bright guitar from the start. The output mismatch between the Hot Stacks and the JB was just plain annoying, but in my defense I will say I think they were (at the time) my best option for a stacked humbucker for the mid & neck slots.

Times have long since changed, and a change in tone (particularly in the neck position) was well overdue.

I used the Duncan Tone Wizard to find out what they would recommend for overall balance with the JB & the general characteristics of the guitar. In my case it suggested the following:

Neck 1 SCR-1 Cool Rails
Neck 2 SL59-1 Little '59
Middle 1 SCR-1 Cool Rails
Middle 2 SSL-5 Custom Staggered

I even e-mailed them with the current config of the guitar with the Hot Stacks to get a custom recommendation from them, and the response was: go with the Cool Rails.

So I did.

I ordered two of them from an on-line vendor. Their site said they had them in stock, and they had the best pricing. Turned out that they only sent one, and the other went to back-order. When I called to find out when they might be getting the other PUP I was told it would be a month or so before they got them in stock. I e-mailed them and they really had no idea when they would get them so I canceled the order for the second one.

Eventually, I got the pickup via US Postal mail in a crappy padded envelope--how lame is that?! First of all, who ships something like that through USPS with no tracking number, and a padded envelope? Whatever... A return customer? Not me.

I removed the Hot Stack from the neck position and started to install the Cool Rails. It was an extremely tight fit, but I managed to get it in there at the sacrifice of a couple of paint chips (not happy about that one bit). This PUP is obviously designed with Strat pickguard mounting in mind, but a couple of longer wood screws and I was good to go. I wired it right up with no problems and the moment of truth had arrived. Would the output balance with the JB? Would it even out the ultra bright tone that I had grown to despise? The verdict? This is what I e-mailed to a friend: is so nice to have a neck PUP in there that has [output] balance with the JB!!! Although I was really taken by surprise at how much darker it sounded vs. the Hot Stack that was in there previously. As you know, I couldn't stand how bright that PUP was, it was so bright it sounded harsh and of course it didn't balance with the JB at all. Way too weak. Anyway, it initially took me a while to get used to playing a darker PUP in the neck position. Here is the really cool thing though, it sounds totally awesome in the 2 position (mid/neck)!!! I mean it is just great! My favorite Strat sound without any hum! Tone-wise, those two pickups balance so well, it's incredible!

...The guitar looks a little, uh, unique now with the side by side rails in the neck, the stack blade in the mid and the big JB in the bridge as you can see in this picture. Hey, as long as it sounds good and plays well, it's all good to me...
So I ended up with the right combination of pickups even though I didn't get that second Cool Rails for the mid slot. I never play the mid PUP by itself anyway, so the output balance isn't an issue with it. Tone-wise it is exactly what I need in the 2 & 4 positions with the other two pickups.

It has taken me a bit to get used to a humbucker tone in the neck position but now I am using it constantly. It sounds really good clean, and just gets better as you turn up the gain. The sustain is just exceptional with this one. The Hot Stack couldn't even begin to come close.

Initially I thought that perhaps I should have gone with the Little '59 but I have no doubts now. The Cool Rails has provided exactly the output & tone I needed in this guitar.
Cool RailsTM image
provided by

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Google Spam

Why is it every time I look for specs on computer hardware all I get is shopping sites? Ridiculous! It is making Google a less valuable resource, but what can you do? Google is it. If you can't find it there, where can you turn?

I generally have to add the tag to my search, but sometimes even that won't cut it...

Sunday, January 14, 2007

RyG on Letterman

Update 9/22: Replaced removed video/link

How did I miss this?!

Rodrigo y Gabriela performing a live number on the Late Show with David Letterman from December 18, '06. They rock the house as you will see...

YouTube Link

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Power Tab Editor

All right, I'll admit I am not familiar with any of the commercial tablature editing programs available--if there are any. As I said, I really don't know. But if there are, I say forget about it! Power Tab Editor is all you could ask or hope for, and for some reason, it's free!

As you can see, it doesn't just do tablature but standard notation as well, and will export your work to MIDI files. Both of these features combine nicely for me because it is helping me understand rhythm in standard musical notation. I am sure it will also assist me in learning the notes in standard musical scores as well--something the average guitarist (such as myself) seems to shy away from. Too many options I think. Piano is one key per note, (relatively) simple. Guitar, we can play the same note in several places--a little more daunting from my perspective.

Anyway, back to Power Tab.

This application is just amazing! It has a chord finder that helps you locate the right inversion for your particular needs. It has a "score checker" & "score polisher". Shifting tools. It is easy to navigate and enter/edit your notes. It has options to enter musical directions. It can import MIDI files and convert them to Tab & standard notation. What can I say, it has it all. Too bad there is no port for Linux (yet), otherwise this program is perfect. Free? What are they thinking? But I'm really glad it is...


