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Dolmas (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

This is the recipe I developed for my first attempt at making dolmas. I wanted to balance the salty savoriness of the grape leaves with a sweeter filling of meat, nuts, fruit and spices. Venison is not a typical choice for dolmas, but it was readily available and ended up working very well. Because venison […]

This is the recipe I developed for my first attempt at making dolmas. I wanted to balance the salty savoriness of the grape leaves with a sweeter filling of meat, nuts, fruit and spices. Venison is not a typical choice for dolmas, but it was readily available and ended up working very well. Because venison is a very lean meat, there is no need to drain the burger. Lamb, beef, or bison would make good substitutes, but the lamb and beef would probably need to be drained.

Ingredients

  • 50 grape leaves – canned in brine
  • 1 C brown rice – short grain
  • 2 C water
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 lb. venison burger – Lamb, beef or bison can be substituted.
  • 1/4 C dates – pitted and diced
  • 1/4 C olives – kalamata variety, pitted and diced
  • 1/4 C nuts – almonds, macadamia, pistachio, sesame mixture – crushed
  • 1 T garlic – crushed
  • 1 C red onion – diced
  • 2 T chives – fresh or dried
  • 2 t nutmeg – ground
  • 2 t cinnamon – ground
  • 1 t turmeric – ground
  • 1 t ginger – ground
  • 1 t coriander – ground
  • 1 t cumin – ground
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1/2 lemon – juiced
  • 1 C feta cheese

Instructions

Place rice, water and butter in a covered sauce pan over high heat. Boil under tender. Set aside.

Combine burger, nuts, dates, olives, garlic, onion, chives, nutmeg, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, coriander, cumin and olive oil in a skillet. Brown over medium high heat until the pink is gone from the burger. Add rice to burger mixture.

In the center of a stemless grape leaf place approximately 2 to 3 tablespoons of burger mixture. Fold the bottom of the leaf up, the top of the leaf down, the right side over to the left, and then roll tightly to the left. Place the rolled leaf in a non-greased pan. Repeat the filling and rolling process until either out of meat or grape leaves.

Cover pan with foil and bake for approximately 30 minutes at 400 degrees. Baking longer makes for a more tender grape leaf, while a shorter time gives the leaf more of a chewy bite.

To finish, sprinkle lemon juice over the dolmas and top with crumbled feta. Serve warm with hummus and veggies, tabbouleh and pita bread. Makes approximately 50 dolmas.

Download this recipe in PDF Format!

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EP Giveaway Sponsored by Stevan Sheets

I have some of the greatest friends anyone could ask for. Seriously. Without telling me ahead of time, my buddy Stevan Sheets decided to offer a free copy of my album Somewhere Between Nicaragua & New York via a Twitter promotional campaign. The promo is only for the next 3 hours, so get in on […]

Screengrab of Twitter status
I have some of the greatest friends anyone could ask for. Seriously. Without telling me ahead of time, my buddy Stevan Sheets decided to offer a free copy of my album Somewhere Between Nicaragua & New York via a Twitter promotional campaign. The promo is only for the next 3 hours, so get in on the action by clicking here: http://bit.ly/scottsEP

To sweeten the deal, I’ve decided that the lucky winner of Stevan’s promotion will also receive a free signed copy of my upcoming album All Is Sideways (release info TBA), along with any other related swag that comes along with the album release. Fun times!

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Available on iTunes: Somewhere Between Nicaragua & New York EP

Download the Album Now My EP Somewhere Between Nicaragua & New York is now available on iTunes. Sweet. Click this little button. Rate the Album and Write a Review Below this list of tracks is a convenient little spot where you can give my album some stars and write a little bit about the songs. […]

Download the Album Now

My EP Somewhere Between Nicaragua & New York is now available on iTunes. Sweet. Click this little button.

Somewhere Between Nicaragua & New York - EP - Scott Troyer

Rate the Album and Write a Review

Below this list of tracks is a convenient little spot where you can give my album some stars and write a little bit about the songs. If you have a little time, please give the album 5 stars and leave your kindest words. Thanks!

Alert Me

Down of the left hand side of the page, there’s a little link that says “Alert Me.” Click that and iTunes will notify you of any new tracks I upload as soon as they become available on iTunes.

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FIX: Pro Tools hardware is either not installed or used by another program.

Pro Tools hardware is either not installed or used by another program. If you thought that having Pro Tools 9 installed meant no more “Hey, Mr. Engineer Genius, where’s your fancy hardware?” errors, then this nagging error probably came as a surprise. It did for me. Since installing Pro Tools 9, my workflow has allowed […]

Pro Tools hardware is either not installed or used by another program.

If you thought that having Pro Tools 9 installed meant no more “Hey, Mr. Engineer Genius, where’s your fancy hardware?” errors, then this nagging error probably came as a surprise. It did for me. Since installing Pro Tools 9, my workflow has allowed me to jump around from my Mbox 2 Pro, Mbox 2 Micro, and MacBook Pro’s built-in sound card. This has been really handy while trying to finish up my album on the road. But, apparently, all that hardware hopping can cause the playback engine to get stuck in some funky states that don’t so work –if at all. See my previous post “FIX: Pro Tools could not set sample rate to specified value” for a similar issue.

Obviously, the problem has something to do with the playback engine. Since the error dialog only offers an ‘OK’ button, which closes Pro Tools, there doesn’t seem to be a way to work around the problem. There is not even a way to know what hardware Pro Tools is expecting.

Until now.

The Fix

I found a simple solution via this Sweetwater forum. The answer given there details how to get Pro Tools running on a PC, but I found that it worked for Macs too and without having to install any drivers. The fix is kind of like booting Pro Tools in safe mode. Simply hold the ‘N’ key while starting up Pro Tools. This will bypass the normal start up sequence and open up the Playback Engine window. Now you can select the correct playback engine and continue using Pro Tools.

