January 2010 Archives

Cover Album

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Occasionally I find an exceptionally interesting piece of music. It's not often that this happens, I'm firmly stuck in the 1970s Punk era, and they just aren't making any more 1970s Punk music. I've heard it all before, and the more times I hear it, the better I like it.

However, a very interesting "tribute" CD was released in 1996, with contemporary bands (and even some old school punks) covering their favorite Buzzcocks songs.


It took me a while to figure out why I liked this album so much. I did what I usually do when listening to music, I picked up my electric guitar and played along. Some of the arrangements were eccentric, and it was jarring to hear the Buzzcocks as heavy metal. I listened to the songs and then wondered why I don't listen to the original tracks very often. This is just the sort of music I like to play my guitar with.

The Buzzcocks appeared on some of the first recordings to come out of the British punk scene. They were rough, poorly recorded, but full of the new Punk energy. I bought all those tunes on vinyl when they first came out. Now I have them all as mp3s. So I went to my iTunes collection and pulled up some originals, tried to play along, and immediately discovered the problem.

The Buzzcocks just could not tune their instruments properly. That's a common problem with a band with only guitars and bass, they tune to each other, it doesn't matter if they're at the wrong pitch as long as they're at the same pitch. So almost all my favorite songs were recorded out of tune with my guitar at standard tuning.

I could tune my guitar to the song, but that isn't very practical, since each song might be slightly out of tune with the others. Then I recalled what I did, some 33 years ago, when I played along to the Buzzcocks on vinyl. Every turntable has a "pitch control" so you could adjust the speed of the turntable. You could take that out of tune track and raise or lower it's pitch a little bit, enough to get in tune with your guitar. But the tempo changes too, so you can't be too aggressive with your pitch control.

But that was enough to play along with the records on a turntable. I don't know of any similar digital process on a computer or mp3 player. There are programs like the "Amazing Slow-downer" that will slow down your song without changing the pitch. I want just the opposite, to change the pitch without changing the tempo.

I could change the pitch in any audio processing program and then write it back to another mp3. But it would be difficult to get a precise match, and I don't know how to get it at the correct pitch and preserve the tempo. None of this is as easy as just turning the dial on the turntable until the song's key matched your guitar tuning.

But the new modern album has all the advantages of modern technology, including digital tuning. With my guitar software, Guitar Rig, and my guitar that is well set up with pro tuning pegs, I can get my tuning accuracy to within 1/1000th of a note. And you need to be tuned to the correct standard, especially with modern digital production techniques. Your track might not be recorded at the same time as other tracks, the artists might not even be in the same room at the same time. So they need to have a common standard tuning.

So the new album of cover songs are all in tune. I can play along with them and sometimes I think "Oh, so that's the chord progression I've spent decades searching for." And now I have enough skills to play them, unlike when I was a teenager with my first new electric guitar, when I heard these songs for the first time.

Iowa Bans Loosies

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I was at a local tobacco parlor today and was surprised to see a notice that Iowa Law had changed and selling loosies is now illegal. "Loosies" are loose cigarettes, sold individually. Now it is illegal to sell less than 1 pack with 20 cigarettes. The tobacco parlor did a fair business selling loosies at 55 cents each. I know they sell a lot of loosies, because I bought a lot of loosies there myself.
I sometimes cave in on my attempt to quit smoking. I bought a single smoke now and then, and then gave them up and tried to go back to nonsmoking. If I just bought a single loosie, I wouldn't have to buy a whole pack. And if I have a pack, I'll smoke them all, all 20. And then I've totally caved in and started smoking a pack a day again.
The clerk at the shop said they could not sell loosies, but they had a bag of loose tobacco, I could roll my own, that's the only way they could sell a single smoke. I rolled a couple of smokes from their rough shag tobacco. I smoked the two hand-rolls (with filters) and felt like I smoked a whole pack (cough). The tobacco guy said, "couldn't you just buy a whole pack and then only smoke one? And then put the rest aside?" No, that's exactly what I can't do, if I have cigarettes around, I'll smoke them. I am trying to quit and having cigarettes around is a temptation I can't resist. But if I have to go all the way across town just to buy one or two, that is inconvenient enough to resist.
Anyway, loosies are a menace. They're for losers like me who can only have one smoke. They're sold in places that attract people who can only afford one cigarette, like the homeless and street beggars. I remember one incident where I had incredible bad timing, to be on Skid Row at midnight in search of a loosie. Wrong time, wrong place.
A friend of mine invited me to a party in an art director's loft in downtown LA, just off Skid Row in a high-security building. She was having a wrap party for the film Repo Man. About midnight, my friend and I ran out of cigarettes. There was a 24 hour convenience store a half-block away on the corner of 4th and Wall St., the core of skid row, the absolute worst place in the city. They had a security window on the sidewalk where they sold cheap whiskey and Thunderbird wine to street winos, and single loosies to the panhandling street people. It was about a block from the Skid Row Mission, this was the deadliest block on LA's Skid Row. The artist's loft was only possible in this neighborhood due to the impenetrable concrete building with heavy security and indoor parking.
Well anyway, my friend and I, both being downtown Loft District residents, Skid Row didn't scare us, and we could watch each other's backs, so we foolishly left the fortified loft and went out into the street, down to the corner store. You could buy 4 loosies with a dollar, that was about all the cash you could flash on Skid Row or you'd get robbed. But as soon as we had paid a dollar for our smokes, we were surrounded by some toughs with switchblades. I offered them a loosie but some people will do anything for one dollar. The thugs brandished their knives and demanded our money, and just as they were about to make good on their threats, suddenly from out of nowhere, an LAPD car screeched to a halt right at the curb right beside us. The thugs scattered, and the officer approached. He asked what we were doing here, I said we'd just come from around the corner at a loft party and we were buying cigarettes. The cop said we better get the hell out of here fast. We ran straight back to the party and didn't re-emerge until morning when I got my car out of their security garage. Well at least I got a few loosies, even if I had to risk my life for them. They're killing me slowly anyway.
So loosies are a menace to your health and probably a menace to society in general. But worst of all, the new unavailability of loosies is going to force me to deal with my ineffective attempts to quit tobacco. I already bought a whole pack today, since I couldn't get just one loosie.

Bad Blogger

I am a bad blogger. I just updated my blog software and posted my 2010 New Year's Card. Then I decided to check out my RSS feed, and I was astonished to find my 2009 New Year's Card still on the page! My collected blog output for the whole year fit inside a single, short RSS web page.
In the entire year of 2009, I only wrote nine posts. And I'm paying $120 per year to my ISP, so I essentially paid about $13 per post. And my ISP, Dreamhost, is part of the problem, they wrecked my software so I couldn't post anything for two whole months. At least my old articles were still available, even if I couldn't post anything new.
So I have to get back to work writing. And that's the reason I am writing this trivial little notice, just to put something up and get things moving again. I have had to write this sort of apology before, when I wrote nothing for several months and my blog's entire front page was blank.
I am planning on reviving some of my oldest web pages that have been archived for years and posting them here on my blog. My old content deserves some place to be publicly archived. But I'm going to have to dig around my archives and find them, that might take some time as I have about 4Tb of archives. And that doesn't include my pre-blogging archives on floppies and other weird media.
And then there is another reason I wrote so little on my blog, I've been writing professionally. There is much greater satisfaction in getting paid for my writing, rather than paying to publish it myself on the blog. And I have the additional benefit of posting my professional writing here too, once The Register releases them from their exclusive rights. So I'll post a few of my old articles when I get a chance.

2010: Year of the Tiger

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