Get off my lawn.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Linux install up and running

I had intended to use my 4-day weekend to do the following:

  • Put a new hard drive in my laptop
  • Get it working
  • Install Ubuntu Linux on it
  • Config the sys

I'm already just about done, and I didn't start until sometime after 6pm last evening.

Hard drive installation was a snap. 6 screws, one adapter, 2 hard drives: loosen, pull, loosen, pull, put, insert, tighten, snap, push, flip, snap, tighten, done. It would have only taken about 2 minutes, but I removed the wrong panel from the laptop at first, so I had to put it back on.

Package Managers
I had Ubuntu installed on this machine on a different (slower) hard drive, about 2 months ago. Since then I had installed probably 200 packages, courtesy of apt-get, which makes things really easy. From my previous experience with Red Hat and SuSE linuxen, I'd found that the process of installing software was typically as follows:

  • Do a google search for something relating to the package I was interested in.
  • Find some kind of link in the results, and hunt for the package.
  • Download the binary package.
  • Try to install it.
  • Fail.
  • Download the source.
  • Try to run configure and make to build it.
  • Fail.
  • Download the dependencies.
  • Spend a day reading about them and learning about their intricacies.
  • Follow a set of instructions for them.
  • Run configure and make.
  • Run the software, and try to remember that the heck I was doing before I started the ordeal.
  • Consider myself fortunate and skilled for having succeeded.

A variant on this approach is to use RPM, the stupidest and worst package management system in human history. I hate RPM.

To their credit, RedHat and SuSE, having been configured, usually work without any trouble at all. (Contrast this to a Windows installation, which flakes out and shoots itself in the groin, seemingly at random.) That's why I perservere through the BS associated with installing Linux software. It just works! Not to mention the fact that the process is pretty educational. I know more than some about USB, TOC files on CDs, the virtues of Track-at-once vs. Disc-at-once, buffer sizes, kernel source, drivers, ALSA vs. OSS, disk latency, and a lot of other minutiae. More than I wanted to know!

With apt-get and Synaptic (the GUI front-end for apt-get), I do the following:

  • Open Synaptic.
  • Use the search function to find the package I'm interested in.
  • Click on it to mark it for installation.
  • (optional) Select a few other packages that look interesting.
  • Click "Apply".
  • Wait a few minutes.
  • Use the software.
  • Consider myself fortunate and smart for having found a Linux distro with a package management system that doesn't totally suck!

The problem I faced with a new installation of Ubuntu was, how do I remember everything I had installed over the past two months? I ended up doing the following on the old linux system before I shut down to replace the hard drive:

dpkg -l > all-packages get a list of all of the installed packages. I saved it to a directory on another machine.

After installing the base system on the new hard drive, I retrieved the all-packages file from the other machine, and did the same thing with the new installation:

dpkg -l > base-packages get a list of the packages appearing in a base install.

Then I did this:

diff all-packages base-packages > added-packages get a list of the ones I'd need on the new system.

To make a simple list of packages, I did this:

cat added-packages | awk '{print $2}' > addons make a list consisting of only package names.

Then I wrote a shell script (restore-packages) that looks like this:


while read pkg
apt-get -y install $pkg
done < addons

Then I updated the /etc/apt/sources.list file to include Debian repositories not included in Ubuntu (for licensing reasons), and ran "apt-get update" to update the list of available packages.

Then I just did the following (as root, using sudo):

./restore-packages; apt-get upgrade

...and went to bed.

This morning, the machine was configured with everything I had in the old installation. Apache, Fonts, iPod tools, decoders/encoders for MP3, AAC, etc. were all present, configured, and working. The JDK installation required about 5 minutes of manual intervention. A little light bulb in the application bar was visible. When I clicked on it, it popped up a window that said, basically: "Your system upgrades involved a change to the kernel, so it would be a good idea to reboot at some point soon."

I can't imagine the process being any easier. I didn't burn a whole extended weekend doing it, and I now have a Linux box with tons of free space, and not a crumb of Windows anywhere on it.

