A return to recording engineering

A side effect of my work on singing has been discovering what tools I need to sound decent. I started with a very good USB microphone a few years ago and then graduated to an inexpensive, 8-channel USB mixer board that I could use with some decent XLR mics I had lying around. When I got my current job, I went out and bought a top-of-the-line Shure SM7B microphone and paired it with my mixer, which got me even closer to the professional sound I wanted. Then I found a used digital sound card, an 8-channel Firewire-based M-Audio 2626 and bought it cheap.

Now, Firewire is essentially an abandoned technology now that Apple no longer ships systems with it, but it is still alive and well in Linux. I took one of my old desktop PCs out of storage, added a hard drive, installed Ubuntu Studio on it, and now have a digital audio workstation (DAW), for dirt cheap! Ubuntu Studio comes with a huge number of audio and video production tools and plugins. It works just fine with this very old M-Audio 2626, too.

My audio tool of choice for editing was once Audacity, but Ubuntu Studio comes with the open-source, ProTools-like DAW called Ardour. I’ve learned how to do some amazing things with manipulating audio using Ardour, simply by diving in and trying different things. I’m sure there is at last 200% more I can be doing with it when I fully understand its capabilities.

Over the past few days and nights, I’ve spent my free time using Ardour to recreate one of my favorite songs, R.E.M.’s These Days. I’ve often looked for old-school karaoke tracks for R.E.M. but there are few that aren’t the hits everyone’s heard a million times already. I did some Google searches to see if anyone’s done this themselves and hit pay dirt when I found a musician named Clive Butler. Clive posted several of his R.E.M. covers to Blogger from 2011-2018 and I thought I’d start with those. Then last week, I discovered he has fresh versions on his very own YouTube channel so I downloaded his version of These Days.
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Playing in a band – DNR

As I mentioned previously, I’d taken my singing much more seriously over the last few years, practicing for hours each week to improve my technique. At the end of last year, I got good enough to post a few audio clips and videos on a bandmate-finding website called BandMix. It took about a week before a few bands reached out to me, interested to talk to me about fronting their bands. I said yes to one which was a new Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute band but we never rehearsed because of a surge in COVID at the time. I wound up leaving the band and it kind of broke up soon afterward. Then I got interest from a Beatles tribute band, too, but didn’t think the music was varied or interesting enough. Finally, a musician reached out who was interested in the same music I was – and it was across the gamut of styles. My interest was piqued!

In Beaufort, NC, tagging along on one of Kelly’s work trips at the end of December, I got a call from Chuck, the drummer, who proceeded to talk my ear off on all the stuff the band planned to play. A week later, I showed up at the practice space at Kit’s home and sang a few songs for him. He didn’t say much but his ear-to-ear grin told me all I needed to know. Thus, I became the frontman for DNR.

DNR is composed of veteran musicians, many with a decade or more experience playing in bands. As for me, this is my very first band. At our early rehearsals, held almost every Saturday morning, I found myself being stared at by my bandmates, waiting for me to take charge and get us playing. It took me a few beats (ha!) to learn how to actually lead a band, but basically I faked it until I figured out what I was doing. I never considered before how cool and powerful it feels to set this band (or any band) in motion. It’s not something I pondered when I was singing solo to karaoke tracks!

So we rehearsed and rehearsed, picked an interesting setlist, and missed various practices here and there due to vacations, COVID cases, and what have you. Finally, after months of hard work rehearsing, we held our first gig over the Memorial Day weekend: a surprise birthday party for Chuck’s wife, Claudia. There were about two dozen people in attendance and friendly faces at that, but re-watching the video I took I appreciate more and more how heartfelt the applause is that we earned.
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A positive COVID test

Over the two-year course of this COVID-19 pandemic, I have taken extra steps to keep myself and my family safe. I’ve kept abreast of the latest medical advice and research. I’ve invested in N95 and KN95 masks. I’ve hauled around my HEPA air filter to places where proper ventilation would be hard to come by. Most importantly, whenever I’ve had the slightest concern that any health symptoms I’d been experiencing might have been COVID, I have gotten tested with Wake County’s free PCR COVID tests. Six times I’ve done this, and six times I received a relieving result of negative. Most recently, we were shipped a set of four COVID antigen tests free from the government, and a test using one of those turned up negative, too.

I kept my precautions up, thinking I had succeeded in avoiding an COVID infection. It turns out I may have been wrong and didn’t even know it.

