Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Irritations

I can hear the guy who sits behind me. Although he's Chinese, he speaks to himself all day in English, and makes noises like Jar-Jar Binks and little Yoda-like exclamations whenever he comes across something that requires thought. I suspect that when I don't hear him talking to himself, he's not working. When he's not talking to himself or making ridiculous noises, he puffs, really short and loud, like you do when you're about to attempt a heavy deadlift in the gym. I wonder if people know they're talking to themselves. I imagine me talking to myself in Chinese, and annoying the shit out of the whole office - if I was working in China.

He has one other really, stupefyingly irritating habit. He makes noises with 'things', like just now, he's picking up his pen and dropping it onto the desk, once every few seconds, in between clicking the button on top of the pen (and puffing, and talking to himself). Sometimes he holds his phone and absent-mindedly clacks it on the desk one side at a time, turning it over and over until you feel that death would be a welcome respite from the noise.

About once every five minutes, the phone rings. The main office phone is right behind me, and every time it rings, it plays a little, excruciatingly annoying, ditty, until someone answers it. If no-one answers, it does a round-robin of all the phones in the office, before returning to the musical phone behind me. 

Then I hear the 21 year old girl who sits next to me, tapping away on the keyboard again. She does this about once every minute, from dawn til dusk, interrupting her work to chat with friends over icq, often pausing for long periods to edit the response, one hand poised over the keyboard while the other pulls and teases at the ends of her hair, plucking out the loose ones and dropping them on the floor. I think that I could pick her typing sound from a hundred others, I'm so used to it. I reckon this behaviour gives her about an hour of productivity per day. When she's not tapping away on icq, she's on her phone. I don't know why they hire these people. Even if they're cheap, it's false economy. But then, they hired me, so should I feel bad?

She walks past me to get a drink and I hear the fingernails-on-a-blackboard sound of her dragging feet. Why do people have to drag their feet when they walk? You only have to lift them a centimetre or so to clear the floor, yet this seems too difficult? They must have shocking problems with static electricity, I think. The clinking of pointless jewelry and trinkets alerts me of her imminent return. She's one of three women in an office of around 25 men, almost all of whom are fat, slobby, IT guys over 40, yet she insists on wearing hot pants and dressing up like she's going out to a nightclub. I don't understand why. I can't imagine the thought processes.

Every half hour or so, I hear the rustling of foil from the other side of the partition, indicating that the Russian guy who sits there is having another Nicorette. I once asked him about it and he told me that he gave up smoking about a year ago but it now addicted to Nicorettes. I wonder constantly whether that's cheaper or even healthier than actually smoking. Speaking of smoking, I'm now hearing the old guy across the aisle hacking away again. He sounds like he's about to die, but one of the other guys told me that he's been the same for the last 3 years, so he could go on forever. He's always out on the balcony with the Sri Lankan guy, the Indian guy, the sysadmin, the admin woman and the managers of the company, who all smoke like chimneys.

The Chinese guy just dropped the pen again, but has picked it up and is clicking the button interminably. He's talking to himself again. People here talk to themselves, but don't talk to each other. They communicate by instant messaging.

My team leader asked me a question on icq yesterday, then when I answered, I hear him go 'Hmmm' (he only sits about 2 metres away). Then he types 'Hmm' on icq. I've pulled up a few people here who typed 'LOL'. I said 'LOL'? I didn't hear you make a sound! 'Laughing on the inside', quipped one bloke. Meanwhile the old guy's having another coughing fit, he's getting weaker, I can hear it. I wonder if it bothers him that he can barely breathe? Does he ever think that by quitting, he might stop coughing? Advertising doesn't work.

The Russian's having another Nicorette. I'm going to have to put on the headphones. At least it's not as bad as the last place I worked. The guy opposite me had a high-pitched voice like a jockey and used to host webinars from his desk, where he'd talk non-stop for an hour. When he put on the headphones at the start of the session, his voice used to go up a few decibels. It drove me nuts. Eventually we made him go into the meeting rooms for the webinars.

