Saturday, January 23, 2010

...getting rid of the kids for the weekend.

Strangely, unlike my preferred method for these posts (start typing whatever comes, post it as is), I actually started it yesterday.  But then the phones got busy until I got off work.  Then I got busy, due to those kids, and some driving and some time in Wal-Mart (a pound of turkey lunchmeat for $3?  Can't beat it), then some time playing with software, then configuring my recording system (both an old analog 4-track and a computer).  Then I got down to the business of actually recording a song.  More on that in a bit.  But all of this is due to getting rid of the kids.

Thankfully, every other weekend I get the opportunity to have a weekend free of dealing with children during every waking second they're not at preschool or I'm not at work.  This is because their mother, the ever-"beloved" Succubus, is currently stable enough to watch them (which says a lot about why it was relatively easy to get full custody).  Now while I love my children and it is a joy to watch them learn, grow, and discover, they are also demanding little shits who are masters in the art of time suckage.  Thus, as a single parent, I value any time I have that doesn't revolve around dealing with them, as there's no guarantees how long it will last.

Plus, there's cleaning up the inevitable disaster that results of a lazy dad, 2 kids, and weather that keeps them inside for hours.

But none of that deterred me from getting the rust off my fret fingers and trying to record something.  So here's the process I've done so far (and remember, I have to learn how to do it as I go):

Create a basic drum track for timing only.
Record a guide track (vocal and guitar) with the basic layout of verse and measure)
Record the voice track (2 in this case, as I flubbed a few spots)
Record the acoustic guitar track (as the song is driven by it).
Record a harmony track (may or may not use, but I wanted something to play with).
I had a couple of acoustic tracks I recorded too, but I deleted them accidentally.

Then Star Wars the Clone Wars came on and I got all lazy-like.

So let me see what's left to do:

Record the bass line (which I need to flesh out first).
Record some more acoustic guitar where there are mistakes to fix.
Record vocals to fix any other issues.
Record some electric guitar to give it some articulation (because I'm a notorious strummer, and a 12-string puts out a wall of sound)
Blend the tracks, reducing noise levels, adding effects to make it sound like I'm not in my living room, patching where there are gaffes, balancing the sound levels to optimal.

And that doesn't include sending it off to add a separate drum track (because otherwise I have to use a free drum machine program that, while better than nothing, is still a soulless drum machine.

I do have an eye on improving my recording equipment.  Right now, it consists of an old computer (about the minimum to run XP decently), a RadioShack mixer board (which gives me more control than trying to patch together a bunch of adapters, and my Shure microphone I've had since high school.  Seriously, it's about the only thing that qualifies a professional in my arsenal of equipment.  This is mainly because I got all my shit back in the days before I could hop online, order it, and have it delivered all without having to associate with people, many of whom suck ass.

Maybe if I get the sound right, I'll share my equipment, most of which was purchased used at what was bargain basement prices in a small-assed town (and at stores still living pretty much in the 20th century).  But my baby (my first guitar) came from there, as well as my 12-string (a birthday gift, actually), I can't knock them.  But as that's a 20-minute drive and 10 out of my way in most cases, it's rare I get over there.  Thus, I shop online.

Naturally, none of this would be possible were there rugrats bouncing off the walls.  But since I have another day without them around, I'm going to use it.  I do have to attend a family dinner tonight, but I can come home to a ready system, no kids, and a few more hours of recording time.  Assuming everything else goes well.  Although that means I fail at cleaning (because I don't get up until I have to (not as fun when you have to work in the mornings (I like sleeping until lunch)).

And who knows, maybe I'll get the motivation to post some of the music once I get it sounding more professional than I am....

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

...a new tech post for a new blog, entitled The Winter I Fixed the Internet.

The reason I started this blog, separate from the chaos and fun of SPD, was so I could do any topic, subject, or idea that didn't fit into the mold of politics, history, religion, philosophy, and all the things that piss people off.

And since it's been 6 months since I last did a tech post (last was A Midsummer Night's Reboot), I figgered it was about time I take a 3-day stretch with no tech support work and inject some tech blogging into the middle of it.  Then I might fire up my work computer and look at the email.  Or just browse for porn.

