December 27, 2004

Bananas vs. Love

Photo © George Gretton.
Posted by Oxygenik at 2:57 AM | Comments (3)

December 12, 2004

Santacon IV

Mad, bad and dangerous to go! The annual booze-up and mobile red and white carnival of craziness that is Santacon hit London last weekend, and what a weekend it was! With a loosely organised group of people dressed up as Father Christmas going in a huge posse from bar to event to bar, drinking, making merry, giving out presents, everyone is guaranteed a very merry Christmas!

One of the delights about Santacon is being in a huge group of identically dressed people, especially when the costume instills mirth and good humour in nearly everyone who sees it. Nevertheless, some Santas like to indulge themselves for a change, and riff on the basic theme somewhat. Or so I'm told - this was my first year, but I thought I'd try to do something myself. There were a variety of special Santas: Austin Powers Santa, Trance Santa, Bad Ass Santa, Speedy Santa, Kwik-Fit Santa, an elf (although we don't talk about the elf) and me, your very own Satan Claus, here guarding the world from the raw sexuality of Austin Powers Santa.

The crawl kicked off very conveniently for me at Wetherspoons in Victoria Station. There must have been 180 Santas and about 10 non-Santas in the pub. This guy didn't look too happy about being there, which was stange seeing how happy the horde of Santas were! From Victoria (6.3MB movie) we made our way along Victoria Street where the landlord of the pub was surprised to see us pile in through the door. Surprised and delighted when he saw how Santa likes to drink!

From there we went up to Parliament Square where we sang carols for the protesters. The police were pretty good humoured considering that by now ten score Santas were effectively blockading Parliament as well as blocking traffic. They even didn't seem to mind when some naughty Santas gave them wrapped coal and sprouts for presents! Santa sang and moved on to the South Bank, where there were plenty of amusements for the steadily increasingly inebriated Santa, such as dodgems and Dance Dance Revolution, here being played here by the very special Mod Santa, in purple wig and tights!

Santa was already exhibiting some of the inertia which can be expected when so many tired old Laplanders gather together in a place where alcohol is being sold and comfy seating is provided. However, a few judicious pokes of Satan's glittery hellfork were usually enough to make sure the indolent old codgers got back to the serious job of spreading merriment far and wide, or in this case as far as the Saatchi Gallery (1.6MB movie).

For Satan Claus it all got a bit confusing after that, and his camera ran out of juice cos his acolytes had it set to maximum resolution and even more incompetently had installed his smallest SD card. However, he does remember dimly lining up along Hungerford Bridge and a count of 235 deranged Santas being made! On the bridge Santa befriended an American saxophonist and we sang carols with accompaniment before filling her case with chocolate coins!

From Embankment it was a brief march up the road to Trafalgar Square, where massed ranks of Santa climbed the 1st three tiers of Nelson's Column and sang The 12 Drinks of Christmas to a gathering crowd of tourists and locals. A bit of splashing about in the freezing December fountains was followed by a tactically disorganised assault from the Strand to Holborn, via a couple of bars, a Soho sex shop and a Covent Garden phone box. Quite why I thought it would be a good idea to get in the bottom of a phone box when so much Santa was thinking about how to get in on top, I can't really be sure, but it was without doubt a bad idea. Satan realised his mistake when the fourth person to come in after him used his head to stand on.

By now so sloshed that the cricked neck was merely interesting, Satan found in the final stop of the evening, Parker Place in Holborn, that they seemed bizarrely prepared for an onslaught of twatted Santas. Satan was puzzled, but by this stage in the evening, after 10 hours drinking in the bars and on the streets of London, Satan was puzzled by many things. For example, why didn't anyone give Santa a present? Why was that famous Santa there every time I looked for him? What time was it? How much had I drunk? Who's the cute little Santa with the pigtails? Does this bar close? How do I have to pay to make stay...?

All that remains is to thank the organising Santas, especially Santa, Santa and Santa, not forgetting of course Santa, who had a lot of shit to deal with and managed it superbly. See you next year!

Posted by Oxygenik at 6:10 PM | Comments (0)

December 11, 2004

Orange SPV C500 / HTC Typhoon

Shockingly poor phone. Is this the best that the most successful company in the history of the world can do? Maybe it's just because I spent a few years in the land of the mobile phone where design is so superior it's not even funny. Leave out that they sent emails not SMS or MMS, even the texting software I used to have, which wasn't predictive, was better than the turd that some developer crouched down and dropped into my phone.

