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Nucleus



November 06, 08

A Dangerous Phishing Email from the supposed IRS

Folks, in these tough economic times, the number of email and web scams is bound to increase exponentially. Here is an example of an email i just received that showcases one such "phishing" scam:

After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity
we have determined that you are eligible to receive
a tax refund under section 501(c) (3) of the
Internal Revenue Code. Tax refund value is $189.60.
Please submit the tax refund request and allow us 6-9 days
in order to IWP the data received.
If u don't receive your refund within 9 business
days from the original IRS mailing date shown,
you can start a refund trace online.

If you distribute funds to other organization, your records must show wether
they are exempt under section 497 (c) (15). In cases where the recipient org.
is not exempt under section 497 (c) (15), you must have evidence the funds will
be used for section 497 (c) (15) purposes.

If you distribute fund to individuals, you should keep case histories showing
the recipient's name and address; the purpose of the award; the maner of
section; and the realtionship of the recipient to any of your officers, directors,
trustees, members, or major contributors.

To access the form for your tax refund, please click here


This notification has been sent by the Internal Revenue Service,
a bureau of the Department of the Treasury.
Sincerely Yours,

John Stewart
Director, Exempt. Organization
Rulings and Agreements Letter
Internal Revenue Service


Ok, kiddies - can y'all find the spelling error in this email? Shame on the supposed "IRS" - or perhaps, appropriate given that the misspelling turns out to describe a castrated male goat...

Needless to say i removed the hyperlink and added the bold/underline manually to show where it had been. To be absolutely safe, don't go near suspicious hyperlinks and delete the email. If you absolutely need to confirm your suspicions, then as a Windows user you can right-click the link, select "Copy Link Address", and paste it safely in a separate non-linking program (like a Notepad document). In this case, the "click here" turns out to go to a site called "mail*fivestarcollision*com/refund*html" (periods replaced by asterisks - DON'T GO THERE).

Please be careful. Ta-ta for now!


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May 05, 08

When Tech Tanks: Bidvertiser shenanigans

A friend of mine just alerted me to this disturbing ad from Bidvertiser flashing across my site:

Pictureofsung

No, i do not "need girl friend" and i certainly don't need Bidvertiser anymore.  The offending ad services has been promptly removed.  My deepest apologies for the offensive display - please let me know if you come across any other advertising anomalies on any of my sites! 

Google Adsense seems to be somewhat better behaved, as it tries to match ads to the text content of the site.  I see a lot of ads for music related products and services, tablet pc's, and even some financial things from time to time.  The other web ad referral services like Amazon Associates and various online music publishers like Virtual Sheet Music are much more preferable if you want direct control over advertising content.  With Amazon, i can select only items that i'm interested in promoting, such as my own CD's, carousels of my favorite books on career and finances on TheProsperousMusician.com, and music scores that i'm starting to recommend to students on my new piano lesson satellite site (more recommendations and updates to that site forthcoming soon).

A side note:  placing ads on my website helps to take care of the costs associated with running the site (domain name registration, server subscription, etc.), but i'm not expecting to retire rich from the income anytime soon. i'll be posting some metrics on my earned web income soon at TheProsperousMusician.com later today. 



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April 29, 08

Setting up multiple RSS streams in Nucleus

As if one blog weren't enough for this crazy pianist, eh?

With the launch of my new blog, The Prosperous Musician, i wanted to set up a new RSS (really simple syndication) feed to make it easier for folks to either subscribe to updates by email, or to insert the feed into their favorite blog reader (i'm currently using iGoogle.com). Nucleus CMS, my current blog content management system of choice, has been a wonderfully robust system overall - i've particularly enjoyed its capability to create and manage multiple blogs simultaneously (see: www.visualrecital.com). As for my RSS feeds, i've been a longtime user of Feedburner, but aside from my main blog here, i never got around to figuring out how to correctly set up multiple RSS feeds.

Fortunately, the support forums at Nucleus came to the rescue, as they almost always do - turns out i needed to submit the following tag to differentiate the separate blogs:



Problem was, where in the world could i find - or create - the blogid=#?

Turns out, Nucleus already provides blog id's - you just have to know where to find them:



By hovering your mouse over the little globe thingy next to each blog name, the tip should pop up giving you the blogid followed by a number - THAT'S the tag you need to use to identify the unique feed. Without the blogid, i assume blog #1 will get the nod for the default feed.

