Sunday, December 28, 2008

Mont Royal

Here's Montreal's Metro that I mentioned earlier. We were closest to the Guy-Concordia station on the green line. Way back when I used to live in Montreal (1974-1979) we used to live on the mainland, beyond the Longueuil station (now called Longueuil-Universite-de-Sherbrooke). Several of the station names have changed as the Metro has expanded. I think when we were there the green line only went as far as Atwater, ending at Frontenac on the other end. I don't think the blue line even existed back then and Henri-Bourassa was the last station of the orange line. The 1976 Olympics had a lot to do with the expansion, although I don't recall which station was called Le Stade or even if there was one (I think there was one). A side-by-side map comparison would be interesting to look at.

Above are two Metro plans, atop the current (2008) plan, below the 1966 version (from From what I recall, in 1974 the metro hadn't changed much since 1966. I think it expanded for the 1976 Olympics, at which point the plan changed, but up until then, my first memories of the plan are as the 1966 one. Notice that back then the central transfer station was Berri-de Montigny, Jean-Drapeau was Île-Sainte-Hélène (adorned by the Man and His World logo) and Guy-Concordia was simply Guy.

But I digress...the title of this post is Mont Royal as it was meant to feature the pic from atop Mont Royal, where we ventured up one snowy day. My calves were sore for two days after that but it was an excellent hike. The view, while a bit overcast, still shows the iconic McGill library (at least that's what I think it used to be; I think it may still be).


Here's a walk down Ste. Catherine, sort of the main (touristy) strip, downtown Montreal. Lots of shops up and down the street. A lot of it accessible via the Metro, but we braved the snow and cold to get a pedestrian's viewpoint of the street in winter. And to bounce in and out of various stores. There's even the Swedish H&M that is a fixture of most European downtowns. Our first stop was a phone booth though, since I had to phone in to my bank to let them know that yes that was me trying to withdraw some cash up in Canada. A bit of a hassle getting my ATM card unblocked, but better safe than sorry I guess. I just need to remember to phone both the bank and the credit card people before flying off somewhere. Anyway, our destination that day was The Hudson's Bay Company, or simply The Bay, a Canadian department store. You can see the store in the pic below.

Flight to YUL

Last week we flew up to Montreal for the holidays. We flew through Detroit. On descent Corey spotted a shipping lane through an iced over section of what I think may have been Lake Erie. I had to look this up after our return to see whether this body of water might be visible on approach to DTW. I think it's the southwest portion of Erie, and possibly part of a shipping lane connecting Lake Ontario, which then I think connects to the Saint Lawrence Seaway and out to sea. All the Great Lakes are connected, and apparently connect down to the Gulf of Mexico as well as the Atlantic (via the St. Lawrence).

And here's Montreal at night a few minutes before our plane touched down. I used to live in Montreal back in 1974 for five years, but I can't recognize anything in the pic. The airport (P. E. Trudeau, formerly known as Dorval) is southwest of Montreal's downtown, but I can't tell where Centre-Ville might be in this pic.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

More Music Gear

The second band I play in, Klaxon, a roadhouse rock band (unlike the Hoodoo Hounds, a blues band), is gearing up to play gigs around town in 2009. One of our guitarists, and the guy whose barn we practice in, just went out and picked up a 32-channel mixing board. It's a Yamaha MG32/14FX model, and it's honkin' big! I've no idea how they intend on carting the thing around to gigs, hopefully it's not too heavy. If you don't know what one of these is for, it's for plugging in and mixing (equalizing) all the various sound instruments that produce sound. Why 32 channels you ask? They want to run two channels per guitar (direct in and off the mic pointing at the amp). We have two 6-string electric guitars that trade off on lead/rhythm and one bass. That's 6 channels right there. The front man wants to play a bit of amplified acoustic guitar, so that's potentially two more channels. Meanwhile we all want to sing as well, with the front man singing lead vocals and the rest of us providing backup when needed. That's another 5 channels for vocal mics. I just ordered a Shure WH30XLR headset condenser mic with XLR connection so that I can sing without bumping into a mic hanging off a boom stand. I've already sung like this a couple of times at practice and even though I'm a crappy singer it served the purpose. I looked at some comments on drumming review web pages, and one drummer's comment really made sense. He said that he got tired of having his neck in a very constrained position when singing and of hitting the mic with his sticks. I knew exactly what he'd been talking about, so like him, I decided on a headset mic. So that's about 13 channels. And there are the drums...

