Blue Microphones Support System – All System and No Support?

A little over four weeks ago I bought a Blue Snowball iCE USB mic, just to have knocking about on the desktop for the odd bit of audio recording and to help out with videosong duties. Initially it worked fine, although I wasn’t as impressed by the sound quality as I thought I’d be. However, due to my having a soft spot for the brand, I was prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt.
I really wanted to like this mic and was looking forward to using it, but sadly this has proved to be impossible. It stopped working after ten days, and refused to show up on either of my Macs. I duly emailed Blue tech support and heard nothing for three weeks, so I emailed them again with a complaint. I received a lame excuse for the zero response and still no answer to my query as to what the problem might be. Their support system appears to be made up of all system and no support – the lack of communication is frankly laughable. So I heaved a resigned and heavy sigh, put the mic back in its original packaging and will be returning it to the retailers today for a refund.
My point in posting this sorry saga is this: I used to have the utmost respect for Blue Microphones as a company. I revered their products and hoped to own a few of them someday. After this experience, where their customer support has shown itself to be as lousy as their product, I doubt I will ever be able to recommend their products, and I certainly won’t be purchasing any Blue mics in the future if this is the level of customer support that can be expected should things go wrong.
So if you’re considering purchasing a Blue mic, be warned: if you have a problem with it, and on this showing the chances are that you will, you’re on your own.

iMac’s Back, Alright!

It's big, it's bright, it's at the right height!

The Beast is Back! After a six month sabbatical, my white iMac is finally back where it belongs, front and centre on my desk. It succumbed to the notorious Swollen Capacitor Syndrome last September, a costly repair that I had to put off due to lack of funds until last month. After four weeks at the menders, it’s great to have it back, but…. all is not quite what it seems.
A big ‘thanks dude’ is due to Carl Folker at MacLogics in Peterborough, who after discovering that my old friend was ultimately beyond repair, substituted a newer Intel machine in place of my original G5 unit, cloned my 200GB’s of data off my hard drive, reformatted it so it would work properly in the new machine, then cloned it all back. So this iMac looks and feels exactly like my old machine, except it’s faster, has more RAM, and since it has an Intel Core 2 Duo processor under the hood, it can now run OS X 10.7 Lion. Result! The old machine had been stuck at OS X 10.5 Leopard due to its G5 processor, and when I mentioned that my Leopard Install DVD had been stuck in the original machine’s optical drive, Carl even fished it out and dropped it off at my house personally!

It’s big, it’s bright, it’s at the right height!
Ergonomically the return of Big White is a huge bonus. My upper vertebrae and my white Macbook have both been feeling the strain of the laptop taking on everything I could throw at it recently, soaking up reviews of DAW’s like Cubase 6.5 and massive sample libraries like Sonokinetic Vivace, along with huge plug-ins like AudioEase’s Altiverb 7 convolution reverb. My trusty MacBook has helped me produce countless tutorials and features on a weekly basis, not to mention getting this blog up and running. Now that its hard drive has only 6GB of free space left, I think it might be time to let its bigger brother take the strain for a while!

If you have a mitherly Mac that needs cheering up, give Carl a ring on 01733 702317 or contact info@maclogics.co.uk.

Reattach or Re-attach? The Prefix of Repetition

When you find yourself writing for a living, things that previously seemed insignificant suddenly take on a whole new level of importance. For instance, I stumbled across a little grammatical challenge last night, as I was putting together some hardware-related tutorials for a forthcoming bookazine about how to dismantle and remantle your Mac. I like to think that I know enough about the rules of English grammar to get by, but every now and then I have to lurch from my desk and reach for the not-very-well-thumbed copy of Fowler’s Modern English Usage that lurks in the bookcase at the back of the room.
Such a case occurred last night while I was writing a tutorial step that involved plugging in a cable that had been disconnected in a previous step. At first I wrote ‘reattach’, but when I read it back it looked wrong, like the name of an esoteric brand of Scotch. So I bunged in a hyphen and got ‘re-attach’. That didn’t look right either. Time to consult Fowler.
And here’s what he replied: words beginning with ‘re’, meaning to do something for a second time, should not normally be hyphenated (reconnect, reapply, reinsert, reattach). The only times you need a hyphen are when the secondary word, the verb that’s being done again, begins with an ‘e’ (re-enter, re-establish, re-edit), or when you need to differentiate between two different meanings of what would otherwise be the same word (recollect and re-collect, recount and re-count).

Fowler gives the ‘re’ the grandiose title of ‘The Prefix of Repetition’. Sounds to me like a John Martyn album title from the 70’s, but there you go. You really do learn something new every day – in this case, that it was actually worth buying that book after all.

Great New Musical Talent – Lucy Hirst (aka Polkadothaze)

Yesterday marked the YouTube debut of a truly remarkable musical talent. Lucy Hirst, aka Polkadothaze, at the age of only seventeen, manages to fuse angelic vocals and beautiful melodies with truly heartfelt lyrics that show a maturity beyond her years, and that will strike a chord with fellow teens everywhere. I have a feeling that this could be the start of something big, so if you love this song as much as I do, please do support her, like and subscribe to her channel, and expect more tunes soon!

Burning the Midnight Oil

Most of the time, this writing lark is a fairly relaxed affair. Since my daughter started school, I’ve slipped into a remarkably civilised working routine. Sometimes though, circumstances can conspire against you to engender a scenario where there’s just nothing else for it but to – well, just not go to bed. 12th October was a good example of this. I’d been waiting all day for iOS5 to be released, as I had two tutorials to write for a prominent publication whose copy deadline, it transpired was the morning of the following day, the 13th. By the time the software was finally made available at 6pm GMT, my operating window for downloading, installing, learning and writing about the new OS had narrowed to around 17 hours.