He was one of those people who just talk extra loudly on the phone, and seem to lose all awareness of their surroundings (ie, a very quiet office, surrounded by people trying to work). I remember when mobile phones first became really popular, and the first thing everyone who had one did, was buy annoying ringtones. So you'd be surrounded by stupid, pointless, music from morning til night. Then again, I used to smoke at my desk in the really old days, and that probably annoyed the ones who didn't smoke. I remember one guy asking me to blow the smoke elsewhere. I told him to get stuffed.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

DJ Settings with Traktor Kontrol S4, Yamaha MG82CX and Behringer Active speakers

Ok, so I had to learn a bit about balanced and unbalanced cables. The Traktor Kontrol S4 has only 1/4" balanced and RCA unbalanced cable outputs. I had already found that going from the S4 to my Rokit 5 studio monitor speakers required balanced (TRS) 1/4" cables, because if I use the RCAs, I get loads of noise - even with nothing playing. So I figure I have to use those balanced 1/4" TRS cables. Now, when plugging the S4 into my Yamaha mixer, the mixer only offers either mono XLR inputs, mono (balanced) 1/4" inputs, stereo RCA inputs, or stereo unbalanced 1/4" inputs. Sheesh - can't win! I have a brainstorm and come up with the brilliant plan of using the only two mixer channels with compressors - one for left and one for right. Pan left and right respectively. Only problem with that is that a) I've got to keep the two sets of eq's etc in sync on the mixer, and b) I have no compression if I want to plug a microphone into the mixer. I only have the basic remaining channels which only have eq. Anyway, I try it out and come to the conclusion that I may as well plug my two balanced 1/4" cables into the unbalanced 1/4" stereo inputs on the mixer, thereby freeing up the two compressable channels for other purposes. My feeble knowledge of cabling and mixing and pa's in general doesn't go far enough to tell me whether I would get the same degradation of signal quality that I get when going direct to the monitor speakers in my studio - if not using balanced connections. I have to assume that possibly the main benefits of balanced cabling comes in between the mixer and the speakers, because that's also where the cables have to be longest. My routing goes: S4 to mixer, mixer to 18" powered sub (Behringer B1800D), sub to left and right active 400w/450w 12" speakers (Behringer B212D Eurolive). After listening in depth to all setups, I come to the final conclusion that as there's only about .5 metres between the S4 and the mixer, I should be fine. I have a balanced signal between the mixer and the sub, and between the sub and the other two speakers. The sound is fantastic. My research shows that the volume/level on the S4 should be as high as possible (without clipping), which is something I didn't do last time I set this up, and struggled for volume. So now I've got the main volume on the S4 up about 3/4 of the way, not clipping, which I reckon should be between 0db and +6db. The Gain knob on the MG82CX is at 0db or slightly above, the channel level is at about 7, the main out of the mixer is about 4, and at these levels, I get the 'signal' light flashing on the sub (which is taking the entire output from the mixer and distributing it between the two smaller speakers and itself). Previously I couldn't get the signal light to flash on the sub, which I think was because I wasn't inputting enough from the S4. Tweaking the knobs on the sub will eventually provide me with the right high-cut and bass boost I need for whatever gig I'm doing, so that's just a matter of trial and error. The good thing is that I now have a bit of headroom and PLENTY of FOH volume to play with ;)

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Pod Farm 2.0 and Novation Nio 2|4 Sound Card driver problems

Cut a long story short, I had problems with Pod Farm once I'd started using the Novation Nio 2|4 sound card (instead of the Line 6 UX1 I'd had previously).


The reason for the change? The UX1 is unable to provide monitoring for another audio channel because it only has one set of stereo inputs. The Nio has two sets of stereo inputs (1-2 and 3-4), so you can use the 3-4 channels for cueing up audio from a source other than what's currently playing through the main monitors. Recently Line 6 had allowed its users to operate Pod Farm without requiring the UX1 plugged in - before that, the UX1 was used as a dongle, which used to annoy me no end. Anyway, I though that once I'd configured Pod Farm to run without the UX1, my problems would be solved. Wrong. No matter what I did, I could not get Pod Farm (the standalone version, although the VST plugin had the exact same problem...) to accept the Novation ASIO driver.

After lots of hair-pulling and to-and-fro with both Novation and Line 6 support, I finally discovered that providing I configured the Nio drivers to run in 44.1k, 24 bit mode rather than 48k 24 bit, Pod Farm would accept the driver and retain the settings. A further revelation was that Windows 7 has its own setting for the ASIO driver as well, and setting Windows to 44.1k and 24 bit solved the last issue - where only one application would run sound at a time.

Hope that helps someone with a similar problem.

Traktor Kontrol S4

Ok, time to do a quick post about the new Traktor Kontrol S4. But first, a bit of background.

