Painful Admissions

“It’s Health and Safety gone mad”.

I hear that phrase a lot on telly and radio. But I really do get a lot of Health and Safety stuff at work. Most companies are pretty good these days – there are CSCS cards and other site safety measures, including risk assessments and toolbox talks. It’s all common sense and routine for the large part.

I admit that it mostly doesn’t apply to us suit-wearers in a remote office situation, but we still have to try to follow the same rules. We have monthly meetings in the big boardroom on Health and Safety that are, frankly, quite bizarre.

At one of these, the only female raised a major safety issue with an Incident Report because she went into the small office kitchen to make a cup of coffee, and slipped on what-she-described-in-the-documentation-as a “Branston Pickle” that some other kitchen user had dropped on the floor and failed to clean up in the course of making a sandwich at lunchtime.

I was telling this one to a chap just last week. This chap was returning to work for the company after a three-year spell of self-employment that didn’t work out. He laughed, but then recalled other tales of years gone by.

Apparently one of our co-workers had raised his hand at one of these Health and Safety meetings to draw attention to the fact that company car boot lids could be dangerous; he reported that he had accidentally shut the lid on his own head earlier that morning.  In fact he had completed the incident form and wanted to send it in as an incident.

Yes; he was grassing himself up for being dangerous to… himself!

OK. I laughed. But wait, I was told, there is more to this – at the following month’s Health and Safety meeting, the co-worker raised his hand and wanted to draw attention to the dangers of hitting one’s head on the company car boot lid.

Everyone remembered this from before, and as they muttered dismissively, the foreman showed us his bandaged head. That’s right; he had done it again.

And once again he had completed the forms reporting the incident officially.

One more strike, and he would be in danger of losing his job.

 

Mic Adaptor

When I bought my Focusrite bundle, I got a microphone and mic holder. This is what the holder looked like:

IMG_20160720_194957331

The thing is, my old boom stand had a mic slide holder of this type:

IMG_20160720_195119825

So I unscrewed the mic slide from the boom arm:

IMG_20160720_195202634

Then I tried attaching the new holder:

IMG_20160720_195235309

But the ends were the same gender and size. No fit! Oh No!  I tweeted and Focusrite told me it fitted most stands. I googled it and there are adaptors I thought I would have to buy. However. I then noticed something too obvious – which is why I over looked it!

IMG_20160720_195012954  which now fits: IMG_20160720_195248501

The mic holder had a threaded insert! I could have kicked myself for not seeing it straight away. Suddenly it made sense.

IMG_20160720_195518589

A few turns later, and the mic was on the boom, and the threaded insert adaptor was in The Drawer Of Weird Bits And Bobs.

So – user error as usual.

 

Bankers

Internet banking on one of my accounts stopped because the debit card had expired.

You can’t even ask for a replacement on-line because you need the card to get online.

I have not set up telephone banking for this bank, but I was forced to telephone.

There was a recorded menu. At the prompt I said (as clearly as I could)- “Replacement Card”, the confirmation was “So, you want a mortgage, is that right?”

“No, I want a new card”

“State what you want”

“I want a new card”

“Sorry I didn’t catch that, state what you want”

“New. Debit. Card.”

“Hold the line while we try to connect you…”

New menu

“What is the number on your card?” I gave it.

“Sorry your card has expired”

And so it went on. Eventually I was asked the last two numbers of the account, and I got them wrong! How is this even possible: I was reading them off a statement!

After five phone call attempts and three quarters of an hour, I get to speak with an Indian chap.

“Hi, all I want is a replacement debit card, could you please send me a new one?”

“Sure, OK, but first I need to take you through security questions…”

He asked my date of birth, my mother’s maiden name, the last two numbers of my account, and if I had any direct debits.

I answered them as well as I could.

“I’m sorry, sir, but the answers you have given do not match the records I have”.

“So are you saying you cannot send me a new debit card?”

“Every bank has security, sir.”

“Yes, but I am not actually banking, am I? I am asking for you to post a new card because the one I have got is out of date.”

“But you failed the security test”

“Wait a minute –  I know my mother’s maiden name and my date of birth, and I read the numbers out to you, there’s only one direct debit – a £3 insurance thing. What have I got wrong? Are you saying you have different answers on record? That my mother’s maiden name is different?”

“You have failed attempts earlier in the evening, sir…”

“Wait, I gave the right answers, the computer at your end cannot cope with my accent. I didn’t ask for a computer, I wanted a person. OK, which questions are wrong?”

“I cannot give you that information. Look, every bank in the UK has security to protect your account…”

“OK, I get that. I WANT my money to be secure, I really do. It is a very large sum of money. I do not want to lose it. But I am not doing banking here and now. Not today. Today is not for banking, I am merely reminding you to send me a plastic card by post to whatever address you have on your file, which you ought to have done automatically. This is not ‘banking'”.

