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.
I attended the launch of the new Magnet Networks provided FREE WiFi service in Carrick-on-Shannon town centre this morning, June 20th. The CEO Mark Kellett and other Magnet representatives were on hand to introduce and explain the new service and it’s benefits and to outline other services that Magnet can provide. Carrick-on-Shannon is the first town in the country to roll out free, no limits public WiFi.
Here’s how it works.
Town Park (Behind Victoria Hall/Beside the Rowing Club).
Access & Speeds:
One time free sign up with either Email or Facebook details,
Around 6MB up and down,
No time limits,
No bandwidth limits,
Content filtered (Family safe).
Local businesses can benefit from Advertising opportunities and usage analytics,
The public including town visitors can benefit from fast, free internet,
Children and teenagers can remain in touch with parents.
Access Points were kindly supported by the following local businesses:
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:
I was asked by Equitopia in California, USA to survey their existing site and make suggestions on how to improve it both functionally and aesthetically and help it bring in more business. Requirements and sugegstions included adding an Online Learning Management system, Forum, MailChimp Newsletter integration, Private Members section with monthly subscription payment and Online Shop.
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!
The General Data Protection Regulation or “GDPR” deadline day of 25th May 2018 is getting closer and we’re all going to die. The Data Apocalypse is nigh.. You may have seen one or two or 10,000 news articles about it recently? Anyway, I’ve done some research and attended workshops in an effort to try make sense of it all for mine and my own companies’s benefit and I’m happy to share the basics I’ve learned here with you, hopefully in a simplified and jargon free way.
What’s it all about?
Basically on the 25th May 2018, new legislation is being introduced across Europe to protect private individual’s data a lot more. If companies don’t comply they may be liable for hefty fines.
What do you have to do as a company?
You need to do some research firstly, ideally a local workshop or a solicitor if you have one to get familiar with the guidelines and how they relate to your own business specifically. Here are several things to look at in your business and consider:
What Data do you currently have and collect on your clients?
Why do you collect that Data?
Do you really need to collect all or any of it?
How do you collect Data?
How do you store the Data? Is it stored securely?
Who has access to the Data exactly?
Where do you store Data? Is it stored/transferred abroad, outside Europe?
Do you share Data with 3rd parties?
Do 3rd party companies store your data? ?If so, who and where exactly and are they compliant themselves?
Do you have the facilities to process Data requests from clients?
Can you securely delete or update Data you hold?
Do you have a Data breach plan?
Does everyone in your organisation know the rules around Data?
What do you have to do with your website?
Websites are the front line for many companies and range from basic sites that ask for and accept no data or cookies from visitors up to large, data heavy E-commerce sites with Online Payments, Member Sections, Logins, Newsletter Subscriptions etc..
Here are some of the things you should really do on your website BEFORE the 25th:
Add a Privacy popup that requires explicit, recorded consent.. Or
Add a required Privacy/Terms tick box on any forms that submit data to you such as Contact Forms, Newsletter signups etc..
Make sure any Newsletter subscription processes require the users explicit, recorded consent and is double opt in
Make sure data transfer to and from your website is encrypted by installing an SSL certificate
Make sure the software that powers your website, if any, is kept up to date and secure.
Despite the hype, there’s no need to panic. If you do the basic, common sense things around your clients data and remain Transparent, Secure and Accountable if things go wrong, you’ll be fine. “FINE” not “Fined…