Here's the Tama Rockstar acoustic kit I play on at practice. I traded my old Pintech electronic kit for this one since I like the way the toms sound and I wanted to replace the Pintech kit with Roland V-Drums. This kit got my Zildjian Z-custom cymbal pack (that I've replaced with individually selected cymbals on my Gretsch road kit) and now I've just miced it up with a 7-piece drum mic kit from Digital Reference. The drum mics look ok and were relatively cheap, but the mounts it came with sucked. Cheapo plastic snap-on things that I broke on my first try. Three of the four snapped as I tried putting them on the drum rims. So I ended up having to spend another $50 on mounting hardware from Musicians Gear. These clips are really good and screw on to the rims instead of snapping on. I liked them so much that I bought another set for my road kit since I've always been annoyed at having to reef on the plastic snaps I have with that mic set. Screwing on will be much easier. With 7 mics, that's another 7 channels and so we're up to 20. I suppose a 24-channel board would have been enough, but he said something about that mixer not having enough XLR inputs, so he just went for the 32-channel beast—I think every channel as XLR input, so we should now have plenty. I contributed a 24-channel snake that will connect everything on stage (24 channels anyway) to the board when we play. I guess Tuesday we'll spend some time on doing a sound check and learning how all this stuff works. I think I'll peruse the mixing board manual myself to see what all the knobs do.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Frigid Late Fall

Our late fall this year has been dry and cold. One lake's all but dried up, so we do a lot of walks behind the house with the cats. Here's Sidney up a tree. Both the cats like climbing up trees. We're not sure whether it's a flight response (yes, we know of at least one instance where Sidney got treed by a neighbour's dog), or whether they do it to get a lay of the land. It seems to be the latter when we go out over the beaver pond to what I've started calling the land spit. There, out in the tall grasses, Sidney will often climb up a tree just to see where everyone else has gone. Or so it seems.

Christmas came a little early for us. We were both waiting for some packages and they arrived the same day. Corey got some coats and I got my Meinl 18" China cymbal that I bought back in Austin. I haven't had a chance to try it out yet, other than at Strait Music where I bought it. I think that's the only way to buy cymbals now—have to hit them to test how they sound.

Last weekend, we went out on the sailboat, on the second lake around here that still has water in it. They've pretty much emptied one lake (Jocasee) to keep the second semi full of water (it needs to have water to cool the nuclear plant that's on it). Here I'm just hamming it up on the VHF radio that I bring with me on the boat. Since there was no wind, we were just motoring around to exercise the engine. We'll need to bring some 2-cycle oil next time since we used it all up. It's a two-stroke engine but it has its own oil reservoire; somewhat unusual. Maybe one of these years when it finally conks out we'll look into getting a quieter 4-stroke outboard. We just bought a 4-stroke leaf blower and it's much quieter than our older 2-stroke screamer.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Band pics

Some pics from our Halloween gig a few weeks ago. These were taken by a pretty decent photographer. I've got a bunch of pics, but I'll just post a few here. The Hounds are a blues band so naturally the theme was Blues Brothers this year. So this pic pays homage to Elwood.

The pair above is of me hard at work...that night was pretty tough. We played two sets back to back and it wiped me out. I thought it'd be cold so I wore two shirts. And a jacket. And a hat. And by the third set I was overheating. Took off the sportcoat, took off the hat, even turned on the fan. Never wear two shirts.

I don't know when the photographer got this one. I had my jacket off but I still had my hat on. Second set maybe. Or after the gig just before teardown.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Campus Parking

Parking on campus is tough enough as it is, but you're better off if you can find a spot that isn't under a tree. In the fall it's bad enough with falling leaves getting into every vehicular nook and cranny, but on high-wind days (such as today) you can even expect whole branches falling on your wheels. Like this poor fellow here—what a bummer! Doesn't look like there's too much damage, luckily, but still, I'm sure this would tick me off seeing that on my way out to the car. All that's really missing from this pic is one of our campus squirrels jumping off the branch onto the hood. That tree happens to be one that is popular by the little grey critters.