But since I have a penchant for coming up with interesting names for these posts:

The Winter I Fixed the Internet

First of all, disclaimer time:

Any programs or techniques listed here are given with no guarantee or warranty, as individual computers can react differently to the same program.  You assume all risk to your system should a newly installed program fuck everything up.  Been there, done that myself.  So be sure to back up your information before installing any new programs.  And every program you install, by the way, will say the same thing in that legalese you usually skip.

As I've been doing tech support for 2 1/2 years now (and having started working with computers when I was about 8 (an Apple II plus!) I think I've got the experience), I know enough to know that disclaimers are necessary.  Why?  Because I've managed to crash almost every computer I've ever worked with at some point by installing something (this one included, because Windows 7 (release candidate) and Avira antivirus didn't like each other, which meant at least 2 full reinstalls before I fixed it).  So as Window 7 is now the hot new OS (Fuck off, Apple, the commercial where you're mocking Microsoft's failed promises to deliver a good OS falls on deaf ears.  Finally.) and the weaknesses of Internet Explorer 6 are made plain (checking SPD's sitemeter, no one is running that POS browser), I thought it time to update and share my picks.

One note:  Most of my links will be to the site  I do so because I've never gotten an infected or dangerous program from the site (note, I don't include buggy or crappy).  So if you're looking for any free programs, it's a good place to start.  Just do a little homework and read everything first.

So let's dedicate this primarily to the new Windows 7 users out there, although this applies to any new computers (even you Mac people who may have to search a little harder).

First of all, let's talk security software.  There are two antiviruses that I use on my computer.  AVG is my choice for Windows 7 right now, as it's what sits below on my system tray.  A second option (the one that fried this computer to be specific) is Avira AntiVir.  As 7 wasn't out yet, I' hope they've fixed the issue I had, although I see they don't list 7 as a compatible OS.

With the proliferation of routers and the improvements of the firewalls in Windows 7, I'm not as panicked about adding a software one for Windows 7.  For XP people (and that's a lot of you), I'll offer Zone Alarm for your consideration.  One caution with firewalls:  they are designed to block stuff.  And that includes any program that connects to the Internet.  So if you install it, pay attention to the popups, or you're bound to have to uninstall something.

For spyware, two programs I like would be Spybot Search and Destroy and Malwarbytes Anti-Malware.  Spybot can run a resident program to kill spyware if you want, and Malwarebytes is good at killing stuff and easier to use.

Now, let's address the curse of the browsing world, Internet Explorer.  As I said above, one motivation for this post is the outdated IE6.  And while Vista came with IE 7 and Windows 7 came with IE8, you're a damned fool to rely on the ever-compromised Windows operating system (and yes some of you are, because I checked).  I also saw that a couple people are using Safari (although that was a Mac user) and Opera (making you geekier than I myself).  But rivaling Idiot Exploder on use is the venerated Mozilla Firefox.  Very simply, it's stable, customizable, and my first recommendation to anyone trying to pry their computer out of the all-encompassing grasp of Gates.  But right now, I'm not using Firefox.  I'm trying out Google Chrome as my everyday browser.  I made the switch for a simple reason.  All my computers are short on memory, and Chrome sucks less than Firefox.  However, I'm not giving up on Firefox yet, because I found a known issue in Chrome, which meant I had to pull up Firefox to fix the layout of the SPD blog (Chrome won't let me change the layout).  So here's what I suggest: have two browsers available at your fingertips.  And yes, IE could be your backup.

For messaging, I've been running Digsby for a while now, as it handles Hotmail, Yahoo mail, and Gmail, as well as giving me that shiny widget you'll find in the sidebar (more on that later).  Despite it's continued beta status (Google keeps its shit beta for years after it's ready to release), it's been steady, stable, and not had issues interacting with other messengers.  But my first multi-IM messenger is back with Trillian Astra.  I downloaded this when I started work-at-home because Digsby doesn't have an IRC client (which I needed for my tech chat) and I still ran the older Trillian at work for that reason.  I'm going to look into it further, but I think they got it updated for the current messaging climate.  And if they have a widget I can stick on the right....

Now, I'm not going to go through every piece of software that there is you should look at in gratuitous detail.  But I will give you some one-line essentials:
Advanced System Care - A nice all-in-one maintenance program
Foxit Reader - The antithesis of Adobe reader.  Small, clean, compact.
Open Office - The free equivalent of Microsoft Orifice.
Picasa - Google's picture managemet software, simple, clean. - The software I use to photoshop without buying Photoshop.
Revo Uninstaller - Because the Windows uninstaller sucks at cleaning up.

