News & Editorial Archives, 2013


Annual Kittling Brusky Memorial Fundraiser Another Success
December 20, 2013


On behalf of the Cat Network and New Life Cat Rescue, both of West Allis, WI, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to everyone who donated this year to the Kittling Brusky Memorial Fundraiser.  This has been our most successful fundraiser yet, having brought in a total of $425.00.  The funds will be divided equally between the two shelters.  This weekend, I will have the honor of presenting both shelters with checks.

The people who volunteer at these shelters work hard keep the cats happy and healthy while the cats wait to be adopted, but nothing can compare to the kind of undivided love and attention a cat receives when it finds a permanent home.  Your donations will help to make these sheltered cats and kittens as comfortable and cozy as possible at the shelters by providing food and supplies, or by easing the burden of expenses, such as rent, medical care, and utility bills.




... and I Descended Into Computer Hell...

December 12, 2013


[Writer's caution: This article is loaded with technical jargon.]

When my home computer, which I built in 2004, was on its last legs and giving me up to ten Blue Screens of Death each day, I decided to resurrect my recording studio's decommissioned computer which I built in 2006.  Since my studio's old PC was basically a clone of my home PC (same XP Pro operating system and compatible hardware) all I had to do was install the software I programs I use and then transfer over my important files and documents.  Although it sounds simple, it was a time-consuming task that took two days to complete.

I believed the problems with the first computer were caused by corrupt operating system files, so I attempted a reinstallation of Windows.   Since my installation disc was not in perfect condition, my gut feeling was that the reinstallation would fail, leaving me with nothing but a case of computer parts, so I made sure all of my files were safely backed up.  Sure enough, the install failed in such a way that I had no operating system, nor was I able to access the BIOS to boot from the CD-ROM.  The PC was dead in the water.

I bought a new, sealed copy of Windows XP Pro (SP3) on eBay for $85 figuring a fresh install would solve the problem.  I took the hard drive out of the non-working PC, put it in my working PC, formatted it,, put it back into the non-working PC and fired up the computer.  No video was coming from the integrated graphics on the motherboard.  Assuming the BIOS settings might still have been sending video to the PCI slot where the graphics card used to be, I reset the CMOS, twice, but still no video.  The motherboard was fried.

So here I was with a non-working computer, but a reliable Western Digital Raptor 10,000RPM hard drive and a new copy of Windows XP Pro.  I wasn't about to let them go to waste.  Since the XP Pro in my working machine had a few minor problems (mainly not allowing me to update so that I could run the latest versions of programs) I put the Raptor in my working PC, formatted the drive, took the rest of the hard drives out, then installed XP Pro.

The operating system installed and activated just fine, but that's when the nightmares began.

The first thing I wanted to do was update Windows, but the update screen would hang, and hang, and hang.  Since Windows updates required Microsoft Internet Explorer, I assumed my MSIE was outdated.  As I attempted to install a newer version of MSIE, the installation screen would halt and state that I'd first need to install the Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0.  (Well duh... I'd probably have that if the Windows Updater worked!)  Windows directed me to the Microsoft site to get the Framework update, but the download button was frozen.  Arrrrgh!

Fortunately, I found
Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 on c|net's Download.Com site.  I downloaded it, installed it, and then I was able to install the latest MSIE, but I still couldn't get any Windows updates.  Arrrrgh!

I searched online for help, and that's where read about re-registering specific DLL files.  So I went to my command prompt and re-registered about a dozen DLL files, but that didn't help.  Then I read about this process of stopping background processes, deleting files in a specific directory, restarting processes, and rebooting.  Eventually, the updates started to download.  Whew!

Then the second set of nightmares set in.

Both of my printers and scanner installed just fine, but Windows could not see my graphics or video card.  I installed the drivers, but Windows still wouldn't see the cards.   I spent hours searching for the latest drivers, installing, reinstalling, rebooting, and pulling my hair out.  Windows just refused to see the cards.  So I decided to leave those things alone for a while and put up with no sound and horrid 1024x768 resolution on a 24" LCD monitor, all the while muttering expletives at Service Pack 3.