I'm a guitarist, but I like entertaining people and let's face it, not every situation is appropriate to pull out a guitar and start banging away. With that in mind, I decided to re-acquaint myself with Ableton Live.
After mucking around for a few days using the crippled (demo) version, I caved-in and bought the full version. Then someone mentioned a program called Traktor. I downloaded Traktor and gave up after a few unsuccessful attempts to get anything working. That demo was also crippled in that it shuts down after half an hour. My advisor convinced me to hang in there and give it a bit more of a go, so I resisted my urge to uninstall and go running back to Ableton. In the meantime I had bought an APC40 Ableton controller, which was absolutely brilliant, so I was even less enamoured with the thought of switching to Traktor. The thing was that I had a gig coming up in a couple of weeks, and I needed some software that would allow me to DJ at a mate's 50th birthday party. Now you've also got to remember that the music you're gonna be allowed to play at a 50th is going to be a lot different to what you might play at a club at 3am! To be more precise, it was going to be all rock/blues/r&b - nothing electronic at all. I started noticing a few problems when playing this stuff through Ableton. Apart from the fact that it crashed on me a few times, I found that it wanted to warp all the songs otherwise it seemed that some functionality was disabled, like the ability to speed up or slow down the tracks. On top of that, the browser was quite crappy - I had to use Mixed in Key to rename all the files if I wanted to sort by bpm or key. Straight off, I noticed that Traktor's browser was 100 times better for playing the stuff I wanted to play. Instead of being vertically oriented, Traktor was horizontal, leaving space to display lots of columns - like bpm, comments, ratings, artist, album etc. The 'BeatGrid' process didn't seem as invasive as Ableton's, and tracks would play smoothly even if I ignored the grids. I decided that Traktor was the way to go and that I needed some hardware to run it through. The Traktor Kontrol S4 was a no-brainer, given that it was custom-made for the software, came with an upgrade to Traktor Pro 2 and a free upgrade to Traktor Scratch Pro, so I set about doing as many tutorials as i could in the remaining time before my gig. Fortunately, there's a load of stuff on YouTube about how to get the best out of it, and while I was doing those tutorials, I had Traktor scanning my track collection and analysing each file for BPM etc. I copied my folder structure directly from the PC to the laptop in preparation for the performance and made sure that Mixed in Key had been over every file in the collection. I made a playlist of 100 or so songs that I knew would go down well and set this as the preparation list in Traktor. It took me a bit of research to figure out that I needed TRS (not TS) balanced 1/4" jacks out of the Kontrol S4 with XLR jacks on the other end. Of course I probably could have got away with one jack as the band PA wasn't really set up to take advantage of stereo signals. There was a lot of mucking around with the laptop to disable memory sapping applications and settings, as I'd noticed dropouts when practicing at home, but after changing settings, I didn't hear a single glitch the whole night. In fact, the setup was almost perfect. One thing is that you really do need a case for the S4 though. Carting it round with all those knobs sticking up is just asking for trouble, tough though it may be. I did use the power supply rather than relying on USB power, because of the additional brightness available with the power supply. It was pretty dark where I was set up, and I did notice that some of the knobs were hard to find, even though the main ones stood out well enough. The integration of the headphone cue, mix and levels was just brilliant, and the response of the controls was instantaneous. Native Instruments claims that their proprietary protocol is 10 times faster than standard midi. Seems believable. So all in all, it was a complete success and I got nothing but positive feedback from the people at the party. I'd really love to play some dance music and take advantage of the beatmatching capabilities of the controller next time, even though I had managed one or two sneaky cue points during the set once my confidence had gone up. Didn't really use the FX or the sample slots though, which is where the creativity would have come in.
Final opinion: A brilliant piece of integrated software and hardware. Easy to use, cleverly designed and extremely effective while maintaining as much simplicity as you'd like in a DJ setup

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum 11 crash

I just upgraded from Movie Studio Platinum 8.0 to HD 11, which cost $80, so I was disappointed to find that the main "features" that came with this "upgrade" were:
a) A wait cursor which lasted around 1m 30s every time I switched back to the application from another program, and
b) Frequent crashes when trying to start the program - a dialog "Send information to Sony" blah blah.

The first problem was solved by Googling - there's an option in preferences to release references to all files, video and audio, when Vegas is not the active application. Once you turn this off, the wait cursor problem is resolved.

