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it’s tax prep weekend and how can this be true?
[12 Feb 2016|01:32pm]

It’s tax prep weekend! Well, for us at the Lair, anyway. So that’s where I’ll be for the next few days.

There is a good part: you stumble across fun reminders, like receipts for cosplay supplies, mixed in with all the boring things. They’re little happy moments. ^_^

(What, you don’t think supervillains pay taxes? Damn right we do. We’re not stupid. That’s how they got Capone, and unlike some people I could mention, some of us can learn from history.)

A disturbing related stat I read last night: 75% of the iTunes music library has never been downloaded. Not ever, not even once. I’m… kind of disturbed by that. Whenever I get discouraged, I should remember this number, because hey, apparently I’m at least ahead of 75% of bands who have managed to get albums recorded and online.

And I don’t even put my free tracks on iTunes, because y’can’t! iTunes is pay only! (But you can get the new free/tip jar single, “Thirteen,” off Bandcamp just fine right now. ^_^) So I guess that’s something.

Anyway, back to sorting zillions of little pieces of paper, all alike. See you next week!

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baidu?
[12 Feb 2016|08:54am]

Am I actually getting visits (and some plays) from users on Baidu, or is this just some sort of confusing player behaviour? Because all these are Bandcamp stats and they super-vague.

I’d assume it’s just odd behaviour but it’s all very recent and Baidu isn’t exactly new. Anyway, hello China? Maybe? ^_^





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south past support
[12 Feb 2016|12:37am]

[ mood | confused ]

Thursday, the S&P 500 and DIJA both closed below the support levels I've discussed as of late; the DIJA is worse, having violated Dow Theory support rules discussed here. The Baltic Dry Index daily numbers have a 2-handle, which I've never seen before - but then, so is oil, in a lot of ways. Phillips 66 just dumped a bunch of crude at a substantial loss per barrel.

But where we're headed into very strange territory is the introduction of negative interest rates on a larger scale. Recent thinking on interest rates is that negative interest - I will pay you to borrow money from me - isn't truly "negative" until the cost of storage exceeds the rate of payment for borrowing. Depending upon how you work those numbers, studies referenced at the last Fed statement suggested that rates would have to sink as far down as -4.5% to get to actual zero. (Seeking Alpha has a partial transcript.)

(Relatedly: Robert Michele of J.P. Morgan thinks there's a serious contraction in credit. I'm not confident this reflects functional credit, though I think he has a good point if you're talking financial instrument credit - which isn't actually very productive. Still, these negative rates are not good for banks.)

The primary instigators in this at the moment are Sweden (which just cut rates further negative) and Japan (I kind of hate to link to Zero Hedge, but they're the only ones carrying the Morgan Stanley commentary on the yen's strengthening in the face of NIRP (Negative Interest Rate Policy)). But they're not alone.

There are a lot of states working to keep their currencies lower-valued, in no small part - goes the theory - to try to stimulate inflation. It didn't work for the yen; the central bank had to intervene directly again. There's also real concern building about a currency-devaluation war, enough that mainstream sites are raising the question of a co-ordinated response to the Chinese Yuan.

Let's be pretty clear about this though: nobody has any fucking idea how this works, because this is a new trick. And that includes me. (My favourite line on it is from Alphaville, a succinct "We dunno." Yes, that's a quote.)

Pragmatic Capitalist talks about why anyone would buy a negative-interest bond, and how a bond-buyer in that position could still make money. But he, too, notes this is getting into very strange territory. Seeking Alpha doesn't understand the Swede central bank motivation here, running the numbers. Their economy is in good shape, their balance of trade is overwhelmingly in their favour, they have inflation, what are we all missing?

And given that the US's numbers look pretty decent too, but people are starting to talk about the possibility of a US Fed NIRP in the 6-10 month timeframe, I have to ask what they're seeing, because I am not seeing this. But then, I don't know why the Yen is being treated as such a safe haven, given that the Japanese government is pushing it down as hard as they can manage.