“I cannot help you, sir.”

“Look, can I report the card lost or stolen, do I need to go through security to do that?”

“Yes, you need to go through security.”

CLICK

So today, I walked up to the branch and waited a few minutes in the queue.

“Can  I help you?” asked the old lady behind the counter.

“Yeah, I need a replacement card – mine has expired.”

“OK, what’s the account number?”

“Here’s the card”

“Good, and I need to ask you a security question”.

“Right. Go on then.”

“What’s your date of birth?”

I told her.

“That’s fine, the card will be with you by Friday, will that be all?”

“No, can I ask you why a new card wasn’t automatically sent out as the old was was expiring?”

“Oh, a card was sent.”

“Well, where is it then?”

“Perhaps it was lost in the post?”

“So there’s a live debit card at large out there? can someone use it?”

“Not without a PIN”

“But would it work with contactless payments?”

“Oooh, yes, I see what you mean – we’d better cancel the card then! I’ll mark it as Lost or Stolen shall I?”

“Yeah, so what protection – what security – have I got for my money against you posting out cards that anyone can go shopping with?”

“Well I will change the new one to a basic one – without the contactless payment feature if you like?”

“I would like that, yes, please – but what if this card has been used a lot since May?”

“I see what you mean, I’ll add a note to your file that it was not received in May when we sent it. You should get back any money that has been fraudulently taken.”

“I have to say, I am not very impressed with the security of this bank regarding my money. And I bet it will be a major headache getting the money back if your telephone banking service is anything to go by!”

So that’s that. I have decided to take my money elsewhere as soon as I get my new card and can get back onto do internet banking – thank goodness this is not my current account!

Music Making Begins

Well now, my hobby has taken off, and I am very pleased.

It has all been rather too easy to be frank. I decided on what I wanted to do, and within a few days I had sourced software, got tips and sourced the hardware too.

The hardware was bought on-line and arrived rather before I was ready for it.

There was trepidation regarding the software DAW, but after I read page one of the user guide, and downloaded then installed the drivers, I was making virtual music within minutes.

The hardware needed drivers, too – and, again – it all suddenly came to life.

I can plug in my wee red box to the USB, plug in a mic, guitar, bass or keyboard, make and arm a track, and I’m recording. Easy as pie.

It’s then rinse and repeat to play along with the previous track, building up a song.

The audio graphic for each thing recorded can be trimmed, pushed through virtual effects, panned left or right, and more – I can loop it, mirror it, copy it to another track for adding an effect. Oh! The things that can so easily be done.

I could have done all this for under a hundred quid, and used my old stage mic, but I went for the fancy mic and headphones, new clean leads and the very latest model too. I’m really happy, and everything just works well together.

Today I went for a DAC so that my finished work (as well as all my other computer-played music and videos) will sound stunning. Yeah, I blew another £60 I didn’t need to. But that is definitely THAT. Really. I had been meaning to get a DAC for ages and ages ever since I heard the difference at a pal’s.

I’m excited to be back in music, and I am looking forward to hearing good audio again. My plan is to dig out and set up my old turntable, CD, cassette player, and my Wharfedales – and also rig things so that sound will always be sweeeet.

If this is a wee hobby that you think might also interest you, the links you need are:

I bought the bundle:

The DAC that I just bought today (it’s not here yet):

The Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) or music making software:

If you want to be (or have to be) really cheap, you can pick up the 1st generation Scarlett 2i2 for £80, use your own headphones and stuff, and Reaper is fully functioning as a trial. You’ll be good to go.

 

Sky QoS Sadness

This is basically a moan about the time soaked up by technology. And another “lost” weekend.

Broadband is supposed to be a basic human right, or something close to it, but we’ve always struggled with it, and it’s been costly in terms of time, effort and hard earned cash.

We had a really crap internet speed for years, along with a noisy phone line. We switched several times. Then we switched to Primus – who promised on the phone to sort it out by getting us a new connection outside, from a new green box. This meant losing the phone number I had had here for over 20 years, and doing without broadband for several weeks, but we went for it. In the end, nothing improved, and we switched again – this time to BT, and they actually did change the outside line – and we got another new phone number. Then we were sued by Primus for the full year, and we had to pay up.

BT was expensive, so when the renewal was due, knowing we had a good line now, we switched to Tesco broadband – and it was cheap and good and we were happy.

Then Tesco decided to stop doing broadband and phone, and passed us onto Talk Talk. As soon as the switchover happened, our speeds dramatically reduced. We complained, we got new routers, we even got free netflix – but as the speed was so bad, it was unusable. We were losing business, the children were upset that their games didn’t work, so we switched to Sky (we have few options on our exchange). Sky said they would manage the switchover for us. Cool.

