is a cluttered Desktop a recipe for slow?

the path setting has to be the full path. that is to set the screenshots in reference to your home directory such as: /Users/John/Desktop/clips/.

defaults write location_path

here’s the command line incantation to completely hide all the Desktop icons:

turn them off:
defaults write CreateDesktop -bool false
killall Finder

turn them on:
defaults write CreateDesktop -bool true
killall Finder

the freeware app called “camouflage” will give you more options compared the command line versions.

Path Finder, which is Craig’s pick for Finder Enhancement that he can’t do without, has a “hide desktop icons” check box.

Hazel is a tool that will automatically file files using a rules based system. set it to load music into iTunes, put photos into iPhoto. and writing into a journal folder.

St Claire software make a tool called Default Folder which offers pretty much all the functionality that we wished for in the talk. it has a 30 day demo to get you hooked on it. we’ll give it another spin and decide if it’s $35 well spent.

Get Better Shots: 5 Simple Things You Can Do

get the camera out of default
turn on grid (or make an overlay)
take more than one shot
edit what you show
share your photos

People have told me over the years that they really like the photos that I shoot. I’m going to blame this on the rules of thirds: that is part of this comes from practice, part comes from editing, and the last part comes from the camera itself. the camera will help you take better pictures. but it’s not obvious that it can.

one of the first things you learn in photography class is something called “rule of thirds”. this “rule” defines where put your subject on the frame. most cameras have a “grid” that you can turn on. this gives you a way to easily see the thirds. grids also help you find center more easily. and you can use the lines for alignment to make sure things aren’t crooked. if you camera doesn’t have a grid or overlay you can easily make a grid using transparency in a printer. this allows you make other girds that will work with any camera. here are some grids that you can resize and print for your camera.

one thing that it every camera’s problem is the default mode. it takes ghastly pictures. getting the camera out of default will greatly improve the images that you take. there are two settings that are a must:turn off the flash and change the exposure mode. the goal is to get images that look more like natural light. there is a time and a place for flash. some situations are greatly improved using one. however, flash on should not be a normal setting.

I have never said, “I wish I took less pictures while I was there.” there aren’t a lot of reasons to be stingy on shooting with digital. you have lots of room on the card and there isn’t a financial downside to taking more as there is no per cost shot. having more than on picture means you have choices later. if somebody was moving or had their eyes closed it’s easy enough to composite two okay pictures to make one great shot. take lots of pictures and don’t delete “the bad ones” until you get home.

I have memories of having to sit through the vacation slide show where every single photo taken got cast onto a screen. it makes for a very long evening. there isn’t a reason in the world to show every single shot you took. in fact showing everything goes against you. better to not show your mistakes and bad photos. if I had 100 photos I try to narrow those into a set of 25. this can be a very hard task but it’s essential. next choose 10 of the very best photos that will tell your story. this might mean using a shot that you don’t consider “best” but helps round the series. you can always show more photos later.

the very worst thing you can do is to leave your photos in your camera or phone. they won’t do much good there if that’s your only copy. but worse is you can’t easily share. it’s very easy to make prints. there are snazzy photo printers and just about every other printer can use small 4×6 paper. if printing is not your thing use a service like Target, SnapFish, Walmart, Walgreens or the service found in iPhoto.

sometimes printing photos isn’t appropriate but it’s still a good idea to put them someplace where people around you can see them. you have a wide choice of services like Flickr, Mobile Me, Kodak Easyshare and Smug Mug among a sea of hundreds. the bonus of using a service is that your photos are automatically backed up for you.

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Last call for Kodachrome

it’s now or NEVER!

there is only one place to develop film left and December it’s over
a year ago less 1% off Kodak film business came from Kodachrome
but it’s been “being turned off” for the better part of 20 years!

what is so special about Kodachrome

it’s the only film of it’s type
developing is an additive process
most BW film removes particle from the negative
archival stable
blue has a 10% loss after 185 years.
think “steam punk”
it looks different from anything else I’ve seen
you can look at a slide and KNOW that it’s Kodachrome
because of the additive development process you can see it
looks like textures
part of it’s beauty is that
it’s slow film
you have to project it
it’s a bitch to make a print from
very forgiving film
it has a range of 8 stops
meaning you can botch the exposure and still get a good looking image
what about OLD film?
it has a room temperature shelf life of 8 months
most photographers froze their stock
old film as long as it was store properly will work today
reports of stock from 1991 reported to look great
the song
mama don’t take my Kodachrome away
simon and garfunkle
this came out when I was kid
I was 8. that was 1973
guess it has been uneconomical that LONG!
I stopped shooting with it because it was expensive to buy and develop
E6 was something you could do in your own dark room!
it was slow
I was kid, I was impatient.
took weeks to get rolls back
what’s next?
there are still some very pretty film alternatives
list goes here
where to get your last rolls
your local camera shop
check your bag.
old film is stable. don’t pay too much though.

