Sunday, October 31, 2010

Has new toys ...

Before launching into the main post, a few words for an Auntie who passed away this weekend. We always got a very warm welcome when visiting the Northern branch of the family and a lot of that was due to this lovely lady who I had the great privilege to have as an aunt. Very sad to hear that she's gone, thoughts go out to the Rotherham people.

Cunning plan : head over to get new eleccy bits on a Sunday when, theoretically, traffic will be quiet.

Doh ! So much for the cunning plan, I ended up having my arms almost coming off carrying half of the new toys the couple of hundred yards to the car park. (I decided to take the Richer Sounds people's advice on the other half and parked outside the store)

So - what have I got ?

I got bored of waiting for the Denon kit, plus I was reading reviews that said that their budget AV kit was a bit lacking compared to the competition. So I went for an Onkyo TX-SR508 and a set of Tannoy SFX5.1 speakers. This afternoon was spent setting it all up after this morning had me dismantling the old gear and moving things around a little. (there's still a bit to do there)

<> Quick addon - the Onkyo is now On Probation. I'm getting regular sound cut outs of about 0.5 secs each time. Suspect that it's a heat related that the amp has no business having because it's in open space.

The Onkyo receiver is simple enough, you put the multitude of wires in and turn it on. I'm impressed with how seamlessly it has snuck in between my various bits and pieces. Cable box goes to telly as before, telly sends audio to receiver. Blu-ray goes through receiver to telly. Itunes will go in the front for now, until I get me another lead. Xbox will go in there too but is another that needs a lead because I got to scavenging. It has menus that can overlay on to the telly screen.

Let it do its automatic setup and it's all sorted.

The speakers are a similar story, although I wasn't really expecting having to cut the leads down to size myself. There's a decent amount of cable included (looks like 42 strand thickness) and it cut down easily with normal wirecutters. Glad I found some of those, perhaps a scary sign of my maturity (maturity = scary bit) is that I wasn't looking forward to going Old Skool (teeth) to strip the wires.

How's it sound ? Telly sounded great, including not having the grating sound that's marred the telly speakers since I cleaned the dust off.

There's a lesson : Dust keeps vibration away

I'm now watching Star Wars Episode 1, which (with a little tweak to boost the centre speaker slightly) is sounding quite impressive. It'll sound better when I have the room arranged to satisfaction as clutter tends to deaden sound. Getting good bass thrum from the loud stuff and it's picking out the huge selection of noise sources (people in crowd, music from action, things like that) pretty well.

Music testing (extensive) will come later. For now though, I have to draw this post to a close cos the popcorn is getting cold. And the Boonta Eve Classic just started.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pocket has hole burning through it

It's getting closer ...

That's Techie Stuff buying situation. There's people claiming to be selling the amp + speakers that is now definitely a ME WANT. Watching Iron Man 2 off blu-ray (awesome film) tonight kicked it up from "me would likey" to "ME WANT". You see, most blu-rays come with a soundtrack that my current amp + speakers doesn't understand, so I need an upgrade.

I also need to move a lot of stuff around, to make a new setup work better. Trouble is, there's people claiming to be selling it but unless I see a box in a shop, I won't trust them. I also prefer to buy local too, it's just so much easier being able to drive to a shop than have to arrange time away from work (or weekends) to pick things up. The internet shop results have a couple of promising options but those options are 100 miles away on the way to/from where my mum & dad live (and 100 miles away from Mom 2 as well).

Local wins out in being able to head back to pick up the bits you should have bought but forgot. Like the 3 trips to B+Q to fix a weepy ballcock. (In this case, it'll be picking up wire ...)

It's getting closer though. The PC upgrade is getting closer too. There's now a 22/23" touchscreen with decent screen performance on the market, made by Viewsonic. So there's a couple of times (neatly coinciding with a couple of key dates) where I'll buy stuff coming :

Birthday - the new Denon surround sound set. Hopefully they won't let me down here.
Xmas - PC Upgrade. The later you leave PC stuff, the better the stuff that arrives. And then you don't look at hardware or prices for at least 6 months because you depress yourself thinking about what you could have had if you'd waited a week.

The Denon gear will need to be shown off. That's a given. Which means sometime over the next little while, I'll need to clear the house out ... I live in clutter, which is curious for an OCD tending person. I know where my clutter is though, including the stuff I should have thrown out a while ago. I have it mapped, so clearing it up weirds me out. It's one of the many contrasting elements of my personality :

Order vs Chaos. Mad Scientist vs Methodical. Sprinter vs Couch Potato. (I do like the feeling of pinning the ears back and GOING FOR IT). Solitary vs Herd. I like my space but it does get awful lonely sometimes.

It's just coming into Birthday & Xmas season at the moment too, so I'm trying to keep a lid on what I impulse buy. The PC and Denon are both way far out of the present bracket, which makes it safe for me to lust after them.

And it is lust too, lust in the way only toy loving engineers can have.

