Using Sibelius to Play EWQL or Reason

This document describes how to use Sibelius to play Propellerheads Reason on a Mac

There are 4 primary things that need to happen in order to allow Sibelius to play samples from an external program (e.g. East West Gold):
1. A path (i.e. bus) between applications must be opened so that MIDI data can travel from Sibelius to the external sampler. (The “path” is known as a “bus”).
2. Send Sibelius’ MIDI data down this inter-application bus.

3. the gate must be opened in the sample program so that it can receive and play the MIDI data that has come down the bus from Sibelius.
4. Route the audio outputs of the sampler program so you can hear or record the performance.

1. OPEN THE MIDI PATH BETWEEN APPLICATIONS
(Enabling the IAC Driver)

Launch Audio MIDI Setup in your
/Applications/Utilities/ folder
OR launch it via Sibelius:
Play → Playback and Input Devices…

OS X\'s Inter-Application MIDI Driver Settings

If the IAC Driver icon is grayed out, select
it and press “Get Info”. Check the box
“Device is online”. Apple’s IAC Bus is now available for use. (To add multiple IAC buses, use the settings on the Ports tab).

With each port listed, you get 16 channels of MIDI, which will translate to 16 different instruments of EWQL per port. This is probably as many as you will need (or many as your computer will handle).

2. SEND SIBELIUS’S MIDI DATA DOWN THE IAC

5. Back in the Sibelius “Playback and Input Devices” Window, select “Apple IAC Driver IAC Bus 1” so it is highlighted in blue (the name will be different if you changed the default settings).

*If you get a message from Sibelius about wanting to reset the default sounds, do it. If you had a document open and fiddled with the MIDI settings, the IAC Driver won’t show up in the Playback and Input Devices window until you reset the sounds.

6. Next, open up Sibelius’ mixer (press M or select Window → Mixer). Here you can set which MIDI Channel each track will use to send its notes. Notice that the settings presented in the Mixer window change depending on which track you have highlighted (click the track’s name in blue at the base of each fader). Normally, each staff will use its own channel (i.e. instrument). If you don’t see the IAC bus in the Device list, then click the “Reset Sounds” button.

Sibelius Mixer Window

3. PREPARE SAMPLER TO RECEIVE MIDI DATA FROM IAC BUS

7. Now, launch your East West stand alone application, and you should see the notes on the keyboard play. Make sure to have your MIDI channels correspond with those in Sibelius. For example, if you have an Oboe set to MIDI Channel 2 in Sibelius. You’ll want to change the first track from OMNI to 2 and load the Oboe sample.

Note: When you want to use sounds from Sibelius, like GPO or Kontakt Gold/Silver, you will need to go back into the IAC (see Step 3) and uncheck the box in Step 4.
If you want to mix up the sounds used by your score, you do this in the mixer (e.g. use the Kontakt player for cello, GPO for viola, and EWQL for violin).

If you use the Kontakt player, you may have trouble balancing the audio levels (it often plays back much more quietly than other sounds) or it may use a different audio output (e.g. it might use your computer’s built-in output while EWQL might use your MOTU audio interface). To change the Kontakt player’s settings, open it’s window (Window → Kontakt player, or press the small keyboard icon in the Toolbar, or press option + Apple + O).

On the Kontakt player, there is a button on the left called “Audio Setup” – press it and you can change which driver is used for audio output (e.g. “built-in” or “MOTU 896”). There is also a volume knob on the Kontakt player. Turn it up to 0db or above to balance it against the other sounds you’re using. (Turning up the volume on the mixer won’t effect the sound as drastically as the control directly on the Kontakt player).

GPO

Open up the stand alone GPO application, load a patch, then choose a MIDI channel for it. Changing a patch will reset the MIDI channel and volume! So be sure to double check the MIDI channel and volume after loading a new patch. GPO also defaults to a Pan setting which corresponds to an instrument’s position in a traditional orchestra (e.g. contrabasses 70% to the right of the conductor), so you may want to adjust the pan setting for each patch as well.

Reason (3.0)

Reason in Audio Card Mode

Before you start trying to hook up Reason to Sibelius, please make sure that Reason is working normally with your standard MIDI keyboard (i.e. your “control surface”).
You’ll also need to make sure that you’ve enabled Apple’s IAC Driver in Audio Midi Setup (see above), otherwise the MIDI info can’t travel between applications.