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how to “get good”

a tourist asks the musician “How do you get to Carnege Hall?” he plays a few more bars, pauses and says, “Practice man, practice.”

we get asked about doing production and what it takes to get good at doing it. but it’s not just about production. you can apply everything that we talk about to programming, science, flying or cooking. the what really doesn’t matter because it all has the same root problem. which is, the problem that I have seen with students and people wanting to make something is that there is a lot of talk about making but making never happens. this is a concept called “rocking later.”

the extremely important to take away here is to get the need for gear out of the equation of making your success. a RED camera won’t automatically make your movie better. recording with a Sound Devices 722 won’t make the script better or enhance the actors performance. just like a MacBook Pro won’t make you a professional. technology is not a substitute for doing.

at every single writer workshop that I’ve attended one person asks the same question which is, “how do you get good at writing?” the answer is always the same: “write. write every day. write when you don’t feel like it. write until you can just write.” that’s how you get good at writing. but the same thing can be applied to anything you want to get good at doing. one Phd scientist has said that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve the level where you are an expert.

this makes the joke where a musician misunderstands a tourist even more funny. the tourist asks, “How do you get to Carnege Hall?” the violinist plays a few more bars, pauses and says, “Practice man, practice…”

this article from the New York Times tells a story that I’ve noticed but didn’t know how to say. that is watching a TV show somehow equates to an “I’ve done that” experience in your brain. and this can be worse then rocking later. the lesson I learned Ms Childs as a kid is that cooking isn’t hard. but you do have to practice. “you have to have the courage to flip the eggs,” she said. so while it looks easy, there’s a moment when your minds eye sees egg flying all over the stove making a mess. and that’s exactly what happens. I wanted to learn to flip omelets and to get over the fear of the flip. I got four dozen eggs and started flipping. at first this seemed incredibly wasteful because I was ruining lots of eggs and making a mess. but by the 8th or 9th toss I had gained confidence. by the time I was out of eggs the flip was perfected. the cost of learning a lifetime skill was five bucks.

there is nothing wrong with letting the unscene satisfaction from reading MAKE Magazine, Popular Electronics, Wooden Boat or watching Monster Garage, Jacques-Yves Cousteau or anyone else who is “doing things” in front of the camera. just don’t get trapped into letting watch or read becoming the substitute for doing. this is a  problem that I have seen with students and people wanting to make something. there is a lot of talk about making but making never happens because the brain can’t tell the difference between the show and your own actions. the act of watching steals your ambition to make.

not getting trapped by Rocking Later is just one part of the “make mantra”. the mind set that can be broken down into a list. in the spirit of the lifezero 10 list. here’s 11.

  • no “rocking later”.
  • RTFM.
  • practice.
  • mind your levels.
  • use what you have. no pining.
  • always learning.
  • test it before you commit to it. aka sound check.
  • pretend that you can’t fix it in post.
  • if it’s broken fix it or replace it.
  • you can’t polish a turd.
  • don’t tweak what works. which is the Zen and Motorcycle Maintenance problem.

there’s the story that I have about recording a show for 20 minutes with the cable plugged into the wrong port. nothing got recorded making us start over. and everyone did the same thing on cue. pretty awesome but unneeded had I paid attention. which brings up  the idea of  “don’t tweak what works”. you want to have a consistent setup. one that you can turn on and start rocking without thinking is this pulled in correctly, is it working? you’ll know because you’ve checked it and you haven’t changed it since you checked it.

at some point you will have a process. one that works every time. one that you don’t have to think to do. it just works. every single time.

artists don’t want rules and lists and directions. but every artist that I’ve told, “you can do anything you want!” will return two weeks later with nothing to show for the time. they “want to be FREEEEEEEEE!” but freedom to do anything more often means that you will do nothing because you will want to make something “really great,” it’s always better to have limitations. you have to use red, it has to be 2 minutes (no more) long and you have to use this camera. there now you know exactly what to make.

