when laptops go viral (or, “i’ve been slimed”)

What happened over the weekend reminds me of the scene from “Ghostbusters” when Bill Murray is rolling around on the floor covered in slimy goo. You know, this one…

My laptop didn’t go viral on the Internet, it went viral because of the Internet. My laptop got slimed! It picked up some nasty coded cooties ‘out there’ in cyberspace courtesy of some free wi-fi hotspot and not just one virus/worm/Trojan, etc. – 33 of them (count ’em) to be exact. I only noticed it when whichever malware it was took out my network adapter card (most likely just switched or disabled a connection port on it) and I couldn’t connect to the Internet even via a dedicated T1 line through Ethernet cable, not just wireless.

It wasn’t a matter of not having a good anti-virus, anti-spyware program on the laptop – that would be insane – it was that something compromised the anti-virus protection I did have… or came in through the proverbial ‘back door’ on a Windows PC. Much of the malware that is out there now can specifically go after any weaknesses in anti-virus software programs… and what better place to pick it up than from free wi-fi where anything goes! (“Dogs, cats living together….”, sticking with the “Ghostbusters” theme).

Fortunately, I sort of knew what was going on and took the laptop in the next day to have the offending virus(es) removed. Have to admit though, 33 viruses was a bit of a shocker. It cost $85 to remove them all and we didn’t have to wipe the hard drive (usually recommended in this case) because I try to keep the laptop as clean as possible – with the exception of what happened this past weekend – since it’s the controlling center and main sound generator when I play live as Nights on Venus. If you use free wi-fi spots and live in the Dallas area and have noticed some ‘strange behavior’ from your laptop, I can highly recommend Laptop Care PC Repair; Mansour will fix your ailing laptop/PC right up. Stay away from Best Buy – they’ll hit you up for a standard $200 to do this. Most cities of any size have smaller computer repair shops who do good work so check them out.

I’ve presented this incident in kind of a light-hearted way, but it’s no joke – it’s a real and serious threat that seems to be escalating and something to be aware of if you use free wi-fi hotspots (they’re alternately called “honey pots”, and yes, for a reason) – it really IS a friggin’ jungle out there so be careful!

Some general precautions apply and they’re pretty obvious, such as not doing any online banking or any other financial transactions on an unsecured wireless network, or any sharing of sensitive, personal information, such as a social security number on one… the common sense stuff (a good article can be found here from the TimesNews.net). But there are some other things to remember when using free wi-fi to make surfing a little safer, for example:

  • Always using the https prefix in the address for accessing websites that use and provide end-to-end encryption
  • Don’t store your passwords or usernames on your laptop for visited websites that use them, or clear them after your browsing session using the Privacy/Security tabs in the Tools options menu of your browser, or with a PC cleanup tool like CCleaner (it’s free through FileHippo)
  • And of course, always make sure your anti-virus program is updated frequently and additionally scan for rootkits regularly.
  • Minimize downloads or file sharing unless you’re sure of the encryption on the network (WPA is best)

This is not a complete list by any means – just my own personal observations over the years and some of the precautions I normally take, and yet I still got…  ‘slimed’. If you have any precautions you usually take at open wi-fi spots, feel free to share them. Today I’ve been doing ‘damage control’ on whatever I can think of, but I don’t store much, if any, personal info on the laptop and I don’t keep important files on it – I usually use a USB flash drive for work files. Still, this was a good wake-up call and a good reminder to not take anything for granted when using a free wi-fi network.

Musically speaking: Work continues and is progressing on the final mixdowns for the NoV debut album and they should be ready to go by next week, and I am still busy rehearsing for the upcoming wedding gig coming up on 5/21, finalizing the set list.


a quick one

Suddenly it seems, I do find myself very busy. Actually, I’m not used to this.

