It’s All About the Harmony

When I was very young, there was always music in the house.  My father and his family have a long history in Southern Gospel music.  For those of you that aren’t familiar with Southern Gospel music, it’s most often a quartet with lots of harmonies.  I remember riding in the backseat, listening to gospel music and learning to sing harmony.  Of course, after my voice changed I couldn’t sing the high harmony any longer.  🙂

Nonetheless, I think one of the things that attracts me to musical genres like Bluegrass is that same vocal harmony that I grew up with.  I enjoy playing music with friends and I’ve been playing the guitar and singing for the past 15 years or so.  Unfortunately, we don’t get together as often as we used to and I do miss that experience.

So if you can’t find folks to play and sing with, you find a way to do it with technology.  I recently acquired a vocal harmonizer from a company called Digitech.  You plug your guitar and your microphone into this device, and then attach it to your PA system.  The device then analyzes the note that you’re singing and the notes that you’re playing to determine where the harmonies are.  You can chose male or female voices, high harmonies, low harmonies, double the melodies, or even a high or low octave.  It’s pretty cool stuff.

While it doesn’t replace the fun of getting together to play with friends, it has gotten me playing the guitar more and it’s fun to add harmonies to a variety of songs.

Here’s a short clip that I recorded for a friend.  Oh, and the song selection is a bit of an inside joke.  😉

And, here’s a clip of my Father & Bother singing in a Southern Gospel quartet.

Cheers,
Jay

Top Tech of 2012

This marks the 5th year that I’ve written this blog post.  When I began blogging in 2008, I was all over the marble with the topics that I covered.  Over time, this blog has become mostly about my family.  The BBQ stuff that littered the first couple of years worth of content is now all done over at http://www.grillandbarrel.com.  But I look forward to this blog post every year.  This post includes the technology products and services that I’ve had first hand experience with during the year.  This isn’t a comprehensive list of every item that I’ve acquired or used, just those that are noteworthy.

Here we go.  In no particular order, here are my top tech products and services from 2012:

  1. 341286iPad 3 – We’re an Apple family.  iMac, iPhones, iPods, Macbook Pro, Macbook Air, AppleTV.  We’ve done our part in driving Apple stock through the roof.  While we have an original iPad in the house (Carie’s mother’s day gift from that year), I decided I wanted one of my own so that she could actually use her iPad.  I picked this up around Father’s Day and since it’s not a “shared” device, I’ve integrated it into my own workflow.  I use it at work and home.  In fact there are times that I’ll go several days without firing up my laptop.  It’s faster than the first generation, has a sexier screen, and front and back cameras.  My only complaint is that after only 6 months, Apple obsoleted this model with the iPad 4.
  2. iPad Mini – I made a deal with Mackenzie that she could have a tablet for her birthday (Madison got a Kindle Fire for her birthday).  Her birthday happened to fall near the Apple announcement of the iPad Mini.  The deal was that if she wanted to wait for the announcement, she could have the Mini when it was available.  But, if she actually wanted the gift on her birthday she would have to get a Kindle Fire.  She opted to wait.  I got burned for an extra $129.  I really didn’t think the Mini would be that much more than the Kindle Fire.  But that was the deal that I made.  The Mini is pretty cool device and I really like the form factor.  If I didn’t have the iPad 3, I’d look hard at a Mini for myself.  I like the increased mobility of that form factor.
  3. Kind Fire – As I mentioned, Madison wanted a Kindle for her birthday and we settled on the Fire.  It’s the first Android based device to make it into our house.  It’s a pretty cool device for what it is, a media consumption device.  It’s not great for creating content, but in fairness that’s not it’s target.  It’s all about being a window into the Amazon Store and it does that very well.  Sure, there’s a Facebook app, email etc.  But it shines at cracking open your wallet for content acquired via Amazon.  Madison reads on it constantly.  Oh, and I see by her FB timelines that she likes to update FB right before she goes to sleep.
  4. Airgo Speaker – This one I blogged about.  I’ve looked for a way to provide music by the pool without running speaker wire and mounting speakers.  I finally found the answer.  This device houses an Apple Airport Express, enabling the Apple Airplay feature to target the enclosed speaker for output.  Now, we can stream and control the music from any of our “i” devices (iphones or iPads).  Full blog post on this one is located here.