somewhere out there is a list of common mistakes that programmers, filmmakers, photographers or any job that get made over and over. things is, I’m pretty sure you have to make them for the lesson to sink in.  the consequences of not following a checklist are that you will make a mistake. thus, you learn to use a check list.  as an audio engineer a check list might reveal problems that are really hard to fix later — bad room acoustics, echo, improper mic placement, levels too hot, grounding issues, failing to account for environment changes (e.g. doing your tests/sound check in an empty club that is later filled to capacity, trying to record on a windy day without windscreens, etc.) the problem with lists of common mistakes is that they won’t help you from a hindsight point of view. experience that you gain from making mistakes are things that you know to check “the next time.” and they certainly don’t work unless you always use a check list.

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hosting part 1

there is a crazy amount of bandwidth and processors that are mostly idle making web hosting a commodity. but even though you can get a web host for a year for less than $10 you might be getting exactly what you paid for. that is, a service that’s worth about ten bucks. servers require somebody paying attention to them to stay running. you need to keep up with updates and patches otherwise your site won’t be reliable. but even if the technology is up to date there may be so many sites running on the same server that none of them perform very well. all it takes is one badly configured blog to mess up the works for everyone.

somebody wrote in before we recorded this asking, “don’t you guys also like free services?” sometimes. there are lots of ways to get on the web. and some of these services are free. just about every single service has a free version. google, flickr, yahoo, wordpress, blogger and dropbox to name a few have tools that will get you and your company talking for no charge. but at what cost? advertising might get inserted into your content that you don’t benefit from. or your data may be mined for information. you might not get access to stats or have limited stats. statistics is vital for your ego. you really want to know what things are popular. it helps you focus your efforts. and it’s nice to know where your views or listeners are coming from. the problem with free is that you are subject to the whims of the free service. if you get DMCA’d they will act for the complainer on your behalf. when you control your own domain it’s your choice on how to deal with your problem. free means that you are subject to advertising. this could dilute or confuse your brand. and the finally the service might not be that fast.

that said, free stuff does have the benefit of being EASY to set up. you don’t have to do anything other that pick a user name and a password. no nothing to update except for your words or pictures. but you really, really, really need to read the Terms of Service. sometimes the data you put there isn’t yours after you put it there! your blog might not be sellable and who owns the movie rights? you might hit a wall and then have to move stuff and migration might not be easy every.

the simplest services are are things like Mobile Me (formally dotMac). it’s simple to make a site, post pictures, share files and update a blog. but sometimes it can be a very dead end if you care about bandwidth, stats, spaz email addresses (aka aliases) or an email address forwards things like united@ or fedex@ to your main email address. you can’t run a specific server app that needs PHP or Ruby. other deal breakers might be the cost of storage or that it’s aimed for personal use. besides that other software seems more cool these days.

so the simple and the free are okay but you have to know that its not hard at all to have a real domain for not much money a month. and you don’t need to be “all that IT!” to do the care and feeding of your own site. it’s not that tough because there are tons of tutorials on everything. you will learn to search better because your new hobby will demand it. or course there are books on the subject. the Dummies book is just about as good as any of them.

domains are cheap. 10 bucks is about what they go for. you can find a domain for cheaper but once again, be sure to read the TOS to know who really owns the name. we aren’t fans of goDaddy. not because it’s a bad service but because of the insane amount of marketing they do with every page load. as a domain administrator doing work it’s just noise.

or use our check list. here’s the steps

    get a domain
    choose a server provider
    point the DNS to your server

      wait for a few hours as DNS isn’t always instant
      varies by domain type .tv takes a day while .com can update in like 12 seconds

    set up (don’t worry this is all GUI based!)

      web server

        which is just entering the domain you purchased
        usually this sets up all the services you might need!

      add email for all of your users.
      FTP user name and password (make sure it’s long)

    upload some HTML or PHP

there are essentially 4 kinds of hosting: shared, virtual private servers (VPS), cluster, and real hardware. there is nothing wrong with any of these services and one isn’t automatically better than another. but you really want to be careful what you buy into. it’s very easy to over buy services that are costly. don’t let your feeling of importance guide this decision. yes, your web presence is important but so is everyone else’s.

your domain will be served from a server that might have thousands of domains on it. before you gasp consider that most of web pages served are static. these sites require very little computing power to run. the programs that serve a page like Apache or IIS have been optimized to make this possible.