In the case of TheProsperousMusician.com, the correct blog feed is as follows:



Fortunately, for those of you using free online blogging services like Wordpress.com or Blogger.com, the setup for your Feedburner feeds isn't nearly so aggravating, so i hope this little bit of under-the-hood techno-jargon doesn't scare you from setting up your own blogs!

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October 04, 07

Tech Support: Pedal Turning Too Many Pages at a Time

Here's an interesting tech support question that came up while i was getting ready for my rehearsal with Midori yesterday - a friend of mine was inspired to get his own Tablet PC (a Toshiba model, i believe) via eBay and a page turning pedal from PedalPax to put together a digital music reading/annotating system similar to what i have. Upon receiving the used Tablet PC, installing PDF Annotator and waiting for his PedalPax pedal to arrive, he was finding that pressing the hardware button for page turns was advancing 2 or 3 pages at a time. At first i thought it might've been a damaged button on the unit and advised him to disable the page turning function associated with it. After receiving the pedal, however, the multiple page turns continued to be a problem. He was so exasperated that he gave me a call without realizing that i was about to start rehearsing in a few minutes.


At first i was pretty perplexed. A hardware button malfunction might've been one thing, but to have a USB pedal coming up with the same bug? Highly unlikely. Then the answer came to me in a flash - you can adjust the keyboard key delay and repeat speed within Windows (to get to the Keyboard settings, in the Windows XP Tablet PC edition press 'Start' on the Start Menu Bar, select 'Control Panel' - make sure you have the Classic View option set - then click on the 'Keyboard' icon). My friend must've had his delay setting much too early and his repeat rate much too fast. By setting both options towards their opposing values, that would solve the mystery multiple page advances by hardware button or pedal device, since both basically function as alternate keyboard entry devices.


i just called my friend and got confirmation that this solution seems to be working so far (hopefully it won't revert to sudden multiple page turns during the middle of a concert!). Oh, and by the way - he reports that the PedalPax pedal unit tends to be very squeaky underfoot, probably because of the type of material comprising the buttons.


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August 16, 07

Silly little Ubuntustudio/VirtualBox details

Once upon a time (a long time ago), i used to keep my money in 3 or 4 savings and checking accounts. i don't really know why, i suppose it somehow made me feel "richer" to have little portions of money spread over various locations. Tellers would always look at me quizzically when i tried to explain that - well, bottom line, it was a stupid idea that only served to make my life more complicated than necessary. More often than not, simplicity breeds efficiency, and that applies to both money and computers.

After countless reboots, re-partitions and re-installs, i think i'm getting close to a more-or-less ideal Windows XP/Ubuntustudio dual-boot setup. Having two operating systems in one computer is pretty cool - having both operating systems running at the same time is even cooler! That technique is possible due to virtualization, a technology that has been exploding in popularity recently, giving a server or a single user the ability to run multiple operating systems on a single machine. VMWare is the pioneer company for the technology - my personal VM flavor is a nifty free program called VirtualBox by innotek (they seem to like little "i's" as much as me...).

So where does the allusion to simplified money accounts converge with installing multiple operating systems? In the setup of your whole digital enchilada, of course:

1. Keep partitions to a minimum. Partitions are a way of creating separate "drives" within a physical hard drive. In my previous direct installations of Ubuntu, it was necessary to create a separate bootable partition. I went a little partition crazy, splitting my main C drive in half, then chunking up my new 500 GB drive into four bite-sized pieces, thinking that Ubuntu would take 2 and Windows could keep the rest. Thanks to Wubi, the super-simple Ubuntu installer, partitioning is no longer necessary - it creates virtual drives in a single folder. Rather than limit myself to a piece of a drive, i found i could do away with partitions altogether and just install Ubuntustudio to the 500 GB drive straightaway, leaving myself with plenty of room for what i really wanted to do: have Ubuntustudio and Windows XP running simultaneously.

2. Bigger is better. In terms of storage space, of course. The problem i was constantly hitting during my early Ubuntu installation attempts was running out of space for apps and OS, as i tried to squeeze the experimental operating system into tiny spaces, and especially as i tried to set up a new install of Windows XP within Ubuntustudio via VirtualBox. i realized that this new setup would need as much space as possible. No more sharing a cramped C drive apartment - i moved the new OS family as sole occupants of the 500 GB mansion. Again, this is largely thanks to Wubi allowing me to setup Ubuntu without having to create "real" partitions.

3. Don't be greedy: share nicely. VirtualBox gives you the option to custom adjust RAM settings for Windows XP installation/operation. I thought i would be a speed demon and dedicate every drop of RAM for Virtual-Windows, but that only ended up crashing the installation over and over. Splitting the allocation in half allows both Ubuntustudio and V-Windows to play in the RAM sandbox nicely side by side.