Open up Reason and create the instrument(s) you want and load the patch(es) you want to use. There is no need to add a mixer, but you can add one if you want to fine tune groups of instruments or use Reason’s effects. Note that Reason will open as a stand-alone application and NOT as a ReWire application, although Sibelius does control Reason’s playback.

Open up Reason’s preferences and go to the Advanced MIDI section. For External Control of Bus A, select “IAC Driver Bus 1” and close the window.

Back in Reason’s main window, take a look at the very top of the rack, at Reason’s “MIDI IN DEVICE” and verify that Bus A is lighted. Next, decide on a MIDI channel that will be used to send MIDI data from Sibelius, e.g. Channel 5 (this corresponds to the Sibelius Mixer and the channel selected for that track/staff). In Reason, click the small triangle button next to the channel, and from the pull-down list, select the device that will play on that channel (e.g. NN-19). Note that if you have a mixer in your Reason file, it will also show up in the pull-down list because it too is a MIDI instrument that can accept and “play” MIDI data.

Finally, in Reason’s Preferences → Audio, make sure the “Play in Background” box is checked.

4. ROUTE THE AUDIO OUTPUTS OF THE SAMPLER PROGRAM (so you can hear or record the performance).

For playback purposes, it is usually sufficient to route all the samplers’ outputs to the same audio driver, e.g. built-in, or to an audio interface like a MOTU 828. Each sampler has its own way of setting this preference.

Setting the Output of Various Samplers

Kontakt Player (included in Sibelius): Open the Kontakt Player (Window → Kontakt Player), then press the “Audio Setup” button on the left side of the Player. Choose the Output Device.

DLS Device (QuickTime): Apple Menu → System Preferences → Sound → Output
East West: File → Setup → SoundCard → Output Device
Garritan Personal Orchestra: File → Setup → SoundCard → Output Device
Reason: Reason → Preferences → Audio → Audio Card

Recording the Performance

If you wish to record the performance, you have several options.

Record to an External Device (e.g. DAT player, Mini-Disc):

Use the appropriate cables to hook up the recording device to the output that you have set.
Start recording on the external device, then play the Sibelius file. Stop recording when playback finishes.

Record to another Program (e.g. Peak, Audacity, Logic, Digital Performer):

Routing audio from all samplers used to another program is a bit tricky. Just as we needed to enable the IAC-Bus to send MIDI data between applications, we need to establish an inter-application bus for audio data. Unlike the IAC MIDI bus, this functionality is not built-in to OS X, so third party software must be downloaded. However, there is FREE software available that accomplishes this functionality for all PPC and Intel based Macs. Two programs are listed. Download and install one of them.

Soundflower: http://www.cycling74.com/products/soundflower
Jack OS X: http://www.jackosx.com/

Refer to the application’s documentation for installation and setup. Once a routing application is running, you should be able to go to each sampler and choose that application as an output. Soundflower has a 2 channel bus for simple stereo recordings and a 16-channel bus for multi-channel recordings.

On your recording software, configure the input used for recording to be the routing bus (e.g. Soundflower-2).

It is unlikely that a multi-track sequencer would be used for recording a Sibelius performance in this way simply because the sequencer software would act as a much better host application for controlling and recording software samplers – simply import the MIDI file from Sibelius. However, the principle is the same as above: route the sampler outputs to the inter-application audio bus (e.g. to Soundflower 3,4) and set the recording inputs on the multi-track sequencing program to use those inputs for recording.

If digital distortion is audible in the recording, verify that all samplers (including Sibelius’s Kontakt Player) are using the same sample rate, then verify that the recording application you are using is using that same sample rate. Do not set the sample automatically; set it manually to the rate used by the samplers (e.g. 441000). Set the sample format manually, too (e.g. 16-bit). If the recording application has a clock source, you may need to set it to use an internal clock source, or set it to use a clock source that is external to all applications involved in the recording (e.g. a MOTU Digital Timepiece or an Alesis BRC).

When Reopening a Sibelius File that Uses External Samplers

There is no way for Sibelius to control all the external samplers used in one of its documents, so it is up to you to open up the necessary samplers and load the required patches. (Gulp. Hope your documentation was good).

