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Archive for October, 2012


Music Stores and NGD

Music stores – those “strange” places…

To start off, Laura and I attended a Taylor acoustic guitar road show tonight at Tom Lee Music. I’ve been to Roland, GODIN, Martin, and a number of other shows all at Tom Lee.

Which brings up an interesting thought. Almost all of the shows I have seen have been at Tom Lee. Recording, studio gear, guitars, and so on. All education at Tom Lee.

On the flip side of the coin is Long & McQuade. Last I heard from them was that Zakk Wylde would be doing a fan signing session. Hopefully signing stuff “other” than the fan, although there’s always some blonde that walks up and …

Without fail, almost any event of interest to me that happens at L&M is in Toronto. Or even Winterpeg. I’ve seen scant little in BC at L&M worth attending.

Therein lies the difference in the two stores. To me it feels like TL is the working mans music store and L&M is “where the elite like to meet”, trade winks and back pats. At TL they help you try guitars that you might like to buy, whereas at L&M the salesmen want to practice their riffs for you or bestow some glint of secret knowledge on you. Oh big whoop. Then again, I’m not working 9-5 in a music store and doing gigs three nights a week so maybe playing riffs and being all-knowing will make a difference.

What makes the difference is the sales people. Obviously. Both TL and L&M have some really great sales people, but L&M holds the record for the attitude princesses. Fortunately they’re mostly at the downtown store.

Then, you get the “little guys” stores. The boutique shops if you want to call them that. And in a few rare cases where the owners have paid their dues in the industry and are a welcome breath of fresh air. Like SurfSide Music in White Rock. You walk through the door and it’s like a home cooked meal. And oddly enough the store tends to resemble the kitchen after the meal…if you ever go there, you’ll know what I mean.

NGD – New Guitar Day

Ever since I played a Dan Electro Baritone last year that Duane Eddy tone has been rolling around in my mellon. I considered buying the Dan Electro but the thing feels like it was made out of someones 50’s Formica table and it’s got a shape only Picasso could love.

Enter the Eastwood Sidejack Baritone DLX:

Eastwood sidejack baritone guitar blue dlx 01

This is Eastwoods second version of it I believe. The older one had the bridge pickup half ways between the bridge and end of the fret board. This one provides a more balanced sound.

I already own an Eastwood Sidejack DLX and all I can say is that after sending it out to have the neck redone, and spending way too much time on it myself, I finally ended up with a pretty sweet playing and sounding guitar. Thus it was your typical off shore made nightmare when I first got it. Contrary to what they state in any ad copy. But I fixed it.

Last year I tried to order an Eastwood Baritone but no stock. For whatever reason (ran out of Basswood trees?). This year in September they finally got stock back in, the DLX (the DLX has the whammy bar) and the pickups were where I wanted them. So I ordered it direct from MyRareGuitars. It’s not really a “rare” guitar other than it’s a Mosrite knock off with a Dan Electro sound. But…it was ON SALE…so I ordered it and a case.

IMG 3368

It came with a nice little check list that marked off all the things that had been certified by the “factory trained minion”. Initially I was impressed and hoped that it wasn’t the same minion that checked my previous Eastwood. As luck would have it, I got 95% lucky. Output, switch, volume, tone, pickups, truss rod, string height, bridge, tremolo, intonation, and finish were checked off as being perfect.

This of course completely baffled me since the strings were 1/64″ off the fret board. So EVERY string buzzed like a wasp nest from the 3rd fret and higher. Just for a laugh I checked the intonation and wow. It was right on the money. Now how they set up everything to be buzz city and then intonated it was amazing. Maybe it was Minion Monday or something.

I checked the relief in the neck with my fret rule, checked for a warped neck and I was elated when the only issue I found was that the string height was out a country (probably Asian country) block. Raised it, redid the intonation. Done. Took me half an hour to get it right.

IMG 3374

Spaghetti westerns, Duane Eddy, all those dreamy low tones. This thing does them all with ease. And it’s a hoot to play.

