Author Archives: anachostic

The Stars And What They Mean

Almost exactly 3 years ago, I was mulling over how to apply star ratings to albums so I could sort of make some sense of my music collection.  I actually never went through with it, but now I’m considering tackling something even bigger – applying ratings to the songs.

The big motivator here is building playlists.  When I first started with Plex, I had a vision of kind of a radio station feel to the whole thing, and appropriately, I made playlists that sounded like radio stations, or more like channels on XM.  And that worked pretty well for a while.  At some point, I can’t remember what happened, but I lost all my playlists and had to recreate them.  Ugh.

I remade some of my more used playlists and then I started reconsidering the others and broke them up into decades and sometimes by genre.  The problem there was sometimes I didn’t want to listen to all one decade of music.  So I made one massive playlist of all the singles in all decades.  And that one has been pretty much my go-to when I just need background music.  Realistically, I’m only playing 3 different playlists, but maybe with better metadata, that can change.

One big hurdle I’m facing is that there seems to be no way to get the ratings in and out of Plex from the files.  So whatever ratings I do, I would have to duplicate the effort in both Plex and the files.  And putting the ratings in the files has no benefit because Plex can’t import them (yet).  That sort of makes my Plex library more fragile, since there’s data in there I can’t just lose without a lot of effort lost as well.

Anyway, to disregard that problem for the moment, a bigger problem was how to efficiently get all that data?  Let’s step back even a little further, what exactly am I planning on with these ratings?

That point was something I dwelled on for a while.  I went around on it for a little while.  I considered using Plex collections, but those are only for albums, not songs.  Songs have Plex tags, and I looked into using them.  I thought maybe tags like "Single", "Top40", "Top10", and "#1" might be good.  But my inner software architect was displeased.  Initially, you would assume that "Top10" would also mean the track was "Top40" and also "Single" because of the inclusive nature.  So you’d only need one tag per song.  But that’s going to make the filters (queries) really messy because you have to put that logic into the filter.  If you want a list of "Singles" you have to also include "Top40, "Top10", etc.  The alterative is to use all appropriate tags where needed, so a #1 song would have all four tags on it.  That’s not pleasant either.  ugh.

So going back to the thoughts I had in my earlier post, what if I just made the star rating mean whatever I want it to mean.  So I quickly wrote down a scale:

1 star – Single
2 stars – Top 100
3 stars – Top 40
4 stars – Top 10
5 stars – #1

I think that’s usable.  And before I change my mind on it, how about that efficiency concern, now?  I had almost 2000 albums to go through and determine which songs were released as singles and what their position was on the charts.  And which chart, at that?

So obviously there’s a bunch of compromises that need to be made in this process.  The first was determining what stars mean.  The next will be starting with one source of data.  I considered I could use Wikipedia and look up each album to get the singles and chart positions, but that is woefully underpopulated, so I can’t use that for my primary source.  Billboard does this stuff for a living, I could try them.

As it turned out, someone had made a downloadable dataset of all the songs and chart positions on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts up to 2020 (far more than I needed).  After a quick download and import into a SQL database for easy querying, I felt I was closer.  While I was going to miss out on any 1-star entries, the dataset of the Hot 100 would cover 2-5 star entries, and I could backfill later.

At this particular point, I’m not able to do any automation of the rating import, because I can’t figure out how Plex stores the rating in their database.  I manually changed some things and didn’t see any data changes in the database, so initially, it’s going to be manual entry.  And then I can start building playlists based on singles and chart position, maybe mixing genre and release year into it.  Hopefully that gets me somewhere pretty good.

Work-Life Dynamic

I was recently thinking about a job interview I had a bit ago and I was sort of regretting that I didn’t go off on this topic when offered the chance.  I had a different story handy that I used and while that seemed to work, I felt this one would have made a better impression.  I feel like I’ve talked about it before, but that might have been to other people over some related conversation.  But anyway…

Recently, there’s been a spike in discussions about work and labor, partially about wages and benefits, and some about having to work at all.  The idea of universal basic income, deca-millionaires and the inequality around all of that is a good discussion to have, but it doesn’t address business concerns at the moment.  And it doesn’t answer the question they are asking right now: why should I hire you?