4. Be greedy: get pants that fit. i guess my pattern for experiemental OS's is to breed them in tiny test tubes before i realize that they can live and breathe without risk to the host OS. That being said, OS's still need a LOT of space to enjoy the full benefits of space for all the applications you want to load up on. So, a better axiom might be, "Share the RAM, Hog the Drive." In my VirtualBox Hard Drive settings, i opted to give a full half of the 500 GB mansion to V-Windows. Cool thing is that you have the option to allocate the space as either a fixed amount or as a dynamically expanding allocation (the latter being the default and preferred option).


Oh, little tech detail for VirtualBox that had me banging my head for several hours until i came across the solution quite by accident -

VirtualBox captures the mouse and keyboard actions within the virtual OS environment. It gives a hotkey to release the mouse and keyboard (Right-Control), but no matter how many times i pressed it or held it down it would keep them locked within V-Windows. The trick to getting the hotkey release to work correctly is two-fold: first, don't provide the option for V-Windows to recognize the USB keyboard; secondly, after starting the virtual OS up, press the hotkey BEFORE clicking the mouse within the virtual environment - that seems to wake up the option to release.

Why this crazy dual OS setup? To be perfectly honest, i don't really know yet - i want to have a dedicated video editing computer, so i need the Windows XP OS to run Vegas 6; i'm really intruiged with free MIDI sequencer apps like Rosegarden for Linux, so i'm thinking of using programs like this to be able to edit digital piano recordings. Those seem to be the two primary reasons for the multi OS setup, though i want to get more into the open source graphics programs like Blender and Inkscape eventually, as well as a deeper exploration of the multitude of Linux audio apps ("FREE" is a very attractive word for me these days, hence the serious look at the open source offerings). One machine, two operating systems, consolitation of multimedia production - yeah, i'm a walking oxymoron when it comes to so-called "simplicity" (sigh...)

www.hughsung.com www.hughsung.com/blog Hugh Sung http://hughsung.com http://hughsung.com/blog

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July 23, 07

Linux, the Un-Lyrical OS

After installing Ubuntu, the "friendly" version of Linux onto Jayne, my newly donated RAID-capable pc, i found myself in a strange situation - something akin to having a custom-built Maserati with no wheels, or a Hamburg Steinway D with no keys - a beautiful operating system with tons of potential, but about as useless as eye candy for the working musician. The main problem simply is that i couldn't find drivers for the audio equipment i needed to interface with Linux, specifically my M-Audio Firewire 410 Mobile Recording Interface. M-Audio has a strange way of teasing folks with links to Linux drivers that spit out "n/a" - what's the deal with that?? Creative Labs doesn't even bother for their E-MU digital audio interfaces (another strikeout for my recently donated E-MU 0404 USB digital audio/MIDI interface), and all of the Linux/Ubuntu forums on the topic are filled with pleading net-urchins begging for developers to dole out respective drivers. I'm sure there's a way to get my basic MIDIMAN 1x1 USB interface cable to get recognized by Ubuntu, but installing drivers in the Linux universe is a major pain - the EZ-USB MIDI project is anything but "EZ".

There are lists of compatible sound cards and digital audio interfaces, but frankly i'm not in a position to spend even more money on an OS that is frightfully immature with regard to audio and MIDI manipulation, even if the software is mostly open-source. Maybe if an older soundcard like the M-Audio Delta 1010LT gets donated my way, i'll be inclined to give the Linux thing another whirl, but for now i think it's better left as an Office alternative (and a good one at that). The current ratio of Linux geeking to productive output just isn't in the musician's favor yet, save for those who really enjoy splitting headaches.

Lest i leave the impression that the Linux audio/MIDI world is completely bereft of helpful resources, here is my list of Linux Links for the Musician:

  • Advanced Linux Sound Architecture (ALSA) - a grass-roots attempt to develop audio and MIDI drivers for existing sound cards. Their newest sound card/driver matrix is available here.


  • Linux-Sound.org - a directory of Linux-compatible music hardware and software


  • Music Education with Linux Sound Tools - this is a terrific article with links to lots of neat programs (some are cross-compatible with Windows) for the active music teacher/student. Almost makes me wish i could really get Linux to talk to my microphones and Roland RD-700SX...GNU Solfege in particular looks like a terrific program!


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    July 20, 07

    Digital Brinkmanship: Fiddling with OS's (and crashing drives!)