Hard to use joystick
Menus and options are selected and navigated using a flat four-way joystick, with a centre-click for select. Centre-clicking isn't difficult, but when my hands are cold (and it is December, which means cold in London) it's easy to hit slightly in the wrong place and go up before clicking. With a phone as slow as this one, this can be incredibly frustrating. It leads to putting the wrong word in when writing texts, it leads to choosing the wrong program to start, and it leads to a whole world of related pain. Stylus! Please!
Inconsistent UI
The phone has two pointless buttons: Home and Back. They probably thought it was a really good idea to have one click to go home, but it's not. You can press the Back button a few times, or if they had been clever tie it holding down the back button in order to do that. Or at least you could have done that if the UI was consistent. In fact it seems that it's up to the apps what they do with the buttons on the phone. The camera application will only quit if you press the Hangup button! You can't even cancel though the menu!
Slow boot
This is simply wrong: it takes over a minute between me pressing the power button and my phone being usable as a sort of rubbish PDA, and then an arbitrarily long time to recognise the network it's on and be actually ready to use as a phone. A minute never seemed so long before I spent one staring at Windows Mobile.
Another one that's simply wrong: it's a phone. It crashes. I'm pretty sure that my parents' phone doesn't crash, possibly because it's made of bakelite and fixed to the wall with rusty iron screws, but the idea is there. Make a phone which doesn't crash. If it crashes, fix it and then sell it. A phone that periodically requires me to take the battery out and wait that painful minute before I can use it again doesn't deserve an owner.
Slow software
Actually, I don't know if this is the software's fault or the phone's, but the experience is slow. My friend has a Palm Treo 600 (he loves it) and his mapping software flies around. He uses his stylus and just drags the map around. I have to click up, down, left or right on the stupid little joystick in order to move around the map. And whereas the mapping software he uses is an image of a streetmap, mine is a bloody vector image, with only the major roads on it, and only some of them labelled with names. It's basically fucking useless. I tried to use it to find somewhere in Soho, in the cold December rain. In less than the time it takes to boot I called my friend with an A-Z and he told me where to go.
Button placement
This is another simple, simple, simple cock-up. There are two buttons for adjusting the earpiece volume. Never mind that they don't work very well and that the earpiece volume goes up in about 4 steps and so could be easily managed with one button, the problem here is that you have to press them hard, which means bracing against the opposite side of the phone, where the camera is. So, while you are in a noisy call, you adjust the earpiece volume and nine times out of ten start the camera. If you recall, you can't stop the camera app in order to check your calendar or contacts without pressing the hangup button, with the predictable effect of hanging up.
Texting software
I have so many complaints about the texting software, I'll see if I can remember them all.
  • The built-in dictionary doesn't include capitalised words. When would I ever want to write elizabeth? If you can answer that, how about how frequently? How often would I write i vs. I?
  • The user dictionary does remember capitalised words, so if I add a word at the start of a sentence which shouldn't always be capitalised, I have to either
    • add it uncapitalised, delete the subsequently inserted word, reset the initial-caps in the texting software and type the word again, but at least this time predictively, or
    • add the word capitalised, and then live with it capitalised in my dictionary forever (I haven't found out how to edit the user dictionary if it's possible) which is a pain because you can't even then add a non-capitalised version of the same word!
  • When you finish a sentence with a period, it switches to initial-caps for the next word. Great! If you write a word and delete it, it doesn't remember the initial-caps. Not so great!