Since the updater was now working, I checked to see how many optional updates I had to download.  Well, in their own little tab under optional hardware updates were files that Windows through I could "probably use."  One was a driver for my ATI x300se video card.  DOH!  I installed it, rebooted, and instantly basked in the light of a monitor displaying its glorious, native resolution of 1900x1200.  Hurrah!

By this time, it was three in the morning.  I left the sound card for the next day.  But, for whatever reason, the next day, the sound card drivers installed on the first try!  I had sound!

All that was left the installation of the programs and transferring of files (web pages, documents, photos, graphics, user profiles, bookmarks, mail, databases, etc.)  which went pretty much without a hitch.  I had to download an older Microsoft .NET 1.1 Framework to install Microsoft Publisher, but that was the only snag.   The process of getting everything set up with my software programs took several hours to accomplish, but the work is done.  I have ascended from Computer Hell rattled, but relatively unscathed.




Goodbye To the Gargantuan Lyrics Binder
November 23, 2013


The other day while on a gig, I was flipping through my enormous binder of lyrics, grumbling at how the sheet protectors were falling apart as well as falling out, one by one.  Large binders have served me well for many years, but they're extremely clunky to use, not to mention bulky and heavy.  Many musicians have moved their lyrics libraries from paper to the digital realm.  iPads are especially popular with musicians, since there are so many apps available for managing lyrics, chord charts, and more.  I've seen iPads being used on stage, but for me, they're a little too obtrusive.  The screen is considerably smaller than a sheet of paper, so musicians typically mount their iPads to their mic stands, quite close to their face.

The other day, I picked up an Asus tablet — not a mobile device that runs on apps, but a full-featured PC running Windows 7 Professional.  It has a 12.1" screen, which is only about a 1/2" shorter in height than a standard sheet of paper.

I am now in the process of converting all of my lyrics to PDF files. 
I found a PDF viewer online that uses very few resources and opens files fast.  To view lyrics, I simply use the standard File Explorer program that comes with Windows.  One the left side of the screen, I expand my Documents folder to reveal the lyrics categories I've set up in subfolders, such as Polkas, Waltzes, Holiday, etc.  When I select a category, all of the songs in the category are then listed on the right side of the screen.  I click on a song title, and the lyrics for that song pop up on the screen.  When the song is over, I close the lyrics window and then I'm back at the File Explorer screen, ready to select another song or category.



I'm Now a Two-Fisted Mobile Phone User

November 21, 2013


I have been a cell phone user for fifteen years now, and have been with T-Mobile for the past five.  I am grandfathered into a plan T-Mobile no longer offers which gives me unlimited texting for $15/month.  Voice minutes are 10¢ per minute additional.  I've never used very many voice minutes on my cell phone, but now that I've dropped my AT&T land line, my voice minutes have been adding up.  If I'd use my mobile phone for 300 minutes in a month, I'd  be looking at $45 in monthly charges.

$45/month is not a lot compared to what some of you probably pay for your mobile service, but I'm rather frugal.  I wanted a less expensive plan, and less expensive plans are available.  But there was a problem I needed to circumvent...

I have a Samsung smartphone that I use with T-Mobile.  It's fantastic for texting and data, but the voice quality is sub-par.  Smartphones, in general, are not designed with voice quality in mind, because most people use their smartphones for texting and apps.  That wasn't the case a few years ago, though.  I have an older Motorola Razr V3 flip phone, which is a phone that was built to have loud and relatively clear voice quality.  I thought to myself, if I'm going to be using a mobile phone for voice calls from here on out, then I'm going to want to use that old Motorola.  But flip phones are too clunky and slow for texting, and not set up for data.  It was then I decided to search for an economical voice plan so that I could make use of my Motorola for voice calls while I keep using my Samsung smartphone for texting.

After extensively shopping around, I found PureTalk USA.  They have a flex plan that gives me 330 voice minutes for $20.  So now I have unlimited texting and all the voice minutes I'll likely ever need for just $35/month.  On the downside, I have to carry two phones with me.  But the advantages are unique: if I lose either of my phones, I still have the other.  Most importantly, though, is that I get to enjoy the individual qualities of each of my phones.