Now, let me cut and paste the timeless advice from last time (because my kids are hungry):

Keeping your computers cleaned up is your responsibility (not your kids'). So here's what I suggest:

1. Plan for regular maintenance - Your antivirus scans and updates regularly, and your firewall (if you have one) runs constantly. But spyware cleaners and disk utilities have to be run to be most effective. if you don't know that all these are scanning, plan a day that you do the scans (and you can do other things while the computer works).

2. Don't download shit - One person with their head not inserted in their ass should be in charge of managing all the program downloads to a computer. This includes keeping off programs that suck resources, as well as those that just bloat the system (Dell is notorious for sending computers full of deletable stuff). And cleaning out the stuff already installed can work wonders. If you look on your desktop, down by the time, and there are three messenger programs, Limewire (or anything P2P), and 3 or 4 utilities that are supposed to boost your productivity, start disabling or removing stuff. And don't even get me started on the evils of toolbars (some just suck, some are actually spyware). And if there's any doubt about how I feel, has one that will raise money for the FairTax. Don't download it. Send them cash instead.

3. Divide and Conquer - If you've got multiple people sharing one computer, set up separate user accounts. That way, you get two advantages. First, you don't have to search for your shit in a gazillion other files someone (younger) with Limewire just downloaded. Everyone customizes their own desktop to their preferences, and no one has to fight. And best of all, the ones that have the propensity to download junk can be denied administrator rights. This limits the amount of damage they can do. It's amazing what a 4-year-old can reprogram, I tell you.

4. Backup, Backup, Backup - I've got my documents emailed to me and floating online. I've found a way to turn my Gmail into storage. I've burned CDs with pictures, and I'm working on getting them downloaded online with Picasa. My taxes, which I do online, are backed up online, as well as with hard copy. This is all because I have lost things. Things that I can't get back. Long story short, you need a few layers of back up. You could spring for something like Carbonite, or the freer but limited Mozy as well. Just remember, digital can disappear really fast.

Now, about the Digsby widget.  It's there if you want to talk to me about anything.  And I might actually answer if I'm near the computer.  So if you have a tech question, or just want to ramble in my general direction, have at me.  Or email me if you're so inclined.  I'm even nicer on email, because I don't have to feed my own ego in front of others.  Although it's no guarantee I'll be timely in returning your message.  I am one lazy bastard after all.

Finally, if nothing above gave you anything new, here's a game to settle the old Windows/Mac battle....

Sunday, January 17, 2010

...then I swapped the wires.

I had thought, at the time I took a break from blogging at the end of 2009, that I'd be fully recharged and ready to blog like a motherfucker.  Not surprisingly, and unfortunately, I haven't found the energy to churn out quite the volume of bloggage I had intended. Partially this was because I tend to spend a lot of time curling up to stay warm when it gets nipple-hardening and ball-icing cold out.  Also, the fact that I was getting worn out dealing with kids, getting them ready for school, then the babysitter, then getting them home after work.  In fact most of my blogging occurs at work because at the preschool age, the kids are all about time suckage.

Add to that the controversy of SPD's AOTY post.  I'll post more on the psychology at some point (I had planned to earlier this week, but...), but it was the fact that I was reminded that some  people can't differentiate between friendly mockery and real hard-assed attack on principle.  For me, there has always been a separation between arguing the politics of a situation and having fun at the expense of people (mostly myself (and mostly my little friend)).  It's one reason I created this blog, so I could talk about my shit (and the shit that really bothered me) and leave the politics (and political bullshittery) to SPD.  Sadly, I've become more a topic of conversation than the place for that conversation.  And my best week for blog hits was the one with the fewest posts.  Add to that the end of friendship over stupid shit, and it's unmotivating as fuck.

Thankfully, I've got my buddy Lars on board from the beautiful island nation of New Zealand (at least until he returns permanently to the States (as in be afraid, moterfuckers!!!)) to churn out a little SPD postage, which means I can miss a few days and not have an empty blog.  And we're working on the possibility of a podcast to add (either here or SPD. or maybe a new place, depending on the content) as well as my desire to get some YouTube goodness starring me (as soon as I get a decent webcam (because even with good lighting my webcam sucks ass).

