I managed to stream for an hour last night, which surprised me a great deal. My voice managed to hold out for the duration and I only had a couple of coughing fits but I didn't realise that I'd been on the air for that long. I feel better than I did at this time last week, but I still feel incredibly tired.
In fact it wasn't me but my hardware that was struggling to keep pace with things during last night's show. My main webcam kept freezing on me, which was a pain. After the show I gave the studio PC a once over. When I saw the state of the twin fans in the front of the case it had me rushing downstairs to get the vacuum cleaner and giving them a thorough going-over with the brush. They were furred up with a horrid accumulation of grey dust. However, I doubt that the camera problems were caused by overheating because things were working fine back when the temperature in the studio was well into the thirties over the summer. Instead, I think it's probably an issue with the camera and its USB connection.
The main camera I use is an ELP brand ultra-wide angle camera that's designed for industrial surveillance rather than as a streaming webcam. It has built-in LED lighting which kicks in at low light levels when I forget to turn the streaming lights on (and at this time of year, I can hear an audible "clunk" when the LEDs switch on automatically as it starts to get dark around half-past three in the afternoon). The camera outputs a circular image with a field of view that is getting on for 170 degrees. I then zoom it in using OBS so that it looks like a normal 16:9 widescreen image; the picture quality takes a big hit in the process—but I love the fisheye effect that I get from using it; I look like I'm in a Stanley Kubrick movie. If I put the aesthetics of the look aside however, it's becoming obvious (to me, at least) that I really need to improve my camera setup at some point in the not-too-distant future. I'll probably build my next setup around an Atem Mini Pro from Blackmagic Design, which will let me use higher quality cameras with HDMI outputs rather than the USB webcams I have at present. The Atem will also mean I can connect all the cameras to one piece of equipment (you can't do that with multiple USB webcams, as I discovered when I tried plugging three cameras into the same USB hub) and by using HDMI cables I'll be able to work with cable runs of five metres or so. That's way better than I can manage with the USB webcams I'm using at the moment, which only have two metre cables. Longer cable runs will enable me to choose better camera angles than the rather limited views I have at the moment and it'll free up USB connectors on the PC. In terms of the cameras themselves, I already have a Canon Legria camcorder with a clean HDMI output that I can use. I don't think I'll be splashing out on professional model DSLRs or mirrorless cameras for the other angles, but having seen just how widely they are used on stage at concerts these days I reckon a couple of recent-model Gopros together with their optional "media mod" add-ons will do the trick nicely—but if you have a better solution for me, please let me know!
The approach I have in mind will mean that I will need to fudge around with the scenes I already have set up in OBS, and I'll probably end up swapping out the studio PC's existing USB-3 PCI expansion card for one that gives me another couple of USB C connectors because the Atem will need one and the only USB-C connector I have at present on my system talks to my MOTU M4 (edit: or maybe not, as after a bit of digging I have discovered that my RTX 2080 graphics card has a USB-C connector on it that will work just fine). You know, I think that my cunning plan might just work. It won't happen for quite a while yet, though. Maybe next year...
I don't seem to be slowing down just yet with the Fifty/Ninety book. I hit 47k on it last night!
I had a nice afternoon catching up with Helen yesterday before she moves back to Yorkshire. Today I've been back working on the e-Book and I've now passed 41k words on it, with most of the first part of the book now complete. I'm going to wait until I've finished the first draft before I decide what I'm going to do with it, but I'm pleased with the shape it's taking. And if nothing else, I'm having fun writing it.
But I have been contacted—not just once, but repeatedly—by someone who had seen me mention (presumably either here on the blog or on Twitter) that I was writing a book and who wanted to assure me that the company he worked for would be a really good fit for my content if I wanted to get it distributed to a wider audience. Before I responded, I decided to check out the company that he worked for, to see what other people thought about them.
Poor Vivek. I wonder if he's had a look at Trustpilot and seen the string of one-star reviews that people have left about their experiences dealing with the company he works for? Or if he's seen the horrendous reviews that the company gets on Sourceforge which include comments like "It's a scam"?