Sony PSP

Andrew got a Sony PSP for Christmas today, at our family's final 2005 Christmas get-together. It's a pretty cool little machine: It plays games that come on little discs that look like miniature CDs in plastic cases. It plays music files, displays photos, and it has a web browser built in. It connects to a PC with (what else?) a USB cable, but unlike something like an iPod, the PC doesn't automount it. Instead, you navigate through the main menu on the PSP and select "USB Connection". As soon as you do (assuming the cable is hooked up), it starts a USB conversation with the PC, and it mounts.

I was a little puzzled about how to put photos on it, so I took a guess: "Maybe I'll create a directory called PHOTO on it and put a jpg file there." Did it, and it worked. The photos show up in the menu on the PSP.

There was a "MUSIC" folder in the folder that my PC mounted, so I drug a Rush mp3 into it. It worked. There's a lot less gyration involved in putting music on this thing than an iPod requires, frankly.

web browsing
The web browser displays everything a full-fledged browser does (text, images, links, etc.), with a heck of a lot more scrolling around because of the smaller viewport. Navigating around the UI in the browser is a little clumsy, but clever, given the controls you have to work with: You press the "triangle" button, and a mouse pointer appears on the screen. As long as the triangle button is held down, motion on the analog stick or the arrow keys causes mouse-like movement of the pointer. For typing text, you have to use a phone-like keyboard and point/click letters and numbers. It's not bad, but you wouldn't want to blog or something with it. While I had it mounted by the PC, I edited its "bookmarks.html" file with a text editor and added a few links. I don't know how you'd add links using the built-in browser, but I'm sure you can do it.


The PSP has a nice chunky feel when you hold it in your hand. It's impressively heavy for its size, and seems fairly solid. There are a lot of plugs, little switches, buttons, and other stuff on it, which makes me wonder how long it will last in the hands of a 9-year-old. The memory stick, battery, and game discs all fit behind little plastic doors that seem like they could easily be broken, lost, or otherwise mistreated.

Design-wise, it's interesting to compare it to an iPod. An iPod is simple and elegant, with a minimum number of controls performing the required functions in an intuitive way. The look of the iPod is characteristally "Apple", and it has a jewel-like aura of quality. The PSP has a different vibe. It feels like a quality piece like the iPod does, but it has a lot more grooves, buttons, and a busier look and feel overall, owing to its wider variety of functions. I noticed that the direction buttons (for example) can all be "jiggled" under the skin, which is kind of lame. You wouldn't find an Apple machine with stuff like this going on.

Anyway, it's a pretty sweet little machine. I'd like to mess with it some more, but Andrew has it. I think I might give him a few days to play with it, and then ground him for some trivial misdeed... Something stupid, like talking too loud while he's out in the yard. Then I'll have more time to do a quality review. It's good to be king.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Worst movie ever: Mr. and Mrs. Smith

I watched this movie last night. It is the stupidest movie I've seen in recent memory. The plot (such as it is) is as follows:

Mr. and Mrs. Smith are married. Both are assassins. Mr. works for something like the CIA, and has a woodshed full of hardware for killing people. Mrs. works for some all-girl cult, apparently, and has a kitchen stove with a hidden compartment in it full of hardware for killing people. Apparently, neither of these handsome but completely stupid predators knows what the other one does for a living. One day, after a particularly trying day of trying to kill people with exotic weapons, they have dinner at home. Somehow, they both figure out what the other does at the same time. The obvious thing happens immediately afterward: They try to kill each other. They both survive, and continue to try to kill each other for several days. Then they go out on a date and blow something up. Then they go home and shoot at each other for a couple of hours. Then they have sex. Then they eat out of buckets on the bathroom floor and talk about their jobs together. Then someone throws a grenade through the window. Blah blah blah, blah blah. I'll just cut this short and ruin it for you: The ending sucks, just like every other second of this movie. Whatever high school kid wrote it needs to be flunked from study hall.