  • If you use ... it thinks for some reason that you want initial caps on the next word. That would be 4 periods, if you don't have an ellipsis character. Bizarrely it has some words in the built-in dictionary for 3 presses of the punctuation key, such as :-) and :-* and so on, but you can't add any new ones for 4 or more punctuation key presses.
  • Let's say you're sending a text to multiple recipients, but you decide after entering a few contacts that you don't want the first one after all. You naturally scroll back to the end of the first contact and hold down the back button (which should take you back to where you were before, but has been repurposed into a delete key here) because holding down the back button should delete to the beginning of the line. Except here it deletes the whole set of contacts! Undo? No such luck. You can't expect undo on a phone which doesn't even have text selection, copy and paste!
  • If you insert a word in the text, it adds a space after the word irrespective of whether one already exists or not, leaving me with two spaces. I thought it was supposed to be a Smartphone.
  • The phone, while managing to separately store useless meta-data like the name and phone number of the person who sent you a message, keeps no record of whether you've replied or not! There's no idea of a conversation or thread in the texting software either - you have to remember everything. I thought it was the PDA that was supposed to remember stuff for you...
Old phone numbers in texts/calls
This is clearly a design decision, but a total misfeature. When the phone logs a call, it stores the caller and number independently of your contacts list. This means if someone calls you and you save the number, the number still shows up without the name in your Call History. Why didn't they attach it to the Contacts database?
OK, maybe not such a massive problem, but I've had my phone only a few months and the silver is worn off every protruding edge. It just looks shabby now.
Oh, and the camera is absolutely useless for anything other than pretending to take photographs. And it has no digital zoom unless you first set the resolution lower! So if you are in 640x480, which is your only hope of capturing any detail whatsover, you can't just zoom the middle of the picture. First you've got to work out how to change the resolution (hint - it's multiple non-obvious clicks) and then you can zoom. But don't forget to switch the resolution back when you've finished, or next time you whip out your camera phone to capture some featureless blob you'll end up with a featureless blob at a resolution so low even your mum knows it sucks.
Can't send contacts
Hello?! Mat texts me to ask about dinner, and also asks me to send him Clare's contact details so he can phone her if he's going to be late. Guess what? I can't! There is no function to insert data from your contact list into the SMS! Or even into an email! It's pretty basic functionality that my 1 yen phone from 3 years ago had! Convert to vcard and make an attachment! Should be even easier to just copy someone's phone number or email address or birthday or whatever piece of data you like into an SMS!
Deleting files
Sooner of later you are going to run out of space, and the phone will, from this point on, repeatedly and annoyingly remind you of this. God help you if you're writing a text message at the time because you can't postpone your message until you've deleted some of your files. Luckily, due to the appalling industrial design you've probably got a whole boatload of completely black camera images you didn't even know you had taken. I had about 30. What's the best place to free up space? The File Manager! You can decide exactly what to delete, rather than be stuck deleting only images or only sounds. Except to delete an image in File Manager, you need to press the following:
  1. Start
  2. 9
  3. 9
  4. 9
  5. 4
  6. 3
  7. <Navigate to the My Documents/My Photos folder> (several more clicks)
  8. <Choose image and click. Be careful not to press up accidentally!>
  9. [Internet Explorer loads and displays the photo] Back
  10. Menu
  11. 7
  12. OK
Posted by Oxygenik at 1:36 AM | Comments (4)