Download Page

PS Grab CutePDF to print out your Tablature/Standard Notation creations to PDF files.
Once it's installed, use File --> Print --> CutePDF Writer as your printer and it will generate a PDF of your musical score for you. Very convenient and it looks quite nice as well (compared to ASCII output ;-)

PPS Promote Power Tab Editor!
I kicked out these buttons with The Gimp & Button Maker . Save one and add it to your site:

Power Tab Editor or Power Tab Editor

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Upgrade The Flashlight You Love To Hate

What can you do? The Mini-Maglite is almost a necessity to have around in many industries. I use mine constantly. We must have about five of them around the house.

However I have always had a few gripes with them. One, the batteries drain far too quickly. Two, the light isn't very bright to begin with. Three, the bulbs burn out too fast.

Again, what can you do? Well, my friends, now we can do something about these annoyances. For about $5-$10US you can get a conversion kit from a company called Nite Ize that adds three nice & bright LEDs to the flashlight in place of the single (weak) lamp, and a convenient on-off switch to the back of the flashlight.

I'm betting the LEDs will outlive the flashlights, and the need to change batteries will diminish immensely. Very cool.

Cheesy (but effective) image from
the Nite Ize product detail page.

Yes, there are a mass of new LED flashlights on the market now, but why spend $30 or more on a new one when (believe me) this $5 conversion kit will do the job just as well in comparable instances. I love it.

Circle of Fifths

Update 4/3/07: Fear not!! Fun with the Circle Of 5ths and Identifying Chords referred to below is actually quite understandable and very useful. Check it out! Much more useful then my example, that's for sure...

Update 1/9/07 11pm: A Circle of Fifths Chord Application

I have recently been checking out the Circle of Fifths and trying to see what kind of patterns I could find. I was really happy to discover how easy it was to use to find Major & Minor triads, among other things.

Here I demonstrate how simple it is to find triads in the image above. (Diagram courtesy of Wikipedia.) I was pretty impressed when I showed the patterns to my six-year old and he was able to use them to come up with the correct notes to other triads from the chart. Cool.

I have been checking out the diagram for a couple of days now trying to find all the patterns that I can. My little example above is nothing compared to what someone has done in a post entitled Fun with the Circle Of 5ths and Identifying Chords. Wow! If you have any interest in this subject at all you should see what he has come up with. It looks like you can do it all with this chart if you put your mind to it.

Geometry, math, music. My head is spinning...

I think I just need to break out one of the guitars and play an AC/DC song or something!

Update: I have been looking for applications that will allow you to rotate the Circle of Fifths depending on what you are looking to find. Here is one that allows you to set the key and it will generate the chords for that key: Julie Waters: The Circle of Fifths

If you find applications of this nature, please leave a comment.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Randy Ellefson: An Amazing Triumph

A composer/guitarist develops tendinitis in his arms and his life is basically ruined for years, but he overcomes eventually and records an album. Pretty amazing, even if instrumental rock is not your thing. Check it out. Good stuff; and really a tribute to the strength of the human spirit.

Programming a drum machine with his feet?! Man, now that is some serious dedication!

Here is a section called Perspective from an article entitled Got Tendonitis? What To Do

Sometimes I hear people complain about not playing guitar a few days or weeks when their arms first hurt, so to help your perspective, here are some details on my situation. I could not play at all for an entire year, then could play really simple music for 30 minutes, twice a week. Three months later I reached 90 minutes every other day and slightly harder music. At two years I developed a second case of tendonitis in both arms and started over. After five years, I was up to 2-3 hours at once, still alternating days on and off, and could finally play most of my own music. It wasn’t until 8 years passed that I could play guitar two days in a row, with one day being a "light day" of easier music, though I could get away with up to 6 hours at once, depending on complexity. It is now 10 years later, and three days in a row is still unwise.

These numbers are rough, but I received physical therapy once a week for about five years, sometimes more often, sometimes less, and slowly tapered off to nothing after about 8 years. I did stretching for 9 years, heat for 9, ice for 8, ibuprofen for 7, vitamins for 3, slept in arm bands for 3, and used a foot mouse in place of a hand mouse for 5 years, and a dictation program for most typing (especially heavy) for 8 years.

In short, tendonitis does not affect only your guitar playing, but can impact every activity you use them for, including things you take for granted like sleeping, dressing, grooming, driving a car, opening things, and even how you are perceived by others. After all, there's still contempt for the seriousness of the injury and some people will disrespect you for having it.


Randy Ellefson is an instrumental guitarist with endorsements from Alvarez Guitars, Peavey, and Morley Pedals, and a Bachelors of Music in classical guitar, Magna Cum Laude. His debut album was independently released in June 2004, and he is now recording a follow-up and performing in the U.S. The album's title, The Firebard, is a nod to his experience with tendonitis, which took away his playing for five years before he fully recovered it and rose from his ashes. For more details, mp3s, tabs, articles, videos and other cool stuff, visit the official site,