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    Tuesday, March 31, 2009

    Mac vs PC for Music Technology...

    This is going to be an Mac vs PC comparison with a difference. I will focus on the differences between the two system within a music technology environment. Both have certain advantages and disadvantages and regardless of my opinion, which OS you choose is inevitably your decision. I own a MacBook pro running Leopard 10.5.6 as well as a home built desktop machine running Vista SP2. The specifications of these two machines are pretty much the same, so this is really about the operating system.


    A digital audio workstation (DAW) requires multiple channels of audio both in and out of the machine. It also requires a lot of processing power and RAM to add effects to channels and tracks. Most professional recording studios today use Macs, they have become the de-facto standard alongside the popular DAW software ProTools. To find out why, we need to start at the very basics of the operating system. The two screenshots below show a Vista desktop and a Leopard desktop.


    Vista Desktop

    Leopard Desktop


    We can see the two systems have the same basic features, Both have a file system with folders set up for all kinds of different multimedia. Both can run a multitude of DAW software, and both can record and process audio. The one fundamental difference is that Apple have always built their machines to work with multimedia, from the hardware to the software. Every single step has been optimised for digital media manipulation. The way the unix operating system is run in leopard means that if one application crashes, the whole system doesn't crash. For a studio engineer this potentially saves a lot of time, and you know what they say; time is money!
    Users will argue that windows accepts more hardware, that if you buy an external sound card it is more likely to work on Windows than on a Mac. Whilst this may have been the case many years ago, it certainly is not now. Apples slogan "it just works" really does mean that today most external sound cards will work on a Mac even easier than they will on a PC, many do not even require additional drivers due to apples core audio drivers.
    Windows has the advantage of having a larger user base, this means that there are potentially more VST plugins for DAW software running on a windows machine, but is this necessarily a good thing? The VST's that are available for Mac are generally more polished and of a better quality than some available for the PC, perhaps because it is assumed that Macs are for professionals. This is not to say that all the software for Windows is of a lower quality than its Mac counterparts. Take Cubase and ProTools for example, both these pieces of software boast Mac and PC compatibility. This suggests that there is a significant market still for DAW software running on windows.
    Macs have always been marketed as easy to use computers; the mouse only has one button because of Apples design philosophy that everything a user could ever possibly want to do, should only be a mouse click away. The menu for each program on a Mac appears in the same bar across the top of the screen, this follows the fundamental design principles that controls should be consistent in their placement. The applications that you use everyday are contained within a system wide dock, viewable from any application (No need to navigate the start menu like in Windows). All these things may seem like minor tweaks, but there are enough 'minor tweaks' in Leopard to make it seem much more intuitive than a windows system.
    Then there is the issue of cost, the Mac/PC price difference is something that has been debated for years, and is not something I'm going to discuss. However, it is possible to buy a PC with fairly decent specifications cheaper than an equivalent Mac. But, in the time I have owned my mac, i have had to reinstall windows twice on my desktop machine. I have not had a single problem on my mac.
    So my conclusion is this, it is perfectly possible to record, and produce music on a windows machine using pretty much the same basic software. However if you want a solid system that will not crash, will consistently boot quickly, and will generally run circles around a windows machine, get a Mac!

    Monday, March 30, 2009

    Back in Billingshurst...

    Well I'm home, back in good old sussex. Another term at university has flown by, it was pretty hectic towards the end of the term. Lots of assignments were due in, you may have seen my promo video on this blog a while back. I fully intend to post all of my practical work on this blog after its been handed in. You may remember a while ago i talked about an interactive flash program i'm building to teach users the basics of digital photography. Well i had initially planned for this to be online by now, but the deadline has been moved forward untill after easter, so this should be online in about a month.

    I've just handed in my software programming assignment. The breif: to create an audio & video sequencer in C++ within a command line prompt. The end product was fairly basic, as can only be expected from a command line prompt peice of software. The secondary part of this assignment was a report on where you think the program could be improved, needless to say i mentioned a GUI and alternative methods of building the thing entirely, as C++ really isn't the best code to be using IMHO.

    About a week ago, i got marks back from my computer architecture assignment, our task was to describe and illustrate how a sound card works. For those who are interested this involved talking in depth about everything from PCM (Pulse code modulation) to the connectors used to input audio on the card. I was extremely pleased with my mark, i got 98% in the end for that assignment which puts me in very good stead for the exam next term (which promises to be challenging!)

    Now for a tip for anyone who is going to uni soon, be aware that you WILL spend money on text books. My course isn't particularly theory based, although we do cover some theories, however i have spent near to £120 on 3 text books! For anyone doing the music & audio technology course at Bournemouth University i can highly reccomend these books:

    - Sound and recording : An introduction - Rumsey, McCormick
    - Fundimentals of Multimedia - Ze-Nian Li
    - Data Commuications & Networking -Forouzan

    All of these books are on the reading list for my course, along with many more. But I have found these three books to cover everything i needed for the first year of this course. We will see how they fare next year!

    Monday, March 23, 2009

    Where has the time gone?