Eastern Asia down overnight, particularly Japan. (See above: this is a safe haven?) India up as I'm writing this; Europe opened broadly higher and is holding it at the moment. LIBOR is stable and well in normal ranges. Money multiplier is still bad, but actually the best it's been in two and a half years (smoothed out - there was a spike up, then back down, then regression to an upward curve). Railcar loadings have been really shitty - January was bad - but all the latest numbers (February 6) are up across all carriers.

If there's a liquidity issue, I'm not seeing it.

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mixolydian is not a superman reference
[11 Feb 2016|09:35am]

Played around a bit more with the spider capo last night, re-creating that E-based partial-capo configuration I described yesterday.

It really seems to like mixolydian scales. Here’s a quick recording of some chordal scale noodling, playing with both myxolydian and true minor. (Mono, raw mp3.) I don’t honestly know whether “it” means the capo or the chording created by the capo in this specific usage, though I of course suspect the latter.

I got less fretwear buzz last night mostly through fiddling, but I still need to get those frets replaced. There’s no way around it.

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is this where battlestar galactica got started
[11 Feb 2016|08:30am]

Okay, so Battlestar Galactica, right? The excellent reboot which was a remake of the Glen Larson 1970s better-than-first-impression demi-classic. Mormonism plus Ancient Astronauts = Space Apocalypse and/or Space Adventures, depending.

I’ve never really studied how far back that whole Ancient Astronauts bullshit goes, because I have better things to do with my life, but I stumbled across something today. Could this bit of I-can-see-how-you-get-there-but-wow nuttiness from the March 1961 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact be the starting point?

The article is called “The Four-Faced Visitors of Ezekiel,” and its thesis is that they were not so much angels as space travellers, misinterpreted. Only it’s not really billed as fiction, it’s more of a “what if?” kind of piece.

Searching around for more about the “Ezekiel” author, I found this blog post from a “UFO Investigator” which talks about how you can draw a straight line from Jack Kirby’s comic book character, “Metron,” to this very article in Analog. Halperin asserts Metron is Metatron – which I think we all have to agree is the most Kirby name ever invented for an angel, but that’s beside the point – with the serial numbers filed off, and points at the similarities in drawings between the article and the comics.

So – Analog Science Fiction and Fact (1961) to Jack Kirby’s Metron (1971) to Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods (who even cares get out of here you hack) to Glen A. Larson’s Battlestar Galactica (1978) and BSG (2007)? Is this a thing?

And if so, does Neon Genesis Evangelion belong in here too?

I don’t even know.

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spider capo, spider capo, does whatever a spider capo does
[10 Feb 2016|09:30am]

Up late playing with a spider capo, a capo that lets you capo strings on a per-string basis. It’s fun. I have found an E-heavy partial-capo configuration (yes E again I am into E lately do not mock me) that I am really enjoying.

The only downside so far is that I know a couple of my frets need replacing because they’re worn down, and it hasn’t been a big deal in normal playing yet, but it’s a much bigger deal when using the spider. “beautiful dreamy sounds hypnotising my test subjects” “aw yea Esus2 is my mind control jam” [SUDDEN BEE NOISE] GODDAMMIT FRET WEAR WHY DO YOU HATE ME?!

I don’t think I should really need to replace frets so often. Every couple of years just seems excessive, but idk, maybe that’s normal? I just hate losing the zouk while it’s being worked on, particularly since I don’t exactly have a second one. Sometimes I think I should be talking about that with a luthier – I mean, it’s not like production zouks are thick on the ground, I mean, I know of two and I have the better one, so if I want to do something about that, I’ll have to.

But that way lies guitar collector madness and also did I mention the necessary dump trucks full of money? No? Well, that’s how that works.

stupid dump trucks. stupid money.

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6mm rubik’s cube
[10 Feb 2016|01:30am]

See, this is the kind of thing that would send me into a killing spree. It’s assembly of a 6mm-wide Rubik’s Cube. I was dimly aware of Rubik’s Cube Fandom, which make their own insane rotational iterative puzzles, each more complicated than the next, some the size of basketballs, but I wasn’t also aware that there was a competition for smallest.

