Archive for the 'Raves' Category

The Black Company in Middle Earth

This is something I worked on quite a few years ago, and I’m finally getting around to posting it.

A long time ago I ran across a fan fiction story titled The Black Company in Middle Earth by a user named McJunker. You almost certainly know Middle Earth as the setting for J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, but you may not have heard of Glen Cook’s The Black Company novels. That is something you’ll probably want to rectify, as McJunker explains. The Black Company in Middle Earth is a full novel in its own right – if it were to be published as a paperback, it would be close to 200 pages long.

Anyway, I contacted the author because I loved the story. I was working on my copy editing and document formatting skills at the time because I was getting ready to have a paper published in a professional journal. I asked if I could “publish” his story in a somewhat more polished form, as a PDF. He loved the idea, and off and on over the next year or so I worked on this project. In the meantime the author entered military service, served in Afghanistan and came back home. How time flies…

Anyway, once McJunker returned I showed him the result and he loved it. But I never got around to posting it for some reason. So here it is: The Black Company in Middle Earth (PDF edition). I hope you find it as enjoyable to read as I did. If for some reason you’re prefer reading it online, you can read it here: The Black Company in Middle Earth (HTML edition). I’m partial to the version with my copy edits, but if you want to read the original, feel free to check it out via the link at the top of this post.

Ghost Like Sun – Human Satellite (CD + MP3)

A while ago, I wrote an article about the IUMA demos from Ghost Like Sun. In that post, I mentioned that I’d be interested in hearing from any of the Ghost Like Sun members, particularly with information about the second album.

In early September of 2015, Leigh Newsome found that article and emailed me. We’ve been corresponding about the second album, which was titled Human Satellite and was distributed at live shows and via some online CD sales (I’m not sure how I missed it!).

Human Satellite - Cover

He sent me the album as individual .wav files and also graciously allowed me to make it available to readers of this blog. I have created a CD image which you can download here (370MB Zip file containing .bin/.cue suitable for use with burning utilities like ImgBurn). I have also encoded the tracks to VBR MP3 files if you’d prefer that format here (54MB Zip file containing 9 .mp3 files).

Here is the track listing:

1. Underneath      4:35
2. Everyday        4:22
3. Friend?         3:36
4. Golden Blue     3:39
5. Static In Here  3:57
6. One Connection  3:50
7. White Bird      4:42
8. Negative Girl   4:43
9. Human Satellite 6:01
Total Time: 39:28

Leigh reminisces:

“The CD was recorded over two months in California in early 2000 at two studios: GLS studio & Moody Studio. The GLS studio being our recording studio which was basically a 1 bedroom cottage I rented in Willow Glen (San Jose). I was fortunate to have a bunch of recording gear, so tracked most of the guitar and vocals. Moody Studio was my friend’s studio in Pacifica where we tracked the drums, bass, and live guitar parts.

The band for this album was: Ed Havel (vocals), Tami Plescher (vocals), myself (guitar), Peter Dosanjh (bass), & Scott Landucci (drums)

All the songs were written by myself and Ed Havel, except for WhiteBird (which is a cover song from the 1960’s band It’s Beautiful Day).

Our engineer was Paul Moody who now works at Dolby Laboratories in San Francisco.”

Here is all of the CD artwork (each of the images is clickable to reveal a larger version). Like the previous album, the artwork is quite complex and these scans don’t do it justice. If you prefer, you can download all of the images in a single PDF file here.

Human Satellite - Cover

Human Satellite - Booklet P2

Human Satellite - Booklet P3

Human Satellite - Booklet P4

Human Satellite - Booklet P5

Human Satellite - Booklet P6

Human Satellite - Back

Human Satellite - CD

I’m glad to report that this album maintains the classic Ghost Like Sun sound while expanding their musical horizons at the same time. I’ll close with a quote from the original IUMA blurb: “GhostLikeSun blends male and female vocals with translucent sound to produce the aural equivalent of your finest shimmering visions.”

