Quick and simple laptop mod – a tape measure

Here is a very quick post to show an idea that I had recently.

Its so small, that It’s hardly worthy of a post, but I thought someone might find it interesting.

Often, I’ll find it handy to know how big something is while surfing the net, or trying to size up something I’m looking at, and I’ll either need to go find a ruler, or make a rough guestimation of the size.

Then I had a brainwave, what if I stuck a ruler to my laptop?

printable rulers can be found at various places on-line, and I found a neat short ruler at http://web.ncf.ca/jim/scale/, which is the one pictured below:

 

Ruler closeup

I printed it out, measured it for accuracy, and adjusted the size a few times and printed again until the accuracy was close enough for my liking before cutting it out and sticking it down with double sided tape.

 

The little ruler was a neat size, but I thought a longer ruler might be helpful, so I was going to find a larger ruler to print out, then I thought of an easier idea:

Ikea give away paper rulers at their stores, and I’ve had a bunch kicking around for ages. I thought I could save myself some trouble, and use one of those.

Instead of printing off another ruler, this time, I chose to go the lazy route, and cut up an Ikea measuring tape.

I split it down the middle, so i could use both the inches, and the centimetre  measurements, and stuck them down to the laptop with double sided sticky tape like before.

Laptop displaying rulers

As you can see from the pictures, the results aren’t exactly super neat and fancy, but they do exactly what I want them to do.

Hopefully someone can find this simple idea useful.

SQN 4S Series 3a Field mixer, and Attenuation cables

My new field audio kit

My new field audio kit

Recently, I added a field mixer to my collection of audio gear. I’m looking at getting more into audio production for video, and figured a field mixer was a very handy place to start. When this mixer came up on eBay, it peaked my interest. It was packing quite a bit of extras for a pretty good price. I ummed and Arred, before giving in, and buying it. Along with the mixer the extras included the bag, a break away cable, a pair of Sony headphones that look like they are as old as the mixer, and a few XLR cables. Basically an instant field audio kit. WOOT!

 

Attenuation cables

As you might be able to see in the picture, I have teamed up the mixer with my Zoom H4n, and I’ve been working on the best way to link the two devices.

The easiest way is XLR out of the mixer, into XLR of the Zoom, but due to the Zoom’s limitation of not accepting line level inputs, this connection has to be a mic level one, and I end up having to turn up the Zoom’s preamps quite a bit to get the levels where they should be. This isn’t optimal, as it introduces a lot of noise back into the recording, which is precisely what I’m avoiding by going with a mixer / recorder combo.

Best results I’ve gotten so far is coming out of the mixer line level, and attenuating the levels down until they are at a level the Zoom H4n can handle. I’m still going into the Zoom as a mic signal, but by choosing an appropriate level attenuator,  I can set the Zoom’s input levels much lower than using the mic outputs of the mixer (with the -30db cables, I can set the Zoom’s inputs to 20, instead of the 70 or 80 it’s at coming out mic level)

I messed round trying to find something that worked, scouring the internet for attenuator circuits. There is quite a lot out there that want to teach you how to work out your own values for attenuators, but it was rather difficult to find a straight forward circuit that says “Use X and Y resistors for an attenuation of Z”. Eventually, I found this Proharmonic article, which was nice enough to give some clear figures for attenuators.

 

a -30dB pad schematic

This is my rendition of a U bridge attenuator. For other values, please check out their article, linked above.

 

 

 

Comparison

To get a sense of how it performs, here are a couple of samples:

I hope this has been helpful to people out there. I’m off to record myself talking about nothing for a while, until I can find something more interesting to record.

Cheers,
Matt.

Tascam iM2 stereo microphone review

OK, so the Tascam iM2 is hardly anything new, but I just got my hands on one, so I thought I’d write a quick review

I’m testing this on my 4th generation iPod as that is the newest iDevice I own. I will make it clear that this will NOT work on a iPhone 3gs, as I’ve tried it, and the phone doesn’t detect it.

The tascam iM2 is a stereo microphone, in a Near Coincident microphone pair configuration

It is a 16 bit recorder, not 24 bit like the rode iXY, but it is a fraction of the cost. This doesn’t make it useless. 16 bit is still perfectly usable, you just need to be a little more observant of your recording levels than you would if the same device was 24bit.

 

iPod attached to iM2

iPod attached to iM2

 

Connecting the Tascam iM2 is quite easy, just it into the dock connector, and away you go. The app I’m using is Rode’s Rode Rec app. There was a Tascam one, whoever it didn’t work reliably on my ipod. It would freak out, and require a force close of the app. On going to update the app to try to fix the Tascam app, the appstore notified me that it was no longer avaliable. Rode Rec seems like a better program anyway. It does have its good and bad points, but its the best app out there I could find for this use.

