Expanding the studio

I love my music. I love playing guitar, dabbling on my keyboard, and making lots of cool riffs that never really get turned into anything. It’s a fun hobby.

The problem I have is that my music world exists in headphones. I only have a cheap set of computer speakers I bought back in the 90’s. My headphones are a decent set of AKGs albeit the lower end as far as construction goes. They sound phenomenal but aren’t adjustable.

My routing is kind of odd for my sound, mostly due to budgetary constraints. I use FL Studio as my DAW. I route my guitar in via a Guitar Rig Kontrol which acts as my AD / DA converter. The guitar plugs into the Kontrol’s analog input then routes the signal via USB to the computer. Using the Native Instruments’ drivers, the latency is so low as to be non-existent. I then do everything in the computer (effects, recording, mixing, etc.) and it gets routed back out to the Kontrol where my headphones are plugged in and life is good.

As long as I stay a) within my headphones and b) within my DAW things are fine, but anything outside of that and things get a bit more tricky. Sometimes I want to jam along with a YouTube video or a song on Spotify. I have to then go into my Window’s sound panel, reroute the system sounds directly to the Kontrol and then I’m usually pretty good.

The other way around, however, doesn’t work. If I want to listen to things on the computer speakers, the built in audio card won’t keep up for long. The ASIO driver manhandles the Kontrol just fine, but starts getting severe lag along with pops & clicks as the buffer starts messing up (switching the buffer size ‘resets’ it and it’ll be fine for a few more minutes).

So, for the time being I just lived with having to use headphones to do my work. However, with both girls now playing instruments and the fact we’ve moved everything into the office, it’s time to get my system capable of playing externally and here is where I’m having a little difficulty figuring out what I need.

I’m getting some studio monitors, for sure. The craptastical JBL computer speakers I have don’t cut it. I know from experience that trying to use these speakers to ‘mix’ will result in a sound that is reminiscent of listening to two orcas go at it in the mud. So that’s a given and I’m already 100% decided on the speakers I’m getting (Presonus, which are inexpensive, but highly rated for ‘Home Studios’).

My biggest ? in all this – do I get a mixer to route everything to the monitors or an external USB audio device? With a mixer, I can route the output of my daughter’s electronic drums, the output of the computer, and the output of the Kontrol all to the monitors so that everything can be heard at the same time. I’m not sure how well the outputs from the Kontrol work but I assume well since the headphones do great on it. With a mixer, I then can either route to the monitors or headphones or both without fiddling with all kinds of settings.

I would, however, like the option to just route the USB audio out directly to the mixer. There are some mixers like the Behringer’s that have 2 way USB, but I can’t tell if I can mix the output or if it’s more of a reference signal.

Add into all this that I can’t even remember the difference between ‘balanced’ & ‘unbalanced’ and would probably try to shove an XLR input into a USB slot and well…

Any tips?

posted by Robb Allen @ 9/1/2014 4:40:19 PM | Feedback (9)
A recap of the suck

Many moons ago, my wife started complaining about our house. She wanted more room & a pool. She would grouse about this or that and often say things like “I don’t want to retire in this place”. We always would scour Zillow for fun & entertainment and at some point we found a house or two that really piqued our interest.

The first one was maybe .5 miles away. It had been abandoned and we drove by it a million times. Kari would often say “We should see what’s up with that house” because outside it was nice enough and the yard was HUGE. Plus, we could see a pool screen in the back.

One day, a for sale sign popped up, so we bugged our neighbor who’s a Realtor. He got us in and the inside was a complete disaster. It required a total gut & go, but the bones of the house were good. The guy who bought it was flipping it, so we tried to get him to stop the flip & sell it to us as is. He’d have made ~$25,000 on the house and we’d have had enough cash to gut it.

Instead, he put a new roof on it, mowed the yard, and then wanted $100,000 for his “work”.

So we chuckled and went back to our lives.

