Sunday, January 30, 2005

Been quiet here, I know...

Hi all -

Been really quiet here. Been too busy with life.

My grandmother died on Friday. She was 91, slipped away after going into a coma after getting spread too thin.

She was my step-grandmother, I never really knew my "real" grandmother, who died of cancer when I was a kid. I remember being driven in the middle of the night to my grandfather's house when I was probably around 6 or so and waiting what seemed to be forever in the car while my mother was with her mother for the last time.

Jean was my grandfather's second wife. She worked at Field's in Chicago and had an interesting life, but no kids of her own. She and my grandfather were, for the most part, I think pretty happy in being married: however, towards the ends of their lives there were unspoken tensions and unresolved problems between them that certainly didn't help.

I'm not into writing an obituary - there's too much I don't know about her - and just wanted to say how sad it is that we'll never see her again. I will miss her enormously: she was an important part of my grandfather's life, and he was important to me as well. He died on Good Friday of last year at the age of 94.

They were the major reason for us always heading down to New Mexico, to see them. In the last several years it was harder and harder to do so, since they would easily get exhausted if we hung around them too much. So we would go down there, stay a few days and visit them for a few hours a day. They were a long, long way from Germany.

I wish I could have been there more for them. They were in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where they were far, far away from all of the kids and grandkids. They wanted it that way, to a certain extent, but at the same time I think that they would've been pleased to see someone down that way as well. But the jobs down there are far and few between for what I do, and we never really looked at moving down there seriously. We've played with the idea of retiring in New Mexico, but that is still far away, but the state was, I think, good for them.

Grandma, I'll miss ya and you will always be with me. God bless and make some Manhattans for you and Grandpa for the porch. We'll keep an eye out for the hummingbirds and roadrunners out the back door.


Thursday, January 06, 2005

Back From The Break...And What I'm Doing

Hi everyone - if anyone is reading this at all!

Next Tuesday I go back to work. It's gonna be a rough first quarter, with an amount of work I would normally think of doing in about 6 months' time. But it's doable: while you can't program everything in my job, there is a *lot* that you can.

I'm now done with 62% of my tapes.


I've got at least 2,200 cassettes that I collected from the years 1980-ca 1997. After 1997 I had simply too much work to do to continue collecting recordings from the radio. But more critically that's when I also started doing other things in my vast spare time besides listen to music, radio plays and the like.

But the 2200 that I've catalogued are worth a lot to me. Not only did they cost quite a bit over the years - probably in excess of $4000 or so - but there's a lot of rare stuff on them, mostly from my first stint in Germany from 1980-1986. I never thought that I'd end up back here at that point in time, so I deliberately set out to capture a historical moment in time based on that premise. I'd say more than 90% of my tapes date from this time period. So I've got a huge interest in keeping them in one way or another: I've already turned my oldest daughter on to groups like the Clash and Sex Pistols with some of these old tapes (and what doesn that say about the youth of today when their parents turn them on to the Clash???).

This sort of collector behavior invariably brings up two questions: What do you do with all those tapes? How do they hold up?

To answer the last first, they held up pretty damn well. Of the some 1,382 tapes I've transferred, only a double handfull ended up well past their expiration date. There are two keys to getting good tapes: a decent tapedeck, one that is fairly well maintained and capable of decent recordings; decent, brand-name tapes is also critical.

Virtually all of the bad tapes were no-name or OEM brandings that were just plain bad, with one exception of a batch of tapes bought in New York from a wholesaler who cut me 100 C-66 tapes for a fairly low price. But this guy sold these kinds of tapes for people making demo tapes, and these weren't supposed to be long-term archive stuff.

And what do you do with all of these tapes? Well, I'm transcribing them as soon as I can. Transcribing means saving an original performance in a different format: many old radio plays, such as my favorite "Johnny Dollar", are called "Transcriptions" and not original recordings. That's 'cause they were designed to be broadcast, not sold as recordings.

