Category: gear

Living with the Zoom H24 24-channel digital recorder

Recently one of my colleagues at the University of Victoria loaned me one of his studio tools that he was thinking of parting with – The Zoom H24 24-channel digital portable recorder.

Now for the record, way back when I first started recording multi-track style I was using a cassette tape based TASCAM 244 – 4 tracks of audio on a cassette… and that was mono tracks. Granted, the Beatles recorded some amazing music on recorders not much bigger than that… but I am not them.

Anyway. Armed with a couple of good microphones, headphones, a guitar, ukulele and a bass guitar I came up with a bunch of sample demos (warts and all…) way faster than I could have on my PC based audio work-station. Here is one. Trust me: Listen on headphones or ear buds!

Gear: APEX Floating plate microphone and Shure SM81 condensor microphone.
Cort acoustic guitar, Kala Ukulele, Godin bass – and three vocals provided by yours truly.

The Zoom H24 digital recorder is jam packed with features and to be honest, I likely utilized less than 5% of its capabilities. For instance, the R24 offers eight inputs on combo connectors that can accept either XLR or ¼” balanced or unbalanced cables.

Click on any image for the bigger view!

All inputs can handle mic/line/instrument level signals, and Input 1 can also handle low impedance signals from passive electric guitars and basses.

I took advantage of the phantom power (+24 or +48 volts) which can be applied to up to six inputs, allowing the use of professional grade condenser and floating plate microphones. I use Chinese made APEX cardioid patterned plate microphones at around 1/10th the price of a German made Neumann U-87 (which sounds utterly dreamy with the right voice!) and for my voice, it’s just fine. I use the SM81 for picking up some of the features of my acoustic guitars but plugging directly into the R24 works just as well.

The Zoom H24 can record 8 tracks at the same time and works really well if you are a band that wants good isolation for fine tuning after a recording session. I found that I could easily eat up 8 tracks with just a couple of guitars or a ukulele and some vocal harmonies. Another great feature is the ability to bounce, swap or transfer tracks around with the press of a button. Example: I have my microphones plugged into inputs 2 and 3. When I get the take that I am happy with, I “bounce” those tracks over to Channels 4 and 5 and carry on (having now left tracks 2 and 3 to record on again.)

The Zoom H24 has velocity sensitive drum pads and built in rhythms – and I never got anywhere near them. There are hundreds of effects for most electric stringed instruments and a wide variety of mastering algorithms for mix-downs that I could literally fill a page commenting on. Bottom line: If you are a singer or guitar player or podcaster who wants to produce broadcast ready materials or demo’s worthy of a listen with the pro’s, this could be the right tool for you.

In the following “sample” I used a single APEX microphone to record one lead vocal, two harmonies, 3 tracks of guitar picking or strumming, an electric bass track and a ukulele – there is at least one jarring rhythmic error in this track but you get the general idea. Singing and playing aside, it is pretty amazing what you can do quickly.

The manual is fairly helpful but you do need some background in the concepts of recording and mixing – and there are a few useful YouTube videos for getting started.

Break it to them gently – with the ZOOM H24 24-channel digital recorder

Break-it-to-them-gently-2018.mp3

A little bit of CBC radio history fades away

If you are much under the age of 40, the concept of “radio, the medium that reaches the masses” is probably not a thing that resonates with you.

But for many residents of British Columbia, over the last 70 years, if you lived in an out of the way place, CBC Shortwave on 6160 Khz was likely your only source of news, commentary and entertainment. This service has been on for as long as I can remember. I was a 12 year old when I first discovered CBC 690 in Vancouver was being relayed by a low powered transmitter out on the mudflats of Richmond, British Columbia. It was part of my daily routine as a kid living on the West Coast to see how the news of the day sounded, as transmitted through a crackly and occasionally fading shortwave transmitter.

In the last year, however, amidst one more trim to CBC services, the Shortwave service quietly faded into history for British Columbia. And sure, it is easy to say, in an era of satellite and internet communications, “who listens to the radio anymore anyway?”

Well, through the years, this little 1000 Watt transmitter covered British Columbia and the Pacific North West with a pretty darn good signal – often being heard around the World. It served the fishing fleet in the Pacific, hunters and trappers in the wilds of British Columbia, geologists and foresters working in places served by nothing more than fresh air, sunshine and moon light.