This would have been ok, had Apple’s verification servers not been so overloaded with new requests that every attempt to install failed at the end of a lengthy and unstoppable 40-minute backup and install routine. After eight failed attempts, each one causing me to lose even more hair, I finally got it installed properly at 3am, before churning out the tutorials, sorting the required screenshots, proofing, and uploading. I got it all done with minutes to spare before the 11.30am deadline, before dashing out to have lunch in a room full of 60 4-year-olds at my daughter’s school. This experience would have been surreal at the best of times, but after not going to bed it was positively Kafka-esque.

With any luck, this next working month, the planets will be aligned slightly more favourably.

R iP Steve Jobs

Everyone who’s ever owned an iPod. Everyone who’s ever used an iPhone. Anyone who has an iPad. MacBook owners. iMac users. Anyone who has ever enjoyed Toy Story or Finding Nemo. Anybody involved in the movie or music, or graphic design industries within the last 20 years. We all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to one man, without whom I for one would not have a career. My entire professional life has centred around Apple products, and Steve Jobs’ dynamic drive and thirst for innovation has affected the way we all live our lives. He was a personal hero of mine, and will be sadly missed, not just by me, but by millions just like me.

R iP Steve

Keyboard begs for mercy

As you can no doubt see from this picture of my keyboard (courtesy of the iDarkroom iPhone app), it’s been a busy week. What with finishing off my 100 iPad app reviews for the upcoming bookazine, two GarageBand tutorials for iCreate 97 and putting the final tweaks on the new website redesign and blog, it’s safe to say that this has now become my full-time gig. Two nice juicy features lined up for next week too, as well as a stint in Oxford selling photos to graduates. Blimey, it’s all go, innit?

WWDC – Where Was Dave Clews?

Well, I was so caught up in this week’s writing job of reviewing over 100 news, weather, book and photography apps for an iPad bookazine, I completely forgot that today was WWDC day. As a result, I missed all the webcasts and, by the time I realised, there was only 10 minutes left to go. From scanning the feeds, first impressions are that it was an announcement of many little things, rather than one hugely impressive technology haymaker. The demise of MobileMe is most welcome, as long as there’s a smooth transition to the new iCloud service. Lion looks intriguing, but I get the impression that I’ll have to invest in new hardware to make the most of it, and iOS5 looks the business.
As all the new announcements are digested, I’m sure my opinions will crystallise over the next few days. Now, where’s the link for the QuickTime Keynote video…..?

How to make a hit record

I’m currently making ends meet by working a job sitting at a computer in a room where the radio is on all day. Having sat through a whole month of Radio 1, Kiss and Heart’s combined output, I now feel qualified to list the distilled ingredients that make up a hit record in the current radio airplay climate. So here they are, in no particular order:

1. 808 drums

No current chart hit seems to need a proper drum track. Just let your child loose on a software sampler full of Roland TR808 samples and repeat the simplest pattern they come up with.

2. Bad autotune

Just strap it on, set Retune Speed to zero and leave it. Don’t worry about setting a key or anything. Easy.

3. Major chords

Three of these should be all you need, the more hackneyed and generic the progression the better. Ideally, get the same child who programmed the beat to play these too.

4. Split vocal

Get a rapper to do the verse parts, so the kids can relate. It’s essential to turn the backing track off in his cans while recording his takes. If you do not do this, the rap may end up being in time with the beat, which is the last thing you want. Then let someone who can sing do the chorus bit, so regular folk have something nice to listen to too.

5. Vocal slowdown

The technology behind this effect has been with us for approximately 15 years. Will-I-Am discovered it last year though, so you’ll need to add one of these for your track to make it onto radio.

6. Really bright synths

Turn up the resonance and frequency knobs until your eyes water. Then turn them up a bit more.

7. ID yourself

Record yourself saying your own name during the intro of your song, then detune it with a computer. This is essential, or no-one will be able to tell your record from any of the others played in the last two hours.

Congratulations! You are the new Jason Derulo! Or maybe the actual Jason Derulo!

Reinventing things that don’t need reinventing

Sometimes when a new product idea emerges, you get the feeling that something has just been reinvented for the sheer hell of it. That the perfectly workable solution to a common everyday problem that we’ve lived with happily for countless years has suddenly been re-engineered for completely pointless reasons into something half as good. The latest blameless victim of this trend seems to be the clear plastic set of rings that keep a pack of four beer cans together. Someone somewhere has decreed that, instead of grasping the cans around the rim where they can be easily twisted out with a minimum of effort, the plastic now has to be extruded around the cans about two-thirds of the way up. This means that you now have to pull a can so hard to get it out that the beer receives a thorough shaking up, making it ten times more likely to explode on opening. Oh, and they’ve made a little handle too, for those who hadn’t managed to figure out that you could put your fingers through the holes in the old design in order to lift the pack.

All Saints Day

In celebration of the day after Halloween when all the demons and ghouls have buggered off back to the underworld for another year, I have been listening to all the All Saints classics like Under the Bridge, Lady Marmalade, Beg and Never Ever. I’ve even listened to some I didn’t work on!

Halloween Hijinks

Well, as you’d expect at this time of year, it’s all about Halloween. Not only have I watched both Halloween episodes of Imagination Movers on the Disney channel four times over each, but a tub of 50 fun-size chocolate bars has been evenly distributed amongst the youth of Orton Malborne (with a couple of miniature Curly-Wurlies left over for me – call it curly commission). Emma handed out the chocolate bars with aplomb, dressed in a purple, black and green witch’s outfit, cheerfully announcing “I’m a fairy witch” to the rubber-faced ghouls and werewolves who dared to cross our threshold on this scariest of nights. Just try looking after a three-year old on trick-or-treat night and getting any work done. Not an easy task I tell ya.