Gig Bag – Suggestions and reviews for Performers & Techs

As a musician, singer and occasional sound engineer, I find I have to carry lots of equipment with me to gigs. I had various bags (one for a microphone and various leads, one for my Macbook Pro) and another with various bits and pieces in it. What I wanted was a Gig Bag – just one bag that I could keep all my staple gig items in from one show to the next regardless of whether that day I’d be singer or sound teching for a show. You know, things like some spare leads, a couple of mics, a few tools, a lead tester…that kind of stuff. Something I can just grab and go without the need of packing each gig but based around music unlike my Everyday Carry.

It got me looking around for options. As you’ll already be aware bags come in different shapes and sizes from small handbags to large suitcases. Prices also vary significantly. So what are the best options for a gig bag? These suggestions link to Amazon for ease of use:

24″ foolsGold® Holdall – from £12.99 – my recommendation

This gig bag is actually the cheapest of the bunch and the one I settled on. It’s a reasonable size but not so big it will take up too much space in the van or car. I was attracted to the many pockets on the outside of the bag which are great for organising leads or smaller items in. It’s a robust bag that I can also sling a few clothes in and my Macbook. Simple and strong. Recommended. >>See more here<<

20″ Clearwater compartment bag – from £19.99

This is the gig bag for the person who really want to compartmentalise their gear.  With 8 adjustable compartments, the bag provides the travelling musician with lots of scope to organise items into sections. >>See more here<<

 

Max IP67 Hard Waterproof case – from £30

Smaller than the others, but packing a punch in terms of the durability, is the Max IP67. It’s hard and waterproof. Ideal for travelling on a plane or somewhere that your gear might be thrown around. It also boasts a pressure relief valve. >>See more here<<

FlyGear 32 Inch Large Folding Wheeled Holdall – from £11.99

Looking for something with wheels? Then check out the FlyGear 32 Inch Folding Wheeled Holdall. Sadly this bag doesn’t have many external pockets but it does have the added advantage of being easily folded away when not in use – ideal for someone with limited storage space. It’s also the largest of the bags reviewed here. >>See more here<<

Got your own suggestions for a Gig Bag? Disagree with something I’ve said? Then please leave your comment below and I’ll be sure to reply.

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Using 4G as Business Internet Solution

When my company recently moved premises, we found a great plot of land. Previously a farm, it had plenty of space for our expanding business, lots of storage and plenty of space for a new purpose built office. The problem was that the BT Broadband connection was a maximum of 1.2MB due to the distance from the Exchange, which was never going to be suitable for 8 users checking email and carrying out their daily activities. We needed an alternative, and the alternative was to use 4G as business internet solution.

Like most businesses, our company had grown use to high-speed internet so we needed to find an alternative to the poor-quality speeds provided by the BT infrastructure. Satellite Internet was an expensive and slow option, so we turned to 4G for options.

4G has become much more widely available in the UK recently with speeds and coverage increasing all the time. Unfortunately, the coverage information provided by Ofcom and the mobile phone networks in relation to data coverage is poor and not very accurate which can make it a bit of a lottery when trying to decipher where there is a good 4G signal. To find out I asked a number of staff with mobile phones on different networks to visit the new location. I asked them to download the Speedtest app onto their smartphones and we then checked each networks speed in the area. In my case it was EE and 3 with the strongest signal and faster speeds.

 

Adding the router to the network (LAN)

It was important for me that I could integrate the 4G internet connection into my companies Local Area Network (LAN) and I wanted the router to be the DHCP server. To do this I decided I would purchase a 4G router and after some research settled on the Asus 4G-N12.

The N12 console is very straight forward to use

Getting the system up-and-running was fairly simple. I ordered a SIM from EE and plugged it into the slot on the side of the router. Once the router was on I logged into the Asus control panel by going to the IP address 192.168.1.1 and using the username admin and the password admin. Once I was logged in the router’s admin screen the firmware automatically ran me through the setup process. All I needed was the SIM PIN which was written on the packet (you may need to call your mobile provider for this). In my case it was 1111. Once all connected I was instantly able to connect to the building in wifi option of the router.