a cluster is what some people are calling “cloud services”. this leverages hundreds of CPUs to do work and serve web pages. the thinking is that those extra CPUs will make uptime get some extra nines and everything will run fast(er). but like the shared services a cluster is doing work for tens of thousands of websites. all of the cluster services are very mature. some cluster servers do not have command line access. make sure what you are buying has that if you do work there.

virtual private servers (VPS)
VPS is perfect alternative to real hardware. using software an operating system runs as if it’s on it’s own box. what this does is allow specific configurations of “server software” in a way that won’t affect other instances running. the virtualization can control everything from CPU usage, bandwidth, and memory. a VPS can run on phat hardware that would be prohibitively expensive to run otherwise. if you consider an 8 processor RAID5 storage lots of RAM server you’ll find it to be very costly but worse is that you will have a mostly idle box. better to share that box with a few other people.

real hardware
there are few ways to buy into a server running on real hardware. you can lease a server paying a fixed fee for hardware and software. this is called Managed Hosting. for that fee you get a promise that your provider will monitor your box for hardware failure. the will also monitor the software running on the box and if something stops running they will act on instructions that you specify like restart Apache or reboot the server. you can also Co-Locate hardware that you own in a space that you lease. the space includes power and bandwidth but no additional services. it’s to you to monitor and it is always to you to care and feed your servers software.

I’ve listed all the hosting options in the order of their complexity and ease of day to day use. if you don’t want to manage a server in any way Share or Cluster services are the way to go. if you want the ability to do absolutely anything you want VPS or Real Hardware is the way to go. if you want want something that will easily scale up without thinking about it Clusters offer that promise. and if your just somebody learning about PHP, Python, mySQL and other web tools shared hosting offers call of that for cheap cheap.

looking for the lost part of this talk? it’s here. sorry, the sound sucks.

hosting services mentioned on the show:
Rackspace Cloud
Apple Mobileme

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essential apps for a new Mac

we got a message which came from google voice that read:

what the hell is an America Pro? it certainly isn’t anything running in DC (or AC)! meaning the robo knows something we don’t or it completely lost the translation. fortunately the robot captured the voice allowing everyone to understand the question.

as the caller stated, there are hundreds of “essential” lists of software that you should run on your Mac. but before I get to the list I want to suggest that you just use the Mac like it came out of the box. don’t add this or that and the other thing until you know what it does by default. it turns out that you can do lots with a Mac without adding a single application, do-dad, hack, or enhancer.

below is the list of stuff that we have to have on a Mac otherwise it feels like we’re missing an arm. keep in mind that this isn’t really a list of everyone’s essential. while Craig and Kenji like password managers John doesn’t. Kenji uses TextMate while John prefers Text Wrangler. so have a listen to the audio and follow the links below as they are in the order of the show.

turn on spaces then install hyperspace to make it even better.

move the dock from the bottom to the right or left. of you like the screen bottom get rid of the shiny dock using this command:
defaults write no-glass -boolean YES; killall Dock

some people like Craig have a hard time with the Finder either because it’s clunky, it’s weird or it’s missing functionality. pathfinder is an alternative that overcomes many of Finder shortcomings.

if you squint you can see that the three programs that make up iWork ’09 are actually the same program just retooled to do specific tasks. which the trio does very well. if you have a hate affair with Power Point than Keynote will be your new best friend. Numbers will roll very nice looking things that won’t much resemble spreadsheets at all even though it’s the way it works. and Pages does layout for ink on paper documents.

find out what app is phoning home with little snitch
who’s hogging the CPU? istatmenu will tell you.
get backed with cronosync, super duper, backblaze, and dropbox
Wacom Tablet
Shuttle Pro 2 Black
text mate
text wrangler
css edit
cyberduck or transmit

type and creator utility for Snow Leopard. there are two: LaunchCodes and Magic Launch

flux looks like something we will have to talk about in the future.

a batch renaming tool is better handy to have around. these can help organize your pictures, help you with animations, hard code dates or times to file names and other things you might need to rename. there are lots of renamer programs: renamer4mac, renamer, ABetterFinderRename, namemangler.

don’t forget that automator can do lots of renaming for you and it works well. it does most of the common renaming tasks. you can even stack renames to get more complicated renames. an example using it is to the right.