Rode Rec picks the stereo mic up without a problem. The free app restricts you to 44khz which is perfectly usable, however, by updating to the pro version, it unlocks 48khz which is slightly better if your planning to use the recordings in video (The differences should be marginal, however thats technically the best way of doing things)

 

Snap and go

Snap and go

 

Back side of the microphone

Back side of the microphone

 

The main problem with using the iM2 on my iPod is that the headphone port on the iPod is on the same end as the dock connector, meaning there is no way to monitor my recordings. This is a bit of a bummer, but I guess it can be worked around, mostly by “guessing” its recording good audio. A dock connector extender might be useful here, however I don’t have one, so that isn’t tested.

So how does it sound?

I’ve uploaded a very quick comparison between the iM2 and the Zoom H4n to Soundcloud so you can listen for yourself. Its far from scientific, but it gives a clear indication of the performance of the mic.

 

What I found was that surprisingly, the Tascam has a lot less hiss than the inbuilt Zoom mics. Even when adjusting the mics to match closely in signal levels, there is a much more prominent hiss in the Zoom’s tracks.

The Zoom had a slightly better stereo image however, where the Tascam sounded slightly flatter.

 

So is it usable? I think it is. I think it should make a great recorder for impromptu recording sessions, and should be capable of great atmos tracks while tripping around. I’ll be certainly keeping this near by at all times. Which is, coincidently, an advantage of this. Its small enough that I can leave it tucked in my bag, with my ipod, and be ready to go at a moments notice. The biggest issue will be remembering to make sure the ipod’s battery is charged.

 

See the problem?

See the problem?

Purple Custom Xbox Controller

Its been a while since I’ve posted, so I thought I’d throw up a quick post of a relatively quick project my wife and I did this last weekend.

wpid-IMG_20140302_143936.jpg

Disassembling the controller was fairly easy, the most difficult part was getting out the security torx screws, without a small enough security torx driver. Here’s a tip: you can just use a flat head driver small enough to fit in one side of the screw. There are 7 screws, the 6 obvious ones, and then one under a small label in the battery compartment. That last one can fool you if you don’t go looking for it.

After getting the controller unscrewed, next step is to pull all the electronics out, and wash the plastic. The controller we were using was by no means a new one, so it got a good scrub in soapy water to make sure there was no grease and oil left on it.

I was too impatient to let the plastic air dry, so I fired up my air-compressor to blow the water off them. It makes a short effort of drying everything off.

With the plastics dry, it was painting time. I sprayed a primer on all the parts and then left it out in the sun while we went to the shop to get the colours for the project. Diana chose the colours for her controlelr, a nice purple, and a complimenting pink for highlights. The paints we chose in the end didn’t actually need a primer coat, but It was already done, and shouldn’t hurt things. When choosing your paint, its usually a good idea to get a good quality paint. Its a bit thicker than the cheapo stuff, and covers better usually. You can make do with cheap paint, but you will really want to do use a primer, and you’ll probably need to do more coats.

The paint went on pretty well, if not a bit fast. There were a few bubbles that formed in places, but they were fixed after a quick sand and a second coat.

After letting the controller dry for a couple of hours, it was time to put it back together. Everything just slots back where it came from, and screwed back down, and hey presto! a purple and pink Xbox controller!

Completed Controller

And that’s it. I didn’t think to get any more photos of the process, sorry. Its not too difficult though.

Cat Climbing Tower

Recently, my wife and I embarked on a project to build a climbing tower for our cat Dizzy. After watching a show about troubled cats, we learnt that cats like to sit in high places, and overlook their domain, so we were aiming for a fairly high tower, that you just can’t buy (not without spending a lot of money anyway).

Inspired by the design at http://www.meow-cat.com/2013/02/how-to-make-cat-tree-with-solid-wood.html, I fired up Sketchup, and began working out what would fit best for our needs, and that resulted in a nice set of plans to guide us in construction.

The sketchup design

The sketchup design

we had an idea of what we needed, so off we went to the hardware store to get the timber and some other bits and pieces needed. It was getting late in the afternoon, so we had to hurry to get in before they closed. Returning with a car load of wood and MDF, it was time to get started.

The key to any successful project is good plans

The key to any successful project is good plans

Insert building montage here….

So we didn’t get many pictures between starting, and finished construction, so you’ll need to use your imagination to fill in the blanks. I think I need to work out a way to take time-lapses for projects like this.

From recollection, we went to the hardware store at about 3pm on sunday, and managed to have a standing cat tower by dinner time. I think we did well.

In no time, we're finished

In no time, we’re finished

As we ran out of time for the weekend, we bought the tower inside, and Dizzy got an opportunity to try out the tower unfinished for the week. She likes the 2nd highest shelf the best.

Dizzy trying out the uncovered tower

Dizzy trying out the uncovered tower

The following weekend, we had some more time, so off to the craft store to get everything to finish painting. The wood is painted with acrylic artist paint, and the shelves covered in purple fuzzy fabric. In the picture below you can see Dizzy trying out her new favourite place. We have since sat a pillow on the shelf to make it a little more comfy for her, and its now her place to sit.

Painted, covered, inside. Dizzy approves.

Painted, covered, inside. Dizzy approves.

All in all, I think we spent under $100 for everything we needed to make the tower, it was a fun project to make, and Dizzy loves it. I’d call that a success.