But time moves on. In 2017, our news stories comes at us in 140 character snippets on our social media and video footage is viewed in HD quality on our smart phones. Heck, we hardly need television anymore.

Illustration below – Telus composite Cell coverage for British Columbia – around 15% of the Province has high speed cell coverage.

There was a time, when radio was king and the hardy and adventurous among us kept in touch the old fashioned way and listened to the sweet sounds of the CBC via radio skip. Many of us still do that in some of the more isolated nooks and crannies of this great province via the old style CBC AM radio service. For those of us who tuned the CBC with a multi-band transistor radio, a cranky ionosphere often made for quirky sounding audio and the fading associated with signal conditions gave this regional broadcaster a very retro and way back sound.

Quote from radio operator VE7SL – “Located on the mudflats of far western Richmond (Steveston) and a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean’s Georgia Strait, CKZU’s gets out very well for its compartively small 500W transmitter.

Photo by Mark Matilla – VA7MM of the CKZU Antenna Array

In the last year, hobbyists and radio amateurs were noting that the little signal from Vancouver had been struggling after 7 decades on the air – a power supply component was creating distortion that was making the signal unlistenable. The decision was made. The plug was pulled. There was likely nary a moment when an outdoors person or fisher looked up from their work to note that CBC’s long range regional service was gone.

When contacted and asked about the regional radio service (via a CBC insider), the engineering department responded… “It’s broken, old and there are no parts…” Right.

Steve VE7SL of Mayne Island continues…It appears to confirm the rumor that the antenna system consists of a two-wire beam (using wide-spaced folded dipole style elements) … one element being driven and the other element being a reflector. According to Mark, the orientation would beam the relayed CBU-690 signal up the coast of British Columbia and not towards the SE as the original Google photo appears to indicate. It is certainly a well ‘overbuilt’ structure. No doubt its height contributes to its ability to radiate a good signal all around North America (and Europe).

On the other coast, in Newfoundland, it’s a different story. Private radio broadcasts began on the rock in 1932 but in 1939 the government of the day took over radio. A shortwave service began there in 1940 and used different frequencies depending on the time of day. Newfoundlands finest hours happened in 1940 as debate started about what would become of this British colony including thoughts cast towards joining the U.S.A. as a new state! Through the years equipment was updated and many radio stations carrying national broadcasts were added to the out of the way places in Newfoundland. That being so, Labrador, its own territory with its own special needs was covered by station CKZN out of St. Johns and future plans are to consider fully supporting regional shortwave broadcasting to reach the nooks and crannies of this rugged area.

So, what of British Columbia? At 365 thousand square miles (Newfoundland and Labrador are 165 thousand square miles combined) you would think we would be still worthy of regional shortwave radio service. There are, arguably, thousands of square miles of this great Province with little or no cell coverage and certainly no radio coverage during the day or night. So the question remains – why has CBC British Columbia simply gone “Meh…” as their primary and only regional Shortwave transmitter has puffed out? I’d love to know.

I’m not going to be bitter about it. CBC Shortwave service in B.C. is gone, but not forgotten. Thank you CBC. For decades of service to the small places and reaching the hardy faces of those brave souls who tamed the rugged vista that is British Columbia. Your radio waves are gone, but we will remember the good times when you brought the news, entertainment and music into the distant hills and valleys of this most rugged of Canadian provinces. But if you want to re-think this loss of service or entertain ideas about bringing it back, I am all ears!

Video below – CKZU 6160 khz as picked up in Japan

Update – By 1946, CBR operated a shortwave relay for remote areas of British Columbia using the call sign CBRX and operating on a frequency of 6160 kHz (in the 49m band). The call sign changed to CBUX in 1952 when the AM station became CBU. In 1965, the call sign changed to CKZU, recognizing that the ITU prefix CB was not assigned to Canada, but to Chile. The transmitter operates at 1000 watts and is located adjacent to CBU’s AM transmitter.


Colin Newell is a long time Victoria resident who finds stories in the odd places… and tries to tell them like it is…


Local artisan series chapter one – Alfons Furniture

When we first moved into our new house, one of the first neighbours to pop by was Alfons.

He lives on the street parallel to our and shares part of a back fence. An enthusiastic gardener and outdoorsman, Alfons represents all the good things about good neighbours – engaged, good humoured and genuinely interested in what is going on in the World around us.