The Zillow habit was hard to break. We didn’t want to leave our area, so the pickings were slim and it was sometimes fun to see the complete shitholes that people lived in and thought were worth $300,000+. But one day, a house showed up that really caught our attention. Every picture showed a good house that needed just a little paint & décor update but was huge (>1100sf more than our house) with a nice pool and a beautiful view of a lake. The only glitch was it was out of our price range and the kitchen looked like something the Brady’s would have considered dated.

Our neighbor was talking to us one day, we mentioned the place, and he had said they had dropped the price. Considerably. We looked, and they had come down over $40,000 although it was still a bit high. He got us in, and we loved it – minus the kitchen. After doing some serious number crunching, we realized if we could talk them down a bit more & sell our house, we’d have enough cash left over to upgrade the kitchen and the house would be awesome. It would be tight for a while, but it’d be awesome.

We got them to lower the price to where we could get it, but they wanted us to close fast. In order to do so, we had to sell our house in parallel, meaning we had to get a temporary ‘bridge loan’ on our home’s equity to cover the 25% down payment we wanted to make. This had a huge risk – if our house didn’t sell in 2 or 3 months, we’d be making 3 mortgage payments. But our house was well priced, completely updated, and in a good area.

There was hell trying to get 2 loans going at a time. We have damn near perfect credit and our debt-to-income ratio was ridiculously low since we were debt free but juggling them was tricky. Everything was progressing smoothly when the bank hit us with “By the way, that house is in a flood zone. You need flood insurance and we estimate that at $3000 annually”.

Everything got put on hold while we paid to have an elevation done. At this point, we had already put down the escrow, paid for an appraisal of our house (which, after we got, we raised the asking price on our house!) to cover the bridge loan, inspections on the new place, and an appraisal. That was several thousand dollars of expenses and now was in jeopardy as we couldn’t afford several thousand extra of flood insurance.

Turns out, the house is “in” a flood zone, but not “in” a flood zone. It was fine. The insurance was piddly and not a factor. So we started everything back up.

Then the wife’s car blew up.

All the $ we had been saving up for her new car had been used to finagle the things we needed for this house. We used what was left over to get her car, and called off the house. There was no way we could risk 3 mortgages AND a car payment (and the eldest is now in braces).

However the sellers said they’d do a contingency sale. We got to keep our contract as a ‘pocket deal’ and if we sold our house before they got an offer, we could buy the house. This was always an option, there was some miscommunication on the whole ‘quick close’ thing. Oh well, we were in a better position nonetheless. We were out a bit of money if they got a buyer first, but if not, we were where we wanted to be without any more risk.

At this point, we hadn’t had a single bite on the house. Oh, we had LOTS of people exclaiming they absolutely had to have the house only to disappear, never to be heard from again.

The wife, of course, had to have the house one day and wanted to burn the for sale sign the next and never leave. There were many times she was trying to just call it off, but we had to stay “on the market” until someone else bought the new house from under us so that we’d have a chance to get some of our money back.

And that happened. We had had a few positive showings with 3 ‘repeat’ showings. But one day I opened up Zillow, noticed my saved search was different, and saw the house was off the market.

Someone bought it.

We’re done then. That was they house we wanted, and now it was gone and we didn’t have any offers anyway. Did I say we didn’t have any offers? Oh, I meant the day they sold their house, we had 2 offers come in.


The first was a lowball “no way in hell” offer, but the second was serious. But the 2nd couple had to be in by the end of September. But we didn’t have a house to move to. So our Realtor tried to find us a house.

That… didn’t go well.

You see, our house is actually quite nice. The bathrooms & kitchen all have custom cabinetry (& I do mean custom) and granite. The master bath has a massive travertine shower with a glass door, dual sink / cabinets on opposite sides, a water closet (Poop in private!) and a custom built window seat that can also be where a tub can sit if you desire.

For us to find a house that was comparable in size with a pool, well, let’s just say those kinds of upgrades were sparse. So everything was outdated, smaller, in a bad area, or just overpriced. We found this one older home that had tons of character, but was easily $40k over what it should have been.