QuickTime 7 (for OS X 10.6) or update to Pro for other places

password managers like Password Wallet or 1Password can help your brain get around having to remember very secure passwords.

hashapass helps you make master passwords.

snap and drag is a screen shot tool that Kenji likes.
or upgrade the default Command Option 4 by setting a specific folder for screen shots to go to using this Command Line incantation:
defaults write location /Full/Path/To/Folder

xscope is a “tape measure” for the screen.
layers is a screen shot tool that captures every element putting each into a distinct Photoshop layer.

ROT13 use to translate:

guvf vf na rknzcyr bs EBG13 va npgvba.

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these are Jordan’s RAW notes. we’ll see if we can get a regular article out of all of this as a follow up.

from the E3 trade show floor

3D Games – What's not to love? Plenty.
    Sony moving toward a full lineup of 3D games
        Killzone 3 – Very impressive.
        Gran Turismo 5
        Crysis 2
        Tron Evolution
        NBA 2K11
        Sony's Master Plan
            Downside? Those damned glasses.
    Microsoft – no announced 3D?
         So if it can do it, then why didn't they talk about it?
    Nintendo – The clear winner?
        3DS. No glasses on a handheld!? Astounding.
        Odd(poor?) marketing strategy with the DSiXL…
        Remake of N64 titles in 3D.
            Star Fox 64
            Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
            Mario Kart 3D
        New games
            Kid Icarus: Uprising
            Pilotwings: Resort
            Animal Crossing 3D
            Paper Mario 3DS
        No Pikmin 3 announced?

Your body: The new controller
    Nintendo leads the way, years ahead of its competitors. But is the wii better?
        Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword using 1:1 with Link's sword.
    Microsoft renames Natal to Kinect
        Lots of launch titles, no controller.
        People definitely look silly playing it.
        Voice recognition.
        Kinectamals. Reminds me of Seaman for the Sega Dreamcast. Even used the voice feature to issue commands.
            Fun Fact, Leonard Nemoy voiced the narration for Seaman.
            Where is the playing with the kid demo? Is that what Kinectamals is now?
    The Playstation Move
        Lots of integrated games
        Similar to the wii motion plus
    Lots of new dance games and Fitness games.
        Kinect isnt compatible with your couch. WHAT?!

Sequels Sequels Sequels.
        The Force Unleashed 2
        InFamous 2
        Crysis 2
        Portal 2
        Trine 2
        Super Scribblenauts
        Fable 3
        Gears of War 3
        Killzone 3
        Dead Rising 2
        Dead Space 2
        Kane and Lynch 2
        The list goes on.
    I wanted to see more new IP's. Nothing innovative comes out of sequels (usually)
            "Burnout with Guns" – "Bulletstorminess"
        Twisted Metal
            Yeah its a reboot but whatever it might as well be an entirely new franchise

Arcade titles looked very good.
    Downloadable games under 20$.
    Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
    PixelJunk shooter 2
    Blacklight: Tango Down
        Particularly good looking multiplayer only arcade game (FPS) with a 15$ price tag.
        It had a very interesting emp grenade mechanic that was essentially a fog grenade.
        And if it hit you you saw a blue screen because goggle computer had to reboot.
Sony announces "Playstion Plus".
    Subscription fee, similar to xBox live. This is after they said they would never charge for online access.
Some good quotes of the week:
    Shigeru Miyamoto talking about Nintendogs + cats:
        "So you know, cats are interesting.  They are kind of like girls. If they come and talk to you it's great. But if you try to talk to them sometimes it doesn't go so well."
    Kevin Butler had an amazing moment in the Sony press conference. Hes very funny.
        "Being a gamer means to have a huge TV in an one room apartment."
        "Staying up till 3am for a trophy that isn't real…. but it is."

Mobile gaming not a big presence at the show. Mostly consoles/PC.

Random things that I forgot to mention:
    Portal 2 Portal 2 Portal 2.
    The new
Jordan's top 5 Game related things he saw:
    The 3DS really was impressive beyond belief. A must see.
    Bulletstorm – Finally a FPS that doesnt take itself seriously.
    Portal 2 – GLaDOS is back with a vengeance… huzzah!
    Star Wars: The Old Republic "hope" trailer
        Don't tempt me to return to MMO's!
    End of Nations – The first MMORTS that I've seen.. and it looks amazing.

Jordan's top 5 general convention highlights:

    A squad of "chinese" troops marching through the lobby.
    Capcom's zombie cage, with both a tattered zombie man and a skimpily clad zombie woman.
    I saw Verne Troyer (mini me from Austin Powers) playing Madden 11'
    I met Gabe Newell in the Valve room.
    Racing babies in the new Babysitting Mama game… truly weird.