File Dropper – 250 Gigabytes of Free Online Storage? (Online Storage Series)

File Dropper logoNeed tons of space to store files online? How about 250 GB, all for free? Is it too good to be true?

Maybe.

A new startup called File Dropper claims to offer their “Gold” plan – a whopping 250 GB of storage space – for free, provided that you register before May 15, 2008. Otherwise, their regular plans start at $0.99 a month for 5 GB of storage. Users who register before May 15 will receive a lifetime account for free, not just a trial account.

Signup

Many of these services disappear as rapidly as they appear, but if you want to register, please use their special link. They claim that this special offer is for members of social bookmarking services such as Digg, StumbleUpon, Mixx, etc, but anyone can register.

As a thank you to the community we are offering free accounts on filedropper.com to bloggers as well as members of Digg, Stumble, Reddit, Mixx, Del.icio.us. To get your free account fill out the form below to receive to get $10 monthly account (250 GB) absolutely free. Accounts created before May 15th will have lifetime membership for free.

Registration is quick and painless, requiring only username, password, and e-mail address. I used a randomly-generated password (thanks KeePass), and my dedicated “spam” e-mail address, but I have not received any e-mails from them yet. So far so good.

Usage

The main interface of File Dropper is startlingly simple, which is not surprising given their claim of simplest file hosting website ever.

Once you choose to upload a file, you are presented with an interface that allows you to upload one file at at time. The maximum upload size is a staggering 5 GB! Here I am, uploading a test file:

File Dropper Main

There is even a progress bar to show you how much data is remaining. Once the upload is complete, File Dropper displays a download link that you can use to share with others.

Warnings and Caveats

I want to like File Dropper. I really do. However, I am suspicious. I’ve seen far too many similar services offer outlandish claims and then disappear into the night. I genuinely hope that File Dropper sticks around for the long haul, but pardon me for doubting.

Therefore, I would not trust sensitive information with them. Their TOS is quite sparse, and even mentions the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. So don’t think that you can store your collection of “ripped” movies on their servers and get away with it forever.

By contrast, a service such as DropBoks has a very strict Privacy Policy, which is currently lacking on File Dropper. Dropboks states:

All files that are uploaded to the DropBoks system are never viewed by any member of the DropBoks team, ever. Neither are they provided to any other party at any time.

On the other hand, my beloved DropBoks only offers ONE gigabyte of free storage in comparison to 250!

File Dropper 2038Of course, there is always the possibility that File Dropper will not withstand the test of time, and will disappear in a few short weeks or months, taking all your precious files with them.

I’m supposedly a paid member until January 18, 2038. So, lifetime to File Dropper apparently means 30 years. I don’t know about you, but I certainly hope to still be alive in 2038. Maybe they are anticipating the Year 2038 problem.

The only other problem I see is that in 30 years, I probably won’t care much about the files I’m currently uploading!

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Sync Your Windows Mobile Contacts and Calendar with Plaxo, Thunderbird, and Google for FREE

A few days ago I wrote about syncing your Windows Mobile contacts and calendar over the Internet for free using Funambol. Today I’m going to show you how to accomplish the same task, plus the ability to synchronize your contacts and calendar with Plaxo, Mozilla Thunderbird, and Google Calendar.

Excited yet? Let me show you how neat this truly is – how would you like the ability to add an event to Google Calendar and have it automatically update on Thunderbird AND your Windows Mobile device (Smartphone or PocketPC)? Sound good? How about adding a new Contact on your phone and having it show up in Thunderbird (or vice versa)? What if I tell you that you don’t even need to install anything on your phone? Oh, and here’s the best part – the entire process is FREE.

Required Tools

Several pieces of software work in conjunction to keep everything in sync. Here’s what you will need:

On the Internet:

  • a Google Calendar account (if you’re reading this, you probably have one already)
  • a Plaxo account

For Your Windows Mobile Device:

For Your Computer (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux/BSD):

Sound complicated? It really is not. Here’s a visual guide that I threw together to illustrate the data directions.

total-sync-graph.png

Before we begin, let me state that all of these products are currently free. While I hope they all stay that way, I have not yet discovered whether or not NuevaSync will begin charging for their service once they come out of Beta. If anyone associated with NuevaSync reads this, we would appreciate a comment. Also, Plaxo has a free and a Premium service. For the purposes of this guide, the free service is all you need.