December 8, 2004

Awful night

It was a pretty bad evening. Here's the chat I had when I got back:

chocky: Evening I
IJB: hello matey
chocky: I had the worst evening
IJB: really
IJB: why what happened mate?
chocky: I went round to see this guy who was giving away a 17" flatpanel
IJB: yup
chocky: And I bought a bottle of wine at the offy to say thanks
IJB: go on
chocky: He lives in Queens Park, I live in Victoria, so it was a bit of a trek. Anyway, I finally got there and it's not a flatpanel at all, it's a fucken 17" CRT!

IJB: lol
IJB: lol
IJB: bollox
IJB: what a waste for fucking time!
chocky: I'm thinking, fuck this, but I've come all the way, so I bend down to pick the fucker up
IJB: that sort of shit right pisses me off!
IJB: lol
IJB: go on
IJB: this sounds funny
chocky: my bag slides of my shoulder, hits the ground and the bottle of wine shatters in my bag
IJB: lol
IJB: so your bags now fucked
IJB: hope it wasn't red!
chocky: no thank fuck, but yep my bag is fucked. I reflexively stand up, and the wine all gushes down out the canvas and over my new cashmere coat, jeans and brand new seriously hard to find running shoes that a dude on the tube was trying to buy earlier.
chocky: So I'm pissed, off, coming down of Saturday's fun and still hungover from yesterday's Christmas party.
IJB: oh dear, oh dear .... then you have to trek it back home in wet clothes....
chocky: Fucking annoyed basically
IJB: i bet you are mate ... thats enough to send a man over the edge
chocky: So I hump the fucker back to Queens Park like a roadie and head on over, with the CRT getting ever heavier, to my second appointment of the evening in North London, Dollis Hill
IJB: he he he ... mate i would have left it
chocky: Yeah, I should've done. DH is not such a *nice* area, and not one I fancy lugging a computer monitor around
IJB: might have some 17" CRT for sale at Sony
chocky: I look a bit, conspicuous like :)
IJB: KK wants one
chocky: As I'm walking, both hands full of CRT, this middle aged black dude in a puffer jacket starts shouting at me
IJB: lol
IJB: what did he say .... lol
chocky: I keep on walking, he's on the other side of the road, sort of barking at me
chocky: Then I stop and turn and he comes over and starts talking
IJB: lol
IJB: lol
IJB: lol
chocky: "All right, I' m your mate."
IJB: stop it man your killing me ..... lol
chocky: Not threateningly, but he looks kind of unpredictable
IJB: yeah i know the type
chocky: But he's sort of sniffing and hacking a lot
chocky: I'm freaked out now
chocky: I am thinking that I don't really know what the fuck is going to happen
chocky: But I'm knackered from carrying the bastard
chocky: I have to stop and put the beast down for a moment.
chocky: He stops and I'm trying to engage him in a *really* friendly way
chocky: I look down and his hand is in my coat pocket
chocky: Also containing my 420 quid iPod
IJB: no way
IJB: fuck that shit
IJB: drop the CRT
chocky: fortunately I had stuffed my book in in top of it
IJB: and kick his arse
chocky: He sort of smiles and I tell him to get his hand the fuck out of my pocket. I noticed this just as I had my hands free of the CRT
chocky: He does and I tell him not to be messing with me
chocky: I walk off and he follows me at a distance. I find the house I am going to and he stands outside shouting, "He' s a teeving bastid!" over and over again.
IJB: lol
IJB: my gosh mate
IJB: so where are you now ?
chocky: I've found the house I'm going to
chocky: Doubtless they're none too pleased I've brought the village idiot to their house
chocky: fucking weird I tell you
IJB: no shit ... i bet there thanking you for that!
chocky: I stink like a wino as well
IJB: i would have given you ride if you need it mate
chocky: I thought I'd be carrying a flatpanel monitor in a sainsbury's bag
chocky: Should have been no problem
chocky: But with my foul mirthless mood, the annoyance of finding the monitor was wrong, soaking myself in pointlessly bought wine, the frustration of humping it everywhere, getting hassled by a moron trying to steal my shit, and my bringing a fuckwit to meet a new contact I was none too pleased
chocky: Oh yeah, there was one more thing that had me on edge
chocky: I had 210 notes in my wallet
IJB: damn ...
IJB: you wanna be more careful dude ... your gonna get your self in trouble

Posted by Oxygenik at 10:40 AM | Comments (0)

December 5, 2004

Musings on Events

I have recently resurfaced after a big night out at a giant psy-trance, techno and hard dance party at Alexandra Palace, North London. It was a huge party, with stupid numbers of DJs, live acts and album and single launches. Such a massive party needs a massive venue, but the organisation wasn't really up to the task. A few failures took the shine off an otherwise awesome night.

As soon as you walk through the doors at Ally Pally, you are aware of the immensity of the venue. The atrium has giant palms growing and the celings just seem to get higher as you get further in!

Almost immediately we found the chillout room, which doubled as the merchandising area. I had brought a whole bunch of glowing necklaces, bracelets and so on on the cheap at Maplin intending to sell them in the venue, but I soon realised the market was flooded with UV goods, so I got them all going and gave them to my friends, who turned from common clubbers to glowing trancers before my eyes!

The major part of the music happened in the Great Hall - three stages separated by audio baffles and a fairground ride! Above the main stage was a giant Pink Floyd inflatable teacher stretching right out over the crowd. The ceiling was, oh I don't know - up there somewhere. Behind the baffles were the second and third rooms, hosting techno and hard dance from all over Europe. After a brief circuit we decided to get some drinks, divvy up our goodies and arrange some meeting places. Aside from being gouged two pounds for 500ml of water, there was nowhere in the bar to sit. You had to find a wall and lean against it. Looking round, there were no seats anywhere, which was something of an oversight for an 11 hour party for 7000 trancers, many of whom (probably over half) had come from other countries for this event.