In my situation, Pro Tools was looking for the last connected device (my Mbox 2 Pro), but since it wasn’t available it opted for the next available option: my MacBook Pro’s line input, which doesn’t make a very good playback engine.

Let me know if this fix worked for you.

Note

This problem may have been fixed in the Pro Tools 9.0.2 update that came out yesterday, though I’ve not been able look through the 9.0.2 Readme file in detail or to test this out on the updated software. I’ll update this page when I find out more. Since I still receive regular hits on this post, I’m assuming this problem is not solved yet. Maybe in a future update…

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Hard Drives for Digital Recording

A couple of weeks ago, my friend David, a young and very talented musician/singer/songwriter, asked me the following question. Hi Scott! Hey, how many GB of hard drive space do you recommend for recording on a laptop? Thanks, David To which I responded: Hey David, The recommended practice for digital recording is to record to […]

Image: Hard disk drive with vinyl platter

A couple of weeks ago, my friend David, a young and very talented musician/singer/songwriter, asked me the following question.

Hi Scott!
Hey, how many GB of hard drive space do you recommend for recording on a laptop?
Thanks,
David

To which I responded:

Hey David,

The recommended practice for digital recording is to record to an external hard drive instead of the internal drive. This is done for performance reasons. Recording to an external drive keeps your data separate from the rest of your computer data, allowing the computer to use the internal drive for the dedicated purpose of running the operating system. This also makes your recording data more portable for taking it to a studio and prevents trouble if you ever need to send your computer in for service (the recording data stays with you).

It is also recommended to use an additional external drive that serves as a backup so if anything goes wrong with a drive you won’t lose everything. So ideally, you would have two identical drives. They can be any size, but should be the same size. A typical song (2-5 min with 4-5 instruments with multiple takes for each instrument/voice) at 24 bit resolution and 48k sample rate will take up approximately 1-3 GB. If you’re lacking hard drive space, after the tracks are finalized the unused takes can be deleted, which reduces the file size of the song, thus giving you more room for additional songs. But as cheap as hard drives are these days, getting a decent sized drive shouldn’t be a problem.

The cost of external drives for computer-based recording is much cheaper than the cost of memory cards for hard disk recorders.

With all that in mind, I recommend buying 2 of the largest hard drives you can get within the budget you have. Remember, these drives should be the same size and used ONLY for your recordings.

Western Digital has good drives for reasonable prices.*

—Scott

*Though I recommend WD drives for data storage, see my post The Western Digital (WD) SmartWare Problem for more about them.

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The War Is Within

The following paragraphs are from an entry in my journal on June 14, 2008, which I am posting it here as a public reminder to myself. The great problems of the world are not the result of the actions of an easily-fingered cast of evil-doers, but by the failing of average everyday folks like me […]

The following paragraphs are from an entry in my journal on June 14, 2008, which I am posting it here as a public reminder to myself.

The great problems of the world are not the result of the actions of an easily-fingered cast of evil-doers, but by the failing of average everyday folks like me to imagine anything different than the current set of circumstances. We grossly mistake the root of our troubles by demonizing a select few, whose ignoble traits are glaringly obvious, and which conveniently distract attention from our less conspicuous, yet equally ugly inclinations.

If we only dared to believe that life could be different and then acted on that very realistic hope. Though life’s grinding would not cease, its sting could be lessened or alleviated. Whether it be for the fear of change, love of the status quo, a lack of imagination, care, or hope, the problem lies within us, not outside.

If we wish to get better, this is how we must diagnose and treat the disease which afflicts us all: by believing that it must be fought and then continually conquered in our own hearts, minds, and spirits first.

Maybe this is the entire war? Perhaps the conflict is always within and only truly winnable there – never on the foreign soil of other people’s minds. Aren’t our own selves all (or really more) than we can control anyway?

Are we completely giving over ourselves to the notion of creating a better world? Or have we designated some portions of the battle as someone else’s job? Do we see any problem as someone else’s issue or do we recognize them all, no matter how grand or insignificant, as our own?

With each dollar we spend, smile we give, and trust we offer, we ultimate cast our votes in small, but critical measures for the type of world in which we wish to live. We are creating this world by the manner in which we think and do.

Is our world full of fear, distrust, greed, and anger? Or are we, by conscious belief and action, redefining a new order of life? Are we giving birth to something beautiful or giving in to what we think is inevitable? Are we proffering hope or hopelessly accepting that nothing will change, knowing that as such, we will always get what we have always got? Are we willing to accept the outcome of our decisions?

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The Western Digital (WD) SmartWare Problem

Modern recording takes lots of hard drive space. It’s easy to eat up several GB on a song of average length and track depth. I’ve filled a drive or two already with various recording sessions, Photoshop files, and media. Over the weekend I had to pick up another drive just so I can finish my […]

Image of the WD 2 TB My Book Studio LXModern recording takes lots of hard drive space. It’s easy to eat up several GB on a song of average length and track depth. I’ve filled a drive or two already with various recording sessions, Photoshop files, and media. Over the weekend I had to pick up another drive just so I can finish my upcoming album. I went to the nearest big box electronics shop and picked up the the biggest drive with the best price. What I found was the Western Digital 2 TB My Book Studio LX. The size should be enough for the next year or so (let’s hope!) and the simple grey metal design suits my preference for the minimalist Mac aesthetic. Surprisingly, this is the first drive I’ve purchased that came preformatted for Mac OS. I know that some drives come advertised as such, but this was just a standard off-the-shelf one-kind-fits-all drive. Maybe this indicates a shift in the Apple/PC market share?

Western Digital enjoys the largest market share of consumer hard drive sales and is probably the most visible hard drive manufacturer in retail stores. They make affordable drives that work well. I’ve not had any issues with the WD drives I’ve owned (five and counting), so I feel good about purchasing from them.

