Let It Snow

Yep you guessed it, more complaining about the weather. We had a good 2 feet of snow over 24 hours earlier this week. I worked at home Wednesday and went out about 4 in the afternoon shoveled out about 6 – 8″. It was pretty fluffy and took about 20 min with the snowblower, and another 20 so shovel the steps and clean up. It started snowing again after dark and by Thursday morning we had another 15-18″. Jeannie and the kids had the day off, and I worked from home again. Jeannie and the girls went out around 10:30 and I joined them around 11:30. This snow was much heavier. Even with the snowblower we didn’t get done until after 1:30.

The good news is it’s all cleared now. The temperature got above freezing this afternoon, and I’ll take snow over extreme cold any day. I guess I’ve adjusted to the cold. And I definitely picked the right year to buy a snowblower. The bad news is we’re not even halfway thru the winter. Already it’s the 5th snowiest winter on record for NYC, and the snowiest January by a factor of 50%. The last winter that came close was ’96 and that was one big storm and two moderate ones. It’s already snowed 5 or 6 times down here. And more snow in the forecast. Also this year January has five Mondays, which is cruel and unusual. If I were King of America I’d make the fifth Monday of every month an automatic day off.

Deep Freeze

This is the time of year when it starts to get hard to cope with the weather. It’s been a month since I’ve seen my lawn. The weather has gotten really cold the last few days, down into the single digits at night and only up into the teens in the daytime. My level of energy is really low these days. All I want to do is lie on the couch under a blanket and nap. I’ve fallen asleep pretty much right after dinner the last 3 nights. I guess it’s a natural reaction as a living creature. The instinct to hibernate so as to fast forward to spring. The good news my back is feeling better with all this lying around. The bad news we’re only halfway thru winter and tomorrow it’s back to the ol’ grind.


You know how (if you’re a musician) when you start drinking, long before you’re too messed up to drive you start to loose the edge needed to play at a virtuoso level? Well today I worked at home cuz it was a cold, dark January day and I’ve been nursing a sore back all week. So when five o’clock rolled around I figured rather then get on the train for the trip home I could just have a drink or two and play me some piano in my extra found time.

My backache was alleviated, but I couldn’t play about half the tunes in my set. But it’s not just a question of speed. I couldn’t play my Monk stuff, for example, but I could play a bunch of stride-adapted Beatles songs. The diff is complex jazz harmony vs straight triadic harmony. But some kinds of tunes really work. I ended up playing Darkness by The Police until I was able to do all three parts (bass, ostonato and vocal) together, then an interpretation of Miami 2017 and Erik Satie’s 1st Gymnopedie, none of which are in my usual lineup.

Ski Season

Got a chance to go skiing this weekend up in the Catskills. Combined it with a trip up to see Martin, which was most excellent. My mind was totally blown by a thing called Dinosaur Train.

The skiing itself was pretty good. It was my first time since I hurt my back last year, so I was really taking it easy. It was pretty cold and the mountain was way crowded, cuz like everyone else we picked a long weekend to go skiing. Jeannie, the kids and I all skied together as a family, staying mainly on green trails. After a few runs we found lift G, a detachable quad which can only be reached from above, not from the base lodge. So the line was much shorter there and the lift faster. This serviced the longest run in the place, the slow way down from the summit. The snow was great but there was one really windy stretch. We just did run that a few times until it was time to go. The good news I can still ski and the next day my back felt fine. The other good news is my new ski jacket is really warm.

List night we had more snow but by the morning it had turned to rain, and everything was covered with a thick crust of ice over a few inches of wet heavy snow. Like crème broulee. By the time we were done cleaning of the cars and driveway, it had turned to rain. By the time I got out of the train station in Manhattan it was windy and raining hard, and as I hit the street my umbrella tore right apart.

At least the days are starting to get longer.


I’ve been back to work for two weeks now an already it’s back to full-on busy business. It’s also been cold, dark and snowy. We got a good foot of snow earlier in the week and it’s only been up in the 20’s in the daytime. I’m predicting I won’t see my lawn again until March.

Last weekend Martin came down for a visit. Just before xmas he contacted me asking if I’d like some spare parts for my Rhodes piano cuz there were some for sale on Craigslist. The guy was asking more individually for the parts that I was really interested in — the hammer mechanism, the rack of tines, and the pickups — than for the whole thing, so basically I ended up buying a complete Mark III Rhodes sans legs and pedal and with busted electronics. Martin came down last weekend, and we had great fun fitting the parts back in the original cabinet, destined to be stashed away somewhere until. And Jeannie didn’t even complain!

We spent most of the afternoon jamming, which was great fun. Martin mainly called the tunes, from the songbook of his now defunct band. A good handful of interesting 80’s tunes I hadn’t played before, but totally in my zone, by the likes of Sting and Joe Jackson. While we was visiting he gave me a primer on how to use the multi-effects box he lent me in the fall. And best of all, he lent me his old Stratocaster guitar! Martin mainly plays 12-strings now so he’s not using it. Plus he lives in an apartment and Charlie is at the age where he’s getting into things, so partly is was for the sake of guitar’s safekeeping. I hadn’t really been considering a strat, but hey, awesome!