Meanwhile, as I was synchronizing my iPhone's photos with iPhoto, I remembered that I snapped this pic of a primo parking spot I got on the Wednesday just before Thanksgiving break. I normally think of parking lots in "tiers", in relation to distance: Tier I is right close to the back of the building where I work (almost impossible to get a spot there), Tier II is just around the corner from Tier I, and Tier III is the large lot that has the highest probability of empty spaces up until about 08:30 when it fills up and then you're stuck and have to drive off to a far-off parking lot and get bussed in. I don't even have a name for this sweet parking spot that I found in the front of the building. From this angle, you can see my office window on the top floor. If they ever put up a parking garage with dedicated spots that cost thousands of dollars a year to park in, I'll buy one! Back at my old undergrad institution I managed to get a covered parking spot in the garage, right in front of the pub doors, as it happened, after about a year's wait on the waiting list. Today I think those same spots either cost a fortune or are passed down through generations, i.e., inherited :) Those were the days, though!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Turkey Day 2008

This year Thanksgiving brought nice weather once again: sunny and mild. So we decided to sit out on our dock as the bird was cooking in the oven. The lake level is at an all-time low, 22 feet below full pond at 638. Once the level drops 18 more feet, the cities of Clemson and Anderson will be unable to draw water. Sounds pretty ominous. Anyway, the view from our dock is now of the beaver pond. Not enough to canoe on, but pleasant to look at. Later on we enjoyed our turkey dinner, with all the fixins. The Aggies lost 49-9 in the annual game against tu, meanwhile we watched our favorite British Christmas movies: Love Actually and About a Boy. Today, it's turkey sandwiches and then I'm not sure what we'll do later. I'm couch-computing, writing up a couple more grant proposals (what else is new!), mainly piecing together bits from older rejected attempts. Gotta keep plugging away...but I can only muster a couple of hours of this while sneaking peeks outside—when it's sunny out and no wind, it's time to take the cats out for a walk. I'd like to go over the beaver dam to the spit of land between the beaver pond and the tree channel. There are some tall grasses there that the cats like to hop over.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Adios Austin!

This morning we're getting ready to head out to the airport to get on the flight home. So this post I'll try to sum up the last couple of days. Wednesday night we went out on the town to catch more music. At Maggie Mae's we found Vallejo (pronounced "Va-yeh'-ho", or "Va-ley'-ho"...or as their front man quipped, if you're from Alabama you'd pronounce it "Valley-joe"). These guys were really good, playing a kind of Tex-Mex rock style (Norteno maybe?). The addition of the extra percussionist on congas and other instruments really sets off this style of music. Similar in a sense to Santana, although Santana's sound is quite different (more soulful perhaps, less edgy than these guys). Later on that evening we caught the last couple of songs from Hosea Hargrove, a three-piece blues ensemble. The front man was this old blues man, sitting playing guitar. He looked like he was really old, especially once he got up since he seemed to have trouble walking, but man, he could still play solid guitar. And sing, too! They were really good, making playing the blues look really easy. I bought their CD and it's pretty decent although they've added more instruments to it, which almost obscures the quality of the three-piece simplicity we heard that night.

Thursday was the last day of SC '08, so we took a few minutes to walk around the exhibits floor. There were various gimmicks around, here we had Sun's Java bike that they let passers by sit on. So I tried it out. It's a little longer than my Harley, as it's much more of a chopper than my standard softail.

Thursday night they bussed us out to Star Hill Ranch for the reception. Some kind of noreaster happened to have blown in so we were all freezing while queuing up for barbeque. As it often happens at these things, there are never enough food tables for the number of people that show up, which more often than not results in long food lines. We waited half an hour freezing our butts off for a plate of BBQ. The food was good, and after washing it down with a couple of Negro Modellos (Mexican beers), we felt a bit better. Eventually we got in out of the cold to listen to this country band in one of the buildings at the ranch. They were good, we did some line dancing, and watched some really good two-steppers. They inspired me to go look for dance lessons when we get back. On the way out we patted and said good bye to the beer-toting burros (Mexican for donkeys—they were really cute) and got on the bus.

So that's it from Austin, TX. We're all packed, suitcases a bit heavier than what we started with, and ready to go. We love TX and look forward to coming back. Adios! (PS. That's me at the Ginger Man—a bar with 80 beers on tap, just wanted to give credit to the place. It's right next door to Fodo, an Irish pub we had dinner at one of the evenings. Wherever I am, I can always go for bangers and mash for dinner :)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dell Keynote and Strait Music

On Tuesday we listened to Michael Dell deliver the SC'08 keynote. The first part was interesting when he covered a bit of historical ground of high performance computing. The second half degenerated a bit towards a Dell marketing talk with slick slides of Dell servers, laptops, etc. Not as informative as it could have been. Meanwhile, David Patterson's keynote the following day was much better: computer CPUs are going parallel, and that's that, so we better start learning to program concurrently and come up with new and interesting apps to make use of parallel cycles. I guess this has been brewing for some time, but it looks like chip manufacturers have no other choice, so computing's next evolution starts now. I suppose we really should start teaching concurrent programming in freshman courses.

