Thank You Steve (#ThankYouSteve)

Following today’s sad news of the departure of Apple co-founder and visionary Steve Jobs (effectively “Mr Apple”), I felt compelled enough to send an email to Apple’s “remembering Steve” address [rememberingsteve@apple.com]. They’ll receive millions I’m sure…

I didn’t know Steve personally but I’ve experienced the products his company have produced. I’m well aware that he wasn’t your typical “figurehead” CEO and that his involvement in the genesis, development and re-development of products (to the utmost level of detail) was a significant factor in what differentiated Apple from other “tech” companies. He was either an expert at marketing or at hiring the right people for the job – probably both, but certainly he has driven the successful creation of a brand that is truly global. He has left a great legacy – and he has employed a great team – keep up the visionary work!

I also encountered a weird phenomena on my work Mac this morning – which I tweeted about:

My work iMac took far longer than normal to boot today – I think it did it as a mark of respect… #ThankYouSteve

Fundamentally whatever you achieve as a person in this world (be it acclaimed by millions or gratefully received by one) doing something to improve a situation is the key. Whatever you do, do it well. Don’t seek the glory but if you do receive praise, accept it humbly. The people that get this round the wrong way remind me of an old Chinese / Greek / Kenyan / Swahili (can’t find the originator but my money’s on the Chinese) proverb “Empty pots make the loudest noise”. The Greek philosopher Plato apparently put it “As empty vessels make the loudest sound, so they that have the least wit are the greatest blabbers” (though that’s obviously been translated so I can’t vouch for the accuracy – somehow I don’t think Plato used the word “blabber”). Supposedly Shakespeare referenced the saying too in “King Lear” and “Henry V” – though I can’t find precisely where – the web is great at providing vague information 😉 Anyway, the etymology (ooh look at me, with me ‘igh falutin’ words!) of the term is not important, what does matter is that you make an effort to fill your pot so much that it overflows and others gain from your efforts. Never fill it selfishly but give what you receive – if everyone could work to that end imagine how different this world would be to live in… [cue: Louis Armstrong “What A Wonderful World”]

So… does the Lion (OS X) roar or suck!?

I recently sent some more money in the direction of Apple. I believe they make fine, well thought out products and I come from a PC background so I had to be convinced before making the transition. My first experience of Macs / OS X was just so enlightening – what took an age on a PC took moments on a Mac. Even things as trivial as boot up time, with a PC you can pop out to put the kettle on AND make a cup of tea in the time it takes to plough through CMOS boot, DOS-like boot, Windows GUI boot, system progs, anti-virus etc. On a Mac, you have the EFI boot (FAR slicker) and then ding!, you’re running apps and doing stuff before you’ve even THOUGHT about having a cup of tea.

So as I said at the beginning of this post I’ve just sent some more money into the great Apple bank account, this time for the Lion OS X update. There were a few aspects I was interested in, resume apps on boot was one and the multitouch gestures – what they didn’t make clear on the promo material was that multi-touch required a specific generation (or above) of Mac, guess what, mine was a generation too old 🙁 To be fair if you digged deep enough with a number of clicks from a chunky mouse-shovel the information was presented but it was quite a way from the glitz and glamour pages. As they always said in my Business Law classes “Buyer Beware” or if you want to get all legalistic and Latinified (me trying to dumb down what could be construed as “posturing”) “Caveat Emptor”, which is actually “Let the buyer beware”.

So with £29.99 extracted from my credit card (I notice it’s now £20.99!!) my Mac was duly updated. Oh dear. My once nimble Mac has now got a noticeably doddery trudge to its step. Subsequent to the update I’m now getting decidedly PC-like transitions to my menu opening clicks, often a click is followed by a half second pause before the requested action takes place – have I inadvertently lobotomized my digital workhorse? Certainly it hurts when an upgrade motion generates a downgrade emotion…

I’ve looked at newer Macs, they are better at running Lion OS X than my Mac but even friends of mine with current generation Macs have noticed a degradation in speed once updating to Lion OS X. So where do things stand? Surely Apple noticed this performance hit? Will it be ironed out in an update? (let’s hope!) I’d really like to know WHAT was added to Lion OS X that caused this performance hit – whatever it was perhaps they can release an update where you can select to remove it? It’s a shame, the awe and wonder aspect that I had for Apple products has distinctly lost it’s shine and I can only put it down to a fundamental marketing mistake: over-promising and under-delivering. So my message to the Cupertino crew – please fix OS X (for everyone), thanks 😉

The genesis of words.