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Video Compression

Video compression is an art as much as it is a science (and a lot of math). the rules change with each CODEC. this means the tweaks and setting that worked for Cinepak did not work with Sorenson won’t work at all for H.264. we’ve had to to reinvent our settings with each new technology.

rules of compression

    GIGO or in other words always compress from the best source possible
    don’t automatically make your settings BEST or LEAST
    try the default settings first before making other changes
    set minimum system requirement and stick with it.
    better audio will help very compressed video “look better”
    you have to test it and look for errors
    it will always take a long time.
    never point out compression mistakes to other people.
    no whining about how bad it looks

it was to the compressionist to find the sweet settings for the specific content. and sometimes theses settings were counter intuitive. for example Cinepak worked better at higher data rates with virtually no keyframes Sorenson actually had improved image quality as compression increased (to a point) with software determined keyframes. compression tools often work differently when dealing with specific compressors. they may have settings that will help an image for one CODEC but not another. this was always true of previous version tools.

some things never change about compression. video that doesn’t change significantly from frame to frame will always look better compared to fast pans over grass. video that has lots of short cuts will look soft compared to long takes.

modern compression tools like HandBrake, FFmpeg, MPEGstreamclip, QuickTime Export, and Microsoft Media Encoder will do a remarkable job using default settings. in fact the tweak controls are hidden by default. you don’t get to change the temporal or visual compression settings. and maybe this is a good thing because it used to take days to dial in perfection.

video will always take a long time to compress. and maybe it will never get faster. compression complexity increases because CPUs can handle the job. meaning its still a good idea to setup automation for handling your compression. this forces you to use settings templates which in turn increases consistency. and it means you aren’t baby sitting a machine waiting to cue the next job.

hardware helpers can help speed your compression along. there has been a solution for every CODEC from Cinepak to MPEG1/ MPEG2. it’s a fact that you can never have it go faster enough. for H.264 the Elgato Turbo264HD can significantly speed up your work. it won’t be instant but it will be significant reduction in time. this is especially true for old hardware. in fact you would see similar performance if you compared notebooks 2006 with 2010 as the brains are in the dongle freeing the CPUs to do things like editing. of course there are tradeoffs. video that is compressed quickly may not look as good as video that is compressed more slowly because it has better scalers or uses multi-pass compression. but this has always been the tradeoff in doing compression work. and while we can recommend possible solutions it’s ultimately to you to discover if the workflow is a solution or a bug.

Andy Beach wrote a book called Real World Video Compression which covers all the tricks to get the best looking video that goes beyond selecting the Export to Web… function in QuickTime Pro. you can read the blog about it and you can buy it here.


Push Eject needs a new MacBook Pro because his old PowerBook is old. he wants to know how he can sabotage it so it looks like is borked, kaput, done in a way that is hard to fix. the fix cannot be “sink it with your coffee” because then it’s intentionally damaged. 

note from John: this is all in fun. but here’s the thing. old hardware is old hardware. there’s a point at which it needs to be upgraded. it’s costing everyone time. and we all know what time equates to. but even more important is that new hardware makes employees happy. that thousand dollar MacBook or HP Envy is lots cheaper than giving raises. and new things are taken care of while old things are just the target of abuse. run a happy company and stuff doesn’t “just break.” just sayin.

most of the time the company you work for won’t upgrade your computer as long as it’s working. never mind that you’ve used it for the last 5 years. never mind that it’s 3 versions back. hell Vista has come and gone since you got your last computer! the problem is that you’ve tried to justify a new shiny but your “they” won’t budge. so you’re stuck with it until it just doesn’t work anymore.

the computer can’t look like it was done in by the likes of you. it has to look like it “just gave up.” it’s old so it’s possible. but you also have to be aware that some companies can easily justify getting something repaired but getting something new is impossibly hard. 

there are two ways that this can go down and you have to pay attention to this because IT people are smart people. you may have enough computers in the company where people are on staff who’s JOB is to fix problems. or you may have a “computer guy” who does stuff who is really busy with lots of problems. he won’t try very hard to fix your machine so you won’t have to go to great lengths to get new hardware. but the other guys aren’t so easily tricked.

