Friday, February 27, 2009

Exercise Caution with Valuables

Brent’s car was broken into tonight at the church while he was playing basketball.  The thief/vandal/scum-of-the-Earth took his wallet, but interestingly enough left the iPod, stereo, and expensive sunglasses untouched.

So now Brent gets to experience the joy of replacing his wallet, driver’s license, credit cards, and passenger window of his car.  Not to mention all of the time spent cleaning up the broken glass (which works its way into every nook, cranny, crack, pocket, crevice, fissure, gap, cleft, and air vent in the vehicle, never to be fully found again).  He also has a fun rattle in the door whenever it is opened or closed.  Not a good thing in any car, much less one that is only 5 months old.

You have to wonder if the thief feels like it was worth the effort and risk of being caught.  There was a total of $10 in cash in the wallet, and Brent immediately called and reported his credit cards stolen, so they wouldn’t be worth much.  Real bright.

Monday, February 16, 2009

I’m an Uncle again!

My sister Cheryl had her fourth child Sunday at 10:46 AM EST.  Her name is Kacie, she is 7 lbs 9 oz, and is 19” long.  She is healthy, and both she and her mom are doing well.

kacie Welcome to the family, Kacie!  And congrats to her mom and dad!

Doug’s Typical Day

Times vary widely, but the activities are fairly typical of any given day, Monday through Saturday.

11:00 am – Wake up, process any incoming software orders, grab some toast, a yogurt, banana, or bowl of cereal from the kitchen, head back to the computer to eat while continuing the day.

11:05 am – Look over the 50-60 emails received overnight, begin responding to the most critical, easiest to answer, and the ones that have been sitting in my inbox too long.

11:45 am – Check the technology news sites for anything new and exciting in the last 24 hours. 

12:00 pm – Take a look over the databases and logs from the different stores running our Point-of-Sale software.  Perform any needed grooming and fix any issues with any servers or registers that have obvious problems. 

12:30 pm – Begin working on one of the various programming projects I’m involved with… these days that is usually the Point-of-Sale system, in preparation for Pizza Expo in early March.

4:00 pm – Time for a break.  That usually involves showering, getting dressed, checking the mail, processing any email from the last few hours, and making a quick lunch/snack.

4:30 pm – If I have any shopping or other errands to do, do that for the next little while.  Back to the computer to do (you guessed it) more coding.

6:00 pm – I’m on shift now for technical support calls for the Point-of-Sale system, though I often get some rollover from the prior shift starting around mid-afternoon.  Still coding when I’m not taking care of POS issues.

7:45 pm – Time for another break.  Quick second lunch or snack.  This is usually when the TV gets turned on to catch any evening shows I follow, but only in the background (I’m not mentally able to just sit and watch TV without doing something else). 

8:00 pm - Back to coding, unless it’s Friday, in which case it’s time to start cleaning up the living room and kitchen areas for Movie Night guests.

10:00 pm – Phone calls and emails have subsided by now, so I can really concentrate on getting some good programming done.  (Phone calls during the day, even quick ones, throw me off by as much as 30-45 minutes each, so my post-10 pm ‘no interruptions’ time is special.)

12:00 am – Snack break.  Check tech and news sites and my email again and catch up on any friends’ blogs that have been updated.  Back to coding.

3:30 am – Start to look for a good place to wind down programming for the day. 

4:00 am – Really start to look for a good place to wind down programming for the day.  Start thinking about going to bed.  On a night when I’m at a good stopping place, this is about where I can start wrapping things up.  Otherwise…

Between 4:15 am and 5:00 am – Finally getting to a point where I can really wrap up coding for the day.  Climb into bed.

Between 5:00 am and 5:30 am – Scripture study if it’s a day where I can still keep my eyes open.  Flip on a TV show or two or three I’ve seen a million times so I can …

Between 5:15 am and 6:00 am – Finally fall asleep.

What is your typical day like?   Post on your blog, then paste a link in the comments section below.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Digital TV Transition Update #2

As if this wasn’t confusing enough, there has been yet another change in the transition to all-digital television broadcasts.

Last week I wrote that most Utah stations were going to go ahead and make the switch in February as originally planned.  All but one have now changed their minds.

As it stands today (and who knows for how long), the only station in Utah that is going to turn off their analog transmitter on February 17th is KUCW, Channel 30 (CW Network).  All of the rest have decided to wait until June 12th.

Are we all thoroughly confused yet?  Write to the head of the executive branch to express your frustration; we all knew what was going on before he stepped in and made a mess of it.  Politicians sure know how to make a mess of technological issues.

I’ll continue to update with whatever changes take place tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day…

Monday, February 9, 2009

25 Random Things

I originally posted this on Facebook, so some of you have probably already read this, but in case you haven’t… (I modified a few as well, so it might be worth skimming over.)

1. I am 6' -9" tall. (read this carefully)  But my height has never bothered me or slowed me down, aside from the fact that it makes dating harder.

2. I am definitely a night-owl... I usually go to bed at about 4am and get up around 10am. I like the quiet after everyone else has gone to bed, and I get far more done in the wee hours of the morning than the rest of the day combined, mainly because my phone doesn’t ring after 10pm.

