[RPM2011] Tracklist

What I don’t mention in this video blog (but I did on my blog on The RPM Challenge) is that I’ve also decided on a title for the album, Wasp.  You can head over there if you want the full description, I’m too lazy to repost something I’ve already written here.

Also, an interesting thing to watch in this third installment is my beard.  Which I’m sure you’re just dying to be updated on.

Why dual-boot Linux when you can run it from a USB flash drive?

I’ve been a sideline fan of Linux for a long time.  My very first experience with it was buying one of those 800 page, dictionary-sized technical manuals for Linux which came with Red HatSlackware and Caldera.  I effectively destroyed my Windows 95 box trying to get Red Hat installed and failing.

After that, I was much more cautious, but I’ve always had an active interest in Linux.  For about a year I trolled Distrowatch to keep up-to-date about distribution updates and what was hot.  While I was working at Albertsons, I randomly decided to install 5 of the most popular Linux distributions into a VirtualPC environment to test them out and see which one I liked best (I ultimately decided I still liked Ubuntu best, with Fedora being a fairly close second – if it wasn’t for the fact that I dislike KDE).  I’ve tested more Linux distributions than I can count on my fingers and for about a year I ran Ubuntu as my primary operating system at home, only booting to Windows for games.  I gave that up when I left my job at Albertsons to do web design full time.  As much as I like Linux, running virtualized versions of Adobe applications was just going to unnecessarily eat up resources, and I’m still not ready to switch to GIMP (though I could probably ditch Dreamweaver for just about anything else as long as it runs well).  For a few months I had an Ubuntu partition on my main system, but I never used it, so I got rid of it.

Linux on a stick

For the winter holiday, I got a USB thumbdrive.  The main use I had in mind for this was pretty much the same as my old zip drive when I was in college – to store large files – mostly graphics — that I could transport and use on other systems.  We don’t have a printer because for the amount that ink cartridges cost vs. the amount we actually print anything on paper, it’s just not worth it, so I end up going to FedEx/Kinkos to print stuff, using their online form to upload files from home.  This is fine and dandy, but when I have something that I know would take them 3 minutes to run if they just got off their ass to do it, it’s annoying to wait a half hour or longer for them to call and say it’s done.  Enter the thumb drive: I can save whatever document I need to print on that, take it to the FedEx/Kinkos office, and print it myself.  When I noticed they had USB ports for such purposes, it was instantly on my list.

Realistically, I only need maybe 500 MB for anything I might possibly need to print, if that.  The USB thumb drive (which now lives on my keychain) is 2GB – so what to do with the remaining 1.5GB?

My first task was to export my data from LastPass to the thumbdrive.  I’ve been using LastPass and updating all my passwords to more secure ones (14 characters, alphanumeric with symbols, randomly generated), so this way I could have a backup of my passwords that was always on me and encrypted.  That’s 138KB.

Then I saw a blog post on LastPass’ blog that talked about how to install a portable browser onto a USB flash drive and install their plugin on said portable browser – that way you can take your entire password vault to any computer you want and run the browser from your USB drive.  I went straight out and downloaded Google Chrome Portable, installed the LastPass extension (and, actually, ran Chrome’s sync to grab all my other extensions and bookmarks).  Now I have an entire browser with all my ridiculously encrypted passwords that can run straight from my USB drive on any (Windows) computer.  That was another 150MB or so.

I started toying with the idea of running Linux from a USB drive and started looking into how it was done.  Most of the manuals and blogs I found on the subject were a couple years old, so that didn’t help when many (if not most) Linux distributions release updates at least once a year if not more.  I did, however, learn that running the portable version of Ubuntu took between 1-2GB and would wipe out any existing data on your drive – not ideal, so I started looking at alternatives.

