Saturday, September 5, 2009

7-5 for the Hogs this year…


Yes, football season is upon us once again and we Arkansans are hoping our beloved Razorbacks do something this year.

My dad tells me that he was in a restaurant last year when the Hogs were in the midst of their 5-7 season and two fellow (who had obviously been drinking a lot) boldly predicted the Razorbacks wouldn’t lose a game this season.

Most of us haven’t lost our heads and are hoping for the team to have a decent season. And we’ve got some reasons to be excited. First and foremost, there’s Ryan Mallett – the Batesville, Ark., native who went to Michigan and then came back home to Arkansas. He was a heavily recruited quarterback in 2006 and we’re hoping the fellow follows through on his promise this season at Arkansas.

Hey, we’re not used to having top-notch quarterbacks at the University of Arkansas, so seeing one on the field will be a bit of a novelty for us. Our former head coach, that damned Houston Nutt, didn’t go out of his way to recruit quarterbacks and managed to ruin some good ones when they fell in his lap. Let’s see what Arkansas Coach Bobby Petrino can do with a talented passer, huh?

Let’s not forget that Michael Smith – the running back who was one of the few highlights on the offense last year – will be back this season. He’ll be joined by Dennis Johnson in the backfield and here’s hoping the running game will be solid.

Yes, Michael Smith was pretty much the running game last year and the offense was just plain dreadful. It appears that the passing game will be solid, too, provided Mallett can find some targets. Last year, those quarterbacking brothers Casey and Nathan Dick had trouble finding receivers. We’re not sure if the receivers were just terrible or if the Dick brothers were just lousy quarterbacks.

The receivers are improved this year and perhaps the most impressive of all is tight end D.J. Williams. Of course, the question remains – will the offensive line hold up long enough to protect Mallett so he can throw to a receiver or two? That was a problem last year as that offensive line folded faster than Superman on laundry day. Here’s hoping Petrino has beaten the line into shape.

The defense was terribly weak last year, but I always wondered – was it really just bad or were the players worn out because the pitiful offense never gave them a chance to rest? Again, that’s a question that will have to be answered throughout the season.

Having said all of that, here are my predictions for the season. These, I’m sure, will hold up pretty well.

Sept. 5 – Missouri State. Arkansas will whip the socks off of Missouri State. That’s why teams like Missouri State are on the schedule. That one will be an easy win.

Sept. 19 – Georgia. It’s rarely good when Georgia comes to town. They dominated the Hogs during the Nutt years and there’s no reason to think that will change this season. There’s a loss.

Sept. 26 – at Alabama. It’s no fluke that Alabama is ranked #5 in the preseason polls. Playing Alabama this season will be bad enough for almost anyone and you can double the misery when a team faces the Crimson Tide at home. There’s a loss.

Oct. 3 – at Texas A&M. Ah, the Aggies are rebuilding, too. Still, considering the weak showing by the Hogs last year in almost every game, I’ll have to call that one a loss.

Oct. 10 – Auburn. Yes, another team that’s rebuilding. Fortunately, they’re coming to Arkansas. Home field advantage will be a big factor here. And, we’ll have a win.

Oct. 17 – at Florida. Arkansas beat Florida once upon a time. Honest! The losing streak will continue this season against the preseason No. 1. That’s a loss.

Oct. 24 – at Ole Miss. Yes, the Rebels are ranked No. 8 in the country right now. However, that ranking doesn’t take the team’s biggest liability into account – head coach Houston “Boxcar” Nut. Nutt frustrated Arkansas fans for years while he goofed off in this state and he’ll annoy Ole Miss fans before long. There’s a win for the Hogs because that’s the kind of game that Nutt has fumbled with inept coaching for years. By the way, I chose the “Boxcar” nickname for Nutt around 2002 because the man is a straight up bum.

Oct. 31 – Eastern Michigan. Another rent-a-win.

Nov. 7 – South Carolina. Poor old South Carolina. That team never can get it together. The Hogs will win this one.

Nov. 14 – Troy. The third – and final – rent-a-win of the year.

Nov. 21 – Mississippi State. Remember when Mississippi State fielded great teams? I can’t recall when exactly that was, either. There’s nothing impressive about them this year, so the Hogs will win that one.

