Go, Do, Be.


12/05/2018  — 

#MyMusical2018 Part 3: Open mics and other gigs

If you landed on this article I'd like you to know that I've been writing about some of the musical action that I've been involved with in 2018. The last post was about the long-running Song-A-Day project. Today, I'm sweeping a bunch of extra-curricular performances together in a post called...

#MyMusical2018 Part 3: Open mics and other gigs

While this wasn't a big or deliberate goal for the year, I did step into a few open mic situations that were a blast. My go-to is right around the corner from my house at the Missouri Lounge -- one of Berkeley's oldest and best-attended open mics. I've had a few chances to play here with Seth Freeman when he's in town. Seth & I have played a few Little John songs at the Missouri. We played separate songs at The Octopus Literary Salon. The Monday we visited the Octopus was packed with comedians who put on a pretty good show.

I also had a chance to play a fun Halloween show with some radical musicians. We brought the first two Danzig albums to life (or possibly to death) in all their heavy-riffy glory as GIZNAD. Would I wear a wig onstage again? Yes. Would I play this stuff well outside the Halloween season? Hell yes.

Oh hey- there's a youtube playlist containing a few of these things!

Keep your eyes peeled for the next post in the #MyMusical2018 series: Doodles to hear something (old but) new.

02/23/2009  — 

Song-A-Day Notes From The Studio

Seth and Derek (among others) asked for some details on how I recorded a few songs this year. I've been pretty happy with the guitar sounds overall. The big improvement from last year seems to be the mic. I'll tell you everything about what I do. Maybe it'll help you find that killer something.

This is my recipe for rock guitars:


  • Guitar: Fender Lead II (1980) with a really kooky humbucker pickup (I think it's a Bill Lawrence, but possibly a dimebucker?) in the bridge position. Someone really took a lot of time modding this guitar before I bought it. This pickup is special though, haven't found many that sound like it.
  • Amp: ZVex Nano Amp. A .5 (!) watt tube head which should get most of the credit for the sound. It's really an amazing piece of gear that produces controlled overdriven mayhem at a reasonable volume. Zack, my wife, children, and neighbors thank you.
  • Cabinet: Closed-back Mesa 4x12 (with celestions, I think) (yes, the cab for the dual rectifier)
  • Mic: Pacific Pro Audio LD2ube Large Capsule Condenser (multipattern)
  • A->D: Aardvark Q10 a really handy piece of gear. I'm using its built-in preamps. Aardvark went out of business a few years back unfortunately. This thing is still going strong for me.
  • Multitracking: I have an old version of Nuendo 1.53 (the latest is 4) as my main multi-tracking application.
  • Several effects: Waves RCL is the main compressor I'll use. I set up some really simple, standard reverb as a sendd effect too.
  • 1 Dirty Secret Ingredient: That Evil Multiband thing that comes with Nuendo. This may be the thing that takes a decent sound from the guitar/amp/speaker and makes it really sing on a recording (perverting it and possibly ruining it at the same time).

For the basic "loud" sound here's what I'll do:

The Performance

Set the guitar to use the humbucker pickup only. Volume and tone wide open (11). Believe it or not, someone fitted my guitar with an XLR output. I don't use it, just the regular 1/4" jack.

Set the ZVEX amp to brighness: middle, thickness: normal. Volume knob is about 3/4s+. There's only 1 knob on this amp I get it into the distortion space, but not all the way up. The amp is relatively quiet, the sound is a little mid-rangey, but it sounds good in the room.

Mic the guitars pretty close. About 4-6 inches away from the cabinet's grill. I'm using a large cap condenser for this. I've been leaving the mic in the omni position lately. The sound is a little more open. That proximity effect wasn't doing anything to help the sound IMO.

At this volume, I trim the Aardvark's preamp to "6.5" (not sure if this is a db level or something specific to the Q10) so there's a strong signal and still a fair amount of headroom.

Play with heart and desire -- and fat fingers. I'm not a great guitarrist, but I think pick technique plays a small part here. I'm working toward my ideal guitar sound which is distorted, but clear, with lots of bright overtones. Most of my favorite punk albums had some combination of this. I've learned to get some of those overtones by sticking my finger onto the vibrating strings as I pick. Do you really want to know about this? Just ask and I'll ramble on and on about it...

I'll usually double the main part of the song, then add one more color track, often with a different distortion and pickup setting.

The Mix

2 main (heavy) guitars panned hard right/left. Usually with no EQ.

1 guitar up the middle, usually cleaner (distortion-wise). Might use a little EQ to fill a gap in the wall of sound. Posssibly with a bit more of the send-verb too.

