Digitizing Records

I purchased a Tascam handheld recorder about a month ago so I can record my live sets, environmental recordings, and for digitizing records for listening to in the car.  The model is DR-40e.  The E is the “enhanced” processor feature according to the Guitar Center rep I talked to on the phone; although there is no real documentation of what this really benefits me anywhere on the net that I can find, and the rep was clueless.  It was a good deal, and it is a stellar recorder so far from my limited usage of it.  Good battery life so far, although I bought the power supply for it to save on batteries!

The Tascam DR-40e is my new recorder. So far I really like it; I've recorded records, a couple of live sets, and some environmental sounds with the built in microphones. Sound great!

The Tascam DR-40e is my new recorder. So far I really like it; I’ve recorded 25 records, a couple of live sets, and some environmental sounds with the built in microphones. Sounds great!

I pulled a random assortment of new and old records and have been listening to them in their entirety while recording them.  This has been a really fun process.  My card had accumulated 25 records so I figured it was time to dump the WAV files onto my computer and process them for digital listening.

Collage of the records I digitized this round.

Collage of the records I digitized this September and October.

Here is my workflow that so far is working pretty well…

  1. Record the vinyl onto the Tascam DR-40E recorder
  2. Pull the WAV files over to my computer
  3. In Sony’s Sound Forge software, load the file and normalize it once (to peak value, so no compression occurs) to get good levels.  I go in and mark the beginning and end of each track; delete the unwanted sections
  4. In Sound Forge, once the tracks’ beginning and ending points are marked, I simply double click inside of that region and it is selected.  I then <CTRL><V> (cut) and <CTRL><E> (paste to new).
  5. Now that I have the track isolated, a scan it for any pops or clicks and take care of those if necessary.
  6. I then normalize to peak values again.  This will give me the hottest possible sound.
  7. I save in a folder with a standard filename.  The folder name is Artist – Title – Catalog Number – Year.  The filename is Track Number – Song Title.  These go in a wavs subfolder.  I get the proper filenames and catalog numbers and images from Discogs.com.
  8. I delete the original sound file and go to the next one.
  9. Once I have all the albums edited, I can go in and create MP3s for lossy listening; I typically use MP3s for portable devices to save space and given there is a significant amount of ambient noise in “portal environments”, so lossy isn’t that big of deal.
  10. I drag the WAV files into CD-EX, a great ripping and encoding software using the LAME encoder.  Old school but it works great.
  11. I then drag the MP3s into MP3Tag, I like this program for consistently tagging MP3s.  I select the entire album, use the auto-convert feature to snag the track number and song title, I add the Artist, Album and Year manually (using copy/paste form Discogs if there are special characters).  I then drag the cover art into the program and save the files.
  12. I end up with lossless WAV files (someday I may convert to FLAC, but right now I don’t care about space for lossless) and MP3 files with consistent tagging.

All of this does take a while, of course the recording of the records is real-time; and then I processed 25 records (mostly EPs) in about 3 hours.  Not too bad.  Now that I have the Tascam DR-40e figured out and a process refined, I’m going to pick some of my favorite records that I have never seen digitized files and continue the process!

Here is the first round of 25 records using this new workflow…

Here is the list of records that I digitized. Gonna start listening to them in the car tomorrow!

Autumn Larkspur Lightning

As a large trough comes digging into Colorado bringing much cooler fall weather, we were treated with some autumn thunderstorms and lightning.  I was able to capture some of these bolts during the heavy rain inside my car.  All were taken with the camera hand-held, so focus on a couple is a bit blurry; but overall pretty good given the proximity, the amount of rain, and the varied distances.

These first few were directly overhead so I was only able to capture parts; not the whole bolt.