Later that afternoon we took a cab ride to Strait Music. I was looking for a nice-sounding china cymbal, and the only real way of choosing cymbals is to hit them. Most stores (the good ones anyway) will let you do this, at the risk of annoying all other store patrons. Here, they had a kind of closed-in patio room where they slid shut glass doors so you were in this kind of glass cymbal booth where I could hit all the cymbals there with abandon. And I found one, too. A nice 18" Meinl china cymbal that I plan on using on tunes like John Lee Hooker's This is Hip if and when the Hoodoo Hounds pick that song up again.

San Marcos and the Beowulf Bash

On Monday I went down to San Marcos to visit a colleague of mine at Texas State University. He invited me to give a talk, we discussed our collaborative grant proposal that we're working on, and he showed me this informative book by Leigh and Zee on the Neurology of Eye Movements (4th ed.). Fascinating stuff, will have to see if our library has it and/or inquire with the publisher about a desk copy for my eye tracking class.

Later on that evening we went out with our Hoodoo Hounds front man to the Beowulf Bash. The Hounds' lead singer and guitar player is a prof at Clemson researching parallel virtual file systems, and it sounds like he's been working on computer clusters since their inception. The Beowulf Bash is an annual get together of these researchers at the SC conference that he started. This year the Bash was at a dueling piano bar place. Every so often the piano players would ask people to get up on stage and perform some well-known number like the all-time favorite chicken dance.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bourne, erm, I mean Bond, James Bond

We ended our shopping day last Sunday by going to the theaters located at the Barton Creek Square Mall. Corey found this mall online and checked in advance whether it had theaters and whether the new Bond flick was playing. I think they had the movie playing just about every hour. Which gave us a bit of flexibility in shopping time. I tried to catch a good frame of the bond flick on my iPhone, but just managed this piece from the opening credits—looks a bit like the opening to You Only Live Twice. The movie was a good action flick, with chase after chase, but I think in terms of a Bond espionage thriller, it was rather flat. It seemed that Bond didn't have to think much to figure anything out (basically triangulating in on cell phone usage was about the extent to the whodunit aspect of the movie) and he was never in any real peril. Contrast that with Do you expect me to talk?, No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die! classic exchange between Bond and Goldfinger and in this one Bond never seemed to face any particular crisis. Anyway, Corey summed it up pretty well: it seemed like an Act II of a trilogy. Trilogies seem to be the trend these days, whether it's due to the economics of movies and/or actor contracts, or whatever else, maybe they're just banking on Craig signing on to do just three Bond flicks, so the planning is somewhat short-ranged. Perhaps the third Craig-as-Bond flick will be better?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Austin shopping

I was so happy with the Lucchese boots I bought in Reno that one of my missions here in Austin was to visit Cavender's Boot City and get another pair! Texans know cowboy boots. Not two minutes after I enter the store and try on a pair of boots (too large), one of the floor guys runs up and goes, "too big, right? Here, follow me, try these on!" I couldn't believe it. They guy got my foot size just by looking at my feet. 10.5 D and they fit like a glove. Beautiful brown pair of Lucchese boots. I coulnd't help but splurge and get myself a second pair of two-tone ostrich boots. They look great and feel even better. Like wearing gloves on my feet.

Austin city limits

10 oz. NY strip, medium rare done to perfection. Yup, Texas knows steaks, so when in Austin seek out good steak houses. Our first night in Austin (Saturday), we ventured out for dinner at a Louis 106 or something like that. On 6th street of course. Pricey, but very good. After dinner we went out in search of some good live music. At first we went up the street in the wrong direction and so we were becoming quite disenchanted to see more and more office buildings and no bars. 311 was some kind of restaurant and not the blues bar we had visited some 10+ years ago. And with some freak cold front in town, it was not a good night to be walking about with a light jacket and wimpy shoes.