Locating the router to use 4G as business internet

One of the disadvantages of the router I purchased (and the problem with most in the price range) is that there is no option for adding an additional 4G antenna. I could already get a reasonable signal with the router on my desk but I knew I’d increase it if I could get the device higher up. So, I added a longer ethernet cable to the router and placed it on top of the false ceiling in our office. Up there I was able to achieve 25mb speeds very easily which was a considerable improvement on the BT connection.

After speaking to our handyman, we decided we could probably improve this even more if we could build a tower and locate this to the roof of the building, thus improving the line-of-sight to the nearest 4G mast. As the router is 12v, we discussed perhaps making a simple 12v solar-powered system for it, but for now it was good enough and we were able to use 4G as business internet solution with no problems whatsoever.

4G router up high
Can you see me? We placed the router up high above the false ceiling to improve reception.

Data allowance – the major obstacle with 4G internet packages

The problem with using 4G as business internet connection is the cost. Although some networks claim to offer ‘unlimited’ internet connections, my research discovered that none actually do. The networks either cap your usage under a fair usage policy or they throttle your speeds. This means that you are somewhat limited to how much you can use the internet before you begin to occur some expensive additional charges.

I had to enforce some new rules in the office. One was to stop one of my colleagues streaming their favourite radio station. Another was to block access to Youtube, Vimeo and Facebook (which of course they shouldn’t be using at work anyway, right?)

What I did notice was just how much data was used for even basic Internet usage and the checking of email. I also discovered that Microsoft Windows 10 (which is what all of our computers run) uses a surprising amount of data just checking for updates.

Obviously some of these issues needed to be resolved if we were going to truly use 4G as a real alternative to BT fibre.

4G Reliability was a problem (at first)

Our first few days weren’t too great when it came to reliability. Suddenly the signal was much lower than I’d experienced during my tests but thankfully it turned out that the blip in speed was caused by a temporary fault with a local cell mast. Since then, the 4G internet as been excellent. Very reliable, very fast, and increasingly cheaper.

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Is your tech spying on you?

As more and more products incorporate voice control and facial reignition, so does the required to hand over personal information to make these devices work. But did you know that your tech might be spying on you?

It’s now an accepted fact that Big Brother may be monitoring you in your very own home after evidence was uploaded to the Wikileaks website which proved that the CIA, in coordination with MI5, could hack Samsung televisions into bugging devices.

Voice recognition is constantly monitoring your conversations

Look at the example of a voice controlled Smart TV, which can change channel by voice control. For the system to work correctly it needs to be constantly listening out for your command.

You might think this is harmless. In fact, there is evidence to show a more dark and secretive force at work.

Government departments can turn your tech into bugging devices

Now consider your phone. It’s with you almost all the time, and if you’re an Android or iPhone users there’s a chance you make use of Google Home or Siri. If you do, it means that your phone is constantly listening out for your command; which means it’s quite possible that it too could be turned into a bug. No longer do the spy agencies need to tap your line: they can listen to you whenever they like.

And how about Alexa? She’s listening out for you, too. What is there to stop a software expert from getting your tech spying on you?

Your laptop may be spying on you

Most modern laptops and Macbooks are provided with built-in cameras. There are many stories regarding hackers installing malware into your computers enabling them to secretly take over control of your camera. Known as ‘webcam hacking’, Antivirus giant Norton have warned for some time about the risks.

Nothing to hide – nothing to fear?

Of course, there is a strong argument to say that if you’re not engaging in illegal activity you have nothing to worry about. In effect, you’re trading your privacy for the convenience of using such devices.

Are with sleepwalking towards George Orwell’s 1984?

The fact is that we can now be monitored by the State. It’s fact, no longer fiction.

You may trust this current government, but what would happen if a new crazy government took over who you didn’t trust and wants to monitor your beliefs? What if the bugging technology fell into the hands of our enemies?

How to avoid tech spying on you

The simply way is to switch off the voice recognition systems on these devices. After all, is using a remote control really so difficult to change the TV channel?