Psychological Projection, the Defense Mechanism of the Modern World

November 2, 2013


Psychological projection is a defense mechanism in which a person with undesirable personality traits accuses other people of possessing the same traits, even when they don't.  For example, someone who is rude might insist the kind and understanding people around him are the ones being rude.  I've been dealing with people like this more and more lately, because the internet seems to be bringing them out of the woodwork.
  I recently had to deal with one such person who disagreed with a product review I wrote on Amazon.com.

I am a highly-ranked Amazon reviewer.  If you were to list all of Amazon's reviewers from bottom to top on a meter stick, my ranking would sit at the 999.85 millimeter mark.  It's not that I write a lot of reviews, but rather I take to write them well, and consumers have been finding them helpful.  One of my product reviews on Amazon is for a software library of musical instrument samples.  It is not a high-end library, so my review points out the flaws as well as the good and exceptional points. I rated the product three stars.

The other day, I received a comment on my review from someone who could not simply disagree with my review, but went so far as to chastise my opinion, challenge my credentials, and personally lambaste me.  My reply to this person was calm and professional.  I established my credibility as a professional musician and went on to state that after working with the product extensively, I formulated an honest review of the product and stand behind the review 100%.  I did not condemn this person in any way, but rather I reminded him that it's not proper conduct to personally attack a reviewer just because you disagree with his review, since reviews are purely subjective.  I let him know that even though I don't agree with how he feels about the product, I will still respect his opinion.

It didn't go over so well.

I've learned that if there's one thing psychological projectors hate the most, it's unassuming people with thick skin.  The nicer you are to them, the more hostile they become toward you.  His second commentary was much more harsh, but my second reply was just as diplomatic as my first.  When this person realized he wasn't going to break my professionalism, his anger got the best of him.  In virtually every sentence he wrote in in his third response, he painted me to look like the worst kind of human being on earth.  Suddenly I was hateful, pompous, immature, unprofessional, arrogant, condescending, spiteful, etc.  His comments became so abusive, Amazon actually intervened and deleted some of them.

This person then attempted to go on a negative vote campaign, marking all of my product reviews as unhelpful, which Amazon promptly prohibited him from doing.

Out of curiosity, I looked at his own product reviews and saw that he has quite a history of being unable to accept and respect opinions contrary to his own.  Quite a few Amazon users have left negative commentary on his reviews, pointing out that he should try to be more receptive to other people's opinions.

I've dealt with psychological projection most extensively as a public figure, and it's always been internet-based – never in person.  And in my experience, I've learned that when someone who doesn't know you chooses to despise you and accuse you of being the exact opposite of who you are, there is virtually nothing you can do or say to change their minds.  Trying to reason with a psychological projector is futile, because the more calm and sensible you are, the more irrational they become.  The person who lambasted me on Amazon would make a condescending, spiteful remark, and literally in the next sentence, accuse me of being condescending and spiteful.  He cited his credentials as a musician and intimated that I was not as qualified as him to review the product on Amazon.  When I cited my credentials to satisfy his curiosity, he then berated me for being so pompous and arrogant as to cite my credentials.  It was at this point I knew he was beyond reasoning with.


The ability to shrug off derogatory remarks is a benefit that comes with being confident in oneself. 
And it's especially good to have a thick skin these days, because many people behave much differently from behind the screen of internet anonymity than they do in person.  In the real world, people tend to follow behavioral norms.  But, on the internet, people who have deeply-rooted feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem often allow those feelings to surface and dictate what they write.  [See the definition of troll.]  If they read anything they perceive as a threat to their ego, they will respond with antagonism, and psychological projection is often the defense mechanism of choice.

If you find yourself dealing with someone who is verbally attacking your reputation, remain calm and respectful, and let the accusations bounce off.  The attacker will become incensed by your professional demeanor and unleash a volley of increasingly hostile remarks in an attempt to bring you down to his level.  It is extremely important that you remain diplomatic, collected, and kind toward the attacker.  Eventually he will realize he cannot break you, and he'll give up the fight.  His defense mechanism will have backfired, leaving him feeling ten times worse than when he first targeted you.




Winning Tennis Season
August 25, 2013


My win on Thursday sealed my fate as our tennis league's #1 singles player for the 2013 season.  I apologize if that sounds like bragging, but I'm especially proud of the accomplishment because this time last year, coming out on top wasn't even a distant thought.