I chose Puppy Linux because it’s designed to be small and portable (100MB!).  It also doesn’t seem like it gets updates every 6 months which, in this case, is a good thing (since I won’t be updating an operating system that lives on a USB drive).  The documentation on the Puppy site is a bit of a nightmare, though, so I waited.  Then I stumbled on Pendrive Linux.  Pendrive Linux has a Universal USB installer that will install any from an exhaustive list of distributions (and any distro you want that’s not on the list) directly to your USB drive without you needing to do much of anything (other than download the actual ISO).  The link built into the installer for Puppy Linux Lupu 5.2 was broken, but I was able to navigate through the FTP server to find where it actually lived.  After downloading the ISO, the actual installation took maybe 5 minutes.

From what I’d already read, I knew that I’d need to go into the Boot Menu during startup to select the USB drive as a boot device.  About 45 seconds later, after being greeted by a friendly Puppy logo, I was at the desktop.  I was surprised by how quick the everything moved – I was used to LiveCDs where you clicked on something and have to wait a minute for the system to respond.  Everything behaved as if I was running an operating system directly off my hard drive.  The other thing that I found pretty cool about Puppy is that you can save your settings onto your flash drive, which means that when I clicked on Browse and was prompted to install a browser (Chromium, onto which I again installed the LastPass extension and then synced my bookmarks and preferences), it would be able to save everything I downloaded into its save file.  LastPass bitched at me for using the autologin option, so when I was prompted to save my Puppy preferences when I went to shut down, I encrypted the save file, so you’d need to enter a password to get to the Puppy desktop.  You can choose the size of your save file – I chose 512MB, the default – in sizes which range from very small (I didn’t pay attention, but I think it was as low as 64 MB or less) to 2GB.  All told, with Chromium installed and my 512MB save file, the entire operating system takes up just 640MB, leaving me with more than a gigabyte to do whatever I need to.

Now, not only can I run a personalized browser on any Windows computer from my USB drive, I can run an entire freaking operating system from my USB drive, presumably (though this is, as yet, untested) on any computer anywhere.  And it fits in my pocket.  If I wanted, I could install a LAMP onto Puppy and tell people I had a webserver in my pocket.  But that’s a little insane, I think.  The whole process was surprisingly, ridiculously easy and I never once needed to boot from a LiveCD or otherwise boot into Linux to run the install except to actually test the fully-installed OS.

The idea that I can carry around a ready-to-go operating system in my pocket that I can use on any computer is pretty awesome (as well as the fact that you can get a drive to run said operating system for less than $20) and I’m sure has implications I haven’t even fathomed yet.

A History of Bedroom Production — Part 1

Mark started his history of music production yesterday, and I thought I would follow suit.  I’ve never documented the process.  As I warned on his blog, my history is messy and doesn’t involve fancy equipment.  In fact, to a large extent, it mostly involves the cheapest equipment available.  But I’ll get to that.

It all started with the picture above.  That’s me in maybe fourth grade.  (I can tell because not much later I would grow a mullet .)  I was always enthralled by my dad’s huge record collection (though it seemed big at the time, I passed him up with my CD collection many years ago) and I was raised by MTV.  I mean that literally.  I would get up in the morning — my dad hadn’t woken up yet — I would ask to watch TV, and immediately switch on MTV where I would often be greeted by Awake on the Wild Side with KISS and Quiet Riot and Def Leppard and too many hair metal bands to name.  We always had music playing, in the car, while we were eating, music was always around me.  So, I was always interested in playing music, but I had no idea how.  At one point I asked for a guitar and got a plastic, steel-stringed Dukes of Hazard guitar.  I tried and failed to make it play music and one day I smashed it, either out of frustration or a desire to be like Pete Townshend, I’m not sure which.

I moved on to a mini Casio keyboard.  That was a bit easier to manage.  I could make it play little ditties that I wrote and they didn’t sound horrible.  When I got the keyboard in the picture above, I was pretty thrilled.  It wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t the worst, and sometime after that I started being able to teach myself the melodies to songs that I heard.  It wasn’t always pitch perfect, but it was close enough to be recognizable.  My dad bought me one of those “play popular hits on your keyboard” books with notations for the auto-accompaniment and the melody — the resulting product sounded like an elevator music version of the original, but through that, I started to learn how to read music.