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tn_LarkspurLightning_Oct20-4490As the storm slowly moved north, I was able to readjust the vehicle and focus; a couple were a little closer than I was expecting so the focus was a bit out, but overall not too bad especially for hand-holding the camera.  Focus is difficult with lightning every time!tn_LarkspurLightning_Oct20-4492 tn_LarkspurLightning_Oct20-4513 tn_LarkspurLightning_Oct20-4527 tn_LarkspurLightning_Oct20-4535

Early October Lightning

It was great to see some early October lightning, although it has been bone dry for the last two months.  A small cell was putting down some lightning southwest of here (west of the Air Force Academy) but I was home with the kids while Erin was out.  That storm died by the time it cleared the Rampart Range, but another storm formed directly east of us that started to look good, so I grabbed the camera and drove out to a place I could watch the show.

There was only a bolt every 3-5 minutes, probably a total of 10 bolts total which I missed about half of getting to my vantage point, but they were all on my side of the storm and had very intense stepped leaders.  All were cloud to ground making some nice photo opportunities. As soon as the storm formed, it dissipated, so you had to be in the right place at the right time for this one!

All pictures taken from Bear Dance Road and Tomah Road between Larkspur and Castle Rock looking North.  Click for larger images.

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Obliq Museum – Elektron Octatrack Repair

I’ve recently been really getting into the Elektron Octatrack sampler/looper.  My band partner Jeff of Multicast came down the other night and we had a very productive session.  But, I spilled a little bit of cider on the top of it and some got down into the unit before I could completely dry it off.

I turned it off for a while and a later when turning it back on most things worked, except for one pot and the crossfader.  Bummer.  Too much clutter in the studio and lack of discipline!  I took the unit apart tonight with the goal of cleaning everything with q-tips and isopropyl alcohol and hoping for the best.

Octatrack goddess

The octatrack goddess – the voice in the machine!

Taking the Octatrack apart is pretty simple.  Some 2mm hex screws on the outside, and the User Interface PCB is a Torx 10.  I wanted to take it completely apart so i could ensure that I got everything that seeped into the unit clean.

CPU and Power Supply

The CPU Board and Power Supply are attached to the bottom case

Upon taking it apart, I could see where the bottom CPU board needed a little cleaning and so did the bottom of the metal case enclosure.  Nothing too bad, which was great to see.

Octatrack user interface pcb

User Interface PCB detached from the front face plate

The main user interface PCB looked pretty good too.  I cleaned around the pots and otherwise there really was no staining or remnants of the mishap.  Since Pot B wasn’t working, I cleaned all around that area including the pot itself.

Octatrack Cross Fader

Cross Fader assembly and PCB

The cross fader was interesting, much more mechanical than I would have guessed.  A nice design to take a beating without breaking.  You can see the PCB pulled from the rest of the assembly.  The digital design would slide between the two “tents” on the PCB and IR light would reflect and get caught by the sensors.  Everything was done by light, neat.  This assembly needed some cleaning as the metal shafts were a bit sticky. The cross fader is an Infinium 45mm Crossfader DX400211.

Octatrack cross fader

Octatrack cross fader

Taking apart the cross fader (my warranty period expired a couple of years back) I noticed something making a sound, like a really small loose screw.  I popped off these plastic covers showing the IR LED and light sensors and noticed that PT8 has a small piece of glass (?) that fell off.  This is super small and i won’t be able to fix it.

Cover for the IR LED and holes the sensors read the light through the encoded pain on the plastic (next photo)

Cover for the IR LED and holes the sensors read the light through the encoded pain on the plastic (next photo)

If you note in the above picture, there are 7 holes which allow the IR LED (bottom center) to reflect off of the “tents” and be ready by the sensors underneath.  I presume that the reason for the plastic piece is to control the exact amount of light that each sensor can receive.  I noted that a couple of these were covered by the cider, so I cleaned these up really nice.

Encoded paint with the IR  light interacts with to allow the sensors to read where the fader is at.

Encoded paint with the IR light interacts with to allow the sensors to read where the fader is at.