It’s funny too, because my friend Mark, who years ago sold me my old electric guitar asked if he could buy it back. Which is cool, so I asked him for his thoughts on what to replace it with. His advice was to up my budget a few hundred bucks and focus only either a genuine Fender or Gibson guitar. (“Then you’ll have a great guitar that will keep its value.”) Martin’s strat plays and sounds so much better, so now I have a basic of comparison of what a really good guitar sound like for next time I go back to the music store. And when I sell my old axe I’ll have a little extra money for better new one.

Stitch Art Insects

When I was back home visiting for the holidays my Mum gave me a couple of pieces or artwork she kept for me. I was probably about 8 or 10 when I made them. At that time I was into drawing as my main art form, and had already begun dabbling in origami, but this was my one and only foray into needle-oriented art. My Mum is an expert at embroidery, needlepoint and cross-stitch, as well as knitting, crocheting and sewing. My kids got a couple arts-and-crafts gifts this year for Xmas, which reminded my Mum she had this art down in the basement.

As I recall she set up my brothers and I with little handmade canvasses that consisted of burlap stretched across cardboard frame. We drew pictures on the burlap and then filled them in using yarn instead of embroidery floss. I made a butterfly and a dragonfly, as you see. I think Martin made a housefly and a caterpillar, and Jim made a turtle and maybe a lizard.

These were hanging on my wall for quite some time as I was growing up, but I hadn’t thought of them in years. Thanks Mum!

Studio Upgrade

You’ll be happy to know I did get my new mBox 3 Pro. I ordered it from Sam Ash because they claimed they had it in stock but I had a bad vibe about the order. They screwed up the shipping and sent it fedex home instead of fedex ground so I had to cancel the order after they failed to deliver it three times. At least the Sam Ash people told me where to get one at a local music store.

While I was there I had a chance to audition a bunch of electric guitars. I liked four of them well enough to write down the model numbers. Two were Epiphones and two were Ibanezes. The first Epiphone was a Gibson SG knockoff. Dual humbuckers, mahogany body, maroon finish. It played nice and sounded nice. But one of the knobs was missing so I wouldn’t buy it. The next was an Epiphone hollow body modeled after another classic Gibson. Dual humbuckers, four knobs, also maroon finish. It didn’t play right cuz the string for the sales tag was wrapped around the two top strings. But the hollow body felt and sounded good, and reminded me of the main guitar John Lennon played in the late 60’s, a cream colored Gretsch. They had what looked to be a reissue of that guitar for about $2500, way out of my range. So I moved on and saw a nice Ibanez. One was a les-paul style but lighter and with a more agile feeling neck. Played really nice, nice cream color. The last was another hollow also in a cream color and looked alot like that John Lennon guitar, and is my current favorite.

I was surprised to find I really like the sound of those hollowbodies. Playing one feels closer to an acoustic. But I’m not sure if that’s the guitar I want because it seems alot less versatile than a regular electric guitar. For one thing the necks tend to be a bit flatter and wider, which can be both good and bad. For another it seems like some styles would be sort of off-limits with an axe like that. OTOH I don’t really see myself playing metal anyway. I’d rather have a guitar that gently weeps than loudly screams. Anyway people like John Lennon (Revolution, e.g.) and Neil Young have been able to get really hard rocking sounds from hollowbodies. Still, I also like bands like Rush and other that have a more modern guitar sound. (My friend John pointed out that Alex Lifeson played a hollowbody on a number of songs.)

Anyway, I got home from the music store and began to set up the mBox. I did the OS upgrade to 10.5.8, installed ProTools8 and hooked up the hardware on xmas eve. It works great! Michelle helped me get things going. Now she wants to be my apprentice engineer, which is awesome, cuz she has a good head for computers already. So I had her just make some noise into the mic and she decided to sing Away in a Manger. The sound is so good. When I went to play it back, I told her to stop singing now so I could hear the playback. I looked up and she wasn’t singing and I *was* hearing the playback! Later Lizzy came down and did aO Come All Ye Faithful. The new MBox has 2 headphone jacks, which makes this sort of thing alot easier.

Starting to learn PT8. There’s alot of new (to me) stuff in there. Project templates with built in click, nice and handy to get started quick. The built in FX have been upgraded. The basic compressor now has a nice little realtime input/output graph. Lots to explore.

I did a little side project for my mother-in-law she had an old 45 r.p.m. EP of girl scout songs from the 1950’s or 60’s that she asked me to make into a CD. (I’m the only one in the family with a working turntable.) The record was in pretty bad shape with lots of scratches and a few skips. I was able to eliminate a lot of the noise thru a combination of EQ (cut out everything over 4k) and compression (hard limiter to reduce the transients because the the pops were louder than the music) and it sound a good deal better. Still todo is edit out the skips, break the sides into tracks and burn the disc.

