Friday, January 29, 2010


Say what you will about Apple products, but I cant stand them. The corporation is a realm of control freak obsessiveness on the management level and it creeps into their products, like the need to buy all their applications directly from their proprietary store. There are many things to hate about Apple, but the worst is most definitely their approach to their customer audience.

Steve Job is reportedly a tough businessman, fully capable and willing to pressure other corporations into giving up their products in favor of his little cult worship. As example is how he pressured Cisco into giving up their use of the Iphone name in favor of Apple's use for their product, even if Cisco already had an established product under that name previous to Apple's release of their so-called smartphone. The argument threatened to be used? That Cisco was underutilising the Iphone name. Some call this tough business, I call that bullying.

As part of their drive to take over high-tech consumer markets, they have launched a "new" product, a tablet computer called the Ipad, with the optics of stepping in between the Iphone and the netbook.


Besides the incredibly lame product name, let's have a look at what they came up with: something that looks like a giant Iphone, but with the capacity to read etext. Wow. Great breakthrough there, Steve. It can surf the web, play music, view movies, stuff like that. But only one thing at a time. You cant read a book AND listen to music at the same time. The memory is ridiculously limited, there are no USB ports, the screen type is reported to give headaches, the battery cant be removed (probably as a bid to make sure that you keep on visiting their in-house techs) and the only applications that will run on it are found... in the Iphone app store. Oh, and they're not wi-fi compatible unless you pay extra. And the entry price is expected to be $499 for 16 gigs of memory. And its not capable of running any flash applications.

So, let's see, its supposed to run against netbooks (who are dwarf laptops really) which can mutitask, have cameras, are wi-fi ready, better onboard memory and are about the same entry price... oh sure, their battery life is longer (by a couple of hours), but its still way below the already existing ereaders, many of which are also net compatible... and cheaper. They are also supposed to competed with smart phones, except that they are way bigger, cannot mutitask, smaller memory (when you get right down to it, the 8Gig Iphone is far cheaper at $99 and can fit in your pocket, make phone calls, take pictures... you get the idea), aren't very practical... and are an easy invitation for a repeat of the Ipod muggings that happened when the devices came out. Cause seriously, if you carry that thing so that you can read while on public transportation, then you are just inviting random criminals to just take it off of your hands, especially when one consider the retail value of the devices, the Apple brand desirability and the fact that its incredibly limited as far as security features are concerned.

I can see the attraction of the tablet computer. Seriously, I do. But, between you and me, I'm waiting to see what the XO-3 will be like when it comes out. Besides way cheaper. I have to admit that I am very reticent to using a touchscreen, given how much the touchpad on my netbook annoys me (and my partner by hers), but to each their own. I see very little value at the moment to switching to eprint, because no matter the reader used, they are all obnoxious to use, uncomfortable, and all are obstructed by the far too exclusive variety of proprietary formats. At least, I can chose to read pretty much anything on my netbook, since that, at worst, all I have to do is set up the program required, or the attachment that will make it compatible.

As far as I'm concerned, the Ipad is a money pit that serves only one purpose: to give Steve Job yet another opportunity to get his butt on a stage and bask in the adoration of his adoring fans.

Good for him, sucks to be you.

*Above image taken from the Huffington Post

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Two steps forward part 3: the final countdown

One area where I've been procrastinating for far too long is the studio area. When I rearranged the room a few months ago, I decided to separate the general purpose web surfing netbooks from the dedicated music desktop. While there's still some improvements to be worked on (like a flat screen monitor instead of the 18 inch deep tv thing) the setup pretty much worked to my convenience.

Well, in theory anyways. Because doing a setup can only be tested if you actually plug things in and try them out. And that's what I did finally. the big equipment was all in place, its was just the plugging in and making sure that all the wires were all in the right spot.

The computer is always a bit of a problem. When you have a soundcard that has extra inputs, work on the floor, in a somewhat awkward position and the light never really illuminates the little bloody symbols next to the inputs... well, a lot of guess works and trial and error is involved.

Part of the studio setup has been the testing and salvaging of accumulated bits of tools that have been gathering dust and space for months. I love picking up discarded toys that I think can make interesting noises and such. Fancy-shmancy equipment is all well and nice, but there's no replacement for talent. And some of the stuff marketed for kids have some good properties at a rather low cost. Like a friend said, the most important part of a movie is a good script. And like Robert Rodriguez said, what doe sit matter what camera you've got; just grab it and go shoot! Too much time is wasted on fancy gadgets when the basic plan is full of holes...

Anyhoo, while I was moving things about and plugging things in, one problem that popped up that is to be expected considering my equipment is that I really dont have enough outlets to plug it all in. Power bars are usefull, but they are limited when you only have two plugs for them. Especially when you're working with power supplies that take up a couple or three plugs on the damn bar.

