Sunday, April 15, 2018

iRig AND THE Gorilla

iRig UA and the Gorilla Amplifier

Gorilla GG-20
Years ago I used to do a little guitar playing. I played with a couple of friends in high school, after graduation I played with some different friends, did a short stint as a bass player, and somehow never became famous. After a while I got into having a real life, and being a musician became less of a priority. For a long time I completely stopped playing. After dragging my equipment around for years I finally decided to start getting rid of some of my old stuff. I got rid of a couple of amps, and an effects rack, but I could never bring myself to get rid of the guitars. I just kept them around so that I could look at them and feel guilty for not playing. Then, one day it happened. I started to get the bug to play again. I'd pick up a guitar, play a little bit, but it wasn't all that satisfying. Although it's technically possible to play an electric guitar without an amp, it's just not all that fun.

Time to buy an amp

Rock Box
As I mentioned, most of the gear I'd gotten rid of over the years were my amps. I'm rusty, like 20 years rusty, so it's kind of hard to justify spending much money on an amp. Plus, I'm playing alone, so I don't really need something that projects sound. If I could find a little something that would push to headphones or a portable speaker, I'd be all set. I remembered a little device called a Rock Box from way back when. It was a battery powered effects box that could be used to run into an amp, headphones, whatever. This would be perfect for my needs, but as far as I could tell, the Rock Box was something that had long since gone out of production. However, while searching I came across the iRig by IK Multimedia - IK Multimedia iRig UA universal guitar effects processor and interface for Android devices Get Yours Here! There was a problem. The version they had at the time was only
Kramer Ripley
compatible with iPhone, and I'm an Android user. There's a whole thing about support for sound processing on Android, and devices like this often won't work. Luckily, they soon followed up with the iRig UA that essentially took the original version of the iRig and added an external sound card for general Android support. I was excited because I now had a portable effects box that could output to my headphones or a small portable speaker, and I could jam. The additional features that I hadn't expected blew my mind. I thought I was in for distortion, reverb, and maybe chorus. I didn't expect several amps, different mic options, and several more effects pedals along with presets to help me get started in crafting a sound. Crazy cool. Add to that the multi-track recorder, and I've got a little recording studio in my pocket. It brought new life into the guitar that had been sitting in its case 
Epiphone Les Paul Tribute Plus
mocking me for years. After a while of just playing directly into the headphones I remembered that my parents still had my very first amplifier buried somewhere in their basement, so next time my family was visiting on vacation I went digging. I found it. A Gorilla GG-20. A little terrible sounding beginner practice amp. It's showing it's age with dust in the controls, but with a little cleaning I've gotten the amp functional. Being driven by the iRig UA, it actually sounds pretty damn good. That got me motivated to play more, actually learn some new skills, and add a new guitar to the collection. I'm pretty sure I'm still not going to realize the rock star dream, but all of the toys makes for a really fun little hobby.

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Plex and Cutting the Cord

Cutting The Cord

dualHD TV Tuner
For quite a while now, we've been using the free version of Plex. If you haven't heard of it, it's a media library/server that you install on your home computer. It organizes your media library, and Chromecast you can access any of your shows/music/pictures from anywhere you like. Really cool, really simple to use, and it runs free on top of your existing infrastructure. They also have a paid service (subscription based, or a one time lifetime purchase) that gives you access to a few cooler features. One of those features is an over the air DVR and live TV program manager. This, naturally, requires that you buy a few more tools, so I haven't really been interested in trying it out.
using a phone client or a device like a
Recently, however, we stumbled across an all-in-one kit that seemed like it was worth trying. 