I might be old, but I wasn't born yesterday. I won't be replying.
Last night I managed to stream on Twitch for half an hour. It was a lot more work than I thought it would be, and all I was doing was sitting in a chair and talking. My voice barely made it to the end of the show. This morning I took another LFT and this time, it's come back negative. I'm very relieved, although I can't say that it feels like I've shaken things off yet. I'm still managing to sleep as if it was an Olympic sport and I was a gold medallist. I'm not going to push myself to do much of anything for a while yet, I think.
But I shall have venture out for fresh milk and biscuits at some point. I am running low on Cheddars, too...
Covid has rather disrupted my plans to analyse how I work through the traditional post-songwriting challenge crash which I mentioned at the beginning of the month. If there's been one, it's been entirely masked. I was rather amused to read just now what I wrote back on October 8th that I still hadn't managed to get the rest and recuperation which I needed. The Universe will provide, as the saying goes...
Earlier this month I stopped setting the alarm clock for breakfast and decided that as I was in the fortunate position of being able to sleep until I was ready to wake up, that was what I was going to do. I kept a fairly good morning regime up until I got Covid, but then everything rather went off the rails. Since the big dip in my sleep quality during the initial phase of the infection (see below) I feel like I've been playing catch-up and for the past few days in particular I've noticed that I'm doing a lot more sleeping than I normally do. I really have been laid out flat by this thing, even though the physical symptoms I've experienced have been relatively mild. That's causing me a certain amount of anxiety, because from the accounts of friends of mine who have been suffering from the long Covid form of the disease, it has wreaked havoc with their health and their cognitive function. I'm very keen to not get that if I possibly can, because it sounds horrendous so if rest seems to be what I need at the moment, then I'm going to take as much of it as I need. This week, it appears that I need it in quite ridiculous amounts. I've also been taking naps during the day but rather than disrupting my night time sleep schedule as naps normally do, they seem to have stabilised it. I feel like I'm sleeping like I used to do when I was much younger, as if my body has rediscovered how good sleep makes it feel, and now that it's realised that it can get as much of it as it needs every day rather than just at the weekends, it's keen to get as much of it as it possibly can.
For the last few days it turns out I've been needing a lot of sleep. Last night I clocked up thirteen hours of it, in fact. A few years ago, I'd have surfaced from something like that feeling groggy and unrefreshed because it wouldn't have been the type of sleep which we need to feel rested. But according to my watch last night I spent exactly half of it in NREM sleep. That gave me a "sleep score" of 100 for what I'm pretty sure is the first time ever since I started tracking things back when I was in full-time employment. I'm hoping that all this rest will help me to shake off the virus relatively quickly. It's also just been really nice to get some uninterrupted, quality rest.
I achieved last night's record sleep score despite being woken up at around 6 am this morning by the sound of thunder and torrential rain. I got up to have a look out of the window and I've not seen it rain that heavily here for a very long time. It was quite a weather front that came through, and there's still a Met Office yellow warning of more thunderstorms in place here until midnight. And yet despite the excitement of having a thunderstorm going on right outside my window, I was soon fast asleep again. That's most unusual for me, and realising the fact is what prompted me to fire up the blog this morning.
Right now, there's scattered cloud outside, and it looks like it's a nice day out there. I will be remaining indoors for one more day, though. I'll take another LFT in the morning and if that shows clear, I'll go out and do some food shopping. That'll be the first time I'll have left the house for nearly two weeks and comfortably in accordance with current guidance on social distancing.
I took another LFT this morning to see how I was doing with Covid. The weird headache around my eyeballs has gone, and although I'm still very sniffly and my sinuses are not happy about matters at all, I feel like I'm on the mend. I've not had any more nights of barely sleeping, which is a great relief. Instead, I've been staying in bed and resting. I'm very thankful that I'm not working any more, because being able to just turn over and go back to sleep when I wake up has been a godsend. How on earth did I manage to survive when I was only getting five hours' sleep a night? The more I think about the daily regime I used to have when I was working, the less keen I am to ever have to do that again.