    You think i'd learn to leave well enough alone...
    A new computer with spiffy specs, and i just had to take it apart to see if i could 'improve' things a bit...i thought the machine had RAID capabilities, but for some reason the driver was missing (RAID is a means of using multiple hard drives to work in parallel, increasing computing speed and/or providing an automatic mirror backup). Even after re-jiggering the hard drive cables to their "correct" order, i still wasn't getting the RAID capabilities to work. So, after some Google researching, i tried the software-RAID approach, which required me to change my hard drives to dynamic drives within Windows XP.

    Uh-oh. Bad move.

    Upon rebooting, the Grub booter (a Linux program that installs itself in the master boot record, allowing users to select between multiple operating systems) hiccuped and spat out a mysterious "Error 5". Don't you just hate gobbledy-gook computer messages? Why couldn't it be, i dunno, INFORMATIVE?? Saying something like, "By the way, Linux doesn't operate within dynamic drives - sorry!" So there i was left, in boot-limbo - nothing going forward after "error 5".

    In a panic, i scoured the web for solutions - i tried booting up from the Ubuntu boot CD (i don't have the original XP disks - hey, the computer was a gift! can't have everything!), but even running the Ubuntu OS from the CD wouldn't allow me to reinstall onto dynamic drives. There didn't seem to be any way to directly edit or remove Grub from the master boot record (the MBR is the very first partition a computer reads for booting/loading instructions). This wasn't looking good.

    Luckily, i came across the MBR Tool, a freeware app that seemed to be designed specifically for danger-geeks like me who just have to play boot-roulette for CPU thrills! This magic tool has an option to burn itself onto a bootable CD-R - pop that baby into the moribund machine and you're whisked into a no-nonsense DOS-era menu where you're given several Master Boot manipulating options.

  • From the main menu, i selected option 4: work with a MBR (backup, restore, display etc.)


  • In the next menu, i selected option 9: write/refresh bootcode (/RBC)


  • Thereupon removing the MBR Tool CD, i rebooted the machine - held my breath - panicked at the black screen of...er...nothingness...

    ...then felt my heart leap as the ol' familiar Windows XP load screen bloomed like summer grass onto my happy monitor!

    That was scary!! Almost thought i'd have to go to the store to plunk down way too much money for a full version of Vista...anyway, now i'm happily repartitioning my drives and preparing them for a software-based RAID setup. That of course means that Ubuntu is no longer on my system...reasons for that will be in my next blog post.

    In case another lost soul is scouring the web because of a lost windows password situation, i came across a neat linux-based password-recovery program that can be burned onto a bootable CD-R. Not that this particular program was needed in my instance, but between the MBR Tool and this Password recovery app i hope this post helps some crazy geek out there wringing their hands over their own dual-boot Windows/Linux nightmare. My heart bleeds for you...boot in peace.

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    July 13, 07

    Jumping into Linux-Land with Ubuntu

    I've always had an envious eye on the Linux community, dreaming of one day having a machine that could 'dual boot' Windows and Linux (i believe "Linux" is pronounced "Lee-nicks" - please correct me if my geek-speak is wrong!). For those of you not familiar with this, Linux is the "other" operating system that is the flagship of the whole Open Source movement (Microsoft has Windows, Apple has - well - an apple, and Linux has that cute penguin mascot). Although free for downloading, Linux has always been a daunting OS for computer newbies - various flavors of the code made it difficult to know which one to download, and more often than not i would hear horror stories of installation difficulties and missing drivers for critical components that would cripple the OS...definitely not for the faint of heart, until now.


    Ubuntu is a new flavor of Linux that tries to offer a simple installation experience and a graphical user interface (GUI) that mimics elements of both Windows and Apple's OS X (or 9 - not being a mac guy, Ubuntu's elegant desktop doesn't have quite the polish or eye candy of the other commercial OS's). Dell Computers apparently thinks highly enough of this build to include it in an entirely new batch of laptops as the primary OS, breaking out of the Microsoft Windows/Vista mold.


    Thanks to a generous gift from Jake and Larry Fritkis (a super speedy computer with dual RAID drives! woo hoo!!), i finally had a machine clean enough (read: not filled to the brim with programs and multimedia audio/video files) to try installing Ubuntu.