The only thing that bothers me about WD is their pre-installed SmartWare software. It’s a huge can of donkey sauce. This multi-function bloatware takes up over half a GB of space, is loaded into the drive firmware (so it cannot just be formatted away), appears as a separate VCD that pops up everytime you connect to the drive, and cannot be completely removed without voiding the warranty. The only option WD gives the user is to download two more software packages, one that updates the firmware so you can run the second package that allows you to hide the VCD. Blehhhh…

The whole point I want to make is this:

Dear Western Digital,

I like you and your drives. I like the design, reliability, and affordability of your drives. I can’t stand your SmartWare. Please stop making it. If you can’t do that, then please make it an opt-in thing. If you feel you really, truly, just absolutely must preinstall it (instead of offering it available as a free download), then at least make it easy to permanently remove with just one or two clicks. I do not want to download more software to remove software I already don’t want. Thank you.

A regular and loyal customer,

Scott

Removing SmartWare

While removing the the VCD completely is possible and would be my preferred solution, doing so voids the warranty, which is extremely valuable should the drive ever fail. So in my opinion, doing something to void the warranty on the device that stores my invaluable data is a bad idea. Until WD decides that such action no longer voids the warranty, I cannot recommend this.

How to Hide SmartWare

WD doesn’t make it easy to hide the VCD. There are two major steps. You’ll need to download the firmware update for your particular drive and the VCD Manager. Visit the WD Product Updates page to find out how to hide the VCD for your specific device and OS.

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How To Get Perfect Guitar Tone

Ain’t no such thing as the one perfect tone, son. Stop chasing that non-existent guitar holy grail.

Picture of a photoshopped guitar made from the Holy Grail

Can I get it in tobacco sunburst?

Bad News First

Perfect guitar tone does not exist.

…at least not in a permanently defined state. It is always changing depending on context. There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for guitar tone and the guy who is showing you exactly how to get “perfect” tone is either demonstrating his idea of a good sound for a very particular context or selling you something. Let the buyer beware!

I’ve seen a zildjillion YouTube videos and magazine articles in which an “expert” outlines in very fine detail the “preferred” gear or “professional” way to play/mic/mix. They have shown me how to dial in that Clapton tone, place ribbon mics like Eno, mix a hit song like the Lord-Alge brothers, mod my guitar and amp like SRV, and even dress like a rockstar. In each circumstance I think, “Yes, that might just work. I could sound like that, if I do everything else exactly the same way as Mr. Famous Rockstarpants.”

They have it right. It truly is the small stuff that matters. In fact, all these tiny details matter so much and there is such a vast quantity of them, that replicating such performances is nearly inconceivable. Every part of the signal chain plays a role – from player to instrument to amp to room to microphone to preamp and all the cables, power supplies, recording/storage media, surfaces, and recording/mixing/mastering engineers in between. Even weather, location, and moods can make a difference.

Needless to say, it’s nearly impossible to replicate that one sound by that one artist on that one record. So many factors are involved in the making of a sound, that in many cases the original artist that recorded it might not be able to make that precise sound again, even when given identical circumstances. (I’d like to point out that perhaps the very reason we enjoy certain sounds is because a beautiful moment was captured – something unique that will never happen again – and trying to recreate it verbatim would somehow make it less amazing. Frankenstein’s monster wasn’t very pretty, was he? I digress.)

“We all have idols. Play like anyone you care about, but try to be yourself while you’re doing so.” – quote attributed to B. B. King[citation needed]

And The Good News

Proper tone (the right tone at the right time) can be bought. You can pay for it with practice and critical listening. Good equipment is nice, but not necessary, as Jack White demonstrates so well in It Might Get Loud.

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FIX: Pro Tools could not set sample rate to specified value

After upgrading to the newly released Pro Tools 9, I couldn’t open sessions or create new ones. I got this error: “Could not complete the Open Session… command because Pro Tools could not set sample rate to specified value..” I hunted around on the web and various forums, but couldn’t find a solution that fit. […]

Pro Tools error

After upgrading to the newly released Pro Tools 9, I couldn’t open sessions or create new ones. I got this error: “Could not complete the Open Session… command because Pro Tools could not set sample rate to specified value..” I hunted around on the web and various forums, but couldn’t find a solution that fit. I found several items relating to Windows and Pro Tools 8, but nothing for a Mac running Pro Tools 9. After messing around a bit I figured out the problem was with my playback engine. Here’s how I solved it. Let me know if it works for you too.

Open the Playback Engine dialog under the Setup menu item.

From the menu bar select Setup > Playback Engine… to open the Playback Engine dialog window.

Playback Engine menu item

The problem is with the Pro Tools Aggregate I/O.

By default, my current engine was set to “Pro Tools Aggregate I/O.” It’s odd that this Pro Tools would leave it that way after an installation since AVID states that it is not supported in OS X.

Select another engine

Select your current playback engine.

The fix is easy. Simply select the right playback engine. Your options may differ based on your setup.

Select your current playback engine

In my case, I usually would edit with my Mbox 2 Micro, but since Pro Tools 9 gives us so many more options for hardware compatibility, I selected Built-in Output. I was able to edit some vocal takes using my Macbook Pro’s speakers instead of pulling out my headphones. Nice!

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The Worst Christmas Song Ever

It’s time for Christmas music! Some love it, some hate it. I mostly like it. But no matter what our preferences, every year starting around Thanksgiving (and now even as early as Halloween – oh, the humanity!) we are bound to hear Christmas and holiday music playing non-stop at least until New Year’s Day (and […]

Photo of Elvis Santa with white guitar

It’s time for Christmas music!

Some love it, some hate it. I mostly like it. But no matter what our preferences, every year starting around Thanksgiving (and now even as early as Halloween – oh, the humanity!) we are bound to hear Christmas and holiday music playing non-stop at least until New Year’s Day (and sometimes longer). So no matter where we go, for approximately a month and a half every year, we’re bound to experience Christmas music in one form or another.