"Enough of that, Chris, tell us about the test!" Okay, okay, I hear you... For the first ten minutes or so after I'd dropped the test solution on to the strip, I thought I was in the clear and it was going to give a negative result, but then a very faint line appeared against the "T" marker and try as I might, I couldn't un-see it.
So I'm not clear of Covid yet. I will stay at home all weekend as I usually do and take another test on Monday morning before deciding whether I should venture out to the shops or not. I have enough milk to see me through the weekend, even if the fridge is looking rather empty. I'm not in any danger of running out of food just yet.
I should probably get myself another box of tests, though. And I might stock up on some more face masks, which I will be considerably more committed to wearing out in public than I was before this happened.
How many more goes do we let this shower have before the grown-ups decide that enough is enough and call a general election? Or (as I suspect) is it the case that there simply aren't any grown-ups left in British politics any more?
My "a few pages" of thoughts about taking part in Fifty/Ninety this summer hit 35k words yesterday. I am just as surprised about this as you are.
Last night, I slept like a log. Because I'm me, it occurred to me that I might be able to track my Covid progress by examining the quality of sleep I've been getting this week, as measured by my smartwatch. So I did, and the results are quite striking:
% of NREM sleep
Looking at those figures there appears to be an obvious correlation with the theory that it hit me on the night of Tuesday 11th - Wednesday 12th. I then had two further bad nights but judging by how I slept last night at least, I seem to be over the worst of things. I still have the aches and pains (the aching eyeballs thing is weird), blocked sinuses and a sore throat, but I'm drinking lots of fluids and so far I seem to be managing to cope.
Before I headed off to Swindon on Sunday I took a lateral flow test which showed negative. There was a guy standing behind me for most of the show and every now and again throughout Lazuli's set, he'd cough loudly. He wasn't wearing a mask, of course (very few of the audience were). I did wonder...
Fast forward to yesterday. I'd had a couple of difficult nights' sleep this week which I'd just put down to elevated anxiety levels, but I realised at lunchtime that I'd developed a weird sort of headache that means it hurts when I move my eyeballs. And my nose had started running. And was that the beginnings of a tickly cough?
I used the last of the tests that used to be supplied free of charge before the Tories realised that they could monetise people's suffering instead. And yes, I know it's been a year since the free tests were withdrawn—I really haven't left the house much since the pandemic started. The instructions said that I might need to wait up to twenty minutes for it to show a positive result. Mine did somewhat better than that, because just fifteen seconds after I dropped the two drops of test solution into the receptacle there were two solid lines visible on the test strip.
So three years and three vaccination shots after it all started, Covid has finally got me.
It's not pleasant, and I'd disagree strongly with anyone who tries to tell me that "it just feels like a regular cold" because it most emphatically does not. But taking paracetamol several times a day has helped to take the edge off things a lot, and possibly as a result of that I ended up having a much better night's sleep last night.
But I haven't been loafing around groaning. I streamed for half an hour last night, much to the surprise of my regular viewers, and I'm still hard at work writing my examination of creative process in the context of Fifty/Ninety. My word count is just over 23,000 at the moment.
I think I might take things easy today, though.
The twins are 33 today. Where does the time go? Best wishes to Ruth and Rob.
On Sunday night I headed over to Level III in Swindon to see the French progressive rock band Lazuli for the first time in three years. They're one of my favourite bands, and we've become friends over the years. New guitarist Arnaud introduced himself as I said hello to Claude and Romain in the pub next door beforehand. It's the first time I've seen the band since he joined them, but he's not exactly the new guy any more as he's been playing with them since 2020! Level III is an interesting venue in the cellar of a pub, with a dedicated stage that the band had completely filled with their gear. There was a decent turnout, and I recognised a few familiar faces including Alison and Martin, who are probably Lazuli's most dedicated British fans (the band played at their wedding reception!)
