Sounding Good Despite Incompetent Sound Techs And Well-Meaning Band Members

I sing as a hobby, and usually get to tweak the sound board to make my voice sound good for whatever venue I play. However, occasionally there are actual sound techs for the house and that person will set up the board and adjust it during the concert (if I’m lucky). However, I’ve had a couple that simply did a simple sound check at the beginning with a fancy iPad out in the audience seats, and then sat there the rest of the show listening to tunes on an iPhone. SMITE!!

If you are going to do the job, do the damn job. Know what the knobs are for and what effect they have when changed. Then pay attention to the band during the performance. When the crowd shows up, the audio dynamic changes due to sound absorption. I’m not sure why, but I almost invariably am given way too much bass and my voice sounds muddy compared with my band mates who have higher registers. A good sound tech is such a wonderful asset!

Even on gigs where I set up my own sound board, I’ve had to argue with one person who had a one-size-fits-all EQ form for the sliders, the classic “smile” shape. No, it really doesn’t fit all, and you have no business changing the settings if you don’t know what you are doing. I don’t care if “you’ve done it that way for years because it’s the right way and everyone knows that”. You’re wrong, and get away from my mixer. At one gig, an expert set us up, and within minutes a band member was over there changing things. There is only so much you can do if you want to stay together as a band. Choose your battles.

At my last gig, I set up my mic did a few singing tests to make sure I sounded good for the venue, and walked away for a few minutes while the instrumentalists set up. I came back and did another test just to have confidence, and I sounded MUDDY AS HELL. I looked at the board and someone had turned the mid range down to 0, the treble to negative 10, and the bass up! @#$%@#$!!! I set it back to how I had it and tested my mic again, and sounded good again. I had to assume that one of them thought he or she was adjusting their own levels and changed mine. Glad I caught it before the show.

Start the EQ flat with everything at middle. If you can move out to where the audience will be for your vocal test, do it. Or if the sound tech is adjusting things, he/she/other should be experienced enough to set your vocals to be crisp and clear with good warmth. My mic has a larger diaphragm than most, so it picks up sound (and bass) more easily than other mics. That typically means I need to boost my treble and slightly lower the bass. I sometimes use a high-pass filter to cut mic handling noise, and use the much hated “clown nose” foam cover to mitigate sibilance. Some singers have a cow over that setup because it isn’t the mic they prefer, the EQ is different, and the foam cover they assume always makes the sound muddy. It does not. All of that can be tweaked at the EQ.

I did an article months ago on Mic Shaming that describes how to try out and select a microphone at a store, assuming they will let you. If they won’t, go somewhere else. Sometimes musicians will have a selection and will let you try some if you know them. Some will try to sell you on the kind they use, but you really should try out a few without a preconceived notion hanging over you. But remember, when using someone else’s microphones, PLEASE BE CAREFUL! Don’t drop it ever. Don’t swing it by the cord. Don’t pull it off the cord while the mic is live, unless you push in the release button gently and remove gently. If it is a mic that uses Phantom Power, turn the speakers down before removing the mic from the cord or you will cause a loud POP which is bad for the speakers and the ears of those around you. Treat the speakers with great care also, they tend to cost a lot of money.

I currently use a Heil PR35 handheld mic, a Mackie ProFX8v2 mixer board, and a QSC KW122 powered speaker. I also have a Heil Fin stand mic, but rarely use it. I’m fine using other equipment as well. I chose my setup by comparing what other singers in my area use, and then balancing those choices with my own voice and budget. I am the one most responsible for how I sound at a show, so as much as possible, I want the components to be under my control. Unless there is a known competent sound tech at the board, adjust the settings to where you sound good, NOT just where you think they should be. Test it, if at all possible, or you are setting yourself up for problems.

The first two gigs I did with a band, my voice was muddy (way too much bass). The sound equipment in some venues is genuinely lousy, has been there for 40 years, and should have been retired a long time ago. But venues don’t make money by paying for new equipment and they are in it for the money. If possible, bring your own stuff and use it instead of the venue equipment. Do a real mic test after you set up and SING a song so You Know That You Know That You Know you sound good in that venue. A venue with lots of cloth on the walls, carpet, and people in the audience wearing clothing, will absorb sound. Try singing in a closet full of clothing and your voice almost disappears. Conversely, a venue with little cloth and a lot of hard surfaces will bounce the sound a LOT, perhaps too much to be viable. Tweak the volume and EQ to make your voice sound good in that particular venue.

