Hopefully Birthday Wishes

Jennifer and I have each been fans of “Weird” Al Yankovic’s work since we were children. His original songs are as well executed as they are silly, and I find his parodies to be not only witty, but often more complex and better performed than the originals he’s riffing on. Floating around the house, we have CDs, records, and even cassettes with his name on the label, as we’ve accumulated them over the years. More than once, Jennifer has expressed her desire to get a personal birthday greeting from Yankovic, owing much to the fact that his birthday is the same as hers. I’d very much like to see this happen. Considering yesterday’s release of his video “Lame Claim to Fame,” it seems only appropriate that I mention this now.

She has a very solid lame claim to fame of her own, and the shared birth date in question is just over three months out. We’re not expecting anything fancy here. Yankovic is no doubt a busy man, and nobody is expecting him to show up in a limo in person or anything of the sort, but a simple birthday greeting by mail, phone, or online would make her day and give her a great story that she’d be telling for years. Indeed, she’s never been shy about flying the flag on this lame claim, as she’ll mention it in conversation anytime either the subject of her birthday or Weird Al Yankovic himself, is brought up. Weird Al has a lot of fans that would also like such personal attention, but the vast majority of those don’t share a birthday in common with him. I will likely at least request a signed photo by mail, but I very much doubt that this option will get her a customized greeting. At that, I will ask you, my friends, fans, minions, and flying monkeys, please spread the word. If this message makes it far enough around the internet, perhaps Yankovic will get the message. If anyone out there has some strings they could possibly pull, please do so. Help me to take her lame claim to fame and complete it. Thank you!

Life without HDMI

Well, almost.

For many years, Jennifer and I had an “entertainment system” that was cobbled together with a ~19-inch TV complete with knobs on the front, a VCR, and an old Radio shack AV receiver. We had a passive subwoofer hooked up through an old PA amp, and a quartet of speakers, an off-the-shelf pair, and a pair of homebrew towers in the front. When the VCR died, we replaced it with a DVD player. We didn’t have a lot of tapes, and the machines were similarly priced at the time, so we took the opportunity to upgrade. One year, we got a healthy tax return, a.k.a. white trash savings account, and upgraded from the tube to a multimedia projector. We painted a 91-inch screen on the wall with a special paint. We’re still using and enjoying our Optoma HD72. It’s only 720p, but it suits our needs for the time being. Around the same time, we picked up a Marantz SR4600. It was deeply discounted because the HDMI models had just come out. We didn’t feel like we needed the new hotness, but we still wanted excellent sound quality. The Marantz is one of the cleaner sounding solid-states that I’ve had the pleasure of listening to, but it became clear that we needed a good center channel speaker, which I sourced on the internet.

When the Playstation won The Great HD Format War, we picked up a Samsung BD-UP5000 that was on clearance at the local electronics money pit. We were able to pick up a few HD DVDs at the time, for little to nothing for the same reasons. For full disclosure in reference to the title of this post, we do have an HDMI cable running from this player to the projector, for video only. Even though the Marantz didn’t have HDMI ports, nor decoders for HD audio formats, it did have 8-channel discrete inputs to plug in analog auto, and the Samsung had 8-channel discrete output. So far, so good! My friend, Beej even gave me a pair of Marantz towers that she picked up at an estate sale so we could have true 7.1 surround.

Some time in there, we picked up a pretty nice laserdisc player at a garage sale, bundled with a small collection of discs. Well to be fair, we went through a few players before we wound up with our Pioneer CLD-D406, but for the sake of brevity, let’s say we picked up a laserdisc player. It’s an A/B side player that even has AC3 output for Dolby Digital. I wound up sourcing a Marantz DP870 to descramble the digital audio. This sound processor does a great job at that, but it has discrete 5.1-channel output. This is where we started running against a wall. We now had two units with multi-channel output, and only one set of inputs on the receiver. We don’t watch laserdiscs very often, and the only title we have that is in true Dolby Digital is Showgirls, which we rarely have a driving urge to watch. So, although this was a problem, it was not a huge one.