Nov. 29 – at LSU. The preseason No. 11 will clobber the Hogs unless half the team comes down with swine flu. There’s a loss for the Razorbacks.

So, we’re looking at a 7-5 season with three wins against nonconference opponents, meaning the Razorbacks should rack up a 4-5 SEC record this year. Ugly but true. Bank on it. Hey, they’ll get better.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Recording guitar tracks on the cheap

kristal “Gee, The Hawg,” a lot of people have asked me. “I want to hook my guitar up to my computer and record some tracks. How, how – oh, how – is that to be done?”

Actually, no one has asked me that question, but I thought I’d be helpful and answer it just the same. Last week, I got a brand new Behringer Guitar Link off of eBay for the low, low price of about $40. The Guitar Link is a nifty little device that lets me plug my guitar into my computer through a USB port.

The Guitar Link is a wonderful thing, to be sure, but the software that comes with it – the stuff that can actually make it useful – is complete garbage. First of all, there’s a scaled back package of guitar amp models from Native Instruments (the people who brought us the formidable Guitar Rig 3 package that will honestly allow you to pull about any sound you want out of your guitar.

The “Behringer edition” of that software gives you but three models and no “pedal effects” at all. To make matters worse, you can demo the models for 30 days and can only keep one. Want more? You’ve got to pay for it, folks.

The mixer – EnergyXT2 – is just about to bad. In addition to being hard as hell to use, you’ve got to send in some cash if you want to unlock some of the better features of the software (that includes plugging in drum tracks and other things). Seeing how terrible the scaled back version of the software is, I don’t think I’m going to send them any money.

In fact, I decided that spending a lot to be able to record tracks on my computer is ridiculous. Once you drop about $300 for Guitar Rig and a decent mixing/recording package, spend some more cash on monitors and do something about the crummy stock soundcard in your computer, you’re starting to talk about some real money. Oh, and plan on spending some more if you want a pedal to easily control those effects in Guitar Rig.

For that kind of cash, you could get a heck of a good modeling amp, a four-track recorder and a microphone. You could record and mix all day long the old fashioned way (and the way I prefer, frankly).

No, what I want to do is just bang out some ideas, loop some guitar tracks I can practice against and generally mess around with my beloved Fender Deluxe Stratocaster. I’m not going to spend a lot of money to do that. Besides, it just plain irritates me when I buy a piece of hardware and a lot of crippled software comes with it. Bah!

So I looked around and found some free recording solutions. First of all, you’ve got have a good mixer and the best free one out there for my purposes is Kristal Audio Engine. It doesn’t cost a dime unless you’re going to use it commercially and it supports both ASIO and VST.

ASIO a great sound driver for instruments that features wonderfully low latency – high latency means you’ll hit a note and wait a bit for the computer to process it. That’s a pain to deal with if you’re recording multiple tracks (and, yes, Kristal is great at handling multiple tracks). VST is a standard plug-in format and it’s a wonderful thing. There are a lot of great, free amp packages and effects for guitar and bass in that VST format.

The amp package I picked up is FreeAmp 2.5 – it’s got seven amplifier models to choose from and plenty of effects – compressors, wah pedals, overdrive, chorus, delay, reverb, flanger and phaser. It’s a very solid package that is more than good enough for fleshing out ideas and making your guitar sound like everything from a fine instrument to a piece of trash with a couple of strings missing and a short in the electronics.

Thanks to Kristal’s ability to easily handle VST effects, there are plenty of free amp models and effects. Yeah, most of them suck, but there are some really great ones if you’re willing to dig around for them.

There are a couple of major drawbacks to Kristal. First of all, you can’t record what the VST plug-in is processing. You record clean and then slap effects on later. That’s not that much of an issue for me, really, as I’ve spent so much time practicing with my guitar unplugged that I’m used to it. Besides, you can run the VST-processed tone through your headphones after you’ve stopped recording it – great for multitracking purposes as you can lay down a basic track, process the right hell out of it and then play along with it on additional tracks.

Second, you can't output a track to MP3. Fortunately, Audacity is free and I can output tracks in Kristal to Ogg Vorbis (or WAV) and convert them to MP3 in Audacity (that requires the LAME MP3 encoder, but that's also free).

