The Analog Studio Fire Sale

music_gear

When our house in San Jose didn’t immediately sell when we put in on the market, I decided to take the heartbreaking step of demolishing the 3-room recording studio I’d painstakingly built in my garage, restoring it to a plain-old two-car garage. Whether due to chance, or (I prefer to think) since it opened up my home as a potential purchase to folks who had no idea what they’d do with a recording studio, the home sold soon afterward.

Although Carolyn and I definitely worked hard to cull the herd of our possessions before making the move to our new home near Nashville, most of my former studio gear made the trip–even though I don’t have a studio in the new house. As I try to piece together my new office and work area, however, I’m starting to think that I made a mistake in hauling most of the analog studio gear across the country.

Starting tomorrow, everything from my treasured 32-channel Mackie mixing board, to my vintage Kawaii R-100 drum machine, to a rack full of effects processors is going up on eBay. And my old studio furniture–custom-designed for my control room–is heading for the dump. The mere thought of doing this is killing me, but I’m increasingly convinced it has to be done.

Music Gear vs. Technology: Fight!

Whereas classic instruments and microphones can hold or even increase in value over time, the same is almost never true of electronics. Many a musician gets a thrill playing with the controls of an original Linn drum machine, or listening to unforgettable sounds of a Roland D-50 or Korg M1 synthesizer. But now, modern musicians can simply load up the sounds and characteristics of these old pieces of gear into their DAW (digital audio workstation) instead of maintaining a private museum of vintage gear.

My rackmounted effect units weathered the test of time even less well. The effect processing powers have improved massively in the past many years, to the point where even famous effects–e.g. a Lexicon reverb–can no longer compete with the algorithms and processing that powers a modern computer-based DAW.

Perhaps more to the point, my analog effect units are starting to no longer fit into the modern recording process.

Most older rackmount effect units typically processed analog signals (such as the input from a microphone or guitar), giving out an altered signal (i.e. adding reverb) over the rack effect’s (analog) outputs. If you wanted multiple effect processing on a signal–e.g. adding a delay, some reverb, and a chorus effect to a guitar tone, mixing it in with the bass and drums, then routing the result a compressor to smooth out the dynamics of the resulting mix–you’d accomplish all this by patching the whole signal chain through numerous effect units, effects returns, and submixes, adding a little bit of distortion each time the signal had to be converted between analog and digital.

In the modern world, once a signal is digitized, it’s typically processed entirely in the digital realm, where it’s immune to the noise that comes with analog combining, as well as multiple trips between the analog and digital worlds. Instead of chaining together several rack units using patch cables, a DAW lets you create a virtual patch bay allows the musician to chain together as many digital effects as they want, while keeping the resultant output entirely digital–right up to the time it’s mixed, mastered, and pressed on CD or distributed over the internet.

In a world where you can do all this digitally, why use analog effect units at all? Possibly the best reason comes down to the ease of doing a simple effects chain by just plugging in cables and twisting knobs. But when sound quality is critical, or the effects chain gets complex, digital wins hands down. My old rackmount effects have some good tricks up their sleeve, but at some point they become John Henry working against an infinite number of steam shovels.

In a new home, without a dedicated performance room and control room, I’ve got to be able to do the entire recording and performance job in a relatively compact space. Switching entirely to a digital recording chain just seems to make the most sense at this point, even though I’ll definitely miss the immediacy and tactility of working with dedicated sound and effect units vs. the rather abstract nature of a DAW.

So, it’s with real sadness that I’m preparing to bid farewell with what are truly some of my most cherished possessions. If you’re the sort of person who loves classic gear, check out eBay in the weeks ahead for some real bargains.

 

Viva NashVegas!

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After weeks of pulling box after box out of POD storage container after POD storage container (6 in all!), we are now officially moved to our new home just outside of Nashville, Tennessee.

I’ll likely be living in the midst of U-Haul and comic book boxes for several weeks yet, and a small army of contractors are just now wrapping up the initial work to install the myriad data cables and electric runs our masses of computer and studio gear requires. It’s been back-breaking work (including the moving and stacking of some 320 comic book boxes comprising my 50,000+ comic collection!) but I think I see some cracks of daylight at the end of the tunnel.