Another simply tool is to place some black electrical tape over the camera lens on laptops and tablets.

 

 

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MacBook Pro gets hot | How to keep your MacBook cool

MacBook Pro gets hot

My MacBook Pro gets hot at times, usually when I’m trying to do something which requires a lot of processing power. As I’m typing this article it’s perfectly fine, but as soon as I run iMovie or Garage Band and start doing something heavy, the Mac gets very hot, especially just above the F keys. I’ve also noticed that the black strip at the bottom of the screen also gets very warm (it’s directly in front of the air vents).

 

Why a MacBook Pro gets hot

Unless it’s a hardware issue, the MacBook Pro gets hot because it’s having to do a lot of things at the same time. This is a common issue with any computer equipment. In my case I know for certain that there is no hardware fault as I’ve taken the computer apart and checked.

How to prevent a MacBook Pro getting hot

Whilst you’re going to want to keep on using your Mac for producing great movies and music, you’re going to want to keep it as cool as possible. Presuming that you’ve ruled out any hardware problems, you might want to consider the following ideas for keep your MacBook cool:

  • don’t use your MacBook directly on your lap – the heat from your body will prevent it from cooling and clothing may block the air vents required for cooling
  • never use your MacBook on a duvet or bed clothes
  • use a laptop tray to place your Mac onto – you’ll also find this more comfortable when using your MacBook
  • consider buying a laptop cooling tray – they run little fans on USB power and are excellent at cooling down any laptop when it’s working hard (and they can be used as a stand)
  • make sure the air vents are clear of obstructions and dust to keep your MacBook cool
  • if you’re handy with a screwdriver, have a look at the internal fan and make sure it’s not blocked with dust as this can considerably reduce cooling capability (refer to your warranty before doing this as you may void it)
  • don’t charge the MacBook whilst carrying our processor intensive activities like watching a movie or exporting large files

 

The benefits of keeping your MacBook cool

Overheating computer components reduces their lifespan, so keeping you machine cool will help prolong it’s life. If you keep your MacBook cool you’ll find it lasts longer.

Cooling the components also help the processor to deal with information faster, and whilst you probably won’t notice a difference in general use, your MacBook will export videos and music much faster.

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Best NAS of 2017 – Network Attached Storage comparisons

best NAS 2017

If you’re here it’s because you’ll already know the many benefits Network Attached Stoage (NAS) can bring to your home or small business, but choosing the best NAS can be a minefield. So what is the best NAS of 2017?

Editors note: to save you time you can go straight to what we believe to be the best NAS of 2017 – the Synology DS715 with 2x3TB Seagate hard drives. Not the cheapest, but the best network attached storage system pound-per-pound. It’s solid, with good firmware, excellent cloud and mobile apps and supports multiple backup methods out of the box.

How the NAS comparison works

There are many different factors to consider when buying a NAS, from storage capacity to firmware. It would be far to complicated for the majority of people if we were to go into every minute detail, so for the sake of this article, we’ve concentrated on the most common.

RAID? Cloud software? Maximum capacity Wireless capability? Works out-of-the box? Processor Read/Write speed Cost
Synology DS715

best NAS 2017

All versions Yes (including mobile apps, grouping, security and Dropbox sync) Unlimited Yes (with additional USB dongle, not supplied) Once hard disks are installed (not  included) 1.4GHz Quad Core 216.1 MB/s reading speed and 142.5 MB/s writing speed from £249
TerraMaster F2-220

RAID 0, RAID 1, JBOD, SINGLE No (but can be synchronised with Dropbox) 8TB No (ethernet only) Once hard disks are installed (not  included) Celeron 2.41GHz with 2GB RAM 100MB/sec from £159.99

WD My Cloud

Unknown (not advertised by manufacturer) Yes 8TB No (ethernet only) Yes Unknown Not advertised from £109
Buffalo LinkStation 200 0/1/JBOD No 4TB No (ethernet only) Yes 800MHz ARM with 236Mb RAM No clear information  provided from £95

Why we believe the DS715 is the best NAS of 2017

When comparing the NAS available it was clear that there way a huge difference in the software options available. The DS715 hosts a huge number of installable applications, including web server, media server, remote access, cloud access, databases, MySQL and PhpMyAdmin. All of these options, plus it’s dual ethernet sockets and USB 3.0 (making external hard drives another option) make it by far the best NAS of 2017 in our opinion. This is a NAS that can be used at home or for small businesses. In fact, there’s no reason a small business couldn’t completely ditch their old file server and use the DS715 as a full solution; it really is that good.