3. I jump around from hobby to hobby, never quite perfecting any, but enjoying them all. Some that keep coming up are photography, video production, audio recording/production, woodworking, and working on my home theater. And sometimes I write software just for fun, when I don't have big projects filling my time.

4. My uvula (the little thingy that hangs down at the back of your mouth) is split in two, forming an inverted "Y." I think this is why I have a hard time swallowing pills.

5. I met the cast of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood when I was 4.

6. While going to high school, I was recruited into the Computer Club, where we went to regional and state programming competition all three years I was on the team. We placed 5th, 4th, and 1st in our region, and 10th, 9th, and finally 2nd place at state, tying the first place team's point total.

7. If I eat most green vegetables I get sick to my stomach. And I hate lettuce almost as much as my stomach does, so much that I get nauseated even when I smell it. I love fruit, on the other hand, and will always choose any fruit over chocolate.

8. It is often difficult for me to do things “the conventional way.”  I like to invent my own way of doing things too much to just accept the way that it is done by everybody else, especially when it comes to technology. 

9. I like bananas, but can only eat one half at a time. I have a mental block about finishing a whole banana. That same mental block nearly prevents me from eating the very last bite of a sandwich too.

10. I am much better at organizing social situations than I am at attending them. If I'm not the one in charge, or have a part to play, I get really anxious and want to find something else to do.

11. At the time, I was the only sophomore to ever have taken Physics in high school. I also took Physics II as a junior even though I hadn't yet had Calculus, which was a required prerequisite.

12. While going to BYU, there was one Computer Science class I took four times before I finally passed it -- with a "C". I also once took a Physics final exam and got a perfect 0% (yet still got an "A" in the class).

13. During my time at BYU, I was known for coming up with clever ways to ask girls out, and creative dates to take them on. My, how things change.

14. During my second year at BYU my roommate Dave and I entered the annual BYU computer programming competition sponsored by the Computer Science department -- and won!

15. Two of the hardest things for me to do are to sit down and read -- anything, and get up on time for anything that happens before 10:00 am.

16. I intentionally don't buy apple sauce because I love it. If I did, there's a chance I might not eat enough of anything else to be healthy.

17. The computer I spend most of my time on has 6 monitors (including one touch screen), 2 keyboards, 6 hard drives, 3 DVD drives, and 5 printers hooked up to it. And I use all of that hardware regularly. It also has two fingerprint readers, and scanners for barcodes, credit cards, and checks, all in addition to a graphics tablet, a Zune and iPod Touch. And a mouse.

18. As a freshman at BYU a couple friends and I started a radio station from our dorm. We broadcast to an area covering about 3000 students. (It was legal; I consulted with the FCC before turning it on.) It all went great for a couple weeks until I announced my name on air to say hi to someone, and within one minute a BYU official called me and told me to shut it down. We appealed multiple times until the executive council at BYU (the equivalent of the supreme court) decided they would not allow radio broadcasts on campus. Ever since then there is a rule in the student housing handbook prohibiting the use of radio transmission devices.

19. I have a hard time buying just one of anything. If one is good, two is usually better.

20. I hate snakes, even though I'm not afraid of them. Spiders and other insects don't bother me in the least, so I'm usually the one recruited to escort visiting "friends" outside.

21. People who come to visit my place will never believe this, but I actually love to have everything organized and neat. I just don't have enough space or time to make either of those happen to my level of satisfaction.

22. I LOVE putting together the technical side of any sort of event, whether that be audio, video, or otherwise. I love to make videos just for fun. I also love using equipment in my home recording studio. Unfortunately I haven't had many opportunities or time to do any of the above for quite some time.

23. I don't believe myself to be a good photographer even though people are always telling me otherwise. I always feel like I could be a lot better.

24. While in high school the media really liked me. Articles about me were written for multiple newspapers, several magazines, and I was on the local TV news for my computer programming adventures. As part of that I was featured in the cover story of the February 1991 "The New Era" magazine.

25. My sense of hearing is better than average. I can hear frequencies well above those of the average population. The down side of training my ears to be so sensitive is that it makes it hard to narrow down a single voice from across a loud room; I can't block out the sound of everything else around me.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Inside the Studio: Perfect Vocals?

I just read an article about how two well known R&B artists have just been caught using “Auto Tune” software to correct the pitch of their vocals on their latest CDs. I had to snicker a bit inside, as if this is some sort of major revelation, or something that is an anomaly in the recording industry. Truth is, nearly every vocal recording made these days is run through Auto Tune, at least in part. Some artists, on the other hand, base their whole careers on the ability of the Auto Tune software to correct their pitch, because otherwise they couldn’t sing their way out of a wet paper sack.