That’s it.  I couldn’t come up with anything else that was new or noteworthy.  I’m sure that there’ll be more tech in the new year.  I see a new desktop for the family, a new laptop or desktop for Carie, and maybe a new DSLR for yours truly.  That’s a pretty ambitious wish list, but come back next year around this time and see what maks the cut for the top tech of 2013.

Cheers,

Braddog

Poolside Tunes – AirGo Speaker Review

Ever since we put the pool in, I’ve toyed with how to provide music on the patio without dragging out a  portable stereo every time we wanted music, without running wires and permanently mounting speakers outside, and at the same time giving us the flexibility of accessing our iTunes library or internet music easily.

Well, I finally solved the problem.  I discovered an outdoor speaker solution that leverages an Apple Airport Express and supports Apple’s Airplay feature.  It’s from the folks at Russound and it’s called an AirGo.  It’s a weather resistant, portable speaker solution.  The sound quality is great and it is plenty loud for our backyard area.

The cool thing about this device is that it actually has a compartment on the back that a houses an Airport Express (sold separately)  The Airport Express is basically a wireless router.  In this implementation , it’s connects to my WiFi network for the purposes of connecting other devices.  It has speaker connections (it has USB and Ethernet connections also) that are connected to the AirGo.  But the magic is the AirPlay feature in iTunes.  Either from my Mac or my iPhone (iPad, iPod Touch, etc.) I can redirect the music output to any AirPlay supported device.  In this case, my AirGo.

Additionally, many of the music services that have apps for iOS support AirPlay as well.  That means that I can stream music from Pandora, Spotify, iHeart Radio, etc. to the AirGo.

My family and I spent most of Saturday hanging out and taking turns q-ing up music from our iPhones.  It works so well and sounds so good, we’ll be getting a ton of use from this solution.

Here’s a short video on the product from it’s announcement at CES.

Cheers,
Braddog

Top Tech for 2011

Every year at this time, I compose a blog post that lists the top few technologies that I’ve personally experienced for the first time during the year.  It never seems like I’ve acquired that many gadgets until I sit down and reflect on things.  This year is no different.  But on reflection, here’s my top 5.

iPhone 4S – I’ve been an iPhone user for a couple of years and now the entire family totes one of the revered side-arms from the folks in Cupertino.  This year, both Carie & I were “upgrade eligible” at the launch of the new 4S so we both availed ourselves of the opportunity to upgrade.  I, because I’m a gadget junky, and she because she’d been using a 3 generation old iPhone 3G and it was painfully slow.  The new camera and processor have been a nice upgrade and I don’t think either of us regret the upgrade.

Siri – Technically, Siri is the voice recognition that comes with the iPhone 4S.  But it’s worthy of a call out on its own.  I don’t think Carie is using it much if at all.  But I’ve begun to use it to not only impress folks with conversational voice interaction with my phone, I’ve also begun to use it to dictate text messages and emails.  This is especially handy when you need to respond to a message when you’re otherwise occupied….like while you’re driving. Now I don’t advocate texting and driving but if you have to do it, at least use Siri.
iOS 5 – Yeah, technically this is another upgrade that came along with the new iPhone but it’s also applicable to the kids’ iPhones & the iPad.  The features that come along with iOS 5 that are worth mentioning include iCloud for iTunes, Photostream, and the new notification system.  iCloud makes my entire music library accessible from anywhere and that’s pretty cool considering that it’s way too big to fit on my iPhone all at once.  Photostream makes getting my photos from my phone to my iMac a seamless experience.  By the time I get home, my photos are already there and waiting on me.  And the notifcation system is just plain better than it was previously.

