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Saturday 24 September 2011


Every year someone asks what the fruit on our trees are and every year I forget.  This time I'm going to write it down... here:  Greengage.

The fruit is nearly ripe but at the moment they are a little bit tart for my taste.

Auto Synchronised Memory Sticks

I just bought a USB memory stick and had an idea for a future innovation.  Memory sticks that back themselves up. 

The reason for this post is to avoid someone else being able to patent an obvious idea.  I often have random thoughts that to me are obvious ideas but someone else eventually patents with one of those convoluted patents that is just a whole bunch of complicated sentences to hide the fact that what they are patenting is not a clever bit of new intellectual property but just the blatantly obvious that any technician could have come up with as a natural evolution.  It frustrates me that there are companies that try to enforce those patents and make people pay to do something that would be useful for everyone.

There are plenty of things that are very clever and the designers should be compensated for their efforts in getting it to work.  It is only the no effort wasters that I dislike.

Back to my idea.

It could work by each memory stick storing a little bit of power whenever it is plugged in or used.  There are plenty of existing technologies to do this, even a simple capacitor however I suspect it would need a much more efficient and tiny battery to be of practical use.

When a pair of these devices are plugged together or better still just come within the same vicinity they start to synchronise their data so that they both contain the same data.  This could be by directional or one way.  It would probably need a user setting to decide this.

This is ideal for ensuring you always have a backup of those family photos or business critical data.  Most people forget about backups until it is too late.

This copy is likely to take a long time, probably leaving them together overnight.  It would need an indicator to show when they were complete.  I would suggest a zero power consumption indicator such as the sort of technology used on the screens of e-books like the Amazon Kindle.

There would be things to consider such as how you deal with deleted files to avoid them being recreated from the other device but by the time you have enough processing power in the little devices to do the copy adding the extra detail would be trivial.

This could be used for all sorts of memory sticks and cards.  SD cards, USB memory sticks, SSDs and all the variations of them, pretty much all solid state devices.  The technology inside would be applicable to them all.

The connections could either be plug and socket or a special set of contacts or very very low power wireless of some sort.

It could even eventually be used for updating the firmware or settings in equipment from washing machines to computers to motor cars or just reading back the current settings.

JCB 24 September 2011

Sunday 18 September 2011

Midi and ASIO Config

A friend suggested using a PC to play the drums through to get better drum sounds.  Although at the moment I am not to fussed about the sounds he was going to come round to try the drums out so I wanted the option for him to use better sounds if he wanted.

I now know there are two things that are needed.  A Midi host application and the drum sounds themselves which ship using VST.
For testing I am using some free sounds but eventually will purchase some good ones.

Connecting the DD516 drums themselves to the laptop was easy.  Plug the USB cable in and let the Microsoft e-drum drivers install.  Took about 4 seconds.  Job done no problems.

For the Midi host software there is a 30 day trial of an audio recording tool called Reaper.  This is overkill for what I need at the moment but it was recommended.  I found it was not straight forward to configure on the laptop I wanted to use.  That's why I thought it was worth writing these instructions.

It's an HD laptop with HD sound.  To cut to the end I eventually worked out that by default the HD sound uses the SPDIF output first and then the built in speakers.  For most of the config I could not get any sound out.  I assume therefore that the SPDIF is connected to the HDMI output which I was not using!

I first configured Reaper to use the Microsoft Direct Sound drivers.  These worked but had a lot of lag.  I'll come back to this in a minute.

The first thing I found odd waht that by default the output of Reaper was to WaveOut.  I have not looked in to what this is but no sound came out.

The following are all in  Reapers, Options - Preferences menus.

Changed that to Direct Sound.
Now select where we are playing from.  Make sure the Midi or USB cable is plugged in to the laptop and the drum module is on.
You must enable the e-drum input.  The outputs are optional depending on what you are doing.

Now we need some sounds to come out.  Reaper does not come with any sounds.  I made the mistake of assuming that the VST that was included called ReaSynthDR included sounds.  As far as I can tell it does not.  Make sure you download a VST that does have some sounds.  As I said above I tried a few free ones. 

Install the VST software, which typically creates and copies a .DLL file in to a folder called:
"\Program Files\Steinberg\Vstplugins\"

In Reaper move down the tree to Plug-ins \ VST.
Add the above folder in using the button.  This will scan and add any VSTs.

If you add more VST's use the Clear Cache/re-scan button.

That's all the options done.  Press OK to come out of that and back to the main interface.

One bit that stumped me for ages was getting sound out.

There is a master volume control. 

Press the small I/O button and configure the speakers as the output.

Hopefully you can see by now why I struggled to get this going to start with.  We are nowhere near finished yet!

Now we add a track.  Easy, New track from the menu.