The true purpose of this movie is to show Angelina and Brad in various settings, so you can admire them. Angelina looks good, very good. So great, in fact, that it almost, but not quite, compensates for her pathetic acting skills. The movie cuts from scene to scene: Angelina in a slut suit, beating a guy with a whip. Angelina at home, in the kitchen. Angelina in the desert in boots and a t-shirt. Angelina at the girl-power cult working on a computer. Angelina in a Mercedes station wagon. In every scene, she looks good, and has the same smouldering expression on her face. It's as if, for her, joy, ecstacy, and anger all require a look that says "Look at me dahling, I'm hot as fire." It's the full gamut of emotions from "A" to... "a". The one exception: sadness. In the still shot where she's sad, Angelina sports the same "Look at me, I'm hot as fire" look, but with a tear. She doesn't exactly look sad, just hot, with a tear. The tear might even be plastic, or sprayed on.

Something else about movies like this that gets on my nerves: Any time someone in this movie uses a computer, the UI is very elaborate, and probably a usability nightmare. For example, when Mr. Smith goes to his "office" to "work", 3 LCD monitors pop up out of the desk. The middle one has a circle on it, containing a glowing object that looks like a floating fishnet. It blinks and changes color, while a female voice tells him things. So, what OS is this, exactly? Or do assasins get their own custom-built OS? Is this a desktop manager I can put on my linux machine? Stupid stupid stupid.

This movie is inappropriate for children. Children should not be allowed to watch something like this and get the idea that something so stupid is ever allowed to be written to playable media and sold or rented.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Finer Things

Went to the Apple store on the Plaza today to get my 4GB iPod.

Having finally gone into an Apple store and touched the actual hardware and place in person, all I can say is, it's no wonder Apple devotees are so rabid and growing in number. Everything about the place, not to mention the products it sells, is cool. Everything is all bleached maple, matte-finish aluminum, and clean lines. Even the credit card machines had the Mac UI-type buttons on them.

I played around with a couple of machines there, one of which was a notebook. It had a titanium case, and a really clean look about it. There were no idiotic "Made for Windows XP" stickers on it, no "Centrino" stickers, or any other stupid stuff. The desktop wasn't littered with "1000 hours of AOL" icons, annoying tooltips, or talking paper clips. Just clean design, and smooth operation. It looked like it cost a lot, and was worth every penny. I tried closing the lid on the notebook. On my HP pavilion, when you grab the lid and start to pull it toward you, there's a series of squeaks and groans as the tight-fitting plastic hinges strain to hold the lid up against your will. On the Mac, it's as though hydraulic fluid is at work somewhere inside the lid making the motion smooth when you move it, and making it stay put when you let go of it. It's nice.

Anyway, I got my iPod and left. I noticed that even the plastic bag they put the box in was classy. The plastic is a matte finish stuff that feels a little like cloth. There's a silver drawstring in the top of it that looks like it was made out of the thread used by Tolkien's elves in Lord of the Rings to make their magic rope. Inside it was the iPod, my precious. The box it came in is a work of art. I felt like I was tampering with something when I opened it. I think they even put some kind of perfume in there. There was plastic bag inside which, when I opened it, emitted a smell. It was a pleasing bouquet: antiseptic, yet playful and ethereal with hints of rosewood and saddle leather.

The iPod itself is, of course, a nice plaything. I'm running Linux on my HP, so there were a couple of potential gotchas associated with making it work.

Just to be safe, I backed up the firmware on the iPod in case Linux did something stupid in the process of assimilating it. After plugging it in, this command:

dd if=/dev/sda1 of=~/ipod_firmware

...backs up the primary partition on the iPod, which contains the OS. It's about 87MB. I should be able to run dd in the reverse direction and restore the iPod to like-new condition if I need to if something blows chunks.

I installed a program called GTKPod that talks to the iPod and spent a few minutes figuring it out. GTKPod does a few things that iTunes doesn't do, but it doesn't handle the DRM-infected songs that you download from the iTunes site like the iTunes software does. I don't know what I'll do about that, or if I even care. I'm certainly not going to boot Windows every time I want to update this thing. So far, so good. GTKPod lets you create a bunch of playlists and groups of playlists, normalize sets of songs, set ID tags on the mp3s you're transferring to the iPod, import your existing playlists, and a bunch of other stuff I haven't messed with yet. A side benefit is that once you've updated the tags in the songs destined for the iPod, the ones on your computer are updated as well. I'm still in the process of figuring the photo thing out, but all of the other stuff seems to incorporate just fine into my Linux-based world without a hitch.