Enjoy this “lost” album!

Ghost Like Sun – The IUMA Demos (CD)

Update: The second Ghost Like Sun album, Human Satellite, is now available right here, on this blog.

A long time ago, at the very dawn of the web, the Internet Underground Music Archive (IUMA) was born. It was designed to allow unsigned artists to post their music for listening, downloading, and comments. Rather like is today. As time went on, IUMA was purchased by a succession of companies, eventually vanishing in 2006.

I happened to click on a random artist while browsing that early web on a VAXstation 3100 using NCSA Mosaic and happened to like what I heard. That band was Ghost Like Sun (Internet Archive copy). I ended up having an extended correspondence with the guitarist, Leigh Newsome, and bought their first (and only) album, Loud as Light. There was going to be a second album, but as far as I know, it was never released. Eventually the Ghost Like Sun web site followed IUMA into the digital dustbin. The domain is now parked in Japan.

When listiening to Loud as Light in the car this past weekend, I said to myself “I wonder what ever happened to the IUMA demos I downloaded all those years ago”. Well, this is what happened to them:

Z:\Terri\Music>dir *.mp2
Volume in drive Z is data
Volume Serial Number is 10B3-C748

Directory of Z:\Terri\Music

10/30/1997 06:13 AM 7,105,100 victoria.mp2
05/03/1997 12:42 AM 5,229,924 Sign_Of_One.mp2
05/03/1997 12:53 AM 3,353,952 Sorrow.mp2
05/03/1997 12:50 AM 9,309,920 The_Wheel.mp2
4 File(s) 24,998,896 bytes
0 Dir(s) 6,679,371,872,256 bytes free

They’re in MP2 format, which is as ancient as the web itself. I visited the Internet Archive’s IUMA collection, but the songs had been converted to low-resolution MP3 files and “Sorrow” was missing completely. I decided to convert my copies into a modern format, and via a number of conversion programs they were re-sampled, gain-adjusted, and burned to an audio CD, which I am making available for your listening pleasure here (150MB Zip file containing .bin/.cue suitable for use with burning utilities like ImgBurn).

Of course, if you don’t care about having these on high-quality CD, you can get 3 of the 4 songs from the Internet Archive (link above).

Note: As these are simply converted versions of material freely available at the Internet Archive, I don’t see any issues with making them available here. If anyone from Ghost Like Sun objects, simply drop me a line (see the “Contact Info” in the “LINKS” section to the right of this post). Of course, that means I’m going to ask you where the second album went, etc.

[Another] New Year, new UPS batteries…

Four years ago, I wrote about replacing the batteries in each of the UPS systems I had here. After nearly 4 years, the batteries were near the end of their useful life, and the week-long power outage after Hurricane Sandy (and the follow-on outages once the power finally came back on) finished them off.

I contacted Batteryspec / Tempest (who I’d used for the last big order, as well as for some smaller orders since then) to get current pricing and shipping info. They were back-ordered on the battery type that the Symmetra uses, and shipping costs (which they have no control over) had increased quite a bit since my last big order.

While I’ve been very pleased with Tempest’s product and service, I figured it couldn’t hurt to shop around, particularly as I was looking at a several-week delay before Tempest had their units back in stock. One of the replies to my original post was from Ken Kostecki, whose company carries the Enersys line of batteries. I decided to send him an email message with the list of batteries I was looking for, asking for pricing and shipping costs. He responded right away and gave me good pricing on the batteries and a much lower freight cost – understandable, since the batteries would be coming from less than 1000 miles away, instead of 3000 miles away. At this weight (1500+ pounds), UPS is out of the question – this type of shipment is normally done with a “Less than truckload” (LTL) shipper. He also confirmed that the date codes on the batteries were recent, and even offered to unpack and charge them for me if I wanted. I said that it wasn’t important as long as the batteries were fresh.