At the urging of my friend Nancy, I joined the league in 2011.  It was only my first year playing tennis, and suffice it to say, I got demolished left and right.  I was also 225 pounds, and moving all that weight around on my 6' 3" frame was shredding my knees.  Toward the end of the season, I managed to eke some wins out over some of the moderate players, but I had a long way to go.

Too much pizza and chocolate milk over the winter months packed another ten pounds on me.  Determined to lose the weight for the 2012 season, I heeded some healthy eating advice from Nancy and completely changed my diet and eating habits.  I continually lost weight throughout the spring and summer [and biking over 800 miles certainly didn't hurt] and, although my tennis game improved due to markedly increased speed and agility, I was still only winning about half of my matches.  I met a handful of other tennis players that year, like Vidhu, Tom, Inna, Nik, Sunil, and Peter, and discovered how playing different people can significantly improve one's game. 

By the end of the 2012 league season, what I thought would have been a loss of around fifteen pounds turned out to be a loss of over fifty.  I had become a lean, mean, calorie-burning machine.

I kept all the weight off over the following winter, and returned to the tennis courts in 2013 with determination to play harder and faster.  I had my sights set on being one of the top players in our league, but had no idea how the season would pan out.  My first singles match of the year was a loss, but then I started winning.  And I kept winning.  By mid June, my record (both inside and outside the league) was 17-2. 

As of this article's publication time, my singles record is standing at 36-11 (13-1 inside the league, 23-10 outside).  Though the league season is drawing to a close, and while I'm happy to have come out at #1, the competition is by no means over.  The top players in our league are tough to beat.  Any one of them could defeat me at any time.  This just happened to be my year, that's all.

Although other tennis leagues have invited me to join them, I have no intention of leaving the league I'm currently in.  Our league is made up of the nicest people with whom you'd ever want to play tennis.  There are no rivalries or egos.  There is only friendly competition.  We serve up just as many compliments and wisecracks to our opponents as balls.

There are still two to three months of tennis to play yet before the snow flies, and I'm looking forward to every minute on the courts.




Wisconsin Polka Hall of Fame Awards
August 23, 2013


If you're a member of the Wisconsin Polka Hall of Fame, you received (and hopefully mailed back) your nomination forms a couple of weeks ago.  How much time did you put into your nominations?  Every year, I take the time to put careful thought into whom I nominate.  When it comes to bandleader/musician categories, my criteria for worthy candidates is rather simple: a postitive attitude.  I place a positive attitude above one's musical ability.

We all know highly-talented, popular musicians, and we could award them year after year.  They would be deserved awards, but in my opinion, notariety and talent are not enough.  I've worked with many musicians over the years, and have found that some of the most talented musicians can be ones whose attitudes are anything but deserving of recognition.

If you're a sideman, you will never get my nomination or vote if you...
  • Are incessantly late to your jobs
  • Bitch and moan about having to travel a few hours out of town now and then
  • Take weddings and private parties without hesitation, but tend to turn down lower-paying club jobs
  • Back out of jobs, especially at the last minute
  • Bring a lackluster attitude onto the stage, night after night
If you're a bandleader, you will never get my nomination or vote if you...
  • Have been known to undercut or use dishonorable tactics to take jobs away from other bands
  • Pay your sidemen less for the same jobs than what other comparable bands pay
  • Disregard people's requests to learn and play their favorite songs
Fortunately, I also know a lot of musicians who are nothing like what I described above.  They may not be as well-rounded or versatile when it comes to their musical abilities, but they are always pleasant to have on stage, eager to play whatever jobs you offer them, and reliable as time itself.  Those are the musicians who get my nominations every year.  In my opinion, they are what define being a winner.



Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle

July 18, 2013


When many dieters would have gained most of their weight back and even added a few more pounds, I've managed to keep 100% of my weight off.  What is my secret?  It's eating healthy, eating less, and getting exercise.  It's really no secret at all.

When I first started my diet in March of 2012, I completely changed  what and how I ate.  It's those changes to my diet that I still maintain to this day, and that is how I've been able to keep the weight off.  I'm not obsessively strict when it comes to my dieting (if I find spaghetti in my mom's refrigerator, I will not resist) but the major changes I made to my diet are now part of my lifestyle.