As it turns out, Alfons is a fine furniture maker and designer – a guy who makes some very unique and breathtaking pieces that would grace and compliment any home or business. He completed an apprenticeship program in fine furniture in Germany in 1987. After several years working with a variety of senior masters in the craft, he returned to school to obtain a Master’s Diploma in furniture making.

Alfons came to Canada in 1998 and honed his craft in several different work shops in the Victoria area before setting up his own woodcraft design lab in 2005. Alfons focus is on traditional European design and the Contemporary interpretations within North America.

Alfons’s shop and ideas area is in the heart of Rock Bay in an old multi-storied warehouse that contains guitar makers, digital labs and an assortment of high end maker spaces.

We had lunch together recently after getting a tour of his unassuming work space and environment where many of his great ideas come together. There was something about the positive energy and youthfulness of the space that resonated with me – and I imagine that this contributes to the overall quality of everything that comes from this building and his creation space.

What I also discovered about Alfons is his acute ability to listen and provide instant feedback on what I may have been trying to convey on some of my design ideas – which is an immensely valuable skill when designing items of furniture that may reside in a home for 100 years or more.

As Alfons pointed out to me over lunch at the Salt Chuck Pie nearby, “The customer relationship is the most important key to succeeding in virtually any project… whether it is building the perfect piece of fine furniture for their home… or making their computer work better in their business…” Yes indeed, I can certainly relate to that!

Have a look at Alfons’s website and photo gallery – I think you will agree that he builds and designs some of the most remarkable pieces of furniture in the South Vancouver Island marketplace.

You can find Alfons online or make an appointment with him via – Alfons Laicher
Alfons Custom Furniture & Woodwork Inc. – 2614 Bridge St. #223 • Victoria, BC • V8T 4S9
Phone: 250-361-4119
Email: Alfons@AlfonsFurniture.com

This is Chapter One of an ongoing series of artisan conversations – with the creators, makers and ideas people of Vancouver Island.

Long lost Gibson Guitar Les Paul Gold top stolen from ago

A very long time (1985) I was a Gibson guitar player – they are awesome for Rock, Blues, Jazz, pretty much whatever you want to play. And I played it in a few pick-up bands and a couple of outfits that played a few shows… in a life a long time ago.

That said, I was not a big fan of this for some reason. Might have been the colour or the weight.

Ah, the weight! It was like carrying around a large dog draped around your shoulder – like a Lab or a Bull Mastiff –

And the sound of the Gibson Les Paul is unmistakable – it snarled like a cornered tiger and commanded any musical performance it was involved with.

But the weight got me down… literally… and one day I sold it to a notable and currently successful musician. That was in 1990 or so.

The new owner traveled the World with it – and took on a new life of its own.

Then one day: It was in the locked trunk of of the owner, “Sean’s” 1980 Buick in underground, gated parking beneath the Seagate Apartments on Esquimalt Rd. He came home after an afternoon practice and had left it for around two hours before he had to head out to another practice. Two hours in a locked basement garage. It could have been an inside job, an unscrupulous neighbour… someone that clearly did not appreciate the fact that this particular guitar playing fellows livelihood depended on those 6 stringed instruments. Guitar be gone.

Anyway – occasionally I make a shout out to the World about this missing guitar – likely in the wrong hands, maybe getting played, maybe not or in the hands of someone that is not aware that it is hot.

Anyway – here is the picture of the guitar stolen years ago – and somewhere out there, this guitar is waiting to come home to its owner. If you see it, please send it on its way.

The original owner thanks you!

This was a 1971 or 1972 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe with hard case stolen from the Seagate Apartment parking lot in 1992. The serial number is 171568

Any intel on this item would likely be rewarded with cash or whole bean coffee! Or both!

Working on a music project – that is all.

Andrea asked me to cook up something Latin while I was working on a “special” music project. I have just completed assembling my current home recording studio and have been working on a couple of special projects to see how everything sounds – a shake down as it were.

My small basement “grotto” sound work-shop features a 24-Track digital audio workstation, a 12 in / 2 out mixing board, APEX floating plate condenser microphones, Cort and Godin guitars, a digital piano and a variety of incidental percussion – as well as a synth stand-up bass. It’s a good set-up for just about every kind of music.

OK so back to the request – I have a spare hour or two because I am currently on vacation. Let’s see, apart from noodling on the occasional Latin or Spanish rhythm, I have never attempted anything start to finish. There is nothing really that complicated about this piece – more a case of starting in the right groove and staying there.

Click here for audio file if you cannot see flash player above.