Good Songs

On the good side of Christmas music, we might hear Bing Crosby on an AM radio promising “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” a claymationized Burl Ives wishing us a “Holly Jolly Christmas,” Ray Charles telling us that “The Spirit of Christmas” should last all year while Clark Griswold rediscovers old family films, Sarah McLachlan tenderly crooning a gorgeous “Silent Night,” or The Peanuts gang singing the melancholy perennial favorite “Christmas Time Is Here” by Vince Gauraldi.

And I have to admit I’m a sucker for Mariah Carey explaining (in no less than 12 octaves) that “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” I almost believe her. I bet you do too.

Bad Songs

But on the nefarious side of Christmas music, we have to suffer through double-time punk rock versions of “Jingle Bells,” terribly over-jazzed renditions of “Santa Baby,” the latest winner of a pop/idol/reality show butchering “O Holy Night,” college choirs covering the panic-inducing “Carol Of The Bells,” and Kevin McCallister lip-syncing The Drifters’ version of “White Christmas” into a hairbrush.

Countless bad Christmas songs have been hastily fluffed like whipped cream to make albums that are then pumped into the public airspace in hopes of swiping up a bit of Joe Consumer’s annual Christmas music budget. Without taking an official census, I’d say there are probably 20+ bad Christmas songs for every good one. In short, there are a lot of bad Christmas songs. The Christmas music naysayers really have some solid exhibits and evidence in their favor.

The Worst Song

In my mind only one Christmas song can claim to be the worst Christmas song ever. I award that prize to “The Christmas Shoes.” You’ve heard it, I’m sure. It’s the sappy tear-jerker about the poor little boy that wants to buy some shoes for his dying mother on Christmas Eve and it’s the epitome of awful. Sadly, it’s been made into a novel (what?!) and a movie that I’m sure Rob Lowe considers a low point in his career. Here are the lyrics and a video just in case you need a refresher.

The Christmas Shoes

It was almost Christmas time, there I stood in another line,
Tryin’ to buy that last gift or two, not really in the Christmas mood.
Standing right in front of me was a little boy waiting anxiously,
Pacing ’round like little boys do
And in his hands he held a pair of shoes.

His clothes were worn and old,
He was dirty from head to toe,
And when it came his time to pay,
I couldn’t believe what I heard him say,

Chorus:
“Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please.
It’s Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size.
Could you hurry, sir? Daddy says there’s not much time.
You see she’s been sick for quite a while,
And I know these shoes would make her smile,
And I want her to look beautiful
if Mama meets Jesus tonight.”

He counted pennies for what seemed like years,
Then the cashier said, “Son, there’s not enough here.”
He searched his pockets frantically,
Then he turned and he looked at me.
He said, “Mama made Christmas good at our house,
Though most years she just did without.
Tell me, sir, what am I going to do?
Somehow I’ve got to buy her these Christmas shoes.”

So I laid the money down,
I just had to help him out
I’ll never forget the look on his face when he said,
“Mama’s gonna look so great.”

“Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please.
It’s Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size.
Could you hurry, sir? Daddy says there’s not much time.
You see she’s been sick for quite a while,
And I know these shoes would make her smile,
And I want her to look beautiful
if Mama meets Jesus tonight.”

Bridge:
I knew I’d caught a glimpse of heaven’s love
As he thanked me and ran out.
I knew that God had sent that little boy
To remind me just what Christmas is all about.

I know a lot of Christmas songs could qualify for the worst ever, but I think this one wins for several reasons. I could rant about this song for awhile (as some of my friends and family know quite well), so I’ll try to make this short and sweet.

Note: My intent is not to criticize the songwriters or anyone that genuinely likes this song. I simply want to point out the problems I detect in this song. I am doing so because the song is insanely popular despite what I believe to be very obvious logical and theological flaws. I know lots of other Christmas songs fail in many of the same respects, but this one stands out above the others because it often goes under the radar as “a good song to sing in church.” Passing off heresy and consumerism under the guise of a heart-warming ballad is quite wrong on so many levels.

Why “The Christmas Shoes” is the worst Christmas song ever

The Real Meaning of Christmas is Consumerism

Ah, the Christmas consumerism machine at it’s finest! Finally someone has found a way to not only condone our consumption that makes it seem like the “Christian” thing to do, but has also capitalized on the concept by writing a song about it that’ll “just get ’em every time.” This is the primary reason I hate this song, and honestly, it’s reason enough, but I have to continue.

NOTE TO SELF: If you are ever hard up for cash, remember this simple song equation:
Poor Young Child + Dying Parent + Sacred Holiday = Money Train

Shopping alone?

Why is a little boy shopping alone on Christmas Eve? Why didn’t anyone else in the song see a problem with this? Wouldn’t someone contact authorities?

Don’t miss the last moment!

If “there’s not much time” left for the woman, then why is the boy out buying shoes instead of spending time with his mother in her final moments? Priorities, son. Priorities.

Almost dead people have no need for shoes.

I know it seems harsh, but if his mother is close to dying from a terminal disease she simply does not need shoes. Maybe it’s the kind gesture or the thought that counts, but if she’s really that close to death, she probably would not be conscious enough to recognize a heart-warming deed from her son. Seriously.

Dead people have no need for shoes.

Caskets only open on the end where the head is, so no one besides the undertaker is going to see mama in her beautiful new shoes. That’s gonna be a real let down. And if she’s cremated, well… you might as well just burn your money.

You don’t take it with you.

Umm… I thought we were all clear on that. For this being a “Christian” song, it sure seems like some pyramid-era theology is slipping in there. I don’t know what heaven will be like, but if I had to speculate about footwear, I’m pretty sure that whatever we wear in heaven (if we even need any shoes) will be far superior to whatever mass-produced-by-slave-labor kicks the boy could’ve purchased with some change at the local big box store.

Does Jesus care about shoes?

The boy’s concern is that his mama look beautiful when she meets Jesus. I’m not sure where the boy is getting his information about who Jesus is and what he wants from us. Jesus is not Tim Gunn and heaven is not Project Runway. Mama will not be voted out of heaven based on her footwear. If so, those atrocious Crocs you just bought mama will not be winning her any style points.

