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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... :-)