My wife is a huge fan of Ottmar Liebert, you know, that German born, Flamenco-Spanish guitar playing wizard…

Well she wanted something that sounded like that.

So, I winged it. Enjoy. It is 5 minutes long and perhaps a bit stretched for a Spanish piece – and currently lacking any lyrics, might drag a bit.

Enjoy. I play everything on it. Feel free to download, enjoy on your iPod, play while you are in the shower or doing whatever. It’s up to you. More to come in time!

Tommy Emmanuel launches Pan-Canadian Tour

This week, my nephew William (an aspiring guitar player), and I (a guitar slinger since the mid-70’s) had the pleasure of seeing finger style guitar player Tommy Emmanuel – in person at the Mcpherson Playhouse in Victoria, B.C.

Arguably one of the hardest working solo acts in the business, Tommy has been touring for over 5 decades. Starting his career at age 4 in a family rich with musical heritage, Tommy was playing professionally by the age of 6 in a family band and by 10 years of age had already toured Australia.

With a Chet Atkins “Certified Guitar Player” title (and I know of no other players who have this accreditation…) and 2 Grammy nominations, Tommy’s 7 year stint of touring a minimum of 300 dates a year is truly breath taking and staggering. It is no wonder that his skill with the 6 string guitar borders on the unnatural and nearly impossible. His evening show, comprised of 2 1.5 hour sets, left everyone (particularly the musicians in the audience) staggered and, like me, elated and exhausted at the same time – witnessing the level of showmanship and raw focused talent.

As mentioned above, there is a major influence from Chet Atkins, who was clearly a leader in guitar playing technique from the 1940’s through executive production roles in the 70’s – and his influences (which are readily audible in Tommy Emmanuel’s style include Merle Travis, Django Reinhardt, George Barnes, Les Paul and Jerry Reed.) And in Tommy’s show, he displays all of these with perfection and aplomb. In fact, some of the delivery is so rapid fire that you often are not sure if Tommy is drawing on some historic influence or cooking it up on the fly and in the moment. Either way, it is guitar fireworks like you have never seen.

Being an acoustic and electric guitar player, with a (I think) modest level of accomplishment at an intermediate level, I felt like 1.5 hours of Tommy’s playing would be perfect for me — because I am there for the joy of the music and the learning. In fact, a guitar workshop (which he does frequently) would have been a better choice. Fact is, I am more of a technique technician than an actual performer – meaning I spend way more time hammering out technique than actual melodic playing. But for the fan of Tommy and his art, his show was engaging, long on humility and genuine engagement and light on the grandstanding typical of this level of artist. His sense of humor infused all but the most serious of tunes – and there were a few… and I will not spoil the surprise as this is, after all, tour date number one.

Not surprisingly, the McPherson theater was a full house – what was odd, however, was the age group of the audience – 65+. There were even 90 years young folk at the show and as many guitar players as I know, many were clearly absent. And upon additional investigation, I found that many of my guitar playing friends who worship Tommy’s skill set and live shows, discovered that the local show was not very well locally publicized. Even I kind of fell upon some tickets that my nephew had purchased months ago (that his guitar teacher had tipped him off to). And by the time I had clued in and checked the theater online ticket listings, there were only singles available. Which is not a problem for the artist, because the room was full. I guess in an ere of social media, when one wants to follow an artists tour, they need to subscribe to their feed – whether it is facebook, e-mail or twitter. Whatever works.

Anyway – for the rest of you Canadian guitar players out there that want to catch Tommy Emmanuel live, head over to the tour date page – His shows feature a lot of his original material, many of the cover tunes that he interprets oh so well, and some humor and story telling thrown in for good value. As I quipped to my nephew, “Everything I can play on the guitar, and I mean everything I know… Tommy can play in about 5 minutes at break neck speed…”

I have seen many, many YouTube videos featuring Tommy Emmanuel and his live performances are hotter than anything you can watch on a screen — if such a thing is possible.
So grab a ticket. And enjoy! And happy guitar playing!

Starbucks on the recruitment drive

Starbucks is dedicated to hiring 10,000 veterans and military spouses in the next five years.

Organized in part by Starbucks board member and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the Seattle coffee giant said it hopes to “enlist” the unique communication, leadership and problem-solving skills most veterans and their families already have.