Group all the guitars. Use light compression with the RCL on the group. Might shelf the bass a little (I'm monitoring with NS-10s and I've found that if I can hear the bass at all there will likely be a problem on other systems.). I'll usually add a touch of room verb as a send effect.

Here are the compressor specifics:

  • RCL's 'electro' setting
  • attack: 20.0
  • release: 20.0
  • threshold -11.9
  • ratio: 2.57
  • gain: 4.0

The overall mix is important too of course. The drum sounds are reasonably loud, but offer some space. The bass has a few EQ notches (where? I'll check) to carve out space. I haven't been too happy about the vocal sounds on the full-band songs this year, so no help in this dept.

Here's the Dirty Little Secret: Bus compression is the evil Multiband thing. Yeah, there it is. It's out. What are the settings here? Hard to tell what all these mean. I'm basically choosing the "FM" preset and trying to dial it back just a bit.

Actually, now that I look closely to a randomly picked mix, it looks like I'm just using the default 'FM Radio' setting for 'Trouble Sleeping'.

That's about it. Here's a guitar-only mix for Trouble Sleeping: http://greacen.com/media/greacenzone/20090222_guitar_mix.mp3

You can hear slight variations on this on a bunch of this year's songs:

  • Up In The Attic
  • Drive North
  • Even in Winter (I used the less-distorted guitars in the panned position on this one, reversed the model)
  • Master of the Mall
  • Wafflepalooza
  • Put Down That Bag Of Rocks
  • Bring it Back
  • Trouble Sleeping
  • Istanbul
  • 2wo
Plus a few more that will likely come before we cross the finish line.

Go Listen!

01/07/2009  — 

Espresso. Pulled, Not Stirred

I got a kick out of this blatant product placement. I think the editor mis-cut the milk foaming shot...

10/09/2008  — 

New Crop of Food TV

A chilly sunrise greeted us this morning, it's the second of the Bay Area's three winters. Like the first one in August, this is a false winter (we'll likely have a brief summer in early November when the Santa Anna winds stoke the wildfires (and the surfers)). Still, the chill reminded me of impending bumpercrop of pomegranates, figs, and of course the harvest up in the valley,

This particular false winter also makes me think about the new crop of TV programming, specifically food shows popping up with the new season.

'Spain... On The Road Again' is Spanish road trip that has more in common with soap operas on daytime TV than Kerouac. Just look at this synopsis:

"Mark's moods swings and insatiable appetite have the road trippers stopping often as they head north to Galicia. While in Ribera del Duero wine country, Mario grills milk-fed lamb in a vineyard. While staying at a traditional county inn, Mario's competitive edge emerges and he and Gwyneth race Mark and Claudia on the Camino de Santiago, a historic pilgrimage route. Back at the inn, Mario and Gwyneth cook dinner while waiting for Mark and Claudia to get back."

What works:

  • The Bittman/Batali combination is always fun.
  • Claudia Basoles: she's lovely.
  • The foods: they get to eat off the beaten trail.
  • Batali reminiscing about his childhood experiences in Europe.

What doesn't work:

  • The gang is going to seem way out of touch if they don't switch to motoring around Spain in hybrids. They swing a little too far down the bonvivant scale at times.
  • The soundtrack: an ibericized-version of Willie Nelson's on the road again. Again and again.
  • GP's food conflicts: won't eat meat but is still hungry all the time.

I like Alton Brown's Feasting On Waves for a bunch of reasons. Back in my youth I had my own Caribbean experience, so this show brings back a few memories.

What works:

  • Alton's always good for some foodie fun.
  • getting way off the beaten trail and connecting with people
  • The way the show seems like one giant boondoggle. I imagine the pitch: "yeah, we're taking the whole crew down to the Caribbean to tool around on a few sailboats. We'll film the whole thing and you can edit it together for a few episodes. Oh yeah -- you'll need to pay us too."

What doesn't:

  • The hand held camera-action is a little nuts. Are they trying to share the seasickness experience?
  • They kinda seem rushed. Relax mon! Take it Island speed.
  • The relentless soundtrack just won't, well... relent.
  • The color and haze of the picture. Did the salt ruin all the gear? Why does it seem like we're watching this through gauze?
  • Lay off the lat-lon stuff, ok? Seems Alton's penchant for gadgetry extends to the handheld GPS too.