Later, I picked up the saxophone and started playing in my school band.  I remember when my dad told me that the sax was paid off — I didn’t really fully understand the full implications of what that meant, but I knew that it meant it was mine.  I was never very good, but I was never very bad either.  Through band, I met a couple other guys and we started a band called Zygote (I was very big on names that started with X’s or Z’s — I thought it made them more hardcore).  We had two rehearsals in which we tried (and failed) to play “Come Together.”  It was then that I realized that playing in a band was harder than playing by myself.

But it wasn’t until high school that I really started working on my own compositions.  And it started with a classmate named Lawrence.

My musical interests were always varied.  Through my dad’s record collection, I was heavily into 80s music and New Wave and also classic rock.  As I began to form my own musical tastes, I ventured into metal, and when I dug into the roots of metal, I found punk rock.  Now this was music I could play.

The point of punk — as I discovered it — wasn’t that you could actually play your instrument.  If it was loud and if it had attitude, that was all that really mattered.  There was one small problem: punk was dominated by guitars; I couldn’t play guitar.

The next thing on my wish list was a Karaoke machine.  I saw one in a music store once.  It had 2 mic/line inputs, dual cassette decks (good for overdubbing), and an auxiliary input in the back with RCA jacks.  With this, I could record a track on my keyboard, play it in one deck while playing a second track on my keyboard, recording both, and then repeat or add vocals.  This became my 2-track mixing station for a long time.  My friend, Dave, shared my passion and my ghetto approach to recording equipment.  He played bass, but soon took up guitar and mastered that, as well.  He would loan me his bass and he taught me how to play.  Together, we formed a band called Deviance.  We weren’t very good.

[audio: Meathead.mp3]
Deviance – Meathead (Original Version)

I recorded my own songs under the same name.  Those were quite possibly worse.

And so, I started writing music.  And I did it a lot.  And the music went from atrocious to somewhat listenable.  I  even did a few performances at my high school.  By then, I’d changed the name for my solo music to Fœtus Kryste and I was using a combination of synthesizers and bass with a distortion pedal.  I traded a stack of punk CDs + $50 for a bass guitar from a friend of mine who would later be a partner in my third band, called Everything.

[audio: IAmtheWalrus.mp3]
Fœtus Kryste – I Am the Walrus

By this time, I had already bought a second keyboard, this one had an actual midi output.  I saved up the $100 or so that I needed from my paper route and got the Concertmate-1000 from Radio Shack.  It had 2 things I deemed to be important: one was the midi out, which I knew I would need to feed into the computer.  The second was variable touch response, which means that when you hit a key lightly, it plays the note lightly.  My old Yamaha keyboard played the same intensity no matter how hard or soft you hit the keys.  The Concertmate-1000 wasn’t much, but it was functional, and it’s actually what I still use now.  I hadn’t yet used the midi function primarily because my computer didn’t have a midi input.  I thought you needed some kind of professional magic voodoo equipment to connect it to to make it work.  I put it aside and continued with my ghetto punk rock recording practices.

Lawrence was into Industrial and IDM before there was such an acronym.  He and I were both in drama, and — when there wasn’t anything going on — he would often sit at the piano and just play.  At some point or another, I started joining him.  When I went to his house, I was amazed by all his equipment.  He had stuff I didn’t have names for and couldn’t possibly imagine how they worked.  They made sounds that could have been from the latest Skinny Puppy album (which, at the time, was Too Dark Park ).  He played me a few of his compositions and I was hooked.  It was through Lawrence that I learned all I needed to play midi on the computer was a special adapter cable.  I found one at some guitar store and went to my mid-range NEC computer running Windows 95 and looked for “midi sequencer”.  The only thing I found that I could afford (because it was free) was a shareware copy of a program called Sweet Sixteen.