Seriously, it’d be heat ray time for EVERYONE, I get antsy just watching it be assembled. But I still think it’s awfully neat and hey, go you, obsessive rotational puzzle fandom, go you:

ps: This may be the final day of posts using the Social distributor/comment collector. I’m kind of hoping that they leave the proxy app running and just take the plugin offline on the site. I doubt it, but hey, I can hope. Again, if you have suggestions for replacements, tell me about it – thanks.

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give this board a proper power supply
[09 Feb 2016|08:30am]

Give this little Class-T amplifier a proper power supply, which I’ve finally done, and suddenly it’s MADE OF LOUD.

Yes, these are the monster stage monitors that I blogged about rebuilding before. But they’re still “passive” mains, which is to say, they need external amplification – like essentially all concert gear before about 15 years ago.

What I’m doing here is spending $23 (holy crow $23?!) each on bare-board Class T amplifiers, and $26 each on high-quality 24 volt power supplies, and making them into active monitors. This will let them be useful with modern mixers, which tend to not include amplification, expecting that to be bundled into the speakers themselves.

Being me, of course, I’ll leave the old-style functionality exposed. So they’ll be usable with both old and new-style gear.

Funny thing is, these monitors… they were famously terrible, but at this point, they’ve become actively pleasant to listen to. I’m doing an extended power test of the amp and power supply right now, and I’m staying in the room and listening to it on purpose, because hey, why wouldn’t I?

I know where the beat is at,
‘cos I know what time it is
fishin’ in the rivers of life

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one of my most important plugins is going away
[08 Feb 2016|10:32am]

Social, which echoes posts between the band blog and several social media sites, and – even more importantly really – consolidates comments back so people can actually find them all, is losing support in I think three more days.

That wouldn’t be so bad because I’m happy maintaining my own code bases, but it relies on some sort of back-end intermediary, and they’ve been ignoring my requests to release that code so we can try to run it ourselves. They haven’t said no, they’ve just said nothing.

I’ve been trolling through the plugins site looking for a replacement, and I’m not seeing anything. This is kind of terrible, to be honest – my readership isn’t bad but most people who comment comment on Facebook and Twitter rather than using the comment system, here, which makes the blog look dead without that comment consolidation.

So… have I missed something? Do solutions exist? It’d be nice if solutions existed. Particularly for the comment consolidation. I don’t mind reposting manually if that’s what needs to happen, but wow I will miss that comment collection. I’ll miss it a lot.

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an infinite realm of psychedelic visuals
[08 Feb 2016|08:30am]

Courtesy Boing Boing, enjoy this video of what happens in Portal if you set up a custom level with two portals directly against each other, and Chell inside. It is pretty amazing.

It’s awesome that people are still screwing around with the Portal games.

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kim and shego open a restaurant
[04 Feb 2016|12:22pm]

Apparently my previous-favourite and still second-favourite animated power couple – Kim Possible and Shego – are opening a restaurant. KiGO 5eva. \n/


KiGO has always been here


Remember this?


That’s Right, You Heard It Here First

H/T to Minion Paul for the KiGO Banner
ps: New song! “Thirteen,” and it’s a free download.

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conflikt 2016 and don’t talk to me about film
[03 Feb 2016|08:30am]

First, a surprise: the new single! I did it for this con, and it’s a cover of sorts that I turned into a Doctor Who song.

So, yesterday I talked about film. I have my answer, and the experiment with the fisheye lens film camera did not work out so well. 1600-speed film pushed two stops and, well, you’ll see below how dark and grainy the best of them were. I’ll give it one more try (pushing this film as far as it’ll go) and we’ll see. Fingers crossed.


Friday: Not as Fishy As Hoped

Anna and I got to Conflikt pretty early – we had a lot to haul, and the band had final run-through rehearsal at 2pm, a space for which the concom was kind enough to let us reserve in advance.