One thing I haven't dealt with yet: When you plug the iPod in, it displays a warning: "Do not disconnect." It's supposed to stop displaying the warning when you unmount it, but it doesn't for me yet. There's probably still a module that's still loaded and poking at the iPod when I'm done with it, and it's probably the usb module. I can remove it from memory, but I don't want to lose the USB mouse and other USB stuff. So, I just pull the plug after I'm done. No ill effects so far.

I think what I'll ultimately do is the best thing yet: Buy a Mac! I'm going to turn into a total Mac snob at that point, and be disgruntled at work because they'll make me use Windows. Bugger...

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas '05 wrap-up

Well, another Christmas came and went. Technically, it's still here, but the bulk of the action is now over.

We went to my Dad's house early yesterday and stood/sat around snacking on various treats (shrimp, cookies, ham, cake, pie, nachos, crackers, etc.) and shooting the bull. Then we had lunch. It was much like the snacks, except we were expected to sit down and do it with silverware, and the food was different. Then we exchanged gifts. It was a good time, as Andrew shows here:

Then we went home to regroup for the evening's festivities. I let the dog out to run around a bit, and then headed for Mitch (brother)'s house. There, the routine was similar: Sitting/standing around snacking on stuff and talking. The crowd was much the same as the previous get-together, so most people were still full. So, we mostly stood/sat around and talked without eating, until dinnertime.

Mitch is the master of of all kinds of grilling, smoking, and other applications of fire to meat. If you want to eat meat heated by experts, you can go to Ruth's Chris steakhouse, or you can get yourself invited to Mitch's house. So we ate, and it was good. Then there was another gift exchange.

When my brothers and I were kids, this picture was taken of us sitting in the wheel of my dad's tractor:

My sister-in-law, Stacey, took this picture earlier this year:

Each kid in this picture is a child of each kid in the first picture in the corresponding position. Stacey (sister-in-law) gave this pair of pictures to everyone in a bi-fold picture holder. Pretty cool, if you ask me. The pictures above look pretty bad, because I took a picture of the pictures. That's why you can see a ghostly image of me with a camera in both of them.

My other sister-in-law, Anna, is a masseus (sp? "masoos", whatever). She gave her married in-laws a bottle of massage oil.

After the gifts were exchanged, we loaded up and came home. We put the kids to bed and stuffed stockings (Cue the wah-wah guitar music!).

This morning, we went to church. I played in the band since December is my month to do it. I thought it sounded like a trainwreck. The mix was a rolling ball of crap! Nobody in the band was happy with the way it sounded. Afterward, a far larger number than normal of people from the audience came up and said "Wow, that sounded great!". Stupid mix. I don't get to hear what the audience hears, so I never have any idea what's going on.

Afterward, we came home and opened our presents. I got an iPod nano. I haven't opened the box, because it's a 2GB model and I'm going to exchange it for a 4GB, but I can hear it inside the box screaming "quality! quality!". My guess was correct about getting an iPod.

Andrew's big present this year was a new skateboard, a good-quality model with interchangeable parts, a toolkit, and a stick of wax for doing stunts. One of the most fun parts of Christmas is watching Andrew's eyes light up when he gets something he really likes. He also jumps around and yells alot, so it's a little like sitting in a room with David Lee Roth.

Jiana got some dolls and a bunch of boxes of girl paraphanelia. Jiana's funny when she gets a present. She opens it, looks at it for a minute or so, then says "Mine. My <whatever it is>. My own." A few minutes later, she'll come up and say "Daddy, thank you so much for the <whatever it is>", and give some explanation of how she'll use it if she's thought of anything yet.