Read about other people’s experiences online and then try it over and over again. You can learn a lot from other’s mistakes and tips, but in the end you have to actually go do it repeatedly to learn your equipment (and learn to recognize when it is failing). I had a sound board start losing a channel right before a gig, so had to switch. Happily I had an open channel left of the mixer. One gig I tried three mixers before one actually worked normally. That was a nervous set-up.

All in all, get yourself gear that you have tested and like, and get used to how it works. Learn what all the knobs and sliders do. Talk with other singers and instrumentalists. Then go do your best. Some days it just won’t go your way and you have to make the best of it. Some days, you don’t get to change the mixer because a control freak is in charge. Some days an incompetent tech will ignore your band through the show. Some days you have to use 3rd hand ancient crap equipment and end up sounding awful. Which is why, as much as you can, be in charge of how you sound and know how to sound good.

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FFMPEG to NTSC-DVD, odd pulsing…

I’ve been using FFMPEG for years to create DVD compatible video. Recently, I made a change on my Sony Handicam from 60i to 60p video, and suddenly I’m getting an odd pulsing in the resulting video, but only when I convert to MPEG2. Converting to MP4 still works fine or I’d be sunk. By pulsing, I mean that the light seems to pulse every 1 second like someone is turning up the color contrast knob and then back down. Very brief, but continuous.

[EDIT: I just did a recording in 60i and it still pulses when I try to encode using “-target ntsc-dvd”, so either FFMPEG changed something, or there is a deeper issue happening on my computer, but I doubt that since all other encodings work fine, and encoding in DVD quality via Corel Visual Studio works fine on the same PC in Windows.]

Here is the code I normally use:

ffmpeg -i part1.m2ts -target ntsc-dvd part1.mpg

Pretty straightforward code, and it has always worked up until I made this change to recording in 60p. I must say that 60p has a more professional appearance to my eyes. I’m not sure what I’m seeing differently, but it does create a good impression.

I suspect that if I took apart the mechanics of what -target ntsc-dvd does that I may find a setting that I might be able to tweak.

I found one entry about the macro creating progressive output, so it should (I would think) preserve the progressive input. He said that he tried this code to get his to work, though I admit I don’t understand what it is doing yet. (It didn’t work for me at all. I still got the pulsing video.)

ffmpeg -y -i 00000.MTS -pass 1 -target ntsc-dvd -b:v 4000K -flags ildct+ilme -top 1 /dev/null && ffmpeg -y -i 00000.MTS -pass 2 -target ntsc-dvd -b:v 4000K -flags ildct+ilme -top 1 test.mpg

(ilme means interlaced motion estimation)
(ildct means use interlaced dct)

Another described what I’m seeing from a post back in 2006, and said his solution was “I’ve found the solution to my own question. I simply needed to set motion estimation to full (-me full) and the problem went away.”

That would imply that changing my code to
ffmpeg -i part1.m2ts -target ntsc-dvd -me_method epzs part1.mpg
should fix it. But it didn’t, I get the same pulsing as I did without that additional code. [method full is not available, only zero or epzs]

So I’m open to suggestions. Right now, the only solution I have is to go back to 60i, or use Corel Video Studio x9 in Windows. Video Studio is able to create the DVD video without any pulsing (though I have to create an MP4 file for it to use, since it seems to choke badly on MTS or m2ts files, each click takes a few minutes to process).

Loud Garage Door Opener – Fix it!

Our garage door opener motor was LOUD! The whole room above it vibrated far more loudly than being in the garage with the motor. This is due to the mechanical connection of the motor to rigid metal straps which are then bolted to the ceiling beam.

straps

I spent a few weeks studying how other people and companies try to solve this issue. Some methods would probably work but appeared kind of dangerous (such as hanging the motor housing from rubber straps). The point of vibration isolation is to have an insert of some kind that will absorb the energy of the vibration without transmitting it to the beams and walls of the house. Most solutions seem to use rubber or Sorbothane pads to sandwich the metal frame, with the idea that the two pads will jiggle and absorb the energy of the vibrating metal.