Last week, I noticed that one of my right toes was a little stingy and looked bruised. I didn’t recall injuring it so I wondered if it might be the “COVID toes” I’d heard about. See, COVID patients reported sores on their toes (mainly. Fingers may be involved, too), and my toe looked suspiciously like this. COVID attacks the vascular system in addition to everything else it hits, and red toes can be a symptom. Around that time, I had an attack of my Reynaud’s Syndrome, with some of my fingers turning numb and white for over an hour. This red toe effect could also be caused by Reynaud’s (which is also a vascular disease), so I couldn’t say for sure what was what. Thus, I popped open the antigen test and 15 minutes later it told me I was COVID negative. Sure, an antigen test is not as accurate as a PCR test but this was at the height of my symptoms so I assumed if I was going to pop positive on anything it would be right at that moment. But, no, it was negative!

Over the weekend, I got to thinking about how my body reacted to the primary, secondary, and booster COVID vaccines I had gotten. Basically, I didn’t react at all! There were no noticeable side-effects whatsoever. I was thinking about this and deciding that perhaps my reaction to the actual virus would be a similar non-event. I decided to contact the VA to schedule a COVID antibody test, knowing that this might show whether I’d been exposed and didn’t know it.
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Hello and Goodbye to Google Fiber


As y’all may know, I’ve been a booster of Google Fiber for a while. I signed us up for it the first day it became available. This week, I switched us back to AT&T. Let me explain why.

The server that hosts this website, my neighborhood mailing list, and other Internet stuff lives in a datacenter in Atlanta. I don’t really notice this, though, because the AT&T Fiber’s routing is excellent! I get super-low latency of 16 ms for my round-trip pings. I can’t reach many cross-town servers much faster than that. When I switched us over to Google Fiber, that round-trip time jumped to 60-100 ms. I researched whether my hosting provider’s datacenters in other cities were any better but it turns out Google Fiber is not nearly as good as AT&T’s. The city with the fastest server Google Fiber could get me to was Dallas which – as you geography buffs will note – is significantly farther from Raleigh than Atlanta. Go figure.

Please note that I’m a network nerd and my tech needs are, um, … unique. Normal people would probably not notice this stuff.

Being temporarily “dual-homed” with Google and AT&T meant I could negotiate rates. When I called to cancel AT&T, they offered me my same package at 30% off for 1 year (i.e., cheaper than Google and I can renew the deal next year). We now get for $60 what before we got for $90. Praise competition!

Google Fiber is still connected to our house (their fiber is still “lit.”) We’re not locked into AT&T with any contract so if AT&T pisses me off we can switch back without any trouble. Google just wants their WiFi Access Points back, which I didn’t use anyway.

There is also part of me that feels that a little bait-and-switch took place with Google Fiber. When Google Fiber was announced, I was under the impression that Google would devote its massive resources to making it a success. Instead, the company changed focus almost immediately, drastically putting on the brakes to its deployments. It was clear Google was not willing to make the investments necessary to make Google Fiber a healthy concern for the next fifty years. Google’s obsessively focused on its short-term stock market performance. It does not make investments the way railroads do, or like providers that expect to be relevant in 50 years, like AT&T.

Google Fiber switched to micro-trenching for its network installations. It also outsourced its installs to companies like Prime Telecom. I had multiple crews try to put in fiber, only to have me interrupt their installations because they were either bringing the fiber to the wrong side of our house or they were digging without doing utility locating. In hindsight, I suppose they usually skip the locating because it’s time-consuming and their shallow trenches rarely affect other buried utilities. They’d rather take the chance of busting something else than wait for lines to be marked. I don’t think this is a very professional game plan, personally.

Google Fiber does offer something unique, and that’s 2 Gbps service, twice as fast as our current service. This would be appealing to me but it is asymmetrical and the upload speed is still limited to 1 Gbps. I’d also have to upgrade all of our home networking gear to the new 2.5 Gbps standard. Well, technically I could use Google’s Wifi6 Access Points to go 2 Gbps but I want to use all the copper I’ve put into our house, rather than rely on WiFi. So, until Google makes the 2 Gbps service symmetrical I’ll stick with single-gigabit speeds.

All that being said, gigabit internet rocks! Saying goodbye to Spectrum forever rocks! Competition rocks! If you can get gigabit fiber, either through Google or AT&T, I recommend you do it. You will be happy you did!

Jupiter is gone

Jupiter in better days

Jupiter in better days


Today was the day I was hoping would never come, as impossible as it is. Today was the day we said goodbye to Jupiter, our porch cat.

Jupiter wandered into our lives ten years ago, his initial wariness giving way to unabashed love. Once a feral cat darting from home to home, he knew he had found his home when we stopped to feed and love him. The only night he ever spent indoors was his last one, last night.

I am in shambles.