The bar's lighting was very bright strip lighting, as was the lighting everywhere except for the party rooms, so it wasn't easy to relax anywhere - there was either very loud music or very bright lights in every location except for the chillout room, where there was still too much white lighting. And of course everywhere suffered from the lack of seats. I should mention the one really really good thing about the venue - there was reception for (at least) Orange and T-Mobile so despite the vastness of the place it was possible to find people with phones very quickly, which relieved the fast-acting paranoia which often accompanies these kinds of gigs.

Nik bumps into Jenny
Nik bumps into Jenny

The fairground ride was amazing. Flying through the air with lasers being shot at you and pounding pounding techno music thudding through your soul... it has to be experienced!

However, there were more problems. Whether it was the venue's rules or a decision by the organisers I don't know, but there were white lights everywhere. Not bright like in the bar, but in every single place except the VIP room there were celing mounted white lights. I'm sure it made it harder to lose things, but it also diluted the effects of the otherwise proficient lighting, which was sad as special lighting is an important part of a big show like this one. It seems that, 'otherwise,' and, 'however,' are the watchwords for this review.

Litter was a problem too - there were plenty of bins, but in all the wrong places! There should have been litter pickers on the prowl through the dance floors, because many people were basically camping out in groups to see their favourite DJ and the dance floor was so covered with plastics, fag packets and worn out glowsticks it wasn't pleasant to dance. And where people spent their time sitting against walls at the edge of the hall litter built up too, making it pretty difficult to find a pleasant environment to sit, even ignoring the fact the floor was un-covered tarmac.

It was also difficult to know who was playing when and where - there were a very small number of A4 timetables stuck up around the various stages, but this meant that if you wanted to know what was on at any one time you had to walk to five different rooms and build up an aggregated timetable in your head. And even then the timetables were just plain wrong; I missed the headliners - and their last date in England for over a year! - because they came on a full hour before the timetable indicated.

Nevertheless we all of us had a great time. I had a chance to have a really long conversation with my ex-colleague Jenny's wonderful boyfriend Matt, spent a long while chatting with Olly and had lots of hookups with strangers. Admittedly I was wearing a 30cm tall bright orange wig and half my face was covered in fluorescent green latex! Actually, my dressing up backfired somewhat: I now know, thanks to the many many people who told me, that my wig is actually for a character from an anime series, and the fluorescent latex on my face didn't show up because the organisers forgot to put UV lighting anywhere apart from the chillout room! You could buy fluoro stuff by the bucketload if you liked, but once you walked out of the chillout room your purchases looked totally ordinary. I got a bit sick of having people come to me saying things in Japanese like "omae wo korosu" and so on. It was depressing to come down from thinking that I had a cool wig to realising everyone thought I was an anime otaku (although don't believe the outdated assertion that 'otaku' is highly derogatory - it is becoming cooler, as are geeks everywhere) indulging in a spot of cosplay. I took it off.

Olly, Jenny and Matt
Olly, Jenny and Matt at 5:55am

But at 6am the lights went up. No encore, nothing. We were cleared out of the hall to the front where the cloakroom was so horribly overloaded they couldn't cope with the number of people in the queues, so we were kept in the venue while they slowly let people out of the main building into the atrium where the cloakrooms had been set up. By this stage people were getting pretty fractious; they had closed the main hall, and with it the toilets, yet we weren't going anywhere because they didn't think the cloakroom system through. During the night they cloakroom bosses moved a lot of the coats and bags to a different area, presumably thinking they could open more desks and get a fast throughput, whereas what they actually did was make it so that nobody knew exactly which of the three desks their stuff was actually behind. Result: people queuing for 45 minutes to get out of the main building and into the atrium, then queuing for 20 minutes at each of two desks as they get bounced around.

During all this I got interviewed wearing my big orange wig by a very pretty woman with a microphone and a TV camera. While chewing my lip off and with my pupils about 20km across, she asked me if I'd had a good night and so on. And then:

So, are you a pretty big psy-trance fan?
Not especially, no.

Bzzzzt! Wrong answer! She asked me how I found out about it, and I said from a colleague at work. At this point, my brain, which has been not so much coasting through this interview as floating face-down in the river, perks up and screams in my head, "Please don't let her ask where I work cos I'm not capable of lies or dissembling just now! Don't let me be on camera, looking utterly ripped, telling the world who I work for. I don't think they'd like that very much!"