Below are some of the food choices that are part of my diet.

I just don't go to McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Dairy Queen, etc. anymore.  I literally have not eaten anything from those restaurants since I bought a salad at a Canadian McDonald's in April of 2012.  I know it wouldn't hurt to go once in a while, and sometimes I do go to Culvers or KFC for grilled chicken, or Taco Bell for a Fresco burrito, but as long as I have the willpower to avoid fast food, I'll continue to exercise it.  To satisfy hunger after an out-of-town gig, I'll often pack sandwich -- ham or turkey on whole grain bread, no mayo.  If I'm running short on time, I'll grab a protein shake and a couple mixed berry Nutri-Grain bars.

I cut almost all red meat out of my diet, which is not easy for a burger and brat guy to do.  But I found that I can satisfy my processed meat cravings by eating turkey sausages on whole grain bread.  Each one is about 250 calories with a generous helping of ketchup, and contains half the fat and no processed flour.

Oceanspray makes both a Diet Cranberry Juice and a Light-50 Cranberry-Grape Juice.  The Light-50, which contains half the calories, tastes just as rich as full-calorie juice.  The Diet tastes, well, diet, and is barely acceptable on its own.  But mix the two together, and you get a great-tasting juice with approximately 75% less calories.  Likewise, Mott's makes a light apple juice that tastes just as good as regular jiuce.  Mix it with diet apple juice for the same effect.

Below are foods I often eat.  While none taste quite as good as their full-calorie counterparts, you can get used to them.
  • Bread: Always 100% whole grain.
  • Cheese: Reduced-fat (45-50 calories per slice).
  • Crackers for the cheese: Whole Grain Ritz.
  • Microwave Popcorn: Many are offered in a low-fat, light butter version.
  • Orange Juice: Both Minute Maid and Tropicana offer a "50" version with half the calories and sugar.
  • Other juice: Minute Maid Pink Lemonade Light – very refreshing and only 15 calories/serving.
  • Potato chips: Special K – 110 calories per 27 chips.
  • Sweets: Grapes, oranges, etc.  Natural sugars digest more slowly than processed sugars.
While dieting alone is a great way to lose weight, exercise plays an important role.  Bicycling and tennis have turned my body into an efficient calorie-burning machine.  I literally have to eat more food during the summer because I burn thousands of calories every week.

I know a lot of people exercise, but it's my opinion that too many people who want to lose weight don't exercise hard enough.  Do you walk or do you run?  Do you bike at a leisurely pace of 10 MPH or do you push it to 13 or 14?  Do you let the tennis ball go by or do you sprint toward it?   Exercising for weight loss is more than just being outdoors and moving around.  It's about physical exertion to the point of exhaustion.

When I play tennis on a 95-degree day, I push my body until I get the chills – the first sign of heat exhaustion.  I literally sweat out five or six pounds or more.  When I bike, I average a pace of 15-16.5 MPH for the first ten miles, and that's on a hybrid bike wearing normal street clothes.

There are no secrets to losing weight and keeping it off.  It just takes common sense and willpower.

 

 
Kids Will Say Anything – Apparently So Will Some Seniors

July 04, 2013


Back in May, I played for an afternoon dance at a local establishment.  It was a typical gig.  I've played it many times before.  I offered up my usual repertoire of foxtrots, waltzes, Latin, and polkas.  What was not typical about this afternoon, however, is practically everything I played happened to offend someone there in one way or another.

   Patron: "Can you play a waltz without a polka beat?!?"

   Me: "Um, I'm not sure what you mean.  I play all my waltzes in 3/4 time.  Polkas are in 2/4 time."

   Patron: "Yeah, but play them without a polka beat!" :::grumble grumble grumble:::

I gathered that what he was probably hearing in his head was something along the lines of the 101 Strings Orchestra.  Well, there's only so much you can do with an acoustic accordion and a drummer, but we made the effort and played a slower, melodic waltz, The Poet and I, in 6/8 time.  No sooner did we finish when a different patron came up to the stage.

   Patron: "That's waltz you played was soooo slow!"

   Me: "I know.  It was supposed to be.  I announced that I was going to play a slow waltz."