Quoting a recent L.A. Times article, “The hiring effort, which would affect Starbucks’ U.S. stores, is also a reaction to the “exorbitantly high unemployment rate that military families and veterans face,” Starbucks Executive Community development officer Blair Taylor explained.

Starbucks will set up recruiting processes “specifically targeted at veterans,” he said. The chain is “just starting to track military hires,” he said.

Other major U.S. businesses, like Walmart, have recently made efforts to pull employees from the nation’s defense forces.

Starbucks will open five community stores at U.S. military bases over the next five years… much like Tim’s does in some of its Canadian bases abroad.

Fascinating stuff in light of the some of the many challenges veterans and their families face as they return to civilian life. Hats off to Starbucks.

Living in a wireless world – safe yes or no

Podcast

In an era of great technological advance, the question always arises – how good are these advances, conveniences and marvels of technology for us… in general? You know, our health… mental and physical.

I, for one, am typing this blog entry on a Macbook Pro connected through a secure wireless network – and I know my router pretty well… I customized the settings – I have the power level at “medium” – most people are not aware that they can tweak their routers in a myriad of ways – and for me, setting the router output power to a level that works within your work space makes sense in a variety of ways; 1.) It is more secure if you keep your range within the confines of your home and 2.) It adds the minimum of wireless energy to existing orchestra or medley of wireless signals in your living space.

And so you know: I do not believe for a second that 1 device or the output of a handful of devices is going to harm you in any quickly identifiable way – the scientific evidence is not really there.

What I do question (actually I question a couple of different things about this topic area) is the immediate acceptance of any technology that is foisted upon us (or, ahem, introduced) without a sound fiscal or technical rationale for spending a small fortune on introducing the technology. And I know this is kind of late in the game but I heard recently that there have been some perfectly sound judicial decisions about the technology and some of the responses from some local media types is that the Tin foil hat wearers and those that suspect that their PIN Numbers or souls are being stolen by this technology need to relax or take a pill. Which, to me, is nothing more than cruel bullying – and are we not on that very subject of bullying a lot lately?

My point is – I respect anyone (smart or not so much) that questions stuff, any stuff – and even if their claims are a little off the wall, there is no reason to insult anyone.

So: More on where I am coming from. My actual area of expertise is electronics engineering technologist – and my main discipline is, guess what, telecommunications. So I know a little bit about wireless technology. So, let’s talk about wireless for a bit… and wireless radiation.

There are two types of radiation in nature: Ionizing radiation and non-ionizing radiation. Examples of non-ionizing radiation include cell phones, routers, ham radios, walkie-talkies, radio and TV transmitters, hair dryers (yes, hair dryers) – virtually any electrical or electronic device that has “inductive” properties (has a motor), modern power supplies (like a wall wart for a laptop computer) – even computers themselves radiate a bit of energy on a broad range of frequencies.

Examples of ionizing radiation include X-ray machines, ultraviolet light, gamma radiation and all that neat stuff that nuclear weapons and processes throw off. The thing about ionizing radiation that is bad is: It can (and does) alter your DNA, cause cancer and/or birth defects. It is that simple. No one questions this.

Non-ionizing radiation and electro-magnetic radiation are being studied from many angles for their potential health effects. Here are some examples of what we know. High levels of microwave radiation from cell phones, cell phone towers, radio transmitters, high power routers and other transmitting devices raise your body temperature (when in proximity of the device)… raise it slightly. What the effects of this we are not clear on. Thing is, we have not been using this technology for very long – it is the product of modern living (as in the last 110 years or so…)

When you think about it for a minute, modern medicine is the last 100 years worth of advances. It was not that long ago in history that we discovered antibiotics, antihistamines, remarkable drugs for all kinds of things – even treatments for cancer that were non-existent only a few years ago. And humans have been roaming the planet for thousands and thousands of years – so, point is: A lot of what we are doing today is pretty darn new.

My bigger point: It was only a few years ago, that people would suggest that folks with Fibromyalgia were imagining their symptoms – was all in their heads. This condition is now accepted to be real.

I personally know people that swear that they are effected, in some way, by the presence of high tension power lines (you know the ones, the 300kv transmission lines that cross many rural areas.) There is no physiological reason why anyone should be impacted by the presence of AC power lines near their home – that we currently know of. But who knows what we might discover in the future. We are, after all, bio-electrical creatures… so, who knows right?