KEY IDEA: A rigid structure will always transmit the vibrational energy; a flexible insert before the ceiling will absorb the vibrational energy and transmit far less.

I looked at using rubber or Sorbothane washers between the metal and the ceiling, but in order to seat the lag bolts properly, I would have to squish the washers which would drastically reduce the vibration-absorbing ability of the material (it needs to be able to jiggle to absorb the energy). I thought about bolting rubber pads above and below the metal straping to help absorb the vibrations. But the stiffness of the pads which would directly touch the ceiling and the bolting seemed counter-intuitive to me (it just didn’t seem like it would work).

I looked at all kinds of vibration absorbing pads and other vibration isolators, but finally settled on a hanging neoprene isolator (Mason 2LVR8). They do make spring versions, but those are really made for large heavy motors instead of a lightweight garage door opener. I needed something that would easily jiggle, and these neoprene isolators were rated at 0-30 pounds, which sounded perfect. I also chose to add neoprene washers as an additional damper on 2 spots where loose metal was going to touch. I bought the Mason isolators online from a vendor named Grainger for $9 each. Amazon actually wanted $6 more per unit! I used three isolators to hold the motor. That may be overkill for the light weight, but I wanted three anchor points on the ceiling like the original installation.

Isolator

NOTE: The center track for the garage door is fairly level to begin with. This means that after I installed the isolators, the motor had to move up a few holes in the metal strap. That was easier than cutting the strap metal.

To mount the isolators, I used “hanger bolts” to replace the lag bolts that originally held the metal straps to the ceiling. Hanger bolts don’t have a head. Instead, they have a wood screw side for anchoring to wood beams, and a machine screw side to accept nuts. In order to drive them into the ceiling (into the existing holes from the current lag bolts), I used the two-nut method (a jam nut and a regular nut tightened together). I used 5/16 inch bolts because that is what was currently installed in the ceiling beam. The current lag bolts were 2 inches long, so I used 3 inch long hanger bolts to leave some bolt hanging down from the ceiling. See the pic below.

Two-nut

They do make a special driver made just for the purpose of installing hanger bolts, but such a driver only works to install, not to remove, so it has a very limited purpose. It is difficult to remove a hanger bolt but the two-nut method is usually used for that also. The next picture shows the whole thing installed. I used a nylon locking nut on the top of the isolator housing (shown on the bolt pic above), and another nylon locking nut and washer to hold the housing rigidly tight to the ceiling. The purpose of the top nut was the regulate how much of the hanger bolt was allowed inside the housing. As you can see below, there isn’t much room for the top and bottom bolts to coexist without touching, but they must not touch. I ended up with about a 1/4 inch gap between the two bolts. You can see the gap between the ceiling and the two other units in the pic below.

Installed iso hang

KEY IDEA: The concept of the hanging isolator is to put vibrations from a hanging device into the jiggly and squishy neoprene. The jiggling action uses up the energy and keeps it from being directly transmitted to the rigid metal above it. If the bottom bolt were tight against the bottom of the unit, a lot more energy would be transferred to the housing and then to the ceiling beam and that would defeat the purpose of the isolator.

I set a ladder and a box underneath the motor to keep it from sagging very far while I worked on the straps. The weight of the opener motor and track was apx 20-25lbs. I used another ladder to move around and work. This picture shows the installed isolators with the ladder under the motor unit. I had to have an additional box to keep the track from sagging and possibly bending.

Ladders

The next picture shows the order of assembly of the top pieces:
(DO NOT assemble this way prior to install. It all has to be installed piece by piece on the ceiling. This is just to show how it is all assembled.)
1. hanger bolt
2. nylon locking nut (need pliers to hold wood screw part while installing nut)
3. isolator housing
4. metal washer (optional)
5. nylon locking nut
6. lower bolt
7. nylon locking nut
8. neoprene washer
9. 5/16 metal “fender” washer
10. the neoprene isolator (built into the housing)
11. neoprene washer at head of lower bolt

Assembly

Any place where I was going to have loose metal touching metal, I put in a neoprene washer to absorb energy that would otherwise become a rattling sound.There is about a 1/4 inch gap between the ends of the bolts. Plenty for the amount of jiggling of this motor.