In addition, I've finally made a move that will give me an hour plus to my days when I do work.  In addition to  moving to a first shift schedule, I'm now (and currently as I write this) working at home.  Since I already had the computer, and the internet, and since moving to first shift meant I could get child care in town rather that having to drive halfway to work anyway to get them babysat, it was a great opportunity to switch from going into an office to sitting in my home office/bedroom/library and being able to take calls naked.

Kidding on the naked part.  I actually am dressed as though I was at work and at the office.  Because about the time I don't my Internet or my computer will take a shit on me and I'll have to scramble, then determine I have to go into work.  And considering there would be a 20-minute drive in the mix anyway, I don't want to have to add time to that.  

Plus, it's all about psychology.  Physically getting ready for work helps put me into that mindset, even though the minimum mechanics involve walking the 6 or so feet from my bed to my computer, turn it on, and start the programs I need for work. 

And need I mention the benefits of eliminating the 40-mile round trip (and the price of gas), my Internet bill (I get reimbursed), and the miscellaneous costs of food (because I can get snackage from my kitchen which is cheaper).  

And if it's a slow day, I'm at home rather than at work.  I'll leave the rest to your imagination.

No, I'm not going to slip a sock on my cock while on the clock.  I'd probably end up with an hour-long hell call coming in while in mid spank and end up blueballed .  Plus, who wants to answer the phone when they're coming?

But my work-at-home almost didn't happen yesterday.  The reason?  I had my headset wires swapped.  Proof that even we tech heads can fuck up the wiring.  This was even more frustrating than the software problem from the night before (which had me downloading fixes and updates and dicking with the Windows registry (which can lead to killing your computer if you fuck up)), because at least a software glitch doesn't prove I'm an idiot.

Of course, ironically, my biggest problem (especially in meeting women) is that I don't get out of my house enough....

Monday, January 4, 2010 I usually spend my holidays.

Ever since got from the pit of despair that is retail (which meant shit hours and lots of them over the Christmas season), I've gotten the "pleasure" of working holiday hours.  On the plus, it's double time and the call volume is usually lighter (as people aren't on the Internet as much).  Christmas in particular involves lots of setting up computers.  And people confusing the word "at" with the @ symbol

If you missed my mention of it before, I spent 7 hours of my Christmas and 4 hours of New Year's Day sitting at my desk doing the fun that is Internet technical support.  Now I'm sure many of you have been on the (clueless idiot) caller end of a tech support call.  Sometimes, you've even had to endure the fun of talking with someone on another continent reading from a script (fucking Dell?) for a handful of rice an hour or something.  Some of you have had the luck of speaking with someone somewhere on this continent with the ability to whip out a sentence without a nearly unintelligible accent while fixing your shit (sometimes).
If you'd like, I found a vid that shows what we go through in dealing with people that are literally illiterate.  Really.  I've had calls where they have to spell all the words.  An example:

Me:  Click on start, control panel....
Illiterate Idiot trying to operate something that requires literacy: Where's the start button?
Me: Bottom left, it says start.
II :S-T-A-R-T?
Me: *pregnant pause*  Yeeeeessss?
II:  Ok, now where?
Me:  Control Panel.
II:  Which one is that?
Me: Should be in the right column, about in the middle.
II: Uh....
Me: ----
II:  How do you spell that?

Me: (wishing I could say)  D-U-M-B M-O-T-H-E-R-F-U-C-K-E-R.

This is proof people are idiots. Especially when they call tech support. And it's not the computer illiteracy part. That's why I have a damned job. It's the inability to follow simple directions (they start with "click on..."), answer simple questions (What kind of router is it? Does it have a name on it? Can you read that name? Can you spell it?), read, or know your fucking NAME that makes it a shit job sometimes.

But I figger there have always been the technically challenged:

But overall, it's the kind of job i excel at:  Trying to make shit work and translating tech into tardspeak.  Plus, when it's quiet, I get to blog.  Or watch Youtube clips.  Or today's fun, which was following links from Youtube to read on copyright infringement and fair use.

Which, of course means that I've been investigating the possibility of getting some videos turned out to generate some traffic for me on SPD.  Of course, my first videos will be here, where it's about me and not politics.  Because I have to get my camera presence honed first.  And I have to learn how to edit videos, because I'm not just going to turn on the camera and yammer for 10 minutes.  No, I have to have production value and clickable links to the sites.  But first, I have to get to bed, get the kids to school tomorrow (Yay, finally), and tackle my paper trail from hell. 

Because if it's paper, I can't find a damned thing....