Picture of Christmas Crocs footwear

‘This worries me. Make it work.’ – a quote by Jesus or Tim Gunn, I can’t remember who said it.

Adults Messing Up

Congratulations, to the adults in this story (the father, the cashier, and the narrator of the song). Instead of being wise and using this difficult time as a teaching moment, you helped an already poor kid waste his last few coins on useless shoes and let him convince you that his well-meaning, but half-baked plan is in fact the true meaning of Christmas. But the shame doesn’t rest solely upon the fake characters of this trite story, we the consumers actually bought this song and are continuing to buy it every year! Please, for the sake of future generations, stop supporting this song.

These are just a few of the reasons why I believe this song is the worst Christmas song ever, but don’t let me convince you. Judge for yourself.

Buy Shoes for Christmas

Graphic: Shop To Stop Slavery logo If you actually are in the market to buy shoes for someone for Christmas and you want to do more than just buy shoes, check out ShopToStopSlavery.com. My friend Robin researches products that are fair trade and slavery free. You can visit her site to find quality resources and good places to shop. That’s a gift that keeps on giving, Clark.

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The Only One At Home

Many of us have a grand scheme in mind – some great plan for life with an ideal outcome that involves our friends and family. Many times I have heard someone say something like this: I want to be successful so I can take care of the people around me. If I make a lot of […]

Many of us have a grand scheme in mind – some great plan for life with an ideal outcome that involves our friends and family. Many times I have heard someone say something like this:

I want to be successful so I can take care of the people around me. If I make a lot of money, someday I’d love to build a big house where everyone can come and be safe, someplace where they all can feel at home.

Indeed, this is an admirable sentiment if truly motivated by pure and altruistic intentions. Working to provide for the ones you love is noble, good, and worthy of pursuit. How sweet life would be if we all made this our goal! But please allow me to point out a nagging problem I’ve noticed.

Let’s pretend for a moment that this is your plan. You work hard (or win the lottery). You build a big house. You put a nice grill and a pool in the backyard. You invite all your friends and family over for a party. You welcome everyone to your house and say, “Please! Make yourself at home!” Everyone feels quite welcomed and kicks back a little more than usual. They feel comfortable in your own version of Neverland Ranch. Everyone has a great time. They are happy, but you are even happier. You’ve succeeded in creating your own paradise where all your friends and family are enjoying life in your house. The problem? You are the only one at home.

Graphic showing that only the homeowner is at home at his/her party

♫ Little Pink Houses For You And Me ♫

No matter how wonderfully warm you are, how inviting you make your home, how many soft throws and pillows fill the sofas, or how serene or exciting the party may be, everyone knows that this is your house and eventually they must go back to theirs.

In a related way, have you ever tried connecting a new friend with an old friend only to discover that though you love both of these people dearly, you realize they have almost no connection with each other? Think about your network of friends and family – the people you know from elementary through high school, college, and beyond. In your mind, put them altogether in one room. Imagine that all the people you are connected with on Facebook at your house at the most wonderful party you could ever host – everyone you care about in one place. Wonderful right?

Graphic asking if 2 of your friends might be compatible

Could your friends be friends with each other?

The trouble here is that you are the common thread between these two people. They both have a relationship with you, but there is nothing tying these two people to each other. In time, these strangers may become friends (if you pick your friends with careful homogeneity and/or compatibility), but often they will continue to have little in common with each other except for you.

I think that at the root of this great urge to have an amazing house that we can share with others is really a desire to create a space for ourselves that we call home. As much as we would like for our house to also be a home for our friends and family, what we really create is a universe that revolves around ourselves. We go to great lengths to make our loved ones feel like welcome planets and moons in our solar system, but they are trying to do the same thing. This battle for centrality of family and social events can get ugly with home owners attempting to increase their gravity (read: control) by building larger or more attractive environments. Though in doing so, we unwittingly might be creating larger prisons for ourselves.

As I write this article, I understand that some may interpret it as piece of anti-materialist agenda. Far from it. I have no problem with people building nice houses and spaces in which to live, work, rest, and share with others. Nesting is a deeply entrenched biological tendency not only for humans, but throughout much of the rest of the animal kingdom. Great comfort, peace, love, and joy can be gained and given in the act of building and maintaining a home. In the crosshairs of my thoughts is the greater concept of home, what we believe it is, and how we eventually express it through our lives. To read more about what I think home is you can read this article I wrote. I’d would love to hear you thoughts on this.

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Jesus & George Carlin

On the morning of August 29th, I (along with the help of fellow musician Katie Nelson) played music for the good people of Lakewood Baptist Church in Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. We set up outdoors on their east lawn as part of their final al fresco service of the summer. The weather was […]

On the morning of August 29th, I (along with the help of fellow musician Katie Nelson) played music for the good people of Lakewood Baptist Church in Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. We set up outdoors on their east lawn as part of their final al fresco service of the summer. The weather was perfect (I was able to remain the shade the entire time) and we sang and played well, which from my perspective made the entire experience enjoyable.

During the portions of the service in which Katie and I were not playing, we sat off to the side of the makeshift stage area with our backs against the stone wall of the church. As we listened to various readings and other musicians playing, we noticed a young man walking by on the sidewalk, mere feet from the congregants in attendance that morning. As he passed, I noticed (amongst other things) a paperback conspicuously poking out of the back pocket of his jeans – a tell tale sign of belonging to a particular faction of the now burgeoning hipster scene. I leaned over to ask Katie if she had noticed this small detail. She replied with the even more insightful observation she had made; that as this young man had passed, he had swiftly, and without losing step, swiped a pen from a table sitting next to the sidewalk. Though he did this in full view of the entire congregation, no one seemed to notice.