Parts:
Mason 2LVR8 from Grainger.com $9 x7 ($63)
Hanger bolts x3
Machine bolts x3 (I chose 2 1/2 inch)
standard 5/16 metal washers x3
5/16 fender washers x3
3/8 (fit better) neoprene washers x6
5/16 nylon locking nuts x9
(I estimate the various little parts cost around $12)

Tools:
Tools

adjustable wrench, ratcheting crescent wrench, vise grips or pliers, impact driver and impact sockets, ear protection when using impact driver

The impact driver is handy for installing the hanger bolts. It is very quick, but does make a racket. The nice part is that there is no torque on the handle like there is with a standard drill motor. But a wrench or a socket driver can insert the hanger bolts also, it just takes longer.

I remounted the motor to the metal straps and used a level on the center track to verify that I had it pretty close to level.

strap diff

I measured the sound before and after the install using both a Realistic brand sound pressure meter, and an Android app called Spectrum Analyzer. Unfortunately, I forgot to squish the range of the Spectrum Analyzer to show the range of human hearing (~1KH to 4KHz), so I only got the default low end.

Spectrum_2017_10_13_upstairs-1st

Spectrum_2017_10_14_upstairs_after

Overall it shows about a 20dB drop. The other sound meter before registered about 66dB in the room above the opener. After the isolator install there wasn’t enough noise to even move the meter (range was about 60-80). There is an odd constant peak at about 130 Hz. Not sure what that is.

In human reaction terms that is “WOW! The noise is almost totally gone!” Originally, I was going to install these on the door tracks also, and install pads where the tracks attach to the garage wall. But after the decrease in noise, that became unnecessary.

This project is likely beyond the ability of many homeowners, but could be installed by a contractor easily. It did take several hours because I was still working out the details as I was going.

I don’t think that there will be any issue with the motor not having a rigid mount. It seems to operate normally and with very little visible jiggling except when it first starts or when it is about to finish.

I also did this fix at another house, but felt that it would also benefit from having the door raceways muffled a bit more. Sadly, I didn’t take any sound readings on this before starting the project.

I used Sorbothane bushings and washers, since I already had some. The object here is to float the perforated metal between the jiggly material. The top part is like a washer, but has a middle insert. I had to drill out the hole in the metal to 1/2 inch first so that the insert would fit. Then I used a lag bolt that is 1/2 inch longer than was originally installed, so that I could get the same grip while leaving a bit of slack so the metal could vibrate without being tightly pressed against the beam (the white area at the top of the picture). This should help absorb a bit more of the vibration without transferring it directly through the metal parts to the beam. I may leave a bit more slack than is shown in the picture. If the material is too squished, then it loses its ability to jiggle and becomes pointless. I used a washer under the material to help hold it in place. Sorbothane is easily torn by metal edges or screws.

sorbothane at 909

But now that we are selling the house, I’m going to remove the isolators and reinstall the lag screws. If anything were to go wrong with the unit, the blame would be on me regardless of whether or not that blame were real, and I can’t afford that. But that gives me more isolators to use in my other house where we have two garage door openers.

 

Google Drive – Find large files

I was trying to figure out why my Google Drive was claiming I had used 11GB of 15GB. I searched all my folders and only found small files, 7MB size mostly, and not that many of them. I quickly saw that there was no obvious way to search for large files on the drive. I assume this is in line with Google’s desire that you not delete anything ever but simply request more drive size.

But for now there is a link you can use to find out and sort which files are taking up your space:

https://drive.google.com/drive/quota

I found some very large video files that a co-worker had removed but not flushed out of her trash. I couldn’t see them in my trash, so they were effectively invisible to me, but still counting against my quota.

This will list all of your files from largest to smallest and allow you to remove them. Remember, after removing you still have to go to Trash and tell it to empty the trash to finally get the space back in your drive. Then go back to the quota link and it should show the new size of your drive.