    An earlier attempt at an Ubuntu installation on an older machine quickly revealed that the drivers for my Linksys wireless network cards were not included. You'll need to check with Ubuntu's support forums to find the lists of compatible network cards. Since my new machine (we'll call him Jayne) didn't have one, this gave me a chance to pick up a new Netgear WG311T Wireless PCI adapter.


    i wish i could say that my Ubuntu installation was smooth and painless, but it wasn't. That being said, it was much easier than i had actually expected. i actually had to reinstall the OS twice, as the first installation kept freezing up Jayne, but now i think i have it finally running on all pistons. This blog article, in fact, is being written via a neat little Linux applet that allows me to post directly from my desktop, bypassing the normal "open browser/navigate to administrative panel/login/open edit windows" procedure. I'm also using "Thoggen", a DVD video ripper to extract the video from my latest trip to Boulder, Colorado where i ran a Visual Recital workshop with a group of amateur and professional visual artists (video coming soon!) Lots of neat looking programs to start exploring, all of them open source and free free free!


    More on my adventures in Linux-Land in coming posts as i explore the boundaries of Ubuntu...



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    May 28, 07

    Lesson sharks?

    Who would've thought that the music lesson listing business would get lucrative enough to attract sharks?

    According to a commenter on the Music Teachers Helper blog, (a fascinating site, btw - i want to take some time to explore their music studio management program!), two sites - ClickforLessons.com and relative newcomer GetLessonsNow.com ***- seem to be engaged in deceptive Google ad practices, where they list the names and addresses of their client teachers but substitute their own website phone numbers, making for a real runaround for the teachers and bad business siphoning from the potential pool of students.

    It should be noted that from the Music Teachers Helper article, PrivateLessons.com holds the top spot by quite a wide margin with regard to Google searches for music lessons. Given that they've been in business since 1996, their longevity speaks volumes about the loyalty they seem to garner from their client teachers and students.

    If there's a lesson to be learned here, it's that good business practices will win out in the long term. It's also quite encouraging to see that the private music pedagogy business is thriving so well!

    ***Note: Brian Gilman, co-founder of GetLessonsNow.com, has posted a comment below stating that his website no longer creates the Google Local Listings that were the source of the complaints. Many thanks for that clarification and positive policy change!


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    Spring Cleaning the Website

    While i've generally enjoyed working with the open source Nucleus CMS (content management system) as my freebie blog template, one design problem has been the bane of this site since i switched over to this particular skin design ("slick"): it's incompatibility with the Internet Explorer browser.

    (Note: With most CMS programs, you can switch between various skin templates on the fly)

    I've been a Firefox browser fan and didn't notice the design snafus until i started viewing my site via my office computer (stuck with IE 6). Not being all that comfortable with CSS (cascading style sheets, the design template file that dictates a website's general layout), i had no way of knowing how to correct the problem. A code hack posted on Nucleus' support forum helped minimize the damage, but my right menu bar was left hopelessly floundering within IE.

    The recent upgrade to IE 7 seemed to solve the right menu bar issue, but i was still left with a weird collision from the bottom footer bar through the middle of my top blog posts. Much sighing and shrugging ensued, and i just tried to pretend IE 7 readers didn't exist...

    Fortunately, a good friend came to the rescue and helped me identify the offending </div> tags within the skin template - removing the "footbar" and "footer" tags gets rid of the annoying bar cutting across the middle of the blog post, thereby solving that nasty design flaw within the slick skin design (well, at least with IE 7 - please upgrade if you're still using IE 6!)

    Big hurrah! That was a design thorn-in-my-side for the longest time - nice to have that finally solved!

    Another bit of upgrade was the addition of a colorful row of bookmark links which you should now see lining the bottom of each blog post - i've been wanting to add an easy way for readers to tag posts to the likes of digg.com, technorati or del.icio.us (tagging is a neat way of "bookmarking" web pages or blog posts of interest where you add keywords describing the page/article and in the process share your discovery with other subscribers to the bookmarking service). I tried using a Nucleus plugin called "AddThis", but once again the code did strange things to the website design within IE 7 (my Firefox browser is rolling its eyes...) A resourceful coder from Croatia on the support forum came up with a simple html solution to add basic post links to a number of social bookmarking sites, and voila! (in case i need to retrieve this bit of code in the future, i'm posting it as blogbookmarks.txt on my site...having your own website can be a terrific repository for stuff you don't want to forget!)

    Hope you enjoy the slightly cleaner interface and the new bookmarks!

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    April 27, 07

    Snapter (i wish it worked...i wish it worked...)

    Snapter is a brand new program that sounds terrific in concept, but falls flat when it comes to execution. Snapter is supposed to be a document scanner that works from the images taken with your digital camera. It claims to be able to automatically correct the angle of the document and even the perspective skew. With books, it's supposed to automatically recognize the binding curve and compensate accordingly to create 'straightened' separate images for each page. Like i said, sounds terrific in concept - but before you toss out that old flatbed and shell out $49 for this snazzy-sounding program, take a look at what it did to my music:

    Snapter's first attempt to recognize the border of my music and flailing badly....

