Wednesday, December 27, 2006

SHOBU Music Studio

Don't took me longer than it should have to assemble the necessary bits to be able to record my guitar directly into my PC.

After a couple of days of trying different methods, I finally assembled my very first cheap ass recording studio, which consists of:
  • low end PC (AMD 2600 512MB RAM, Windows XP SP2, Creative SB Live!, 120GB HD, CD burner)
  • music equipment (electric guitar, amp, effects)
  • Logitech combination headphone/microphone
  • Audacity recording and audio editing software
  • Drum Drops drum beats
  • Windows Media Player 11.0 for playback and burning
Not counting the sunk costs from pre-existing components, my net expense for being able to record my own tunes is $0.00 USD. Yup, absolutely free! Booyah!

Of course, getting there was something of a on... Mac lovers, turn away, this isn't for the faint of heart.

My Kingdom for a Microphone
It all started in search of a microphone. I consider myself a techie, but even better, I'm a techi pack rat. I've got all sorts of PC peripherals and devices, collected over a decade, stocked in closets and under beds for just such an occasion as this. It took two days just to make sure I hit all my storage spots and I still hadn't turned up a microphone! Unfreakin believable!

Just call me Dr. Frankenstein
As luck would have it, I remembered my digital camcorder and discovered that I could record the video of me playing (incidentally capturing the sound!) and then rip that to PC, and save as MPEG. This left me with a 50MB MPEG that I still couldn't listen to in the car, or an iPod. After a brief search, I found Audio Tools Factory's most excellent Video to Audio Converter. This allowed me to rip only the audio portion of the video to MP3. Skinnying it up to about 4MB.

Ah, now I could enjoy the *ahem* bliss of listening to music that I created.

The only problem was, my music wasn't quite so blissful. Yeah, I'll say it. I suck. I'm still practicing on it though and its definitely a work in progress.

The Hunt Continues
This leads to the desire for more recording sessions, yet it was quite a workout to get everything setup and running so this would work. Oh, recording 'studio' doesn't have a PC powerful enough for the video software that came with my camera. I have to go into another room to use the software on that machine. Needless to say, gratification was less than instant.

Since I wanted to do this on a regular basis, even maybe publish some stuff and get feedback from you guys (nudge! nudge! wink! wink!) , I had to find an easier method! So, I started checking out all sorts of somewhat pricey gear on various sites, reading various 'whitepapers' on 'home studio recording', etc. I really thought that I was going to have to spend some serious cash to start recording (anything over $200 is serious to me. Its about perspective and principle).

The Last Mile
While surfing looking for just such information at Sally's computer I happened to look up and notice, hanging off the corner of her desk, is a set of Logitech headphones with a mike that I had overlooked. [These have to be placed just right to capture sound well, but its not hard to find that sweet spot].

At the same time, I happened to be surfing a site for the open source sound recording and editing software Audacity. Talk about serendipity!

One is the Loneliest Number
All the parts were in place! I can record at will and it doesn't sound half bad, even though I know audiophiles will probably keel over deaf, dumb and blind if they ever heard it.

However, since all I have are these guitar tracks, they sound kinda lonely. What to do? A quick search turns up some really cool beats from Drum Drops who have released several drum tracks into the public domain. Sweet!

Couple those drum tracks, a rhythm and lead track using Audacity and I'm in business!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Gil's All Fright Diner

Gil's All Fright Diner
A. Lee Martinez
Tor Books

The co-worker that gave this to me called it "a real hoot" and he was dead on! Ok. Sorry for the pun. Nah..not really.

You know your in for a great ride when the two main characters are introduced as Duke, the Duke of Werewolves, and Earl, the Earl of Vampires. Toss in a greasy all night diner that just happens to be a gateway for "the old gods" (Cthulu anyone?) and a nubile teenager, in possession of Lovecraft's Necronomicon, who wants to rule the world and you kinda have to just sit back and hang on as the story unfolds!

Luckily its short because I couldn't put it down! This book is a highly entertaining read. If your looking to catch your breath before jumping back into the next Robert Jordan, George R. R. Martin, or Steven Erikson, this is your book!

Debugging Microsoft.NET 2.0 Applications

Debugging Microsoft.NET 2.0 Applications
John Robbins, Wintellect
Microsoft Press

Chapters 1-4 deal with best practices and guidance on making sure your development team has the necessary infrastructure in place to be successful in eliminating many of the problems they are likely to face before they occur in a production environment: e.g. during development. Take these chapters and combine with Steve McConnells "Code Complete 2" as a must read for your team.

Chapters 5-6 help prepare you for when things have gone south and you likely need a greater intimacy with debugging tools, including VS2005 debugger and Windbg, than you ever planned on. Much of the material is either in the help files, or online, but it never hurts to have a paper copy! When in full on debug mode, a reference to John's debugging process should be taped somewhere in sight.

"This is my debugger. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My debugger is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my debugger is useless. Without my debugger, I am useless..."

Chapters 7-8 deal with the subject of extensibility: VS Macros and Code Analysis Rules. I've never coded a macro, or code analysis rule; not sure I'm going to start now. However, if I did, I'd start by downloading those made available through the book.

Speaking of which, source code to many libraries referenced in the book are fully available for download, including the (ta da!) SUPERASSERT.NET.

Ultimately, the message of the book is that debugging is not some mystic black art, propagated by cryptic commands like '~*kb 50'. There is a method to the madness and you don't have to be mad to see it.

By the way, Wintellect offers a "Mastering .NET Debugging" course hosted by the Godfather of the Debugger himself, John Robbins. I was lucky enough to attend a 3 day session at the Microsoft Las Colinas office last year and I can highly recommend it. Some might think that the topic of debugging would be horribly dry and nothing could be further from the truth! It also helps that John is one of the single most humble, unassuming developers I've ever met.

Thanks for the book!