Tuning? That’s another matter. It’s tuned a fifth lower so B-B. When the bassist and I got together for a jam, we were both transposing on the fly and having bouts of the giggles doing it. He can read my chords to follow but I’m now in a different key. What looked like my E chord is actually now a B. Scads of fun.

I found when I’m playing it, I’m not used to the extra distance I have to travel to get to up the neck. It’s a 28″ scale and I’m about 2″ short in a lot of reaches…so I need to pay attention. On the other hand, I found it WAY easier on the hands and fingers to play than my other guitars.

My main gripe with the guitar is with the whammy bar. It sticks out 4″ off the body like the spoke on broken bike wheel. The arm itself is not threaded so it’s just a press fit. That won’t stay where you want it and I want it to stay in a position so I can grab it, use it, shove it back. As it is, the whammy bar usually falls on the floor at some point so it’s pretty useless.

So I’d give it an 8 out of 10. That’s probably saying a lot for an Eastwood but honestly I wouldn’t have too much trouble recommending this baritone to anyone else…


Computer Media Speakers…sorta

I needed a couple of speakers for a project I am working on and I happened to be going through the office storage and bingo. I found an old multimedia sound system. At least I seem to recall that’s what it advertised itself as when I bought it a long time ago.. Labtec LS2424.

I proceeded to cannibalize the small 2″ speakers that I really wanted. Somehow I was always under the impression that Behringer was the KING of the hot melt glue users. I now stand corrected. Labtech heaps gobs of the stuff in there and unlike Behringer, whose glue is yellowish and brittle hot melt, LabTec’s stuff is white and pliable like rigid silicon. Sticks like “you know what” to a diaper…

The little speakers work fine for what I want. But that left the subwoofer. I know there’s a sub-amp inside to make the “woof” and I got a Pignose with external speaker jack. Taking the amp out and using it as an external cab (mini sized!) might be a good thing to do. Or not.

I seem to recall this thing as stating it had a 5″ or 6″ subwoofer, 30 or 40 watts (probably PEP not RMS)…and so on. And truthfully it served it purpose well for many years. I just ended up building my own replacement so this one had ended up in storage.

I call this the “before Mel” shot:

IMG 3378


To get the front off, the metal grille part is actually glued onto the plastic ring around the woofer. With something akin to rubber cement that does NOT want to release easily. Oh and that thing I thought was the woofer, yeah, think again…

IMG 3380

Now if you’re a “stereo” kind of person you take ONE look at that speaker and you know it doesn’t look right. Where is the cone? Where is the voice coil? That’s right. It’s a PASSIVE speaker. It takes ANOTHER speaker to move it. Tapping it with my finger told me it was a passive radiator for sure. Tuned to a port of some frequency.. I removed the screws holding it on and no way it would let go. Why? Because not only did they screw the thing into the case, they rubber cemented it in place as well.

The rubber cement only served to slow me down of course, I was not to be deterred.. For my efforts a POP and off it came, intact since I thought I might want to salvage it.

IMG 3381

Oh. My. Goodness. That’s a piece of cardboard glued on the back of the passive speaker and inside you can see the WHOPPING 3.5″ speaker that is doing the work and a transformer to power the amp. It might be 4″ since I only measured the hole for it on the other side.

IMG 3382

Okay the PigNose has a BIGGER speaker than this puppy for pete’s sake. I’m not sure whether to reverse the speaker and try it with the PigNose or just toss the thing in the garbage.

After working for what seemed like forever to get the amp portion out, which was hard because they don’t give you any too much wire to work with (big surprise)..I got this:

IMG 3379

The main AMP is one of the power AMP IC’s and there’s a preamp in one of the speakers (probably for the headphones).

From inside the back of the cabinet:

IMG 3383

All I can say is the next time I see a system that says “6” woofer I’m going to make darn sure that it’s not a passive one being driven by some speaker that looks like one from my 1960’s transistor radio…LOL


House Address – NTP update

After running the house address since the middle of September I’ve came across some interesting things.