Also, please note that some of these services are in Beta, meaning that there may be bugs and/or outages. PLEASE BACK UP YOUR MOBILE DATA BEFORE YOU PROCEED! This guide may work flawlessly for you, or it may eat all the noodles in your pantry. Proceed with caution. I am not responsible for any lost data.

Step One – Web Services

1. First things first, if you want to sync with Google Calendar, you must HAVE a Google Calendar. If you have a Gmail account, you already have one.

plaxo-logo.gif2. Next, create an account with Plaxo. Yes, Plaxo is yet another social network, though without the I’m an attention whore kind of mentality most social networks have. Instead, Plaxo focuses on keeping information about you and your contacts up-to-date. Here’s the last few lines from their About Page:

We are dedicated to the notion that your address book, your friends list, and your content belong to you, not to us. We make it easy for you to take them with you wherever you go and to use them with an ever-expanding array of sites, applications, and devices.

I can’t stand most social networks, but I can handle Plaxo simply because they are an integral tool in keeping my sync setup working.

3. Add a Google sync point to Plaxo.

Before you sign out of Plaxo, we need to add a sync point for Google. Essentially, you are going to give Plaxo your Google Account information and have Plaxo log in and perform a Calendar sync every 15 minutes.

Click the Calendar tab at the top of Plaxo.

plaxo-cal.png

At the bottom of the page, look for the Add sync points link.

add-sync-points.png

Choose the Google option, enter your account information, and follow the prompts. Plaxo can currently only sync your Google Contacts in one direction (from Google to Plaxo), but syncing with Google Calendar is bi-directional.

plaxo-gcal-sync.png

Once this step is complete, your Google and Plaxo calendars should be synchronized. Now you can move on to the Windows Mobile device setup.

Step Two – Windows Mobile Device

We’re going to use NuevaSync to connect your Smartphone/PocketPC to both Google Calendar and Plaxo. There are two main steps to this process.

1. First, create an account with NuevaSync, a service that provides over-the-air synchronization of Smartphones and PocketPCs. Their website is pretty sparse, but essentially NuevaSync acts like an Exchange Server, using the built-in ActiveSync (OTA) protocol on your Windows Mobile device. Think of it as a proxy to Google Calendar and Plaxo.

nuevasync-status.pngOnce you’ve created your account, all you need to do is tell it sync your Calendar and Contacts with the appropriate services. You will see a status and setup screen like the one shown here. Use the change button to choose the Google and Plaxo services, and use the setup button for each to provide the appropriate login information for each service. (Note: if you are uncomfortable providing your Google and Plaxo login information to NuevaSync, you will be unable to proceed any further. I admit that it was a little disconcerting, but I have seen no consequences to date. If either account is ever hijacked, I will post back here.)

2. Configure your Windows Mobile device to connect to NuevaSync.

Guess what? You don’t have to install anything on your Windows Mobile device from NuevaSync. All you need is ActiveSync, which is already built-in. Here’s the process:

  1. Launch ActiveSync (Programs → ActiveSync).
  2. If you have an existing server setup, delete it (Menu → Options → select Microsoft Exchange → Delete).
  3. Add a server source (Menu → Add Server Source).
  4. Enter www.nuevasync.com under Server Address.
  5. Make sure that the encrypted (SSL) connection box is checked and select Next.
  6. Enter your NuevaSync username (your_name@mail.com) and password.
  7. Under Domain, enter anything you want. The field is required to continue, but NuevaSync supposedly doesn’t use it (If this area is grey, this just means that you’re lucky enough to own a newer device and can proceed without entering anything). I entered “crap” for my domain.
  8. Press Next.
  9. The last screen shows the data available to sync (Contacts, Calendar, E-mail, Tasks). At the time of this writing, NuevaSync only supports syncing Contacts and Calendar. Leave the others unchecked.
  10. Press Finish. Your device should now attempt an initial sync. If it does not connect, check your login information again. If it syncs, you’re in business.

