Category: tech

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.

BC Hydro where for art thou

We had a power outage from 7AM until around 11:30AM today.

And it was patently obvious that outages were widespread — but because of my naturally curious nature, I went over to the BC Hydro website to look at the outage map — and the site stated: If your neighborhood is NOT on the map, please contact us — which I attempted… via mobile phone…
and their system would not recognize my address or phone number… so I went to the website to report the outage online — which it would not let me do UNLESS I had a linked online account with BC Hydro — which I do.

So: In order to report an outage online I need to have a “linked” online account… which I do. But the website reported that I did not lave a linked account even though I was logged in and “linked”

Being an emergency coordinator with the CRD in Victoria, it is very important to me that people be able to report to the primary utilities that something is amiss – and the system needs to work. BC Hydro’s system, however, failed miserably.

For all I knew, there might have been a small handful of customers in my 1km circle out – in fact, there were hundreds of neighbors without power. I wonder how many of them, elderly and not-as-technicial, were fretting about when and if their power would come back on.

On the plus side, this was a good time to check my emergency radio equipment – and everything worked like a charm. I was able to reach out via our amateur (ham) radio community VHF/UHF repeater grid which allows me to talk to pretty much any corner of Vancouver Island with ease. As well, my HF (Shortwave) system allowed me to reach out as far South as California and out to Ohio in the East on very low power.

For those interested in emergency planning and ham radio: There are thousands of active (volunteer) radio operators in B.C. that engage in emergency radio networks on a daily basis, year around and even on Christmas day —
Ostensibly to help keep communities safe and connected.

Now if BC Hydro could figure out their system glitches that would be great – It kind of begs the question: With all these smart meters in place, why do I need to report anything online or via the phone?

Updates, this that and those other things…

Nothing like staying awake several hours in the night worried about the fact that two of your main websites are dysfunctional after a suggested system update.

In this case, a software update was made to my main coffee website and my main telecom/radio website.

The radio website has a huge technical library on board with a modest subscription service…
meaning I get some coins when someone wants to browse the growing library.
And that makes sense – In many years, my tech library gets upwards of 60,000 document downloads.
That is bandwidth that I have to pay for.

Since instituting a fee subscription service (and a request for donations to keep the service running), the response has been very favorable.
Meaning if you need something, all you need do is ask.

Because everyone is generous… for the most part.

And what of the guitar? I am currently testing out an amazing “black box” for a company that I cannot currently name – it is actually a vocal processor that does natural sounding harmonizing, pitch correction, commercial grade effects rack, phantom power for commercial microphones and lots more. At some point, if I get permission I will review it – and you will get to hear me sing… in many different ways.

Yea. Look forward to that!

Moving, moving, moving…

If you have noticed an absence of activity around these parts for the last month, it is because I have been prepping numerous websites for an “experimental” move off of Islandnet.com (after almost 18 years with them…) after many technical hiccups, slow downs, the occasional Ddos attacks etc – it was simply time for a change.

Do not get me wrong – Islandnet has been great – it has been puzzling to me why (for me) that are the slowest loading pages on the internet. My customers and readers simply cannot wait 10 to 20 seconds – sometimes minutes for the pages of my sites to load. Additionally, I will be keeping my Islandnet accounts very much alive as instant back up for my own new ISP that I have created – I do still believe in product loyalty and keeping “largely good” relationships intact.

So, I have moved over to Linode.com where I am my own ISP maintaining my own virtual cloud servers – 10 times the firepower and arguably 5 times the speed – for around the same coin – with tons of space to spare.

My bottom line folks is keeping my websites fast and accessible to my readers – no excuses, no technical foul ups, no mysteries…

I do not “do the web” merely as a pass time. I have a message and lots of media to share – and if there are black-outs, I want to be the one responsible for it.

Enjoy the new experience on DXer.ca and Coffeecrew.com for starters. More to come.
And now I can concentrate on getting some new content out there. Thank you for your patience!

Rites of Spring #15 – Gadgets – playing with the TASCAM US-100 interface

TASCAM US-100 USB Audio interface with Phono inputsThis is the first in a series of features focusing on the geek aspects of my life under the category of digital audio.