Ghost Armor – For the first time in nearly a decade, I’m not toting my phone on my hip.  That’s because I had Ghost Armor applied to my iPhone and now I don’t worry about it getting scuffed up if ends up in my pants pocket with loose change or heaven forbid, my car keys.  $39 covers all 6 surfaces and has a lifetime guarantee.  I’ve had it on the phone since the second day and so far, I’m pretty happy with the protection that it provides and the fact that I don’t have that wart hanging off my belt.

MacBook Air – This is the hands down the best piece of technology that I’ve acquired since I switched to the Mac 5 years ago.  This little laptop is light, compact, and smokin’ fast due to the solid state drive or SSD.  Rather than a spinning disk to store the data on, the internal storage is solid state memory with access speeds that put the fastest hard disks to shame.  In short, I love this little machine.  It’s become my daily/primary computer, and displaced my MacBook Pro & iPad.  These days, this is the only computer that I leave home with.

Well, there you have it.  These are the technologies that I’ve acquired this year that make my top 5.  There are a few others that are worthy of honorable mention, but maybe I’ll save those for a follow up blog post.

Cheers,
Braddog

Thanks Steve

I think back to a very early experience in high school.  It was 1980 and I got my first experience with a TRS-80 personal computer.  I remember being really excited about it and telling my parents about it over dinner.  A couple of years later (1985 if I recall correctly) I acquired my first Apple Computer, an Apple IIC (thanks Mom).  Little did I know at the time that I was destined to make my living in the tech industry.  I can’t say that I’ve ever been a programmer or an engineer, but I’ve always gravitated to technology in every job I’ve ever had.  So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I wound up in this business.

I remember 1984 and the introduction of the Mac.  I got my first hands on experience with a Mac in 1999, but by then I’d already begun working as a technician in the PC business.  Over nearly 2 decades, I was a hard-core PC guy.  Don’t push that Apple/Mac stuff on me.  I knew that the IBM compatible personal computer was the only “real PC”.

But I couldn’t get away from Apple.  By the mid 2000’s, you had to admit that Apple owned the portable music world.  But I didn’t concede that point until 2007.  That’s when I finally bought my first iPod.  It didn’t take me long to realize what I’d been missing.  Wow!  This device, an iPod Touch, completely changed my perceptions, and within 4 months I’d purchased my first Macbook Pro.

Suddenly, I was re-energized about personal computers.  This thing was really cool in a way that I’d never seen in any of the myriad of PC’s that I’d owned or worked on in years.  The following year, I landed an iMac in the family room and integrated it into our daily life-flow.  Next came iPhones for the whole family and an iPad.

Now I sit here tonight, banging away on the keyboard of my new MacBook Air and I’ve just learned that Steve Jobs has passed away.  I didn’t appreciate Steve’s early career, but in the past 5 years I’ve gained a whole new perspective.  Steve Jobs and Apple computers helped a jaded, cynical IT professional find the excitement in technology again.  That same excitement that a skinny kid in Southern Illinois experienced with a TRS-80 over 30 years ago in a high school library.

Thanks Steve, and Godspeed.

Cheers,
Braddog

Top 5 Tech for 2010

In keeping with the tradition of the past few years, I’ve compiled the list of the top 5 technology related items that I’ve personally used this year.  These are items that I didn’t own or use prior to 2010.  So here goes:

#5 – 1Password – If you’re like most people, your life has made a gradual migration to online services.  With everything from banking, investments, bill payment, entertainment, and tons of social services becoming accessible via the internet, keeping track of account information and passwords has become a real challenge.  While I make my living in Information Technology, I realize that writing down passwords and account information is a bad practice but I had resorted to keeping a password protected spreadsheet to keep track of it all.  So after a little research, I landed on 1Password as the solution to this problem.  It does a nice job of tracking passwords, logins, account details, and even payment details.  The data is encrypted and secure and I have it configured to synch between my Macs.  There’s also an iPhone/iPad app that will allow you to have access to the data on the go.  I’ve used it for about 3 months and highly recommend it.