As soon as the switch to Sky happened, our speeds quadrupled! We were delighted. However, we got charged for the full year (again) by Talk Talk for leaving them before the contract was up.

The thing about broadband and phone is that what we do, what we want, changes over time. The children game on-line more, and we are now video chatting – Skype, Facetime and also uploading back-ups of photographs and videos.

The download speed matters, of course, but increasingly now the upload speed matters too. Our upload speed is less than 10% of the download.

To back up our photos to flikr or Google has taken months, and is still not done. This is not merely because the upload speed is poor, but because uploading is killing our downloads. Meaning we can only upload at night.

This is apparently a QoS issue – but Sky routers do not have QoS settings. However, as this is not fibre, I am able to connect another router. So this weekend I dug out the old Tesco router, connected it to the laptop and set it up via a browser. I set the channel, turned on wifi and gave it a cute name SSID. Then I connected it to the Sky router. Connecting the Sky router to the laptop I turned off wifi. Now the phone line and validation goes through Sky’s router, but all the wifi goes through the old Tesco router.

We noticed an improved wifi range and signal strength, but the Tesco is too old to have a QoS setting. Bummer. Looks like I am going to have to try to buy a router – unless I can persuade someone at Tier 2 Sky customer relations to crank up my uploads.

They MUST be able to do this, forums are full of uploads set at 797kbps – an unusual number and happening too often to be a coincidence.

TL;DR: Yet another bunch of hours soaked up by computers and internet. More stress, and headaches. Time I will never get back!

 

Studio Equipment Arrived

After a bit of review-reading and netsearching, I decided to buy studio gear as a starter bundle.

For under £190, I got the Second Generation, just out, Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB 2.0 audio interface, a studio-quality CM25 condenser microphone with stand adaptor, XLR cable and a pair of HP60 monitoring headphones.

scarlett

I picked the two inputs because I am not a band. I can jam with my wife, or I can do guitar and vocal, or double mic a combo. It’s perfect for my needs.

It came really quickly, and to be honest, I am not ready yet as Reaper still isn’t operational.

The Scarlett comes with free software – a free version of Pro Tools that doesn’t interface with the professional edition nor that makes mp3s. It does have plug-ins – and that’s not usually included with the free edition.

According to the reviews and forums, it’s a palava even downloading it all, registering and getting it operational.

I tested the headphones on my smartphone. They work great.

The Scarlett lights up when plugged into the USB of the laptop. However, I plugged in headphones and then the mic -twiddled the knobs. Not a peep.  I tried plugging a guitar in – same: nothing.

If I can get things working, I can begin my hobby and it would only cost me the bundle plus the licence for Reaper – all-in-all, about £200 – which is not bad at all.

However, at this stage I have some kit and some software, and nothing is working! I have spend a lot of time and effort getting nowhere fast!

So it’s back to the forums and user guide for a while.

Getting Started with My New Thing

I decided to get a new interest or hobby, and settled on playing around with computers for recording music.

A DJ pal years ago had software that let him compose dance music. He simply downloaded files – loops or whatever, and messed about with the software. He had no instruments, no inputs or anything to worry about; it was all self-contained.

We played about with various software packages, Cubase, Cakewalk, Reason, Fruity Loops, and Reaper, and they were easy enough to play with. I think we stumbled with driver at first, and it was frustrating for a while before everything settled down. I might be in for a rough ride.

I need to decide on software. And I need to find out how to get instruments plugged into the laptop. I only have one small jack input – which seems to be for both a mic and a set of headphones. How can I hear what’s going on if the socket is used up by a mic? Hmm?

Software first. This seems to be called a “DAW”. I have Audacity, but something better is needed.  Went along to a local studio and had a chat. They use Pro Tools on a Mac. It is expensive, but dead easy to use – very intuitive.

I scoured subreddits and after an afternoon reading on-line stuff, I saw Reaper as something everyone liked and used. It has a trial version, and for personal use it’s affordable. Perfect.

None of the stuff I looked at seemed to be much good with Linux, so I will have to use the old Windows 10 laptop which has less RAM. I downloaded Reaper.

To be honest, I couldn’t get Reaper to do anything. It’s just not working. I tooled about a  bit on line and downloaded/installed ASIO4ALL drivers from their website.

Next was the  lame_enc64.dll missing problem. I downloaded this file, but so far I’m not getting a peep. I had to download the user guide from Reaper’s site. This is going to take a while.

Hardware-wise, the studio nerds recommended some kit. I am considering my options with what to get.

It’s not much progress, I will admit, but I feel I have some of the foundations down.