After explaining to Ken that I lived on a narrow side street, didn’t have a loading dock and needed a day’s notice so I’d be home, he confirmed that the shipping quote was still good. [In the past, I’ve had experiences where the shipping company didn’t call first and showed up when nobody was home, then charged a $200 “re-delivery fee” – that can clobber any cost savings that the order started out with. I’ve also had 53′ trailers pull up on the next major street over and tell me to come unload their truck, which didn’t have a lift gate. Carrying 1500 lbs of batteries a block and a half is not my idea of fun. Hence wanting to make sure that everything was all set for curbside delivery.]

Within a few days, the batteries arrived in perfect condition, boxed and wrapped on a pair of pallets. I loaded them into the house and began the process of installing them in the various UPS systems – quite a task, as there were around 160 batteries of various sizes, ranging from the small ones used in the Symmetra to car-battery-sized ones used in the Matrix 5000.

As I replaced the batteries in each UPS, I checked the battery float voltage. Incorrect voltage is the thing that will kill batteries the fastest – if the UPS thinks the batteries need to be “topped up”, it will continuously pump power into the batteries, causing them to overheat and eventually swell and burst. APC units (particularly the smaller ones) seem to drift out of adjustment over time, almost invariably in the direction of overcharging the batteries. The Symmetra and Matrix units were fine. The smaller Smart-UPS units I have (700VA to 3000VA) were all out-of-spec by varying amounts. I had to disassemble a pair of SU1000 units in order to get the batteries out, as they had swelled up so much that they couldn’t be removed without disassembling the battery compartment. I don’t consider this to be a problem with the previous Tempest batteries – it is definitely because the UPS’s cooked them.

I followed the unofficial procedure described here to adjust the float voltage on each UPS to the low side of the acceptable range, since I figure that any future aging will continue to shift toward the high side. After bench-testing each UPS for a few days, I placed them back into service. One of the SU1000’s decided it didn’t want to work properly when hooked up to its load (a Dell mini-tower system). After studying it for some time, I decided I’d be better off simply replacing it, rather than trying to find out what was wrong. Fortunately, there are usually a large number of similar units on eBay, often with a “needs batteries” or “does not include batteries” disclaimer – which was perfect as I had a set of brand new batteries. I located a nice SUA1000 (without batteries) for $85 with free shipping. It had a late 2008 date code, which was perfect – units older than that tend to start developing problems, while newer ones have better charging circuitry but are designed to keep manufacturing costs down. After it arrived, I put the new batteries in it, checked the float voltage, and placed it into service. I now had 8 good UPS systems with new batteries.

One of the things I did was to add 2 more “XR” battery packs to my “life support” UPS. This is the unit that provides power to a pair of electric space heaters (for emergency use only), my stereo / TV, cell phone and other battery chargers, and so forth. It will now power all of that stuff for a little over 2 days (vs. 1 day previously), or even longer if I shut down some of the devices it powers. In the past, I’d never had a power failure lasting more than 24 hours, but the electric utility has proven that they’re woefully unprepared for major disasters.

Back on the subject of the batteries – I’ve been very pleased with the service I received from Ken at Engineered Power Systems – give him a call / email if you’re looking for batteries at a good price with great service:

Ken Kostecki
Engineered Power Systems
St. Louis, MO

[I’m not posting his email address, in order to keep address-harvesting spambots away – visit his web site for email contact info.]

The GEN II MOD-6_7971

H Carl Ott and Michael Barile recently released the GEN II version of their fabulous MOD-6_7971 Nixie clock, and I ordered several kits from them. The new version adds GPS time synchronization, either via a GPS receiver plugged into the back of the clock, or by using an RF-Link repeater module which talks to the clock over short-range 2.4GHz radio. This clock uses the B-7971 Nixie tube, which displays alphanumeric characters 2½” tall.