I have a home based studio powered by a 3.2 Ghz PC running Windows XP. One of my main audio interfaces in the M-Audio Delta 44 4 channel audio interface tied into a 12-in / 2-out Behringer analog mixing board. I use APEX floating plate microphones and Adobe audition software for multi-track audio recording and mastering.

An old friend of mine needed a portable USB interface device that would handle phono inputs from his turntable into his slightly older PC. After a bit a research and phone calls to the good folks at Long & McQuade, I had my hands on the very affordable TASCAM US-100 multi-mode USB audio interface.

The TASCAM’s US-100 bridges a wide variety of analog devices like cassette decks and turntables as well as guitars, basses, keyboards and non-phantom powered microphones into your PC or MAC. The microphone input handles any dynamic microphone (like the SHURE SM-58), or you can plug in your guitar or bass directly into the instrument-level input. Stereo line inputs can be switched to RIAA phono level for digitizing your LP’s from any turntable. A USB 2.0 connection guarantees hassle free playback on any Mac or Windows box, and solid aluminum construction looks like it could survive anything I could throw at it.

The online specs read: The US-100 records in stereo at CD-quality 48kHz/16-bit resolution and includes a free copy of Audacity software to get you started.

Oddly my sample did not come with any software but the fabulous AUDACITY software is readily downloaded along with a veritable forest of plug-ins.

I was up and running in minutes and playing my guitar directly into my PC (and then my MAC Powerbook for good measure) – I then patched one of my favorite semi-pro cassette decks from the 80’s – the JVC DD-5 into the RCA inputs on the TASCAM US-100 for some whisper quiet recording on the PC. Some of my song demos from the 80’s, however banal nowadays, sure sounded sweet through this set-up. And NO, no one is ever hearing those demos!

The TASCAM US-100 has a single balanced XLR and 1/4” unbalanced microphone input, as well as unbalanced stereo RCA line ins and outs. I have been using TASCAM products since the 1980’s (with the venerable TASCAM 144 and 244 cassette multi-track units.) As usual, TASCAM and Long & McQuade have never let me down. Their staff are awesome and no matter where you go in Canada, you are going to be singing the praises of Long & McQuade and Tascam products.

Rites of Spring #14 – Facebook suicide run. Good bye.

facebook - join the exodus - you don't need it and neither do I. Suicide pact Facebook.Signed on to Facebook for about 10 days. More out of curiosity than anything else. Twitter has been working out quite well – and not surprisingly.
I mean, Twitter is a very simple thing. You post thoughts and hopefully link to some richer media somewhere.
It works… like you would expect.

But I digress.

I signed up for Facebook knowing full well how dodgy and sketchy Facebook is with peoples personal information. We have always known that Facebook is a data mining center for the folks who pay the execs at Facebook top dollar for every bit of minutia you put on your profile. It’s for sale. You’re for sale. And you can never really delete that information… ever. Never.

I knew that.

I also know that everything you put on Facebook (pictures, content, multimedia) belongs to Facebook forever. Your pictures? Theirs. Your life? Theirs. It is in the user agreement. You have no excuse if you are offended and do not understand this.

I get this.

What I was not ready for was the amount of spam mail that I got that seemed to fit in, puzzle like, and locked fit to every little detail of my personal profile.
What I discovered was: In my “interests” are on Facebook, I have; hiking, skiing, race car driving, helicopter piloting, ballet, etc etc…

And I was soon being buried on my e-mail with shills for hiking, skiing, race car driving and so on. You get the picture.

And I had my “privacy” settings locked down as hard as they could go.

So I should not be surprised that Facebook sells everything on you… and me.
But I was… a little.

But I left. After 10 days. And it’s OK.
Because tens of thousands of people are leaving Facebook daily. Some of these departures are affectionately referred to as suicide pacts – group departure from an online social network that is, oh so obviously… so… yesterday.

The online user base (and the folks at Facebook should pay attention to this) are pretty savvy.
And like old friends who turn out to be con artist scum balls… we eventually clue in.
I did.
And you can too.