Runner up of the best NAS of 2017

The position of second best goes to the TerraMaster, which offers a lot of the options of the DS715 but on a budget. It’s reasonably fast and can be upgraded to 8TB as your data needs increase. It’s not the best NAS of 2017, but it’s definitely a runner up.

You get what you pay for

As a user of the DS715, we know how excellent the manufacturers, Synology, are at updating firmware. They are regularly releasing new security patched and updated the built-in antivirus software.

If you can afford it, go for the DS715. Unless you’re a homeowner, we recommend you avoid the Buffalo and LinStation options.

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Lima Cloud Storage Review | Could be much better

Lima Cloud

Lima cloud has been touted as the next best thing for those looking at a cloud solution on a budget. So is this new cloud solution really as good as it sounds?

The manufacturers of Lima, Lima Technology Inc., claim that Lima will “will protect your files and make them available to you on all your devices remotely”. The device was produced using a kickstarter campaign

However, after hundreds of reviews on Amazon, it appears Lima isn’t as straight forward to use as the manufacturers would have you believe. In fact, on the day of writing this post, 39% of reviews gave Lima just one star. Common complaints including the device failing to recognise drives, poor customer service from Lima and connection failures.

 

Advantages of Lima

  • one-off cost with no monthly subscription
  • your data is kept by you, so no chance of data mining
  • easy to upgrade storage capacity
  • Apple Air Play and Google Chromecast compatible
  • it’s small

 

Disadvantages of Lima

  • there is only one backup of your files (unlike more expensive cloud solutions which offer two hard-disks working as a RAID solution)
  • if the hard drive connected to your Lima is damaged, the files are unlikely to be irretrievable
  • No support for Linux

 

Suspicious advertising?

When I first looked into Lima cloud, the official website claimed that the waiting list was already 97% full and I needed to enter my email address quickly or risk losing the chance to sign up “due to high demand”. Meretriciously, the next day I received an email telling me I was one of the lucky people that had been selected to buy Lima. Two weeks on, the website still says the same. Mmmm……

I’m also concerned about some of the claims made by the manufacturers on the Amazon page. One selling point of the device claims “both your computer & smartphone can hold up several terabytes!”. Actually, that not true. Whilst your phone may have access to terabytes of data (subject to the size of the hard drive you attach) your phone doesn’t actually store the data; it just retrieves it.

 

Summary

At $99 Lima seems expensive, especially for the problems that many users have reported. The concept is good, but Lima doesn’t seem ready for prime time just yet.

To truly improve, the company will need to up its game in terms of customer service. An additional USB port to allow RAID would also be an improvement as would wifi capability.

 

My recommendation

Whilst more expensive, Synology offer some of the best NAS devices with cloud storage available. The hardware is quality, especially when combined with Western Digital Red hard drives. The apps are all very stable and the software provided is top quality.

Expensive, yes. But then when you consider the price of your data, how much is too much?

On a budget? Then check out the WD 3TB personal cloud solution.

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Is your child a Gadget Gremlin?

Gadget Gremlin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I first experienced my child turning into a Gadget Gremlin when he was around 7 years old and wrote about why it is important to limit your child’s screen time. His grandparents had bought him a gift of a Nintendo DS for Christmas. My wife wasn’t too keen on the idea what with him being so young, but I thought it was important that he had some kind of experience with the technology which would surround him as he grew into a young adult. However, we quickly began to notice a pattern of bad behaviour when he was separated from it.

 

What is a Gadget Gremlin?