“Oh bonks!”
This is my eldest daughter’s (she’s 4) current exclamation of dismay, frustration or disappointment. It sounds worse than it reads but it got me thinking.. Who chooses what words are “bad” – there’s the obvious stuff where it’s offensive in a racist, sexist or other “-ist” way. However there are other words that are just “bad”. All of these words would at some point have been uttered for the first time by someone – did they know it was destined to be blacklisted? Who decides which words are to be regarded as “bad”? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a potty-mouthed individual and I’ll be one of the first to be upset by a verbal tirade of publically unacceptable words, but when were they added to the rude list and who wrote it?

I’m confused – oh bonks!

Hong Kong Phooey Fanriffic!

Recently updated the audio on an old site of mine. If you take a look at it bear in mind it was (to mis-quote Calvin Harris) “Acceptable in the 90s”. At some point I may spread some “21st century makeover dust” on it – but for now it’s an ‘interesting retrospect on the web design attributes of the 1990s’ (my career as an art museum curator has yet to take off – evidently).

Anyway like I said, I’ve updated the audio – it WAS in RealAudio format – remember that!? Back in the 90s, kids, we had devices called modems (which stood for “MODulator / DEModulator”) which we attached to the phone line. At the start of any Internet session (web, email, whatever) you used to click an icon to start the connection and then hear piercing bleeps and chirrups while the modem did it’s thing.

On The Hong Kong Phooey Fanriffic! Zone (the site in question) I had two files, one for 14.4k modems and the other for 28.8k modems. Yes “bandwidth” back then was 14.4 kilobits or 28.8 kilobits per second. Bear in mind that standard broadband is currently around 5 megabits (or 5000 kilobits! – it’s actually 5120 kilobits due to clever maths stuff – but I don’t want to bog you down with that) – being on the Internet in the 90s was good schooling for the art of patience!

As an aside I remember, back around the same era, working as a software developer writing programs that required “compiling” (translation into machine efficient code) – I used to be able to have a tea break when the compiling process was initiated. Then we got faster machines – darn technological progress – and the compiling took less than a minute, no time for a cuppa 🙁

So the audio is now in massive (for 90s modems) WAV format. Not only did I incorporate a more up-to-date audio format I also transcribed the lyrics to the theme tune – it’s SHOCKING how many sites have the incorrect lyrics. The lyrics I have put up have the song structure and even a transcription of the scat singing (“do bee do bee doooo, skiddly biddly bong” – Cleo Laine’s got nothing on me!). Indeed Scatman Crothers (who provided the voice for Hong Kong Phooey) wasn’t called “Scatman” by accident and was a well known ‘Scat Cat’ (I may have just made that term up) in the 1930s and onwards. So if you fancy hearing that classic Hong Kong Phooey Theme Tune and sing along with the lyrics you know what to do (hint: click the link!)

Macbook hard drive upgrade – easy?

For once I can give something BACK to the Internet community. For many years if I’ve had a tech problem that I’ve been unable to solve I’ve turned to the ‘net (generally the mighty Google) to find a solution.

Recently my MacBook hard disk drive (HDD if ya wanna speak tech) decided to depart this mortal coil – I’m convinced hard drives know the perfect time to die and cause maximum inconvenience. Yes my backup was weeks ago and yes the night before I’d spent 4 hours designing flyers, tickets and promo info for an upcoming 80’s night (where I’ll be DJing). So on the very day that I’m scheduled to present the produced materials to the planning team the hard drive decides to crash – with the click of a drive head my MacBook switched from a graphic editing, media playing, soft synth hosting powerhouse to a doorstop…

So next stop is to get a new hard drive. I ordered one in (from the friendly and efficient IT & comms providers, HJS Essentia) and then waited. Eventually after what seemed like an age (ok two days) the new drive is in my hands. Using the very useful instructions from Apple on how to install a new hard disk drive in a MacBook I managed to swap the drives over. THAT, I thought was the hard bit dealt with – how wrong could I be?!

I started the MacBook with the Mac OS X Install Disk 1 (version 10.4.9 to be precise) which was the disk that came with my Mac when I purchased it. My new drive was a WD Scorpio Blue 250Gb (how Western Digital know what star sign and favourite colour a hard drive has I’ve no idea). Anyway, off it goes and then cheerfully informs me I have a 1.8Tb hard drive (cool! I thought – perhaps Western Digital badged it wrong!) <- that was a joke BTW. No, something was wrong and it wouldn’t partition it either, throwing back an input/output error when trying to create a partition.