I have a couple answers to that.  Before I start, let me say that I do software development for a living.  I have done it for over 30 years.  Saying that is both a pro and a con.  To my benefit, I’ve been through a lot and have a lot of experience.  To someone who doesn’t see it that way, I am writing 30-year old code, which is not what modern businesses want.  The answers have to emphasize the former and dispel the latter.

To begin, the way I see things, there are two types of people that are probably getting interviewed.  You have people who program and you have programmers.  No, I think I’m going to try and make this story industry-agnostic.  So, said another way, you have people who "do it" and you have people who "live it".  Doesn’t matter what field it is, are you getting someone who will do as they’re told and get the job done, or do you want someone who will take ownership of the task and make it their mission to get it done?  There’s actually no wrong answer there; there are places for both types, and as I am of the latter type, if that’s not what the company wants, it’s not going to go well for either of us.

The cliche phrase, "do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life" can be true only if your employer allows that to happen.  While people who "do it" will wait around for guidance or instructions to do things, those who "live it" will actively push to make the job interesting and rewarding, because the challenge comes with the lifestyle.  The "lifers" will be seeking out these challenges all the time, on and off the clock, because that’s part of living the profession.  The "doers" will switch off their business lives at the end of the day.  That’s not to say that the "lifers" are doing company work off the clock, they’re just building their skills in general and if they can apply it to their work, that’s just a benefit – for both employee and employer.

Again, it doesn’t matter what profession or "level" you are, this will benefit you.  If you are in housekeeping and you spend your time reading and learning about efficiency and new techniques for sanitation and you suggest those things to your employer, maybe you’ll get to do them, maybe you’ll do them anyway.  But you are showing initiative, and maybe that’s the key word in this entire story.

The word "initiative" triggers some memories I have of people’s rants that employers are demanding initiative or criticizing that someone lacks initiative, and the employee argues in return, "You’re not paying me for that.  You pay me for the training, and I’ll do it."  That is a valid viewpoint for someone who is a "doer".  It suggests that they are not in a field they enjoy.  I think that’s fine.  You can be competent without initiative.  You probably won’t go as far, nor will you be as happy, but that’s the trade-off for being able to have two lives.

For a "lifer", the new skill being learned isn’t as much about having a bigger toolbelt to move to a new job or to demand more pay, although those are certainly perks for doing it, it’s about controlling your environment.  You know, another cliche.  If you don’t like where you’re at, change it.  Of course, you also have to get used to a lot of rejection.  This isn’t your company and you don’t make all the decisions, but coming up with potential solutions for problems is a life skill that will never not pay dividends.  And if you’re in a company that has a supportive management, you’ll be noticed.  If you’re in a company that has a backstabbing management, you’re in a better position to go to a better place.

So in summary, those would be my two arguments: that I am a "lifer" in that I am constantly applying and honing the skills of my profession, and that I will constantly be advancing new ideas to the company for our mutual benefit.  I would hope that there are more like me out there, but I know that I have only ever worked with one other person that I know practices and learns outside of work.  That’s not a good ratio.

Superstitions

Elsewhere, I had made a post talking about buying new chairs.  Today I am going to pick up one of those chairs and the other I think I’m going to hold off on until a major sale, Labor Day I think is the next one.  But my decision to buy the first chair was more than just, it’s a good chair or it’s a good price.  I felt there was something else that was prompting me to buy that chair there.

One of my friends is very superstitious, not in a bad way, but more in a way of seeing signs in a lot of things that normally I wouldn’t even give a second thought about.  I feel she would understand this.  When I first went to the store, I wanted an office chair.  That term probably conjures up a very specific image in your head and that’s what I was looking for, whether it be a high-back or a low-back version.  At sometime shortly after I entered the store, I had the thought of, did it have to be an office chair?  Because for whatever reason, I remembered that when I was young and poor, I never had an office chair; I had used dining chairs.  I have a very faint memory of buying two chairs from the oddball/clearance section of a furniture store and those chairs lasted a long time and eventually disintegrated.

