I bought a secondhand Amazon Echo on a whim some time last year. I live on my own so thought it might be a good idea to make the days pass a little quicker. I use her, sorry…”It” mostly to play music and maybe let me know what time and day it is…month even sometimes. We’ve become quite attached over the year but something was missing in our friendship. It’s hard to get over the disconnect of talking to something as if they were human when they look like a small piece of electronic equipment. Just recently an amazing thought floated into my head from somewhere…what if I could make Alexa more human like?
My first idea was to get my daughter’s makeup doll head and put Alexa inside that but they seemed a little reluctant to let Gracie (not her real name) go or be tampered with in any way. Then, while browsing on Amazon.co.uk for another doll’s head, I came across some very cheap polystyrene mannequin heads and decided to buy one. I could cut out holes for Alexa to sit in a lot easier and decorate her to my own “taste”.
The head arrived and I spent the best part of one Friday afternoon cutting out a crevice for Alexa to sit in with space for the power and audio leads, painting her and as the icing on the cake, put some fibre optic strands in her eyes to gather the ambient background light from my monitor stand. Her eyes really shine with a warm, friendly glow at night now.
Disclaimer: I’m a newbie at shooting the moon and an amateur photographer at best. This blog post just details my experience and learning curve on my first ever proper moon shoot recently.
I seen something online about the next full moon and since I’d just purchased a second hand telephoto lens for my Canon EOS 500D, I though I’d mark the date in my diary and try get some decent moon shots for once.
Step 1 – Find out when and where the next full moon is
I’d found out the date of the next full moon no problem but I’d gone as far as setting up my tripod and camera on the balcony out the back of my apartment before I realised that I didn’t know what time exactly the moon would appear and in what exact position. I remembered roughly having seen the moon out the back before so I knew it was in that general direction after dark but because I had a small viewing angle with trees and stuff, I needed to know precisely where the moon would be at a particular time. I used this website below to give me all the details I needed on moon positions for my location:
I’d found out that the moon was going to be in just the right position to shoot at about 1:45am so I setup everything I needed before I went to bed that night and set an alarm. Here’s what I used:
Canon EOS 500D (A camera is handy!)
75 – 300mm Telephoto Lens (Not quite powerful enough for Pro moon shots but way better than a normal lens)
Tripod (Impossible without)
Wireless Hot Shoe Remote control set (You can’t be shaky at high zooms! The camera’s timer or a remote phone app will do here too though..)
Candles (As little light as possible in the immediate vicinity)
A Smartphone (To shine on your camera buttons and google “moon camera settings”!)
Step 3 – Shoot, Shoot, Shoot..
I ended up with 35 RAW images of the moon but deleted many more directly from the camera after checking the results in the camera LCD. The trick is to take a pile of shots, starting out with the generally accepted camera settings for photographing the moon, then varying things like Shutter Speed and Aperture to get different results. You really have to go full manual too as letting the camera try decide on the best settings for something that far away just doesn’t work.
In the end, the following settings seemed to work best for me:
Full Manual Mode
Shutter Speed: 1/125
Step 4 – Review
Getting the photos onto the computer and reviewing them is the fun bit. Sorting through to find that one photo (hopefully!) that stands out above the rest. Shooting in RAW allows some good control over editing your best images to enhance the results a little too.
Here’s my gallery of the shoot with the best shot I achieved:
So what prompted this rare musical effort on my behalf was a long overdue penny drop with Ableton DAW. I’ve been a Cubase man for years but have been keen in recent times to get into electronic music and after some research all roads seemed to lead to Ableton when it comes to modern electronic music production..
I tried a few times over the last few years to learn Ableton, mostly through random YouTube videos and it’s own help section and manual but every time I opened it up to do something I still had no clue where to start! Cue a proper, structured online course from Lynda.com and I now know enough (no expert at all) about it to actually attempt something like this mashup.
My plan with my early stage electronic music composing and production career is to aim to create electronica, ambient, slow and moody music with the computer. These days I listen to stuff like AIR, Kraftwerk, Zero 7 etc… but to also somehow include my old influences of 60’s Classic rock for that retro feel. That lead me to try import some samples into Ableton and use them in tracks and then in turn to try create a full mashup of a couple of different toons so I set off to YouTube to search for isolated Jim Morrison/Doors vocals. There are lots surprisingly! As soon as I found good quality Crystal Ship vocals an idea sprang to mind to try combine that with a solo piano version from a George Winston album I’ve had for a few years. The Crystal Ship is possibly one of my favourite Doors songs:
Here’s how I did it all in the end:
As I said above I ran across some really good quality Jim Morrison vocal isolations on Youtube including this one which I extracted the audio from:
Then I also extracted the audio from George Winston’s solo piano version of the same song from his awesome album of Doors covers – “Night Divides the Day“.
I then setup a new project in Ableton and matched the tempo to the original Doors version of Crystal Ship by tapping the beat out.
I attempted to warp the vocal to the project tempo but quickly realised that a vocal is not nearly as easy to warp as a drum beat or rhythmical sound as it has fairly random peaks and hitpoints but I eventually managed a good approximation after hours of tweaking.
I done the same warping with the solo piano track. This was a little easier as there was a bit more rhythm although there are some dynamics and speed fluctuations in both the vocal and piano performances that I had to iron out. They will be very obvious to people who know this song but all in all I think it flows well and stays true to the original song.
With both tracks matched to the project tempo all I had to do then was to match them to each other. Both arrangements are similar in terms of verse, chorus etc but the piano meanders a little longer in parts so I just chopped up the vocal to match the piano parts and aligned them accordingly.
