Commodore 64 Image Photoshop Action

I was watching a video on my Adobe Illustrator online course where the guy is messing with a pixel graphic of himself and I thought, wouldn’t that look cool as a Facebook profile photo if I could create a pixel image of myself!? I spent a bit of time manually tracing pixels over a photo of myself in Photoshop and it looked ok but I wasn’t 100% happy so went looking for ways to convert to pixelated in one go. None of the Photoshop stylize filters were much good but then I came across an article online on how to convert photos to Commodore 64 style, 8 Bit graphics.

I followed the article and got some cool results so thought I’d create an Action set to make it easier for others to “C64’ify” their images in one click.

To adjust the result just mess with the middle action “Convert Mode” Dither amount settings. You’ll also need to load Christoffer’s custom C64 colour palette as below:

You can download both the action set and Commodore 64 colour table HERE.

Leon

Trying to order Broadband in Ireland in 2019!

I moved to a new house recently. Broadband always was, and probably always will be one of my most important considerations when moving to a new area. That plus the colour of the water. Don’t ask. So naturally I done some good background checks on internet availability in the new area which included looking at broadband provider coverage and availability maps online, talking to people who lived there already, checking mobile speeds and phone lines etc while house viewing. All of the above suggested that I should have no broadband worries so off I went and agreed to let the property. I actually ordered broadband well before I moved in so that it would be there when I did or very shortly after.

The first thing I did was to use Eir’s very handy (so I thought) “Moving Home Form”. You just put your current and new details in and they handle everything for you. How cool!? I filled it out and awaited confirmation from them that all was proceeding. The suggested wait time was several business days. Fine. I never heard from Eir in relation to this again.

With the failure of the moving home form process and move time fast approaching, I decided to just do a fresh broadband order online with Eir on the 7th January. The process was fairly easy and quick and I got word back fairly quickly that install day would be the 14th January, the day after I planned to move in. I was delighted to get a call to say they could come even sooner than that because the engineer happened to be in the area and had a cancellation of some sort. He came that Thursday and I wasn’t at the address but the install team rang me to say they couldn’t provide the broadband I ordered. They put me on to the engineer to explain more and he told me that I’d ordered “Fibre to the home”, superfast broadband but no actual fibre lines to the house existed. I told him that’s all I was allowed order online and he said I needed to cancel that order and tell them I just wanted normal “Fibre to the cabinet”, phone line broadband instead. That’s when the real fun began..

For most of the next week, I tried to contact Eir and subsequently Vodafone who got similarly confused about the type of broadband available here to explain their error and just order normal broadband. I need to use a bullet list here to explain what happened next there’s so much detail, sorry!

  • Step 1 – I called the Eir customer support number 1901. Except that when you ring on a mobile, like most people probably do these days because they don’t have a landline, it doesn’t work. The robot asks for your account number but as you try to type it in their system presumes you need mobile support and tries to transfer you.
  • Step 2 – I called the sales number mentioned in the order email 1800 303 736. No answer.
  • Step 3 – I messaged the Eir Twitter support account at Twitter.com/eircare. The Twitter guys answered at least but ultimately they refer you to phone support who never answer.
  • Step 4 – I went to an actual Eir phone shop hoping to get some sense out of a real life human, face to face. I explained the problem to “Paul” who done his best to make me feel like a fool for ordering the only broadband product the Eir website let me order. One which wasn’t available in my area despite the Eir website saying it was. He put my address and Eircode in multiple times and ways and into multiple systems to prove that that’s the only broadband I could get. He didn’t seem interested when I told him the engineer was out to check and said there’s no fibre line. Paul was sympathetic to my problems getting in touch with Eir support however and gave me a handful of numbers to try ring. Each one of them failed to answer. The longest I was on hold was 1 hour and 10 minutes one day. Video proof below! That number was actually a Sales number too!??
  • Step 5 – I decided to take Eir Twitter support’s advice and post (as in a letter…lol) in a cancellation request. I done this for both my account at the old address and the new one I just ordered for the new address but havn’t heard anything back re either yet.
  • Step 6 – I said enough is enough and dispensed with Eir altogether as they obviously don’t want or care about customers and switched my attention to Vodafone on the advice of the previous tenant who used them happily. Considering my failure to get in touch with Eir in any way to cancel, I had no option but to just cancel my direct debit with them. I’m sure I’ll hear more about this but I’m ready for ’em!
  • Step 7 – To my initial delight, Vodafone were a hell of a lot cheaper than Eir for the same thing but to my dismay then, they also sold me fibre to the home, which as I’d already found out was not available here. I’m guessing the address/availability system Vodafone use is Eir’s so it’s wrong for both. Probably other providers too. I ordered the only package I was allowed to on the Vodafone site but got a call the next day to say it wasn’t available. Here we go again..
  • Step 8 – I decided, again, to go talk to someone face to face and went into the local Carphone Warehouse store to try sort the Vodafone install issue and the guy there put a manual order through for me for broadband after I explained the issue again. That order seems to have disappeared into the twilight zone. There was no record of it with Vodafone. Maybe it’s for the best as it was a completely different price and contract length to the online order.
  • Step 9 – I contacted Vodafone by phone and web chat which was a hell of a lot quicker and easier than contacting Eir and because of my experience with Eir, I understood the situation and issue fully and was able to explain it very simply to the several different agents, several different times. Nevertheless, they trust their “system” more than actual humans on the scene so they insisted that all I could order was Gigabit, superfast fibre to the home broadband and that the slower “normal” broadband I wanted was not actually available to me.
  • Step 10 – I put another order through on the Vodafone website while web chatting to a support agent. It only let me order the superfast broadband yet again but on the advice of the support guy/girl (never sure with Indian names) I ordered anyway and we agreed that if I got a call to say it wasn’t available again, I should just insist on a site visit. The same support guy tried to sell me the same package I ordered at a different (yes, dearer of course) price than the website too!?