When Avatar came out, many of our friends, whom we respect, reported that it was a really good movie. Conversely, many of our other friends, whom we also respect, regarded this film as a giant, steaming pile of thinly veiled white guilt cliches. Naturally, we had to check it out. We rented the Blu Ray from the local store and settled in for the evening. Our Samsung wouldn’t play it. So, I went off to Samsung’s website to find that they had just rushed out a firmware update for our player, specifically to tackle the Avatar issue. With the update installed, we were able to *ahem* enjoy this film. And, by “enjoy” I mean facepalm, exclaim “WTF?!?!” and generally hate it, joining in the latter mentioned camp of our friends.

And, that firmware update was the beginning of a pretty crumby experience with our player. It had difficulty with almost all new releases from Disney and Fox. Subsequent firmware updates did nothing. I chatted with Samsung support, got nothing in return, and told them that I was tempted to avoid Samsung products from then on because of the experience. By this point, it was getting difficult to find a Blu Ray player that had alternatives to HDMI, and I was not about to buy a new AV receiver. I decided that I would work towards replacing the player with the next HTPC, which we started on last year for Christmas. My research indicated that playing Blu Ray discs on a computer was not without its caveats, and we still haven’t accomplished the task.

I knew that I was going to eventually have 8-channel sound coming from the HTPC. So, that makes three devices with discrete output going to a receiver that has one input. It was now time to get creative. I needed an 8-channel analog sound switcher. Somewhere I found such a device online, but it cost as much as a new receiver. I put my head together with my brother’s, and formed a plan. I took a dead Pioneer SL-PG440 single CD player and gutted it for the project. I drilled out the back of the box to mount 40 RCA jacks that I sourced on the internet.

holed

And, I even printed out an overlay to stick on the back of the unit to label the connections.

rearpanel

I shaved the front off the faceplate with my router table and rebuilt it with a sheet of dark colored plastic where a selector knob could be mounted.

frontpanel

I sourced some heavy-duty, Japanese-made, four-pole relays. These are discontinued new old stock, and are built like little tanks.

relays

I discussed circuit options with my brother, and let him put it together, as he has done a lot more of this kind of work than I have, and he’s got a good soldering station.

circuitcomplete

jacksinner

switchrear

When powered up, the relays make an authoritative “clack” between input sources. The switch has six positions, with the outer two wired as off, and the inner four switch between four input sources. I have not personally listened to sound through it yet, as I lack the cabling to wire it into the system yet. My brother has wired it for sound and reports that it is extremely quiet as far as noise is concerned, that it transmits the sound signal as if it is not even in line. This is exactly what I was after.

So in short, in avoiding purchasing a new AV receiver, my brother and I built a home theater electrical component from scratch. Now, we should be able to wire the discrete sound from the laserdisc sound processor, the HD DVD/Blu Ray player, and the HTPC without having to swap a handful of cables. And, I’ll have an extra input just in case we happen to pick up some other device that we have not yet thought of. Whenever I can manage to get it plugged into the system, I’ll let you know how it runs for me.

Oh, and back to the Samsung firmware issues… Jennifer’s parents gave us the new Die Hard movie for Christmas. When we threw it in the player, it did its annoying trick of sticking on the splash screen. After fiddling with it a bit and threatening to throw the player in the street, I checked the internet for a new firmware version. I didn’t expect to find anything as it had been several years since the last update. But lo and behold, Samsung released a new firmware version in October! I got that installed and we were watching Die Hard in no time flat. I’ve since been able to test the machine playing Tron Classic and Tron Legacy, two titles that have never worked on this player, much to my despair. So, the Samsung has a new lease on life and I’m not feeling quite as pressured to get the Blu Ray drive installed and configured in the HTPC.