Set the Midi input using the simple drop down to All Midi, All Channels.  This is just for testing.

Now we need to get that track to use the sounds from the VST that we installed.  Make sure you followed the steps above in the options and when you press the tiny FX button on the track you should get a page to Add an effect from a VST.

The list is initially empty, press the Add button:

Select one of the VST's you have added yourself.  You will then get that VST's interface added.

Mostly the default setup will do something.  So leave it alone for now.

Press the cross to exit from that.

One last job so we can hear something, turn on monitoring.  Tiny green speaker symbol on the track in the Mixer section at the bottom of the screen. 

If you have accidentally or deliberately turned off the mixer, you can turn it back on again from the View menu.

If I have I rememberred everything and you have followed all the instructions you should simply  press the record button and start hitting the drums and the sounds will come out of the computer speakers.



If you are anything like me you will not be impressed by the delay between striking the drum and when the sound comes out of the computer!

I was told by my useful friend that I would need ASIO4ALLASIO was created to minimise the latency of audio devices on the PC.  Download and install the latest version of Asio4All.  Very quick.

Once installed, return to Reaper and select ASIO as the Audio Device.
The problem I had here is that again, I got no sound!

I read the Asio4All manual and towards the end there is a note about SPDIF.  Now the options in the manual and in the latest versions are not the same but using that information I changed the first speaker in the above settings to use speaker 2 instead of speaker 1.  At last sound again.

This time...  When I hit the drums the sound comes out the PC without any noticable delay.

Now I just need to buy some fantastic drum sounds.

Friday 16 September 2011

Roland PDX-8 Drum with DD516 Kit

I did a lot of hunting on the Internet to find out if the Roland V Drum PDX-8 would work with the electronic drum module that comes with the WHD 516-Pro (DD516) kit.

There was no information that I could find but gear4music very kindly tried it out for me and confirmed.  Everyone I have spoken to there has been very enthusiastic and helpful. 

For anyone else who wants to mix and match drums I can also confirm that the Roland PDX-8 drum does work with the DD516 module.  Including the rim shot.

I did have to adjust the Threshold setting to avoid getting the rim sound instead of the drum sound but that was easy.

I initially set the Threshold for the snare up to 15 which completely eliminates accidental rim shot sounds.  Unfortunately this also made it difficult to do fast drum rolls.  I found 13 was the optimal setting.  For the avoidance of doubt, this is not the sensitivity setting which just determines how loud the noise is based on the velocity it is struck at.

Mounting The Roland Drum

The Roland drum uses a slightly larger metal post to mount on to.  The ones with the DD516 are too small.  I bought a Roland bracket to suit from eBay.  Not just the metal bit but the plastic clamp as well because the size of the other end that fixes to the clamp is also different.  Fortunately the racks are standard 1.5 inch diameter so the clamp fits the rack.

Looking at other e-bay sites there are two sizes of drum mounting post.  The Gibraltar racks have a choice of just over 10mm and just over 12mm sizes.  I found it difficult to measure what I had because those sizes must refer to the diameter of the knurled section which is a bit larger than the metal rod.  The Roland drums fit the 12mm size and the DD516 drums use the 10mm size.

Roland PDX-8 Drum

This drum has an overall size of just over 10" with a mesh head about 8" diameter.  Shelley says the mesh head is just like playing an acoustic drum.  She is very impressed.

The budget DD516-Pro (or WHD 516-Pro) is very good value and the module is all that she needs but the more expensive Roland drum has a better feel and response when playing.

The DD516 module has an extra socket for an additional tom. Shelley now has a snare, 4 toms, kick, hi-hat, crash and ride. One spare crash socket still unused... :-)

Wednesday 31 August 2011

Pimp My Drums

Actually pimp Shelley's drums.

Black rack from e-bay with the original drum mountings sprayed black to match.

Added an iPod holder next to the controller.  Modified from an in-car mount.  Plus, as you can see, the skull theme.  These are cotton printed bandanas from and there is also a massive choice on ebay.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Gear4Music DR-30 Drum Monitor Amp Review

I was a little sceptical about buying a low cost amplifier to use with the electronic drums.  I had read that drums need a very wide range from low to high frequency responses.  I had already tried putting them through my normal home stereo but that was not good enough, rubbish would be a better description.  The sound of the sticks on the plastic can be heard clearly instead of the drum voices.

Headphones sound excellent with all the drum sounds clear and they completely blot out the tap of stick on plastic that everyone else can hear but for the odd jamming session we needed to be able to hear the drums out loud.

Having looked a lot on the Internet there was very little choice in lower cost dedicated drum amps.  PA systems were not much different and most active speakers are a bit small to get a decent base sound.