One of Jiana's attractive Asian friends stopped by to say hello:

Her and Jiana got ready to go out.

They're a pretty cool set of kids.

I got Alissia a diamond necklace, but a picture didn't get taken of it. It's pretty cool though. I also got an LED flashlight on a keychain in my stocking. LEDs are weird, because they are really bright when you look at them even though they hardly illuminate anything.

We spent the rest of the day messing around outside and watching movies. Since the weather was nice, we took the dog for a walk, which was kind of a cool thing to do on Christmas evening.

Overall, a pretty uneventful and pleasant Christmas. No one puked on our couch, and I'm ending the day by watching a Christmas show.

That leaves one week to ramp down off of Christmas, and then it's back to hibernating and waiting for spring!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Espresso machine up/running

Espresso machines are pretty cool, considering that they're kitchen appliances. They hiss and burp and buzz, and have nozzles on them that shoot steam and hot water at high pressure into the atmosphere. Just sitting idle, mine occasionally goes "Braaaap" and a cloud of steam rises up out of a grill at the bottom. They're typically a lot more expensive than normal coffee machines. I saw a La Pavonia machine for $3K once, and that's not even a commercial model. You can get a pretty good one for ~$500. Machines in that price range have cool paint jobs, and control panels that look like the instrument cluster out of a 50's-era Ferrari.

Mine isn't that kind of machine. It's a Mr. Coffee machine, and it lacks the style and cool pressure gauges of the expensive models. I got it for Christmas from my mother-in-law, and have enjoyed screwing around with it. It's a steam-belching machine that produces something I can drink to get a buzz. How can that be bad? It gets the job done, but a purist drinking espresso produced by this machine would most likely fret about the lack of "crema" (known to the rest of us as "foam"), and other lame stuff that latte-sipping whiners whine about.

Espresso is made differently than regular coffee. Regular coffee is made by allowing water to fall through a pile of grounds, through a filter, and into a carafe, espresso is made by grinding coffee beans really finely, and then packing the grounds into a small metal container with tiny perforations in the bottom called a "portafilter". This is attached to the "group", a high-pressure head that forces water at ~200 degrees through the packed grounds (called a "puck" by espresso nerds). The nozzles at the bottom of the portafilter direct the mixture into a small cup. Ideally, the liquid is a rust color, and is foamy. It's very concentrated. Comparing a cup of espresso to a cup of Folger's is kind of like comparing a 12-gauge shotgun to a BB gun. I can't drink it straight.

The next thing you do (which is optional) is to use the "frothing nozzle": You basically put some milk in a small metal container, and hold it up to the end of the nozzle so its tip is submerged. Hit the button, and it starts shooting steam into the milk and foaming it up. Once you've turned it into a cup of foamy stuff, you pour it into the top of the espresso. The milk takes the edge off, but I think you'd be nuts to drink it like this, too. I basically sugar it up at this point, and then it's pretty good. It's also not "espresso" anymore. There's "latte", "cappucino", but I honestly don't know the difference between them. I think it's something minor, like "latte has foam, cappucino just has milk" or something stupid. I don't really care.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I was messing around with my espresso machine. I had read somewhere that the grounds should be packed into the portafilter with 35 lb. of force. So I did that, with some really finely-ground stuff. I started the machine, and it started pumping. Apparently, this n00b-oriented poseur espresso machine isn't butch enough to force water through the "puck" when it's packed that tight. It went "pow" and started rattling. I stopped it, waited a few seconds, and then tried the steam nozzle. More rattling, no steam. Oops!

Thinking the pump had blown a seal, I took the machine apart. I found that the insides of this thing are all Italian-made, and are the same models as those found in machines costing up to $300. (This is "bad news for the $300 crowd" and not necessarily "good news for me".) The group looks like a nuclear reactor vessel, and gets hotter than the dickens. The pump is an ingenious magnet-operated device. I took the pump apart, looked at how it works, cleaned it, and put it back together. I hooked a water source to it, turned it on, and it started spurting jets of water about 12 inches. It worked!