Sweet Sixteen was a MIDI sequencer and composition program.  It differed from the majority of similar programs out there, like Cubase and Cakewalk, because it was largely pattern-based.  It was designed such that you could easily write songs in a standard verse-chorus-verse format.  It had 16 tracks for midi output but you could actually program 64 patterns.  The only downside of the shareware version (which wasn’t really a downside to me) was that you couldn’t save files as .mid files, you could only use the internal .sng format.

As a result of Sweet Sixteen and eventually learning how to manipulate it in various ways, my compositions got much more sophisticated.  It was hard when I finally used another music application, because Sweet Sixteen worked so differently from everything else.

[audio: Unburdened.mp3]
Fœtus Kryste – My Hate is Unburdened

This is what I was using until I entered college, at which point a lot of things changed.  But that will be continued in part two…

MLK

I’m not the type of person who likes to commemorate or memorialize the occasion of a day like Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  For the most part, my observation of any holiday is whether I choose to take the day off and (at least since my son’s been in school) influenced by whether G has the day off.  Today he does.  I still plan on working.  However, this MLK quote was posted to Gizmodo the other day, and I found it poignant:

Yet, in spite of these spectacular strides in science and technology, and still unlimited ones to come, something basic is missing. There is a sort of poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.

This is the serious predicament, the deep and haunting problem confronting modern man. If we are to survive today, our moral and spiritual “lag” must be eliminated. Enlarged material powers spell enlarged peril if there is not proportionate growth of the soul. When the “without” of man’s nature subjugates the “within”, dark storm clouds begin to form in the world.

I’m not a religious person in the normal sense of the word.  But I’m always captivated by the passion, intensity and clarity in the words of African-American ministers and public speakers.  I’ve built blogs for a few and those were no exception.  They stand in stark contrast to my more conservative, traditional, tedious and boring Catholic upbringing.

This is something E and I talk about often; the idea that the more we, as a culture, become immersed and dependent upon technology, the more we lose a part of ourselves.  I’m willing to accept the digital replacements — however inferior they may be to their physical counterparts — for the things we interact with and love.  Books, records, tangible things that you can hold and experience and interact with in a primal way.  The idea that in 10 or 20 or 50 years every piece of media and information will be digitally encoded makes her blood run cold.  And I think MLK gets to the heart of the matter in the excerpt that Giz found; as we revel in our own mastery of technology and science, we lose the mystery and the magic of those things that science and technology has no bearing on, and, in turn, lose a piece of our soul.  The latest Kindle may be the best thing for reading books since reading books, but who can deny the joy of holding a book, feeling the tangible weight, maybe sneaking a peek at where your bookmark is in relation to the front and back covers.  As we move to a digital world, album covers — once large and beautiful, able to display a great amount of detail — grow smaller and smaller until they’re nothing more than 128 pixels square on an iPod or Zune.  I used to love to run my fingers across the spines of my dad’s record collection, pull one out, open it up, and stare at the inside art and read the lyrics.  That’s something you can’t do with iTunes, ignoring the loss of fidelity between actual lossless, mastered audio and encoded mp3s.  As we put on our 3D glasses and immerse ourselves in “the experience”, we lose the real experience of being in a theatre with a 30 foot high screen.

No, I don’t think MLK is talking about our media consumption, that’s just my angle on it.  Because I’m not going to get into a theological discussion about the state of our spiritual beings as a society — although I think he’s right about that, too.  I’m not sure where we stand with our moral being, although with the shootings in Arizona, the rise of conservative extremism over reasonable discourse and scientific fact (see: anyone who says the greenhouse effect is a hoax), and MLK’s own demise…well, there’s probably enough evidence there to support that, as well.

Despite my own natural inclinations, I’m thinking about Martin Luther King on Martin Luther King Day.  I’m thinking about how unfortunate it is for those of us left when visionaries are taken from us, and that the world that’s left in the wake is a bit darker without their light to guide us.