(We engineers have "normal" urges too - I went ~wibble~ many times earlier watching Iron Man 2, ~wibble~ moments strangely coinciding with Scarlett Johanssen appearing in the Black Widow outfit)

So - showing off the goods. What do I need to do for that ?

Make house presentable (urg). Rearrange lounge (easy). Break out the hoover (whereditgo?). Remove old telly (may need help or forklift). Pass on the old speaker set (see PS below). Find someone who will help me appreciate it (challenge).

I'll settle for lusting after better bits for the moment and maybe, just maybe will get cracking on cleaning house & rearranging main room.

PS After I get the Denon, I'll have a Creative Labs DTT-2500 set going spare to a good home ... As good as most budget hifi setups at music (comparing to Rotel RA820A amp and Big Tannoy speakers - translation : very decent budget stuff) and it only cost me £160 new about 10 years ago. Very discreet too with small components on display with the big one hidden.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sleepy's Top 10

Ok, I tried staying awake while watching the football but have found it more and more difficult to not nod off. Which makes it a perfect time to go hunting Youtube for links to videos of my iTunes Top 10.

Most of these are in the Top 10 because they've been in my library for a lot of years but they're also there cos they're amazing songs too.

At No 10, we have the opening track off Kate Bush's The Kick Inside. It's Moving. Really overdoing it on the dancing :-)

9th is one from Tori Amos and I have to admit, it has been a Pretty Good Year this one. My own personal confidence is up (no coincidence that I'm busier) and there's been a good few successes along the way. Cricket this year was good fun. This song is off Tori's second album, Under The Pink (album version is better, there's a very weird bit in the middle of this live version!).

At 7 and 8 are a couple of very rare Alisha's Attic tracks from their Attic Vaults 1 cd which never got to the shops. I got this one from Ebay, direct from their Mom. At 7 is Free and 8 is Too Far Forgotten. Both typically upbeat AA tracks that'll get your toes tapping. We want Attic Vaults 2 !

Number 6. Oh absolutely wonderful stuff from Edie Brickell & New Bohemians. Beware though, this song could make you cry. It's Ghost of a Dog.

Oldie and a good one at 5 with The Bangles. One of those tracks that somehow didn't get to a greatest hit. I love it, it's Return Post and a lot rockier live than on their first album ...

4th is my favourite Alisha's Attic track, it's The Incidentals from their Illumina album. You know those tracks that have their own momentum that picks you up and sweeps you along with them ? This is one of them. Can never resist singing along to this one, even when I'm not alone ...

Top 3 ! Third most listened to is All About Eve with Martha's Harbour. I've been enchanted by Julianne Regan's voice for the past 30 years ... and this song is the one that kicked that off.

2nd is another Edie Brickell song from her Ultimate Collection. No youtoob link though because "1873" is too rare for anyone to link it ...

Most listened to track ? Another All About Eve :-) This one's the Apple Tree Man. (Dunno what the pics on that link are all about ...) More of Julianne Regan's unique voice in that trademark AAE combination with the acoustic guitar. They don't make music like this any more ...

I've listened to Apple Tree Man 66 times so far and if I hadn't changed how I select what I listen to, that may have gone through 100 :-) Wonder what it says about me when my favourite songs are ladies singing of love.

Artists that just barely missed out on being in this Top 40 were :

Adam and the Ants : Ants Invasion. This one has Epic Feel running right through it.
Michelle Shocked : Can't find Vx Fx Dx but here's one almost as good, all the way from Anchorage, Alaska.
Suzanne Vega : telling the other side of Calypso and Hercules. (Listening to "Songs in Red and Gray" at the moment)
Before that Costner film, there was Robin of Sherwood and a very special soundtrack. Tracks like Together We really helped set the tone.

And finally, F1 coverage hadn't been the same when it was on the channel with adverts. However, when it came back to BBC there was an instant feeling that it was back where it belonged. How come ? The unmistakable chords of the guitar solo in The Chain by Fleetwood Mac.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Holiday or Grind ?

Think I've achieved something this week - I've managed to go the whole week without the cabin fever erupting.

I've even had enough supplies in to last it this far. Probably won't last until Monday/Tuesday (never go shopping on a Monday night ...) which means emerging out the front door. I've had the car parked in CK's drive (he doesn't use it and there's an understanding on lifts & stuff) which has kept it off the road but has me feeling very guilty about leaving it there.

I haven't been completely walled off from the world, although that is tempting sometimes. I've had a works laptop at home with me and have been occasionally checking in. It's a sign of IT progress that you can log in with your own broadband and have a completely secure connection. Handy for any organisation, they all have stuff that they don't want the competition to know. What it means is that I'll have an easy reintroduction to the routine on Monday, having got all the super urgent stuff out the way as it's come this week. I also haunt 2 forums, Facebook and have been keeping up with the guys & girls in WoW when I've not tunnelled into Grind Mode.

What have I been getting up to ? Lots of gaming, lots of music :-)

The gaming has been heavily in Warcraft, which is good and bad. I've been collecting Achievements, which is an ingame way of saying "I Done Stuff". It's changed the way I play, in that I've concentrated on a main character instead of switching around several like I used to. Mind you, that's partly because I've been grinding money.