I looked through Ableton’s library for a suitable beat to apply after having thought long and hard about whether to “modernise” an old song in this way by adding a modern beat! I eventually settled on a fairly sparse Funk beat and only applied it well into the song, stopping it for the piano solo in the middle. I think it works fairly well personally but I’m sure there are many purists who wont!
Just for practice and because I felt there needed to be something else alongside the piano solo in the middle I added some MIDI strings and automated the volume to be louder at the beginning and end, just like the piano itself.
The last steps were to add some EQ to each track and send each track some Reverb as well as adding some Compression and Limiting on the master track. I decided to duplicate Jim’s vocal and pan each one left and right to give his vocal a little more impact too.
I also added some video of Jim Morrison just so I could get the track up on YouTube!
Let me know what you think in the comments. Be kind, it’s my first proper project in Ableton and first mashup ever!
Using a properly thought out Design Spec can help you find better clients, clients with more money to spend and better, more interesting projects.
Prompted by a regular stream of Reverb Studios clients over the years who weren’t quite sure what they wanted in a new website or other design project and in response to me asking them for more guidance just pointed to a competitors website, or worst still a very long list of totally different competitor websites, and expected me to take it from there, I recently decided to do some research on how best to extract the maximum amount of detailed information from a client before starting any new design project.
The benefits to this are as follows as I see it:
You can avoid that initial, face-to-face, time (and money) sapping meeting with a client where no one is really prepared or knows what they want or what needs doing.
You get to see if a client is a good fit for you and your services and vice versa, whether the client can actually be served by you at all.
You get an idea of how serious and defined a client is about their business and their business goals. Asking them to sit down and think about their business and goals is something of value to them if they havn’t done it before.
By asking them for their budget, you separate the kind of clients who want something for nothing or everything in the world for very little investment from those who are prepared to put their money where their mouths are and get something of real value in return.
You get to come across as a professional who is serious and detailed about how they do things.
It gives much needed focus to a project that both sides can greatly benefit from.
Following my research across several articles, some marketing and design classes I’ve completed in recent years, my recent design degree and drawing from my now 15 years in a design related business, I drafted and built the following Design Brief Worksheet and put it in digital form:
We just got a Ford Grand C-Max 2012 and I was quite excited (as only a man can be with the prospect of a new car gadget) by the Bluetooth functionality promised by the ton of Bluetooth buttons and controls built into the car’s dashboard. Unlike our last car which had just a Bluetooth kit that could only handle calls but not stream music from phones etc through the speakers, this car could do that and more. There’s even a phone keypad on the dashboard!
So imagine my disappointment when I just couldn’t get my Galaxy Note 4 (Or my wife’s S4) bonded with the car. The phone found the car’s Bluetooth no problem but kept saying it couldn’t connect because there were no available phone slots left. But when I tried to view current slots and debond the previous owner’s phones the car system threw a wobbly and timed out, sometimes turning itself off and only turning the engine on could start it up again. The cars Bluetooth function had obviously become corrupt in some way.
So I went off Googling, presuming to find a ton of easy fixes. Surely this was a common issue!? Not so. Any fixes I came across just suggested debonding the existing phones but my system wouldn’t let me do that. I then went looking for firmware updates for the audio system to see if that would help reset things but couldn’t find any on any Ford site. It seems they don’t want you doing this, perhaps preferring instead that you fork out for a fix with a local Ford dealer!?
Eventually I found some old firmware from 2012 on a website. It is supposed to be for all Ford Bluetooth with Voice Control car systems from 2008 to 2012 but only supported the C-Max up to Jan 2012 and my car was July 2012. Nevertheless, I downloaded it and ran the update procedure and everything works perfect now!
Copy the extracted files (not folder) to an empty USB drive formatted in FAT32.
Turn on your car audio system via the button, ie – not ignition switch.
Insert the USB drive and select AUX – USB input.
Turn ignition key to position 1.
The update process should start automatically and take about 20 mins.
Your audio system might turn itself off when the process is complete. Mine did. Just turn it back on with the USB drive still inserted and the system should say already up to date. That’s it done.
* Compatible with the following cars with a USB connection
C-Max/Grand C-Max – February 2008 to July 2012 Fiesta – July 2008 to December 2011 Focus – February 2008 to January 2012 Galaxy – September 2008 to January 2012 Kuga – February 2008 to January 2012 Mondeo – September 2008 to January 2012 Ranger – From April 2009 Transit – From June 2009
Disclaimer: This is not my firmware and no responsibility will be taken by me for damage done to your car audio system if it doesn’t work or there are compatibility issues.
We’ve been buying and selling cars a lot (no choice!) the last few years and have mostly had bad luck with what we’ve bought. All we ever seem to be able to afford are bangers that cause us endless headache and costs. But if nothing else, it’s led me to do a lot of research on how much a car can actually cost day to day. We’ve just invested in a newish car for once and I decided to make a spreadsheet that would calculate the difference in running costs between the old one and this new one just to see if we were going to save any money and if so how much exactly. It’s early days because we havn’t had the new car long but it turns out that the new car might potentially save us around €100 per week!
I’ve decided to modify my spreadsheet slightly for public consumption so you can input your own figures for things like Miles Per Gallon (MPG), Tax, CO2, Servicing/Repair and Insurance and see just how much exactly your car is costing you per year, per month and per week. Hopefully it might help you decide if it’s best to keep your car or invest in a cheaper to run one like it has for us.
Here are some resources you may need to use to get information on your car:
Irish Motor Tax Rates (Private Car Standard Engine size pre 2008 or Private Car CO2 Emissions post 2008) – Motortax.ie