Studiowise, next step was to re-attach my midi rig. The new mBox has a single midi in and out, so I could get input from a single controller if all else failed. I have an 8×8 MOTU box that’s been an integral part of my. Last time I tried hooking it up to ProTools on the mac was about two years ago when 10.5 was new, and I totally struck out after lots of hassles. This time it plugged right in and totally worked. Woo-hoo! The other thing was to get SampleTank going again. I downloaded and installed sampleTank for mac 10.5 a month or two ago when I was trying to get up and running with Reaper but no dice. This time it opened in ProTools but my trail had expired. I had a bit of headache with the authorization but I finally got there.

So now I’m up and humming. Began work on Rocket to the Moon tonight. Got a click track and scratch MIDI bass part. I thought I’d lay down a scratch guitar part too using direct inject, but I ran into latency problems. There’s a good 8th or more note delay between the time you play a note and when you hear it in the headphones. Completely unworkable for live tracking. I messed around with the various input buffer dialogs, but to no avail. I’m pretty confident this can be solved if I just find the right control, because for years my old mBox was rock solid with no perceptible latency. I’m wndering if I should deactivate some plugins. Anyway, once I figure it out I’ll let you know.

The plan going forward is to upgrade to 10.6 and PT9 although I’ll probably wait until I’ve completed a song or two in the new setup. I’m also considering getting the digidesign expansion bundle that includes an AI drummer and detailed drum synth/sampler, a virtual analog synth, a fender Rhodes simulator, and some other stuff. Lots of fun ahead.

Up To Eleven

Been on winter break. Time off work and lots of adventures. Rewinding a few weeks, Lizzy had a flute solo at the school Christmas concert. Frosty the Snowman. Nailed it. Also, I took the kids to the American Museum of Natural History one day when they were off from school. The museum people gave me comp passes as thank-you for my contributions to the holiday tree. It was a very cool outing. It’s been a couple of years since we really did the museum. We got to see the iMax movie about repairing the Hubble space telescope, and the planetarium show about the big bang and life, the universe and everything. The kids loved the butterfly house too. Stopped for a a look at the tree too, and convince the guard to let me adjust one of models. The exhibit that really resonated with me was about the race to the South Pole between Amundsen and Scott 100 years ago. Just amazing what a cold and remote place. It’s been a cold December (although the last couple of days things have thawed a bit) and the thought of freezing to death out there just gives me chills.

I spent the first couple days off doing random tasks like defragging the house. I’ve been trying get some shopping done. One of the big ironies of modern capitalism is that there’s pretty much an inverse correlation between how easy it to buy something and how much you need it. I needed new, comfortable winter boots, a new ski jacket and new ski pants. The boots weren’t too hard to find but I struck out on the other stuff. I eventually found that Columbia has tall sizes, and ordered from them online. It turns a triple-extra-large-tall is the best fit. Of course when something is big enough to fit in the shoulders it’s like a circus tent around the waist. It’s a good jacket, though and had drawstrings at the bottom for both the shell and the liner, so I’m happy about that. I finally did get my new mBox too. More on that later.

We had Christmas at our house this year, and Mary’s and Jeannie parents came over. This was a first. In years past we’ve done visiting on xmas eve but this year Mary’s kids were singing in the choir on xmas eve so everyone came over on xmas day. It was very nice.

On boxing day we lit out for a trip upstate to visit family. Got the Jeep all loaded up and ready to go. Only problem was it wouldn’t start. Funny cuz I had a bad vibe out it the day before when I was loading up the skis. Since we got the Prius, the Jeep has only been to the train station and back, and had been driven only once at all the last couple weeks; otherwise it just sat out in the cold. So the battery was dead. I tried to replace it but the bolt was rusted on, and besides it was starting to snow pretty heavily. So we punted on that and took Prius. Had to leave all the ski stuff home, as well as a huge pile of gifts (sorry, they’re on their way) but other than that it turns out the Prius is big enough road trip car for a family of four and handles well in the snow. We just barely got out of town in time. NYC got two feet of snow and was totally shut down for two days.

Upstate was nice. Got to see my parents, Martin and Kathleen, Barb and Al, Larry and Jackie, and Denis and Sara and their families. Caught a Sabres game on TV and a Nova about Antarctica in the 21st century. I’ve still been trying to find a nice warm pair of pants, wool or something. I’d looked online but couldn’t find any in tall sizes. I was telling my dad about this, and it turns out one time he ordered a bunch of woolen pants to wear hunting from an East German army surplus catalog. They came in packs of three in random sizes, so he ordered 2 packs, and of those three of them fit him (ah the joy of being medium). So he gave me an extra pair in tall size. Most random gift ever but much appreciated.

Got home, shoveled out, broke in the new show blower and it proved its worth. Got fixed the Jeep. Watched the ball drop with Nick and his family. Got the kids to pick up their rooms. Finished off a freelance music software project (more on that later), and have been getting going on an origami eBook (more on that later too), and continued with the studio. Which brings us up to eleven.