Currently I’m putting the finishing touches on “Wind-down World” which I hope to put up on the Reverb page in the next week or two and is also the 10th and final song on the debut album. 10 songs, 67 minutes, and I guess no surprises since all the songs will be available for listening online. “Try before you buy” so to speak. Final mixdowns are progressing and should be complete by May 22nd before they are shipped through cyberspace to Brian at Resonance Mastering in California.

Most recently, NoV has been selected to be on the newly-launched Indie Music Channel on the Internet and will, at some point, be getting some airplay on “The Radio Cafe ReverbNation Indie Music Countdown”. That’s a mouthful – “The Radio Cafe” for short. Since they are brand spankin’ new, we’ll see how this goes over the next few weeks.

Thanks for stopping by and happy listening!

alternate album artwork.... let me know what you think. could be some of our recent weather has been on my mind...

remembering: the first band i ever played in…

Of course it was in junior high a long, long time ago. 9th grade, 1972… which puts me at 54 for those of you doing the math at home. For some reason I find myself thinking about things I remember from that first band this morning, kind of feeling nostalgic which, being back in Dallas where I grew up and seeing many of the remaining landmarks here, happens quite frequently.

There were five of us, all from St. Mark’s School [of Texas]… Martin Ledyard played drums, so most of the time we rehearsed – and I use the term loosely – at his house just south of Greenway Parks when we couldn’t play at one of the vacant warehouses his dad owned; Mark Walsh (no relation to Joe) and Brett Willard were the guitarists, Roddy Clark played the bass; I played keyboards & sang most of the time. Mark named the band… Cult 45 (pretty clever, eh?). We may have played three gigs total as the band was very short-lived – really just the spring of ’72; by the summer it had dissipated and I would be transferring to a different high school in the fall. I can’t say we were actually good, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t thoroughly suck either.

Mainly what I remember is that we spent more time talking, sometimes arguing, about what songs we were going to play than actually playing and rehearsing the songs we eventually decided on. We worked up versions of “I’m Your Captain/Closer to Home” and Neil Young’s “Cowgirl in the Sand” – both 10 minute songs which we probably (improbably) lengthened somehow. I definitely remember rehearsing “Be My Lover” – we were all way into Alice Cooper in the spring of ’72. My baritone voice had already kicked in by then and I had trouble hitting the high notes on that song.

And I remember this one Saturday afternoon gig – the “big gig” because we actually got paid for it (not much I’m sure) – we did for some 7th grade girl’s birthday party at her house. They had a baby grand piano in their den/study and because of space limitations, I was set up in there while the rest of the band was in the living room – I could see their backs through the open doorway while I was playing and singing “Colour My World” and the rest of our set. I was miked, the piano wasn’t, and there was like a ‘natural’ 500 ms delay on everything I was playing. We came up with one song on the spot, in honor of the birthday girl, dedicated to her, and predictably it was a trainwreck but everyone seemed happy with it… and then we helped ourselves to punch and birthday cake. I don’t recall that there was any beer or anything else involved… that would come later.

So this morning I wanted to give a shout out to those guys, wherever they may be now – I lost track of all of them by my third year of college. Just a short trip down memory lane. If you’ve been in a band, feel free to send in a comment/story about your first one… thanks!

NoV News: Over the weekend, I sent “Nights From a Rooftop” to get mastered and I am happy to report that after getting the test master back, Resonance Mastering out of California will be doing the mastering on the debut album. Brian Hazard of Resonance Mastering will do the final masters of the 10 tracks during the week of May 23rd and Nights on Venus‘ 1st album will be released in MP3 format in… early June.

decisions, decisions… and an opportunity

It’s been a slow week, or at least it has felt like a really slow week in which nothing got done. Mastering on the album has slowed to a snail’s pace, a new opportunity for composing music has surfaced, and I am in the process of hopefully changing jobs (to a more lucrative one).  Oh yeah, there’s also that wedding gig I’m playing next month which I’m now rehearsing for. Craig Thomas…. wedding singer! (“Love Stinks” is not on the setlist). Actually, the reason that not much is getting done right now is because I probably have too much on my plate.