He was the most dog-like cat I’ve ever known. He was super-chill, rarely letting anything faze him. He would come up and hug anyone who happened to stop by to chat. He would sometimes tag along with us when we would take the dog for a walk, trailing behind us and darting from home to home as if he were stalking us. He also always came running when he would hear our front door open or our voices calling to him.

He was a superstar of a cat.
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One more thing I learned is the value of my blog

One important takeaway from this week’s social media dust-up is the value of having my blog. I liked to pretend that Twitter was more open then Facebook and thus I favored posting there. Yet, when someone falsely accused me there, blocked me, and went on to spread this lie to all of her followers, Twitter left me few, if any, options for getting my response out. It was maddening to watch the rumors spread and have no way of countering them with the truth.

Here, I own my own bits. Here, I decide what gets said. Here, I may solicit discussion or … not. Here, my words live forever.

All that, and I have a goddamn edit button, too.

On the Internet nobody knows you’re a spook

OS Division, USS ELLIOT, fall 1991

OZ Division, USS ELLIOT DD-967, fall 1991.

Had a dust-up on social media the other day and, frankly, I am still mystified how it all took place.

I tend to follow online and amplify veterans who lean left because the perception of the military consisting of only right-wingers needs to change. A tweet from one of the more popular veterans I follow attracted several good comments. I liked one from a particular veteran (we’ll call her Karen), checked her profile, and followed her when I saw we had something in common: our Navy occupations were in cryptography.
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Practicing my OSINT skills

Yesterday, a story went viral of a North Carolina man and woman who fought off an attack by a rabid bobcat. This story made news all over the world (it was a slow news Friday, I suppose) but I became annoyed that none of the stories mentioned who the victims were. I thought this might make a good opportunity to use my Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) skills to try to identify them based on what was known so far. And what do you know, I managed to do it!

Since I hadn’t seen that the couple had granted any interviews anywhere, I figured they were not interested in publicity and I opted not to mention their names publicly. I now see that Wilmington station WECT has interviewed them so I can reveal my work. The folks involved are good people and I don’t want my post to be used to harass them so I will focus on my techniques rather than their identity.

So, at the start of this journey all I had was the video. You see them leaving their house in the morning and getting attacked by the bobcat as they attempt to get into their car. The man pulls the animal off of his wife and flings it into the yard before they escape. It’s quite wild.


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Not throwing away my shot

Durham VA COVID Clinic sign

Durham VA COVID Clinic sign


I got the first of two COVID-19 vaccination shots on Saturday. For several years the Veterans Administration (VA) has been providing my healthcare. About two weeks ago I asked my doctor there if it was possible to get a shot. I stressed that I did not want to take one away from anyone else but if one were available I would love to get it. Thankfully, the VA has made it a priority that every veteran who wants a shot can get a shot. To my surprise, I got a call a day later! I was to be at the Durham VA on Saturday, 6 February at 9 AM to get my COVID-19 vaccination.

Our son Travis has been eager to get his vaccination, too, so in the offchance that he could pick up a shot, too, he accompanied me to the Durham VA. We hit the road shortly after 8 AM and drove through mostly-empty streets to Durham.

We arrived to a somewhat chaotic scene. One of the VA’s parking decks has been undergoing repairs for the past several months and parking has been tight even on a usual day. This day, there was a stream of veteran patients all arriving at the same time for their COVID shots. Though we got there at 8:35 for a 9 AM appointment, it took several minutes to find an open parking spot. Reaching the top level of the deck, we hopped out and headed to the walkway.

It was at the start of the walkway that I stopped to read the sign on the floor. No walk-in shots would be available. Regretfully, I turned to Travis and told him today would not be his day. With sadness, he turned back and waited for me in the car.

I joined a scrum of people waiting in line after line. First was the typical COVID risk screening at the entrance. A woman studied the masks worn by the visitors and switched out ones that didn’t meet her standards. I was amused when I was asked to trade the NIOSH-certified N95 mask that has protected me for months for an uncertified KN95 mask I was given. This was even more amusing when visitors with surgical masks that are not nearly as protective as my N95 were allowed to continue wearing them. Could it be that I know more about mask protection than healthcare workers?
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I was the fox

A fox at Glacier National ParkAt a recent conference, an African American speaker told an inspiring story of an interaction with law enforcement, when he had expected the worst intentions from the officer but his worry proved unfounded. Our speaker had been walking to the local gym after an early-morning run. Soon he became aware that a police car was slowly following him. Immediately he assumed he was being profiled.

“Did you know you were being followed?” the officer asked. The speaker feigned ignorance.

“You were being followed by a rabid fox back there,” the officer replies. “I was just watching out for you.”

The happy moral of the speaker’s story is not to assume bad intentions, see?
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