That went pretty well, so we also had time to get together with GoHs TJ and Mitchell Burnside-Clapp to do a runthrough of our very muppety opening ceremonies skit, which included one of those random semi-nonsensical songs of the sort they used to do on The Muppet Show back in Ye Daye. (It’s called “Magnetic Penguins.”)

So that was a revival of an older form. We knew very few people would get was that Mitchell Clapp here was reviving a character from a Long Fucking Time Ago in the spoken-skit parts of it, but our small test audiences laughed without knowing that, so we figured that’d be fine anyway. And TJ does a good Gonzo, so we knew people would read that part for sure.

Opening ceremonies had a few technical difficulties, which would presage the greater technical difficulties during the show. Still, I’m pretty good at stretching to fill time when needed, and people seemed to like Jeri Lynn’s and Shanti’s improv puppetry in front of the ice-cube background during the “Magnetic Penguins” song.

Then Betsy Tinney had her show, which was great as always, and I played an awfully-nwcMUSIC-like MC, followed by our concert!

Here’s a shot from the stage while I was walking on. This is the kind of thing I want to do with this dumb fisheye lens camera – but honestly, I’m pretty doubtful it’s going to work indoors. Which is a shame, it’s fun to play with, but wow, yeah, film. Film is terrible once you have better.


So Dark and Grainy

The tech issues from opening ceremonies got a lot worse during our show. (Screaming bursts of noise, some of which may’ve been related to RF interference in their gear; no vocals and missing instruments in the monitors, little or no electric guitar in the house mix apparently – really everything that could fall apart did.)

Still, we struggled through, and a lot of people made a point of coming to me and saying that despite the tech issues, our performance was good, and we sounded good in the room. (We didn’t sound so great on the livestream, though, which seemed to be mostly missing CD’s electric guitar, and had a lot of sync issues – I’m hoping to get the raw stems and remix them into a salvageable video.)

People told me they particularly liked “Supervillain For I Love You,” “Thirteen,” and “We’re Not Friends,” all of which are new, which is great.

“We’re Not Friends,” in particular…

I haven’t been talking about that one. I came up with the chorus months ago and had a few failed runs at writing it – those are lyrics which will never see the light of day – but it fell together over the last few weeks. So I took it to my band two weeks before the show and said, “This is brand new. We’re doing it. We are in fact closing with it.” Then I kept making changes to it as we went, because if you’re going to swing for the fences, you should just do that, right?

And the good news is, that worked. We got the crowd to sing along with a song they’d never heard, which was pretty neat to watch and hear, and a few people talked about it affecting them afterwards – ’cause, the thing is, this song is really important and personal to me, but, for a change, in ways other people really get. I’m not going to talk about why here, because it’s long, but – it resonated.


Saturday

Judging the songwriting contest with TJ and Mitchell and Jackie Mitchell (the Interfilk guest; no relation) got the day off to a good start. All the entries were pretty strong, though three did elevate themselves a level up from the rest. And while we did have a consensus on the winner – a song about the “evil” twins in “good/evil” sibling pairs explaining they do things that need to be done – it was close. It came down, really, to the winning song being the one most transportable outside the stated theme of the contest.

After that – running the “Twofers” open mic, running The Dara Show version of Kitting Out Cheap, etc – it was kind of like being back running nwcMUSIC, only with less anxiety. MCing that was always one of the best parts, for me, so more of that? Can do, sport!

I met and talked for a while with a guy named Sean who came to the studio-building panel. He works at Microsoft and has access to one of those ultra-quiet rooms. I asked him if he could get me a tour! I don’t think it’ll happen, but I can hope.

Then, lots more concerts. This actually is the best of the concert photos – everything else came out even lower-contrast:

Later, I also ran into Murray Porath, which was very odd, and was another person I know of through other people rather than knowing directly, until now.