Eir customer support craziness:

So that’s where we’re at now. Waiting on someone from Vodafone to call/visit to actually check what’s available here and install some kind of broadband. Meanwhile I’m trying to run an IT business off my mobile phone hotspot with the phone placed up against the window in the kitchen at the back of the house which through trial and error I’ve found is where the best 4G signal is. But it comes and goes..

So for once the issue is not the availability of decent broadband in Leitrim, I know I can get broadband, I just can’t seem to order it!? It shouldn’t be this hard to order broadband in Ireland in 2019?

UPDATE 1: *****************************************************************

Nothing further happened with either Eir or Vodafone as of yet (unsurprisingly) and I decided out of interest to go through all the other major Irish broadband providers including:

Digiweb – Can only offer Gigabit broadband which isn’t available!
Pure Telecom – Can only offer Gigabit broadband which isn’t available! They fixed my phone line and even sent a router then admitted it was all pointless so I sent it back and cancelled.
Sky – Can only offer Gigabit broadband which isn’t available!
Virgin – Can’t give me any kind of broadband at all!

So. I looked into Mobile broadband and happily realised that they’d all but done away with their monthly download limits. That was the reason I stopped using mobile years ago. A quick check online for coverage in my area, both with 3 Support and my own research seemed to suggest that the signal would be strong (I appear to be sitting right on top of a mini 3 Cell tower or extender of some sort!) and that their router would be far more reliable than my phone hot spot so I decided to give it a bash. I ordered a monthly package and router at about 14:30 yesterday and the router and SIM were delivered this morning, way less than a day later. All I had to do was set everything up, find the best spot (huge difference between the front and back of the house!?) and plugin and I was online again at the speeds below. Hopefully they will remain as high and that mobile broadband is stable and reliable.

Take note Eir & Vodafone. This is how easy and quick it should be to order and install broadband in 2019..

UPDATE 2: *****************************************************************

Having just setup my 18 month contract with 3 Mobile Broadband (service and speeds have been fairly reliable) and seeing out the 14 days grace period, imagine my surprise when I went out for a walk one day and seen the contractors from the fibre company (Working on behalf of OpenEir) laying the final fibre infrastructure to the house.

Fibre Box

I spoke to a couple of them and they told me as soon as they were finished, fibre would be live and available to order. Unable to resist the temptation of hooking into 1GB fibre running right outside my door I looked at ways to get out of my 3 contract but to no avail. Still, I put yet another order through Vodafone for their fastest package and this time an engineer came and actually installed the connection in my house but then confirmed it wasn’t fully live yet. He couldn’t say when! Vodafone rang me the next day to tell me the “problem” would be fixed around March 25th and I wouldn’t be billed until then. So the story continues..

UPDATE 3: *****************************************************************

My fibre broadband came live yesterday out of the blue! Speeds are all over the place though. I’ve had speed test results everywhere from the full 1Gbps to a third of that bit I FINALLY HAVE FULL FIBRE BROADBAND!!??

Fibre Broadband Leitrim

Photoshop CC Essential Basics Online Course

I’ve created a 9 Lesson online course in Photoshop CC basics for Photoshop beginners who would like to know how to do basic image editing. It’s suitable for:

  • Photographers,
  • Business Owners,
  • Marketing People,
  • Graphic Designers,
  • Web Designers,
  • Photoshop Hobbyists.

Requirements:

  • Basic computing ability,
  • A decent, modern Desktop or Laptop computer,
  • A cloud subscription to Photoshop CC (or the free months trial).

Topics Covered include:

  1. Where and how to get Photoshop,
  2. Photoshop Configuration,
  3. The Photoshop Interface,
  4. How to Open images,
  5. How to Crop images,
  6. How to Resize images,
  7. How to Add Text to an image,
  8. How to Save an image,
  9. How to Save Optimised images for the Web.

There’s also a Quiz at the end to test your new found knowledge!

The course is a total of 40 mins long and only €79 + VAT.

TAKE THE COURSE

How to make your Amazon Alexa more Human

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.

Below is a photo gallery of the whole process:

Video: Talking to my new look Alexa!

Photographing The Moon with a DSLR

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:

MoonCalc.org

I also used the handy “Sky Map” android app to show me the moon position and any other interesting objects close by in real time/augmented reality:

Sky Map App

Step 2 – Equipment and Setup

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
  • Aperture: f/11
  • ISO: 100

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:

 

 

The Doors & George Winston Crystal Ship Mashup Remix

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:

STEP 1

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“.

STEP 2

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.

STEP 3

Vocal Warping
Vocal Warping

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.

STEP 4

Piano Warping
Piano Warping

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.

STEP 5

Arrangement
Arrangement

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.

STEP 6

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!

STEP 7

Strings
Strings

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.

Finally

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!

Soundcloud version – https://soundcloud.com/reverbstudios/the-crystal-ship-mashup-remix

Design Brief Worksheet Template

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:

Reverb Studios Design Brief Worksheet

Please use the form to think about your own business’s current performance, goals, use it to hire my own services or adapt it for your own use.

Leon