As far as the town goes, I am becoming mightily impressed with the Nashville area, and Tennessee in general. The music scene is beyond belief–I even managed to take in a couple of shows already (including She Wants Revenge at Exit/In–a legendary nightspot in town).

Tennessee’s a beautiful place to be sure, but probably the most striking thing is how darn friendly everyone is. I’m even on a first name basis with most of the checkout staff at the local Home Depot…although the fact that I’ve been in there 3 times a day for the past month may have something to do with that.

But despite all the chaos, I am managing to type this on an actual computer, on an actual desk (instead of the the “laptop at Starbucks with the ever-colder coffee next to me” routine I’ve spent the past month with), and with any luck, I should be able to make some forward progress on some of the bigger projects I’ve had to sideline since we started the effort to sell our house move some seven months ago. So Viva, NashVegas–I’m really looking forward to all the adventures you have in store for me!

Lighting Out for the Territories

(Both classic and modern allusions in headline)

After 26 years in California, my family decided it was time for a new adventure. So we sold our house, and last Sunday all piled in my Ford Escape and rolled out of our driveway in San Jose for the last time on a one-way trip across America–most likely ending around Nashville, TN–from where I’m writing this post in a local Starbucks.

Carolyn’s been blogging our moving adventures over at her blog (daftmusings.com) — so check it out if you’d like lots of color commentary on the Great Bickford Road Trip (including all the weird things we ate at the Texas State Fair–fried Jello, anyone?)

In the meantime, we’ve had a great time seeing old friends as we made our way across the southwest, through Texas, and now, Tennessee. We’ll be looking at houses tonight and tomorrow with the very nice realtor who introduced us to Nashville Hot Chicken, and will likely be settling down if we can make something happen here and all the other factors work out right. At least, that’s “Plan A”.

“Plan B?” Well, it’s a big, amazing country with a lot of wonderful people and places in it. And I have to admit, it’s sort of thrilling to have all the possibilities wide open. I’ll do my best to keep everyone updated as things develop…

Control Through Fear

It seems as we approach the election, that the favored strategy of the media–once again–is to try to excuse one deplorable candidate’s innumerable faults by peddling the story that at least they’re not as SCARY as the other candidate.

Is your favored candidate a lifelong Washington power-broker who’s voted or connived to start multiple wars? For the media, this presents no problem: All they have to do is simply never mention any of those annoying facts (which they once proudly touted as hallmarks of their candidate’s “smart” foreign policy), while repeatedly running red-faced pictures of the opponent accompanied by half-baked conjecture on how he might send the world straight to nuclear armageddon with his “overheated rhetoric”… about, uh, Mexicans, or fat beauty queens, or the Russians which… uh… he’s apparently too friendly with.

I mean, crazy friendly. You know, like “start-a-war” friendly.

<Shudder!>

But seriously, folks, this stuff is nuts. And I can’t believe that not only are many otherwise perfectly sensible people playing along with it, but that they also bought it every four years going back to at least Reagan, if not earlier.

Look, anyone who knows me well knows that I regard this election as absolute horror show. There is literally nobody in the race who even remotely represents my point of view*. That said, at the end of the day, most of us are going to hold our noses and vote for the person we consider the least-bad of the bunch. But that doesn’t mean we have to simultaneously parrot the media’s insane talking points about how weally, weally scawwy the other guy is.

As it turns out, no matter who wins, the shocking truth is that:

  • No one’s illegal immigrant gardener is going to be put in a cattle car and sent to the gas chambers. Even if they did overwater the roses.
  • The president stands no risk at all of accidentally punching the “nuclear button” because they forgot to say “half-caf” when ordering that double-espresso.
  • And no, women are not going to be “put in binders” or forced to use coat hangers for anything other than hanging clothes; and blacks are not going to be all “put back in chains” or hunted to extinction by legions of racist cops.

This is all, as they say, nonsense on stilts. But I can’t believe how many times I’ve heard the same conversations repeated earnestly at bars, in checkout lines, or on Facebook.