The process is called “Auto Tune” after the software that is used to do it, AutoTune by Antares. You have all heard the effect… remember the chorus of “Believe” by Cher in the late 1990s? That’s AutoTune, just cranked up to it maximum correction level. I, too, have this software, and have used pitch correction on virtually every recording I have made in my home studio for more than a decade (though I have moved on to something better since… more on that in a minute). The difference, I believe, in the way I use it vs. many pop artists is that I only use it to fix a handful of notes that are slightly off, not to construct a passable performance from one that wouldn’t be otherwise. There is a real expectation of perfection for anyone attempting to perform vocally by the public, and using pitch correction software is really the only way to achieve perfection. Even with those who have excellent vocal abilities, I still will run through their performance and fix anything that is even slightly off. Recordings are permanent, and nobody wants to be remembered for that one sour note.

Using technology to achieve a better recording is certainly not a new thing. Before AutoTune came around, singers would be asked to perform pieces of their music over and over again until a perfect performance could be put together from the various takes… use a little from Take 1, a little bit from Take 6, pick up a syllable from Take 2, go back to Take 1, and so on. This was typical of recordings made in the 70s and 80s, but the process still continues today, even before Auto Tune is added to the mix. (In fact, it isn’t uncommon for parts of a song that occur multiple times, like a chorus, to be recorded only once, then be copied and pasted elsewhere in the song.)

Like all technologies, pitch correction can really be abused as well. In fact, virtually all of the pop music scene has abused pitch correction technologies for years, but it is worse now than it has ever been. Many very well known performers would have no career if it weren’t for the ability to correct pitch. I dare say that a lot of the most popular artists, no matter their preferred genre, rely on the technology to make their careers viable. I won’t name names, but more artists rely on it than don’t. These days it’s more about how a performer looks rather than their singing ability, because even if someone sings poorly it can be fixed. So if you have a favorite performer who you believe to have an outstanding vocal ability, the odds aren’t in your favor that they actually do. And there isn’t any 100% sure way to know if they can or can’t sing either, unless you see a live performance which is really live (and not taped [taped performances are usually remixed in a studio afterward] or lip synced). But even in those cases Antares and others make processors that can correct pitch in real-time; all they need to know is the chord progression of a song (and some even create the harmony parts automatically too). Cheating, isn’t it??!?

As if this isn’t enough, the newer generations of pitch correction software correct more than just pitch. These days I’m using a product called V-Vocal (screenshot), which in addition to fixing pitch can also correct timing. So if someone doesn’t have a good sense of rhythm, no problem. If they always come in late or end early, it’s easy to correct with a single click and drag of the mouse. Not only that, but it can be setup to match the timing of another instrument or vocalist automatically. And as if that wasn’t enough, but it will also alter the formant of someone’s voice in case they sound too nasal or thick. Anybody want to sing like a chipmunk?

While I believe that software like this does have a place as a single tool in a much larger collection, somehow it has become the real performer, not the vocalist whose pipes are being run through it. It’s sad, too, that so many people who have genuine talent are cast aside because they may not look the part, or aren’t willing to sell their souls to a record company in order to get ahead. I certainly wouldn’t make AutoTune, V-Vocal, and other similar tools go away in a perfect world, but it would be really nice to see them take less of a critical role in the arsenal of tools used by recording engineers. But that’s out of my control, so I guess the best I can do is to use my own best judgment when it’s me at the controls of the mixing board (or computer, as is really the case). And so far, I think I’ve done okay.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Digital TV Transition Update

The federal government recently passed a law giving TV stations the option to delay their switch to all-digital transmission until June 12 instead of the original February 17th date.  But delaying the switch is optional, and each TV station can make their own decision on when they make the switch.  (IMHO, this only adds to the confusion, and doesn’t help to resolve the situation.)

Many other markets in the US are going to delay the switch, but stations here in Utah, for the most part have elected to stick to the original February 17th date.  Those still turning off their analog transmissions in February as originally planned are: KUTV Channel 2 (CBS), KTVX Channel 4 (ABC), KSL Channel 5 (NBC), KTSU Channel 13 (Fox), KJZZ Channel 14 (Ind), and KUCW Channel 30 (CW).  The stations that will continue their analog transmissions until June 12th are KUED Channel 7 (PBS), KUEN Channel 9 (Ind), and KBYU Channel 11 (PBS).

If you live in another market, please contact your local broadcaster for information on when they will be making the transition.

Trivia: A recent study indicated that it is primarily younger adults that are not “ready” for the transition, not the elderly as is commonly believed.  This seems to be attributed to the fact that younger viewers are more likely to get their entertainment from other sources such as the Internet or digital video services like iTunes.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Oh, the Hilarity

A few weeks ago I posted a link to a video created by Microsoft for their SongSmith product on my facebook account.  The cheesiness is delicious.  If you missed it, here it is:

The idea is that the software will create the backing music for a song that you make up by singing it. 

Some clever individuals have taken the vocal parts of some classic songs and run them through SongSmith to come up with some rather amusing results…

Roxanne by The Police

Hotel California by The Eagles

Eye of the Tiger by Survivor

White Wedding by Billy Idol

Creep by Radiohead

Beat It by Michael Jackson

And finally, Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley

Of course, this is becoming a very popular thing to do, so a search on YouTube for SongSmith yields tons of results.  Have fun!

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