As a result, I’m now looking at getting the completed album tracks professionally mastered… which is probably what I should have been doing in the first place, but I’m on a very tight budget and, well…. live and learn, and you get what you pay for. But you really can’t skimp on audio mastering – done right, it’s what makes a record/CD sound like “a record”. And, as I’ve been finding out, it’s an entirely different skill set than what you use in mixing. Mastering is a true art. The best way to describe the difference between the two is that mixing is assembling audio tracks to form a song and mastering is assembling songs to form an album. For that, the songs need to be mastered in more ‘seamless’ sessions than I can do given my time and equipment constraints. It’s about getting the best possible result and a uniform sound, plus, there’s that whole “fresh ears” thing… I mean, I think I have a pretty good set of ears, y’know, but by the time I finish a final mixdown they’re not ‘fresh’ anymore.  So I’m currently auditioning a couple of mastering companies, one in California, one in Georgia.

Update: As reported last week, the money raised thus far on the shiningstill.com website has been sent to Japan and has been distributed to all parties. The  Todd Rundgren Fan Family Compassion Fund website will remain up and the fund will stay open as long are people are interested in donating. Visit the site for more info and/or to donate… Also visit the American Red Cross to donate to the ongoing disaster relief and rebuilding efforts in Japan.

As far as the new musical opportunity, a mutual friend got me in touch with another ‘Toddfan’ [Rundgren] who is currently writing a libretto for a musical based on a Stephen King novella and is in need of a composer who had more of a feel for rock ‘n’ roll than is usually associated with musicals as we know them. After a few e-mails back and forth, he sent me one of the songs that he has written lyrics for and I am beginning to write and record music to his lyrics. This will be something different than what I’ve been doing with Nights on Venus so far. Nights on Venus is kind of its own deal – mellow, slow, moody, atmospheric… yes, ethereal – and will continue in that vein at least through the first album. Writing this album has been an attempt to record songs that were more or less consistent in mood and feel and not quite so eclectic as I tend to be otherwise. So this new opportunity is a chance to stretch out a little, do something quite a bit different, and write and record more uptempo rockin’ songs – not quite NoV, but still me. It should be very interesting and I’m looking forward to it.

Until next week…

for love of the album…

First off, continuing last week’s theme, the taxes got done… finally, so that’s a load off. This was the first time since 1996, I think, that I used the convenient abbreviated 1040EZ form – nothing terribly complicated or funky to deal with. Now, I’ll just be on the IRS’ convenient EZ payment plan for a while… but it’s done, until next year.

Otherwise it’s been a slow week; I took a couple of days off and also helped a friend move, so no new finished songs this week although I began a couple that progressed fairly quickly, enough so that they have titles already… “Wind Down World” and “Dimensions of Consciousness”. As I continued to master already completed songs, I began to think about how the album will be sequenced – what the order of the songs will be. This is one aspect of production, determining how a collection of songs best forms a cohesive whole and establishes a natural flow from start to finish, even in the age of iTunes, Rhapsody, eMusic, et al. where listeners will, most likely (probably), cherry-pick the ones they like best. Ultimately you go with your strongest material and present it in its best light which is what I’m playing with right now. It’s that ‘strongest material’ part, among other things, that keeps me recording new songs, plus that’s the fun part anyway and it’s been a productive creative period lately… you want to keep it going.

The other part of ‘strongest material’ is that usually you go into recording an album with at least 15 or 16 songs; I’ve got 9 (clocking in at 61 minutes – I believe in giving/getting your money’s worth). So what you see and hear on my ReverbNation page is what I’ve got… so far. I had been thinking that 15, 16 songs was probably a luxury, but now I’m thinking that it’s a necessity. I remind myself at these times that Nights on Venus has been around as a band/entity “officially” for only 6 months. I like what Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate, The Baseball Project, among others) has to say about some of these things on his website:

“But at the end of the day you have to love writing songs. And you have to love making records. And you have to especially love playing shows and touring. And you have to love doing all of those things for their own sake… You should be able to honestly feel that the record you just made would be your favorite record of the year or that the gig you just finished was the epitome of your own idea of what a great gig should be.”    – Steve Wynn

Personal faves on the album to date… “Cognac and Cloves” and “Pisces Moon” which I’ve been getting some positive feedback on in the last week.