    The red lines are supposed to represent the border that Snapter recognizes around the document against the dark background. That lower left corner looks pretty wacky to me...and the right border isn't all that great either...

    Snapter sees borders in the 5th dimension or something...

    Maybe it's the fact that there are music notes and notation markings instead of predictable straight lines of text that's making Snapter draw out borders like the music comes from the 5th dimension or something...

    Anyway, witness the distorted results (those of you with queasy stomachs should cover your eyes - this ain't pretty):

    Snapter's Funhouse of Mirrors

    I think i saw an episode of Star Trek where the transporter malfunctioned like this...

    Yes, kids, like the results of a defective transporter from Star Trek, these are the sorry results.

    The other frustration, i must admit, comes from the fact that my 5.1 megapixel Sony DSC-T7 does such a lousy job of capturing the music in fine enough detail for a decent scan:

    I see cheese, cheese, walkin' on its knees...

    With all the little blue nodes surrounding the border of Snapter's bad guesses, you'd think it'd be a simple matter to select a few and make manual adjustments, but it acts like a pit of angry asps if you try to move any of the nodes (and not all of them are selectable), skewing the borders even more horribly out of alignment.

    Sigh...i really love the idea of this program, i just wish it actually worked when it comes to music...



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    April 11, 07

    An exiled blessing in disguise? World of Warcraft banned accounts

    When i first signed up for that massive multiplayer online role playing game ("MMORPG") World of Warcraft about 2 months ago, i was consequently warned by several denizens of students to walk - no, make that RUN away from the game as fast as possible, regaling horrible tales of sleepless nights and hopeless addiction to that time-sink.

    Ok, ok, so i was spending a few hours here and there on the game (my wife would strongly disagree on how i define "hours" here...) and really having a dandy time "oohing" and "aahing" at the virtual scenery (and dying an awful lot while trying to get from point A to point B...)...and then suddenly, about two weeks ago, i received a cryptic message that my account had been banned.

    No warning, no explanation - the portals to that massive online world were shut as tight and silent as a stone mausoleum.

    Much whining ensued and baffled emails sent to Blizzard's tech support team, asking for an explanation of what possible crime an absolute newbie like me could be guilty of - i barely knew how to play the game, for crying out loud! Well, after a few days of fretting over the lack of response, i resigned myself to returning to "real life" and never looking back at the gilded portals of that fantasy world, imagining that my characters - particularly my Level 17 mage named "Dahnmar" - were dying slow, agonizing deaths at the spindle of some hard drive's "delete" operation...

    It turns out, from reading these articles on CNET, that i wasn't alone in the baffling account-ban bashing:

  • 'World of Warcraft' bans raise players' ire - source: CNet News.com, 3/22/07


  • No end in sight to hacking of 'WoW' accounts - source: CNet News.com, 4/10/07


  • A few days ago, my account was abruptly restored - no explanation, no apologies, just a simple email from Blizzard stating that i needed to reset my password, and i was good to go. I haven't been back to play yet, fearing the lost hours that would almost certainly be drained there...but the gilded portals beckon...beckon...

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    April 05, 07

    Fiscal Nibbles and a Tech Disaster

    It's uncanny how similar being on a budget is to being on a diet. It's also eye-opening to see how quickly little things add up in both fiscal and nutritional aspects. When i committed to my crash diet as mentioned in my earlier post, i became obsessed with counting calories. I never considered myself to be a glutton at mealtime, but i was completely shocked to find that most of my calories weren't coming from big steaks or buttery sauces - rather, i was piling them on with the extra packets of sugar going into my coffee, or in the bag of potato chips, or that extra bottle of soda! Little snacks, accumulated over time, made for a very fat Hugh.

    My new personal budget is revealing similar trends, where little expenses quickly become the piranhas of my overall fiscal body. One area i'm hoping to reign in some significant savings is in the daily meal and coffee expenses.

    Behold, the power of the lunch bag!

    My new debt fighting weapon:  the mighty lunch bag!

    The plastic container holds a yummy, cheap-to-make treat: Onigiri, a japanese rice cake of sorts.