So I did the usual Google searches “wd scorpio 250gb seen as 1.8tb in macbook”, “250gb hard disk shown as 1.8tb in macbook” and all I got was rather unhelpful and misleading pages especially from “Experts” Exchange (tip don’t register just look at it through Google’s cache). Most people on there were stating “oh the hard drive’s broken” etc (it’s a brand new drive that works on a Windows system – so, unlikely!)

Here’s the real answer:

The Mac OS X Install disk (10.4.9) doesn’t recognise a 250Gb drive – it was a blooming bug in the Mac OS X Installer!

Now the fun is trying to find an OS X install disk that will recognize it. I have OS X Leopard CPU Drop-In DVD (version 10.5) which DOES recognise the disk but won’t install because it can’t detect an install of Mac OS X to upgrade – I KNOW I’M TRYING TO INSTALL IT!

A little frustrated over what the Apple Genuises said was an “easy job”…

The Sound Exposure difference

A little insight into why buying your audio equipment from Sound Exposure is a wise move.

The difference between Sound Exposure and [any other pro audio retailer] is that you can talk to an expert or read the detailed product descriptions so that you never buy “blindly”. ALL the product images are accurate portrayals of the actual product (where a satisfactory image wasn’t available a photographer was commissioned to obtain a good quality product shot). You won’t see an “actual product may vary” label on anything on the www.soundexposure.com website – so you can buy in confidence.

The Product Range (with simplistic text for those who can’t tell their boom pole from their XLR connector).

Adhesive Tape (Top quality insulation tape, gaffer tape and premium camera tape)

Amplifiers (Crown, Denon, Electro-Voice, QSC, Samson – all quality brands that you can trust)

Audio Solutions (Matching Converters, Limiters etc)

Batteries (Hawk-Woods for all your camera / production equipment powering needs and Procell – the Duracell brand rebadged for the professional market)

Boompoles (for your film/tv/location soundman (or woman) to hold a microphone above the action)

Cables (XLR, Speakon, 1/4″ Jack – custom cables can also be built to your requirements, just call Sound Exposure)

CD players (1U rack mount, 2U rack mount, multi disc autochanger, twin deck, iPod docking, Pro DJ – you name it!)

CD Recorders (recording your audio to a small circular disc)

Audio Connectors (Neutrik, IDC Krone – for constructing your own cable requirements – or Sound Exposure can do the donkey work for you!)

Power Connectors (Neutrik, Schurter, Permaplug – for your power cabling needs)

Data Storage (SanDisk Solid State Drives (SSD) and USB Flash Drives)

DI Boxes (Direct Input, Direct Injection or simply DI is an electronic device that connects a high impedance, line level, unbalanced output signal (like a guitar or keyboard) to a low impedance mic level balanced input, usually via XLR connector)

Digital Effects (add an audio sheen to your recordings)

DVD Players (1U / 2U rackmount DVD players)

Dynamics Processors (Microphone Preamplifiers, Limiters, Compressors, Gates – to ensure the best quality in your recordings)

Earphones (ideal for IEM – that’s In Ear Monitoring in case you weren’t sure)

Equalisers (for tweaking the frequencies with a fine tooth comb)

Equipment Bags (protect your investment with a custom fitted equipment bag – ideal for location work)

Flightcases (if you’re moving your rackmount equipment around on a regular basis – live sound, theatre, location work – then flightcasing your gear is essential)

Headphones (or “cans” – for assisting in the quest of your results equating to your expectations!)

Headphone Amplifiers (to allow more than one pair of ears to listen via headphones)

Headsets (when you need to listen AND talk)

In Ear Monitoring or IEM (systems that enable you to hear yourself without spilling sound from the stage via the standard monitor speaker method)

Lighting (you’re in a dark room with a band playing and they want you to make them sound amazing – these lights will help you see what you’re doing (they do not however add anything to your mixing ability))

Loudspeaker Control (Crossovers split the audio signal into separate frequency bands that can be separately routed to loudspeakers optimized for those bands)

Loudspeaker Stands (for improving the performance of your speaker system)

Memory Cards (Sandisk SD, SDHC and Compact Flash cards)

Microphone Accessories (Rode MiCon Connectors, Reflexion Filters (a virtual portable vocal booth!), Clips, Stand Adapters, Thread Adapters, Isolation Mounts and Stereo Bars)

Microphone Stands (for ensuring your microphone stays where you want it to. In addition there are iPad holders and drinks holders – for those thirsty performers)

Microphone Windshields (Softies, Smoothies, Windjammers, and Suspension – all to shield your microphone from unwanted noise. Plus Rycote Mic Flags for getting your branding “on mic” and “on screen”)

Wired Microphones (a fundamental requirement if you want to record audio)

Wireless Microphones (you want to walk AND talk!?)