Apparently he’s moved out here, I guess we’ll be seeing more of him! I didn’t get a chance to find out entirely what that was about, but he has a bunch of funny lawyer stories, including a Kentucky county denying some sort of fortune-teller a business license on the basis that they decided she was a witch and casting spells on people. Yes, a fundamentalist revival preacher was involved.

Conflikt’s concert hall also has a big area in the back with tables and craft supplies, so I took a picture of that from overhead. Other than the window, it’s probably the best shot I actually got:

Open Filk ran quite late each night – I don’t know how late on Friday and Saturday, since I had duties the following mornings so didn’t burn too much oil. Sunday night’s smoked salmon ran until around 2am, and given that it’s usually the earliest of the lot to close down, we can probably assume the others ran later.


Sunday

I never go to convention banquets, because the cliche about rubber chicken… well, frankly, it’s true. They’re cash-cows for hotels and that’s why hotels like cons to have them. But this time it was part of my job, so I did!


Sadly the best shot I got with Mitchell

It’s not just a lunch, in this case – you’re also writing a song, collaborating with your table, and using two words or concepts handed around at random. Ours were “awesomesauce” and “perspective,” and our table came up with two songs – one I just wrote, another that I helped with. That was a lot of fun.

Here’s mine, it’s very vaudeville – I was by the gods going to stay in theme throughout, if I could:


The Awesome Sauce Song

Apparently I also bellow like a drill sergeant, because my call for people to get their acts (literally) together for the Band Scramble got the attention of the whole crowd without a PA, because YEAH I CAN YELL PRETTY GOOD IF I WANT.

Oh, and the Sunday afternoon jam – I had an idea where I’d bring a whiteboard and a giant wet-erase marker to write out chords, so people could actually join in on an actual jam more easily, as opposed to it just being another filk circle. It seemed to help, we had really good participation – better than I’ve usually seen, I think.

So – yeah! I guess that’s pretty much it! Thanks to Jen and Beth and Jeri Lynn and Jeffrey and everybody on the concom who invited me. I hope everybody had a good time, and don’t forget the new single!

ps: And also, thanks go out to Tom of the Lundervillains – we traded certain device components on Saturday, and frankly, he was doing me a favour. Muah ha ha. 😀

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New song! “Thirteen”
[02 Feb 2016|08:30am]

Hey, the new song is up! There are actually several new songs in the pipeline but this is the one that’s finished right now. It’s called “Thirteen,” and it’s a free download, though you can always hit the tip jar if you like it.

I made it for Conflikt, where I was MCing as Toastmuppet this past weekend. It’s a filk convention – geek music goes back a while, this is a geek folk music (“filk”) con – so of course I made them some geek folk metal, a semi-cover of the Vixy & Tony track “Thirteen.”

Their original isn’t about Doctor Who contemplating his own mortality after running out of regenerations, though. That’s just my version. I was all, “What’s the filkiest thing I can do for this con? Oh, I know, take a well-known filk track and make it even geekier by making it about the Doctor.”

Their original is here, if you want a listen. It’s quite different.

More on Conflikt tomorrow. I shot parts of the con with a fisheye-lens film camera. YEAH I SAID FILM IT IS HILARIOUS I HAD TO STEAL IT FROM THE PRESIDENT ORDER IT FROM JAPAN. I also said fisheye, because the camera was a gift and it has a fisheye lens and you can’t turn it off. FULL-THROTTLE FISHINESS BEGINS TOMORROW!

Assuming the film comes out. I don’t even know. I sure hope it does, I’m not joking about it being imported from the home islands. It’s the last place you can buy ISO 1600 colour film as far as I know.

Okay that’s enough words. LESS TALK MORE FILK!

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back from british columbia; on to conflikt
[29 Jan 2016|08:30am]

Back from beautiful British Columbia, and on to Conflikt! We came back with cider and bagels, as is tradition, and a good time was had by all.

Here’s a pretty good shot of the three regular members of Le Vent du Nord – I didn’t get a great photo of the substitute fiddler (here’s the best of them), but he did a very nice job. And got fired four times in one night! That’s pretty good too.