#4 – DropBox – Cloud computing is all the rage these days.  Cloud computing means lots of different things to different people, but suffice to say that at the core it means leveraging internet services for any one of a variety of things.  One of the things that I’ve begun to leverage the cloud or internet for is data storage.  Ubiquitous access to the internet means that I have the flexibility to have access to important files from anywhere, anytime, and from any device.  Dropbox is a service that provides up to 2GB of that capability for free.  At this point 2GB is enough for the really important stuff, but if you need more their plans for additional space are reasonably priced.  The killer use of this service for me is combining it with 1Password to provide the password synchronization across machines that I mentioned previously.

#3 – Apple TV
– Over the past couple of years, we’ve begun to use Netflix more and more.  Specifically, we use the streaming service extensively.  The kids had begun to use the iMac in the hearth room as a movie player.  While this worked fine, they would rearrange the furniture every time they wanted to watch a movie and the 42″ LCD TV would sit unused.  So, I moved my Blu-Ray player with Netflix upstairs and acquired an Apple TV as a replacement.  This thing rocks!  Finally, I have an affordable (& commercial) solution for streaming content not only from online services from Apple, Netflix, YouTube, Flickr etc, but I also finally have the ability to stream content from my central repository of photos, home videos, music, etc.  This box is $99 and looks like a hockey puck (okay, it’s a square hockey puck but you get the idea).  At $99, it’s in the impulse purchase range and a great addition to my home theater setup.

#2 – Apple iPad
– I originally didn’t have the itch to buy one of these.  But my wife saw the value in using it as a presentation tool for Real Estate.  While we haven’t used it much for that, it is a great way to take the net with you in places where you don’t typically have internet access.  Of course, that implies that you have the 3G version which we do.  It’s a web browser, it’s an ebook reader, it’s a game machine, it’s a video player.  And, I’ve yet to see anyone pick it up and not be able to quickly figure out how to use it.  This is the game changer that folks always thought tablets could be.  It just took someone like Apple to finally get it right.

#1 – Apple iPhone 4
– While the iPhone isn’t new to me, the iPhone 4 has really been a personal game changer.  As I mentioned last year when I acquired my iPhone 3G, I it use the iPhone for lots of stuff beyond a telephone.  But this year, the iPhone 4 has become a viable replacement for a point & shoot camera or video camera.  Not to mention, the performance improvements and multitasking have made it a much more capable personal computer.  In fact, I’m such a fan that we’re now a 4-iPhone family.

Well there you have it sports fans.  These are my own personal top technology items from 2010.  I’ll keep you posted on them as I get more seat time with each.  And, you can bet I haven’t acquired my last gadget.  I’ve got to get busy cause I’ll have to write this same article in just 12 short months.

Happy New Year to everyone and here’s wishing you a prosperous 2011.

Cheers,
Braddog

iPhone 4 & The Domino Effect

Since I couldn’t find a lunch partner on Thursday, I wandered over to the Galleria in no way expecting to come back with a new iPhone. But, when I popped into the Apple store to just inquire about lead times on a new order, the guy looked at me and said “If you’d like a 16GB model they’re in stock today. 32GB models have a 3 week lead time”.

I pondered the idea of 16GB vs 32GB, whether that was enough space, whether I should wait for a 32GB, what I’d do if it wasn’t enough space, and responded in less than 2 seconds that I’d take one.

A scant 20 minutes later, an employee called my name and in an amazingly efficient and quick transaction sent me back to the office with a fully functional and activated iPhone 4. I’ll bet the whole transaction took less than 3 minutes. And, the POS system that they’re using with signature capture, credit card swipe, etc. on an iPod Touch was pretty slick too.

The by-product of this transaction is a mad scramble at home for the iPhone 3G that this replaced. Even my bride made several inquiries about what my plans were. So after a little cleanup and tweaking last night, Carie now has the 3G at least for a test drive.

That will probably have us reactivating Carie’s old phone for Mackenzie. It’s not exactly the phone she would have chosen. I mean, what 11 year old “wants” a Blackberry?

But as my Brother-in-Law says, it’s just another middle class tragedy! =)

Cheers,
Braddog