A Gadget Gremlin is a child or young person who usually displays good, placid behaviour, but who turns angry, violent or rude when removed from technology. Such as technology includes (but is not limited to) tablets, games consoles, cell or mobile phone or PC’s.

 

What causes a child to turn into a Gadget Gremlin?

The exact cause of bad behaviour as a result of technology withdrawal isn’t fully understood, but there are lots of studies which have show that the brain can experience similar withdrawal that to drugs.

One study found that students could experience “symptoms similar to those seen in drug addicts trying to go cold turkey” when turning off mobile phones, avoiding the internet and tuning out of the television. The doctor in charge of the study, Dr Gerodimos of Bournemouth University, believes that technology is changes the way our brains work and rely on it.

 

Technology may be damaging your child’s development

There’s no doubt that advancements in technology can be extremely useful, but can also have a detrimental effect on your child. If you can answer yes to any of the following questions, you may already have a Gadget Gremlin in your home:

  • does your child cry, scream or hit out after being removed from technology?
  • is it difficult to get your child to participate in exercise?
  • does your child often wake up during the night to play electronic games or watch online videos?
  • has your child ever wet/soiled themself before making it to the toilet whilst playing on a games consol or compute?

If you’ve answered yes to any of the above, you have already have a child addicted to technology

How you can avoid raising a Gadget Gremlin

There are a number of steps that you can take to prevent your child becoming a Gadget Gremlin. These include:

  • limiting your child’s use of technology, perhaps to 1 hour a day (there are many applications with can help with this including Microsoft Family and Norton Family)
  • banning your child from technology for at least 3 days if they display bad behaviour when withdrawn from it (following through with a punishment is vital)
  • ensuring that your child is only using content relevant to their age group (allowing a 10 year old to play 18 rated games is asking for trouble – they are rated for a reason)
  • ensuring that you know what your child is doing online at all times

Controlling your child’s use of technology will undoubtedly result in improvements in their behaviour. This is something that me and many friend have experienced with our own children.

Do you have any advice or tips to prevent Gadget Gremlins? They new sure to leave them in the comments below…and good luck!

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Thinking of getting Sky Q? Don’t bother just yet

Sky Q

Sky Q is being pushed heavily by the company as the new way to watch Sky TV, with Ultra HD 4K availability and allowing people in different rooms to watch different TV channels at the same time. But, as this article will explain, Sky Q still has many teething problems.

 

Sky Engineer advised me not to buy Sky Q for at least 12 months

I recently had a visit from a Sky Engineer to replace some damaged cable in my house. While he was visiting, I asked him what he thought of Sky Q.

“Don’t bother mate” he said.

He then went on to tell me that there were far to many teething problems with the service and that he believed it shouldn’t have been released to the public so soon.

 

So what are the problems with Sky Q?

The most common issues being reported by Sky customers with the service are:

  • the new menu system (known in the industry and the Electronic Program Guide (EPG) is accused by many traditional Sky users as being clunky and somewhat laggy
  • the blue light on the front of the Sky Q box is too bright and distracting and can’t be permanently switched off
  • problem with software updates
  • a persistent “You can’t watch TV right now as there is a connectivity problem” error

Why are Sky keen to push Sky Q?

Sky Q relies heavily on broadband internet and local area networking to download programs. It is a move towards streaming services and away from the traditional satellite system used by BSkyB for many years.

In addition, the Sky boxes produced by Samsung have been expensive for Sky to buy, whereas the Sky Q and additional Sky Mini boxes are cheaper to manufacture without the need for engineers to run lots of cables from room to room for those who require Sky Multiroom.

 

The future of Sky Q

There’s no doubt that Sky Q is on it’s way to being an awesome TV service, but right now it just isn’t quite up to scratch. That said, Sky have invested heavily in the technology and the company will only push to make sure it’s improve.

Verdict: definitely a service that traditional Sky customers will eventually want to upgrade to, but perhaps not until the bugs have been ironed out.

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Using brake cleaner to save a mobile phone from salt water

Using brake cleaner to save a mobile phone from salt water

First of all, I need to be very clear about this: if you do use brake cleaner to attempt to save a broken mobile phone you do it at your own risk. Whilst it worked for me, it may not work for you. I take absolutely no responsibility if you decide to try this yourself ad it kills your phone forever. It should be done as a last resort.