Three out of four isn’t so bad

Busy loading gear at the moment so I can’t make a big post, but hopefully I’ll see some of you at Conflikt. Here’s the schedule; my show is at 8:30 tonight. Day memberships are available, and it’s a two-show bill with Betsy Tinney opening at 7:30. TOTALLY WORTH IT C’MON OUT.

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to vancouver! also, a build follow-up
[27 Jan 2016|09:29am]

Off to Vancouver for a show! Not one of mine tho’, we’re seeing Le Vent du Nord tonight at the Rogue.

I mentioned that the instrument pickup I built last week sounded really good if I used my finger, but terrible using their standard attachment methods. I tried attaching it using a plastic clamp, but at first, that didn’t seem to help, so I rebuilt the piezo portion of the device, without the double-sided tape which had confused me the first time around.

That’s had an interesting effect. Held on by hand, the sound is definitely different – lots more low-end – but I think I like it less. But at the same time, using the clamp now works – it sounds the same with the plastic clamp as it does held on with finger, which is a huge improvement, and makes it usable on stage.

This is definitely something which requires more tinkering, but I’ve got it far enough along to try using during Friday’s show. Because SURE UNTESTED GEAR WHY NOT right? Well, you have to test it sometime. XD

Time to fly. See you at the Rogue?

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debian: security updates broke milter-greylist?
[26 Jan 2016|08:30am]

We’ve had to disable greylisting on our mail server, because ever since the latest round of security updates we loaded over the weekend, every dkim-using host in the world fails key retrieval at milter-greylist, and we don’t get mail from google or twitter or yahoo or much of anybody large anymore.

And there’s no way to just disable dkim check in milter-greylist.

Anybody have any idea what the fuck might have happened? Searching online finds me exactly nothing. Here’s a sample – every transaction involving DKIM-signed mail fails, every time, and it started at the weekend round of security patches:

Jan 25 23:31:25 newmoon sm-mta[978]: u0Q7VOMi000978: from=<ZZZZZZZZ@gmail.com>, size=2334, class=0, nrcpts=1, msgid=<CAAsYJfyDCB0w3uKXjie-uXF_Xskt524MuKU4=HHckYMkeDKZQg@mail.gmail.com>, proto=ESMTP, daemon=MTA, relay=mail-pf0-f179.google.com [209.85.192.179]
Jan 25 23:31:25 newmoon milter-greylist: DKIM failed: Key retrieval failed
Jan 25 23:31:25 newmoon sm-mta[978]: u0Q7VOMi000978: Milter: data, reject=451 4.3.2 Please try again later
Jan 25 23:31:25 newmoon sm-mta[978]: u0Q7VOMi000978: to=<YYYYYYYY@murkworks.net>, delay=00:00:00, pri=32334, stat=Please try again later

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making a backdrop
[25 Jan 2016|08:30am]

I’m making a backdrop! Not for the big show Friday evening, but for Conflikt opening ceremonies a few hours beforehand. What it’s specifically for will have to wait until then, of course – but I can say it’s Vaudeville-style, for foreground-style action. Which is part of why it’s so painterly. Those backdrops tended towards that sort of treatement.

Oh, and here’s a short follow-up to that pickup build report from last week: I’m going to have to redo the piezo disc. I wasn’t able to make a clamping solution work, and I’m hoping that a clean disc will pickup the low-end frequencies without so much fiddling. Fingers crossed!

Mirrored from Crime and the Blog of Evil. Come check out our music at:
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Also posted to ソ-ラ-バ-ド-のおん; comment count unavailable comments at Dreamwidth.

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wow somebody knows their golden age musicals
[24 Jan 2016|01:49pm]

Hey, weekenders! A present for you. Somebody knows their golden-age musicals inside and out – this is some great goddamn selection and editing.

Mirrored from Crime and the Blog of Evil. Come check out our music at:
Bandcamp (full album streaming) | Videos | iTunes | Amazon | CD Baby

Also posted to ソ-ラ-バ-ド-のおん; comment count unavailable comments at Dreamwidth.