   Patron: "But it was TOO slow!  I can't dance to that!"

The entire afternoon went on this way.  One person didn't like that I creatively made a rhumba out of a country song, another person didn't like the lower key in which I sang a waltz, one person didn't care for me putting two different polkas together in a medley. etc.  Even though our music pleased the patrons in general as it always does, anyone who didn't like something we played that afternoon felt an obligation to make their opinion known.  It made for a rather frustrating day.

It's one thing to come up to the stage to chat, request a song, or ask that the volume be adjusted.  Everyone is more than welcome to do that.  But to dictate what or how a band should play is unacceptable.

And I've found that I am not alone in this dilemma.  Fellow bandleaders are expressing the same concerns that some of the older patrons are becoming increasingly demanding and unabashedly opinionated about the music we play.

There's nothing wrong with being particular, but there is a time and place to voice one's opinions.  Imagine if, after playing a song, a member of the band stepped down from the stage, walked over to a dancer, and started berating them for dancing incorrectly!  I
f a dancer has a complaint about the band's music, they should not berate the band.  They should talk to the person who hired the band.


 
AT&T... Arrogant, Troublesome & Tactless

July 01, 2013


A couple of weeks ago, I returned home from jury duty to find that I had no internet connection or phone service.  As it turns out, my neighbor had AT&T come out to install U-Verse that day.  They worked on the box that also services my residence.  In the process of the installation, AT&T service to my residence was inadvertently disconnected.

I called AT&T's repair service to let them know about the situation.  I asked them to send someone right out to restore my service, since I rely daily on my phone and internet connection for business purposes.  AT&T replied that it would be at least two days before they could send someone out, and that I could be charged for the repairs.  I requested that the technician who was working on the lines that day simply be re-dispatched to fix whatever it was they accidentally broke, and asserted that I would not pay for the repairs.  AT&T claimed they could not comply with my request.

Taken aback by AT&T's blatant and willful negligence, I decided to cut all ties with AT&T and cancel my services.

The next day I called AT&T to close my account, and was shuffled through a maze of menus and customer service agents.  The agents I spoke with assured me I would not be charged for repair service, yet no one was willing to dispatch a technician to my house that day either, which is what I needed more than anything.  Feeling that account cancellation was still my best option, my call was eventually escalated to a customer retention specialist.

This specialist must not have read the AT&T handbook before starting her job, because she said all of the wrong things.  She claimed that it could have been mere coincidence that after thirteen years of reliable service, my AT&T line was suddenly and mysteriously disconnected outside my residence on the same day AT&T was there working on the very box that services my house.  Seriously?!?

Needless to say, I am no longer an AT&T customer.  I will never again purchase an AT&T product or service.  I wrote a letter to Randall Stephenson, Chairman and CEO of AT&T, to apprise him of his company's negligence, and I will also do what I can to inform the public about the kind of service even the most loyal of customers can expect from AT&T.

Please delete tombrusky@att.net from your address book, as it is no longer a valid address.  I may still be reached at tom@tombrusky.com.  Those of you who knew my home phone number, please delete it from your directory.  The general public may continue reach me via my business line voicemail at (414) 546-3650.  Friends, family, and close acquaintances who have my mobile phone number should contact me there.




The Audio Mix - What's Good For the Goose Is Not Always Good For the Guitarist
June 12, 2013


In the recording studio, mixing means taking all of the individually recorded parts of a song (the instruments and vocals) and blending them all together.  The goal of creating a good mix is to make the music sound most pleasing to the general public – not the drummer, not the guitar player, not the sax player, but rather the people who will be buying the CD and hearing the music on the radio.  This is very important to mention, because sometimes the musicians in the band will hear the final mix of their album and not always agree with what they hear.
 
Creating a good mix is not about featuring every instrument in the band throughout each, entire song.  This is a common mistake made by inexperienced audio engineers, and the result is a very cluttered, busy-sounding recording.  Rather, a good audio mix is like a television show in which you have one or two lead actors and everyone else is a supporting actor.  In an audio mix, the melody instruments and vocals are usually your lead actors.  Everything else – rhythm, counter melodies, harmonies, arpeggios, fills, pads, etc. – are supporting actors.  They are not intended to share the limelight.
 
