Wednesday, December 19, 2012


My new favorite (and free) music player, Foobar, has a spectrogram visualization tool built in by default. I haven’t really looked at spectrograms before, but I have looked at lots of sheet music, so the idea of tying the heard to the seen is nothing new to me.

I soon found myself entranced by trying to make sense of this sort of visualization. It plots time on the x-axis and frequency (on a logarithmic scale, which is how we hear music) on the y axis. The brightness of a marking represents the intensity of a frequency. Keep in mind that most instruments play with several harmonics at once—the different combinations of harmonics are what make a guitar sound different from a flute or a piano.

When you consider that most music has lots of voices going at it at the same time, each with their uniquely overlaid harmonics, it’s obvious that the spectrograph of a piece of music is going to be damned complex.

After you watch it for a time, though, it feels eerie how you can begin to “see” the sounds. You can tell a raspy voice from a pure one, and trace melodies across the landscape like ghosts in a storm.

As bewildering as it is for the eyes, though, our ears and brains take it in effortlessly, all the time, and it makes us feel great. This is perhaps even more fascinating: that there’s a mechanism to translate fluctuations in air-pressure into what we experience as music.

Here’s a part of Bach’s Art Of Fugue which is played on the organ. Look at those isolated tones with their perfect, evenly repeating harmonics.


Here’s Glenn Gould playing the C Minor Prelude from the Well Tempered Clavier Book I. Three things stand out for me: the geometrically steady rhythm, the cross spectrum regularity of the piece, and the subtly dramatic affect created by the slight sustaining of those bass notes against all this activity.


Here’s Gould is playing the C Minor Fugue. Again, the rhythmic regularity is impressive, and in this case it sets the stage for the playful interweaving of melodic lines.


And here’s some ambient electronica, the sort of stuff you might put on to meditate to, or to help you fall asleep. There’s a slow melodic rise and fall here. It’s so gradual it’s felt more than heard. This is music in slow-motion, and it draws a scene like a windblown Martian landscape.


Who would have thought that at this age I would find a new way to listen to music? There are times when I absolutely adore technology.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

More Miles

10.77 miles today. These longer runs are starting to feel easier and easier. I spend a great deal of the time feeling mildly high, actually--in a wholesome, fitnessey way. 

And it's a great excuse to bliss out to music. I have a hard time just sitting and listening to the stuff these days, which seems unfortunate. When I'm running, I'm as focused on listening as I'll ever be. It's amazing how much better mediocre music sounds when you're running, while decent music sounds absolutely great.

Little hints of boredom are just starting to poke their head through on some of these longer runs. It's sinking in that if I want to extend a run beyond ten miles, no matter how comfortable I feel, I still have to do one thing  for more than two hours. 

For the most part that's fine. Each new tune that comes over the earbuds has me good for another half mile, at least. I'm blessed with lovely places to run around here: stunning views of the ocean, woodland trails, quaint historic downtowns. The seasons change fast enough that even the same trails are varied from month to month. All this adventure without even getting into the car to drive to any of the other natural wonders that are within the radius of my work commute. So keeping that boredom at bay has been easy, so far. 

I guess I might as well run an official road-race one of these days. So far this has been a solo hobby done for my own satisfaction and amusement, but as I do more and more running it seems like it might be fun to strap on a number and run with some of my co-workers. Paying to do  something that I usually get to do for free rankles my stingy gene, but there has to be some value in the validation of your peers.

Running a five-K would feel trivial at the point; the Falmouth Road Race should be easy (if it’s not too hot that day); a half-marathon is just about what I'm ready for. 

Not that I could complete it with any tremendous speed, mind you. I'm averaging 5.5 MPH over mixed terrain on my own, which I don't think would put me on any leader-boards. 

After that, if my enthusiasm doesn't wear off and my knees don't start to protest, building up for a full marathon seems like the next thing to do. The qualifying times for the Boston Marathon are awfully tight, though (3 hours 10 minutes for the whole thing?) so despite that event being remarkably close by, I may have to leave the full marathon on the just a hobby list for a while. We'll see if my interest holds up long enough to get fast enough for something like that.

Now if only sitting down and writing for a marathon session would start to feel easier as well, I might be able to actually get a book finished. Practice, I guess, is the key. How is it possible to know this and still find it so difficult to sit my ass down and do it?

(You’ll notice I haven’t talked any more about Nanowrimo since early November. About that…well, maybe something later.)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Quick Nanowrimo Update

The word count's up around 7800, all pounded out on the Royal KHM which has been obliging me by chugging on at near-Selectric speeds with only the occasion key jam and skipped space. It's gratifying to spend so much time with a single machine and have its performance rise to meet my needs.

You will notice, however, that I am posting this from the PC with nary a typescan or photograph. For once in my life I can actually say there has been enough manual typing today.

So far I have quite a bit too much dialogue, I think, and even though these folks are more or less on plot-point they need to stop talking so much and start doing something. There's historians, demons, demon-robot hybrids, cults, supernatural politics and motorcycle restoration to be gotten to. Chop chop!

The first line of dialog in the novel is this:

"If you're here for some cranberries I'll have to go get mother."

It's going to get a lot scarier than that, I promise.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Messing With Springs

Who knew there was so much to know about springs?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Thanksgiving Dinner Preview?

He's handsome. But does he look too good to eat?

That is the question.

If only the bastard wasn't so damned friendly.

Friday, October 12, 2012

High Resolution Typecast

I set my scanner on its highest resolution to see how a typecast from the new Underwood would come out. Then I decided to churn it through some filters in the open-source image editing software The Gimp.