Back to the wireless stuff and the smart meters: If you have ever been to the symphony, you will notice that everything seems pretty quiet during the violin solo – and then the rest of the violins kick in and the other strings and then the percussion – My point: 1 or 2 wireless devices in your immediate area are likely not doing you any more harm than running a hair dryer near your noggin – and definitely less of an issue than using a cell phone for 1/2 hour a day. But the more devices that are around you, the higher the levels of energy – it is that simple… and remember this:

The level of energy you encounter from any device drops, in intensity, is at the inverse square of the distance – simply, at 2 feet away, the energy is 1/4 and at 4 feet away it is 1/16th etc. It drops off pretty quickly.

So: Are Smart meters harming anyone? Well. That depends. If one burps out a burst of wireless data every minute or so – more or less at the level of a cell phone and you have one in your home, chances are, it is competing with a bunch of other devices – and some of them are chattering even more frequently. And if you live in a condo or high rise and there are dozens or hundreds of units in your space, then there are hundreds of these device ejaculating bursts of 900+ Mhz energy almost continuously.
Good or bad, we do not currently know.

What I do know is that it is likely less healthy to stress out about it and raise your blood pressure about the possible effects of something that we do not completely understand. If the average person finds these technologies intolerable, then they should have the option of limiting their exposure – and for sure they should not be ridiculed in public or privately. I have been seeing a bit of this in the social media realm and it sickens me. The same person that would ridicule someone who objects to this technology or fears it or questions the wisdom of the investment is clearly the same kind of person who abhors the sight of a handicapped person, a child or adult with a learning disability or someone in a wheel chair… etc. I think my point is clear. Bullying anyone who fears something, legitimately or not does not deserve your pious judgement.
For now, I can sleep at night knowing that all this technology is likely not killing me (that I know of…) and yes, I am an expert on the subject.

if you cannot see the audio thing above, click here for the mp3.

Toshiba Netbook NB555D quick look

The Toshiba Netbook model NB555DHaving acquiesced to pressure from my chief significant other (she) having grown tired of watching me hover over my Asus Eee PC 4G (and its 7” screen) like a microbiologist examining a specimen…

I finally departed mid-2007 and came into the modern times with a Toshiba Netbook model NB555D. In good time too – we have been hauling the little Asus around the World (well, back and forth to Hawaii to be exact) for many years now – running its native Fischer-Price style of Linux (Xandros if I am not mistaken…) and a handful of Live USB sticks with iterations of Ubuntu just to be safe.

I had just become fully comfortable manipulating the OS on this little sub-notebook sized unit (just installed “Leeenux” – a light duty version of Ubuntu even less bloated than Easy Peasy… The Asus Eee runs great, still does – and it will travel more – just not on the next Hawaii trip – coming up in a few weeks.

The search for a slightly better netbook was not a long one – managed to zero in on the Toshiba Netbook model NB555D fairly quickly. Simplified by the fact that I did not want another Asus (at least right away), did not want a Sony, and did not want anything running Android on a device that would be locked to that OS.

What I found kind of interesting and slightly annoying was the complete lack of any credible peer reviews of the Toshiba Netbook model NB555D – nothing. One 1 paragraph review and a you tube link. The rest were ads and zero content lazy shills with links to vendors – more of the net seems to be like that sadly.

Anyway – what of the Toshiba Netbook model NB555D? With a 10.1” LED back-lit screen and a decent size keyboard (for my large hands…) and an energy scrimping Ghz AMD processor – (superior video processing to its Intel brethren in another similar model number) – and an attractive blue shell (and an interesting finish…) I guess I was prepared to be happy from the moment of purchase.

That would not come immediately.

The Toshiba Netbook model NB555D ships with Windows 7 “starter” – but let’s call it what it is – Windows “stripped down” is more like it – but that is OK all things considered. And here is one reason why:
Windows 7 is a memory guzzler. The Toshiba Netbook model NB555D ships with 1Gb of DDR3 1066Mhz RAM – which is what the Toshiba Netbook model NB555D needs to be happy – leaving little left over for apps.

Out of the box, the Toshiba Netbook model NB555D is a slug until it gets through a series of software updates and software self optimization (A windows 7 feature – it actually “learns” some of your preferences and practices as you use it more…)
One of the first things I did was axe the “Norton Starter” that comes with it – I use AVG Free for virus protection but Microsoft Essentials (Free anti-virus) would have been a good choice too.