C’mon folks. Let’s change things up this (miserable) election and at least not embarrass ourselves by pretending the world works like any of that. Frankly, the folks in the press pushing these fairy stories are treating us with absolute contempt. Wouldn’t it be nice if for once we returned the favor instead of credulously playing along.

Hey, I can dream, right?


*I’m basically a John F. Kennedy Democrat–whose pro-business policies of lower taxes, free markets, and consistent support of human rights and freedom around the world, enabled by a muscular but restrained military– would mark both of us as troglodyte, fascist, Nazi mouth-breathers in today’s crazy political landscape. 

 

How to Score Free Stuff from me when Ordering on Atomic Avenue

<ProTip>

I’ve often mentioned in the ComicBase User’s Group meetings that we here at ComicBase order comics a lot like a mid-sized comic store does. Basically, we order one of every “normal” comic book (everything but extremely expensive variants, or those that require you to order X regular copies in order to buy 1 copy of the variant issue). And yes, our comic bill each month is genuinely frightening.

After we scan and index the books, they typically get added to my collection and sold at the going market price on Atomic Avenue. (My store is www.atomicavenue.com/store/pbickford)

Now, one of the weird wrinkles of ordering a jillion comics per month is that Diamond periodically damages comics (typically bent edges when the packing was a little tight), or throws in giveaways or promotional comics. We also wind up with huge numbers of Free Comic Book Day and Halloween special comics, which–since we don’t have a storefront–tend to accumulate.

Since it wouldn’t be honest to try to sell the comics we got damage credit for, or that were meant as giveaways, I typically try to load up the packages I sell on Atomic Avenue with as many of these extras as will fit–provided it doesn’t cost me in extra shipping.

In effect, that means that if I can throw in one or two with a regular order without adding to the shipping cost, I will. But the surest way to get a package stuffed with whatever I’ve got is to take advantage of the packages that I’d wind up shipping in a flat rate envelope: essentially, any regular order with 3 to 12 comics in it.

The way it breaks down is typically this: 1-2 comics fits in a flat mailer (like the kind used for photos), and is charged by the ounce as First Class postage. But as soon as you get to 3, you get over the magical “13 oz” level–typically with the third comic–it has to be shipped a Priority Mail package. And from 3 to 12 comics, I can ship them for the same flat rate price. (After 12 comics, they no longer fit in the envelope and I have to use a conventional box).

So: If you want free goodies from me with your order, just order that 3rd comic and you’re likely to receive a package packed full of surprises.

</ProTip>

Which Tech Bit the Dust in 2015 in the Bickford Household

As I get ready for the new year, here’s a look back at some of the formerly cherished tech toys that bit the dust this year. Call me crazy, but these are actually some of my favorite ways of looking back at the way life changes over the long haul–whether it’s the year we got rid of all our VHS tapes and record albums or the ever-morphing setup of our home networking, it’s actually sort of fascinating to watch the passage of the years by looking at what got dumped on Craigslist or thrown into the garbage bin.

DirecTV and associated DVRs

Cause of Death: Hulu Plus

After years of looking askance at the “cord cutters”, I got a really good look at our $100+ satellite bill and decided to see how easy it would be to get the same programming elsewhere. This led me to discovering Hulu Plus, particularly the $12.99 commercial-free version, which we found allows us to stream not only almost every show we watch, but countless other fascinating shows ranging from ancient British science-fiction to full seasons of our favorite comedies–all without the need to rapidly skip forward on the DVR to avoid commercials.

What doesn’t it have? For us, the pain points–if they even deserve the name–were the loss of current season of Project Runway, the Superbowl, and Big Bang Theory. But with so much other programming available, we found it easy to ignore the missing reality shows until next season, and the addition of an on-air antenna seems to promise to solve our other limited programming gaps (with the further option of simply waiting a few months until the DVDs come out which we can grab from Netflix). I also gave up watching any amount of news, but found I don’t miss it a bit, especially given how prevalent coverage is over the internet.