Now, the transcription process took me a couple of months to get down right. You need a computer, of course, with sound card and lots and lots of hard drive space. You need to have a tape deck that you then hook up to the sound card inputs, transcribe the original recording in real-time, and then write it to CD-ROM for archival purposes.

This sounds simple, but it's not. I started out with the original tape deck I was using - the 2200+ tapes were in large cardboard archive boxes, sealed in plastic bags loaded with packages of silica gel, and I had room in one of the boxes to put in the tape deck, so I did - but it died after a couple of months. I picked up a decent Harmon-Kardon tape deck, but that wasn't the cats' meow, and I now have two tape decks: a five-deck Sony TC-C5 autoreverse tape deck and a Yamaha K-960 tape deck.

The first is to deal with large volumes of clean tapes. I load this one up with five tapes, set the recording software accordingly, and then can leave for the next 5-8 hourse (depending on the tapes). The second is for much higher-quality recordings, usually classical music, and for all dbx recordings.

The noise reduction system dbx, for those who are curious, was probably the best available and was and remains a part of the professional recording world for its excellent expanders and compressors. You can think of dbx as taking the psychoacustical model in the analog world to an extreme, reducing its impact as much as possible: while Dolby B and C used psychoacustical models to help mask their compression schemes, dbx was a broad-band compander, pushing the analog signal into a relatively narrow bandwidth that fit well into the analog spectrum that cassettes were capable of easily reproducing faithfully. When expanding on playback, the signal-noise-ratio, which was recorded compressed with a 50dB signal-noise-ratio, was expanded to something like 100 dB, which within the analog world was nothing less than spectacular.

Using dbx on cassettes led to amazingly high quality, but, and this is a big but in the analog world, it also meant that if your original wasn't in excellent quality, dbx magnified the problems with the original quality. If you had FM hiss in the background of the recording, it pumped the volume up and down as it adjusted to the recordings levels, making the recording sound lousy.

I had for many years a Technics RS-M233x tape deck that I used to make most of these recordings, and it did a great job. I've even played with the idea of getting one on eBay, where I've seen them for not much money at all, but I ended up getting a better deck, the Yamaha. Got it on eBay for less than $75, but did need to have the belts repaired and a general clean up for another $40 or so.

But I'm getting off topic.

The software I use in Magix Cleaning Lab 2005 deluxe. The deluxe part merely means that the box came with some adapter plugs to hook up the tape decks to the PC soundcard. When recording at 24-bit accuracy, which I do, you end up with something like 1 MB for every second of recording time: you end up with a file well in excess of 1 GB when you record for 90 minutes or so.

So you need real hard drive space. I just added another 80MB to my system and have no less than 400 GB at this point (2 IBM/Hitachi 120 GB, both with 8 MB cache, plus a new Seagate 160GB with 7200RPM/8 MB cache to replace the older 5400 RPM 80 GB IBM that I now have in reserve for use in a future server. Add to that a 40 GB 2.5" Samsung external USB2 drive, and this gives me adequate space to work in. :-)

My system is a Dell 2.5 GHz machine about 2 years old, with an ATI 9500 TX 128 MB Card, 1 GB of RAM and a NEC 1860 NX 18.1" LCD screen. The sound card is a Creative Labs Audigy 2ZX, which allows me 24-bit recording accuracy and just plain sounds great. It's the fourth CL soundcard I've had, and while there well may be others that are great out there, it remains the great all-arounder for those rare times I get around to play Doom 3.

So the tapedeck is hooked up to the soundcard, the system is running the software. Once the recording is done, then I run it through some of the cleaning and mastering programs that Magix offers and edit where necessary: after this process, the transcriptions are converted once again to MP3.

I've now got 227 CDs of MP3 files from my own collection. I'll probably end up with some 366 CDs: once the whole set is done, then I will go through them all once again, review some of the older recordings, and then make sure that everything is fine. At that point I will write a database program to cross-reference and index everything, place it on a 300 GB hard drive, and never, ever, have to wonder how many copies I have of A Night In Tunisia and by whom...