So you have to start making decisions as to what you plug in. One way to do that is to plug stuff in an turn it on. Does it turn on? One of the projects that got done was this kids toy that is sort of a techno console, combining a drum machine, cd/mp3 player scratch table, a mini synths and some effects. By all reports, pretty cheesy sounding, but I got tools for that. It had to be modified, because:

A- I hate it when they insert speakers on music equipment that dont need them;
B- I hate wasting a bunch of batteries on a toy.

The speaker had to go; not a problem (and removing the speaker provides a convenient space for later tweaking gear, if one is so inclined). The battery pack had to go too. But I still had to get that all connected to the outside. Being a gathered of stuff, I did have the necessary parts to accomplish my goals, to have an audio output and a plugged power supply. A bit of drilling, a bit of burning plastic, a tad of soldering and some hot glue, and the beast is put back together.

The problem? It doesn't work. As previously mentioned, doing things yourself sometimes involves some guesswork. And sometimes, buying your gear from a Salvation Army isn't your best best, as they dont test out the equipment to see if it works. And so far, this piece doesn't work. I dont know why yet, there are a lot of possibilities, but it draws a black. Oh well. One less thing to plug in.

And then...

A bit of sad. One of my old standbys, my elder synth has apparently decided to take a hike towards better things. My good old Korg Poly 800 has decided that his last gig had come and refuses to power up. Maybe it fell down one too many time, or it was just too old, but it dont work no more. On one hand, it sucks. I liked the old bugger and it did a lot of good work for me. One the other hand, its one less thing to plug in. I now am missing one of my MIDI controllers, but that can be remedied. Its just an extra motivation to get a new piece of equipment. Eventually, when I get some cash to play with, say, when I return to work. I haven't really given up on it, I'll attempt a couple of check ups, just to see if I can bring it back to life.

Weirder things have happened before.

Now, if I could only get around to starting work on the guitars that seriously need a rebuild...

Two steps forward part 2: experimental hazards

Part of my mindset is a strong bid for self-reliance. That is, I like to learn how to do things and actually put those into action. Well, as long as the union lets me. Anyways, I have trouble understanding the modern obsession with convenience, the one that makes you go out and get things pre-made, pre-packaged and pretty much pre-digested, all in the optic of saving time. Saving time to do what? Waste more money of child-labor products? On shoddily produced mass-marketed junk that is push upon the viewing public as entertainment or foodstuffs? I just dont understand what is so special with one's life that you cant take the time to learn to, and do things right.

Particularly food. I love cooking, but I also take great joy in food preparation. I enjoy preparing my own food products, as much as I love preparing dishes that take hours to cook. Take cheese for example. Cheese is what I do for employment. I could be a simple man and just cut the stuff that's bought from suppliers. But I find that highly impersonal and a betrayal of my own self. So I go a step beyond and transform the product.

Lets be honest, there are many, many cheeses that really, really boring. There are plenty of people that like those, and I guess that's fine, but there are plenty of people that love Celine Dion, and that doesn't make them cultured or interesting, now, does it? Good. Cause I hate such poptart blandness. What I do is add to the basic cheese, kicking in some flavor, generally by creating a crust, or outside layer that will add to the flesh of the matter. Wine is a favored medium of mine. So is Porto. I have done some work with a sort of strongly flavored paste that has worked well in the store.

The things about that sort of work is that I'm practically working blind. While that technique certainly exists and is used by certain products, there is no DIY resource out there really to do it yourself. There's plenty of make-your-own-cheese resources (and I certainly plan on doing that myself) but their idea of flavoring a cheese is to toss it in the curd, so that the flesh is flavored equally all the way through from the get-go. And that's fine too. But I find it a little... boring. Its pretty much all based on common denominators and scale production. What's popular. Its like ice cream; what you see in the store is just the stuff that they know for sure that will sell, based on market research and other mathematical esoterica. But go to a good parlor and what you'll find out is that there are a lot of different flavors, most of which you'll have never heard of, or even considered.

And that's what I'm all about. Experimentation.

The tricky thing about experimentation, especially when you're doing it way off the beaten path, is that you dont know what the end result will be, its it'll even work. But in a way, that's part of the game; sometimes its works as planned, sometimes it turns into something different and unexpected, and sometimes, it just crashes and burns. Wine-soaked goat cheese is pretty much a given winner, once you've figured out the right soaking period. Stilton O Porto is a winner too, and happens pretty fast, and is very delicious, if you have the taste for a good blue. And wine-soaked Friulano... is a fail. Especially if there's a crust of fuzzy mold that develops on top. Oh, sure, it wasn't on the cheese itself, there was a layer of wine to isolate the flesh, but still.

It wasn't a complete loss, and that's an important lesson that has to be absorbed when experimenting with food. You have to know when the dish is not worth salvaging and should just be tossed in the bin. Just like you have to admit that even if the cheese isn't moldy and rotten, that the wine didn't help the flavor. Friulano was selected for experimentation because of the material cost (about $20 a kilo, so a wheel is a little over 2 kg) and the fact that its about as flavorful and a mild cheddar, minus the salt. So prefect candidate for flavoring.