Spring into birdsong – why we do not twitter

I embrace technology. Heck, I have been doing this for too many years. When I first started monkeying around on the internet, there were no web servers. They were called gopher servers – and they served up text.

My first attempts at webbing were launched from a Windows 3.11 for Work groups box (an IBM PC) around 1995 or so. That was a century ago in internet time.

So now we have streaming audio and video and dynamic web pages that change with every glance. I am good with that, dog. Really I am.

I believe that I owe it to my dedicated reader that I keep it fresh and real.

I do not believe, however, that there are more than a very small handful of people out there that would hang onto every word – if I offered truly up to date snippets of my every thought.

Twitter.

I do not do it. I will not do it.

No one needs to know what I am thinking when I am standing on the corner of 1st and Main Street. No one needs to know when I am sipping on a truly great coffee in a remarkable setting. I can tell them later.

Twitter is an alarming indication that we are getting a tad too self indulgent.
I went through the eighties – I was in my 20’s. And let me tell you folks… the only difference between then and now (for me) was more hair and more hair gel… and a lot more self indulgent behavior from just about everyone around me.

I have a theory. We never actually left the eighties. The mentality is still very much alive in all of us. There are many of us that actually feel that there is an audience for our every utterance, our every stomach gurgle, our every thought – however useless and every trivial thought that jumps from our synapses.

Enough already. How about some quiet.
Take some… on me.


Colin Newell is a Victoria resident and long time user of the World Wide Web. His handiwork has graced the cyber-World for going on 2 decades… if anyone is counting that is.


Technology madness in the modern World #1

If I had an extra 5 or 6 hours a day… to think… and perchance to write, I would have more strange stuff to feed you…
Perhaps more than you would like.
I mean, everything here is written and read (by you) voluntarily.
You can shut if off whenever you want. And never come back.

Which is kind of counter intuitive compared to what we have to deal with in the modern World. Having stuff pushed on us that is. Constantly.

(And)When I talk and write about cafe culture, I often remind my audience that coffee is the number two most traded commodity on the Planet… Oil being first.

But is this supposition entirely true? Are humans not the number one commodity on the Planet? Our minds are bought, sold, pitched to, filled and subjected to rendition on an almost continuous basis. And so much so that we are rarely aware that we are being manipulated?

Some examples: Facebook. Facebook is a data mine for marketers. Explain that to the average user of Facebook and you will get that classic, Dog cocking its head as its master makes a funny noise look.

Television. Everyone knows that 50% of the crap on TV is designed to sell you something, to sanitize something, to perfume something, to put you in a car and get you away from over sanitized and funky smelling stuff.

And if you are Rami Tambello of illegalsigns.ca (the Toronto area rogue spear fighting a winning battle against big visual ad agencies like Pattison Outdoor – who bend the rules for fun and profit…) you know the distance large corporations will go to get their message shoved down your visual cortex…
In Rami’s own words: “Ad agents lie for a living… trying to convince you that a pair of blue jeans will make you sexy… a fragrance will make you desirable…”

So. For liars, breaking the law on a daily basis comes naturally.
And you can almost avoid the visual assault – if you are legally blind that is.

So what’s next you ask? Apparently a technology called Hypersonic Sound (developed by the U.S. Military no less) can actually beam messages directly into your head — and there is no tin-foil hat made that will protect you.
H.S. technology uses ultrasonic beams of narrowly focused acoustic energy that can quite literally be concentrated into an area the size of a bread-box… or a nut house – which is where you will think you are when you experience it.

Which begs the question: What private space is left for we humans? Our brains were once considered the ultimate private sanctuary, a zone where other people can’t intrude without our knowledge or permission – This barrier has been eroded it seems.

Rami Tambello concludes, “There is no distance that advertisers will not go to… to deliver their message or product. There is so much money… profit at stake…breaking the laws of the community, pushing all the boundaries of what is communally acceptable – well, it is part of doing business… all in a days work.”

Yay. Thanks Rami.


In this continuing series on invasive technology in the 21st century, the CoffeeCrew blog will focus on the folly of modern technical wares and how they are not improving our lives.