Thank god she looked merely intrigued but decided not to press it! She was really hot though - I'd have told her anything!

Finally we got out, got our stuff from one of the two desks serving 7000 people, and made our way outside to find no shuttle buses or cabs big enough for 5. We walked to the station as packed buses went past.

Walking from the club
No, that's not camera shake - the world really did look like that.

It took about 4 hours for me to get in, but I did stop in at the cafe to get a breakfast which didn't taste of anything. Of course it didn't taste of anything - 12 hours later it's 10 in the evening and I still can't taste anything. I just tried 5 of those wafer gel mints to check, but I couldn't really taste them either. At the cafe I spotted my mother buying some tea - I wasn't sure if I could deal with her, because you can bullshit your way through a chance meeting with your friends or something, but your family always know. In then end I ran out the door after her and we had a brief chat. She knew.

Posted by Oxygenik at 9:59 PM | Comments (2)

December 2, 2004

Hercules DJ Console

Inspired by my brother's recent purchase of a MIDI controller with a copy of Reason Adapted, and hankering after my own past while visiting my old comrade in musical arms, I fairly rushed out on Monday and bought the Hercules DJ Console. Review synopsis: it rocks so hard it makes me laugh.

Yes, it rocks, but it's by no means flawless, and none of the reviews I've seen of it seem to have anything much negative to say about it, except as a gaming sound card, which it isn't. However, I'm not one to pass up the opportunity to highlight a product's failings, so you'll see plenty of what I don't like as well as that which I do.

First off, so that we all understand what's being discussed here, the DJ console is a hobby DJ's cheap replacement for an expensive set of decks and a mixer, be they 1210s or CDJ1000s or whatever. It isn't actually a mixer, or a pair of decks - it's actually just a USB1.1 controller which manipulates some DJ software, in the case of the Mac edition it is a cutdown Traktor, but for Windows you get several packages. The controller is nothing without the software, and the software in turn is pretty much useless without the controller.

It is pretty cool - the size is a good match with my little laptop, the sliders and pots seem pretty sturdy and there are rubber pads on every corner. There's a nice velcro-attachable strap so taking it places shouldn't make you nervous, and it's so small it shouldn't piss you off either. It also comes with a snap-on case to cover all the delicates while in transit.

But enough about the look, how does it work? In general, pretty well. The two jog wheels can be used for a number of things, but I bet that the first thing that comes to everyone's mind is scratching. Obviously I went straight for the wheels of steels, to cut up the record like a samurai soldier. Or not.

Scratching is actually rather tricky, perhaps because my laptop isn't fast enough, or maybe I can blame it on USB latency, but the upshot is that it's not responsive enough and the actual scratching isn't fast enough to do it well. What's more, when you scrub the audio really fast, you get a kind of ringing-bell distortion, so it's not really useful for that. Finally, it seems to buffer the amount of jog wheel spinning that has been done, and even after you stop the spinning, it keeps on scrubbing through the audio until it's ready to stop. Given that there is no obvious direct link between the jog wheels and the audio, it would have been far better just to detect when it's spinning, in what direction and how fast, rather than record how much it has been spun. I'd like it to stop scrubbing as soon as I stop the jog wheel spinning.

Aside from that, it does the other mixing stuff well. A neat, obvious feature is beat-matching; it recognises the beats well for obvious stuff, but for trickier beats, such as breaks, it has trouble. Two four-to-the-floor house tracks it can pretty much dial in immediately and lock together for the duration, but for other stuff you have to manually tweak it as it often guesses wildly wrong. Plug played at 85bpm does actually sound remarkably like a Wagon Christ B side.

But it does realtime time stretching as well as simply slowing down the playback, so you can lock the pitch to the original and still beatmatch, which will probably be useful once I stop being such a beginner, for now I am having trouble with the rhythms - the pitch can wait! Typically tracks aren't sped up or slowed down more than a few percent, so there aren't any especially noticeable artefacts from the stretching.

One big gripe is that the file explorer interface is poor - it displays a lot of meta-information but opening a folder with a lot of subdirectories or files takes a very long time, during which you can't use the app. What's more it's not unicode aware so my Japanese techno comes up as garbled nonsense. I think the way forward (and to be fair I think this is recommended in the PDF on the CD) is to make short playlists for each set before you start; my music folder contains a few hundred directories with a few thousand files - very slow.