“The audacity!” I exclaimed in my head. “How dare he? Stealing! …and from a church! …and in front of so many people! What gall!” Inside I could feel my well-developed sense of justice rising up. I contemplated hurrying after him to correct this problem, but decided the scene would cause too much distraction since I was sitting in front of everyone. Instead, I quietly sat there and worked through a logical progression of thoughts.

  1. Calm down. It’s just a pen. No big deal.
  2. But it’s the principle of it all! Stealing is wrong.
  3. Maybe he has nothing. I hope he stole because he needed it, not just because he wanted it.
  4. How ironic though that he would steal from a group that would have given it to him had he simply asked. If he really needed a pen, anyone of us would have handed him a large supply of pens without reservation.
  5. Why would he steal from a church? There must be more to the story. Maybe this was a small statement of his perspective. Maybe he thinks that the church steals from people (a common and sometimes justified belief) and that he was simply playing his part as Robin Hood in this sad story.

The plot thickened in my imagination. “Oh well. Let it go,” I thought as I attempted to refocus my mind on the morning’s service and it’s over-arching themes of orphanhood, abandonment and adoption. (Apropos topics in hind sight.) Still, as I tried to engage myself completely, my mind wandered back to the possibilities of the young man’s motives.

A quote came to mind that I had read just a few days prior. The late comedian George Carlin once said:

I would never want to be a member of a group whose symbol was a guy nailed to two pieces of wood.

I mulled over that quote, weighing its humorous pithiness, poignancy, and pride against its subtext of angst, antagonism, and atheism. Knowing that all comedy is rooted in tragedy, I wondered of the origins of this one-liner. How had it been given birth via the life of its author? What were the “causes” of this “effect?” What did Carlin experience to arrive at a belief like this? Was this young thief on the streets of Cleveland living out a similar experience?

Again, I thought, “Oh well” and pushed the subject from my mind. The service finished with three songs performed by Katie and me, followed by a pizza lunch on the lawn. With the almost-noon sun moving over head, the shade was disappearing quickly, so as most everyone ate pizza and chatted with each other, I hurried to wrap cables and box up equipment. While I worked, a friend was kind enough to reserve an entire pizza for me. After packing away all the gear, I sat down again in the shade of the stone church to eat a few slices, when suddenly I noticed the young thief coming down the sidewalk again. This time with his shirt off and skateboard under his arm.

I was surprised to see him return, but remembered that oft repeated maxim: “A criminal always returns to the scene of the crime.” For whatever reason, the young man had returned and immediately I thought I should offer him some pizza, but Katie jumped first. “Nice shoes!” she yelled to him. He stopped and looked to see who had complimented his bright blues and yellow kicks, then he approached us. “Thanks. They’re pretty fresh aren’t they? My mom gave them to me.” We talked about shoes for a little bit, then I offered him a slice of pizza. He declined when he found out it had pepperoni on it. “He might be a vegetarian,” I deduced. I wished that I had something that fit his diet, but all I had was a pizza that generously had been given to me. Katie offered him some gluten-free cheese ravioli she had brought along. He accepted with a manner of indirect thank you accompanied by earnest looks and head nods saying, “Yeah, it’s all about generosity.”

Unfortunately, after a few sentences I was pulled into another conversation with some other folks, but I kept my ear perked on the conversation that continued between Katie and the young thief. He expressed his belief that “everyone should share together,” but that “the world and everybody just wants money.” His take on the local farmer’s market (an incredible market, which has some of the most affordable produce I’ve ever seen) was that the marketers are “just trying to take people’s money” and that “people should share food or offer food at a modest prices.” He talked about music, books, people, and church all with the same skeptical-about-everything-but-we-got-to-share-and-one-love-is-it-man sort of view. The irony of his thievery just moments earlier was not lost on me. I could tell that he had some deeply rooted anger, a very suspect anti-capitalist worldview, and plenty of sophomoric pride in his reading list.

As he turned to leave, he jabbed at Katie, “Nose rings aren’t very churchy.” Katie responded with honest sentiments about her experience with churches, describing religious people, the Jesus she knew, and the difference between the two. When Katie said, “I really love Jesus,” the young man agreed that he really liked Jesus too and added, “He is in my top ten people of all time.” Katie asked who else made it onto his top ten people list. He reiterated Jesus and mentioned a few authors before tagging on George Carlin to finished the list. I nearly laughed out loud. I wanted to point out, “That’s like saying your favorite books are Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Mein Campf.” I could’ve drawn a Venn diagram to show him the concept of mutual exclusivity, but recognized that rationality was not the impetus at work. He was a wounded boy striking back at a world that had brought him pain.

Graphic of Venn Diagram showing Jesus Christ and George Carlin as mutually exclusive subsets of a Top Ten People list

A Mutually Exclusive Venn Diagram

I dug deeper, “Where are you from?” He launched into a story about being born in Virginia, moving to Ohio at a young age, being drug to Detroit by his ex-minister mother chasing after “love for her boyfriend or whatever that whole thing is.” He returned to Cleveland when his girlfriend parted ways with him. Now he’s sleeping on a couch at the boarding house where his mother is staying. Katie saw that he was carrying a portable CD player and asked him if he wanted some CDs. “Sure! I love music,” he said. “I’ll probably just burn the tracks and then sell the CDs ’cause I need the money, you know. I gotta survive.” Katie gave him two of her albums as well as two of mine. He expressed his gratitude to us again with another obscure type of thank you and then left.

We spent much of that afternoon walking around town with some good friends. As we popped in and out of little shops, cafes, and novelty stores, the odd events of that morning came up in our discussion. We verbally processed the theft and subsequent conversation that took place, touching on the possible roots of such problems before moving on to lighter topics like “Which shop should we go to next?,” “Do we need to feed the meter?,” and “What do you want for dinner?” Towards the end of the day we found ourselves walking along the path of a local park just in time to catch the reddish-orange sun slowly sinking into Lake Erie. We paused for a moment to enjoy the scene before deciding it’s best to head “home” before dark in an unfamiliar town.