    Onigiri, a tasty - and cost effective - lunch meal

    You can buy these nice packets of Onigiri seasoning - add a few sprinkles to a pot of cooked rice, combine with some chopped meats or vegetables, press into a special plastic mold to shape the cake, and add a piece of roasted seaweed laver to the bottom (this serves as a yummy 'holder' for the cake). Super cheap, and really yummy!

    As much as i love my fix of Starbucks, i'm afraid i'm going to have to go on a coffee hiatus of sorts - instead, i'll be drinking these super economical korean instant coffee packets, where dried coffee is combined with a pre-measured amount of sugar and creamer. Add hot water and each packet makes a small cup of coffee. It takes at least 10 or 15 of these to equal one tall house blend of Starbucks. Also in my new beverage list will be green, Breakfast and Earl Grey teas:

    Instant coffee, Green, Breakfast and Earl Grey Teas

    I estimate that by bringing my lunch to work instead of buying a sandwich, drink, and 2 or 3 cups of coffee, i'll be saving at least $10 a day - that adds up pretty quickly!

    On a horrific, debt-rattling note, i'm pretty upset to report a mini-crisis: Inara, my brand new, beautiful Fujitsu ST5032D Tablet PC, now has a cracked screen -

    My beautiful Inara is now a blemished Tablet PC...

    The screen protector seems to be holding the glass safely in place for now, and the pen functions are unaffected - computer is running normally, aside from sporting that horrible blemish. I was propping Inara on my makeshift bookstand while i was working on my Roland RD-700SX digital piano. Timmy came into the room and wanted to have a piano lesson, as he absolutely loves playing on the Roland.

    Timmy loves playing on the Roland RD-700SX digital piano

    After his lesson, i was getting some paperwork done and focusing my attention on Zoe, my Gateway Tablet PC. Timmy, in the meantime, wanted to continue practicing on his own, so he tried to prop up the music - and inadvertently pushed Inara back, causing her to tumble and...well, suffice to say Daddy was extremely unhappy, and Timmy was bawling apologies with tears gushing down his face. Kyungmi tried sending him off to bed while i stewed over the damage, but poor Timmy couldn't stop crying and feeling terrible about what happened. He came back to the room to apologize again and again, and received lots of hugs and forgiveness from me for an innocent accident. I made sure he spent some more time on the digital piano again right after that, lest he develop a weird phobia for playing digital pianos out of fear of breaking something else.

    Dave Ramsey had an insightful line in his book, The Total Money Makeover, where he pointed out that God sometimes tests your resolve right in the beginning of your commitment to eliminate debt. This certainly qualifies as a frustrating test - but also as a good goal to push me to get this debt thing eliminated once and for all as fast as possible, so that i can afford to get Inara fixed up and looking good as new!

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    March 08, 07

    Shiny Arrival

    Say hello to "Inara", the latest addition to my Tablet PC family! Inara is the Fujitsu ST5032D Tablet PC in the dock on the left - Kaylee, my trusty old ST5022D, is lying down on the right, getting ready to pass the mantle en route to semi-retirement/backup status:

    Inara (the ST5032D on the left) and Kaylee (the ST5022D on the right)

    I recently sold my backup Fujitsu ST5011 Tablet PC, which gave me the means to get an "upgrade". Kaylee, my main ST5022D unit, has been looking kind of ragged lately, sadly the result of a serious mistake i made when i purchased her: neglecting to affix a screen protector!

    Kaylee's LCD screen is looking pretty beat up these days

    In this shot, you can just make out the scratch on the bottom that came as a result of a nasty tumble on stage during a Sequenza 21 concert - aside from the minor cosmetic blemish, Kaylee still functioned beautifully:

    Kaylee's LCD screen from another angle

    Poor Kaylee - weathered, beat up, but still a hard worker and running in tip top shape despite the marred looks...funny thing is, you really can't see the LCD chip marks when music is displayed (the marks can be clearly seen when Kaylee has a darker background on screen). Nevertheless, i knew that once i sold her unnamed little sister, i'd have to get an upgraded unit to replace her as my primary concert unit.

    I slapped on a screen protector the instant i pulled Inara out of the box, but i was foolish enough to do it over the carpet in my eagerness to protect her good looks. Despite all my efforts to wipe off the dust, i still managed to capture a LOT of hair and dust flecks under the screen protector:

    Inara's LCD with dust trapped under the screen protector

    Annoying, yes, but actually not a big deal, as the dust and hair flecks can't really be seen when viewed head on. At least the screen is reasonably protected now, and will still look pristine when it comes time to change the screen protector (probably next year sometime). Note to self: change the screen protector over the tiled kitchen table instead of the carpet next time!

