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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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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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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Highlights of 2020: Wings of Carolina ground school

In the spring of 2020, Travis and I took a virtual ground school from a local flying club, the Wings of Carolina (WoC). It was the second time I’d gone through ground school, the first one being in the mid 1990s. That time I never got around to taking the FAA exam and I’d hoped to complete it all this time around.

Travis has expressed his interest in becoming a pilot. He has excellent vision and would spend lots of time using my flight simulator. I’d promised him long ago if he completed ground school I would be happy to pay for it, but still he was on the fence. When dates opened up for the virtual ground school, I prodded him multiple times about signing up but he was noncommittal. Finally, I signed myself up with the goal of finally finishing what I started. This was all it took to convince Travis to sign up, too, and we were off!

Twice a week, we would gather in front of our playroom TV to “attend” class. For three hours per night we’d be on Zoom as our instructor, John, filled out formulas and sketches on a whiteboard in WoC’s classroom. About 30 other classmates joined in, too. There were some technical glitches, fewer opportunities to interrupt with a question, and more of a distant feel to it than I would’ve hoped.
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Highlights of 2020: The Election

One absolutely wonderful thing that happened in 2020 was the U.S. Presidential Election. Elections bookended the pandemic for me. In March 2020, I volunteered to be an inside poll observer for the Wake County Democratic Party. This gave me insight into how elections are carried out. Being one of those rare people who have never missed an election, I was already well-familiar with how the process worked from the public point of view but learning more about the various checks put in place was quite educational.

COVID was a thing in the March primary but not taken as seriously. Spending so long in a school classroom turned polling place, packed with dozens of strangers seems like suicide to me now. The general election was far more strict, with volunteers carefully limiting the number of people indoors.

I was also disappointed to be restricted in my movement during the general election. Chief judges would corral the observers into one area rather than letting us do our jobs. After some cajoling I managed to get this largely fixed. I’m sure part of the issue was the threat of violence that was on everyone’s mind due to heightened tensions.

Without exception, though, the interactions I had with the Republican poll observers I spent time with were positive. We had good chats about the state of the community and the country. In the past I would’ve posed for pictures with them but the pandemic made that unworkable.
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Highlights of 2020: Bermuda sod

I got sick of having a disaster of a lawn. Over a decade ago I had vowed to hang up my hoses and not waste money on grass, but something had to be done. I decided that drought-resistant “Celebration” hybrid Bermuda sod was what we needed.

At the end of summer, I killed all the weeds and grass in our front and back yards. A few weeks later I had a giant tractor trailer deliver 11 pallets of sod. It was pouring down rain when the driver arrived. In his efforts to place mulch in our backyard his forklift quickly got mired in the mud at the end of our driveway. For two hours we struggled to get enough traction to free his forklift, only succeeding when my neighbor Chris arrived to help steer as we pulled.

The damage to the back yard had been done, though. A 6,000 pound forklift cut deep ruts in our muddy yard and those ruts had to be repaired before the sod could be put down.

It took back-breaking, Herculean effort by myself, Kelly, and Travis to repair the yard and get the sod put down while it was still alive. I personally pushed myself past the point of exhaustion many nights. I was a wreck. Surprised I didn’t have a heart attack, actually.

It was a stupid, stupid amount of work. But. We. Got. It. Done!

And it looked incredible! For once we had a strong turf grass that didn’t mind the sun or the shade! It’s been perfect.

With the first freeze, the sod has gone dormant and some weeds have appeared but overall it will look fantastic in the spring when it greens up. I won’t have to do much with it to maintain it, either. So far it’s been a great investment in our home.

Highlights of 2020: Sleep apneas

There are some things about my health that aren’t yet going in the right direction. When the pandemic began, I saw a tip to get a pulse oximeter to measure one’s lung health. It has been great in tracking my sleep apnea. Most nights I sleep with no apnea events but it continues to happen. When it does happen I pop wide awake, frustrated not trusting that I won’t stop breathing again.

I still haven’t found any good solutions. I am not sure there are any. I hope that this gets better this year because I am useless without a good night’s sleep.