Next I loaded “CRAP Cleaner” – a great tool from Piriform.com (also free) and got into the start-up manager and pulled a bunch of useless utilities and “launch speeders” that accelerated the appearance of the “Login screen” from a miserable minute and a half to a respectable 50 seconds.

In a head to head with the 2007 Asus Eee 4G PC, the faster machine (the Toshiba Netbook model NB555D) actually lagged the Asus oldie in every instance.
Using Crap Cleaner really got things zipping – still slower than the much older Asus however. More on its performance after I upgrade to 2G of RAM (in a few days)… with more user comments and software tweak suggestions!

The decline of the American small business empire part one

Guitar necks are us...My buddy Chris, and I, sit over coffee most mornings at the University of Victoria’s Finnerty Express – it is my morning hang out. We are often in the company of retired or working Math professors, economists, technicians and even gardeners. There is always a lively discussion on topics as widely varied as politics, religion and events of the day.

Chris had a story recently that was too hard not to share. And it is all about the decline of customer service and small business in America (much of this could apply to Canada as well…) So here we go.

Chris and I are both aspiring musicians, both of us being active guitar players and singers. We actually performed recently in front of a lively crowd of around 100 people in one of the Grad student lounges on campus.

Chris likes to build and modify guitars – for most of us guitar types, the endless tweaking of our instrument is in our blood. In this particular instance, Chris was ordering a neck for one of his prized instruments, an old Fender Telecaster. He was ordering this new component from Seattle – and as it turned out, one weekend recently, he found himself in Seattle, not far from the factory that makes the parts that he was looking for.

So. Brilliant. He was in town and decided to head to the factory store and get his purchase directly. Over he goes. When he gets to the store, somewhere near Redmond Washington, he drives into the parking lot and walks up to the door. Looking in he can see a wall of instrument parts and the desired neck he seeks. There is a sign on the door. “Appointment only – showroom not open!”
Chris sees someone working in the store and beckons him to the locked door. A fellow comes over and open the door an inch. The guy points to the sign. Chris says, “I have come all the way from Victoria and would like to buy one of those necks… I have the cash in my pocket…” Store clerk: “We do not accept drop ins… you will need to call for an appointment…” Clerk hands him a card with the 1-800 number.
Chris backs away and phones the number.
You guessed it. The clerk in the store picks up the phone at the counter. I kid you not.
The clerk takes his information and comes back to the door.
Chris comes into the store and points to the neck he is interested in.
Clerk says: “We do not do direct store sales generally…” “You will have to place an order on the internet…”
Chris repeats, “I have cash in my pocket, I want that neck on the wall… and you have a shipping area in the back… can I pick it up there?”
“the shipping area is for couriers only… fedex, purolator, etc…” the clerk tosses out.

At the end of the exchange, Chris was several feet away from a guitar component that he was ready and willing to pay for on the spot – and was unable to because of a poorly operated business with completely and unflinchingly inept staff.

This is one reason while America is failing. They have lost touch with reality and the ability to do business.

Example two from the beleaguered Chris:
Chris recently bought an audio mixing board from a company in the U.S.
Over the internet.
Audio mixing boards: All of us musicians have one. We often use it to hook up multiple instruments and microphones in a studio or stage situation.
Chris needed a small mixer for performance scenarios. He found the one he was looking for at a decent price. Brand new. When he purchased it online, he took the option for “extended warranty and insurance coverage” — for virtually any situation; drop it off a cliff, it is covered. No worries.

Within a week, his mixer arrives. But it does not work properly.
He calls the help line for the equipment company that sold him the equipment.
Chris tells his story, “The gear arrived but it does not work… it is broken… there are several channels that are dead…”
“Not sure what we can do for you…” says the voice on the telephone…
Chris reminds them, “I bought warranty coverage for this piece of…”
“Ah, says the fellow on the help line…” “you are describing a pre-existing condition sir… it did not fail while it was in your possession! Your warranty coverage does not cover this!”

Say what?

I looked at the mixer for him – it was a simple take apart and I am a qualified technician. By the looks of it, it could not have worked even from the factory – it was defective in that there were cold solder joints and solder bridges from the factory. It never worked. It could never have worked. Shocking.

Anyway – 2 months on and Chris is still fighting via the phone and the internet to get his money back, a refund or something functional.

Another reason why America is in trouble…
Because small business and manufacturing have utterly lost their way.

This is the 1st chapter in what might become a small series in why we are falling down in the area of manufacturing and customer service in North America.