Mixers (take your various sources of audio and lovingly splice them together with the aid of one of these)

Active Monitors (for you to listen to your recordings subjectively and make the RIGHT adjustments – active monitors have their own amplifier built in)

Passive Monitors (for you to listen to your recordings subjectively and make the RIGHT adjustments – passive monitors must be connected to an amplifier for them to be heard)

Music Stands (Keyboard stools and stands, drummer’s thrones, guitar stands and sheet music stands – because resting everything on the floor just would not work)

Paging Amplifiers (100V line amps for installation wherever background music / paging needs arise)

Active PA Speakers (for outputting the aural delicacy you have mixed (see Mixers above) – active PA speakers have their own amplifier built in)

Passive PA Speakers (for outputting the aural delicacy you have mixed (see Mixers above) – passive PA speakers must be connected to an amplifier for them to be heard)

Portable Recorders (digital audio recorders that are small and eminently mobile)

Studio Recorders (digital audio recorders in standard rackmount configuration – but can still be mobilised (see Flightcases above) if you wish)

Power Distribution Units (PDUs) (all this clever rackmount hardware requires electricity – distribute the power around your rack from one tidy rackmounted device)

Stage Boxes (rather than having every audio source straggling its cables over the stage and up to the mixer a stage box combines everything into a single run)

Test Equipment (something not working as you’d expect? Use these valuable tools to help you locate the problem quickly)

Tuners (for monitoring your radio stations output a tuner is vital – or you can use one to “just” listen to the radio)

This is not an exhaustive list as products are added to the portfolio all the time, so keep your eyes on your pro audio and broadcast superstore!

How To Create A Podcast – High Quality Podcasting

So many people muse “How do I create a podcast?” and then search for “how to create a podcast” or even just “how to podcast”. Well, here’s a beginners guide to podcasting with some tips for producing high quality podcasts and not just rambling, mumbling audio – it’s really not that tricky, just remember ‘take small steps’.

The term “podcasting” came into being in 2004 (from an article in The Guardian by Larry King). The word is an amalgamation of “pod” from Apple’s audio player of choice (the iPod, in case you’ve been living under a rock) and “casting”, having surgically removed the “broad” part of broadcasting. It is indeed more of a “narrowcast” as it has a more focussed listenership than most broadcast media – with the exception of broadcasts that are converted into podcasts – but that’s cheating 😉

So how do you go about taking your initial steps into the world of “narrowcasting”? Firstly you need to have a purpose for your output; are you providing an editorial piece on the merits of the latest reality TV show or producing an outlet for your comedic genius to be unleashed on an unaware world? Whatever you have a passion for podding you need to observe the same maxims as followed by the (successful) broadcasting fraternity and that is to keep it interesting and keep it focussed on the subject matter. If you ramble on, stumbling through different subjects you’re likely to lose any following you have, unless it’s not the subject matter but YOU that is the attraction!

Once you know WHAT you’re going to talk about you’ll need the equipment to capture your “magic”. Starting out, a simple microphone / headset (the kind of thing online gamers wear) would get you by; its audio quality won’t set the world alight but it’s the bare minimum needed to get your voice into the computer (and to hear it played back). Moving on from that and especially if you’re working on the quality aspect of your production then you would be better to invest in a good quality USB microphone which plugs straight into your computer, thus getting round the need for a mixer. These microphones are able to achieve such high quality when compared with standard computer microphones as they effectively have a built-in professional quality soundcard (ADC = Analog to Digital Converter – for all you technerds). This coupled with pro audio quality microphone hardware (renowned manufacturers such as Audio Technica, Rode, Beyerdynamic, Audix, Shure, Samson and sE have USB mic products).