My Videos, Let Me Show You Them.

This is a video that I put together from a lot (read hours) of swimming and diving footage that I took this summer. Please do give it a watch and let me know what you think of it.

As you may remember, the last two Septembers, I participated in Kilted To Kick Cancer. I will again be participating this year. Last year’s project made it possible to shoot these videos that I find hilarious, even if they were not widely watched. When you get a minute, please do.

And,

And, I shall also remind you that last years donations to my KTKC effort made Jennifer and me fulfill our promise to make this very special video. I will point out that my YouTube channel has had 28,936 total views, and this video alone has 26,157. So basically, it makes up over 90% of my traffic on YouTube!

Yes, I embedded the video yesterday. Yes, I mention it and link to it again today. See kids, starting Monday, I’m going to be wearing a kilt every day for thirty days. I’m doing this to solicit donations to benefit male-specific cancers. I’ll have all the info on how you can participate soon. Also, there will be dares, bets, challenges, and thrown gauntlets. We’ll probably have some special offers here, and Jennifer and I will be hearing requests for crazy stuff we can do to earn your donations. I’m not sure what that will look like as we were pushing some personal boundaries with that aforementioned video last year. But, if you have any great ideas, shoot us an email or drop it in a comment somewhere. And please do let me know how you like my videos!

Irony In The Music Industry

When my commute to work included a drive in the car, I would often listen to the radio on my way in because I always forgot to change out the CD selection in the car. Of course, the stations that played any of the good indy stuff that I liked never made any money and so were always short-lived. There were two Christian stations in town, but the good one went belly up and the remaining one was a little koombayah for my taste. So, I wound up listening to NPR. Even though their ‘news’ broadcasts are a little slanted, their shows are entertaining. I especially liked their music reviews.

Radio is now dead. When I was a kid, there were multiple stations in town that gave a nice cross-section taste of what was out there. There were multiple CD stores in town that had nice selections of new and used CDs. They had single-disc CD players set up with headphones where one could pre-listen a used CD prior to buying it. The clerk didn’t care if I sat there and listened to the full 45-minute CD prior to spending my eight bucks to take the CD home with me in my little station wagon. There, I discovered Bjork. There, they’d recommend new CDs to me that they had just gotten in, based on my tastes. If I pointed out that it was wrapped in cellophane, they would roll their eyes and unwrap it so I could give it a listen. In those days, I’d hear something on the radio and go buy the CD locally.

Now that radio is dead, we have the internet. Youtube and Pandora have filled the space of FM. When I find something interesting on the internet, I seek it out at the stores. I see embedded videos and links to songs that are entertaining. When I go to a store that has a generous CD section, I scan interesting selections with my smart phone to compare prices on Amazon. This Johnny Cash CD is eight bucks here, and I can get it for five on Amazon Prime.

For at least a decade now, the artists and even more so, the record labels, have fought to keep music from being downloaded off the internet. And yet, the smarter artists have freely given their music in various forms. In listening to NPR, I was fascinated by Infected Mushroom when they were featured one afternoon. When I found their website, I found that their music is all streaming there. In working at my last place of traditional employment, and subsequently for myself, I have streamed Infected Mushroom for many hours for free.

I decided that I wanted to hear Infected Mushroom in better sound quality than is streamed online. For years, we had cut out all of our excess spending for the purpose of business building. I had asked about Infected Mushroom at several CD stores because I couldn’t find any of their CDs. I was usually met with, “No, I’ve had all my shots.” No, do you have any of their CDs? “Is that the new Garth Brooks album?” I kid, I kid. To all you who may be IM fans out there, do you download MP3s, or order CDs on the internet, or do you find them in stores?

