Archive for September, 2009

On A/D conversion, advice and the weakest link in the chain

September 29th, 2009 by Reinder

Reader Branko asked me privately what brand/type of USB preamp I'd bought, because he too wants to digitise his vinyl record collection. I'm really the wrong person to ask, because the entire comparison shopping process for me was to go to Okaphone, a local electronics store catering to DJ's, and ask for the recommendation of the guy behind the counter. He told me they had two models in store, they were both the same price, and people had the best experiences with the one from JB Systems, so I bought that and got to work.

It didn't make sense for me to put in more effort, because
a) I'll be leaving the country again in three weeks and don't have time for agonising over specifications and price/quality ratios (beyond what's obviously sensible) if I'm to get any digitizing done; and
b) The other components aren't exactly of audiophile quality. The weakest link in my audio chain is the turntable, followed by the speakers, amplifier, room acoustics and my damaged ears.
The turntable is over 30 years old, the automatic start/stop no longer works well, the platter scrapes the console deck when I place a 180 grams vinyl record on it before I let the needle drop, and it's only a matter of time before the next issue rears its ugly head. In fact, I had endless fun, for a given value of 'fun', over the weekend trying to figure out what was making it sound so fluttery all of a sudden. I bought a new, shorter belt for it, which worked well with my LPs but caused horrible machine rumble with 45s, so now I switch between the old belt and the new belt whenever I need to change the rotation speed. I get good sound out of it all but it takes a lot of work, and if I wasn't going to emigrate within a year, I'd definitely replace the turntable. Luckily, the cartridge is new so I won't have to worry about that.

The sound card on my MacBook is good, and the USB device seems to be doing a good enough job. I'm satisfied with it under the actual operating conditions I'm working in.

So my advice to Branko is not to sweat the choice of A/D converters too much but make sure your turntable is OK—is the cartridge new and of high quality? Is your drive system (belt or direct) dependable? Also, are your records clean? Mine are, but my mother's still have dust on them after repeated cleanings with different methods, and it is affecting their sound. I am pretty sure that all things being equal, those will affect your experience a lot more than doubling your expense on the A/D converter.

Thesinge Run 2009 results

September 27th, 2009 by Reinder

53:38 according to my clock, but my official net time is even better: 53:21! That's 3 1/2 minutes off last year's results with better interim times on the 9 and 10 than I'd clocked during the events I was in in the past few months. It's still 14 minutes slower than the winner though; this year's field was larger and stronger than last year's.

I ran with a stopwatch, taking care not to go much faster or slower than 4:50 minutes a kilometer. This worked wonderfully well and made the race much easier for me, at least during the first 7 kilometers. The second round through the gravel got a great deal harder at that speed, but I still managed to stay close to that target speed. Also, I've been running the past few events without my elastic knee brace and that's going very well.

This is likely to have been my last Thesinge Run and I do hope to find something similar in the United States. It's so much more fun to run in that village atmosphere with everyone knowing one another. Though compared to last year, that aspect didn't seem to be that good. I didn't feel the urge to hang around and have a beer after the run, enjoying the mood and the crowds. Things were done more efficiently this year, with officials cleaning up the signage immediately after the last participant in the women's 11 K. By 18:30 the area was getting empty and most people seemed to be gone. Maybe it's because the event was on a Saturday this year, or maybe the local authorities asked them to get the whole event over with as quickly as possible. Whatever the reason, it didn't feel quite the same as last year. I still liked the brass band though, and there's something special about running past a stable where the cows moo at you in disapproval.

My parents were there and took some pictures. I'll add those later.

After the event, I got some extra free exercise: I sprung a leak on my bicycle halfway home and had to walk another 4 K pushing my bike. Looking at the results again, I did that about as well as the participants in the Thesinge Run's 4 K walking event, but I was pretty knackered and grumpy afterwards. It's exactly what you don't want if you've already beaten up your muscles and burned 1000+ calories. I needed to sit down and eat food!