For the first half of their set they played their 2020 album Le Fantastique Envol de Dieter Böhm in its entirety. Dieter is a real person; he's one of their fans who travels around Europe to see them play. This is understandable. Lazuli are a band who inspire tremendous loyalty among their fans, and Les Gars (as they are known) were still chatting to people and signing autographs an hour after the show finished. The rest of the show featured some old favourites of mine including J'attends un Printemps from their album Saison 8, which feels more relevant than ever today...
It was a storming gig and I enjoyed it immensely, but I was in a lot of discomfort by the time I got back to my car. It's been a while since I spent all evening standing up and oh boy, could I feel it. Luckily it eased off as I drove home and after I'd filled the car up with petrol (for what I think is only the third time this year) in Thornbury I didn't feel quite so uncomfortable. But I have been taking it easy for the last couple of days.
I got the first frost of the season here last night as the temperature dropped to -1°C in the back garden. A couple of nights last week where the thermometer dipped to 2°C was enough to turn the Virginia Creeper on my house a spectacular shade of crimson; the dry summer seems to have added an extra vibrancy to the colours. But now that the temperature is dipping below zero the leaves won't stay on the house for much longer. Pity; they're quite good at providing the house with an extra layer of insulation...
I have been finding it very difficult to switch off my compulsion to be creative and/or productive since Fifty/Ninety finished. I need to just stop for a while. I had some success yesterday and ended up having a nap at the end of the afternoon. I think that this was probably more a result of needing to recover from Sunday's exertions rather than a general winding down, however.
I've been passing the time in all sorts of ridiculous ways, including reorganising my library of podcast files. As a dyed-in-the-wool Curio I have every episode of The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry carefully stored on multiple devices, but the file names as they are downloaded from iTunes or the BBC's website in the link above do not indicate which season the show belonged to, or which episode of that season it is. Now, on this computer at least, my copies do.
I've passed 18,000 words writing my Fifty/Ninety e-book.
And at the third attempt I think I have now properly sorted out my mp3 listening on my bedside radio. Ridiculously, it took reformatting the quarter-terabyte memory stick as FAT32 using my ancient notebook PC running Linux Mint before I could copy stuff to it reliably on a Windows machine; attempting to format it using the Windows 10 command prompt (you don't get FAT32 as an option in File Explorer any more) failed every time I tried it and I was getting corrupted file names as well as warnings that the drive was corrupted. That's not really what you want when you're listening to music.
Kingston flash drives used to be pretty reliable, but this one feels flimsy and cheap. And because the casing is made of lightweight plastic it gets hot really quickly when you're writing data to it. So I had to take things very slowly with frequent pauses to allow the stick to cool down in between transfers. In the end I discovered that limiting each batch of files to a single gigabyte at a time did the trick. Did you know that solid state memory devices like SSDs and memory sticks have a thermal throttling feature that slows the write speed down (and in the case of this new Kingston stick, stops it entirely) when they get hot? Well, you do now. And now that you know that, you're much better informed than the majority of tech bulletin board "experts" who tell people asking the question "why does my flash drive keep slowing down to zero?" that they need to update their drivers or edit any number of unrelated settings on their computer to fix things. Take this thread on a Windows forum as a typical example: three entire pages of misguided solutions, none of which will help, up to and including completely resetting the original poster's installation of Windows and not a single mention of how hot USB drives can get at any point. Other sites recommend doing even riskier stuff like disabling security settings in Windows and installing random third-party software. Er—no. Not in a million years. Don't be that stupid, kids. All you really need to do to fix the problem is to be more choosy about the flash drives you buy. Make sure that you don't buy memory sticks enclosed in a nice layer of bouncy rubber, because the rubber is an excellent insulator and will keep the heat in. Instead, you should look for USB drives with metal cases (the heavier the better), because the increased mass gives them plenty of thermal inertia (they don't heat up so fast) and metals are good conductors of heat (so the case carries the heat away from the memory chips themselves). There's absolutely no need to redo your Windows installation at all. At a push, pop the stick in the fridge for a few minutes first.
