Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Heading to Vail! Woo Hoo!

I first went skiing in 1972. BUT, I call myself, "the skier OBVIOUSLY from Ohio." It's not just that I've never skied any real mountains or seldom frequently enough to amass much skill, I don't think I have much natural talent.

No matter. I make up for that with the ability to have as good a time as anyone. On rare occasions, I think I look good doing it. Spectacular, sometimes, until the terrible fall comes. At my age (50) and with my history (worn out body parts from many marathons), I usually can only take one nasty fall per day. I'm not sure I can take more than one day of skiing.

Vail Snow Report

A week from Saturday (December 8th), I'll be in the Rocky Mountains on a REAL ski trip for the first time. It's very interesting that almost none of the skiers I've met who are on this trip have the kind of humility I've displayed on this page! I met a bunch of them tonight and, although they are a really fun bunch of people, every single one of them is (at least conversationally) twice the skier I am. These are all much more experienced (and older) skiers.

I've experienced something like this before, going on a ski trip by bus with a group much older than me. This group seems just as old and more skilled.

No worries, though. If anything, this is a sociable group. I am sure I will enjoy the trip. Hopefully I will do well on the slopes.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Black Wednesday

Every once in a while in American culture you hear of an event being held for the first time and being proclaimed as a new tradition. I'm not sure what it was that I heard that about recently. It may have been The Christmas Story play (based on the book and movie, the movie having been shot here in Cleveland). Obviously, the idea of a new tradition is absurd. As is trying to CREATE a new tradition. It has to just happen.

Black Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve, is truly a new(er) American tradition. It is also called "the biggest bar day of the year" (like Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and "the biggest shopping day of the year"). Neither of these days really are what we call them (the biggest), but the are TRADITIONS!

The crazy fun of shopping way too early in the morning for bargains is real. So too is that huge bar night. I partake in both, but more of the shopping than the bar night (I only do that some years). I woke up this morning with a great idea for this year - go see the Lords of the Highway (my favorite Cleveland local band) and do a big time amateur video shoot of the band.

I am no stranger to recording bands (especially the Lords) nor to doing videos. But this time I am going to coordinate a two camera shoot and multichannel audio recording. I previously did a video shoot of a little specialty band The Shrill on a black Wednesday, using my Canon mini DV and doing separate audio on my iRiver H120 (see the blog post about my recording rig). This time we will use two Canon mini DV cameras and two iRivers. I have better audio gear that I could use (an Edirol 10 channel 24 bit 192 kHz fire wire device) but the iRivers will do. We should be able to get one off the board and the other with a room mike. My friend Dale immediately agreed this was a good idea and he will run some of the gear.

It's really nice to have a lot of time off at the holidays and to have my kids coming home from college, and it's great to have a hobby goal for the biggest bar night of the year. I hope it goes well.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Recording Rig Details

My first experience recording a rock concert was with my friend Frank back in 1973 or so. We tried to record pieces of an Electric Light Orchestra/Linda Ronstadt/Beach Boys concert from the 17th row of Public Hall in Cleveland. I wore an army surplus overcoat and carried a good sized cassette machine into the place. It sounded terrible, of course, and it was a major effort.

I don't remember doing much else like that until me and Dale decided to try doing some Lords of the Highway shows with his Sharp mini-disc. We played around with a bunch of different microphones in my basement and settled on a little one that had come from a 80's era GE video camera. We got excellent results from that very first show we recorded at the Lime Spider in Akron. I was encouraged by this but I really wanted something stealthier. I didn't own a mini-disc machine and I wasn't too keen about the compression it uses (although it's pretty good sounding, as compression goes). We also had no way to transfer files - they had to be sent to the analog out.

A couple years ago there were a couple pro audio devices available that did hard disk or flash memory recording - there are more out now - and there were the good old DATs. DATs were too clunky (no way they can be stealth), battery life is poor, etc. The pro audio stuff was too new and expensive and also a bit bulky. I was intrigued by various MP3 players that could record so I started investigating them. What I learned was that they were mostly crap. Mostly, but not entirely. There was one device that stood WAY above all others - the iRiver H120. It could record WAV files and although it was slightly larger than I would have liked, it seemed to meet my requirements.

Upon further investigation I learned about an amazing open source project called Rockbox. The idea behind "Rockbox for the H120" (and H140, H320, etc.) was to fix everything that was wrong with recording on the H120 (there were a number of issues) and enhance those recording capabilities. As a platform, Rockbox also brought along lots of other cool features.

Here's how it works. You get an H120 (or other compatible model - H320, H140). You get directions on creating a boot loader from the site, and download the latest image to your Rockbox. You can then boot into either Rockbox or the original firmware. That, of course is an over simplification, but the details are on the Rockbox site. The site is a little strange for navigation (like many open source projects) but persevere and you will find everything.

For microphones, I use "Microsound Stereo-Y" electret condensers which can be found on eBay for a little over $20. Some guy makes them. They work fantastic. The iRivers will power the condenser just fine (no box needed).

Unfortunately, iRiver H120's sell for more used than they were new. Because they have become so popular among concert-recorders, the price has risen dramatically. Expect to pay at least $200 for one in good working order (and you know how that goes on eBay, good working order may not be good working order).

What can you do with this? Record incredible audio, and lots of it. At 20 GB, you could record Woodstock on this thing. Battery life is about 7 hours doing wave files with a good battery. MP3 are probably in the 24 hour range. You'll be able to record a whole evening of bands in 44kHz (or 48 kHz) 16 bit wav files. You can continuously stream for hours. It will break up the wav file at just under 2GB for compatibility, but you won't miss a beat. With the H120 you have separate preamp and recording gain controls. You have nice meters that tell you what is happening. The text is small. The recorder streams the audio into memory and only spins up the disc and writes when it needs to. Thus the great battery life. A byproduct of this is you can leave it to pre-roll 30 seconds before you hit record. You hit the record button and the recording actually starts 30 seconds earlier. Is that cool or what.

Let me know if you go out and get one or if you need some help. Enjoy!