Also, Kristal is very easy to use and that’s a great thing. Back when my roommate had a four-track recorder, it was an easy to matter to mic up my guitar and play some tracks. Kristal makes things just about that easy.

I’ll admit I was very tempted by all the guitar models available in Guitar Rig after fooling with the scaled down version of it. Then I remembered something – back when I was actually halfway decent at playing guitar, I got by with a simple amp with reverb on it and a Boss HM-2 distortion pedal. What am I really going to do with a ton of effects, anyway? I’ve got more sounds available through my FreeAmp than I’ve ever had and that’s more than good enough.

So, there it is. Save that money and grab a copy of Kristal and some VST effects/amps that cost you absolutely nothing. You’ll be glad you did.

If you'd like an awful example of my lame guitar skills, just click the player below. We've got three tracks in there (main pitiful riff, terrible lead and some jangly thing at the end) that I processed through Kristal and FreeAmp then converted in Audacity. Yeah, I know I need to practice and learn how to use Kristal, but I hope to be able to brag about being competent or reasonably decent on guitar one of these days.

Credit – something everyone’s talking about these days…

One thing that people have been talking about a lot these days is credit repair.

No, this isn’t like 2005 when all you had to do to get a loan was have a job and a pulse. If you want to get a loan for a house, car or just about anything else, a clean credit history is helpful – lenders, it seems, have adopted the attitude that they want to loan money to people who are likely to pay it back.

That’s probably better for the economy in the long run, but what about those folks who just ran into a little bad luck and need to find a way to improve credit scores? That’s where DSI Solutions can help.

The site is free to visit and you’ll find plenty of testimonies from people the company has helped and the business offers a money back guarantee. It’s worth a look.

Monday, August 31, 2009

My new hero…


It’s true – I, The Hawg, have a new hero.

I couldn’t tell you the name of my hero (I’ll explain why later), but he is truly The Man We All Wish We Could Be.

Dig this.

One of the girls in my daughter’s Brownies troop was having a birthday party. To celebrate, the little girl decided to have a bunch of friends over to her house for a sleepover.

Yeah, that sounds like fun, doesn’t it? About a dozen girls who are about eight-years-old running nuts and screaming their heads off for hours on end (my daughter tells me she didn’t get to sleep until 3:30 a.m.)

When we dropped my daughter off for the party we asked the mother of the birthday girl where her husband was. It seems he took off before the girls arrived and was nowhere to be found.

Ah, but he didn’t become my hero then. No, he became my hero when my daughter came home from the party and I asked her if he came home and she said, “No he greatest_american_herodidn’t.”

That’s right. That heroic cat fled the scene and – apparently – didn’t come back home until the party was over and everyone was gone. Where did he go? Who cares? He got out of there and saved himself an evening of aggravation. None of us fathers met the man but I’d like to think that all of us thought the same thing -- “Man, I wish I could do that.”

That takes some guts, folks. My hat goes off to my hero because he achieved something that I never could. If my daughter decides to have a sleepover with a ton of squealing girls, I imagine my conversation with my wife would go something like this:

The Wife: Well, she wants to have a sleepover.

The Hawg: Really? God. What do you think?

The Wife: I think we should let her do it.

The Hawg: I don’t. That’s a terrible idea. All that yelling…

The Wife: Well, I’ve already told her she could have a sleepover. So…

The Hawg: Y’all have fun. I don’t really like kids unless I’m related to them, you know?

The Wife: What do you mean, “Y’all have fun?”

The Hawg: I figure I’ll be down the street at a hotel until it’s over. I’ll watch some television and just relax for awhile. I’ll tell our son he can flee with me if he wants…

The Wife: The hell you will! You’re not going to leave me with all those kids! You’re going to stay here and help me! Your daughter would be crushed if she knew her father wanted to run out on her instead of helping her enjoy her party. Grow up. You’re a father. Fathers have to do things like this.

The Hawg: Yes dear…

You see? I’d cave in an instant. My wife would win the day through an effective combination of intimidation and guilt.

Ah, but my hero didn’t cave. I suspect that most of us fathers would like to flee sleepovers. My hero had the guts to actually do it.

That, friends, makes him a manly man of the first order and an inspiration to us all. God bless you, hero! Long may you reign…