Here are three slides that show the process on my smartphone:

At this point, your Contacts should have been sent to and synced with Plaxo. Let’s verify this: Manually log in to your Plaxo account, click People → Address Book. See your contacts? If so, try adding a contact on your mobile device. It should soon show up in Plaxo. Try deleting that same contact in Plaxo. At the next sync, did it also disappear from your phone?

Go on to the next page (below).

Sync Your Windows Mobile Contacts and Calendar using Funambol for FREE

moto-q.pngI have a love/hate relationship with my MOTO Q smartphone. I love it because it helps me stay connected on-the-run, because it has a big keyboard, and because I got a great deal on it.

I hate it because it runs Windows Mobile 5, which has crashed a few times so badly that I’ve had to reset my phone, wiping out all my information.

There’s a big problem with Windows Mobile – Microsoft wants you to use their Activesync software to backup your contacts, calendar, and other files. That’s all fine and dandy, but surprise, surprise! Activesync only interfaces nicely with Outlook. Linux/Mac users, and Windows users who dislike (or can’t afford) Outlook are locked out in the cold. Sorry.

This is a HUGE problem, especially for potential GNU/Linux adopters. Here’s a typical scenario: Joe User hears about this “Linux” thing and decides to give it a shot. He tries it, likes what he sees, and is considering switching full-time, but then Joe decides to plug in his Windows Mobile-based smartphone or PocketPC. Uh oh. Nothing happens. Joe User is savvy enough to do a little searching, but quickly realizes that syncing his Windows Mobile device to Linux is going to be about as easy as convincing Microsoft to switch to a UNIX-based kernel!

Ever since I bought my phone, I’ve been looking for an easy, free way to sync my contacts and calendar without using Activesync and Outlook. I’ve spent many hours researching and testing a handful of methods, with varying amounts of success. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to post tutorials on a few of my findings.

I only have two requirements:

  1. The method must not require Outlook or Activesync (or Windows Mobile Device Center, or whatever Vista calls it).
  2. As the self-proclaimed ruler of the free world, I require that the entire process be FREE. No subscription services, one-time fees, or anything like that.

Let’s get started!

Method One – Funambol

funambol-logo.pngOne possible solution that I’ve found is by using Funambol (http://www.funambol.com). According to their site, they are the world’s leading mobile open-source project. I can’t verify if they’re truly the world’s leading project, but I DO know that they offer the easiest syncing solution that I’ve tried so far.

Step One – myFUNAMBOL Portal

If you are so inclined, you may download their server software (for Windows or Linux) and run your own sync server. For the rest of us, they offer the free myFUNAMBOL Portal. The portal is currently in beta, and they claim that sign-up is by invitation only. However, I had no problem registering directly for an account.

Create and activate your myFUNAMBOL account. Once activated, you should receive a message like this:

funambol-success.png

You may also choose to synchronize e-mail with Funambol by giving it your e-mail address and e-mail password. Be sure to register your correct phone number with Funambol, since this is how you are going to receive the phone plug-in.

Your new myFUNAMBOL portal should look something like this (click for larger view):

funambol-portal-default.png

Step Two – Install the Phone Software

Now that the portal is working, it’s time to install the Funambol client onto your phone. From inside the myFUNAMBOL portal, choose Profile, and then drill down to the Phone option. Verify that the information is correct, and then from the drop-down list at the bottom, select Download Funambol Windows Mobile Plug-in to my phone. See screenshot below.

funambol-dl-wm-plugin.png

You should receive a text message with a link to the plug-in, or you can choose to download the CAB file directly by browsing to this link on your phone – http://my.funambol.com/me/funambol-sm-plugin.cab.

funambol-wm-plugin.png

Once the plug-in is successfully installed, you just have to configure it.

Step Three – Configuration and Initial Sync

wm-funambol-login.pngYou’re almost done. The final step is to tell the Funambol client on your phone how to connect to the myFUNAMBOL portal. Enter the credentials for the account you created. The server location should be filled in for you automatically.

Once the Windows Mobile plug-in is connected to the web portal, all that’s left to do is start syncing.

Chances are high that you can just press the Sync All button to have your information sent to the portal. If you want to specify which elements to sync, choose Menu → Settings.

See the slideshow below for a visual overview of the Funambol plug-in on my MOTO Q.

There you have it. Once the initial sync is finished, log back in to your myFUNAMBOL portal and verify that your Contacts and Calendar settings have been updated.