The RF-Link lets you completely avoid the problem of needing to position the clock within a few feet of a window or resort to using a bunch of PS/2 extension cords. Now you can put the clock exactly where you want it. The RF-Link remote also includes an indoor temperature sensor and a pushbutton which can be used to remotely turn the clock display on and off.

I have a separate page here describing the clock, but I’m adding a link here so people can find it, and also to facilitate comments (while the actual clock page doesn’t support comments, you can comment here).

Here’s a couple of teaser pictures – click either picture for more info:

MOD-6 Nixie clock

MOD-6 RF-Link

For more info or to order a kit or assembled clock, visit the MOD-6 page at

The MOD-6_7971 Nixie tube clock

I haven’t mentioned it before, but I’m a bit of a clock geek. The technical term for that is “horophile”. I have quite a few oddball timepieces around the house, including the first QLOCKTWO delivered to the US, a pair of Bulbdial clocks, and many Nixie tube and VFD clocks.

However, last week I received the largest clock kit ever – the MOD-6_7971 by by Carl Ott and Michael Barile. The completed clock is over 20″ wide and 6″ high, with digits 2½” tall.

I have a separate page here describing the clock, but I’m adding a link here so people can find it, and also to facilitate comments (while the actual clock page doesn’t support comments, you can comment here).

Here’s a teaser picture – click the picture for more info:

MOD-6 Nixie clock

Trans-Siberian Orchestra @ Prudential Center 12/18/10

Just got back from the TSO show in Newark, NJ. I’ll update this post with a more detailed write-up and some video later on, but I wanted to get some of the pictures I took posted right away.

Update: Added a video and some additional text.

My camera (a Fujifilm F300EXR) had a lot of trouble with the lighting at this show (compare with the same camera shooting the Rush concert in the previous blog entry). The problems were due to the stage either being dark or flashing brief bright lights / fireballs. These are some of the best shots:











To give people in the “cheap seats” a better show, various performers would run to a second stage at the other end of the arena floor, or out on catwalks suspended above the arena floor:

The finale – there were lots of streamers and sparklers, including pinwheels:

At the end, various performers gave away items to people in the first dozen or so rows – drumsticks, violin bows, guitar picks, and so forth. One boy was presented with a guitar used in the show.

Here’s a video I shot of Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24. Sorry about the poor focus and the streaks in the video – the camera was having a very difficult time in the show’s very dim lighting. Hopefully the sound will make up for it:

(The above video is the full 720P version. Click the Icon icon on the top right to go fullscreen.)

Rush – Time Machine Tour @ PNC Bank Arts Center 9/3/10

I just got back from the Rush show at the PNC Bank Arts Center (which most people still call the Garden State Arts Center – that’s from before the state started selling naming rights to everything).

I’ll update this post with lots more details later – it was a great show. In the meantime, I thought I’d put up some of the pictures we took. Photos by me unless noted otherwise.

In keeping with the theme of previous tours, there’s a particular set layout (in the past we’ve had a laundromat and chicken rotisseries). This time the set style was steampunk, with boxes with tubes, dials, steam vents, etc. – one of which was making sausages!

Although Rush has been touring for 35-odd years (well, the first time I saw them was in 1976), they still seem to be having a genuinely good time. Given how few bands from that era are still touring with their original members*, this is even more amazing.

Photo by S. Forte

Alex plays the mandolin. He seemed to be having some trouble with guitars tonight – there were a number of unexpected swaps during the show, and at one point he made hand signals to the stage crew that he couldn’t hear anything in his headphones.
Alex with mandolin
Photo by S. Forte

Here’s part of the animation that played during Moving Pictures.
Moving Pictures workmen
Photo by S. Forte

During Neil’s drum solo, a fanciful animation of a robot playing drums played on the giant video screen.
Video during drum solo
Photo by S. Forte


At various points in the show, characters came out to tend to the sausage machine and remove sausages, to dust Neil’s drum kit with a feather duster, and so on.
Sausage wagon