To achieve a good mix is an art that takes years to develop.  Among other things, an engineer must know...
  • ...how the frequency ranges of specific instruments and vocals will "sit" in a mix relative to their apparent volumes
  • ...how to use equalization and dynamics processing to help define or blend instruments and vocals.
  • ...how to design a stereo landscape so that the recording sounds spacious, yet balanced
  • ...how effects, such as reverbs and delays, can work both with and against each other
  • ...how to manipulate the recorded instruments at different times to create contrast which combats ear fatigue
In a good audio mix, there can't be too much bass or treble, there can't be too much or too little reverb, dynamics must be tastefully contained, the lyrics must be understandable, but most importantly, the instruments must be balanced to support the melody in a way that the general public is acclimated to hearing.  To achieve this quality – and this is very important – the engineer must approach the mix from a completely neutral perspective.

What exactly is a neutral perspective?  It's how the general public hears music.  When people listen to music on their iPod or over the radio, don't focus on everything going on in the background.  They hear the song as a whole.  They mainly follow the melody and feel the beat.

Musicians, on the other hand, listen to music a little differently, especially when it comes to mixes of their own music.  Instead of listening to their song as a whole, musicians instinctively anticipate and tune into specific parts of the song (often their own parts) and then over-focus on those parts.  They begin overanalyzing the volume of those parts.   Oftentimes they will become so critical of their performance that they'll begin hearing, and suggesting they need to fix, problems that don't actually exist.

 
The art of mixing is literally more about what not to feature than what to feature.  A good mix usually means pushing select recorded parts into the background, and using them to fill out the body of the music and help build a stereo landscape, and nothing more.  The instruments are still there, but they are not going to stand out.  Instead, they play a vital role in providing a foundation on which the melody resides.

Listening to music from a neutral, fresh perspective is a skill that only experienced audio engineers can employ.  More than anything, it's that skill that creates good mixes.





Sorry, I'm Not Coming Back To Facebook  :)
May 1, 2013


As much as I appreciate the concern of friends who have asked me to come back to Facebook, I have no plans to do so anytime soon.

It's now been over 1½ years since I quit Facebook, and I have found the tranquility very enjoyable.  I still keep in contact with friends via email and the phone, and I've grown to prefer it that way, because when a friend contacts me, they have something specific to share with me -- not something frivolous to share with the entire world.

The very best part of living without Facebook is living in blissful ignorance of everyone's worries and troubles.  That may sound cold, but isn't it simply the way things were before Facebook?  I remember reading far too many status updates about people being hospitalized, laid off, and especially separated or divorced.  Now I have no idea what's going on in most people's lives, and that allows me to focus more clearly on my own life.

The only problem I've run into is when friends solely use Facebook to dispense important information, such as when someone dies, and the information never leaves the confines of Facebook.  I've missed funerals and other events as a result.  I do not feel guilty, though, since I can't attend an event I know nothing about.  I have also deduced that some friends must be using Facebook as their only means of communication now, since they've completely abandoned email.

The main reason I don't use Facebook is because of their nefarious business model.  Facebook is a data mining service first, and a social networking service second.  Once they discovered they could make billions of dollars by harvesting and selling your socialgraphic information, every minute change to their interface has revolved around nothing but maximizing profit.  Facebook uses deceitful tactics such as making it seem like you have more privacy that you actually have so that they can grab more information from you, and purposely making their interface more convoluted than it needs to be to increase your exposure to advertising.  Facebook banks on the fact that people are far too trusting when it comes to dispensing personal information.  And Facebook also banks on the fact that people are so addicted to social networking, Facebook can freely tinker with the safety and reliability of their service and nobody will leave it.  Well... except me.




Mandated Customer Greetings
April 26, 2013


What do stores like Ace Hardware, Family Video, Pet World Warehouse, and Sports Authority have in common?  It's the unmistakably lackluster, forced greeting you receive every time you walk in the door.

No matter how hard a sales associate tries to fake sincerity, corporate-mandated customer greetings always carry undertones of embarrassment.  When you walk into the store, the sales associate closest to the door (even if they're fifty feet away) will look up just long enough to blurt out an annoyingly insincere acknowledgment.  Their voice says "Hello", but the tone in their voice says "I can't believe they're making me say this!"