Question : What did you do on your time off work ?
Answer : I was working For The Horde

Heh heh heh.

I've been overdoing it too, as I have to watch the time I spend in game. It's strange, extended Warcraft time hits me with a tensing up in my collarbone. But it does give me a perfect excuse to listen to lots of music.

I've had a few "new" albums appear in the last couple of weeks :

The XX - an iTunes live EP. If you've not heard of The XX, they're the Next Big Sound of 2010. My sister and I heard one track from them which was offered free as iTunes Single Of The Week. Within the day we both bought their debut album and we've followed that by buying the live EP. They have a fairly unique sound and are a Must Listen.

Sleeper - Smart. An older album but still a good one. One beef I have with the shops is that if they think a group or artist is finished, they'll not bother stocking their music. So an album like this or even a group like The Cardigans get criminally ignored, which leads to artists giving up before they've gifted us with all their talent can give. This album's another good one from Sleeper.

Cardigans - iTunes Originals. Kind of like a Greatest Hits, which I usually steer clear of because I've usually got all the tracks on albums already. This one got bought because it has commentary from the artists themselves. Really enjoying this one, it's recent enough to have a lot of their best stuff on it.

KT Tunstall - Tiger Suit. Another talented artist who's graced us with another excellent album. Here's the best track from it, which kinda sums me up to : Still A Wierdo

PS Listened to 1757 tracks so far for 4.8 days of music in the last 4 weeks :-) Over 800 different tracks in a week. Will have to see if I can break 2000 or 5 days.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

What's the best way to avoid mistakes ?

Research ... Research & even more Research.

All good, just as long as all that research doesn't turn into procrastination :-) I'm good at that too.

I'm researching a couple of areas at the moment. Going back into Warcraft has hit my current games PC hard enough to have me seriously considering some new hardware. I'm also looking at upgrading my amp and speakers to something that'll handle the soundtracks on Blu-Ray discs better. The problem there is surround sound, my current speaker set doesn't understand DTS codes and gives me stereo instead of surround.

There's a few times when I've bought kit and had problems with it. I've then looked it up online to find a heap of "Why'd you go for that pile of xxx ? It's rubbish !" comments. So I do my research now. I have a few sources for that, including places like (can go to Supreme Geek level). I'll also look in magazines. This month saw the arrival of a Custom PC mag and PC Gamer to replace the now dead PC Zone.

You can find yourself behind the times very quickly in computers, as the pace of progress is lightning. I make it a rule to not check bits sellers for a few months after I jump into an upgrade as you buy one week, next week something better is out. It's also half the price. Can get depressing so you ignore the price lists for a while.

How do you catch up with what's current ? Know what to read and what to research ...

That means, figuring out who the idiots are (Computer Shopper) and who are more interested in pumping up ratings for their advertisers. The telltale signs are people who continually pump up ratings on some products (What Sony magazine aka What Hifi ? reputations like that don't come without being earned) while ignoring others. Like you know there's an awesome component out there that you want to read an independent test for but the magazine on the shelf covers 5 products from another company instead. So the magazine stays on the shelf. The best tests back up their opinions with hard numbers.

I think I've learned something from Custom PC and PC Gamer this month, which will definitely go into the bits I'll buy. I'm on leave this week, which would have been the perfect chance to build (and thoroughly test!) a new box. It'll wait a while, because a couple of bits of technology (SSD drive and touchscreen) aren't ready yet. For "ready", read "cheap". My current box just about handles what I throw at it, so I can afford to wait a bit.

The hifi world is another story though. I really don't know where to look for advice on what to get here.

A new hifi is a considerable investment and there's quite a bit of individual taste that goes into appreciating it. Or so say the magazines ... That's not my main beef with the magazines though, it's the snobbery they put into what they write. They'll put "Budget amplifier supertest" on the cover and then ignore all the £150-£200 amps. The price bracket they look at is stupidly high. Yes, I can actually afford £600 for an amp or £800 on a speaker set but that's not because I tend to go for that kind of frivolous spend.

So the hunt for new hifi stuff (the one I have is over 10 years old ...) isn't being informed as much as the hunt for pooter gear. We'll see what turns up. I reckon it'll be a piece of Denon kit, as they're a well trusted make that rarely gives anything other than Excellence. And when they don't know how to make Excellence, they buy it in from people who do. Like rebranding Tannoy or Mission speakers with the Denon name. Good for both companies.

Trouble with Denon though is they're being slow to get their stuff in the shops and people like Onkyo (who dat ?) and Pioneer are beating them to it. So it's tempting to spend the money now instead of waiting for Better.

Will I pay attention to the research when I eventually jump ? Maybe ! But by researching, I'll know more about what I'm getting even if I do compromise.

Oh - I'm on holiday this week, where I intend to do not very much at all :-) Until I get cabin fever (hopefully that'll hit on a sunny day) and then I'll try and resist spending cash on expensive electronic stuff.