Upon putting everything back together, the pot worked great, and the fader worked all but 5% of the extreme left in which it centers.  I’m going to try and get a replacement from Elektron, but in the mean time I’m going to tape something to stop the fader from going all the way to the left, and that should be a work-around to the issue.

What is It's A Boo???

What is It’s A Boo(?) mean ?

Upon putting everything back together, all functions except for the extreme left on the fader are working flawlessly now.  I put in an email to Elektron asking for the replacement cross-fader part.  If it is cheap, i’ll buy two and have a spare.  Happy that not much damage occurred to the unit; I could probably play using it without any change now; but I do want to fix the cross-fader if I can; meanwhile I’ll use the work-around.

Loop User Interface

Loop User Interface

2015 Denver Gem and Mineral Shows

Was able to break away from our busy schedule and make a trip to Denver for a couple of the Denver Mineral Shows. As always we head to the Merchandise Mart for Zinn’s show as this is where all the display cases are. I have included many photos from these cases as there were some outstanding specimens on display this year. We also went to the Colosseum Show. I find that I don’t buy too many minerals, especially ones that I can find locally here in Colorado. Instead, I tend to focus spending my money on literature, display mounts and tools. I bought a subscription to the Mineralogical Record and man these are amazing journals! I suspect, although pricey, I’ll be a subscriber for a while. In the January/February 2015 issue on the fantastic Pederneira Mine in Brazil I learned much about pegmatites, some information relevant to where I dig!

Here are some of the cool minerals displayed in the specimen cabinets at the main show. Obviously a small selection as there were tons (literally) of beautiful and amazing minerals on display, just some that caught my eye. Many are Colorado or close-to Colorado specimens, a bit of scouting as I may pay a visit to those localities in the upcoming years!

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Photographing the Blood Red Super Moon

Man I just love the sound of that (the Blood Moon), kinda gothic and fitting around fall as Halloween approaches! During this orbit, the full eclipse was at a nice time where most folks could enjoy it; which is awesome because everyone should enjoy these celestial events, IMHO! My kids finally got to see it due to the early time. Here is the blood red super moon!

Entering eclipse

Assuming no cloud cover and available where I live, I always watch these eclipse events and usually pull the camera out and photograph them. In the recent past events I noted having trouble dialing in the setting for photographing the event, especially getting the blood red part in focus and alternatively the bright partial moon in focus. My goal this time, other than enjoying the entire event, was to dial in the settings and process so next time I can focus on some more creative elements of photography and not so much of the technical stuff.

Entering eclipse

Moon entering eclipse

Because I tend to forget stuff that I don’t use often, I figured I’d document my findings which would at least serve me for future events. As a bonus, hopefully this is helpful to others that want to photograph these type of events and maybe haven’t known how to do it. Finally, I’m hoping that someone with much more experience and skills than I could also chime in and provide some suggestions for my next attempt!

Exiting full eclipse

As the moon was starting to come out of full eclipse

A couple of quick tips I use whenever doing low-light photography:

Tripod. I most always use a tripod in low light. I configure such that I don’t have to bend over or position myself around the legs, simple ergonomics! I put the “V” on the legs spread so I’m in the middle of it (hmmm…); and extend the height so I don’t have to bend over or stand on my tip-toes. You need the tripod as you can’t hold the camera still enough to capture the low light and stay in focus.

Supermoon - long exposure

Blurry due to too long of exposure

Focus. This is still one of the harder parts for me because focusing all the way out with the camera lens is never going to give sharp focus. Focus depends on the temperature and other environmental factors. I tend to use auto-focus if I have a light source far away, and then I turn off auto-focus and fine tune from there using my eye in the viewfinder, and then taking pictures and reviewing the zoomed digital screen. Many times I don’t have a big enough bright source so it is just trial and error.

Image Stabilization. Turn that bad-boy off. There is a slight vibration when in use that will give you less focus. Image Stabilization isn’t needed for tripod work so it always gets turned off.