So, we told our Realtor, thanks but tell the other couple we’re done.

Then he shows up on my wife’s birthday to say “Let’s go look at new construction”. She said OK (and she was the one in near tears that she wanted to stop this whole thing).

So we looked. The houses were nice, but no pool and at the very tip top of our budget. However, new homes have no closing costs and are so energy efficient that their utility costs actually make a massive difference in your monthly expenses. But no pool. And carpet. But large, and nice, totally move in ready and they were willing to knock $10k off the price and new homes come with 1% lower realtor’s fees which is a few $k in savings and the numbers almost matched up.

Wife decided she didn’t want to do a 30 year on that house. No pool. And carpet.

So we were out.

‘Cept the realtor said he thought he could get the older house down to our price range.

I discussed with the wife. I said “For $X, we would have enough cash left over and could fix the pool, remodel the master bathroom (it was more like a coat closet with a commode & a shower) and do the lawn.” And do a 20 year which we could ostensibly finish in 15.

She said “OK. Now we’re back on for the umpteenth time.

Realtor is haggling with the owner who a) was just a flipper and had never lived there and b) was in Jamaica. Finally he gets him to $X. Wife looks at the contract and says “Where’s the pool fix & the yard repair?”

See, when I lay out a plan and the wife says “Ok”, what she’s saying is “Ok, you’ve laid out a plan” not “Ok, let’s do that”. You’d have thought I’d have learned this by now.

Now it’s a penny pinching extravaganza to see if it’s possible. At the 20 year monthly rate, it was going to be tight, and we were going to use the proceeds from our house to pay off the eldest’s braces then do the fix up, but well there wasn’t as much as she wanted to do that plus we’d have to pay for appraisals & inspections again plus escrow and where was that money coming from and why did I say we’d do this and…

At this point, I’ve now handed the wife off to the Realtor with explicit instructions that they not get blood on the carpet. I hadn’t gotten a thing right this whole time, she can take over.

She’s semi-ok with the numbers. Not happy and she’s not “In love” with the place like we were with the house we lost, but it would work. There was a lot of risk with an old house, but at least the insurance wasn’t $4000 a year.

The insurance was $4000 a year.

So, we quit.

Finally, finally quit.

There is no For Sale sign in our yard. Our house is no longer on the market. We are not buying another house.

This sucked. Big time. For the foreseeable future, we will remain in this house as I’m not sure I ever want to do that again. Hell, writing this out doesn’t even scratch the surface of the pulsating ball of suck this whole thing was. I’m pretty sure my neighbor is pissed off at us and we’re probably blacklisted & will never have another Realtor that will talk to us again.

But I like my home. My kids were born here. The best memories of my life exist between these walls. We now need to paint and redo the flooring. New carpet in the bedrooms & office, nice laminate everywhere else. I need to replace the inside doors & fix the millions of things that houses need fixing from time to time as well as rebuild my garage since I tore it apart assuming we were moving.

There’s relief that there’s no ticking time bomb of WE GOTTA MOVE NOW over our heads any more, but I can’t help but feel a bit melancholy. We did get a little of our money back from the first house (we sold them the appraisals & inspections), but we didn’t get a pool. Or a view of the lake. Or the music room I wanted.

Still, my house has my family in it. And that’s the best place to be.

posted by Robb Allen @ 8/26/2014 7:50:34 PM | Feedback (12)
Now they’re just getting desperate

Being that nobody actually emails you about Viagra or Cialis, it was easy to filter your email for those words. Spammers got sneaky & tried simple misspellings like Cailis and Vigara. That too eventually got caught and tossed into the trash.

But spammers are smart. They realize the average IQ is dropping like panties after a six pack of Bartles & Jaymes ‘Summer Peach’ wine coolers, and with spelling skills being replaced by texting, they’re now sending out gems like this

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It’s like Max Headroom is selling boner pills.

posted by Robb Allen @ 8/25/2014 10:56:03 AM | Feedback (3)
Someone go check on Toto

Tornado came through our neighborhood last night. It hit our neighbor’s trees, bringing down massive branches that took out his fence on one side, dropped a >ton branch on the other luckily missing his neighbor’s house by mere inches.