Incidentally, the mechanical heat that's generated by altering things at the molecular level like this is one reason why all the science fiction stories that use nanotechnology as a thinly-veiled substitute for magic (and yes, I'm looking right at you, Tony Stark) wouldn't work—they'd leave its wielder a molten puddle of goo on the floor. I've only ever read one science fiction short story that got the heat aspect right and although I can't remember what the title of the story was or who wrote it, I do remember it being used as a distinctly unpleasant plot point.
Record sales are nice. Thank you to everyone who has bought a copy of Pareidolia so far. I hope you enjoy listening to it!
That rest and recuperation is still eluding me. I was out and about yesterday and today's activities have been focused on housework (as I write this, the washing machine has just started its spin cycle, which I really must record at some point so that I can sample it...) I have continued to add material to the e-book; the word count just passed 13,000 and there's lots left to do.
But for the rest of the afternoon I intend to do little more than sit in my favourite armchair with the book I'm currently reading (which is The Trickster and the Paranormal by George Hansen; I'm enjoying it a lot) and listen to some CDs on the living room audio system, which is something I've not done for months.
Yes, it's the first Friday of the month again. You know what that means:
My new album is called Pareidolia and as you'll have seen at the top of the page, it comprises eighteen tracks filled with spooky goodness. I reckon that this album sounds the most polished of any of my releases and that's a result of the amount of work I've done this summer to develop my musical and production skills—and the fact that the studio is now kitted out with new monitors which let me hear my mixes in radically enhanced detail.
I've been surprised by how much the Focals have improved my sound when I listen back to my music on headphones or other loudspeakers. It all sounds more balanced and, dare I say it, slick.
And I'd forgotten how much I enjoy releasing stuff on Bandcamp. I had lots of fun putting together a downloadable set of liner notes for this album, and the cover saw me at my most visually inventive, as both photography and artificial intelligence were involved in its creation.
I really tumbled down the rabbit hole on Wednesday when I sat down to work on my e-book about the lessons I've learned from taking part in Fifty/Ninety this summer. I ended up putting in six hours on it without a break and I added even more to it yesterday. Its page count is now more than three times what it was. I think you'll enjoy reading it when I eventually finish it.
But what all of this has meant is that I utterly and most singularly failed to take the rest that you've all been encouraging me to take after Fifty/Ninety finished. My sleep tracker has been grumbling about it too; the quality of sleep I've had for the past few nights has not been at all good. I'm in quite a lot of discomfort at the moment, and it's worse when I lie down. I'm putting a bit more effort in to trying to lose weight than I did over the summer to see if that helps matters. I'm oscillating around being just under or just over fifteen stone (that's 210 lbs, or 95.25 kg) at present and have been doing so since Easter. But this week I've consistently lost weight every day, thanks mainly to abandoning the snacking that was fuelling my songwriting.
I'm still knackered, but with this month's album release out of the way I now have one thing less that is demanding my time. I'll be working on getting both more exercise and more rest for the rest of the month, I promise.
Last night, while it was still the first of October, I posted my final piece of work to the Fifty/Ninety website and then called it quits. The site will stop letting people post new songs at noon GMT today, but this morning I decided I would much rather stay in bed and have a lie-in instead.
Last year I said that if I ever made it to one hundred songs, I wanted to do so by recording what I described as "proper" pieces of music—which is not meant as a dig at how anyone else taking part works. It's more about me judging how much intellectual or musical effort I need to end up with an .mp3 of sound that feels like I worked on it. I felt guilty about posting so many pieces built around playing guitar into a loop pedal last year, because for me that approach to composition only involves hitting record and then playing the guitar. No lyric writing was required (I enjoy writing lyrics immensely, but they don't come easily for me) and very little conceptualising was involved. Frankly, it felt too easy using them to boost my song count. This year, I don't think I recorded more than two tracks this way. I even decided that I would discount collaborations from my count, because—weirdly—I wanted to get to one hundred songs entirely under my own steam. I still ended up doing four collabs this summer and really enjoyed working on all of them. They all turned out fine, too; but that just meant I needed to post at least 104 songs on the site to satisfy myself that I'd done what I set out to do right back at the beginning of July.
My final song count this morning (including those collaborations) stands at 117.