While I had it apart, I painted the metal shell bright red. I'm not sure why... It seemed like a dumb idea before I did it, but I still wanted to do it. Having done it, I think it looks a lot cooler than before (it was gray). Alissia said it looks cool too. I also polished the portafilter with billet polish and a Dremel tool, and now it looks like chrome.

I can't decide whether I want to make a cup of espresso with it, or jump on it and ride a wheelie down the street.

Between painting espresso machines and blogging every darn thing I do, I'm wasting a heck of a lot of time here... I wonder if it's the cold weather causing this. If I'm still doing this in May, I hope someone stops by to see what my problem is!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Alias: Good riddance

Normally, I try to maintain a positive, constructive tone here in the halls of Fognl, but today I want to mention something that sucks. I'm going to get all Dorazilian on the TV show called "Alias". What a stupid show! Here's a sample plotline from a typical episode:

  • A criminal from a mysterious underground organization, smartly dressed, sneaks into a server room/missle complex/nuclear facility/etc.
  • Criminal sneaks up behind innocent workers in said facility, and kills them in a cruel, humiliating way.
  • Sydney, the star of the show, steps off a plane somewhere in eastern Europe, and gets a call from her boss on a Motorola RAZR phone. She jumps into a Ford Focus, and chases down a guy in a German-made van.
  • Gunshots! Sparks! Techno spy music!
  • Sidney attends a meeting at HQ. They talk about a guy named "Sark", who is apparently the source of all evil in the universe.
  • Her former boss at SD-6, who was killed earlier, but turned out not to be dead, and is now her current boss, tells her he wants her to infiltrate the secret underground organization.
  • A horribly mutilated body is found in a car.
  • Heavy metal music starts to play, and Sidney appears in prostitute clothes.
  • Sidney wiggles and walks down a hall.
  • Sidney finds a guy in a bar with a Russian accent, speaks to him in perfect Russian, and flaunts herself at him.
  • The guy smiles like someone who is being handed free money.
  • Sidney kicks him in the face, swipes his iPod, and uses it to sneak into a brightly-lit hi-tech facility of some kind. Somehow.
  • She gets caught. Doh!
  • She gets tortured by the guy that caught her. She either gets injected with poison, a garden hose is stuffed down her throat and turned on, she gets shocked, or her teeth get pulled. She's in real trouble!
  • Back at HQ, the nerdy guy with the Elvis haircut is typing at 250 words per minute, writing a program in C to hack into the enemy database over some kind of TCP/IP connection. At some point, he runs "make" on a laptop running Linux.
  • The same nerdy guy uses an electron microscope to examine something totally unrelated to computers, and offers his boss an extremely detailed explanation of what it is, why it's here, who would benefit from it, and how much it cost to make, giggling like an idiot all the while. Apparently, this guy is perfect at everything, except carrying on a conversation.
  • At some point, a person who was killed in an earlier episode appears, and is now a bad guy.
  • A progress bar on a computer screen somewhere reaches "100%".
  • Sydney's dad (also a multi-talented special agent) confronts one of her captors' friends, and says something clever. Then he either cuts the guy's ear off, pokes his eye out, or just kills him.
  • Sydney is saved. Yay!
  • A slow, melodic alternative rock song is played. Sidney cuddles with her boyfriend.
  • The end.

Here's a picture of the star of the show. As mentioned before, be very careful when she wears a low-cut top. She's got things partially exposed here, which means she's probably 2 seconds away from kicking you in the groin.

Monday, December 12, 2005

German Craftsmanship

Every Christmas, Alissia's cousin Val sends us a box of cool stuff from Germany -- German cookies, calendars, German toys, etc. To date, she has not sent a BMW, but the stuff she sends is pretty cool nonetheless. One year she sent us a chocolate cake that was really tall and narrow and was apparently made without the use of sugar or other sweeteners. It was a bit different than I'm used to, but still interesting. It's nice to see stuff like this. It's kind of a snapshot of normal everyday stuff from another part of the world.