Cordcutter Bundle: HAUPPAUGE WinTV-dualHD TV Tuner + Mohu Leaf 50 Antenna + Plex Live TV & DVR – model 1662

The Hauppauge Cordcutter Bundle comes with everything you need to try out the premium features of Plex. 
  • WinTV (a software package that let's you watch TV with a TV tuner attached to your computer - not used for the Plex solution, but nice all the same)
  • DualHD TV Tuner - a USB TV tuner with two channels. This allows two channels to be viewed at the same time or two shows to be DVR'd at the same time, or a combination of watching one show and recording one show. 
  • Mohu Leaf 50 Antenna - a powered TV antenna to plug into the USB TV tuner
  • 3 Months of Plex Pass - the premium license to Plex that gives you access to all of the features, and serves to get you hooked on the service.
Setup was very simple. It was a matter of plugging the TV tuner into my computer, plugging the antenna into the tuner, and telling Plex (after putting in the code for the 3 months of premium) to scan for channels. From there, you get a program guide that lets you DVR shows you want to watch on your own time, or browse Plex for live TV stations. I'd seen some reviews saying that people had trouble making it work, but I've had no issues at all. My shows automatically record, I can watch them at my leisure, and I have live streaming HD TV if I want to watch that. 
I'm not thrilled with having to have a Plex subscription, so when my trial ends I'll just buy the lifetime license, but that's not such a bad deal, either. The license not only let's me control OTA TV, but it gives automatic syncing of photos from my phone to my server, OTA syncing of media from my server to my mobile devices if I'm planning on being somewhere that I don't have a data connection, and a few other features. 
If you've got a decent sized personal media collection, and still have a few shows on network TV that you watch, this is definitely something worth trying out. Because of my watching habits, it's been able to completely replace my Hulu subscription. 
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Friday, April 13, 2018

Audiobooks on Google Play

Finally - Audiobooks on Google Play

I've bought into the Google ecosystem. I'm all in, paying for the family plan to get Play Music All Access, YouTube Red (I admit I'd never pay for this on it's own, but whatever), Google Homes, Pixelbook, I'm all in. One major feature that has been missing for me is Audiobooks. Google Play Music is not an acceptable alternative. Yes, it will store your track position...Only on one computer, and only until you listen to another track or playlist. It won't differentiate between books and music, so if you've got a shuffle of your collection going on you might go from Iron Maiden's Powerslave right into chapter 18 of Stephen King's The Stand. So imagine my excitement when I start seeing the headlines: Audiobooks coming to Google Play! Finally, the day arrived, and I got to check it out. I went out, used some Google Play credits, and bought me a book. Since then, I haven't seen all that much in the media about it. The feature came online, and then sorta slipped into the background. So, what was it like?


There are a few reasons to like the service. It's all in the cloud, so you will have syncing across all of your devices. I can go from my phone to my Chromebook to my Google Home. There were some annoyances with each device asking to go back to where it left off, but for the most part keeping track of positions across devices worked pretty well.
Google home integration is pretty slick - Stumble into the kitchen in the morning to make coffee, tell Google to play my audiobook, and away we go. 
Of course, you can't ignore that it's Google, so your options are massive. 
Finally, no subscription. I have video subscriptions, audio subscriptions, I'm sick of subscriptions. Just let me buy crap. 


The big con really is the inability for me to upload my own audiobooks. Over the years I've spent more than a few dollars on audiobooks. I've got them on cassette, CD, digital format, all DRM free, and I like to listen to my collection from time to time. The biggest annoyance I have with audiobook players is that I have to copy files to my phone, and I can't sync status across devices. Google could solve this problem, but they don't have the ability to upload audiobooks in the same way that I can upload eBooks. 

Overall, the service is really nice. I'm just very annoyed that it doesn't allow me to use my own content. Oh, well. Off to Plex to see if I can make that work for my audiobook needs. 
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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Rebuilding Collections

Having a few days to kill

Yesterday I had to have a procedure done on my shoulder. Maybe I'll get into this in another post, maybe not. In any case, it's given me a few days off of work with nothing to do but take some pretty decent pills. 
With that in mind, I've gotten it into my head that I need to do a couple of projects. First, binge watch some 90's TV shows; Second, collect some data here where I hope to have a relatively stable place to store it. 
Give me an hour, or so, and I'll probably be off to some other fairly pointless exercise. 

