Chris Bigelow

Disparate thoughts and musings…

Archive for May, 2009

Virtual Vinyl

IMG_2909-retouchedI have a confession to make.  I love music.  A lot.  I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, but I love to listen to music.  Lots of different genres but especially 60’s and 70’s rock.  Back when the guitar work was the focus and so amazingly expressive.  Some folks might argue with me, but in my opinion there are very few people today who can play as well as some of the lead axemen (and axewomen!) from this time period.  Legends like Mark Knopfler and Nancy Wilson quickly come to mind, but there are so many others.  I know, I know – I’m generalizing and there are certainly exceptions.  But not that many.

So it’s no wonder that over the last few years I have been really pining to listen to my vinyl album collection, which has sat unplayed and unloved for, well, far too long now.

Fortunately, I had the good sense to hang onto my old Technics turntable and Lafayette receiver (with a built-in phono preamp), keeping them safely stored away in their original shipping cartons in a dry basement. So more than a year ago now I carefully unpacked them, wiped them down, and hooked them up.  With some trepidation I turned on the power and, lo and behold, everything still worked!  Mostly.  The ravages of time had exacted a toll on the turntable drive belt, drying it out to the point of brittleness and impending failure.  And dirt and oxidation had accumulated on the various receiver audio pots and turntable speed pots, creating some dead spots.  But a replacement belt was easily purchased off the internet and [AllCDCovers]_the_who_the_kids_are_alright_1999_retail_cd-frontinstalled, and a liberal application of spray tuner cleaner resolved the dirty pot issue.  Time for the acid test: “The Kids Are Alright” by The Who.  Very nice!   Lots of memories.  I saw The Who in Buffalo in 1978.

Funny thing about memories, though.  We idealize them.  Remember the good and forget the bad.  That’s why people refer to “the good ol’ days.”  Don’t get me wrong – listening to The Who was still great.  Tommy Smothers asks Pete Townshend, “Where’d you learn to play guitar like that?”  Without missing a beat he responds, “Bowling”.  Great stuff.  But playing albums requires work.  Almost a ceremony:

  • Pick which album you want to listen to (NOT which song or songs)
  • Carefully remove the album from it’s jacket and sleeve
  • Put it on the platter
  • Start the turntable and clean the album surface
  • Cue and drop the tonearm
  • Sit back and enjoy
  • Oh – and flip and repeat in 18-21 minutes when Side A is done

CDs, on the other hand, are incredibly convenient.  And pretty skip resistant.  MP3 players are even more so.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have all that classic music in digital form?  You bet it would.  But replacing my 150+ album collection with CDs, assuming they are even available, would cost between $1,000 and $1,500.  Ouch!

Luckily, our good friends in the tech industry have provided some alternative solutions.  If you have a turntable and receiver with preamp as I do, all you need is an A-to-D converter to plug in between the receiver tape output and your PC.  I purchased just such a device called the Xitel INport (see http://www.xitel.com/USA/prod_inportdl.htm).  $80 got me the little hardware unit, a USB cable, recording and editing software (for a PC), and a 30′ long stereo RCA cable with gold plated connectors.  Everything you need in one box.  There are other similar devices out there, but I can only personally vouch for the quality of this one.  If you no longer have a turntable, some other companies now offer USB turntables with a built in A-to-D converter (see http://www.knowzy.com/usb-turntable-comparison.htm#LP2CDSoftware).

While time consuming, the process of recording an LP to your PC is pretty straightforward.  Each side is recorded as a single WAV file, which you can later split into individual tracks using the provided software.  Xitel does not provide any software for audio cleanup (Remember scratches, ticks and pops?  Yep – the little rascals are still there), though a quick search will yield many available packages designed specifically for this purpose.  For the moment I am happy converting my analog vinyl recording to digital ones, complete with all the associated vinyl noise imperfections, and burning the resulting files to audio CDs.   I am thrilled to be able to enjoy my album collection in my car.  Maybe some day I will buy a declicking package and take it to the next step.