We reciprocate by sending her stuff from our part of the world. Kind of a cultural exchange, if you will. Last year we sent her a can of fix-a-flat, a Dale Earnhart poster, a Linkin Park CD and a can of Skoal.

This year, one thing in the box from Val was this little candle-powered contraption:

It's cleverly designed and goes together easily, with stands for 3 candles integrated into its base. It turns out that 3 candles is not enough to make it actually spin; it just sits there and gets hot. So, I doubled the 3 candles (to 6, for those of you not inclined to reach for a calculator) and got fan to spin. It produced an estimated peak torque of 0.000000000000000073 in.lbs, at a peak rpm of approx. 16. Hooking a generator to this thing isn't going to light up very many homes (other than the one with all the candles burning to make this thing run). It's still neat to look at, and Christmas...ish.

Since the extra 3 candles are fastened to the plate via melted wax, I don't think I'll start this thing and leave it unmonitored. The candles on the plate would eventually fall into the wooden base, setting the whole thing ablaze (note to self: Make a video of this).

Sunday, December 11, 2005

All right, that's it...

I've been tossing the idea of building an electronic drumset around for a few years. I have all of the hardware and know-how to generate the actual waveforms, and I know how to build the triggers. I built one (trigger) at a cost of ~$20, and it works fairly well. Then I set the project aside.

But today, I took Andrew Christmas shopping. After a mind-numbing few hours looking for things that make girls happy, we decided to take a break and do something fun. He had been talking about a desire to play drums, so I took him to Guitar Center to let him have a look around at the drumsets they have there.

[A little history is probably in order: For his 5th birthday (about 4 years ago), I presented Andrew with a small/cheap drumset, having seen some potential in the way he drummed on everything in sight. His eyes lit up, and he sat down at the drumset and started hitting it tentatively and randomly like any kid would. I said "here, try this", and played a simple beat on it. He said "okay...", and sat down and reproduced what I had done, almost perfectly, on the first try. He started to expand on it from there, and within a few weeks, he was a miniature Keith Moon. I've got some good video of him at about 5 years old, drumming like a maniac and singing about "biology", "technology" and other words ending in "ology". Funny stuff...

Eventually, he beat the drumset into sawdust. Then he seemed to lose interest in drums, having discovered video games and skateboarding.]

He hadn't played drums in a couple of years, so I wasn't sure how he would do sitting down at a set in a store in front of drumset salesmen. He sat down at a fully loaded Gretsch set, kind of looked around, and just tore into it like he'd been practicing every day. The salesmen were like, "hey, cool!" and started coming over and talking to him. They were showing him fills and beats, and he was eating it up. It's rare that I see him that excited about things.

Watching this, I decided that I'd been screwing around long enough and that I would build the electronic set I'd been thinking of.

I say "electronic" instead of "acoustic" for purely practical reasons: An electronic set is slightly more compact, which I need in a small space. It's acoustically quiet, which Andrew's mother will require if she is to remain a sane woman. Electronic drums are more amenable to recording, since the process of micing up a drumset for recording involves about $5k worth of mics and years of experience. An electronic kit is recorded direct. No mics, no setup, no fuss. An electronic set is more flexible: I can use the triggers to play any sound that can be recorded, including samples of professionally-recorded drums. I can record a performance, separate from the sound, and edit both independently. An electronic set playing samples of a properly-recorded acoustic set, actually sounds better than the acoustic set itself in a room.

I say "build" instead of "buy" because: A single Roland V-Drum costs about $250. That's one drum. It consists of a plastic shell, a mesh head, and a piezo-based trigger under a foam cone. A pretty ingenious design, but pretty simple too. I can buy the materials to make my own drum for about $35 from other sources. As I mentioned, I built a reliable, velocity-sensing trigger out of a Remo practice pad and a RadioShack piezo buzzer. It took about 20 minutes, and plays just like a Remo practice pad (aka "a drum"). That makes more sense to me than spending ~$5k for a full-blown Roland V-Drum set. Those are really cool drumsets, but that's just too darn much money.

So anyway, I'm going to take pictures of the process of building the set, and put them up here. Somethin' to do, I reckon...