Young people working in stores and restaurants are not there because they like helping people -- they're there because they need jobs.  We all know that.  So why try to force them to be who they aren't?  Very few people have natural customer service skills, but stores that want to come across as genuinely friendly can only do so by finding and hiring the people who have those skills.




Website Has Been Reformatted
April 7, 2013


You may have noticed my website appears to be a little wider, and the text is larger.  Since I began designing websites in the 1990's, I've always designed them so that they would format well on older, low-resolution monitors.  If a web page is not formatted for an older monitor, then people using older monitors will have to keep scrolling from side to side to read all of the content on the page.  But content formatted for older monitors will appear to be very small on the newest, high resolution monitors.

In the 1990's, many people were using monitors that displayed a resolution of 800 pixels wide by 600 pixels high.  In the early 2000's, a lot of people were using monitors with a resolution of 1024x768 pixels.  But monitor resolutions have continued to increase virtually year after year.  In fact the monitors I just installed in my recording studio run at a native resolution of 1920x1080.  Many websites, when viewed on a monitor of that high of a resolution, are annoyingly small.  The reason is because the higher a monitor's resolution, the more content the monitor displays, but the content appears smaller.

This website is formatted for old monitors, which means that its pages will look "full-size" on old monitors.  On a very old monitor, the pages are too big for the screen, and reading them requires constantly scrolling the pages from side to side.  On a newer, high-resolution monitors, the web pages appear relatively small.

Some people are still using old monitors, so I don't want to create web pages that extend off of those people's screens.  Yet, I don't want to create web pages that are too small to be read on today's high-resolution monitors. 
My latest website redesign meets the two concepts in the middle by adding just 200 pixels to the width of my web pages and bumping up the text size.  This will keep the pages formatted for older monitors, but the larger text size will make the content more readable on newer monitors.

The mobile versions of my websites, for the time being, will continue to be formatted for a minimum width of 300 pixels, since that is the resolution of many smaller mobile phone screens.  But my mobile pages also automatically reformat to fit larger screens depending on whether a viewer is holding his smartphone vertically or horizontally.

By the way, if you're using a really old monitor, it's long past time to buy a new one.  Hardly anything on the internet is formatted for 800x600 monitors these days.

TIP: If you're looking at a web page and find the text to be too small to read, hold down the Control (Ctrl) key and press the plus (+) key on your keyboard to enlarge all of the content on the page.




The Two Cats Are a Match Made In Heaven, Literally
January 25, 2013

In my latest post on December 24th, I stated that Snickers and Arthur did not yet meet.  No one knew whether or not the two cats would get along.  The following day, Christmas Day, they met for the first time.

The first day went better than expected.  There was very little hissing or batting.  Within two days, they learned to tolerate each other's presence.  Within three days, Arthur attempted to play with Snickers, but Snickers was still uneasy.  Within five days, however, they were playing with each other.

Snickers soon took on the role of the older, protective brother with ease.  He has taught Arthur things like when to meow for treats, and where to jump onto the kitchen counter.  Arthur keeps Snickers active by instigating rigorous chasing and tumbling play sessions.

The fact that I unexpectedly adopted both cats on December 20th, Kittling's birthday, is no coincidence.  Kittling (my first cat, 1992-2009, affectionately known as Kitty) put on her angel wings and led Snickers to Prairie Lanes in Markesan where she knew I'd be on December 20th, 2009.  Snickers was cared for by Clyde and Darlene Olson before I took him home.

Kittling knew I had been thinking about getting a playmate for Snickers, but that I was also worried about how a new cat would fit into the home.  What would happen if I adopted a cat that didn't like Snickers, or the other way around?  So Kittling came down from heaven once again and did the work for me.  She found Arthur, the perfect companion for Snickers.  She led Arthur to the home of a friend who knew I liked cats and would call me to help the cat find a home.  Agatha Ulrich and Kathy McGarry took care of Arthur before I picked him up the next day, December 20th, 2012, and adopted him into my home.

It's been exactly one month to the day Arthur was introduced to Snickers, and I'm happy to report that they are the best of friends.  I'd even go so far as to say they're inseparable.


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