Speaking of food: add € 0.50 to my grocery expenses as I couldn't resist buying stewable pears from a local garden (for people coming in here looking for running event reviews, I've been trying to live off € 15 a week for the past 4 weeks as an exercise in financial discipline). They'll be yummy with cinnamon and some wine if I can get that for free. You just don't get people selling pears at city runs!

Me crossing the finish at 7 K - I'm not checking my stopwatch because at that point I still have 4 K to go. || Me crossing the finish at 11 K

Groceries, 26-9-2009, plus turntable woes.

September 26th, 2009 by Reinder

Today's grocery bill: about € 13.50 - I managed to lose the receipt. The lowest figure so far and most of that was made up from coffee. Without the need to feed my coffee addiction and my preference for Fair Trade coffee which the supermarket now only sells in duopacks, the bill would have been about € 10. I do think this proves it is possible to live very cheaply indeed if you manage your pantry well; I'll be shopping the pantry all week because I want it to be empty come October 17 when I go back to the US.

Other expenses: € 7.50 for a new belt for my turntable. It was starting to get whiney from wow/flutter even though I hadn't had the old belt for very long. The turntable store gave me a noticeably shorter belt this time, suggesting that I'd try it and return it if it was too short. It fits well, plays well and has reduced the whine. I think they gave me the wrong size the last time around, because the belt I showed them then was more stretched out than we realised, and the recent use has pulled the belt I got then over the threshold where it was unable to keep the turntable going at the correct speed. I may need to redo some of my ripping projects starting with the most recent ones and going back until I'm sure everything sounds OK.

I have already decided that a large portion of my vinyl will be getting shipped to the US. It's something I don't want to sell; indeed I feel like adding to the collection now.

Art from 2000: Kel and the dragon

September 20th, 2009 by Reinder

Two more from the year 2000 that didn't show up in the actual comic until a year later:

Kel offering meat to a partially-concealed dragon in a cave. Sketch from 2000 for a comic finished in 2001

Kel offering meat to a partially-concealed dragon in a cave. Sketch from 2000 for a comic finished in 2001


The dragon's response

The dragon's response

I'll be taking it slow with scanning and showing more sketches this week - I'm more interested in drawing some new art right now.

Groceries, September 19, 2009

September 20th, 2009 by Reinder

Total groceries bill this week: € 15.60. A little over the self-imposed limit, but that's not too bad as I'd just sold € 50 worth of comics an hour before. None of my food and other grocery expenses this month and until I go to the US again in October will come out of my bank account. This is just as well as I paid nearly € 600 in bills this week, including the first of the tax rebates (healthcare subsidies over 2008) that I have to pay back. I'm expecting another bill for 2008's rent subsidies, and while I'd be happy if that could wait another month, I would like to have it in by early October so I can settle it before I leave. The way things are going, I should be able to tackle it without hitting the emergency fund.

Good habits (i.e. shopping the pantry, looking for cheaper options, keeping a mental running tally of expenses and quitting when it reaches 15) are keeping up. The self-imposed limit is temporary but the good habits should last a long time.

Adam’s basic sound restoration tutorial

September 20th, 2009 by Reinder

I asked Adam for some pointers on restoring old records, and he spent a whole night creating a tutorial podcast on basic sound restoration, which tells me everything I need to restore my mother's old Vienna Boys Choir recordings*). "Basic" here includes a lot of things I had already figured out but it also includes the next few steps to create the right balance between noise removal and preserving the freshness of the original sound.

Adam takes a leisurely approach, playing back the unedited recording in full at the start of his podcast, which makes this good for casual listening over breakfast and coffee. We discussed his click removal approach a little in private while I was listening to the podcast. His argument is that people won't hear the disappearance of a few thousandth of a second, but if you're really finicky about preserving the tempo, you can do what I've been doing, which is take a piece of music from just before a click that is the same length of a click, and paste it over the click. If the recording is repetitive enough, you can even drop in a bit from another repeating part. Another comment I have is on his comment that Audacity's built-in click removal effect is good enough for modern recordings. I told him that the day before the podcast, but actually, it's really only 75% good enough; I've had to do manual removal a few times even on my own 45s from the 1980s.