As you would expect, I was greeted at the door by a salesperson who asked me what I was looking for and I said I wanted to see everything, but was looking for a desk chair.  She let me go off but frequently kept checking up on me.  At one point I told I didn’t have to have an office chair, it might be fine to have a dining chair.  Then I commented that some of the desks in the showroom seemed to be using dining chairs.  And then we passed by her desk and this was her chair.

IMG_20210715_172910

I am very convinced that is the exact same chair I was using at my desk 30 years ago.  The color is darker, but everything else is the same.  The chair even still had its original product label hanging on it.  What a nostalgia trip.

Some people might just say that’s a coincidence.  Ok.  It’s also a coincidence that there was a singleton chair in the farthest corner of their clearance section with no matching pieces.  Not a set of chairs or a pair of chairs, just one.  And I was looking for one chair.  Sure, that’s entirely likely.  Well, yeah, I guess it is. 

People want to attach more meaning to things than may be warranted.  After all, aren’t we seeing the greatest mass delusion in history playing out right now?  But maybe having some insight and recognition can open you up to new possibilities.  Maybe if I hadn’t noticed her desk chair I wouldn’t have been inspired to search every corner of the building.  Who knows?

I just went looking.  I found it.  Yes.  That is the same chair.  Slightly different frame, but yes.

Apr 99 Batch (4)

And surprisingly or not, the new chair is going to be in the same function, the desk chair for my recording studio.

Whole-Life Fulfillment

It was back in 2016 that I had made a post talking about my life insurance policies and how such policies were considered to be a bad decision by many economic people and I argued in favor of having the policies.  I had said that at some unknown future point, my insurance would be free.  Well, I was doing some account maintenance and review because of an upcoming significant life change and guess what?  That time has come.  I’m not going to go back in time and try to determine when I actually crossed that line, but I can say in 2021, I have made more in dividends than I have made in payments.

Here’s the actual numbers involved.  I pay about $135/mo for my two insurance policies.  So far in 2021, I’ve paid $945 in insurance premiums.  Now I don’t regularly check the balance of my whole-life policy because it’s not something that really needs any attention.  I’ve checked it three times this year and in those three times, the cash value of the account has grown $1433.  If it’s not obvious, that number is larger than $945.

Insurance is a bill, an expense in your life.  You should consider it lost money.  Even more so because you’re not supposed to get any benefit out of it – it’s for other people.  Not so with Whole Life policies, there is a cash value that you can access in retirement.  Detractors say that whole life policies are savings accounts for people who can’t save, because the deposits are faked as a bill.  So what!  It works.

So if my dividends for the year were anything over $945, I am effectively in the black.  And almost being 50% above my deposits, that is a decent return.  So now that this goal has been met, let’s look a little harder at the big picture.  This should make the naysayers feel more superior.

According to records, I have had my insurance policy since June, 2007.  My payment has actually gone down a little bit as the years have gone by, but $135/mo is a fair average of what I’ve paid a month.  So, how much have I paid to have insurance all those years?  Looks like almost $23k.  What is my current cash value of the account? A little over $17k.  If I want to be slippery about this I could say I’ve effectively paid $6k for 14 years of insurance, which is about $35/mo.  My $100k term life policy is like $16/mo, so I’ve been getting my whole life policy at term life rates.

But that whole discussion is just like dealing with percentages.  It’s bullshit.  Here’s the bottom line.  I purchased insurance at a rate that was not a hardship for me.  I’ve maintained that policy for 14 years.  The policy is no longer an expense and is now an investment.  It is behaving exactly how it was sold to me.

I do not believe whole-life policies are evil if they are crafted properly by a reputable company.