Lucky for us, 6th street is still 6th street, and once we got on the right side, we found what we were looking for. That evening 311 Club seemed rather empty but Nuno's had a good sounding blues band so we hung out there for a couple of hours. Very good band it turned out to be, made playing the music look really easy. I never did catch their name. Hopefully we'll get to go up and down 6th street again before we leave.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


The hard working all star Hoodoo Hounds were out last night playing the Halloween gig at 356. The crowd was pretty minimal, as expected. Most of the student body left town already for fall break. Still, we managed to draw in a few people around midnight. So to keep them in we played our second and third sets back to back. Man, that was pretty tough, I was pretty wiped by the end. Recovering all day today...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

iPod™ Ready

Ever since I traded in my old Firebird for the beamer, after I pulled out the Sony Xplod CDX-GT620IP stereo I had installed to replace the stock stereo that stopped working, I had the iPod-ready unit sitting on the shelf in the garage. I knew that the stereo in our powerboat was also a Sony and so I figured that upgrading the boat's stereo to this unit would be fairly easy. It would be worthwhile to do since our old method for listening to tunes on our iPod was via the iTrip radio-modulated transceiver (I think that would be the technical description of what the iTrip is, but I'm not 100% sure). Although the iTrip worked well enough, because it played tunes via the radio, it suffered from two problems. First, you had to tune the iPod to a certain FM frequency. This was a problem because you had to find one that wasn't occupied by some radio station. Not that easy to do on the crowded FM dial. Furthermore, you had to load the iPod with a bunch of radio frequencies, and occasionally the iPod would switch itself off the chosen frequency. We more or less got used to the deet-deet-deet that it played when it did this. Most annoying. Second, because the communication between the iPod and boat stereo was via FM transmission, it wasn't very clean. There was always a bit of an audible buzz. So, since the Sony CDX-GT620IP comes with an iPod cable, I knew it would sound much better. And because it had the same pin-outs on the back, exchanging the units would be fairly simple.

So here's how it's done. First, remove the old stereo. Usually this entails removing the stereo from its metal case which sits in the glovebox hole. The pictures show the progression. First you see the empty glovebox with the metal sleeve removed. In the back there's a rod that supports the back of a radio via a screw. You can level the radio by sliding the screw up and down along the hole in this support. Then insert the new metal sleeve and bend in these little triangular wedges so that the sleeve doesn't slide out. Three, insert the radio (it locks in to the metal sleeve) and four, attach the faceplate. Well, I jumped a step. Between three and four go round to the back and attach the various cables.

You can see the main connections in this back-of-the-radio shot. On the left is the antenna plug attachment. In the middle is the screw I mentioned above. To the right of that is the main pin-out connection. This is a multi-pin plug that hooks up the power and speakers. And to the right of that is the iPod cable and below it is the remote control connection. And the latter is what gave me the next problem: the CDX-GT620IP doesn't have this plug! So what you're really looking at is the 3rd Sony car stereo that I had to buy to support this connection, the Sony CDX-GT820IP, what seems to be a model up from the CDX-GT620IP.

Here's the remote control head unit. It's the RC-1B from Access Technologies. It's fairly important during boat operation, because as you slow down to go under bridges, you want to be able to lower the volume without having to let go of the wheel to reach over to the passenger's side, open the glovebox, and turn the knob. So what I had to do was find a Sony iPod-ready head unit that was compatible with the RM-X2S or RM-X4S remote controls (since that's what the RC-1B is compatible with). The CDX-GT820IP is about the only Sony head unit that promised to be compatible with everything: the iPod, the remote control, as well as the pin-out wiring.

Here's the radio in action. As it turns out, it's not compatible with the iPod Nano (4th generation)—arrrrggh! You can just make out the "iPod Communication Error" message onteh display. Luckily, it is compatible with our iPod classic (what we use in the beamer). And what's cool about this head unit is that it has about 4 lines of text in the display so that when you scroll through the iPod's menus and playlists, you get to see some context. Now if only the Dodge truck would do this, all our modes of transportation (except the sailboat) would be fully iPod-ready. Come to think of it, now that the Sony CDX-GT620IP head unit is back on the shelf, I'll take a look at the sailboat to see I can swap out its radio.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The drummer's face

Corey says my drumming's improved. Well, at least I've developed something of a drummer's expression—intense! :) That's got to be my current favorite drumming pic, taken Aug.29 when I was playing with Klaxon at the Enable '08 benefit.

Hounds practice

Last Friday the Hoodoo Hounds played a friends-and-family kind of practice over at our soundman's place. Part of the reason for doing this was to iron out some kinks with the sound system—I think one new addition to the setup was a pair of speakers that needed to get tested. So it was in part just a practice, but in part it was like a normal gig since we had to set everything up like we would normally. About the only thing I didn't have set up for the drums was my electric fan. I didn't need it anyway as it got kinda cold in the evening. Below is my typical setup along with the newly added resonant bass drum head with our band name. Next show is Oct.31 at 356.