HVAC Geekery

Today we are having record-breaking heat in the Portland/Vancouver area, and so my A/C unit decided now would be a good time to stop working. I checked various things like:
1. Is the thermostat set correctly?
2. Are there batteries in the thermostat that need to be changed
3. Are any breakers tripped?
4. Is the heat pump fan spinning?

The answer to that last one was No. The air-handler/furnace was blowing all of the time, but the heat pump outside was just sitting there idle. Every now and then I could hear a high voltage hum from it. The fan motor was hot, like it was trying to spin, but wasn’t.

I described the symptoms to my electrician and HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) techs at work and they asked “Will the fan spin up if you stick a dowel in and spin it?” I went back and found that yes, it would! I called them and they said in unison “Bad capacitor.” They each had this very same issue last month. In the heat pump is a large metal can capacitor and a big relay called a “connector”. If the capacitor goes bad, the fan will still be able to spin, but the compressor that makes cold won’t work.

They gave me the address of a local vendor and I bought a replacement capacitor for $8. The numbers to match are the microfarads and voltage. It can be rated higher, but not lower. Best just to shoot for a match. Also you need to know if it is a dual capacitor with 3 terminals or not. Mine was.

NOTE: The next steps involve high-voltage (240VAC) and should not be performed unless you are comfortable and knowledgeable about handling such energy, have a volt meter, and the right tools for the job . When in doubt, hire an expert. Mine was a 45uf+5uf, 370VAC. I found this information by looking inside the back cover of the heat pump. I turned off the breaker that said it went to the A/C unit. I also removed the large fuse set on the wall right next to the heat pump. This ensures that no electricity will be going to the parts I’ll be working around. I removed the back cover of the heat pump and there was the large, hand-sized capacitor and a large relay.

I took photos of the old capacitor to show clearly where the colored wires connected. replaced the capacitor, but had to make the previous bracket fit since the new capacitor was larger diameter. Somehow during the whole process I managed to cause a spark on the “connector” relay. I didn’t think much of it until everything was installed, but not working. The thermostat was blank, meaning no power to it. It turns out that I blew a fuse on the furnace circuit board that is controlled by the thermostat and which controls the “connector”. I spoke with my work techs and they said to look for a small fuse, which turned out to be an automotive blade-type fuse rated for 3 amps. I went down to an auto parts store and bought a few.

Once that was installed, I replaced the main fuse to the heat pump and powered on the breaker. The air-handler fan turned on and the thermostat turned on, and then the heat pump began working! I learned quite a bit from this project, and likely saved hundreds in a service call. Keep in mind, I did have experts right there (well, over the phone) to guide me. Don’t try this unless you have such guidance. It is really easy to throw the wrong breaker and think things are powered down and get a bad shock or worse.

project

 

Firefox 54 Where’s my checkboxes?

I am on Firefox 54 on Ubuntu and just noticed that any implementation of the HTML checkbox shows up as a tiny dot instead of a checkbox. Chromium browser is normal.

I first noticed when I went to check my settings in FBP (Facebook Purity add-in for Firefox). But I confirmed it on an HTML test site:

https://www.w3schools.com/tags/tryit.asp?filename=tryhtml_input_checked

Firefox looks like this:

CB_FF

Chromium looks like this:

CB_CH

I tried searching for a solution, but only got a zillion unrelated results.

UPDATE: I found that starting Firefox in safe-mode (Help, restart with addons disabled) turned checkboxes back to normal, but disabling them one-by-one did not have the same effect. So something in a setting somewhere in FF is doing this, I just have to narrow it down.

UDATE AND FIX: Shawn made a comment that pointed me to the fix. I went into /home/jw/.mozilla/firefox/xs0s2w1w.default-1385691302373/chrome/ and edited the file “userContent.css”.  I put a “/*” at the very beginning and a “*/” at the very end to make it all into a comment. Saved it. Restarted Firefox and the checkboxes have returned. Note that your exact path will be different. Look for the hidden folder .mozilla in your home user folder (CTRL+H to toggle seeing or hiding hidden folders).