Two Things: Fuck Me And Fuck That

I’m in the market for an office chair.  Actually, I’m in the market for two of them, but one I need now and one can come later.  In my life I’ve been through many office chairs.  In most cases, it’s been a Staples "leather" office chair where the "leather" flakes off after a period of time.  Being so sick of it, my last purchase was a mesh chair, which hasn’t flaked apart, although it is beginning to pull apart at one seam.

So here’s the thing.  Leather office chairs aren’t cheap.  I mean real leather office chairs are not cheap.  For god knows what reason, you can get a leather living room chair or even sofa for less than an office chair.  When I made the choice to get a high-quality office chair in real leather that would not flake apart, I budgeted what I thought was a reasonable amount, $300.  After all, that’s 3x what I would normally pay for a bonded leather chair.  Not even close.  Double that, at least.  So, fuck me.

Which brings me to the second thing.  As retail everything continues closing down and shopping increasingly moves to online, furniture is a very difficult thing to shop for online.  Obviously there is the comfort aspect of the purchase, but what I’m more angry about is the absolute flood of shit from China and its misrepresentation and impossibility to ascertain quality.

Here is a very specific example.  Shopping for what is termed a "task chair", I’m looking for something that seems comfortable and has a bit of style.  That’s actually not as easy as it sounds, but I settled on a design I like:

image

How much is this chair?  Found at Overstock, it’s somewhere around $450.  It is advertised as "top grain leather", which is the primary criteria in my search.  Now I’m not going to just buy the first instance that I see, because, well, this is the internet, and you can easily find the exact same thing sold elsewhere.  And that, right there, is where the fury came in.

The chair (or a product using the exact image of that chair) is sold at: Overstock, Wayfair, Joss And Main, Etsy (huh?), 1-stop Bedrooms, Hayneedle, Walmart, Home Depot, Amazon, and on and on.  It’s sold under the brand names of ACME, AndrewHomeStudio, Major-Q, Industrial Lodge, Pettus Hamilton, Williston Forge, Bowery Hill, and on and on.  Angry yet?  It’s being sold for: $464, $969, $859, $655, $582, $407, $659, $719, $1120 (the last 4 are all at Amazon).

But, but.  That’s the internet.  Comparison shopping and all.  You take out the outliers and focus on the middle.  So, it’s probably a $600 chair.  probably imported from China for $300 and everyone tries out a different markup.  Every seller puts a different name on it so they have an excuse to say it can’t be price matched because it’s a different product.  Buyer beware, right?

Beware, indeed.  It was first at Home Depot that I saw the massive string of 1-star reviews saying the chair had a design flaw allowing the post to come loose and wobble and sometimes causing the seat plate to break.  Was this the same product as everywhere else?  I didn’t see those reviews on other retailers.  That’s when I really started to find how far and wide this product was and under so many different names.  The bad reviews may have played a part in the constant renaming.  The same complaints for the same product using the same picture over and over.

So anyway, fuck that.  Fuck the idea of buying furniture blindly online made by a mass-importer who will private label to multiple customers instead of being exclusive. And fuck paying over $500 for garbage.

You Want The Truth? You Can’t Handle The Truth!

I’m in the final stages of giving a fuck about my job.  There’s a lot that can be said about how that came to be, but one thing I wanted to focus on, which is prescient to these modern times is the mindset and behavior of capitalists and the people beneath them.

Whenever people start discussing topics like this a lot of emotionally charged terms begin being used, like: elites, millionaires, billionaires and more misnomers like conservatives, fascists, and on and on.  I’m not interested in all that.  I’m just talking about one guy and how he behaves and whether that behavior is the better or worse choice to make for someone in his position.

So, then.  The owner of this company, he’s a boomer, he’s a multi-millionaire, he’s staunchly conservative, and – I feel independently – he’s a capitalist.  I use that last term very specifically, because it encompasses certain traits that transcend all the former categorizations.  Academically, a capitalist uses resources to make money for themselves.  In practice, those resources typically are other people’s labor, thus, a capitalist uses other people to make that money for themselves.  Now, where I am going in this post is wondering if it is proper to be honest about that fact.