Throughout the Book of Faces site, other neighbors had the same thing. Trees felled or branches ripped off and tossed like toothpicks. It hit an intersection a 1/4 mile away that had the fire dept. & police out in force since the damage blocked the road.

Florida gets tornados quite a bit, albeit probably more F0 class. Nothing like the Midwest. Still, they do some damage & we’re lucky nobody was hurt and the worst seems to be a fence down.

posted by Robb Allen @ 8/22/2014 9:08:31 AM | Feedback (3)
Relief. Sweet, sweet relief.

Today, the house my wife & I were purchasing was bought by someone else. We are selling them all the appraisals & inspections and getting a good portion of our money back, so it’s not a complete loss.

We also have two people with offers on our house today as well. Because that’s how God rolls.

We did go look at two potential houses tonight, the first was so exciting to me in pictures, but simply didn’t live up to the hype. Plus, it said 5 bedrooms, and there were only 3 and something that might be an office for very small people. Pool was GORGEOUS, but the kitchen was literally 180° wrong, and the bathrooms were just not updated enough.

The second house had SO much potential, but it looks like they flipped it and gave up halfway on the kitchen. At the asking price, the things we’d need to do wouldn’t get done which was sad because otherwise, the house had a lot going for it.

At this point, we’re waiting on the offers, but more than likely we’re going to turn them down and just stay here.

I cannot tell you how relieved I am. This has been the worst kind of rollercoaster ride and it’s nice to be over. There’s a lot of people asking a lot of money for houses that just don’t match the price, or there’s so much work needed to get another house to the level that we’ve gotten ours that it’s just tiring to think of.

Suddenly, you look at all the work you’ve put into your house and end up loving it all over again.

Gonna paint. Put in some new flooring. Replace the inside doors. Then continue making memories here.

Unless, of course, the offers are good enough and our realtor finds the perfect house! But I ain’t counting on it.

posted by Robb Allen @ 8/19/2014 8:53:47 PM | Feedback (4)
The only facts we know for sure are those that fit my worldview. Everything else is just mere speculation!

This whole l'affaire du Ferguson has me just pounding forehead shaped divots into my desk. It’s like everything I cannot stand about humans all rolled into one stupid story.

First, nobody really knows what happened. Minus the parts that totally fit with their biases and preconceptions. That stuff is swear on a Holy Bible tight. About the only facts is that a cop shot Michael Brown and Brown died and that Brown had just robbed a convenience store of some Swisher Sweets while roughing up the worker.

From that point on, it’s all conjecture and you can tell a lot about a person’s world views based on how they perceive what is absolute fact. What really sucks is the instant attempt to deify whoever you need to be the ‘good guy’.

Michael Brown is either a 6’4” 300# thug who has posed for a lot of gang-sign type pictures (from my understanding, the ‘wad of cash in the mouth’ picture is not him) or a ‘gentle giant’ who had never uttered a discouraging word toward anyone.

The officer in question is either a racist who executed Brown in cold blood simply because he was suffering from White Privilege or he was in fear for his life as Brown was beating him near to death with a tire iron.

For some reason, people forget that humans are humans when they need them to be on a pedestal of their cause. Suddenly, people who couldn’t tell you Brown’s birthday or favorite snack are trying to make him out to be some martyr, a perfect soul who Jesus is now asking for tips from. Or you have the cop who is an exemplary constable who regularly pays the parking tickets of old ladies. People get really upset if you point out any flaw in the characters of these people that might explain what happened that day, because they need perfect people to defend. Nobody likes defending real people who have real problems.

Then there was rioting. Because nothing says Justice For Brown like pilfering hair weaves, cases of Slim Jims, and all the Colt 45 you can carry. Plus the arson. Michael would have wanted people to burn the Quickie Mart to the ground.