Yes, that's four tracks more since yesterday morning. One of the collaborations I'd worked on was uploaded yesterday afternoon and I also had a very productive day of my own; as the clock approached midnight I closed things out with an instrumental piece that I felt justified adding the tag #Gilmourish to, as it involved some atmospheric guitar laid down over a dense and evolving bed of synth pads. I'm pleased with it; it felt like I was ending on a high note, and that turned out to be more important to me than I'd realised.
So I'm done. It'll take me a few days to settle down into a conventional mindset, I think. When I got up this morning I could still feel a strong compulsion (there is no better word for it) to go and create more music, but last night's piece was intentionally final so that I wouldn't stress myself out today by trying to record and mix one more piece before the site closed for business. So instead, I've just had a quiet breakfast away from the studio while the clock approaches the finish line.
You don't get to just walk away after deliberately becoming as obsessed with something like this as I have undoubtedly been, though. I can feel that compulsion is still there, lurking. I suspect that I will probably crash, and crash hard, at some point this week when that obsession realises that it is being denied. And it's only when you stop sustained cognitive effort like Fifty/Ninety has been all summer that you realise that it really is effort, and strenuous effort at that. This morning's lie-in wasn't planned; I woke up feeling relaxed and chilled out, but I'm also exhausted. It was an effort to drag myself out of bed. It turns out that a hundred and seventeen songs take their toll.
But what an experience it's been. I think that I've produced some of the best music I've ever written this summer. I have learned an incredible amount about music production and when I listen back to how my mixes have evolved since July, I can hear a noticeable difference. My new near field monitors might have more than a little to do with that, but they're not the only reason that my mixes feel more coherent and my arrangements are more balanced. I've changed my approach to how I use basic tools like master bus compression and I'm far more discerning in applying filters, for example. I'm working on a summary of what I've learned over the last three months (because my professional inclination as a learning and development specialist is to leverage an experience like Fifty/Ninety as a personal development opportunity) and it's already several pages long and veering into technical discussions that are probably not the sort of thing most readers of this blog would find interesting, so rather than dump it all into the blog, which is what I've done with my "lessons learned" posts in the past, I'm going to release it as an ebook which will be hosted on this site. More on that in a few days or so.
For now, though, I'm just going to try and unwind a bit. It's been a very intense last three months.
It's the first of October. After three insanely busy months of making music across a wide selection of genres, today is the last full day in which participants can work on new tracks to be submitted to the challenge.
In yesterday's blog I wrote that I expected to add at least one new song to my count over the course of the day. It turns out that there are now three more songs on my profile page, as the all-summer-long exquisite corpse project has gone live thanks to some excellent stitching-together by fellow FAWMer @plainwhitetoast. That has taken me to a grand total of 113 tracks written or co-written since Fifty/Ninety kicked off on July 4th.
Let's see if I can add a few more before everything stops for the winter.
I'm starting the month with an updated version of the free software I use to maintain this site, Apache Netbeans. Version 15 was released on August 31st but while I was deeply involved in the Fifty/Ninety songwriting challenge I held off on installing it. I have now done so.
All the comments I made last time I updated Netbeans still apply. It's still the ugliest piece of software I use—although my old copy of the audio editor Audacity runs it a close second. The splash screen which displays as the software starts still takes no account of the fact that the user might be running it on a HiDPI screen and remains the size of a postage stamp. And once again I updated Notepad ++ in the process of editing the netbeans.conf file.
Last weekend there was also another update to the software that I use for livestreaming, OBS. Version 28 was a major update and two hotfix releases have happened since then. Unfortunately version 28 also broke StreamFX, a plugin that I've found extremely useful over the past year or so, and at present its programmer Xaymar has only got a compatible version in alpha testing.
Meanwhile, Twitch updated their chat software this week and added a ton of new features. In the process they broke the feature I most commonly use in chat, the autocompletion of user handles after you type the @ symbol. At least I was able to track the problem down to Twitch, as my first thought was that the latest OBS hotfix had broken it. But a quick trawl of Twitter is showing that Twitch have made quite a mess of things and people really aren't happy about it.