Building a collection...again

I got into building my music collection in the 80's when cassettes were the thing. I still have quite a few of those items laying around, but that medium was an obvious dog. Tapes were very fragile, prone to damage, and frequently degraded simply by sitting. Periodically I work through replacing those digitally, but some of the albums are pretty hard to find. Anyway, from there I moved onto CDs. Much better medium. I've had a few of those become damaged and degrade over time, but for the most part if they were retail disks they've held up pretty good over time. 
Now, in true hipster fashion, I'm working on building a vinyl collection. I've got some originals from the late 60's and 70's that I've been dragging around for years, but no Iron Maiden. This will be the fourth time I've built that collection - Tapes/CDs/digital, and now vinyl.

Why vinyl?

Ok, so I admit it. There's the retro hipster cool factor. Moving on...
Digital recordings appear to have the highest longevity potential, but the quality really isn't always there. Yes, there are lossless formats and I do have many tracks in lossless formats in my collection, but I listen to digital music on the go. I use Google Play for digital music, I don't manually sync, I just stream. This means high quality MP3, but I listen on a phone or PC with my Shure se425 earbuds. You can hear a quality difference, and it's usually not hard to detect. So, I want something better for dedicated music listening. 
Ok, so what about CD? Yes, technically speaking, CDs are technically superior. Go read up on it. The problem is that often CDs are mixed for ear candy which translates to heavy on the bass and other effects that can't be done on vinyl without causing the needle to bounce out of grooves. Ear candy, but not a balanced mix. 
Back comes vinyl. Due to technical limitations that CDs don't suffer from, vinyl can often have much more balanced mixes that give clarity and independent voice to each of the tracks. For casual listening, you probably won't notice, but if you pull out your quality headphones and do a back to back listening of your favorite tunes on classic vinyl and then on CD you'll notice that the CD initially sounds much more tasty like a cake with a whole pile of frosting, but the vinyl will be much more detailed. Subtleties that can't be heard on CD will be clear on vinyl. For me, this makes for a more immersive listening experience. This doesn't matter to everyone, but I get a lot of enjoyment out of it. 
In any case, progress in rebuilding the Iron Maiden collection again: 

Iron Maiden

Title: Iron Maiden
Original Release: April 14, 1980
Original Label: EMI - Harvest/Capitol

Label: Sanctuary Records
Barcode: 0 881034 112477
Iron Maiden [LP] Get Yours Now!


Title: Killers
Original Release: February 2, 1981
Original Label: EMI

Label: Sanctuary Records

Barcode: Gotta go look at it...
Killers [LP] Get Yours Now!

Number of the Beast

Title: Number of the Beast
Original Release: March 22, 1982
Original Label: EMI

Label: Sanctuary Records
Barcode: 0 881034 112514
The Number Of The Beast [LP] Get Yours Now!


Title: Powerslave
Original Release: September 3, 1984
Original Label: EMI

Label: Imports

Barcode: 0825646248698
Powerslave [LP] Get Yours Now!

Book of Souls

Title: Book of Souls
Released: September 4, 2015
Label: BMG
Barcode: 4 050538 153514
The Book Of Souls [3 LP] Get Yours Now!

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Watching The World Go By

New addition to the collection #ironmaiden #numberofthebeast #vinyl #zenofbeer
ZenOfBeer On Instagram
Keeping things alive on the blog with some things, until I get back around to actually writing my backlog of posts. Enjoy :)
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Watching The World Go By

#bowl of #rope #balls #zenofbeer
ZenOfBeer On Instagram
Keeping things alive on the blog with some things, until I get back around to actually writing my backlog of posts. Enjoy :)
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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Watching The World Go By

#santa brought me something to add to the collection #IronMaiden #killers #ZenOfBeer
ZenOfBeer On Instagram
Keeping things alive on the blog with some things, until I get back around to actually writing my backlog of posts. Enjoy :)
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