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on reviews, comma, bad, and engaging, comma, not
[21 Jan 2016|01:06pm]

Seanan McGuire posted an article today on why you need to leave reviewers alone. Authors Behaving Badly is kind of a perennial lol-topic in reader circles, and a stunning percentage of those stem from authors reacting – badly – to negative reviews.

She has a bunch of good reasons why you don’t engage such reviews, even if they’re just being mean. And all that’s fine. But a couple of people have posted about how hard that is, and I realised there’s something Seanan didn’t say, to wit:

If you’re staring at a negative review and itching to say something, don’t, not just because of all the obvious reasons, but because being reviewed at all – no matter how negatively – is a kind of compliment in and of itself.

Remember that. Even vendetta reviews are compliments, really, because they mean the reviewer thought you were important enough to talk about, even if just to try to take you down.

And leaving aside vendetta reviews – like the Rabids attempt to game Goodreads – a sincere but negative review also means they thought you were worth the actual time they spent. Even if they don’t admit it, the facts on the ground are that you were worth the time they spent actually reading or listening to or watching your thing, and the time they spent writing a review about it.

Remember: no matter how much they may’ve hated whatever they’re hating – and let’s say they hated it a lot – they still cared enough to take the time to write and post a thing about your work. In a world flooded with opportunities to read/watch/listen to/react to material, they listened to yours, and wrote about yours, which means that you’re worth that much to them, at very least.

And it’s not symmetrical. They’ve handed you the big advantage. After all – you’re not writing about them, now, are you? No.

Good. Keep it that way.

Mirrored from Crime and the Blog of Evil. Come check out our music at:
Bandcamp (full album streaming) | Videos | iTunes | Amazon | CD Baby

Also posted to ソ-ラ-バ-ド-のおん; comment count unavailable comments at Dreamwidth.

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build report: Zeppelin Labs Cortado
[21 Jan 2016|08:30am]

Since I’m starting to play Anna’s octave mandolin in concert occasionally, I want to get a pickup of some sort attached. Yeah, I can play into an instrument microphone, and I’ve been doing so, but wow I hate that. I hate being tied down into a single place on stage.

A couple of months ago I ordered a Zeppelin Labs “Cortado” pickup kit. I’d planned to try making it into a boundary microphone/PZM – and I probably will order another kit to do that – but since hey, I need a pickup, I have a kit, let’s see how this works when built as actually designed!

I started working on it during yesterday’s DIY Music Chat on Twitter, mostly because it seemed fitting. It’s a small kit, and one of the easier builds I’ve made. Here are all the parts except for a missing ground wire. I don’t know what happened to it, but I have lots of wire so it was no big deal:

Populating the circuit board was very trivial. They did warn you about the transistors, which is good – I have a grounding strap so I used it. But it really was just insert-into-holes-solder-on-backside work. The instructions do walk you through technique, so if you’re new to this, the detail they provide is nice.

The only surprise was that my serial number was in the series that needed a small mod to the circuit – instructions were in a service bulletin. This was only an issue with some of the units in my run, so this may’ve been optional, but I went ahead and did it. It just consists of adding a second resistor in parallel to the included one.

Assembling the piezo pickup is probably the closest part of any of this to being difficult. First – and I’m a little confused about this – you attach the double-sided tape to the back of the disc, and trim it. This doesn’t seem to have any function and I’m not 100% convinced this isn’t an error in the instructions.

Then the red wires which come already attached have to be removed, and replaced with leads from the shielded cable they provide with the kit. That involves stripping the end of the multi-lead cable, bundling the shield together into a connector, and stripping the ends of the other two wires.