I had to deal with an employee that wanted a new PowerBook. the person complained about it being slow, it crashed for no reason and it was a constant problem. the problem was that when it was tested none of the problems seemed to actually happen. one day it showed up broken. the screen was separated from body. it was pretty clear that it had been intentional dropped. it might have been when he gushed about how a backup had just been made that gave him away. he used one of the desktop Mac’s while I figured out what to do. instead of ordering a new Mac I got parts instead. new screen clutches got purchased from eBay that day and I made the repair soon after. the screen metal on G4 PowerBooks is epoxied together rather then screen so it wasn’t a clean replacement. it required JB Welded to get it back together. but it matched the color of the metal so it wasn’t completely ugly. the Mac worked seemed to work much better for the person after that.

in either case you need to know one thing: what happens to the computer? is it is going away, away, is it used for parts, do machines get fixed instead of replaced. even if you might get to keep using it for something else don’t act too interested in it’s future. but knowing it’s future will help you determine how drastic you have to get with it’s demise.

you can start by complaining. show a clear case that against the hardware: it crashes, it’s slow, I can’t run XXYYZ, the version I need to run doesn’t run OS installed but the new OS doesn’t: support my hardware, video card, PCI bus. show that it’s costing the company money. or make a case that new hardware will help you do your job better. “I’d like to take an online class but my hardware doesn’t support it.” “if I had After Effects CS5 we could save 5 hours a week.” “I’m late on this because the render time is really long.” old hardware can cost your company money. so it’s in everyone’s interest to keep employees happy with newer hardware.

so let’s say that making a case for new hardware didn’t work. it’s time to consider more drastic actions. the worst thing you can do is show up for work after you’ve been bugging about a new something with a borked something. everyone will assume that you dropped it (like my story above) or some other intentional malicious action. you need to be smart about what action you do take. DO NOT try to take apart a computer if you’ve never done it before. DO NOT let somebody else try to do it for you if they don’t do “computers” for a living. you will do more damage than you intended.

a better option is to be invisibly careless with how you use it. plug it into the wall at a meeting even if the battery working. be sure to sit in place where everyone has to step over the power cord. eventually somebody will trip over that cord.

here are some non-damaging ways to make a Mac (or Windows) slow. there are few that we know.

    load up on Fonts with no manager. install as many as you can find. Word and Illustrator are two programs that load so incredibly slow when overloaded with fonts. so slow it will drive you nuts.

    make the hard drive 99% full. OS X and Windows use virtual memory for performance. it the disk is space starved performance will greatly suffer. the machine will run slower and slower and it might even kernel panic.

hardware hacks that to make your hardware look like its running but will make it go away:

    replace the hard drive with one that click, clicks.
    the power supply connector is always a weak link. especially on old notebooks. this can be bent off the circuit board.
    cut just one of the VGA lines.
    use clear nail polish to cover one of the critical connectors.
    super glue a bad battery. “yeah, it was falling out all the time so I did that.”
    make real kernel panics with bad RAM. but RAM can be replaced.
    make one of keys or more keys not work by cutting the rubber dome slightly. which key? try offing one of the keys in your assigned password.
    iron filings.

remember you are doing this for the greater good of the company. but you DO NOT want to get caught in the lie that you are trying to pull off. you could get fired. you might have to pay for the damage. it will go down on your permanent record. we do not condone damaging hardware intentionally that can still do real work. we did not tell you it was okay to damage company property. it’s not yours to destroy.

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the Phantom Power Menace

the amount of mythology that surrounds Phantom Power is staggering. mostly the problem is that people don’t have to understand anything about electronics making lots of the information the stuff of magic. there are claims that say it’s bad to mix mics, that having Phantom Power on will hurt a mic that doesn’t need power and that you can “hear” the 48v. this subject is confusing enough and should not be glossed over with a blanket statement… don’t do that.

Phantom Power is a DC voltage used to power a capacitive plate that sits behind a diaphragm. when the mic is spoken into the plate discharges making small electrical changes which become an audio signal. this is different the passive signal generated by a diaphragm moving a magnet inside of a coil.

the spec for Phantom Power is that it’s 48v DC at 10 milliamps. this is the maximum amount of power an mic needs to work. if the power is off the mic will not work. while 48v is the defined spec less voltage can be used.

a balanced Microphone cable uses a “differential” signal to ensure that there is no “noise” introduced to the line over the distance of the cable. any noise that is picked up is automatically canceled out when the audio is recombined. pins 2 and 3 carry the audio signals. pin 1 is ground. Phantom Power put power on pins 2 and 3. if a mic is dynamic there is no connection to ground (pin 1) required to complete a circuit. if you measure voltage on pin 2 to pin 3 there will be +0v or nothing. measuring between pin 1 and pin 2 or pin 1 and pin 3 will reveal 48V DC.