As for the second problem, I've submitted a support ticket for but predictably, haven't heard anything back from Sony. As they've just released this version, I'm assuming that there must be millions of people with the same crashing problem. Anyway, I did figure out a way of getting the application to start.

Firstly I tried uninstalling and reinstalling. That didn't work. Next I tried uninstalling and removing registry entries relating to Vegas. That didn't work. Then I went nuts and tried uninstalling, deleting registry entries, deleting Program Files directories, and deleting user directories. That worked.

I have Windows 7, so you may have to find another solution if you have a different operating system. Basically, you have to go into c:\Users\{Your Username}\AppData\Local\ , find the folder containing all the Sony Vegas settings files, and delete it. You don't have to uninstall or even restart the computer.

Now you'll be able to run Vegas, but you'll have to go straight into preferences and reset anything you changed - such as 'release files when not the active application', or the location for saving rendered projects etc.

I'm going to investigate this further, because I'm sure that the problem is caused by maybe just one or two of the many files in that directory - I just don't know which one. If Sony get back to me or release an update, then I may find the answer more easily, until then, I'll just keep deleting..deleting..deleting...

Addendum:
Crashed (predictably) again today, for absolutely no reason, while shutting down the program, but this time, the above didn't work. I had to go to HKCU in the registry and delete the entire Movie Studio HD 11 key before it would start up again. Sony, reply to my support request and fix it, or refund my money.

Addendum 2:
I found out that what's causing the crash is setting the default sound configuration for new projects to be 5.1. If you set the default to be something else, the program won't crash any more. Doesn't look like they can be bothered fixing it though.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Recording "What You Hear" with Propellerhead Record

I have been unsuccessfully trying to find an answer to this one for months, and finally came up with a simple solution last night. Thought I'd share it to help anyone else trying to do the same thing.

The problem: All I wanted was to allow Record 1.5/Reason 5 to record from other applications on the PC. I could record my guitar via a Line 6 UX1, I can also record my voice via a microphone plugged into the same UX1, and with the microphone, I can sample any external sounds, but I just couldn't find a way to wire up the thing to record from say a sound file embedded in a web page, or another online sound source. I wrote to Propellerhead and they advised me to look up this thing: Jack. After reading through the site a few times, I decided that unless I wanted to become some sort of low-level, command-line audio technician geek, I would never be able use that utility.

The solution: Then it struck me - why not run a lead from my sound card (UX1) headphone output to the guitar input (or I could have used Line inputs). Voila. All I have to do is run the UX1 software - Pod Farm 2.0 in this case - and select the input I am using to route the headphones, then in Record 1.5 I just create an audio channel and there you have it! Press record and you're off.
Then today, I also found this: Freecorder. Lets you record from software and then use the files for whatever you want.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Twister Hawk RC Heli tips

Here are a couple of quick useful tips for anyone who has a Twister Hawk RC heli and has experienced the same weird, frustrating behaviour as I have.

1. Occasionally, for no apparent reason, when you try to fly the helicopter, it will just keep tipping over to one side. You can stand it back up and try again - same thing. You've made sure there's nothing wrong with the blades, the flybar, the battery or the linkages, but it still happens.
What I do in this case is pick the helicopter up and hold it in my hand, then with the other hand, I apply full throttle for a second or two, while holding the heli still. This seems to sort the helicopter's sensors out and it then flies perfectly.

2. Every few times I plug the battery in, the throttle won't spin the blades up. If I disconnect the battery and plug it back in a few times, everything works again. Also, don't move the throttle for a few seconds after plugging the batteries in. It seems that if you move the throttle too soon, the receiver turns off the throttle function for safety.

3. I've never been sure how much adjustment is required on the flybar linkage, so through trial and error I've come up with a setting of only a few turns out from the shortest length - just a tiny bit of metal visible between the linkages. Too much or too little results in the helicopter being unable to gain height.

Hope that helps someone.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

UX1 red light problem with Windows 7

Ok, so I finally figured out how to reconnect my UX1 to my PC after disconnecting it to use it with my laptop.

When I plug it back in (usb connection), I get a red light on top of the UX1 - indicating that it's not working.

Rather than reboot, I did this:

Right-click 'My Computer' on the desktop, and choose 'Manage'. Select 'Device Manager' and right-click 'Sound, video and game controllers/Line 6 UX1'. Select 'Disable'. Wait until it disables. Right-click again and select 'Enable' - Hey Presto!

Well, it worked for me, anyway. Hope it works for you ;)