So the file explorer isn't great, but with the console you can use the little joystick and its two buttons to nudge through the files and load them automatically in to either virtual deck. This is very useful and works much better than dragging them with the mouse. Once a track is loaded, you can nvigate through it using the jog wheels. It's fast, but Traktor needs to "Analyse" tracks in advance in order to build their waveforms, rather like Sound Forge, otherwise it spends a lot of time drawing the waveform as you navigate through the track.

Whether or not you choose to Analyse in advance (and it takes about 45 seconds for a 5 minute track) it's faster just to use the mouse, and again if you spin the wheels (and they are very easy to spin) Traktor buffers the spin and starts scrolling through the track until it has finished working through all that spin data. This usually equals the end of the track.

Also the play marker seems to jump from perceived beat to perceived beat, which is a bit off-putting. Doubtless I'll get used to it, but I would much prefer a smooth scrub. This is a very minor problem though. A big problem for me is the multi-function buttons. One button chooses the function, and 3 others are used with each separate function. On the face of it, these are really cool. The mode button switches between transport, cue, FX and loop:

  • transport - use the jog wheels like decks - scratch, move within tracks
  • cue - set up up to 3 cue points using the 3 buttons
  • FX - use the 3 buttons to choose low-pass, high-pass and band-pass, and the jog wheels to move the cutoff freq
  • loop - use the 3 buttons to set up instant loops of 1, 4 or 8 beat lengths. Use the jog wheel to move the loop boundaries, 1 beat at a time.

Pretty useful, except when you want to set up a loop and do some fx at the same time - you can't cancel the loop and the FX at once - you need to cancel one and then press the mode button until it cycles to the other, then you have to cancel that. Impossible to do all at once. If your loop is 4 or 8 beats long, you might get good enough to cancel the loop at its start and then use the remaining 3 or 7 beats to get ready to cancel the FX. It's not easy. There should be a "cancel all" button.

Sound quality is excellent - it sounds better than the built in sound card, which itself is supposed to be pretty good on the Powerbooks. It has 3 sets of stereo outputs as well as the headphones, although I'm not really sure why - a DJ doesn't really even need stereo, let alone 5.1 Dolby Surround, but they're there. There are also a couple of MIDI ports, a couple of TOSlinks and other things which are doubtless important to some. It's nice to see on what's basically a cheap piece of kit. There's also a talkover mic input, which attenuates the output by 3, 6 or 12dB when you want to talk over the music. I'm going to stick a piece of Rizla over that input, and if you ever find it broken, you have permission to shoot me.

The software is pretty similar to normal Traktor, but stripped down somewhat. There is much poorer control over the filters, and no resonance control - what good is a swept low pass without a disgracefully high Q? But the filters provided, accessible through the multifunction buttons described above, are more than adequate for some basic DJ effects.

So far, pretty negative huh? Well, these little complaints belie the fact that this unit is simply great fun. Even as I sat down for the first time, manual left unopened, and dinner largely uneaten, I could feel my heartbeat rising as I synced up my first mix. Using the headphone monitor I set it up so that the beats matched and I can hear the second track building up as the first starts to plateau. Oops, they've gone out of sync, but one press of the usefully backlit Sync button sorts it out. We're back on for the mix... the tracks lined up perfectly in sync, I slam the crossfader over with all the subtlety of a bull elephant getting it's point across to a young upstart...

...and you can almost hear the stampede of people leaving the dancefloor. Sure, the beats matched fine, but my timing was shocking and those two tracks simply didn't go well together. The Hercules DJ Console helps you mix tracks together, but it doesn't make you a good DJ. In fact, this is the most disappointing thing about the system - it seems as though there is still some skill and familiarity with the music required. However that first mix was so satisfying despite its appalling execution that I'm not licking my wounds, I'm cueing up the next track. Without even waiting for the end I'm beat-matching and - *clang* - another shocking mix between two perfectly synchronised tracks.

This thing is fun! As time ticks on I'm making excuses for not doing my washing, not hacing a shower, and then not going to bed. By the next morning I've invented some spurious reason for coming in late - something about Parcelforce I'm not convinced my boss entirely buys. She saw me come back from Turnkey with the box yesterday. She knows.

Posted by Oxygenik at 4:50 PM | Comments (2)