what kind of mics need Phantom Power? Dynamics do not need power. they generate their own signal power. mics like the Shure SM58, the Heil PR40 and the Electro Voice RE20 are dynamic mics. condensers require Phantom Power. mics like the Perception 01, the Neuman M and the raft of cheap chinese mics all require power. there are other mics that also require power. like ribbon mics. but these have different power requirements and are beyond this discussion.

so here are the myths and questions that come up.

will phantom power hurt my dynamic mic?
No. all modern mics follow a design that simply ignores power if it is present. if you look a the schematic for a dynamic mic you can see that even though power is present on pin 2 and 3 of the mic because neither line is connected to ground there is not a complete circuit.

so a bad cable can ruin my mic if Phantom Power is turned on?
yes or maybe or no. YMMV. depends on the mic. if you are in the habit of making your own cables and don’t do a very good job of making them you could easily damage your mic. you should ALWAYS test your cables with a multimeter or a cable tester to make sure it’s good. if you are setting up and tearing down on a regular basis always test your cables before you connect your mics.

how do I know if I need Phantom Power?
if your mic isn’t working at all that’s a good sign it needs power. if the mic is big and heavy and the box that it came is says “condenser” on it somewhere then it needs power. you should always check the specs before you plug your mic.

what about a mic that has a battery?
some mics contain their own power. lav mics (Lavaliere), wireless mics, and shotgun are all types of mics that may have a different source of power. there is no need to use Phantom Power with this type of mic. in face the presence of Phantom Power might ruin this mic.

I have a vintage mic. what happens to my mic if it’s not compatible.
too bad, so sad. seriously. if you have something very old chances are you need to care and feed it. don’t just plug it into your board without knowing exactly what it needs. lots of these old mics required a pre-amplifire in order to work. and just because it has a 1/4″ jack doesn’t automatically mean you can just plug it into your modern board.

can I hear if Phantom Power is on?
no. you cannot hear DC voltage.

can I mix condenser and dynamic mics on the same board?
yes. but… as long as all your dynamic mics are made within the last 40 years you won’t have a problem. however a mic that is shorted or a cable that is bad can cause problems. but you’ll be able to hear that problem.

I have a Neuman MLM149 can I mix it with other…
if you have that mic you don’t have a budget problem. you very likely have that connected to a pre-amp or mic processor to help it along. you could think of the pre-amp as a very expensive fuse that is protecting the mic from your board. which by the way won’t need Phantom Power turned on because the pre is doing that job for the board.

is there some “best practices” that I can follow to insure I don’t blow up my stuff?

    verify, verify, verify. check your cables. cut bad cables in half. recycle the wire.
    take your head phones off before powering on your board after hooking up mics.
    the power to the board should be off when plugging in. turn on Phantom Power after turning on the board.
    mute the channel before powering on. this prevents feedback loops.
    you can mix modern mics but if you don’t know, look it up the specs.
    if you have expensive or vintage mics use a preamp. this makes it separate from the rest of the board.

check your cables
there are several very inexpensive cable testers. you can also make your own. it takes about 30 minutes and 5 bucks in parts. the big question on the DIY is what you want to test for which could be the presence of power or that the cables are wired correctly. it’s two different tests.
DIY tester – nifty 4 LED tester shows what exactly is wrong.

when Phantom Power doesn’t work no matter what! meaning it has to be OFF!
an unbalanced mic is present. which is Mic wired between ring and tip plug. power can damage this mic.
some old mics have grounded center-tap outputs. they may use an XLR connector but they they aren’t wired to carry signal on pins 2 and 3.
high impedance mics.
mics that are damaged having leaks or shorts between pin 2 or 3 and pin 1. the mic will crackle with Phantom Power turned on. and it might stop working altogether because the power short caused the coil to melt.

other tips if you want to be a freak about not mixing mics with power

  • that mic you traded the Cadillac for… that mic gets treated special no matter what.
  • there are higher end mixers that allow you to turn Phantom Power on/off per channel. the Mackie Onyx boards have this feature.
  • you can always unwire the switch on your board so it is impossible to turn on Phantom Power. it would be about a fix minute fix to open the board and clip the wire from the switch.
  • there’s no reason that you have to use just one board.
  • if you can possibly help it. don’t mix mic types. freak.
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