The owner’s company, my workplace, has had an extended period of decline spanning probably over five years by now.  And going along with that, we’ve had layoffs.  After every round of layoffs, we have a big company meeting where we are told the company is healthy, has no debt (this point I actually admire), and is profitable.  In every single meeting, it is pointed out that the company is profitable.  Sometimes we have meetings for encouragement, to say how things are looking up and how more business is coming.  In those meeting as well, the company is still profitable.

Here’s the thing about being profitable.  The employees shouldn’t give a shit.  As long as the company is breaking even, the bills are being paid, payroll will be met and they will get paid.  That’s the end of their involvement.  That’s it.  Profit is exclusively for the owners.  Bragging about or even emphasizing being profitable to employees is telling them right to their faces that they are making money for you.

Before I really misrepresent the point I’m trying to make, I want to recognize that profits can be reinvested in the business.  That reinvestment can provide a buffer for salary raises to occur until revenue rises to match the new cost of salary.  However, reinvestment in the business increases owner equity, which again, benefits the owner, not the employees.

In the most recent meeting (which was an encouragement meeting as we have had an event that is causing customers to flee), it was said again.  And this time, I wish to quote because the delivery was what spurred this post. 

"It is a business’s purpose to grow and make a profit, for its employees… *pause for dramatic emphasis* and its owners."

I have to give credit to the man.  He is honest.  I actually believe he is deviously crooked, but he speaks with brutal honesty.  It’s a special gift some have where they can tell you the truth right to your face and unless you unpack the second meaning of it, it sounds perfectly reasonable.  So let no one forget why they are here.  They are to make money for this man and his family (who are all co-owners of the company).

To close, this does sound like I am spouting communist propaganda.  That is not the case.  I believe there is a better way which involves employee ownership of the company.  And while that is a better way, I have another story for another post about the company I was at prior to this one where the owner was more devious than this one and inadvertently told the employees his plan to fleece them on his way out – using that very method.

And I never examined the counterpoint to the argument, which is, should the owner just not have said anything about that, like probably 95% of business owners do?  Is it better to not tell the workers what they are working for?  Maybe in another post another time.

The Last Time

I have probably talked about it before in other posts just in passing, but this is something that has been on my mind more frequently.  It was most obvious when I replace the roof on my house, which came with a 30 year warranty.  The realization was, "I’m never going to do this again in my lifetime."  And that started snowballing into analysis of what else was going to be the last time I ever did something.  I just bought a high-quality couch and I don’t expect I’ll be spending that kind of money on a couch ever again.

A lot of it is purposely buying things that will outlive you.  There are some things that I’ve purchased that I didn’t expect to last as long as they have, like my office desk and its matching accessories.  They’re business-grade furniture pieces and they are holding up amazingly well after 15 years.

On another viewpoint of that, I was considering my house.  I have a 3 bedroom house.  There’s the master, the guest, and the third is my listening room with my stereo.  In that consideration, I came to the conclusion that I don’t need a guest room.  I’m never going to have a guest in my house.  I literally have no friends that would visit.  If they did, they’d stay at a hotel.  That room is literally wasted space.

The fact it took so long for me to come to that conclusion is surprising to me, and in a way, it’s not.  It’s kind of instilled in you that you need to have guest accommodations.  For why?  Just in case!  You never know.  But I really should know.  My life is not that complex.  I don’t have or want a lot of connections.  It’s just an old-fashioned tradition that doesn’t need to be in this modern world of convenience.

So I decided.  No more guest bedroom.  It’s going to be another room for me, not a room for some mystery nobody that’s never going to show up.  Like JG Wentworth paraphrased, it’s my space and I want it now!  Getting a high utilization out of this house is key to maximizing value.  Otherwise, why don’t I have a two bedroom house?  Because then I wouldn’t have a listening room.

In my daydreams, I thought it would be great to have a big house with a bunch of different rooms and each room could serve one purpose.  I never really looked at what I had and realized I had the space to create a room with a defined purpose – and that purpose not be "being empty".