*) It was my mother's request for help that got me interested in transferring my own records and wanting to learn more about sound restoration. It's been a lot of fun and got me reconnected with records I haven't listened to in almost 20 years.

Digging through my vinyl

September 18th, 2009 by Reinder

The other day I bought a USB preamp to hook my turntable to my laptop and rip some music from vinyl to MP3 that way. I have a decent number of vinyl records that aren't available on CD or as legal downloads, or that I don't want to buy again in any format. So now I've been inventorizing what I've got that needs to be ripped, and of course I found some records that I'd forgotten I had. For example, I've got a 10" vinyl disc by indy band The Apes; as I recall, I watched them in Vera one night, was impressed with what I heard and bought that record, which I then played only once. It'll be fun to remind myself why.
Or maybe I'll enjoy it more on repeated listening; one other vinyl album I dug out is Live Encounters by Deep Purple, which I previously discussed in this post from 2004. When I first heard this live album, I didn't like the recording quality and couldn't get over the bad shape Ian Gillan's voice was in that night. I was puzzled that so much effort was expended on releasing a record of what was at best an average gig in multiple formats (CD, DVD and triple vinyl). Now that I'm hearing it again, I like it much much better; Ian Gillan's not in good voice, but the instrumentalists are on fire and there's nothing wrong with the recording quality that can't be solved by turning the volume up! It's a barnstormer of a gig as long as Gillan doesn't open his mouth. A keeper.

There's something about vinyl records that I just love. People can argue about the objective merits of vinyl versus CD until they're blue in the face, and they have, but there's just something special about taking a big black disc out of its sleeve and dropping a needle on a turntable. Maybe it's because it's such an innovative idea: back in the early days of CD, an audio writer disparaged vinyl records as being "based on having a spike scratch into a groove", but that took a much greater leap of the imagination than digitizing sound once you've already learned how to digitize other information.

And rifling through my records to find stuff to copy over to another, more convenient medium reminds me of when I was a kid and transfered records and music from the radio to cassettes all the time.

Art from 2000: Elf Life characters, Fire Elf, Krakatoa, Sower

September 16th, 2009 by Reinder

First: by 2000, Krakatoa was developing towards her current appearance:

Krakatoa as drawn in 2000, from my old sketchbooks

Krakatoa as drawn in 2000, from my old sketchbooks


And I was doing more extra art for the website, such as cast drawings:
ROCR cast sketch from 2000

ROCR cast sketch from 2000


One of the big influences on my decision to get back into webcomicking and take it more seriously again was Carson Fire of what is now the comic formerly known as Elf Life. Below are several characters from that comic: my interpretations of Glynhial, Baughb, the Sprite and even Filis in a tiny little doodle:
Clockwise from top left: Glynhial, Baughb the Elf, Sprite, Filis, Sower

Clockwise from top left: Glynhial, Baughb the Elf, Sprite, Filis, Sower


The character at bottom left in the image above is one of my own though: that one and the ones below are the first appearances of a character I finally inserted into the comic almost four years later: an elven Death Goddess called the Sower. In her first sketches, she looked pretty human.
The Sower's debut in my sketchbooks

The Sower's debut in my sketchbooks


A good one of the Sower's face

A good one of the Sower's face


When she finally appeared in the comic, she had changed quite a bit!
Carson's style affected me so much at the time that I actually dreamed of a "Fire Elf" one night. I managed to get the sketchbook out and get the character down:
First sketch of a Fire Elf

First sketch of a Fire Elf


Two years later, I did in fact feature a race of Fire Elves in the comic, but by then they were a very different kind of creature.
Finally, this little sketch isn't all that remarkable by itself:
Sketch for a redrawn version of When We Had Tails, from 2000

Sketch for a redrawn version of When We Had Tails, from 2000


But it does remind me that as early as 2000, I was getting dissatisfied with the art I'd done two years earlier for When We Had Tails, the Genesis-based story Geir sent me one day to draw. I considered redrawing it, but never got around to it. These days, I don't feel that urge anymore: I'm happy with the story as it is, even with the faults in the art. Let's not mess with it.

