Successful Repairs

The last couple of weeks I’ve been able to resurrect a couple of pieces of equipment that I have sorely missed.

First was a pretty decent Core 2 Quad machine that had died some time back when a faulty USB device was plugged in. Certain that it was either the power supply or the motherboard, neither of which I could afford to replace, the box has been languishing in a corner since. I stumbled upon an oblique reference to a similar problem while ferreting around on the ‘net. Seems a flakey USB device can scramble the CMOS settings to the extent that the machine won’t even perform POST and will shut down completely moments after pressing the go button. Removing the CMOS backup battery for a while and then replacing it solved the problem.

With a going machine I set about to bring it up to date and set it up to do everything my other machine does – I like having a machine at a desk and one by my bed. USB audio devices can be a bit weird and in the process of getting mine all going I found myself needing to clean up the system. Every time you plug in a USB device a fresh instance of the driver is created – the Quad remembered the name of the USB stick used by the shop when it was first built. Control Panel/Device Manager/View/Show Hidden Devices will reveal all. Most devices that are grayed out can be uninstalled. If you intend to use that device again, don’t delete the driver when uninstalling the instance. Leave system hardware, storage volumes and storage shadow volumes alone. All my USB devices are now happy. Getting rid of the superfluous driver references made a big difference.

Recently I had noticed that my Toshiba Qosmio i7, the machine I use most, was beginning to run like a dog and taking a week to start up. Piriform’s CCleaner is my favourite cleanup tool although all this can be done with standard Windows tools. Uninstalling all the software that I never use was a start. Unfortunately it’s not safe to remove the many copies of Microsoft runtime libraries that accumulate – you don’t know what program needs any particular copy. Then its onto startup programs – Google each one to find out what it’s for and disable any that don’t seem relevant. Windows Update was then unleashed and, gigabytes and numerous restarts later, the machine was up to date. A registry cleanup and a defrag finished the job.I prefer Piriform’s Defraggler over the standard Windows defragmenter. This process was applied to the Quad too, with equally pleasing results.

I almost forgot. A while back I concluded that Norton antivirus was one of the best ways to low a system down. With the latest release AVG, which I have used happily for years,  has bloated out into just as much of a pig as Norton. Getting completely rid of either is quite a performance – their uninstallers don’t to a thorough job. ESET Nod 32 is an excellent product and Microsoft’s Security Essentials seems now to be a completely competent package.

I have been amazed at how much quicker the machines are, in spite of the fact that I have an awful lot of hardware and software installed.

Having moved almost all of my session development to MuLab I became aware of just how much I missed having a midi keyboard – the virtual keyboard is fine, but a proper keyboard is much better for tinkling around and is essential for playing chords. Also in my pit of shame there has been an Edirol PCR M-30 midi keyboard. It has rendered itself useless due to an ever increasing number of keys that didn’t work or that had poor velocity response. After stripping and cleaning the keyboard a couple of time and having little success I gave up and lost interest in the thing. Greater need inspired greater effort. The keyboard uses two pairs of contacts per key, arranged fore/aft to provide velocity detection (the back contact closes before the front, the timing giving velocity). The contacts are made by conductive pads on a silicone rubber mat which is position-keyed over the contacts. Useless as it was, I decided to resort to desperate measures. The contacts are silver plated. I roughed them up with very fine wetsil and then cleaned with isopropyl alcohol. The rubber parts I soaked in dishwashing liquid to remove all grease and then dried with IPA and sunlight. Expecting little after reassembly I was thrilled when every key worked just like new.

So  now I have a machine with enough USB ports to leave everything I care about plugged in, software to create sessions with that has refreshed my creativity and enthusiasm, and a keyboard with which to play.

The coolest thing I can talk about that I’ve been playing with lately is the MindLights. MuLab UL has unlimited inputs and outputs. Setting it up to play 7.1 audio is a piece of cake, and once done, the MindLights can be played live or the most brilliant sound and lightshows created. The supplied MindLights software is very good but using MuLab I can create encoded sessions for all three tone-encoded light control protocols almost in one go. The only catch with MuLab MindLights sessions is that, if output to WAV rather than played direct from MuLab, the files are monstrous (4x the size of an audio-only track of the same length). The 7.1 WAV can be played directly from Media Player to a correctly installed MindLights device.


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