So, it was a year or so ago when I hosted a guest who had COVID and had to isolate in the guest room.  And oddly enough, at the time, I didn’t realize that would be the last time I would have a guest staying in the house.

No One Wants To Play Nice Together

Especially EBay.

I would say I have a love/hate relationship with EBay, but I neither hate them nor love them.  They either annoy me or pleasantly surprise me on occasion.  One of the more recent annoyances is their acrimonious split with PayPal.  PayPal is a company that I am more fond of than EBay.  I have some reservations about them, but overall, I think they do what they do pretty well.  And EBay deciding to break from them was a step in the wrong direction. 

So, EBay purchases are now handled internally by EBay.  Whatever.  It doesn’t matter to me whether EBay or PayPal charges my credit card.  However, when it comes to selling, things get a bit worse.  Previously, PayPal essentially served as "EBay Bank" and everything funding came and went through them, including selling receipts and selling costs and whatnot.  Now, selling payouts need to go to an actual bank, which is not PayPal.  And the payouts are held for a short duration before disbursement (which isn’t a big deal to me, but for some, I can imagine they’d be more annoyed).

To set the stage for the specific issues I’m having, let me describe the general problem with the seller workflow.  You sell an item.  You get the funds, but you don’t have access to the funds.  The funds will go to your bank account at some point in the future, less EBay fees.  You have to ship the item.  You have to pay for shipping using other funds.  Now, I list items with free shipping and include my expected shipping costs in the sale price (because Amazon has trained us that that is the most effective way), so maybe if I had the seller pay shipping, things would be different.  I don’t know if the cost of shipping would be in the funds held for disbursement or would be available for use to pay for shipping, but anyway, this is what I’m facing right now.

Now, here’s the problem I’m having.  I have a complicated financial configuration of accounts for the primary reason of security.  If somehow one of my internet-facing accounts gets hacked, I want my liability to be minimized.  To that end, PayPal, Venmo, and Zelle only have access to one of my savings accounts, which keeps a low balance.  And anything that I can’t use my credit card for, I use PayPal.  if I can’t use PayPal, I also use that low-balance savings account.  You see what I’m trying to accomplish here.

Back to EBay.  I’ve sold some items.  I need to pay for shipping.  For whatever reason, EBay has been charging PayPal for shipping.  My PayPal has a $0 balance, because the funds from my sales don’t go there anymore, they go to my bank account.  So PayPal goes to my savings account to get the funds.  This has been working out, but has had unintended consequences. 

I got an email today saying I have exceeded the number of monthly transfers from my savings account.  Apparently, you are limited to 6 transfers a month for online savings accounts.  Excess transfers will result in a $10 fee.  Well, that’s not going to do me any good to pay an extra $10 for $5 in shipping costs.  The solution for this is to move money into my PayPal account so I can cover the shipping costs.  But I would have to move a larger amount of money to float the future costs, otherwise, I’m not doing anything different than PayPal is already doing, and I’ll get excessive transfers.

So the bottom line is, EBay has thrown a wrench into my setup because they are not putting the funds into the same account as they are taking shipping costs from.  And if I want to avoid that, I need to float the money in PayPal instead of an interest-bearing account. 

As a stopgap, I shut down my active listing, so I don’t have any more sales until I figure out a solution.  It might be as dumb as me not noticing a payment option when purchasing shipping after a sale.  It may be resolved by a setting I changed in my seller account to use the same account for seller costs as for funds release (although that sounds odd, because EBay fees should be deducted before funds are released anyways).  In either case, I won’t know until I make another sale and in the case neither of those do fix it, I don’t want to be stuck with a $0 balance in PayPal when it happens.  So the plan is to wait until next month to relist the items and I can float some money into PayPal in advance just in case.

EBay just made it harder to make money.