The first was that the internet time server I was using apparently doesn’t like to be abused. While I could “ask” for the correct time once every four to six hours, once you add a few more Arduinos that also ask for the time, the server would send incorrect data.

I did a fair bit of searching and from what I could find, yep, that can happen. Matter of fact, they can even simply stop sending to your IP and that happened as well. I couldn’t get an update.

Which of course lead to the fact that there are a limited number of NTP servers in the world and with everyone banging away at them it of course would overload them. A suggested action was to use the pool of NTP servers:

In their words:

The project is a big virtual cluster of timeservers providing reliable easy to use NTP service for millions of clients.

The pool is being used by millions or tens of millions of systems around the world. It’s the default “time server” for most of the major Linux distributions and many networked appliances (see information for vendors).

The idea of course is that the load of serving up the time gets spread around. And I can say it works great. For the Arduino it’s one simple line change (the IP is for the US time server pool):

One thing of note is that you should use the pool of servers that reside in your country. I tried using other IP’s for the pool servers around the world and have trouble with some of them. Once I found the IP for my country, presto, worked like a champ. I also changed the time check to once a day.

The second thing I found was that while my sunrise and sunset routines worked fine, I’d forgotten about testing for Daylight Savings Time when setting the clock. Doh.

I modified the original NTP setting code “ntpAdjustRTC” for the DS1307 since I didn’t need all four of the time setting info it gave, just the current time. At the end where it shoves the time back into the RTC, I adjusted for DST based on my DST check (also found someplace on the net; I didn’t write it so credit goes to whomever did).

Thus the house address is back in operation, updating it’s time, working out sunrise and sunset correctly and glowing that soft blue glow throughout the night. The only change I probably should have added while I was in there working on the code was a hard override to turn on the address. I have a soft override one via a web server built in, but a hard switch would have been a better idea…

Oh well, House Address version 3…maybe


Guitar Circle

Or more aptly called the “Guitar Circle of Life”.

I took lessons myself before I was a teen but only for a year. But what a year. I devoured the song books. At the end of the year my teacher told my mom to buy me “this list of guitar books” and let me go at it myself. I know mom was happy not having to shell out money for guitar lessons, but I went through a lot of books in the next three years on my own. Probably learned a whack of wrong ways to do things, but I learned.

Like every student out there I suffered sore fingers, hand cramps, and barre chords. Oh yea, the dreaded F barre chord. The minors, majors, 7th, 12th and on the list went. I was destined to be a rhythm guitarist, mainly because the lead player in my band couldn’t play more than two chords in a row without getting lost or losing time. But as a lead he was extremely good even if he couldn’t read a note of music. I’d say, play in the key of Am and I’d get a deer in the headlights look for my efforts. At any rate the combination worked fine, I never wanted or aspired to be a lead player so a rhythm guy I was.

In my teen years I wanted a car, and in those days your parents didn’t let you use theirs or buy you one. Nope. You got a part time job, they “might” cosign a loan for you and you bought a car. Welcome to the debt world. Paper routes weren’t cool and didn’t pay enough to buy a car ($70 a month payment). Hence like about forty five years ago as a teen I got a job working in Central Plaza Music in White Rock, as, of all things, a guitar teacher. Not that I was any fabulous player by any stretch since I’d only been playing for half a dozen years myself.

Apart from the band I had and some other bands guys I run into, these beginners were some of my first exposures to other players. The job was three nights a week and I made more than enough each month to pay for my brand new 1968 Datsun 1600 that I bought (I paid a buck a pound for it; it weighed 1996 lbs). I really enjoyed the job and it turned out, even though I wasn’t a world class player, I was a very good teacher. Maybe the old adage, “Those that can’t do, teach” might have something to it.

Kids, teens, a couple grown ups, all came in for lessons. I’ve got a lot of memories of a lot of them and I sincerely hope they carried on after I left the studio. Especially a couple of them, they were GOOD!