    It seems like just yesterday I was being dropped off in Bournemouth, living in a strange place with people i'd never met before. Now it's been almost 7 months, and I'm at the end of my second term at University. People told me to enjoy my first year because it will go so quickly, at the time I thought it couldn't go quick enough. Now I'm shocked at how little time i have left in my first year. Basically i've finished lectures for the year now, it's all about revision for my exams.

    I have two exams, one on 'Audio and Video principles', and another on 'Media Devices, Architectures, and Networks' Both two hours long. Then we have a creative project week, not sure what that involves yet, I hope we get a week to do whatever we want!

    Other news, i have just started writing for upcoming tech blog Techrant, check it out here. I'll be writing about Apple news and started my first post on the iPhone 3.0 software thats just been announced.

    Anyway, right now I'm off to the studios to get some recording done! My next blog will probably be from home!

    Monday, March 16, 2009

    How things change...

    Well i've been wanting to blog about this for a long time now. It seemed like the right time to do it, just after i finished the new design for the blog.

    When i was younger, i was into computers in a big way. This was largely influenced by my brother, who now works as a software programmer out in Sidney (Alright for some!). Anyway, he taught me the basics of how to make a website and i set about creating my very own space on the. then relatively new, internet! A few weeks ago, i stumbled across my very first website. It's still live on the internet! Click here to check it out or just look at the screenshot below...

    After a while, i remember getting connected to our very own ISDN line. Back then, this was the best mainstream connection around and it was hosted by British Telecom. As part of the package, BT provided you with what seemed at the time to be a large web hosting space. In reality i think it was about 100MB! Anyway, i decided to make the most of this, and set about creating "Samsite II". Again this is still live on the web, and if you want to laugh at my youthful spelling mistakes then click here to take a look, otherwise the screenshot below will suffice.

    Since that site has not been updated since christmas a few years ago, lots changed in the world of technology. More significantly static HTML web pages became a thing of the past. Dynamic web content was moving in, and strange terms such as "Blog" were being thrown about. Now i didn't really create one of these for a few years because i didn't have anything particularly interesting to talk about. However, come september 2008 that all changed as I moved down to bournemouth and started university. This is how we arrive at what you see today, appropriately named as "Sam's Blog" it moves away from the static typical webpage, and takes me into the 21st century. Just for continuities sake, i'll include a screenshot...

    So there we have it, a summarised history of me on the internet! Whether you think i've improved or not is up to you, but i certainly know which one i prefer.

    This blog has been incredibly useful at university, mainly because it allows me to let friends and family from back home know how I'm doing. This was the main reason for starting the blog. It's also become increasingly useful as part of my course, enabling me to showcase some of the work i've been doing, for example my promotional video.

    Well that's all from me for the time being, I'd like to thank my regular readers, there may not be many of you yet but it is good to know there are people reading this, after all that's why it's here!

    Promotional Video...

    Hey everyone, i've just finalised my two minute promotional video on my course here at Bournemouth University. I've uploaded it to youtube for you all to see, bear in mind this is a low quality version suitable for web streaming. If you have a fast internet connection (2MB+) you can click on the "HD" button to see a high definition version of the video.



    For those who are interested, the full quality version was shot in 1920 x 1080 (High Definition). The video was edited in Final Cut Pro, and the backing music is made up of royalty free loops from Apple.

    I'll let you know what mark i get for this when it's been assessed

    Sunday, March 08, 2009

    What an audience...

    Wow! Well i started this blog with the idea that friends and family would be able to visit to find out what i've been up to at University. It's really turned into me typing about what's really on my mind at the time i click that 'New Post' button. Regardless of this, i checked my blog statistics today and was surprised to see this...

    It's a map of all the visits on my blog! Now don't worry, its not tracking your current location (Thats illegal!), it just shows the exchange you're connected too. Now there's defiantly a couple of people i know in America and New Zealand, and I'm sure services like TOR can account for some of these hits. But the fact is, people from all over the world are reading this blog, and I'm not sure how that feels. I mean, can they all be genuinely interested in my first year antics at uni? Maybe next time you visit, you could leave a comment so i know who you are!

    Moving on, its a busy few weeks in Bournemouth coming up. We have 5 assignments on the go, one of which is to create a multimedia application in flash which teaches the user the basics of how to use a DSLR Camera, those who know me will know that this is something i'd enjoy doing... and I did! It was quite a steep learning curve from what i'm used to, but i'm very pleased with the end result. I'll post some screenshots and a video up after hand in date, may even try to host the application online somewhere so you can all have a go!

    Final rant, Twitter. I've been 'tweeting' for about 3 or 4 weeks now. You can see my latest 'tweet' at the top of this blog. It's an interesting concept, which at first seems exactly like Facebook status updates, and this is the underlying problem with the service. It's not until you join and start tweeting, that you realise really how different it is to Facebook! My experiences have been that when I try to encourage my friends to join, their response is "isn't that just Facebook" and that's as far as it goes. Maybe i'll post a blog on the differences, but for now I'm just wondering if any of my readers have twitter, let me know in the comments!