Monday, February 20, 2017

"Not-This-Task" ism

So now I want to work on holocrons. Now that this day is being taken up with prep for the next show I'm working.

We go into tech Tuesday morn. The company has practically nothing, so I'm bringing most of the sound system with me. A pair of Yahama powered speakers for front-of-house, with stands (and adaptors). A pair of small but powerful powered monitors as foldback speakers. I'm using the company snake and mixer, which is a low-mid 16-channel (which is to say, eight actual mic level inputs, then shared faders for all the inputs above that).

The company has six body packs, and I'm bringing seven. The cast numbers fourteen, but because of the above limitations of the board it is tough to control more than twelve channels. One day I'll get a better board for gigs like this (it would probably be software based, with a DAW structure and an iPad control surface. After that lottery win.)

So I need a short snake and a bunch of XLR/TRS adaptors to plug the mics in. And because of the limitation of channels, I may have to use the "direct in" many boards have, which usually shows up as a pair of RCA connectors. I don't want to try to resurrect any of my old laptops so I'll bring my primary machine to each and every show. Which has a broken audio jack so another interface needed there.

I also need a work light since it is usually dark during the show, and a script stand and script light. And since there's a paucity of cable in the crates we already loaded up into the show van, I need to bring sufficient XLR and AC "stingers" (aka extension cords) to run all my various powered speakers. I already purchased and packed up condoms, batteries, and surgical tape for the microphones -- and if we are very lucky, this time the company will remember to bring the belt pouches with them.

This company (like many) finds it impossible to grasp the concept of tech, or even that the very first load-in of a show will take longer than the typical load-in of the tour. They've given me an hour. So be it. But that's why I have to check all of the gear and try to pack the correct parts and adaptors. Because there's no slack in the schedule for any but the quickest (and dirtiest) improvisations.

Heck, they haven't even given me the backing tracks yet. So I'll have to program QLab during that same hour.

All in all, it should be no surprise that I'd prefer to work on holocrons (despite having spent the previous week shirking that work). Heck, I'm even attracted to doing more practice on my violin right now, instead of digging through boxes of random sound cables.

I made and posted my "four month progress" video yesterday. You know, the tone is really bad. I'm sure at least half of that is the fact that my articulation still sucks. I still am not cleanly getting into and out of notes, especially around string crossings and shifts. I'm grazing strings a lot during string crossings as well. Each time I practice, about half of it is pure technical exercises designed to tighten up these problems (and others), and half of the remainder is going over and over problem areas in the few songs I've learned so far, trying to find solutions to the technical issues.

But I'm hoping some of this poor tone is because for these progress videos I'm using the violin un-amplified. An electric violin lacks the sound board and hollow body of a "real" violin -- which is why they are quiet enough to practice in an apartment -- so you are hearing as much of the mechanical noises of scratching a bow across the strings as you are the tone coming off those strings. And that, is getting picked up by the built-in mic on the laptop, which is contoured towards voice. 

At least I think this is what's happening. I've listened on headphones a few times, but I have to turn up the volume further than I am comfortable with to cover up the natural sound of the machine. I need to record it and listen to that. 

Maybe I will -- after I've figured out how to do vibrato (I've been practicing Katyusha lately, and it just doesn't work without vibrato, so sometimes I lock down the shoulder rest and do my best attempt at hand vibrato on it. Which means everything else goes to heck but, yet, it does seem to be a better sound.)

Saturday, February 18, 2017

I can walk!

It has been a surreal week.

Typical day; work a half-day at work, coughing and limping, go home at noon, have the first real meal of the day and fall into bed. Possibly wake up that evening to check email then back to bed.

Except later in the week I got into rehearsals and meetings of the next show, so sometimes the nap would come later and I'd just stay in bed the 10-12 hours until the next morning, no email and no food.

Friday I could finally walk without a limp but ended up pulling an 8-hour day at work that took me all over the sprawling facility. And that five miles of walking left my newly healed leg quite sore!

I contacted my buyers and they unanimously declared that taking care of my health was more important than building their holocrons. Thanks, guys. I was going to slip 32 gigs of memory in each shipped model as a thank-you but Amazon pulled one of those, "Oh, wait, it actually isn't in the warehouse today like we thought it was" they've been doing lately and I won't get the ones I ordered for another couple weeks.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Never rains but...