If you’re a big sports fan, this might not be the move for you, it’s been a huge win for us, and probably the hardest thing to getting rid of Satellite proved finding a way to dismantle and dispose of the dish that had been mounted on our house ever since dropping cable a decade earlier

Google TV from Logitech

I actually won this unit a number of years ago at CES, and I was thrilled to use it to easily search for shows using the Bluetooth keyboard in conjunction with the DirecTV DVRs it was hooked up to. This is also notably the device that nearly drove Logitech into the grave, since they invested so hard in what became a spectacularly unprofitable product for them.

Cause of Death: The XBox 360 sitting next to it assuming all its TV app duties, and the dropping of satellite in the Bickford household.

 

Two Mac Minis, Three Shuttle XPCs, and Various Firewalls and Network Gear

Cause of Death: Network consolidation

It’s sort of fun setting up a vast and varied network of computers, tying together multiple office locations and business domains, while managing backup, mail service, and all the other fiddly bits that go into running a business.

As it turns out, it’s even more fun simplifying the whole mess and having way less “support surface” to worry about. This is what happened when AT&T Fiber moved into the building this spring, triggering a re-think of our whole network infrastructure, a very messy (and expensive!) shut-off of our Comcast Business internet at the office, and the unification of two of our corporate “domains” under one roof. The whole process took months, but if felt great every time we got a chance to bin an old server and simplify the overall picture in a new, simpler, and faster network setup.

 

Circling the Drain: Dell 2309WFP Webcam-enabled Monitors

Cause of Death: Windows 10

I like this monitor. The color reproduction is a little overly bright, but I still liked it so much I bought three of them and distributed them to various folks at home and office as it’s both a practical and affordable monitor, as well as packing a decent little webcam into the bezel which is perfect for Skype. Unfortunately, I discovered today that the the webcam is also incompatible–in a blue-screen kind of way–with Windows 10. The only solution is apparently to disconnect the USB port, disabling the camera, and reducing a great monitor to a merely average 23″ panel. I think it’s time to start moving these toward the door…

San Jose International Short Film Festival: The Best of the Rest

I’m writing this two days after the end of the festival, my mind still reeling from the sheer number and variety of movies I saw. It’s simply impossible to have seen everything, and my apologies go to many no-doubt worthy entries which I didn’t get to see.

Here’s a few of my favorites from the final two days of the show:

Papa

An animated film by Natalie Labarre which beautifully captures the joys and frustrations of a guy raising a little girl. How do you ever breach the gap between the world of tea parties and stuffed animals with the adult world of work and responsibility? With a lot of love. Beautifully told and heartfelt.

Barrow

An incredibly ambitious Australian thriller that marries CSI style forensics with an intelligent ghost story.

The Smiling Man

Saw this one as part of the late night Saturday horror block, and A.J. Briones’ little 7 minute film is definitely the stuff nightmares are made of.  The only thing I could wish was a little more of a back story or reason for the action, although the titular character’s performance alone is enough to disturb.

Honorable Mentions/Well Worth Seeing

Dave – A comedy about a many who wakes up after an accident to discover a daughter he never met at his bedside. Awkward!

Carry On  – Overall winner of the festival – An Austrian movie about an elderly couple who scratch out a farm living and have to come to the decision to put down an old donkey. A bit bleak for my taste, but a great film nonetheless with pitch-perfect acting and technique.

The Holy Cave – A high school sex comedy from Spain, wherein a couple of outcasts with parents who travel a lot decide to become popular by turning their home into a hook up spot.

Love is Blind – A UK comedy about a cheating girlfriend who’s in the midst of a fling when her deaf boyfriend returns home.

Moving On – Imagine finding out the relationship is over when a moving service shows up at your door, hired by your former paramour, to get you and your stuff out of the house. Good concept, sharply executed, with a nice appearance by Robin Lord Taylor (Gotham’s “Penguin”) as one of the movers.

First Date – Another nice Australian comedy of sheer awkwardness and misunderstanding by Rob Innes. Won in the comedy category at the festival, but personally I thought it could have been funnier if they’d pushed the material just a little farther. (It was awkfward-funny instead of South Park-style-“Omigod I can’t believe what I’m hearing”-funny).

Enfilade – A minimalistic, and unique-looking film from Australia’s David Coyle. Imagine Cube done by someone who’s played too much Portal.