The path out of the park took us directly past a skate park. I scanned the crowd of young guys skating there wondering if the young man we had met earlier was among the dozens enjoying this extremely nice skate park, one of the many perks paid for by the hard work of the local “capitalist pigs.” I didn’t spot him, so we continued on. Just as we reached the street, I was surprised to see our friend the thief making a last second dash through the busy intersection to beat traffic. Since he had not seen us yet and knowing that he probably gets hassled a lot for skating, I jokingly yelled to him, “No running!” He turned to see who was reprimanding him this time and smiled when he recognized us.

“Hey! I listened to your CDs and that’s some really good stuff,” he immediately offered. “I liked them a lot. I burned them and took them down to the exchange already ’cause I need the money. Gotta survive. They only gave me two bucks though for all four of them ’cause they said that you weren’t popular.” Though severely lacking tact, I had to admire his honesty. Most musicians might run away crying after such a frank assessment, but we grinned and said, “That’s fine man. We’re not really famous, so it’s not a surprise.”

He then offered his assessment of the music: “It just goes to show that God helps those who help themselves.” I’m sure I gave him a funny look when he said that, because I’m not really sure how he arrived at that conclusion. How could anyone boil down four albums of songs to such a singular and contrary thought? (But then again, how could Carlin boil down the entire discussion of Christianity to logo choice?) I concluded that either our young friend did not actually listen, or though he did listen, he was so wounded that he could not hear. Then again, maybe what happened was a phenomenon similar to what the Beastie Boys experienced with their song “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!).” A tongue-in-cheek satire of frat boy meatheadiness became the anthem of meatheaded frat boys everywhere.

Make of it what you will.

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Blackberry Sauce for Lamb Chops

Recently, I visited Harvest Home Farm to play a show in their barn. Owners Mike and Becky Poulos share their knowledge and love with anyone willing to come visit the farm. After the show, they kindly sent me on my way with an arm load of food and a warm, cozy sheep pelt, which I […]

Photo of ewe standing on its mother’s back from Harvest Home Farm

Recently, I visited Harvest Home Farm to play a show in their barn. Owners Mike and Becky Poulos share their knowledge and love with anyone willing to come visit the farm. After the show, they kindly sent me on my way with an arm load of food and a warm, cozy sheep pelt, which I plan to sleep on during the crisp nights of hammocking in the fall.

Among the many items in the cooler of fresh-from-the-farm goodies were some lamb chops and wild blackberries, which I put to use in the following recipe* of my own. Enjoy!

Blackberry Sauce for Lamb Chops

By Scott Troyer

Ingredients

  • 1 qt. Blackberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 2-3 T. Honey
  • 2-3 T. Butter
  • 2 cloves Garlic finely chopped
  • 1/4 c. Onion or Shallot finely chopped
  • 2 t. Dried Rosemary crushed
  • 2 t. Dried Parsley
  • 2 t. Dried Tarragon

Instructions

Cook the blackberries on medium high heat in a small saucepan until they have broken down and released most of their juice. Mashing them a bit will help release more of the juice too. Strain the berries through a fine sieve over a small sauté pan. Gently press the berries to remove the remaining juice. Reserve the berry pulp for baking or serving over ice cream, yogurt, cereal, etc.

Bring the juice to a simmer on medIum high heat and add the garlic, onions, and herbs. Stir continually to avoid burning. After the liquid has reduced to approximately half add honey until the desired sweetness is achieved. Continue simmering until the liquid is slightly thick (the sauce will thicken as it cools). Shortly before serving add the butter and stir until melted and completely combined with the sauce. Serve the warm sauce generously over freshly grilled or pan-seared lamb chops.

Notes

Makes enough sauce for 4-6 chops. Use more or less honey to achieve the right amount of sweetness. Other berries may be substituted. Wine can also replace the berries, in which case the recipe would call for far less honey. Most of the alcohol will be cooked off during the reduction process, so it is safe for children. Fresh herbs can replace the dried herbs and would actually be preferable if they are available. For a bit of showmanship sprinkle a few leaves of fresh tarragon on top of the sauce of each lamb chop.

*I don’t use recipes, but for the benefit of those that do, I’ve put this one together. If this doesn’t fit the MLA guidelines for culinary reference, I apologize; I’m a total hackchef. 🙂

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FIX: Mac Trash Won’t Empty

The Problem Today, I had a problem emptying the trash on my MacBook Pro. The trash would begin to empty, but would hang shortly after starting the deletion process. I made several attempts to empty the trash (all ending in a force quit of the Finder) before deciding to pull all the files out and […]

The Problem

Today, I had a problem emptying the trash on my MacBook Pro. The trash would begin to empty, but would hang shortly after starting the deletion process. I made several attempts to empty the trash (all ending in a force quit of the Finder) before deciding to pull all the files out and move them back into the trash one by one to delete them. After several rounds of trashing, I was able to eliminate all but the single offending file, a partial dmg from a failed download of Adobe’s CS5 Design Premium. Holding ‘Option’ while clicking Empty Trash didn’t work. Renaming the file and then deleting didn’t work either. No matter what I did, just I couldn’t trash the file. So I began an online search.

The Fix

After scouring a bunch of forums with various non-helpful solutions and scary Terminal command line code that “might ruin everything if you’re not careful,” I finally found the safe and easy solution in a free trial download of Cocktail, a shareware maintenance utility for Mac OS 10.4 and above.

Cocktail is an award winning general purpose utility for Mac OS X. It is a smooth and powerful digital toolset with a variety of practical features that simplifies the use of advanced UNIX functions and helps Mac users around the world to get the most out of their computers. Cocktail is installed at more than 200,000 computers world wide. The largest part being private individuals, but Cocktail can also be found at large international companies (Puma, Sony), educational institutions (Harvard University, University of Texas) or newspapers (The New York Times, Business Week).

Cocktail can empty the trash!

Cocktail can empty the trash!