I know that MP3s are the new thing, but they lack depth of sound definition and clarity. Personally, I prefer the warmth of vinyl, but I can certainly live with the resolution of modern CD tracks or WAV files. It’s also nice to get cover art and a physical, hard copy. I have ripped all of our CDs to the hard drive on our media server and stream that when I want to listen to our music library now. Hard drive space is cheap, and it keeps the wear and tear off the originals. This has pointed out some transfer speed weaknesses in the network, which has been interesting.

Anyway, having grown fond of Infected Mushroom, I placed a $45.00 order on Amazon for some of their CDs last night. I’m excited to receive them. I will rip the discs to the media server and listen to them from there, which will certainly be better sound quality than streaming from their website or YouTube. And, I will have put a little money in their pockets too. For all of the musical artists out there that don’t make their work more accessible, I don’t know of their work and have not placed an order for CDs. There is the difference.

Aging in a changing world is interesting. I try very hard to roll with the punches without blindly folding to whatever comes next. Shopping for music is vastly different than it used to be. I don’t hate all the new music in a generalized fashion, but MP3s aren’t worth the price of a physical disc that has superior sound quality and cover art. It benefits the artist to put their work out there to be heard prior to purchase. Just as I would spend hours pouring over used CDs on the player in the CD shop in town, I now spend hours listening to music on the internet to determine what I want to invest in. Where I used to adventurously put money down on a disc to add to the collection, now I see if I can have it delivered for a better price, but plenty of times I still buy on location.

I wish that the record shop was still a major industry, but I understand why it can’t be anymore. MP3s are inferior in sound quality, but they aren’t the sucking mistake that cassettes were. I keep hoping for an improvement over CDs, as this is now almost thirty-year-old technology on the consumer level, and it leaves sound resolution to be desired, but despite SACD, HDCD, and DVD Audio, nothing better has stuck. As Murphy’s Law dictates, once I settle into CDs as the defacto, common use, audiophile medium, the next great thing will happen and then all my stuff will be obsolete. And, it probably won’t even be played over conventional speakers.

*sigh.*

Guns Are Fun

Today, due to a lack of motivation to write a blog entry, I started splicing some of the miscellaneous shooting video clips that we have amassed over the years. It’s less than two minutes, and I’d really appreciate if if you would watch it and give me some feedback. I really wasn’t setting out to make a statement, but this is what I wound up with:

I think it came out pretty well. What do you think? Overall, I think my videos are turning out better and better. I might eventually wind up as one of those people.

Edited *twice* to FINALLY fix a typo in the captions on the video.

Jumped. The. Shark.

I know I’ve been hitting the politics pretty hard and heavy recently. Let’s take a break from some of that, shall we? Teen Bot pointed me to this YouTube video, and I must say that it did induce some laughing out loud in a very literal sense. So, please do check it out. There are more than a couple of familiar faces in this little production. I hope it brings a smile to your face as well.

Srsly. I wish life could be more light hearted and silly.

Friday Pop

Feeling like I can’t do more involved content options justice today, I’ll leave you with some Korean pop music instead. And no, I’m not going to link gingham* style here. You’ve all already heard that, no doubt. However, I will link Kim Hyun-a, who has incidentally done work with Psy. Here’s her video “Bubble Pop”, which is every bit as light as the title implies, but it’s still fun:

In fact, let’s just stick with Korean girl pop for that matter. Here’s “Twinkle” by Girls’ Generation. I would have embedded the video here, but they aren’t letting that happen. It’s hard to blame them for limiting embedding on a 30-million view video, I suppose.

I’d say that pop singers in the western world should watch their backs! Have a good weekend everyone.

*Yes, I misspelled that deliberately. Not hating, just having some fun.

More Video Goodness

Toward the beginning of September, Firehand came out to our secret farm range for some shooty goodness. And yes, he was wearing his kilt in a show of solidarity for Kilted To Kick Cancer. He brought with him some modified .22 lr rounds that he had opened up the hollow points on. Here’s a short video that we made of him testing out the expansion characteristics on the modified bullets. Please do take a minute and give it a watch. I’d love to hear how you like it too!