As the show progressed, the signs behind Geddy changed from Real Time to Half Time to Bass Time to Sausage Time.
Real Time

Performing is hard work – particularly when you’re a 3-piece and don’t use additional musicians. And these guys are each 57 years old! There are points in the show where Geddy is playing bass, performing keyboards, and singing at the same time. And I know people who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time… Alex was really working up a sweat – by this time, his shirt was soaked through. I counted at least 4 different shirts on him, all of which got soaked.
Alex soaked

Near the end of the break between sets, the clock on the Gefilter started counting up toward the present.
Gefilter clock





The Starman from 2112.
2112 Starman

Here’s a video I shot of Red Barchetta:

(The above video is the full 720P version. Click the Icon icon on the top right to go fullscreen.)

* Yes, I know about John Rutsey. But he’d left the band before I saw them for the first time.

Mike Batt’s Zero Zero (and the Mike Batt Music Cube)

Zero Zero is the title of a Mike Batt album which is the soundtrack to a video production he created for Australian TV in the early 1980’s. If you’ve heard of it, you know exactly what it is. If you haven’t, the one-line summary is “Boy in a future society where emotions have been banished falls in love and gets a lobotomy for his trouble.”

Zero Zero - Main Title

This video has never been officially released. All that has been available has been a YouTube video of one of the songs.

Mike Batt’s official web site entry says “Since opening the Official Mike Batt website, we have received more corespondence (sic) about Zero Zero than any other project.”. At various times, a stand-alone release of Zero Zero was reported to be “coming soon”, and earlier this year, “this Fall”.

While a stand-alone release of Zero Zero still seems to be unavailable, a DVD of the performance has been included in the Mike Batt Music Cube, a compilation of nearly all of Mike’s work (the only albums that appear to be missing are “Classic Blue” and “The Very Best Of”). In his usual humorous way, Mike says: “After 40 years in the industry, this could either be seen as a service to fans or the biggest ego trip on Earth. In fact it is a combination of the two.”

I was lucky enough to get an early shipment of the Music Cube from Amazon UK, when they had it priced at £48.68 + £3.08 shipping to the US (about US $84). The Amazon UK price has since increased to £74.98. If you want to help improve their profits, Amazon US will sell it to you for $207.98 (up $16 from when I first posted this article).

Of course, the first thing I did when I got it was to pop the Zero Zero DVD into the player (article continues below):

Zero Zero - Characters Playing Cards

Zero Zero - Number 17 Emoting

Zero Zero - Brain Surgery

Zero Zero - Dance of the Neurosurgeons

I won’t spoil the surprise for you, but I will say that there is something about Number 36 that you’ll discover when watching the video, even if you’ve listened to the record many times.

Picture quality is quite good for something that’s nearly 28 years old. Judging by some lint on the image, at least part of the project was originated on film and then transferred to video. As is usual with video-to-DVD transfers, there is some slight underscan, so you can see the last interlaced line on the bottom of the image and there is some fuzziness at the left and right edges of the video. This does not detract from the overall appearance, though. The only other video copies I’ve seen have been Nth-generation copies of an off-air taping of the show, and this DVD far exceeds all of them in quality.

The disc is Region 0 (plays on any player regardless of country) but is mastered in PAL, so some NTSC players and televisions may have problems with it. You can always watch it on a PC that has a DVD drive, of course.

Audio is similarly good. And of course the Music Cube includes a remastered version of the CD if you just want to listen to the music.

Stan Rubinstein Assoc. /

This vendor is fantastic – I needed some surface-mount rework equipment in a hurry, and I found these guys via a web search. I placed an order via their web site after 10 PM and inquired if they carried an item I couldn’t find on their web site. Within minutes, I had an emailed reply saying they’d pull the item out of another kit and include it in my shipment. They shipped the next morning and I received it the next day.

If you need any tools or supplies related to soldering or brazing, these are the folks you should talk to.