Lessons To Learn

In my previous post, I talked about music and "remastering" some of my old music.  Where I left off is that I was trying to redo some old keyboard pieces that used the Yamaha SW1000XG.  I bought a Yamaha MU80 as a replacement and that didn’t have the same sounds, so I bought an MU100.  To my surprise, again, not the same sounds.  So while I lick my $400 wounds and decide how I want to go from here, I made progressions on another musical concept.

I had written some guitar tunes a long while back, before I became a more aware and less offensive person.  As fortune would have it at that time, my voice could not cope with the style of singing required for the songs, so all I had recorded was the music.  There are some guide vocals in some songs, which are cringey to say the least.  It’s for the best they stay muted.  But anyway, the recording of the instrument parts left a bit to be desired as well, so I set myself to it to clean those up.

The first issue, which is just like the Yamaha issue, is trying to find the effects that I used when recording the tracks.  After many failed attempts to match up the guitar effects plugins, I gave up and chose new effect patches for the tracks.  They don’t sound the same as the originals, but no one’s heard the originals, so whatever.

The next step was cleanup.  In the original recording, there was a major problem with bleedthough in the mixer I owned, so a lot of tracks have a background noise of the click track.  Through a lot of clever editing and some aggressive fadeouts, I was able to hide any noticeable clicks.  As I made those edits, I determined how to best organize the project for mixdown.  This led to a solution of having the midi drum track span the full length of the song, including pre-silence and fadeout.  That way I could set the locators (which determine what part to mixdown) to the selected drum track and be good to go.

The step after that was mixing, burning, and testing the tracks in CD players: home and car, plus through computer speakers.  I have a spindle of 100 CDRs that I never thought I’d use.  I’m going to use them now.  As I did my tests, I adjusted track times, in cases where the mix cut off too quickly or in some cases, didn’t leave enough lead space for a CD player to audibly start the track immediately.  That was weird: that even if you want a track to start absolutely immediately, you still need a small bit of silence at the beginning otherwise it sort of quickly fades in.

And that was actually a problem, because I had two tracks that segued into one another – I couldn’t have a silent gap between them.  This issue was compounded by the software I was using to write the CDs.  Coming up with a resolution involved another step and more software.  To solve the gapless issue, I had to create a CUE sheet, which would identify the exact placement of the track boundaries on the disc.  And instead of burning multiple audio files, you burn one file that contains the whole CD audio.  The CUE file points to sections in that one audio file.

So now I have to create a single file of the entire album’s audio.  And this forced me to do the proper step of CD mastering.  In this step you work with all the mixed tracks together at once and make them sound cohesive.  And at the same time, you work out the timing of the tracks and the gaps between them.  It was something I was aware of in my listening tests – that some tracks needed volume adjustments – and the mastering process gave me that opportunity to balance everything out.  It’s something I expect to do in future projects.

So I’m up to test disc #6 now, which contains the level-matched tracks and also the gapless track changes where needed thanks to the CUE file.  When I burnt the CD using a new utility that utilized CUE files, I noticed some mentions of CD-TEXT being written, which allows CD players to pick up and display the track title.  I haven’t been able to see that in any players I’ve tried yet, but that’s another target to hit for future test versions.

Musical Progressions

It was a while ago I made a post with a lot of reservations.  It was regarding hauling out my music stuff and getting back into music.  And my reservations at the time were that I wasn’t going to get very far with my initiative because I’d been through the process many times in the past and each time ended up packing everything up and putting it away with nothing to show for the effort.

And, well, this is somewhat the same in that it has not been too productive.  I developed one idea I’d had for many years, but haven’t gotten enough to really make something concrete.  And while that was developing, I also worked on getting the recording station all set up.  I bought a new micro computer, monitor, and monitor stand.  I installed and set up my old Cubase software (which is way behind the times and yet more than I’ll ever need).  Although that’s all ready to go, I haven’t really started anything.

I knew I would have an uphill battle getting my physical abilities back since I hadn’t played in such a long time.  To my surprise, my capability came back faster than expected.  However, I plateaued quickly and my stamina was much diminished, so that was a little discouraging.