Try it out. Add or delete a contact via the web portal and press Sync All again from the Funambol phone plug-in. The changes should update on your phone. Also, any contacts or calendar information that you add on your phone should update in the web portal. Nice.

Other Thoughts

Naturally, to make your phone sync with Funambol, you need Internet access on your smartphone or PocketPC. My mobile plan has unlimited data access, so this works well for me. If you pay for all data access, consider setting the Sync Method to Manual so as to not incur costly data charges.

For me, the main purpose of Funambol is to backup my Contacts and Calendar without Activesync or Outlook, and it does the job with aplomb. If Windows Mobile crashes and forces me to do (another) hard reset, within minutes I can reinstall the Funambol plug-in and reload my critical information. It gives me peace of mind. The best part is that it doesn’t matter what operating system your computer is running. You can still keep your information in sync.

For you Windows/Outlook users out there, you’ll be pleased to know that Funambol also offers an Outlook plug-in to synchronize your Contacts and Calendar. If you throw Google Calendar Sync (for Outlook) into the equation, you can create one lean, mean, syncing machine!

As I mentioned, I’ve spent a lot of time researching this lately, and in the coming weeks I plan to post a few more tutorials on syncing Windows Mobile information without Activesync or Outlook, including information on making it work with Thunderbird and Google Calendar. Stay tuned for my findings.

In the meantime, if all you need is a simple, elegant, and FREE method to backup your Windows Mobile Contacts and Calendar over the Internet, Funambol has you covered.

– Brian Bondari

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Avoiding Noisy Recording: Tips for BEFORE you Record

Have you ever ended up with a horrible recording of a concert or wedding and wondered how it could sound so bad? How do you possibly clean up all that hiss and rumble? Well, most of us have been there… but I’ve also been in million dollar recording studios and worked with some pretty tight software, so hopefully I can help shed some light on this elusive topic.

Signal Path

Signal Path

The route that sound takes to get from its source to the recording device can drastically affect its sound. A weak link destroys the end result. It’s like fresh food: the freshest, most succulent, vine-ripened organic tomato tastes like crap if it fell into a pit toilet before ending up on your porcelain dinner plate. Here are the main stops in a signal’s path:

  1. The sound source (the thing you are recording)

  2. …the air between…

  3. The microphone (and the pre-amp)

  4. The cable(s)

  5. The Recording Device (e.g. your video camera)

You can and should try to adjust *every* element in your signal path to get the best possible sound BEFORE YOU RECORD. You can only do so much afterwards.

Mic Placement: Controlling the Air Between

Even an inch can make all the difference (no penis jokes please). Try to get the mic close to the sound source, and take the time to test different angles/positions. If you have ever mic’ed up a drum kit, you know what I’m talking about.

If you are recording with a camera, please remember that the location for the best shot is usually NOT the best location for the best sound recording. That’s why those cameras with an external mic input are golden.

The Microphone Itself

You get what you pay for when it comes to mics. Built-in mics on a camera are generally low-quality. Radio Shack’s $10 cassette mic won’t sound as good as a $3,000 Neumann. Consider the following suggestions:

Neumann TLM103 Microphone

  • Avoid omni-directional mics if you can — they tend to be far noisier than their cardiod counterparts. They may have “better sonic clarity”, but they pick up all kinds of room noise, which is usually NOT what you want. More about pickup patterns…
  • Condenser microphones are generally much better mics and much more sensitive. More about types of mics…
  • Use a good pre-amp to ensure your mic gets the power it needs. The pre-amp built into your camera isn’t very good. You can find reasonable portable camera preamps. The Beachtek DXA-10 is no longer available, but there are things out there like it.

The best piece of advice I can give here is to TRY a few different kinds of microphones. Buy a couple, knowing that you will return one. If your ear can’t tell the difference, ask a friend. For recording a human voice, I recommend the Neumann 103, or if you’re on a budget, the Rode NT1-A.

Cables

These matter a lot, surprisingly. There’s a bigger difference in sound quality between good and bad cables than there is between good and bad mics. Wow. Read that again. I am not kidding. Again, tease your credit card and buy a couple good cables and listen to how they sound — if you don’t think they make a big difference, you can send them back. I unabashedly recommend MIT microphone cables. But they ain’t cheap. Monster cable also has a high-end line that’s much more affordable. The point is to avoid the cheap-ass cables because they will muddy up your sound.

