That Tone Thing

The other day, as the train was lumbering towards my terminal station, a great Mr. Big song came on. From their Raw like Sushi Vol. 2 album, the song was Road to Ruin with the Paul Gilbert guitar solo appended at the end. I turned up the volume, and basked in the glory that is Paul Gilbert and reminisced about that elusive thing that all guitarists chase: “Tone”.

It wasn’t a particularly great solo, yes, as expected technical proficiency, some ginormous moves, and a couple of gaffes (you can tell that Paul wings it to some degree, unlike Yngwie Malmsteen). But that fat, ballsy, ripping tone.

I could plop down the bucks and buy a Paul Gilbert custom Ibanez Fireman guitar (his signature axe), and a stack of Laney amps. I could probably put together his signal path, and match it perfectly, but you know what? I would still not sound like Paul.

Early in my 3+ decades of playing, I spent a lot of money chasing the tone. The latest fuzz box, better amps, all tube, bigger speakers. And I was lost. I would religiously read GFPM (Guitar for the Practicing Musician) and try to duplicate the signal chains. I had digital delays, chorus pedals, DOD distortion boxes. I even chased the elusive Ibanez stomp boxes that are so revered today that original ones often sell for $500 or more on ebay.

The more I chased it, the less satisfied I was. Ultimately, I got away from all the gear. I kept my two main amps (Gallien Krueger 250ML, and a phat Fender Super 60), but along the way I shed all the extraneous gear.

I began working on my technique. I realized that the killer sounds weren’t magic from some analog of digital processing, but they come from your fingers and your guitar. What pickup, how you attack the strings, where you pick them (or mute them), that these were what made the great players sound great.

Alas, I finally “discovered” the secrets that I chased. Of course, there are some things that you can’t do, a good stereo chorus, or a phaser effect. But get a decent eq setting, and a solid overdrive, and rely on your skills, and you are golden.

I just wish I had the discipline to practice as much now as I could in my early 20’s (and also that the arthritis didn’t halt a lot of my practice sessions short). But that’s life.

Email Clients – Redux

Again, I find myself at a crossroads. Being a Mac person, and relying heavily on Google’s email products (I have 5 different email identities, all hosted on Google’s Gmail or G-suite apps), I must have a mail client that works well with the Google way.

Alas, the built in Apple mail client is okay, but on alternating releases they really foul up the way it works with the Google imap/smtp world. Not fail, but irregularities and some general suckage.

Word has it that in the new 10.12 MacOS Sierra it is good again. But I know that will change. Again.

About 5 months ago, I stumbled on CloudMagic, which seemed truly magic with the Google world, and its iOS clients were great too. But a couple weeks ago, they flipped their business model, and now it is $50 a year subscription. So I needed to switch clients.

Read more…


About a month ago, I posted about how I was finally cutting the cord, and moving all my serious pictures out of the Apple Photos application. It was just too constricting, and while their “Pro” app for photographers, Aperture was great, they have abandoned it.

I began seriously using Adobe Bridge which was free (as in beer) and worked pretty well as a lightweight photo manager. But it’s major flaw was that the importer really didn’t handle RAW files gracefully (the version I had, CS6, wouldn’t preview the .CR2 files from my camera, so I couldn’t do any pre-sorting. Lame.)

SO, it is back to Lightroom, a more feature rich Adobe product, that integrates well with Photoshop, and offers many capabilities. A bit overkill for a hobbyist like me, but its importing tool is incredible.

Now, I am going through my images, re-organizing them, and selectively editing them. If you follow me on Facebook, look at my photo albums for some of the results.

One thing I was turned on to are a set of filters from Topaz Labs, plugins for Photoshop, that give you some insanely cool effects for your pictures. I have to thank an old friend Inge Fernau, for this addiction. I will write about them in future posts, but to summarize them, they are plugins for photoshop with presets (and other manual controls) that give a huge variety of really incredible effects.

Here is a gallery of images that I have processed.

Train kept a Rolling


Having rejoined the working world, I am now lucky enough to be working for a company that it makes total sense to take the VTA Lightrail in to the office. I live about 1.1 miles from the Cottle station, a 20 minute walk from home. Then 50 minutes to get to Tasman station, and a 5 minute walk to the office.

Since driving the 18 miles takes between 40 minutes and an hour, and the train gives me a low stress travel versus the stress of stop and go traffic.

Over the last 7 weeks, I have learnt the following.