    Inara looks identical to Kaylee on the outside, but packs much more of a whollop on the inside:

    Kaylee's specs:

  • 60 Gig hard drive

  • 1 gig RAM

  • 1.1 GHz Intel Pentium M processor


  • Inara's specs:

  • 80 Gig hard drive

  • 2 gig RAM

  • 1.2 GHz Intel Pentium M processor


  • Apparently this was a brand new unit, as opposed to the refurbished ones that Fujitsu normally unloads on eBay - extra battery and Microsoft Office (business version) included made this a very, very sweet deal!

    Given my complete dependence on tablet pc's for all of my music scores now, it only makes sense to have multiple units for backup purposes. Hard drives can fail at any time - i believe the average hard drive life is around 3-5 years (although i still have a Windows ME machine kicking around just fine, aging close to 10 years now...). Unfortunately, as was the case with Paul's TC1100, hard drives and/or computers can crash and fail with little or no notice, and always at the wrong time - so it only makes sense to prepare for the very worst.

    Pardon me while i spend the rest of the day getting Inara prepped and ready!

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    February 26, 07

    Frankensteining the Perfect Digital Piano, Part 6

    New frustrations abound...now it feels like the treasure chest i alluded to is not only half empty, but its contents have suddenly been revealed to be only plastic imitations...

    My excitement over Synthogy's Ivory high-resolution piano samples quickly dissipated when i started working on Poulenc's "The Story of Babar" - French literature seems to reveal the sonic limitations of digital pianos better than almost anything else i know. Playing "louder" literature like portions of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" can be very forgiving for the limited number of velocity settings that Ivory provides (a maximum of 10, if you can believe it, for each key). But once i started trying to shape delicate colors on the bottom dynamic spectrum, i kept getting the same one or two lowest samples over and over with nary a variation in texture or color...as if all my oil paints had been snatched away and i was given 2 crayons to work with. Add to that the fact that there are no continuous or half-pedal capabilities in Ivory, no sympathetic vibrations (and for some reason i can't get the una corda pedal to work within Ivory...), and you've got a recipe for immense frustration. Absolutely maddening, reminding me of why i hated digital pianos so vehemently in the first place...

    Despite the burning hole in my wallet, i took a serious second look at Pianoteq, the virtual piano simulator. The more i played around with the trial version, the more i began to become convinced that this was the program i had been looking for. If you will recall from my "Digital Fishnet Treasures" blog post, i wrote out a comparison between the two approaches to creating a digital piano - sampled, pre-recorded sound clips (Ivory), versus a simulator that actually creates the physical phenomenon of piano acoustics based on variable simulated mechanics (Pianoteq). While i had initially found some of the demo audio clips from Pianoteq's page to be somewhat tinny and "toy-like", my opinions changed drastically after fiddling around with some of the parameters, like the size of the instrument (you can simulate up to a 30 ft. long grand piano!), or the length of decay, hammer density/hardness, and other fascinating design aspects. But what got me really excited was the direct sense of control over touch and dynamic expressivity, with both keystroke and pedal effects. Pianoteq takes full advantage over all 127 MIDI dynamic levels, a HUGE improvement over the measly 10 that Ivory provides. Full half and continuous pedal effects are in play, along with after-pedal effects (the way the strings sound AFTER the pedal is released or recaptured), full overtone/harmonic blends, articulation variety...in short, it really feels like i'm playing a living instrument that responds to every touch and gesture, with all the acoustic subtleties and harmonic complexities of a real acoustic piano! It may not sound like a Steinway D or a Boesendorfer Imperial Grand on a single note to note comparison, but i found myself falling in love with the enormous expressive landscape that Pianoteq's simulation provides!

    The more i play with Pianoteq, the more convinced i am that this represents the future of digital instruments - simulators, rather than samplers.

    Oh, by the way, just for fun, i did a quick comparison with Pianoteq and the Roland RD-700SX's native piano samples (as well as the samples on the "Complete Piano" expansion card) - like comparing two glasses of wine side by side, it was startling to hear how thin and tinny the Roland's samples were compared to Pianoteq! Interestingly, when i pipe the whole system through my JBL EON self-powered speakers, the Ivory samples sound awfully muddy (more blame on the JBL's, i think), but the Pianoteq somehow manages to sound much clearer.

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    Welcome!

    Thank you for visiting this site! I hope you'll find this to be a friendly place to learn about and discuss the fascinating technologies available for the Classical Musician. A great place to get started is with the ongoing "Getting Started" series. Remember, the worst questions are the ones you never ask, so feel free to email me!

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