The Gear4Music (SubZero) DR-30 drum amp description was exactly what I was looking for but it was advertised at less than £100 and there was nothing similar at that sort of price.  The rest with a similar spec, like the Roland PM-10 were all over £200.

For the few times it was going to be used it was worth taking a chance on.  It arrived today and I am very pleasantly surprised.  The drums come out very clearly and the two volume controls allow mixing the background tracks with the drum sounds to whatever you desire.

It is even much louder than we will ever need for our small rooms.  It allows you to play the drums without headphones and they sound like drums.  It is very sturdy, has feet on two sides and most importantly has a good deep base sound as well as clarity.

My only surprise is how big it is.  I neglected to check the dimensions and it is about twice the size and weight that I expected.

Not sure how I expected them to fit a 10" speaker in a smaller box. 

I have nothing more expensive to compare it to but for the purpose it was intended it works very well.  If you want a low cost drum monitor amp I would thoroughly recommend the Gear4Music DR-30 (now branded SubZero DR-30.)

That's Min by the way assisting with drum practice.

Monday 22 August 2011

Electronic Drum Monitor Amps

Very quick comment.  Drums like Electric Keyboards need high quality sound amplification.  Guitar amps are low quality and not appropriate.

Headphones, no matter how low cost, are likely to sound much better than any amp.

Electronic drums are therefore best used with expensive PA or Keyboard amps or dedictaed drum amps which have good low to high ranges.

Sunday 21 August 2011

Drum Stick Markings

I didn't think I'd ever have anything to say on drumsticks!  Well I just bought Shelley a set of Electronic Drums for her birthday so very rapidly I have had to come up to speed.

One of the things I found surprisingly difficult to find was consistent information on drum sticks.  That's the normal ones, there's plenty of detail about all the odd brushes and hammers you can use instead.  So a quick simplistic summary about ordinary sticks.

Drum Stick Sizes:  They are numbered with the lowest number being the thickest and therefore heavier and  correspondingly the highest number being the thinner and lighter.  The commonly available sizes are 2, 5 and 7 but some of the intervening sizes are also out there.  Size 5 being in the middle is the most popular but all sources say you should try them out.

Drum Stick Shape:  The other marking on a drum stick refers to its use which tends to affect the shape of the taper.  Shape 'A' typically being longer and thinner towards the tip than 'B' and 'S'.  Apparently 'A' is for more orchestral and finer works and 'B', well as Shelley put it, is for more bashing.  No idea about 'S'.

Different manufacturers sizes, weights and shapes vary for the same marking code.  They are usually close so the numbers are still a good guide.   Popular drum stick sizes tend to be '5A' and '5B'.

Many manufactures also put the suffix 'N' after the shape marking to indicate Nylon tip.  For example, '5BN'.

As far as I can tell the only disadvantage with a Nylon tip is that sometimes they come off!
So far Shelley prefers them.

The following web sites have similar but slightly differing information:

Saturday 13 August 2011

La Wally Opera In Holland Park

The lead is played by Gweneth-Ann Jeffers.

The following are interviews with those people who have just been to see it:

And this is our take...

Saturday 16 July 2011

Shelley has two blogs

This is a bit like 'Jill Has Two Ponies' but the modern equivalent.

However they are still about horses.

A story of looking after the most gorgeous horses in the universe...

Guidance to help cyclists and horse riders live together safely on the roads...

Kittens at play

A video of Min and Edie playing in a box.

Thursday 14 July 2011

Wifi Broadband Install

When I was looking at getting a better broadband connection to my home in a small village in the middle of Essex I came across FibreWifi.   This is a broadband service that does not need cable to get to your house.  It was a radio broadband service from Buzcom Wireless Innovation.

When I first looked the available information was very limited. 
[See the end of this article. I no longer use this provider]

How big is the equipment?
The radio is small and discrete.  A tall and thin white plastic box about a foot (30cm) long and only a few inches (5-10cm) wide.  This has to be outside facing towards one of the transmitters or repeaters.

Where does it go?
Depending on the result of a survey, it might simply attach on a bracket to the side of your house.  In my case it had to be mounted on an 8 foot (2m) long pole right up at the apex.
The radio is on the top end of the pole and mounts vertically.

They have to be able to get a minimum signal level and a high enough signal to noise ratio before they will even attempt to provide the equipment.  It depends on which transmitters or repeaters they can get a signal from at your house.

How visible is the equipment?
Much to my surprise they used a fairly narrow chromed pole with some simple brackets.  Once up, the white plastic radio blends in to the sky and all you notice at a glance is the small (1inch, 25mm) diameter pole.

The web site only let me order the installation initially.  I then received a phone call to book which Wednesday they would come and visit to carry out a survey.  Yes, the installation team only worked Wednesday's. [See my notes at the end of this post, where I changed to a more professional provider.]