Previously, my experiments with Friulano involved a thicker sort of flavored paste that did usually come out fine, but given that its a pretty thick wheel, I wondered how it would turn out if I poked channels through it and soaked it in wine. Well, the holes did what they were supposed to do, but the flesh sort of absorbed too much of the acidity and so, the flesh was not great. So I tossed the lot. Sure, I wasted a full wheel of cheese, but trying to salvage it would have been impossible, just like trying to make a remake to the Breakfast Club would be a complete waste of time.

Its not a complete loss, as I found that some basic techniques do work; its just that I'll have to be more careful in the flavor selection and aging process. Lets say that a mini fridge for that purpose is on the future agenda. Room-temperature flavoring works on hard goat cheese, but not on softer-fleshed relatives. But the channels work just fine. Just gotta figure out the right flavoring combo.

And use smaller wheels.

Two steps forward part 1: contractual obligations

So the purge continues. The thing about doing a purge, at least for me, is that its not so much a structured thing, as just a drive to get things done that need to be done. I have things lying around, projects that require little effort or work, but never got done, because... well, because I always push them back to later. Its not so much that I have more urgent things to do, but that spend quite a large amount of time dicking around the intertubes and then I run around getting the everyday stuff in a rush because I suddenly  notice the closing times. And when I come back, instead of getting some of those little projects done... I'll waste some more time on the 'tubes, till I realize that I need to make dinner, and its 11 pm and blah blah blah, shit just doesn't get done. There's always an excuse, some other made-up priority that came into play that just has to get done right now.

So recently, the physical purge has taken a new spin, and its happening in my head. I'm getting the cobwebs cleaned out and some priorities set a straight. If I'm not doing cleaning (or even if I am) and I notice some project just lying there unattended to and I have no good reason (like its 11 pm and a little late to use a circular saw) not to take care of it, then I take a break and get it done. That simple. Well, the decision process is simple, but the executive is sometimes a little lagging behind (kinda the reverse of bureaucracy), looking for reasons not to do things (its not in my job description seems to prop up insiduously, so I'm going to have to deal with the labor union) and not get it done. Its not like I'll run out of things to do any time soon, so I'm not going to cut hours or salaries...

Saturday, January 23, 2010


You keep hearing about traumatic events as being life changing, or circumstances that make you rethink things or, in some cases, will make you deeply aware of the glory of life and the inevitability of death. Right. I have gone through a summer of suck, the kind where you wake up in a hospital with no idea how you got there, where exactly you are, what time is it and so forth. The type that leave you with a time gap in your internal clock of a few weeks. The sort of events that has doctors flipping coins on whether you'll live or die.That kind.

Well, call me full of shit, but I did not get the magical lightning strike that reminds me that I'm alive.Because seriously, I wake up every morning and, boom, there it is, I'm alive. Just like that. Nothing particularly game changing, at least on a religious or spiritual basis. Nope. No deity sent me burning bushes or golden cows or anything, I just woke up and there I was.

What did take place is a more casual realization that I has shit to do and I had wasted a lot of time pondering needlessly and doing little to get projects done and on the road to accomplishment. One of the effects of that realization has been to proceed to a purge of stuff. You know, the stuff that has been taking space in your dwelling, the kind of clean up that takes place when you're about to move to a new home, or spring cleaning. Well, spring cleaning has never meant all that much to me, and given that I had all that time on my hands and that I had a drive to do it, I did it now, right away, and screw the conventions. Why wait? Why waste yet more time, time waste accumulating yet more stuff, which will just drag you back and down even more by the time "spring cleaning time" comes, so why waste it?

So the first thing that went was clothes. Too much needless apparels gathered and piled in corners, waiting for that "special occasion" that will never come. I had lost weight during my hospital stay, so clearing out the stuff that no longer fit made sense. It was a perfect opportunity to clear off all that cloth that had been hoarded off, for when I'll be clubbing and all that; time to take stock and take out the old. What is the likeliness that I'll be wearing the same duds I did ten years ago?

Once that was done, it came time to deal with furniture. A bundled payment made that a little easier, and a lot harder to claim "not now", cause something else might be needed... bullshit; I've been wanting goddamn bookshelves for a good long while, in they go. Couches a problem? Couches gone, problem solved. Need some couches? Build them. Need a computer desk? Buy one. Done. Next.

Of course, there is always a next of some sort. But the kind of purge I am pursuing involves not only getting rid of accumulated trash, physical and other, but getting rid of long neglected projects. The point of this purge is to get rid of as much accumulated everything as possible, so that I can get on with my life, with all those events that have been left in the "to do" pile, and move them to the "done, what's next?"

For that, you'll have to keep on reading...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A new begining

With last year's events and new things afoot, I am in the process of doing a purge, cleaning up the old, bringing in the new, cause seriously, its needed. My old blog, The Ultrasuede Conspiracy has been deleted/transfered to an archive form, so it doesn't drag me down as I move on with life, the universe and everything.

So, welcome to the new digs; have a drink, sit back and relax, but try to keep your feet off of the furniture.