Remote trigger. This is a wired remote that allows me to trigger the shutter (and lock it, if doing time lapse) without touching the camera or tripod setup. I recommend these so you don’t have to touch the camera when taking the picture at all; which more often than not causes some blur in my photos. This has a really small adapter so do this in the light (cell phone flashlight apps are good for this).

Super moon total eclipse

Total blood moon eclipse

Now to the camera’s configuration. With low-light situations, especially a lunar eclipse which lacks light by definition, you want to capture as much light as possible, in the shortest amount of time possible. A problem is we’re on a moving object (yes, the earth is rotating) and so open exposure will result in blurred photos if open too long. My rule of thumb for stars (when shooting meteorites) is 8 seconds max. When shooting severe weather (clouds and such) in low light it is about 4 seconds max. For the moon in crisp focus since there is tremendous detail, I’m shooting for the smallest exposure possible. Below is a picture when the exposure is too long, notice the stars starting to trail and the moon being blurry.

I always shoot in Manual Mode. Note that this mode isn’t available only just DSLRs, my daughter’s trusty (and inexpensive) point and shoot Canon also has a manual mode and tripod mount and can take great low-light photos! There are three standard adjustments that all are interrelated that I work with (note these are my layman definitions, for more scientific and precise information, you should check out other sources):

a) Shutter speed governs how long is the shutter open and letting light in.
b) Aperture or f-stop is how big does the shutter open up, letting in more (or less) light while the shutter is open.
c) ISO is how fast the “film speed” is, which in DSLR terms how quickly the light is absorbed onto the photograph.
d) This is not configurable, but the lens speed is how much light your lens can let through quickly, or how expensive is your glass. Rule of thumb, the more expensive, the quicker!

Because I have too many hobbies I’m limited to what I can spend, so a fast (expensive) lens is not an option for me at this time, so I get a slow lens and have to work with the other configurable factors. A faster lens will let more light in by default allowing more optimal camera configurations.

Back to my goal, I need to let in as much light as possible in the shortest amount of time, so I typically go with the lowest f-stop setting my lens allows and I adjust the exposure and ISO.

Because I want to let the earth move as little as possible while the shutter is open, my goal is as fast shutter speed as possible.

Because I want crisp and sharp pictures, I need to balance with the lowest ISO setting possible (higher ISO absorbs more light which is great, but also absorbs noise “pixelating” your picture). Here is a pretty noisy photo taking with a very high ISO (3200), you can see the graininess in the moon. Are those dots around the moon stars or noise? I believe stars but noise looks basically the same!

Fully Eclipsed Super Moon

Supermoon fully eclipsed, a little grainy due to higher ISO

There are really two phases to the moon eclipse, when it is partially eclipsed with the sun’s reflected light and our shadow on the surface; and when it is fully eclipsed and very dim. As the moon is entering/exiting the eclipsed state, I often want to get the blood red part in focus but also the bright reflective part in focus too.

red moon

Starting to come out of full eclipse, slower shutter speed

half eclipsed

About half way eclipsed

I was able to dial it in last night such that I could make one adjustment and capture both of my goals as it was entering/exiting the eclipsed phase. I am using a Canon EOS T2i with Canon 70-300mm 1:4-5.6 lens. My f-stop was 5.6 at 300mm and my ISO was mainly 800 or 1600. I would switch between 1/4 second for the blood red perspective and 1/1000 second (or even faster as it got less eclipsed) for the bright perspective. Simply switching the shutter speed back and forth I was able to capture both perspectives of the eclipse!

light bulb moon

Reminds me of a light bulb, faster shutter speed gathering both red and lit eclipsed moon

almost done with eclipse

Nearly done with the eclipse

What a fun night, and wonderful celestial event! Next up, October 8, 2015 the Draconids meteorite shower, and then October 21-22 is the Orionids! Can’t wait!