In my case the survey resulted in the team having to hold a long pole while standing on a long ladder and finally got a signal.  As it turns out the repeater they hooked on to is in Wickham Bishops which they could tell me was just over 3 miles away in a straight line.

The signal, I am told, does not like passing through trees and from my experience will not pass through the roof of our house!  The people they surveyed before me were less than half a mile away the other side of the village but could not get a signal at all!  I think this is the major downside to the service that it will still disappoint lots of people because you need line of sight to a transmitter or repeater for it to work.

They have to get the brackets made to order for the mast therefore I needed a second Wednesday visit.   As it turned out a third was needed before they managed to mount the mast and radio in a suitable spot.

Although a bit frustrating having to wait all those weeks, the team from Computer Giant who did the installation did put themselves out to try every possibility.  There is no way I would have gone up to the height they were working to get the job done.

What is the cabling like?
The radio has a single Cat 5 network cable nailed to the wall.  Run down or round the house and passing through  the wall in to a suitable room.

What size is Cat 5 cabling?
Anyone in I.T. would recognise this as the standard computer cabling used in nearly all offices.  It usually has a grey outer sleeve about 5mm diameter with 8 fine insulated copper cores inside which is terminated with an RJ45 plug.  Usually clear plastic square plug about 10mm wide.  If you know what the typical telephone cable looks like that comes in to domestic houses it is about the same sizes as that.

How does it get power?
At least one spare power socket was needed inside the house.  This was for the Power Over Ethernet (PoE) inserter which was connected to the end of the cable coming from the radio and then another network cable ran from there in to a computer or a cable router.  The cable router was NOT included in the installation cost.  It was also not needed but was recommended by the installers. 

The PoE inserter is about the size of a computer mouse but square.  The cable router is likely to be the same as any home router.  About the size and shape of a small book.

With hindsight I would not have bothered with the cable router.  My own router is all I use now.  I only purchased their router so I could copy the config.  I was told by the installers that the alternative was to pay them to configure my router.  This is NOT necessary.  If you are competent at configuring IT all you need to do is set your cable router to accept a dynamically allocated IP address.  There are no other settings needed, no username and no password.  The MTU setting on the router was 1500 which is usually the default anyway.

That's the information that I would have liked to have known in advance and was in July 2011 missing from their web site.

Does it work?
I had working connection using that wireless link and it was better than the ADSL line that I had before.   I found it difficult to get reliable speed test results.  It depended on the time of day.  However none of the speeds were bad just not always as high as expected.  I had results between 4 and 11 Meg bits per sec download and between 2 and 6 meg bits per sec upload.  The UK ping times varying between 15ms to 25ms depending mainly I think on the site at the other end.

I am happy with those as results but they are not the 12Meg down and 12Meg up (12mega bits per second) quoted on the web site.

What are the problems?
Firstly I should say that there are no serious problems just a feeling that one hand does not know what the other is doing.

I got the impression that the people at FibreWifi did not know the installation company sell their customers routers and charge configuration fees.

I also had to phone to find out about paying for the subscription.  They informed me that I have to wait for the installation company to notify FibreWifi and then I would receive an e-mail to give me instructions. In the mean time I was able to use the service at full speed.  In this day and age I had expected all that to have have been on the web site.

Technical Support
I wanted to ensure my connection was working as fast as it could because the erratic speed test results were not always helpful.

Someone from their technical support called me back the following day after having run some tests all night.  They have tested 12Mbits per sec download and 6Mbits upload.  Based on my location they think this is the best I will get.

I also sent an e-mail on Sunday to ask if any ports were restricted because I was having trouble getting a connection to a server working.  I received a mail from the Managing Director within an hour, on a Sunday, with confirmation that nothing is blocked which was enough information to be going on with and a promise that my problem would be passed on to technical support to look at.

A better connection than I could have hoped for living where I do and despite some bad weather my initial feeling was that it was working reliably.

What more could I ask?


Update May 2023: The links to the suppliers mentioned in the original article have ceased to go to the intended sites. I have edited the article to remove the links and be a historic record. 

Update July 2022: Finally I have a full fibre connection to my home. The service from EssexWiFi was excellent, but the cabled fibre connection is so much faster.

Update Feb 2018: Changed provider to use EsseWiFi, another Wireless broadband provider. A so much faster and better managed service.

Update October 2016: For perhaps the last year FibreWifi has had very poor performance during peak times. I have been told that they have put in a larger backhaul radio link at one congested point but that has barely improved the service for me. This is disappointing because I know the link to my house will work at 12Mbps but barely has 3Mbps in the evenings when I am most likely to use it.

Saturday 9 July 2011


Our new arrivals.  They are both about 10 weeks old.





And from a few weeks ago here is what Lemmy was up to.
He got there by jumping out of the bedroom window!