The original scan. Digital noise from the scanner was quite apparent at 1200 dpi.
Adjusted to a more Internet friendly resolution.
Contrast heightened.
Blurred to reduce the noise.
Introducing a little of my own noise.
A bit of cubism.
Bent in post-production.
A nice edge effect glow.
A little edgier.
Too much WD-40 on the ribbon.
What the Predator enjoys reading.
Almost got flowers growing in the text.
I always enjoy the interplay of analog and digital technologies.

It's a lovely typeface, I think. Maybe I'll get this printed on a couple of tee-shirts. Or a bumper sticker.

Information Density

No, I don't plan on outlining my entire novel this way. However, who can resist having a bit of fun with a new stack of index cards and a fresh ribbon?

The nice thing about these cards, I can be typing away on a page, come up with an idea to note for later, and insert an index card behind the paper, roll it through, type it up, and then pull it out without messing up the alignment of the page.

Who says you need a modern operating system to run two processes at the same time?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Casual Vacancy of the Tablet

I'm wondering what my fellow typewriter enthusiasts think about tablets.

I am tempted by the latest round of offerings from Barnes and Noble and Amazon. A 9" screen with just as many pixels as an HDTV--that's really remarkable, and it's just another example of how the world is realizing the Science Fictional dreams of my youth.

I could use the tablet to...

Read the news in bed, without going outside to pick up the newspaper. (Except that I can do that already with my laptop, and I don't even get the paper.)

Watch movies, alone, from anywhere. (Except that I find it hard to watch whole movies, and when I do watch them, I want to be with other people.)

Purchase and browse magazines without a stack of clutter building up in my house. This one is pretty damn tempting, and the scrap-booking feature of the new Nook almost has me sold.

But I just can't cozy to the idea of investing in a device with no keyboard. For me, the tablet says, "Consume, don't contribute." That pop-up on screen keyboard is just convenient enough for putting in your credit card number, and then it disappears again.

Is it just me, or does the idea of losing a keyboard feel a bit like, well...


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Underwood Acquisition

Some clean and lovely keys.

Decal on the back.

In its native environment.
Well, a bit of google image searching and some more time in the serial number database leads me to believe this is an Underwood Ace from 1938 or 39.  Funny, it struck me as being a bit newer than that. It's also funny that the last five or six typewriters I've taken home have been from this era.

If I wasn't done with collecting the things (I am, really...) I'd say it was time to skew the acquisitions a bit more to the 1960s era. Get a bit more color up in here. Not that I have any more room. Good thing I'm all done, then.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Versitility In The Artist: Emilie Autumn

I love it when an artist's spark shows through in a variety of work. It's so rare, mostly because early success at something creates an economic demand that they produce more and more of that thing. The book, the music, the art is a product, and can you blame the artist for producing more and more of what puts food on the table?

This is why novelists write under different pen names. Once their own name is a brand, they can't sell anything different until they change it.

But once in a while someone comes along who doesn't give a damn, she just makes one thing after another.

What if I could tell you that the same artist who could play the violin like this...

could also play it like this:

What if I told you she could sing and put on a hell of a show...

complete with aerial dancing...

and that she could take it completely over the f///ing top like this.

Also she plays the keyboards and writes books and poetry, and records spoken-word and music albums. She owns her own music label and she's strong enough to stand up to the producers who want to tamper with her work.

There's some music for the end of the world, right here. Steampunk meeting cabaret meeting Victoriana meeting Baroque. There's so many influences in here that her work just becomes its own thing. Good artists borrow; great artists steal. But this is more than remixing. This is taking all of the ingredients of shared culture and baking it into something delicious.

Part of the brilliance, I think, is that I don't necessarily like all of this music. I'm not a metal fan, and I've never felt compelled to go to a cabaret show.  But the more I listen the more I find myself liking it, despite my prejudice. The fact that fans of one of her albums might not care for the next one hasn't stopped her from making them all anyway.

I can't wait to see what she comes up with next.

Emilie Autumn's own website.

& her Wikipedia page.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Condemnation of Anticipation

The best fortune cookie I ever ate said, "Don't expect too much. You won't be disappointed."

(The second best said, "Help! I'm trapped inside a fortune cookie factory.")

You can learn about the Throw Down Your Heart movie here.

And John Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hit Man can be found here.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Royal KHM Gone Shiny

If I had not done this thing, I would have told you, I could not have done it.

I know it has a ways to go, but I can't resist some before and afters.

And look at that, it even had a serial number.
That little panel with the serial number was literally packed solid with dirt. Uncovering it was my first clue that this machine could really be turned back into something special.

Soft Scrub and cotton rags was the way to go. (Thanks again to Richard's classic typewriter restoration page.) Even as I saw it happening, I could not believe this was the same machine, or that such a lustrous lacquer finish could remain under 75 years' worth of grease, oil, tar and nicotine.The shine you see here is the result of cleaning and rubbing only. There's no wax or polish on here at all.

It took quite some doing, though. I got it to this point after a nine our marathon cleaning session, and it took the vigorous application and removal of soft-scrub an average of 30 times in each area to get to this finish. I went through an entire bag of rags from the hardware store, plus three old tee shirts.

Even with it shining like this, I could keep going and still have sticky yellow-brown gunk come off on the cloth.

I still need to have a go at the paper ledge and a bunch of the chrome parts. Also, bringing this outside on a sunny day makes it clear it really would respond well to some further efforts.

Mechanically it's improved dramatically as well. It responded well to a bit of oil on the carriage, and when I pulled off the front panel and those "shoulder" pieces, it exposed more gears and linkages for me to lubricate. Now it zips right along without a breath of hesitation. I can almost match the WPM of my Selectric on this thing.