  1. The trains have wifi. Cool, and it is free. But it appears to be a single cellular connection. Ok to surf Facebook, but it is too inconsistent for logging into VPN. That’s OK, I prefer the solitude and reading my Kindle to working.
  2. The first five and a half weeks, not once was there a fare enforcement officer. I was beginning to think that it would be low risk to not swipe the Clipper Card and pay the fine if caught. Then in the last week and a half, there have been 5 verifications.
  3. Apparently, if you want to score some pot, near the Santa Clara stop is the place to do it. It seems like every day I see some dealing going on on the sidewalk or in that parking lot.
  4. It is (in general) worth timing my commute to catch the limited express. The express saves 6 stops, and about 10 minutes.
  5. $2.00 a trip is a pretty good deal. I figure that if I would drive, 34-35 miles round trip, at 21mpg and $3 a gallon (Stewie needs premium), that is about the same cost to drive and ride the train.
  6. Some smugness, to know that I am doing even a little bit to reduce my carbon footprint. Of course, I wipe that out by driving a sports car for fun.

Yep, it is a pretty good deal.

An aside: Taking the train is convincing me that one day I need to bum around downtown San José and take pictures. St. James park, the post office, SJSU, victorian homes, and others are begging to be captured.

Photography – Library Organization

Having written about my struggles as an undisciplined photographer, first outgrowing iPhoto, finding a safe harbor with Apple’s “pro” application, Aperture until they orphaned it, and then casting around for a solution.

I tried Adobe Lightroom, and it was reasonable, but being geared for professionals, it was a bit overkill.

A friend recommended another Adobe product, “Bridge”, as a good, lightweight solution. It is included for free with Photoshop (and possibly other Adobe products), and it has long lain idle.

Hummingbird street artWith that recommendation, I took a serious look at Bridge, and began using it for my ungainly photo collection. Here are my observations:

  1. It is quite snappy at creating indexed thumbnails. When you open a folder, even with more than 1,000 images in it, it quickly lets you work with it, while it is creating the thumbnails. If you set the preferences to (when possible) push the index file to the local directory. This makes it really easy to reorganize or move (via a remote drive) to another computer.
  2. The UI is very flexible. It is intuitive to navigate, and you can set it up to facilitate your workflow. Sure, Lightroom has more bells and whistles, but with that is a heavier overhead to learn and build familiarity with. But, it doesn’t prevent you from accessing all the meta data and other tags.
  3. Batch rename. Best. Feature. Ever. I had one folder with over 1000 images, where I mixed photos from my wife’s point and shoot Canon, with my EOS 20D. This meant that I have a lot of low res images mixed with the good stuff, and it was painful. The “Advanced” find option, looking for the camera ID tag, and then use the Batch Rename option to separate the intermixed images.It also makes it easy to rename files, to insert mnemonic flags in the filename, and date/index coding. Really helpful.
  4. Rating/Flagging of images. The ability to assign a rating to each image is nice, and expected. Also, the ability to use the delete key to “reject” an image. This is helpful for sorting/ranking images. Alas, I am not disciplined enough to use this consistently. Maybe one day (who am I kidding…)
  5. Minibridge. This is a tight integration with Photoshop, that give you a way to traverse your collection easily from within the photoshop interface. Handy if you are in the think of working with your collection, relieving you from switching between programs.

Additionally, as it is part of the “Creative Solutions” ecosystem, it helps you index and organize all media files. Images, videos, even mixed media files, all with aplomb. It really helped me organize a huge collection of memes I snagged from the internet.

It is not all Unicorns and Roses though…

The photo import tool is pretty sucky. At least on the Mac. It is pretty spartan, and while it can do some rudimentary file renaming, it is pretty pathetic. Of course, the Apple Photos app is less flexible.

Also, it is unable to preview before importing RAW files, so you are pretty blind when importing. Not too useful if you have multiple sessions of photos on the memory card.

Sure, I can just import bulk from the card and mess with it later, but that is sub optimal.


For a free-as-in-beer program, Adobe Bridge is remarkably feature rich. It is lightweight, yet usable. It integrates very well with Photoshop, and since it isn’t a monolithic library (like the Apple products), it is really easy to move/organize your library around.

And it really is free. Don’t have Photoshop or any of the other CS products? No problemo, get an Adobe ID, and you can download it gratis.

Still, I need to find a better photo import option.


Next up, I will talk about some fabulous filters for Photoshop…