Then the police response. Or the 3rd Infantry Division. It was hard to tell. Now, I will say that a riot does require the police to show a bit more force than a parking ticket, and this was probably one of the cases where it was somewhat called for. As soon as the platoon stood down, there were more riots. But the constant reminder that there is no more Officer Friendly and instead you’re faced with SERGEANT MAJOR POPO SIR! is really starting to permeate both sides of the aisle… and I’m not really going to complain about that. The paramilitarization of the police is a huge problem and sadly, Ferguson is going to make it worse because this was the one time is was called for and it will be brought up over and over in every town hall when they’re discussing funding for the MRAP.

Toss in the standard racism charges while conveniently ignoring the near auto-genocidal levels of black on black murder and having Al Sharpton booed off stage for fundraising on Brown’s corpse and I’m ready to nuke it from orbit. Repeatedly.

Sometimes I hate people and dream about just going off grid in the middle of nowhere.

But that town would still have an MRAP they’d park in my front yard because I wanted to use solar instead of paying for electricity.

posted by Robb Allen @ 8/18/2014 8:42:23 AM | Feedback (14)
We weathered flood insurance, totaled cars, and dozens of financial hurdles

And finally we’ve lost the house due to Obamacare.


My 90 day probationary period is up at work, so we got the health care plans the company offers. The premium for my family is “a nice used car” each year. Plus deductibles. We cannot afford the non-HDHPs and this should scare you since my salary isn’t exactly low.

Technically, we could still move, but then we’d barely have enough money left over monthly for things like savings, vacations, retirement, or college funds. Remember, we now have a car payment (*shudder*) to also deal with. Even without moving, it’s going to get tighter although we’ll be lowering some of the costs associated with this house (we’ve been overpaying on insurance by at least 150% and our taxes are slated to drop this year) which gives us a little more breathing room.

I’m trying to do the right thing which is not spending beyond my means, only buying what I can not only afford, but what still leaves me with enough finances to secure my future, and simply being responsible overall.

For this, I get punished. My costs have risen exponentially to cover people who do not subscribe to my philosophy of being responsible.


posted by Robb Allen @ 8/15/2014 9:58:11 AM | Feedback (13)
Not-So-Unintended consequences

Many gun-banners are more than happy to blame gun manufacturers or those who sell firearms for the crimes committed by others. In their tiny little minds, they see no issues with blaming person X for the actions of person Y because they want to ban guns & know they cannot do it outright. So the plan to make manufacturing and selling so fraught with peril is a good thing for them.

Suddenly, though, the very power they give to harass legitimate businesses ends us harassing legitimate businesses they didn’t expect. For example, FedEx is now being sued for ‘transporting illegal drugs’

Despite the fact that the Controlled Substances Act contains an exemption that protects common contract carriers like FedEx from being prosecuted for someone else’s attempt to sneak drugs through the mail, the Department of Justice has indicted the popular shipping company on 15 criminal counts for servicing orders for illegal online pharmacies. However, online pharmacies are a legal type of government-regulated business, and FedEx has repeatedly asked authorities to provide a list of pharmacies that engage in illegal practices like filling orders without prescriptions.

This is nothing more than a shakedown from the federal government. There is no way for FedEx to know what is inside each box nor is there even a way for the gov’t to know without implementing a police state that would make O’Brian take a break from interrogating Winston Smith because he needed a cigarette and a clean set of undies.

The same need for blaming gun stores is the same excuse for suing FedEx. People love to use the power of the state against their pet causes, but they consistently fail to see the problem in doing so. Today, FedEx, tomorrow you get the same treatment because you failed to secure your router and some perv was sending illegal pornography over your network.

Hey, you want to make it hard for someone to do something you don’t like, you’re going to end up caught up in that same trap later on. Don’t come crying to me about it, you asked for it.

posted by Robb Allen @ 8/13/2014 11:01:55 AM | Feedback (6)