Now we’ve got the disclaimer out of the way, his my story. My son had a Samsung mobile phone and whilst at the beach with his friends decided to film them all playing at the water’s edge. Not his finest hour. The inevitable happened and his phone got full of salt water. It stopped working, and by the time he got home it was completely dead.

 

The problem

Salt water and electronic devices are a bad mix. I knew that drying the phone out would only result in salt eventually corroding the electronics and the PCB and the changes of saving this phone were very slim. In short, I had nothing to lose by trying to fix it myself other than the cash for buying a replacement.

Using brake cleaner to save a mobile phone from salt water

I work in a garage, so decided I was going to do two things. The first was to blow the phone over with a compressed airline to remove any excess water. The second was to spray the phone with vehicle brake cleaner (we use this one at our garage) in an attempt to dissolve and remove the salt and hopefully also aid the evaporation of any remaining water.

Brake cleaner is generally made up of quick drying solvents which degrease and clean as they go. It was worth a shot. I had decided on Using brake cleaner to save a mobile phone and it was time to do it.

 

The initial result

Initially, things weren’t looking good. Although the battery was still out of the handset, the display had become discoloured. I could see that the phone was by no means dry so decided to place it in direct sunlight for a couple of hours (it was a very warm summers day).

I placed the phone on top of a car in the carpark and basically let the sun roast it for a couple of hours. That’s probably against the rulebook for mobile phone care but I didn’t really have much option now.

 

It worked!

After a couple of hours I replaced the battery and switched on the phone. To my astonishment it worked. The touch screen was fine as were all the buttons.

I don’t know if it was luck, or the air, or what. Nevertheless, the phone has been working for 4 months now without the hint of a problem.

 

And on that bombshell…

If you decide that using brake cleaner to save a mobile phone is the way to go, you do so at your own risk. Don’t blame me if it goes terribly, terribly wrong!

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Lego Mindstorms EV3: your Child’s first route into Robotics

Lego Mindstorms EV3

With our World becoming increasingly autonomous, it’s not a case of if robots will take over many of our day-to-day tasks, but when. Now the people at Lego have come up with a real-life way for children to build, program and control their own robots at home. Lego Mindstorms EV3 is set to be your Child’s first route into Robotics.

How I was introduced to Lego Mindstorms EV3

In 2016 I was invited to Colchester Royal Grammar School for an open day, and would eventually see these strange little robots walking around a large table. I enquired as to what they were and a very enthusiastic design and technology teacher gave me a tour. These little robots were built from Lego and had a completely programmable control ‘brick’ attached.

Sensors included touch, colour, and infra-red, meaning the robots could be programmed to follow colours, avoid obstacles and become ‘aware’ of their surroundings. To be blunt, there were the dogs wotsits. Very cool indeed and my 11 year old son though exactly the same.

Lego Club

We discovered that there was a Lego Club at the school, where students could learn to build and program the robots. This was done using a PC or tablet computer and ultilising the various sensors on the robot. During the Lego Club, the students would need to command the robot to carry out various tasks, such as releasing a model spaceship from a docking station and transporting other items. This would need to be done completely automatically and would eventually result in a national competition against other schools and groups.

The future of engineering

Whether we like it or not, the next generation of engineers are likely to be required to understand and program robots. The world needs more engineers and programmers. Lego Mindstorms is an intuitive ‘toy’ which will provide out young people with the basic skills to allow them to progress into serious robotics in the future.

Lego Mindstorms EV3 really does appeal to all ages from 10 to 100. If you can build with Lego, and understand basic programming, you can build your own robot at home.

The birth of the Terminator is upon us…

Pricing

Lego Mindstorms EV3 has been priced from around £200 to £300, which may sound expensive. However, once you’ve seen how intuitive the system is and the types of robots that can be constructed, you’ll be hooked. I know I was.

Amazon currently have some good deals for this product. Check them out here.

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