Tore calf muscle at the gym. Took to bed early to start the healing process and woke up with a bad cold as well. So I can't walk, can't eat, can barely think. And all my directors are calling me; the school tour starts up in only two weeks, with a couple shows at the church immediately following.

At least I get a day off from work (due to being unable to get to my desk without help) and am spending the day trying to complete more of the holocron orders. Still haven't solved the latest technical issue, though. The basic shell is a great kit and my time engineering it for ease of assembly paid off. But the damned internal electronics, particularly the new antenna on the sense circuit, are so fiddly and weird I despair at even documenting how I'm doing it for the instruction sheet that ships with the kits.

Oh yes, and it is raining, too. Hard.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017


Woke up feeling bad enough to be tempted to call in sick. Arrived at work feeling like I wanted to leave early.

Instead did a full day. And got in thirty minutes of violin practice. And an hour at the gym. And did a little painting and sanding on the next holocron in the production run.

Also listened to about three hours of articles on history, and took some notes for an upcoming chapter in the fanfic (a possible way to slip in Sir Henry Rawlingson's cliff-face gymnastics copying out the Behistun Inscription, the checkered, impostor-filled career of Darius the Great, and even a bit of Gilgamesh and the antics of George Smith in the reading room of the British Museum).

But there isn't enough time to touch on everything. Difficult enough to just get through eating properly (which involves at least some cooking at home), exercise, house cleaning and other chores (like paying bills and doing taxes), and what was that other thing? Oh, right. Sleep.

I'm having the damnedest time finding enough extra hours to produce the holocrons I've already agreed to sell. And there are still a couple tweaks I want to make to them (more programming, a better antenna arrangement, another re-design of the PCB.)

Which means I really don't want to design or work any shows for a while. Unfortunately I sort of owe people -- they were there for me when I really needed work, so I want to be there for them when they want me back for the next show. But I'm balancing the promises made to one against the promises made to another, and there's nothing left for promises made to me.

Except a little bit of violin practice. And notes and the hope of writing a little more fiction that has an increasing history bias.

Oh, yeah. There's always more to learn. I listened to a programme on the Baltic Crusades, and that gave me new understanding of the role of the Teutonic Knights and what exactly they'd been up to in Poland. Although the battle I used as background in one of my chapters takes place considerably later than the 2nd Crusade. I am tempted to go back to re-read because now I can't even remember if I correctly put Ullrich off his horse or mistakenly fingered Duke Vytasa....I'd need to look that name up, and I'm too tired to do that right now. Interesting stuff, though. I'd have been particularly tempted to name-drop Alexander Nevsky, although that too is a much earlier conflict (aka the Battle on the Ice.)

Oh, and in the last chapter I put up I did a little riff on cuniform and clay and papyrus culminating in notepaper and the indispensable "Sharpie" marker, and just as well I hadn't heard the story that paper made it into Persia (and presumably from there into Europe) via Chinese prisoners taken in the Battle of Talas (when the Abbasids, expanding East, met the Tang Dynasty, expanding West. And the Tangs lost but both sides gave up on that idea.)

It is interesting to ponder, by the by, the huge and pivotal clashes which simply aren't documented. You have the Greeks, for instance, handing down detailed stories about what happened when Xerxes faced their way, but nothing about what he was up to along the thousands of miles of frontier of the rest of his empire. And the Chinese histories have a sometimes maddening parochialism; they'll hand-wave off entire wars with a "Some kind of barbarians were at the frontier, they were defeated." Puts you in mind the saying about Herodotus; you suspect every word he writes, but boy do you miss him when 425 BCE rolls around.

For a long time there I was willing to steal from history to add color to a fantasy world. I thought writing fiction set in actual historical periods was too hard. Well, I still think it is too hard. Nigh-impossible to do right, in fact. But for whatever reason (more examples in my reading list perhaps?) now I'm willing to do it anyhow.

I'm getting so much wrong, but damned if it isn't fun to play at anyhow.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Reading with a hat

I have been reading a new series and in the middle of it discovered I had my writing hat on.

This doesn't happen to me often (and it only really happens with writing. I've studied cinematography* and the methods of telling a story in comic book form** but I almost never find myself in analytical mode when experiencing either of those art forms.)