Why did I leave? It seemed I had an honest conscience and couldn’t do what the owner wanted. Which was to go door knocking to give free “talent evaluations”, give the “fish” something easy to play on guitar and watch them impress the parents and then fawn over them as the worlds next greatest player and sign them up for lessons. Shady, yea, shady. I couldn’t and wouldn’t do it. So I noticed over the next couple of months that I’d lost two of the days of the week I’d been teaching. But hey, I was dumb so it wasn’t until one of my students from the other nights came in and was surprised that I was still there. They had a new teacher and had been told I didn’t work there any more. Surprise to me too…

I told them what was going on. They in turn passed the word around and two weeks later, I locked the store keys in the studio and left for good. Never looked back, not even for a final paycheque.

So you’d think that would be it? No, fate rarely works like that.

Next thing I know, I’m getting calls at home to know if I’m giving private lessons at home (I was still going to school and living with mom and dad). So I said “SURE AM”..and bingo, I got three nights a week again and I’m not sure what happened at the studio because I got 80% of my students back. Even ones that had to travel a fair distance compared to where I did work. For the next year, that’s what I did. Taught, learned the “Alfred’s Basic Guitar” books (seems to me in those days the books went up to volume 6 or more). Had to stay ahead of the students. Made me a better player in the process…weird…

About four years back I did a lot of video’s for a friend who lives 1200 miles away because he wanted to learn to play. I have to say, it works, but it’s not the same as a real private lesson. Not as bad as a drivers license by correspondence but still that personal touch when you’re starting out is really what’s needed. Thus, for anyone wanting to learn, I always say plan on taking at least six months of lessons. Then quit and learn it on your own if you want. Works for some. Not for others.

A couple weeks back the wife is out with our daughter and from out of nowhere comes the “gee mom, I’d like to learn to play a guitar someday.” But as single mom, lessons just don’t work very well, if at all. The wife mentioned this to me and of course I immediately called Laura to verify mom got it right. Yep. We talked about what she wanted to learn, style, and so on (apparently she was under the impression I could only play “surf” style music; which is not the case because I play instrumentals really). Told her that I don’t teach finger style, I’m a flat picker and she was fine with that. After getting a pretty good idea of what she wanted out of it, I picked up an Alfred’s Basic Guitar Book 1, took my Fender Sonoran, music stand and gave her the first lesson (a little long, about 40 minutes).

Left her with home work, learn the 1st E string. Went back the following week and she’d learned extremely well. Kind of caught me off guard.

I went over a few things she needed to work on and just for the heck of it, I flipped the book open to the 2nd B string. Showed her where the notes were. And then sat there slack jawed while she ran through the 3 exercises for the new string and then one exercise that used both strings. She did it without looking at the strings for fingering or picking (just a peek once or twice on a muted note).

I have to say I haven’t seen that in a long long time. She reads music fluently, has great timing and really works at getting the fingers and pick to work. Personally I think she’s got a bit of a gift for it because if she just plays without thinking about it, it’s darn good. And even though she says her fingers are a little tender (15 minutes of practice a day) she having a blast and loving it. I’m sure I didn’t need headlights on when I drive home that night. I was glowing with pride.

Yep now there’s a sure way to learn anything in a hurry…love what you do. Easy.

Laura PLaying

If she keeps going, in a year there’s going to be THREE guitarists in this family (me, son, daughter)…and won’t that be a hoot..


Hail Hail the gangs all noisy…

I spent about a year and a half giving basic guitar lessons via video to friend about two provinces away from me two years ago. It was kind of an experiment and aside from that, it’s been forty plus years since I worked as a guitar teacher in a music store. Thus it was a lot of work for both of us and a lot of fun at the same time.

Any way, as luck would have it, Rich and his family made it out to my neck of the coast for a holiday this year and he managed to find some time to come over to the Wabbit Wanch here for a jam. To further his luck, even my bassist that I’ve jammed with since the 60’s also made it over for the afternoon and evening. So after some basic how d doo’s we headed off to the studio…

Rich also happened to win an Eastwood Sidejack DLX that he was waiting on being shipped to him, the same guitar which I just happen to own myself. So the instant he hit the studio his eyes fell on my Eastwood and he grabbed it…I was playing my Godin through a Roland GR33 Synth.