Recent reading reflecting my interests

September 15th, 2009 by Reinder

The Livejournal community Pollanesque.
The blog Unconventional Ideas: living meaningfully in a period of epochal change.
Some cracking reads from the Financial Times online:

Some cracking reads - actually, many of them, at Charlie Stross's diary:

  • Doing our bit, a skeptical look at The Guardian's campaign to reduce the carbon emissions of its readership by 10% by 2010. Summary: most of what the 10:10 campaign proposes is either illegal for him to do, or he's already doing it, or it doesn't contribute all that much compared to the kerosine slurping elephant in his living room.
  • Chrome-plated jackboots: what the political threats of the 21st century are not going to be.
  • Stross's chat with Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman has been ruffling a lot of feathers with his article How did economists get it so wrong. Apparently, either the notion that economists got it wrong, or his explanation for why they got it wrong (short and slightly tendentious summary: the dominant version of economic theory had become a closed-minded, scholastic discipline that prevented exposure to heterodox ideas and no longer had a connection to reality) are controversial. This is strange because all you need to know is that American economics departments have turning out graduates, even leaders, who really believe that the Great Depression was a Great Vacation. If a humanities graduate said such a thing, people would suspect another Sokal hoax, but these people have been, and still are, taken seriously and are not getting pelted with rotten fruit at all. There's no fairness in this world, I tell ya.

Not a cracking good read, because it's too rambling and not that well written, but Divorced one like Bush at Angry Bear did teach me a few things about two models of business: the Experience Curve and Moore's law and how they relate to manufacturing in the US and Japan, respectively. It takes some time to sit through and decipher, but you will come to a better understanding of why manufacturing in the US is in the state it is in.

Art from 2000: Mana Tracers character sketches, plus Goats and Sheep

September 14th, 2009 by Reinder

Earlier, I dated some character art for the abandoned Mana Tracers story to 1998, but after reviewing the sketchbooks, I now believe that all the work for it was done in the very busy year 2000. This is the earliest sketch from it, with only the old wizard character being used unmodified in the actual pages I drew:

Character sketches for Mana Tracers

Character sketches for Mana Tracers

There was a lot of material in one of the year 2000 sketchbooks for a future Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan storyline called Goats and Sheep. Much of this was in the form of scribbled dialogue. I won't show that here, but here are some of the things that would happen in this story, set mostly at the Clwydian court:

Princess Violet

Princess Violet


Princess Violet, plus the first sketches of Fay and Harold. In these, Harold physically resembles Tamlin a lot.

Princess Violet, plus the first sketches of Fay and Harold. In these, Harold physically resembles Tamlin a lot.


Duchess Guðrún would introduce a girl at court with the intention of having her married off to the King. Princess Violet would be interested, but also painfully shy.
New Bishop

New Bishop


New Bishop, plus author cameo with goatee

New Bishop, plus author cameo with goatee


There's also be a new bishop in Clwyd-Rhan, following up on the demise of Bishop Sickepit from the King Groy storyline (which remains in limbo to this day as I don't want to put the original version online and don't have time to create a new version); the new one would appear harmless but be at least as much trouble.

You know, it's kind of depressing how much of my work online is abandoned or incomplete. The body of work that is finished is very large, but this is one area where committing to a tight online publication schedule didn't work out for me.

Next up: some more incidental character art and some ideas that I did use.