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It's the end of semester again. I can tell I enjoyed robotics the most of all my classes this term: I simultaneously never want to look at our robot again and wish I had at least another week to pour my soul into that and nothing else.

A Comedy of Errors, 2007; or, the Making of a Podcast, the how not to version

From the time Heisenberg first announced that there would be podcasts, I knew that I should do one of his pieces: JohnnyGoodyear, outlaw noder, the William S. Burroughs of Everything2, mysterious character ... my mentor.

The narrowing process did not take too long. Eliminating anything that was too long or too esoteric, I sorted through the amazing legacy he had left on E2. Land of the Free (Some Assembly Required) seemed like an excellent choice. The Man Himself gave me permission—I guess he’s liked my previous podcasts well enough, then.

Recording was no big deal. Put the whole thing into Blaze Audio EditRipBurn, cut out the tongue twisters, the ums ... the errrs ... the fumbles and re-starts. I had several takes on the lines:

"Happy with your personal hygiene?
End cold sores fast with our new lysine."

(That is a weird one, JG ... just sayin'!)

Painstaking, but a labour of love. The whole thing went into the Reaper multitrack program. Very soon, it was done.

That's when I noticed the backbeat. To get the rhythm just right, I’d been tapping on my knee. You could hear it. I guess I really needed a microphone that’s not omnidirectional.

I've earnt this good American life of
(Fump! Fump! Fump! Fump!)
Rent your sister? Buy my wife!
(Fump! Fump! Fump! Fump!)

Crap.

Okay...don't panic. I used to play electric guitar. This piece has roughly the same rhythm as the Nail’s new wave classic 88 Lines About 44 Women... so, I can just dig up the old electric guitar, put in some juicy power chords, no one will notice that it sounds like I’m pounding something as I read Johnny’s words. No sweat.

Out comes the old Yamaha. Playing it only a few times a year has not done it any favors—needs to be re-strung. No sweat. Just get those strings out of the drawer, re-string, tune, re-tune, re-re-tune. There! Ready to hook up.

Out comes the old amplifier and cable. I hook it up, play Mr. Goodyear’s words and jam along.

Yikes.

It’s been 20 years since I graced Alan McDaniel’s guitar studio, carefully learning modes and chords and patterns. I’m a bit out of practice—just a bit.

Okay, no sweat. I’ll just do what the hair bands did in the late 80s. Lack of talent can be covered up, to an extent, with a really good distortion pedal. Just so happens, I have one. Out comes my secret weapon, the Metal Master pedal, bought at a garage sale for about $10 a very long time ago.

If I had a cable to hook it to the amplifier, that would have been a great idea. This project will have to go on hold until tomorrow. There’s a shop called "Guitar Gallery" just down the road from my house.

Guitar Gallery—some collectable (read: very expensive) guitars, three guys looking at airplanes on a computer, and no cables. Okay, Best Buy is on my way to work. Turns out they have no musical instruments whatsoever. The project is postponed another day.

So, the next day, I go to Guitar Center. I’m met by a mellow 20-something guy with those freaky-looking ear-spacer things. He directs me to the cables and I’m back in business.

"That and a 9 volt battery and I am good to go," I smiled.

Twentysomething inhales sharply, "Ohhh, I am sorry, man, I sold out of nine volts this morning."

No sweat, though. I can get a nine volt at the drug store, and I do exactly that on my way home. Now, barring anything further, I have the set-up to finish this project. I really hadn't expected it to take this long!

The guitar is hooked up, the amp turned on. I hit the distortion pedal, fiddling with the knobs a bit as I go. There’s that sound, like the guitar in YesOwner of a Lonely Heart. Excellent, this will be perfect. (Did the speaker just go "spack"? ... and again? What is with that?)

Tomorrow, I’ll record the guitar and put this silly project to bed, thinks I.

That night, I have a dream that my distortion pedal burned out. Weird, I think. Hope it waits until I finish this project.

But it does not. That "spack" sound had been the death rattle of my 25-year old distortion pedal. So much for that. Now what?

Fine, Suzi owns a big, fancy electronic keyboard with a built-in drum machine. I could put some percussion, add some fills, and maybe THAT would work.

First thing’s first, where is the power adapter to the keyboard? Turns out there isn't one...So I either need D batteries or a new adapter. Next stop: Radio Shack; I want one of those switchable power supplies, where I can do anything from 4.5 to 12 volts, switch the polarity, whatever.

The kewl young man at Radio Shack calmly informs me that no such thing exists. I stay nice ... none of this is HIS fault. I tell him that I used to have one—it even had interchangeable tips so that you could use it on different types of appliances. He tells me that they don’t carry such an item (he actually seems perplexed that anyone would want something like that). I am crushed, but not defeated. And I still don’t chew out the guy with the soul patch, it is not his fault.

Okay, so the batteries are in the keyboard, I get the tempo set, the rest goes surprisingly well. I get the percussion track laid down, put in some fills so it almost sounds like a human is playing the drums. I put the whole mess through EditRipBurn and into Reaper.

Then, I render the thing. Then, after making sure that I didn’t do anything stupid at the last minute, like turn off the vocal track or something (that would be about right for this project), I email it to Heisenberg.

Next time, I think I’ll do something simple—really simple. Like a 100-word factual with no background music at all.

I just baked my first loaf of bread, ever. Lemme tell ya something: there's nothing in the world quite like the taste of a peanut butter sandwich on bread, just from the oven, that you pounded into shape with your own fists.

I could get used to this.

Today Chris and I are setting off on a three week road adventure into the west. We're going to be camping in Pikes Peak State Park, Blue Mounds State Park, Badlands State Park, Custer State Park, Bighorn National Forest, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Dinosaur National Monument, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Black Canyon National Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park and somewhere in Kansas and Ohio on our way home.

To document the trip Chris made some sketchbooks for us and we're loaded down with pens, pencils, watercolors and more! in the way of art supplies. I'm also bringing binoculars so I can see all those far away splendors we won't be driving up to, I'm considering taking my digital audio recorder for any interesting sounds like a herd of bison rubbing up against the vehicle or a bear shredding our campsite, and of course my Sony Cybershot to document everything in between.

With a little over three weeks in some of the most beautiful national forests in the U.S. you can imagine there will be lots of photos taken. Rather than purchase multiple memory sticks, drag along a laptop or take 2MP pictures on a camera capable of 6MP quality I opted to get the Ipod Camera Connector and now have what essentially amounts to a 20G jump drive to carry my memories on. Well worth it, if you ask me. And there's enough room for us to load a few audio books and podcasts as entertainment when the radio cuts out.

We're fairly prepared for our journey, we just need to work our half day today and then drop off our menagerie of pets (three turtles, one cat and a crayfish) with their sitters.

Did I mention it's going to be our 1 year anniversary on the 20th? So this is more than a vacation, it's a celebration!

If anything really interesting happens while we're gone, you can be sure you'll hear about it when we get back.

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