Rich’s dream has always been to play in a band, and finally here he was, with a couple of old 60’s guys:


Anyone who’s ever jammed knows that there’s a whack of standard licks that almost everyone can jump in on. Think rockabilly… but Rich didn’t have enough hours under his belt to be there so… he’d learned a number of songs that I’d written and recorded. We fired up the backing tracks for him and us to play along with.

However, instead of playing along with a backing track through a set of headphones, he had to contend with real guys playing with real amps. And trust me, that’s a world apart from listening to headphones and playing along with something. Enter his guitar amnesia. He KNEW the songs well, but just couldn’t get started. Pressure… Since I was playing rhythm, not lead (he was going to do the leads), I enabled the lead backing track and got his son to shut it off once he got going. And that’s all it took. Away he went.

We had a gas playing and everyone was grinning ear to ear. However I think it might have dampened his spirit a bit when he realized he wasn’t in our league. Like we cared? No we didn’t. We were there to make sure he had the most fun he could but it’s still stressful when you’re a new player. As all get out if I remember my own early jams well enough.

The old adage: you need to perspire to aspire..:-) I hope he continues along, hopefully finds some guys around where he lives and starts playing with them. Just going to take some time and work to do it…like we all have…


Warranties..the lighter side

Someone at Kingston definitely has a sense of humour…

I picked up a 120GB SSD drive from a local supplier the other day and finally got around to putting it in the Mac Pro tonight.

To ensure freshness, these drives come in a cardboard box that’s shrink wrapped…and when I flipped the box over I was greeted with the usual sticker that displayed the product ID, model and so on. Along with something “extra” :


Upon closer inspection I find this disclaimer:


A two year warranty is going to last forever if you don’t take the skink wrap off the box so you can install the drive…fascinating…LOL


Pop eMail Checker Revisited…

From time to time I tend to go back over my Arduino projects to see how they might be made better. After all, I’m no expert on Arduino programming so there will always be room for improvement..

In the original POP email checkerI was using an Arduino Mega 2560 because it had lots of memory and ram space so I could download the complete headers and then parse them for what I wanted. Mainly the subject line. At some point of editing, the original sketch stopped working and I kept getting the headers in two sections. Some careful debugging showed me that the headers I was now interested in had grown in size from about 350 bytes to almost 3K. So THIS is why it was starting to fail when it worked originally.

The Arduino choked on the huge size for sure. I couldn’t figure out how to read the whole header someplace and then rip out what I wanted… So, time to reinvent the wheel…

I started by thinking I could write the header to an SD card and then read it back. Nope. Not working right. Next up, in the stream try to read in in small blocks. Say about 256 at a time. To me that should have worked, it didn’t. Not sure why either. It should have to my mind…but ti would miss parts of the stream.

And then…I found this gem tucked away in the Stream section:

if (client.find(“Subject: “)) {// did we find a subject line

This reads in the stream to look for a Subject and then I get it to read until the EOL to grab the subject text itself.

Works perfect, WAY faster than what i had before. Now if I wanted to extract several things from the stream, I’m not sure that I could do that. You might be able to read to find a specific header, then read something inside and so on sort of nested sequence to do it. I haven’t tried it that way so I can’t say for sure. And of course the documentation for the “.find” command is not exactly going to say anything exactly useful…

Any way, I’m using WAY less program space, far less ram, the whole program is far faster. Thus, it was a good thing that I decided to revisit the code.

The Arduino still fascinates me…it has become my “TinkerToy” for fun!


Blog Me Up Scotty…

After trying, unsuccessfully I might add, to paste some Arduino code into the blog yesterday, I came to the sad realization that for that Mac and all its wonderful ease of use and friendliness, its blog clients simply suck. Big time.

Mac blog clients either force you to write in HTML with keyword highlighting (and they call that a “feature”)… or some limp form of WYSIWYG that supports about a dozen tags and that’s it. At present I’m using ecto and for the most part it works quite well. But for putting in code, it screws up the tags and spacing beyond all belief. I suspect I could write the blog in HTML, which really gives you a strong idea of what the heck you’re writing…not or put up with Rich Text Format. That also screws it up just as badly.