If you’re going to be undertaking a talk show or musical performance based podcast then you may want to look into multiple microphones at which stage you’ll also need to consider a good quality mixer to combine everything into a stereo feed (left+right) for your LINE IN ports on your computer’s soundcard. That opens up a whole realm of devices that can improve the overall sound (compressor/limiters, graphic equalisers, digital effects processors, DI boxes, mic stands, cables, active monitors, passive monitors, amplifiers and headphones)! On a serious note if you were to be heading in this direction then you’d be wise to cut your computer’s soundcard out of the equation and record to a device with high quality ADCs (remember that term?). You can adopt a portable digital audio recorder or studio digital audio recorder depending on your requirement for mobility (that said, the rackmount devices can be transported in rackmount flightcases if you require). These devices, also known as “solid state recorders”, record direct to memory cards in an audio file format of your choice such as MP3 or WAV. Once you’ve finished recording you just copy the file to wherever you’re going to host your podcast.

Before uploading (the process of sending your file from your computer to an internet accessible server) your audio you may want to edit out the cough’s, splutters and embarrassing pauses from your podcast. There are many sound editing software programs available ranging from the free (Audacity), the “bundled with hardware” Cakewalk Pyro LE which is included with the Roland R09HR and Cakewalk Sonar LE which is included with the Samson C01U Pak, the Samson C03U Pak and the Samson G Track) and the expensive (Pro Tools) – ok so I did skip a raft of DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software packages there but that’s not the focus of this article!

Once your edits are complete it’s just a matter of finding somewhere to host your podcast (an internet accessible server) and advertising it. This opens up a whole other area, but the simplest method is through the mighty Google corporation. For hosting, open up Google and search for “podcast hosting” – there are a number of free services but it is outside of the scope of this article to recommend any particular service. In regards advertising your podcast, if you have a Google Account then you’re half way there. If you go to Google FeedBurner it will walk you through all the necessary steps, including creation of a blog to advertise your podcast.

So what are you waiting for? Get the gear and get podcasting!

Gimme the Reason!

(with apologies to Luther Vandross for “borrowing” his song name for my title 🙂

OK so today is the release of Propellerhead Software’s Reason 5 and Record 1.5 updates. I use this software at church (I play keys). It’s such a versatile and well written piece of music production software. It has nifty (and totally extravagant) features. For instance you can turn the virtual rack around and move the virtual cables from socket to socket – literally unplug and plug in graphically. They didn’t NEED to write that in such a graphically rich way but the fact they did makes it appear so much more like an “audio device” than a software application. I guess that’s the key – engage the imagination of the user and you’ll gain their love.

Anyway it’s released to today – I bet their servers are getting pretty hot with all the download attention. Can’t wait to have a play!

Road Trip

It always makes me smile when you talk to people from “large land mass” countries (USA, Australia etc). They think nothing of driving many hundreds of miles. In the UK travelling over 200 miles is viewed as a BIG TRIP. It’s just such a densely populated little island with LOTS of cars. So no matter how many lanes are added to a motorway (“freeway” for my American readers) traffic still runs like honey through a straw (unless you travel at 2am – but then WHO does that!?)

To maximize the perceived time it takes to travel such a distance (over four and a half hours – traffic dependant) – just add two grizzly toddlers. MAN we thought we were on a rolling road at some points – the time was drifting by merrily but we weren’t seeming to go ANYWHERE! Our trip up started at 10am and we got to the hotel at 9pm (yes 11 hours!!). OK so we stopped for food and drinks and toilet breaks and food but WOW.

Anyway we made it there and back in three days – seriously though we found it easier flying to Australia with the children than making this “short” journey.

So SEO

Well, after being a “full-time Dad” for a period of time (which is a daft term because even whilst working I don’t become a “part-time Dad”) I’m now moving from what the “Department for Employment and Learning” (as they’re currently known) refer to as an individual who is “economically inactive” (or “unemployed but not featuring in our figures”). I am now (partially) back in the commercial world of work.

Enjoying a part time status at www.soundexposure.com where the main task currently is to “get the word on the streets”. That word is “pro” and “audio” (and yes that’s TWO words). There are many more besides but professional audio products are the mainstay and focus for this well anchored and dedicated business. The ethos is certainly to strive for customer happiness and to treat others like you would like to be treated (aka “The Golden Rule” or as I prefer to refer to the origin: Matthew 7 v12 (The Message) – check it out).

So I’m working on a new area of tech and that is SEO (Search Engine Optimization) – keywords, adwords, link building and Social Media (Facebook, Twitter etc) – all areas receiving my attention (and “tweets” and “posts” and “likes”).

This is my first blog post – let’s see how (un)interesting I can make it 😉