The book of the moment is the first of a series called "Sword and Starship." An amusing setup; Gibbon has struck again (can we blame Isaac Asimov for this? At least he actually read Decline and Fall) and a high-tech interstellar culture has fallen, individual planets descending into barbarism amid the ruins they can only dimly comprehend. This is a well-worn piece of SF furniture, as easily employed as the concepts embodied in the similarly familiar phrases "Generation Ship" or "Psionic Powers."

Actually, this one fell twice; a second empire came and went but left behind an imposed feudal structure, (mostly) common language and laws, some remnant multi-stellar governments, and a college/guild system that keeps alive an abridged user manual for the ancient technology.

Well, sort of. Taking Clarke's Dictum literally, the "Shipbuilder" technology is grasped in terms of magic; operated via incantations, rituals and spells. Except for our protagonist, who is one of a small number who treat technology in rationalistic fashion and who bend their efforts towards understanding the actual principles behind it.

I caught a flavor in this interaction early on, and was unsurprised when I reached the author's bio at the end to discover Ellis Morning got her professional writing start contributing to the "WTF Code" tumbler. That flavor being that of clueless end-users who can only interact with technology by slavishly following routines they've memorized (aka incantations) versus, well, the people who are writing code and keeping servers running and answering tech support calls.

In the case of the "Sword and Starship" series the magic analogy has become literal, with the "Shipbuilder" technology treated as innately inscrutable and investigations into its nature -- or the nature of anything else of the proclaimed invisible world full of curses and demons that surrounds the remnant iron-age cultures -- is heresy. To be stamped out by the well-supplied and well-supported cadres of Acolytes and Adepts (aka, the equivalent of Script Kiddies, who know enough about how to run the ancient technology to be dangerous.)

Setting up for a central conflict between rationality and the demon-haunted worldview spoken of by Carl Sagan and so refulgent in this recent landscape of pseudo science and alternative facts. In the first book, the protagonist struggles to investigate a crop failure on a smaller world that has failed to be resolved by mumbling prayers over it. Struggles, because any hint of applying a rationalistic method brings accusations of heresy with the close attendance of pitchforks and torches.

Well, to be fair, the conflict is really against the power of the church, who regardless of the extent of their understanding or its mode have good reason to want to be seen as the only source of knowledge. It is in a sense guild control over most advanced technologies (and there is specific mention of guilds operating in other areas, as well).

Already I have many questions about the world building, and possible quibbles with some of the choices, but the series shows no sign of adhering to a status quo with the next book expanding the scope greatly. And they are cheap on Kindle.

Back to the topic. For some reason, reading this book, every time a character was introduced I found myself asking what role that character was to play. Whether they were there to provide conflict or to provide aid, to expand upon a question, to elucidate a viewpoint, to illuminate world-building or to form the bones of the plot.

Thankfully, the author has been competent enough to not make it obvious in most cases. But it was still a fun exercise.

*I read a book on cinematography once.

**I read a half-dozen books on the techniques of sequential art. And on the recommendations of one of them, a book on cinematography.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Tell them we are from France

I suspect it is a bug, a botnet, or some peculiarity in the Blogger reporting system, but my site stats still claim 95% of my visitors are located in France. Landing on a random scattering of posts from around the middle of last year. I dunno.

I'm currently broke and sick. Neither will last long; payday is Friday and this feels like a 2-day bug. And if it were to get worse, I actually have coverage now. Extremely good coverage, which makes it worth going to work even when I feel like staying in bed.

And I am this close to finishing the first production-run holocron. More minor details that aren't right, but I'm done with iteration. Time to start putting them in boxes.

(I've got about 15 minutes worth of glueing before Serial Number 00 is complete. But I'm sick, and distracted by being broke, and tired because I worked anyhow, so it is safer to wait rather than spoil the thing by combining plastic welding glues with my current lack of coordination).

Next post will probably be on those last steps of making the holocrons. (The most head-scratchingly complicated and annoying one being trying to figure out current postal regulations on lithium polymer batteries).

Oh, yeah. And I'm still averaging a mere twenty minutes of practice a day with the violin, but I'm now scratching away at "Katyusha." Good exercise to work with different scales once in a while (actually, if feels just like the same old first-position/Gmaj with a flatted second finger there on the A string).