Fixing the problem was as easy as clicking the ‘Empty’ button found under the ‘Misc’ subgroup in the ‘System’ tab. Trash empty. Computer nice and tidy again.

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Do You Hear What I Hear?

I found some MP3s of sine waves at various frequencies at www.freemosquitoringtone.org. As we age, we lose our ability to hear higher frequencies and so these MP3s are offered as discreet ringtones for teens. Try out these tones and let me know how high you can hear. Audio Frequency Test Tones Don’t worry if you […]

I found some MP3s of sine waves at various frequencies at www.freemosquitoringtone.org. As we age, we lose our ability to hear higher frequencies and so these MP3s are offered as discreet ringtones for teens. Try out these tones and let me know how high you can hear.

Audio Frequency Test Tones

Don’t worry if you can’t hear some of the higher pitched test tones. The problem may not be your failing ears. It could be the inability of your speakers, headphones, or soundcard to reproduce the higher tones.
Frequency Age Range Audio File
08.0khz Everyone [audio:8000.mp3]
10.0khz 60 & Younger [audio:10000.mp3]
12.0khz 50 & Younger [audio:12000.mp3]
14.1khz 49 & Younger [audio:14080.mp3]
14.9khz 39 & Younger [audio:14918.mp3]
15.8khz 30 & Younger [audio:15805.mp3]
16.7khz 24 & Younger [audio:16746.mp3]
17.7khz 24 & Younger [audio:17742.mp3]
18.8khz 24 & Younger [audio:18798.mp3]
19.9khz 24 & Younger [audio:19916.mp3]
21.1khz 24 & Younger [audio:21101.mp3]
22.4khz 24 & Younger [audio:22357.mp3]
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Disable Photobooth Flash

So it’s a ton of fun to mess around with Mac OS X’s picture taking application Photobooth, isn’t it? Probably one of the first things you did when you got your new MacBook or MacBook Pro, was to open up that little app and try out all the nifty features. Since then, you’ve snapped hundreds […]

So it’s a ton of fun to mess around with Mac OS X’s picture taking application Photobooth, isn’t it? Probably one of the first things you did when you got your new MacBook or MacBook Pro, was to open up that little app and try out all the nifty features. Since then, you’ve snapped hundreds of photos of yourself, family, and friends using all the warping and color effects. And sometimes those pics have turned out funny or cool enough to upload as your Facebook profile. Everything is great, right? Well, no. At some point you realized that sometimes your photos look a lot better in the preview. Apple was kind enough to give us a simulated “flash” to help light those dim homes we live in, but the flash doesn’t always give us great looking photos. If you’ve tried adjusting your screen brightness all the way down to black, you’ve discovered it still doesn’t stop the flash. Today, you suffer no more. I present a solution. Simply hold ‘Shift’ while clicking the camera button. Photobooth will count down from 3 and make the usual beep, but your photo won’t be tainted by that garish blue cast of an Apple simulated flash. Before (with flash)
After (without flash)

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FIX: Mac DVD Player Volume Problems

The Problem When I watch DVDs on my MacBook, I have noticed that the volume increases and decreases based on the loudness of the movie’s audio. This automatic feature is called “dynamic range compression” and is provided by our dear friends at Dolby Laboratories. Sometimes having this compression applied is nice; it can help to […]

The Problem

When I watch DVDs on my MacBook, I have noticed that the volume increases and decreases based on the loudness of the movie’s audio. This automatic feature is called “dynamic range compression” and is provided by our dear friends at Dolby Laboratories. Sometimes having this compression applied is nice; it can help to even out loud and soft sections. When working ideally, you shouldn’t hear the effect at all, the volume will just be more even.

Unfortunately, I’ve found that the built-in one-size-fits-all setting doesn’t always work the greatest for the many different audio tracks found in modern movies. Often, you can hear the audio “pumping” as the compression kicks in and out. Sometimes the volume will be nicely audible for onscreen dialogue, but suddenly gets squashed by a loud noise like a gunshot or explosion. If you’re like me, you want to shut this off. Why even watch an action flick if all the combustion is suppressed?

The Fix

Disable automatic audio compression on the Mac DVD Player application.

Open the DVD Player (Applications > DVD Player) and open up the ‘Preferences’ panel (DVD Player > Preferences). If you have a DVD playing, you’ll have to stop playback (not just pause) before you can change output settings. In the ‘Preferences’ panel, click the ‘Disc Setup’ tab. Under ‘Audio’ make sure the ‘Disable Dolby dynamic range compression’ is checked. This will shut off the automatic volume changes and pass your audio program on through unaffected. Now you can enjoy those explosions in their full dynamic glory!

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How to Fix a JBL EON10 G2

So your JBL’s are rattling when you pick them up, eh? Getting that uneasy feeling about that clunky noise when you move them? If it’s the same unsettling noise I heard, then I have an easy fix for you. 1. Disconnect the speaker from all power sources.* 2. Place the speaker face down and open […]

March 28th, 2008 | Friends, Technology | , | Comments: 1

So your JBL’s are rattling when you pick them up, eh? Getting that uneasy feeling about that clunky noise when you move them? If it’s the same unsettling noise I heard, then I have an easy fix for you. 1. Disconnect the speaker from all power sources.* 2. Place the speaker face down and open up the shell by unscrewing all the screws around the outside edge. There’s like a million of them, so use a power drill with a long #2 phillips driver bit. 3. Lift the shell off and set it aside. Be careful not to lose any of the screws. 4. Locate the magnet coil and tighten the bolt that runs through the center.
5. Replace the shell. 6. Tighten all screws. 7. Enjoy your clunkless speakers. NOTE: I am NOT a licensed repairman, electrician, or lawyer. I have no idea if fixing this problem will void your warranty, so don’t blame me if/when JBL won’t service your speakers. Nor will I assume responsibility for you doing something stupid while dinking around with dangerous electronics. Make sure you unplug the speaker first and don’t touch anything inside. If you kill the speaker or yourself, I am not liable.

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