Instead of giving up, I decided to pivot a little bit and try to get some inspiration and relearn some engineering technique.  I have a lot of old music that exists in MP3 format.  It should be in FLAC format to be of the best quality.  Additionally, some of those songs need a little improvement.  One in particular has the beginning sort of cut off and I have no idea why I accepted that at the time.  Since I have the "source files" for the songs, I should "remaster" them in a sense and bring them up to a standard where I won’t need to worry about quality anymore.

What does that entail?  Well, I have to recreate the recording setup I had back when I recorded them.  This is not a trivial matter for me or for anyone who has ever attempted something like this.  While my case is relatively simple, imagine an actual professional musician trying to track down vintage synthesizers and recreating the patches that were used on each track.  It highlights the need for documentation in a studio.  I admit, I didn’t do hardly any – I never really gave it any thought.  So when I loaded up one of my old files and got a message about missing plugins, I essentially have to go hunting for vintage synthesizers.

After a certain length of time, there isn’t much hope for me to recreate some of the music as I would need thousands of dollars worth of older synths to do it, but a lot of my newer stuff used virtual synths and I still have that software.  I mean, most of it, I do.  Some I had to really go out and hunt for as it was discontinued.  I still don’t know if I have it all yet.  I’ve only worked on a couple songs.  Always keep backups of everything.

One of the bigger problems I faced is that I used a synth from the time that was on a sound card – the Yamaha SW1000XG.  I do still have that card, but I can’t install it in my new micro PC system.  I was able to find a virtual version of the same synth, called the SY50XG, but it had a serious problem where you couldn’t directly select the patches per channel.  You have to do patch changes through SysEx messages.  That’s not insurmountable, except for the fact that I don’t know the exact patch that I need.  That lack of documentation, you see.

So, money to the rescue, as usual.  The SW1000XG is supposedly a PC card version of the Yamaha MU80 synth module.  I was able to find one for under $150 on EBay, shipped from Japan.  When it arrives, I should hopefully have everything I need to recreate the old songs and remix them at full FLAC fidelity.  All I should have to do is change the port from what was the SW1000XG to the MU80 and the patch I had selected on the old synth should map right to the new one.

But even this overall process is a real pain.  My recording workstation is not comfortable.  I have the choice of standing or sitting on a wood stool.  The keyboard is a mini keyboard with embedded touchpad, like using a laptop.  And all this equipment is in my music room, so there’s no real space to stretch out.  I feel like I need to eliminate my guest bedroom and make that a studio room, but I don’t want to do something drastic like that yet.

Over the long weekend, I worked on the project on and off in something like 30-minute increments.  Most of it was installing missing software synths and testing them out.  The recording PC is not network connected, so if I needed anything, I would have to walk back and forth between that and my regular PC in another room, transferring files on a USB drive (they used to call that "sneakernet" in the days before widespread computer networks).  So that process was annoying and exhausting in itself.

But I guess the big positive takeaway is that I haven’t given up yet.

Follow-up edit:

It turns out the MU80 is not the same thing as an SW1000XG.  After receiving the device and integrating it with my setup, I tested it out on a track I knew to use a lot of Yamaha sounds.  Very specifically, the drum kit I needed didn’t exist on the MU80.  Research, which I should have done before purchasing, would have given me the information I needed.  One web site gushing about the SW1000XG having 1200 sounds and 46 drum kits, then a Wikipedia article for the Yamaha MU series listing the different models and their capabilities gave me the full story.

The SW1000XG came out in 1998.  The MU80 came out in 1994 and had 729 sounds and 21 drum kits.  The MU100 came out in 1997 and had 1267 sounds and 46 drum kits.  And, you know, even if I was dumb enough to ignore the timeline, I should have given some credit to the model naming scheme.

The end result is I have to buy a Yamaha MU100, meaning I now have an extra sound module that is of little use to me.  Luckily, they aren’t that much more expensive than the MU80, but still, double the cost kind of sucks.  I suppose I can sell the MU80 and recoup some of that cost.