Update: As I understand it, the money raised thus far on the shiningstill.com website has been sent to Japan during this past week and has been allocated as follows: $2000 direct assistance to a Todd fan whose family suffered a property loss, $2000 to Japan Earthquake and Animal Rescue Support (www.JEARS.org), and $3050 to Ashinaga Emergency Support for Affected Children (www.ASHINAGA.org). The  Todd Rundgren Fan Family Compassion Fund website will remain up and the fund will stay open as long are people are interested in donating. Visit the site for more info and/or to donate… http://vimeo.com/21082400. The goal is to raise at least $10,000. Also visit the American Red Cross to donate to the ongoing disaster relief and rebuilding efforts in Japan.

new song… “pisces moon”

April… already? Really? Tax return due in 10 days and I haven’t even started… obviously I owe them or I would have already spent my refund last month.

This morning I’ve uploaded a new song online – “Pisces Moon“; you can find it on the Nights on Venus page on ReverbNation, freshly mastered, and also available in the NoV Reverb Store.  It is an advance track from the forthcoming album – still shooting for early June although that’s not set in stone. Also, if you visit the page on Reverb and sign up on the mailing list, you can get a free download of “Nights From a Rooftop“… such a deal! In planning out the album, “Nights…” will probably now be a bonus track on it as it is something of an ‘artifact’. The album pretty much consists of the songs on the NoV page, but I hope to have at least a couple of surprises by then.

Update: Donations are still coming in and being accepted on the  Todd Rundgren Fan Family Compassion Fund website  for our friends in Japan and the ongoing disaster relief effort. As of April 2nd, almost $7,000 has been raised from 175 donors. Visit the site for more info and/or to donate… http://vimeo.com/21082400. The goal is to raise at least $10,000. Also visit the American Red Cross to donate to continuing disaster relief efforts in Japan.

The song “Pisces Moon is a bit of an ‘accident’ of the happy variety. Initially I had a different chord progression I was working with before I came up with that little guitar riff that runs throughout almost the entire song. I tried merging the two into some sort of verse-chorus arrangement but it wasn’t working, probably because the riff was in 3/4 time, so the riff took over and I just went with it. The melody is carried by the bass part and the ‘heavenly’ voices. I managed to stay off the flanger on the guitar until the very end; the rest of it is phasing. There was also another part written where I went into a G chord and picked up on the progression you hear at the ‘watery’ beginning and end parts of the song, but ultimately I left it out as it seemed to break the momentum of the guitar riff and a little out of place. By that time I had played it often enough so that now, like a musical ‘phantom limb’, I still tend to hear that part in my head sometimes and think it’s going to the G chord long after I took it out. Just a little bit there on the decision-making process, what to leave in, what to leave out, although I think much of that creative decision-making remains a mystery, not unlike the process I go through when I’m working on a painting – one is aural, one is visual.

moon over fishers peak, trinidad, co

Anyway, “Pisces Moon” is one of the more overtly mystical/spiritual pieces I’ve recorded (even though they all are to a certain extent, but shhh, don’t tell anyone). It’s kind of a musical representation of the astrological symbology
suggested by a Moon in Pisces placement on the birth chart – one that implies mysticism, sensitivity, a deeply-felt empathy with others that isn’t always expressed, intuition and ‘other-worldliness’, and a quiet nature that is best summed up in the phrase, “still waters run deep”, Pisces being ruled by the planet Neptune. So, enjoy!

For the next few days I’ll be taking a bit of break from recording and mastering, reconnecting with a few friends, maybe taking in a Ranger baseball game tonight or tomorrow…. and oh yeah, doing that tax return.