Let's see if I can borrow a scene (sorry about the autoPlay, can't seem to stop it)

Gourmet's Diary Of A Foodie has turned out to be my favorite show of the moment. Another Zero Point Zero production. ZPZ produces Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations show. D.O.A.F. uses some of the same 'local experts' that have helped No Reservations get the inside scoop on foodie goodies.

What works:

  • Awesome variety
  • good in-depth kitchen time with some amazing chefs (Grant Achatz, José Andrés, many others)
  • great insiders! Gourmet's connections have really opened up some interesting doors in these episodes
  • Local connections: Plenty of action in the bay area, plus I've come across s(e.g. Saw an episode about Jersey Cow butter that looked so fresh and good, then came across fresh jersey cow butter at the ferry plaza farmers market).
  • The demonstration sections: they bring technique and flavor into reach.

What doesn't work:

  • those disembodied hands wailing on a computer keyboard to into each episode are a little freaky.
  • Need more episodes! Looks like there are only two seasons.

Maybe I can borrow an episode for a bit:

I'm missing shows too of course. I haven't seen this Bourdain thing called At The Table. Yet. We're probably due for another excellent Top Chef series any month. Can't wait to read along with the amuse-biatch blog (often as entertaining as the episodes it covers). Of course, there hasn't been another installment of Daniel Boulud's After Hours (one of my all-time favs.). Chef Boulud, please return soon, we miss you!

Edit: Uh, so I stupidly forgot to mention on more great show that's started a new season. Stupid because this is probably my motivation for putting this post together.

Check, Please! Bay Area dished out a few new episodes to start its thrid season. This locally produced show's winning combination involves inviting 3 people to introduce and compare their favorite restaurants. The discussion and food porn are usually a lot of fun.

What works:

  • Love the local focus. We watch and cheer for our favorite restaurants, debate where we'd take people, and add new destinations to our list.
  • Leslie Sabracco keeps the conversation lite and fun. She's an expert with wines and drinks and usually brings an interesting factoid about a restaurant's wine list.
  • The series has a bunch of good stuff online. In addition to each broadcast there are blogs, restaurant profiles, flickr streams, embeddable videos.
  • Broadcasts are in true HD.

What doesn't work:

  • The DVR ends up recording everything because they never signal when an episode is new.

Hey look, they've moved all their videos onto YouTube.

I suspect someone will export this formula to the other restaurant-rich markets.

What restaurant would you bring to the show?

03/19/2008  — 

COPPA, friend or foe?

My first exposure to coppa was an amazing sandwich from Molinari's in San Francisco's North Beach. My second introduction came in 1998 while working for DoughNet a startup that provided financial services for kids. The federal government enacted the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) 15 U.S.C. § 6501-6506 during the boom years to assert some controls on the way the new crop of dotcoms collect and handle data from minors. The ftc didn't want to let the DoughNETs prey on kids.

What is COPPA?
COPPA requires that web site operators offer the following provisions to its members:

  • Post a privacy policy on the homepage of the Web site and link to the privacy policy on every page where personal information is collected.
  • Provide notice about the site's information collection practices to parents and obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting personal information from children.
  • Give parents a choice as to whether their child's personal information will be disclosed to third parties.
  • Provide parents access to their child's personal information and the opportunity to delete the child's personal information and opt-out of future collection or use of the information.
  • Not condition a child's participation in a game, contest or other activity on the child's disclosing more personal information than is reasonably necessary to participate in that activity.
  • Maintain the confidentiality, security and integrity of personal information collected from children.

The laws describe specific measures and remedies in order to comply. Even with the FTC-provided how-to guide they're not entirely black and white. There's a 'sliding-scale' for determining appropriate parental consent related to the type of engagement on the site. This grey-area, introduced in 2002, allows a less-thorough check for parental consent based on how the site operators want to use the user's private information.

Nick & COPPA
Nickelodeon describes in detail how they use this sliding scale to gain consent appropriate with their site: watching vids, interacting with Nick. characters, and playing games. For example, Nick wants to offer "points" or incentives to kids for playing games, this requires an account with a login, which can be created without any personally-identifiable information.

Additionally, Nick employs two "email exceptions" which say prior parental consent is not required when:

  • an operator collects an e-mail address to respond to a one-time request from a child and then deletes it; and
  • an operator collects an e-mail address to respond more than once to a specific request. In this case, the operator must notify the parent that it is communicating regularly with the child and give the parent the opportunity to stop the communication before sending or delivering a second communication to the child.

More information like the comment from Nick is collected on the ftc website, worth a peek.

Further reading...

I'll write more about COPPA in future posts and how it relates to specific features common to popular websites.

01/01/2008  — 

Happy 08!