Now I have my eye on that old tube amp sitting on a shelf in the garage.  They say nothing beats the warmth of the sound from a tube amp.  I wonder if it still works…

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(There is insufficient space to go into a lot of detail on vinyl ripping in this post.  Besides, others have done a far better job at covering the details than I ever could.  Two thorough resources I recommend are http://www.delback.co.uk/lp-cdr.htm and http://www.a-reny.com/iexplorer/restauration.html.  Another terrific place for all things audio is http://www.hydrogenaudio.org.  Give it a go – – you might be pleasantly surprised how easy it is to rediscover some terrific music)

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Hybrid Blog (Frankenblog?)

(Disclaimer: if you are a serious webhead the following post will bore you to tears – instead I recommend you go to Hulu and watch a re-run of Lost.  Or, better yet, Big Bang Theory.  If blog is still a four-letter word to you then please read on)

I’m new to blogging.  Can you tell? (clue: this is post #2)  Lots of decisions to make besides whether or not to change the background color value of my Boxnet widget to 63b4cd so it is an exact match for the heading text (really).  Oops!  I just lost three quarters of my audience…sorry about that!

One decision that anyone starting a blog is forced to make is this: do I use a hosted service (like WordPress, Typepad, Blogger, etc.) or do I self-host?  Using a hosted service is quick and easy.   And free.  Did I mention that?  I am presently unemployed and quite fond of  the word “free”.  Self-hosting involves picking a company (think 1&1, GoDaddy, etc.) to host your web site, paying them a (quite reasonable) monthly hosting fee, and installing/configuring your blog software.  It offers you a LOT more control over how your blog looks and behaves.  I might find that fun but most folks couldn’t care less.

What if there was another option?  What if you could have what appears to be a self-hosted site but is, in reality, a site hosted and maintained by one of the hosted services?  For free (I do really like that word).  Well, almost free.  That is what I’ve done and here is how I did it.

Over the past two weeks I created this blog on WordPress.com.  Today I took the plunge and splurged on my own domain name: http://www.chris-bigelow.com.  Pretty fancy, huh?  Here’s the best part: it cost me $6.99.  Really.  There is a catch, though: next year it will cost me $8.99.  Once my domain name was registered (2-3 hours processing time) I then logged into a domain control panel and “redirected” my new domain to my blog here on WordPress.com.  For my domain registrar the control panel looks like the image below (click it for a larger version that is readable by humans).

Domain destination control panel

Domain destination control panel

Now bear with me as we get briefly technical: the key step is to choose “Frame redirect” as your forwarding type and to type in a “Title” for your new web site.  Why?  Because when someone goes to your newly minted domain and it redirects them to your blog site, the URL and title bars will not change to those of the site you redirect to – they will remain from your domain.  An example is in order: my direct blog address is cbbigelow.wordpress.com and the indirect address is http://www.chris-bigelow.com – access the blog both ways and note the difference.

So now, for the princely sum of $8.99 per year, I have a personal web presence. Not free, but almost <grin>.

Career Transition

Sometimes we orchestrate our own career transitions and sometimes they are orchestrated for us.  My current transition is of the latter type, my position (along with many others) having been eliminated in mid-February as a result of the current economic recession.  No doubt these are tough times – certainly this worst economically in my lifetime – but opportunities are still available if you know how and where to look.

When I graduated college I believe they told us to expect something like four to five transitions during our careers; I believe they now say you should expect something closer to ten.  That’s a change every three to four years on average.  I read somewhere this morning that 5-30 jobs in one’s lifetime is “normal”.  Wow! The moral of the story is: nothing lasts forever and we all need to develop and maintain the knowledge and skills to find our next position or career.

Gone are the days when you could work an entire career with a single employer.  There is still job security, but it has morphed.  Today, your job security is no longer your employer’s responsibility but yours: it is your personal blend of skills, experience, problem solving ability and attitude that provides your security.  The key is delivering a value proposition that an employer wants to buy from you because you can solve their problems and improve their profitability.  After all – in the end, isn’t that what business is all about?