I emailed ecto “tech” support to ask about how best to approach this problem and haven’t heard anything yet…

On the PC platform there’s scads of bog clients, with Live Writer probably being the king of the heap. No doubt because I do believe it’s free but still.. for the Mac, there’s a few, each with their own pros and cons. And in this programmers opinion, all done poorly in too many areas.

This causes some head scratching and pondering as to why… My feeling is that it has something to do with getting income off writing a blog client. A blog client is probably a “niche” market and since I write software that fits in that category I know just what you might expect from it in return. In short, not much. So you’d have to do it for yourself and hope enough others wanted it to at least repay some of your efforts in writing one. And no, I have no intention of writing one myself. That’s not my area of interest.

Apparently I am not the only one to notice a dearth of decent blog clients for the Mac either. There’s any number of articles about the six or eight we do have, and scads of forum postings about how we need a good one. Really.

I found a unknown blog client (to me anyway) called Qumana that I might press into server to see if I can get it to handle the “code” days…for the remainder I’ll continue along with ecto.


Arduino GarbageMate

I have no idea what it is about the Arduino that constantly calls to me, but it’s a simple fact that it does. Sometimes in odd ways…

Recently our area has decided to replace the traditional garbage collection (can and a blue recycle box) with a more elaborate garbage, recycle and organic can. Providing you can call something that holds 55L a “can”…we call them bins now…

We get a booklet showing what kinds of stuff goes in what bin and what kinds of stuff doesn’t. Actually quite well written, for a change. The little catch is that all three bins are never picked up at the same time. The organic waste is picked up once a week, but the recycle and garbage are picked up on alternate weeks from each other.

Thankfully we got a little calendar that’s good until the end of the year so we know what goes out on what day. And, naturally that got my “Arduino sense” tingling…

I searched for scheduling libraries, time alarms and all sorts of things to make implementing my task a little easier. But the more I looked at, the more I could see that these were not going to work as I wanted. As it happens I wrote some Macintosh diary software that just happened to have event scheduling in it about 15 years ago and I’ve managed to keep it up to date over the years. Just for personal use now.

So I fired it up, looked at the two or three routines I’d need to do simple cycle based scheduling and…two functions later it was in the Arduino sketch. The easiest way to schedule is to have a known start date in Julian. Then you use modulo to figure out if the current day lands on that day….but first, the Julian for Arduino:

Next you need the function that takes the current day and compares it against the repeating cycle:

Last you define the event itself:

Then a simple check to see if the collision works:

I used a standard Arduino UNO, DS1307 RTC, Wiznet 5100 ethernet, LCD and three LED’s. I built it in a cardboard box and presto, away we go. My testCycleDay routine works sort of perpetually. You can go back in history or ahead of the actual event date and see if whatever it was happened then. So if you have a 38 day cycle, you can go back 10 years and see what the dates are in that cycle. Or ahead 7 months and do the same.

I learned a few things while doing this. First off the reason for the internet is to keep the RTC with some form of accuracy. I have three RTC’s here, one works perfect, one will drop the hour setting a couple of times a day (goes out an hour), and the other runs slow by several seconds a day.

For the slow one, that’s probably the crystal and capacitor. For the one that drops the hour, I suspect there’s something wrong with the DS1307 chip itself. Essentially these aren’t worth fixing since they are dirt cheap in the first place. Although maybe I should say cheap because the last bag of dirt I bought for potting was kind of pricey…

Nothing fancy, but it works just peachy. The LED’s will be glowing (the day before the trash pickup) all day and will go out that night to wait for the next cycle. Theres a bit of info in the LCD display as well. Whether Day Light Saving time is on or not, the blocks on the bottom left will change each time the Arduino connects to the time server to update the clock and there’s an ROG on the display (shows only -OG right now) in the event something goes amiss with an LED…
Ultimately, a nutty but fun project…like all things Arduino..