Archive for January, 2016

back from british columbia; on to conflikt

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.

to vancouver! also, a build follow-up

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?

debian: security updates broke milter-greylist?

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=<>, size=2334, class=0, nrcpts=1, msgid=<>, proto=ESMTP, daemon=MTA, []
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=<>, delay=00:00:00, pri=32334, stat=Please try again later

making a backdrop

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!

wow somebody knows their golden age musicals

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

on reviews, comma, bad, and engaging, comma, not

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.

build report: Zeppelin Labs Cortado

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.


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

a couple of maybes

I have a couple of possible people, but I’m looking for more (and people who are sure):

If you’re going to be at Conflikt on Friday evening, and are coming to my Toastmuppet concert, and want to be involved in something that is part of the show but does not require getting up on stage – talk to me.

I’m also looking for someone who can deliver one to two lines from off-stage during opening ceremonies.

The Muppet Show and/or Legend of Korra fandom helps, but is not required.

it may be silly but i can still be pleased with it

Anna has been rebuilding the website of a science-fiction club we were in when we met, back when I was out east for school. The club is still around, meeting monthly, doing things, but their website – which we’ve been hosting – was still pretty firmly stuck in 2001 – at best – so Anna has been throwing everything into a more modern WordPress environment.

They’ve had this old logo – their club name (LexFA) in a state-of-Kentucky graphic – but countries and territories, being irregularly-shaped blobs, are not exactly a design element, and there wasn’t really a place for it in the new site. So I decided to play with it to see what could be done, grabbed some NASA starfield and nebula imagery, and came up with something kind of interesting. (The star with the points is both in the original NASA photo and locates the club.) But it’s still pretty useless as a standalone element, even with added text.

So I started poking around with it as a background element, and, with translucency, realised I could take advantage of LCD screen technology to do something kind of cool.

I can’t screencap the result, since the effect relies on the way LCDs physically work. But I can photograph it, even if the photography introduces moirĂ© patterns which aren’t visible to the eye.

Here’s what a typical page looks like, looked at straight on, or from higher than the screen – the usual screen arrangement:

Normal view

And here’s what it looks like if you tilt the screen (or laptop) back, or just look at the screen from below. Again, that’s minus the moirĂ© pattern seen here, which is purely a camera artefact and not visible to the eye.

The Kentucky has you, Neo

Once you know the graphic is there, you can see it at the normal angle too, but it doesn’t get in the way. And it fades to black as you go down from the header – the version I actually have online has more stars below the state outline, and fades to black, so I don’t have to tile anything.

I’m pretty sure the only time anyone will notice – if then – is if they put their laptop down on a table in front of them and then lean back in their chair or on a couch.

Anyway, it’s kind of a silly trick, and will be less and less effective as LCD technology continues to improve. But it’s fun for now. ^_^

i have a plan

If you’re going to be at Conflikt on Friday evening, and are coming to my Toastmuppet concert, and want to be involved in something fun – something that does not require getting up on stage – talk to me.

We want to try to make something happen and need a few people. I’m not saying more in public in advance.

ps: Legend of Korra fandom helps, but is not required.

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