The Recording Device

Make it the best possible. If you are recording to your computer, you’d better have a good audio interface. The little 1/8 inch input on your SoundBlaster does not qualify as “good.” DV tapes on cameras are good, but set it to use the highest bit rate possible (often there is a 12 bit and a 16 bit setting). More about bit rates…

Spend some time with these ideas and your recordings will improve. Look for a future post about software to help you improve the sound of existing recordings.

The Most Important Firefox Plugins You Will Ever Need. (A Series.)

#1 NoScript – http://www.noscript.net/

noscript-logo.pngI have to personally recommend that you never go to untrusted websites without this plugin. It’s as important as your antivirus software is on your PC. What it does is immediately assume that all websites are malicious and out to cause harm. You then, on a case to case basis, decide which “scripts” are allowed to be executed. Scripts are (in an overly simplified way) pieces of computer code that run automatically to generate a predetermined effect.

This sounds more complex than it is. When you browse over to Youtube, and that little video that is embedded in the website begins to play, that is a script being activated. So why are scripts bad? Well, if you can’t see the predetermined outcome, then you never know what command was executed. The worst of these commands could capture and record your keystrokes (example: when you enter your credit card number and address) and send them to the type of person you would never want to have them. Now that is a rare, complex, and incredibly extreme example. Now remember, the last thing I want to do is cause Hype-Paranoia like computer viruses on the evening news.

So how do I use it? Well, if you have never installed an Add-on for FireFox, it’s pretty easy. All you have to do is head on over to the firefox customize website (opens in a new window) and click the big [Add to Firefox] button on any add-on you want. I am now going to assume that (if you want it) NoScript is now installed in your FireFox. When you navigate to a new site, you will see a bar appear at the bottom:

firefox_noscript1

In order to see how much content has been blocked, click the little button in the bottom corner: (I’m using PCLinuxOS with a night theme, so your screen colors may be different).

firefox_noscript2

Only allow content that you know. For example, if you are on Youtube and one of your options is to allow Youtube, and you trust them, go ahead and do it (This will allow your video to play). If you see something else listed that you do not recognize (like ytimg.com) you probably do not want to enable it.

Remember, however, that there are a lot of positive scripts out there. When you click on a pull down menu to jump to another part of a website:

firefox_noscript3

a script must be run in order for that link to function. If you stumble across that problem (or any like it), check and see what scripts are enabled. It may take a little extra effort at the beginning, but eventually you will grow used to it. It will become a “safety inconvenience” (like traffic lights), subtly in our way but incredibly necessary.

The main criticism this plug-in receives is that it updates too often. It is true that it will update virtually every day. Some people view this as the plugin trying to make you feel like it is more active and more important than you think it is. In reality, it is just proof of its solid team of programmers making sure it is up-to-date.

But don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself.

Links referenced:

The Firefox Browser (One of the best browsers you can find [and it’s free])

Firefox’s Addon Repository (Shop around for themes, addons, and plugins)

The Noscript Plugin Page (You can get this add-on from their page or the Firefox repo)

Unlock and Delete Stuck Files with Unlocker

There’s not much more aggravating than attempting to simply delete a file, only to have Windows spit an error message back in your face.

filezilla-delete.png

When this happens, it’s usually because some program or process in memory still has an invisible tentacle wrapped around that file or folder.

Often, rebooting and trying again will solve the problem (or booting into Safe Mode), but if you don’t want to reboot, you can use Unlocker.

right-click-unlocker.png
Unlocker is a free application designed to quickly and easily remove the annoyance of stuck files from your Windows system.

Usage

Using Unlocker is easy – just right click on the stuck file or folder and choose Unlocker.

If the file is stuck, it will spawn the Unlocker Assistant and show you the process gripping your stuck file/folder.

unlocker-assistant.png

All you have to do is click Unlock All, and then try to delete the file again. Voila! The stuck file should be banished from your computer, and from your life.

Unlocker is one of those applications that should not be necessary. After all, files should just disappear when you try to delete them, right? Still, I’m glad it’s available. Version tested – 1.8.6.

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