The two central wires get attached to the piezo disc, exactly where these are attached:

Then you put a layer of electric tape on either side of the discs (for electrical isolation, which makes the double-sided tape redundant, which, again – instruction error?), then wrap the whole thing in the provided copper tape. It’s important to make sure the bottom side – which is how it attaches to instruments – stays very flat:

Then that aforementioned shield ground is soldered to the copper tape. Also, you should make sure the joins on the copper tape are nice and conductive, which means lots of weird-looking not-actually-random solder spots.

Shielding is pretty important in applications like this, because you’re dealing with small signals at the pickup, no matter what. So it’s important to get that right, and right throughout. Which is why the circuit board gets mounted inside the tin which is provided with the kit.

Drilling that tin was the biggest problem I had, honestly. You need a 3/8″ drill bit, and I didn’t have one of those, so I had to go buy one. And I bought a nice one that was supposed to be super-good at drilling smooth holes in metal. That did not go well, but since that’s not the kit’s fault, I’ll not dwell on it. Anyway, I managed to hide the damage.

The next step is connecting a ground connection on the board to the tin itself. Again, not difficult, but important – what you’re doing is grounding the entire circuit and pickup, to block radio frequency noise. That connection is in the upper right, here:

Once you’ve done that you bring in the wires from the XLR connector, to attach to the circuit board. Those wires are also shown in the picture above. Then on the other side of the board, you do the same thing with the leads from the piezo pickup, just like that:

…and screw the board down inside the tin. There’s a spacer to keep the board from touching the metal case, which is now a shield housing.

And that’s literally all there is to it. Throw in a couple of tight zip ties to keep cable stress off the circuit board, and you’re done with construction.

Now, use is another matter. For long-term attachments, they say to use the included double-side sticky tape – it’s permanent, though, so be sure you know where you want it before applying. But, as above, they already told us to use that sticky-tape. So… I’m not sure what’s up with that.

For temporary attachments, they suggest things like holding the pickup down with painter’s tape, or poster tack. I don’t have any poster tack, but I tried the painter’s tape, and that didn’t work very well at all. It collected sound, but it sounded really midrange-heavy, really tinny – it didn’t pick up any of the low end at all.

So then I tried poster-weight “command adhesive” strips, the removable ones 3M makes. I didn’t expect that to work well, and it didn’t – though I did pick up some more of the octave mandolin’s low end that way, so it was a step in the right direction.

I was starting to get worried that I’d done something wrong in the pickup at that point, so I tried just holding the pickup against the octave mandolin’s face. That worked just fine (10 second mp3, open strumming) so I think it’s just issues with making a good attachment.

Since the user instructions say that you can try plastic clamps to attach the pickup, and those are cheap, I’ll be buying one to try that. I’ll have to space the clamp off the pickup itself with a layer of foam or something, because of wires, fragile pickup disc, etc., but I hope it works – I really don’t want to be playing into an instrument mic even for one song at Conflikt. And held in place by hand, the pickup really sounds good.

Also, the noise level on this thing is hilariously low – they promise a low noise floor and they really overdeliver. VAST TRACTS OF SIGNALtiny noise floor! Well done there.

I am still wondering if the difficulty I’m having is caused in any way by the double-sided tape being inside the pickup bundle. I know I didn’t get that wrong – there are photos of how to do it in the instructions. But I’m wondering if you’re supposed to skip the electric tape on that side if you use the double-sided tape, and they forgot to mention that.

I’ll drop Zeppelin a support note it. If I was supposed to leave it out, well, I have more copper tape. I could re-do this pretty easily if that’d help. I’ll report on that, too.

Anyway, if the plastic clamp test goes well, this will definitely turn into a recommendation. I’ll try that this Friday, and report back. Given that this kit only costs like $25, it’d be a good addition for very little money, so I hope I can end up recommending it.


 </p>
This post is part of The DIY Studio Buildout Series, on building out a home recording studio and other DIY audio projects.</p>

Mirrored from Crime and the Blog of Evil. Come check out our music at:
Bandcamp (full album streaming) | Videos | iTunes | Amazon | CD Baby

Also posted to ソ-ラ-バ-ド-のおん; comment count unavailable comments at Dreamwidth.

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