Finding new uses for old technology (or not)

I recently read an article about people finding new uses for old technology. When I saw the article I was very keen to find out the what and the how, but I was sadly disappointed to discover that it was mostly about people using iPod Shuffles as hair clips. Which is not what I was after really.

For ages I’ve been trying to think of ways to make use of old technology. Uses for the technology that make sense, that are productive and interesting. I’m not really interested in using an old iPod as a hair clip. I don’t think it would suit me for one thing.

One thing I did manage to cobble together was using my old Pebble smartwatch as a key chain.

Not that it is a very useful device if I am honest. It is kind of useful to have the time on my keys, and some notifications are helpful there too, but aside from that it has not been the most successful of experiments.

So what else?

Ideally I would like to find a way to make real use of the old PDAs I have. Over the last couple of years I have sold off a lot of the old devices I owned, and I owned a lot. But I still have a few left that I feel unable to part with. Most of these devices don’t connect to the internet, and if they do they are painfully slow.

A few of them can be used for rudimentary music making, but that is really all it is though. So what could I use them for? That’s the question that is on my mind a lot of the time. Ok, not a lot of the time, but periodically and it is something that I seem to go back to on a regular basis.

As you can see I have used these devices in a variety of different ways over the years, and, whilst some of them have been interesting and fun, none of them have really had long term appeal or efficacy.

Most of the time I find that I need less technology these days rather than more, so finding a real use for any of these devices seems to become harder all the time.

To start off with I am reviving the Sony NX73V. This is a lovely device and one that I actually bought from new.

I found that there was a restore image on the memory stick from 2018, which is probably the last time I went through this process. Next I need to go through all the stuff that is now on the device from the restore process, but that is a post for another day.

When will WordPress and DayOne integrate

When WordPress bought the journal app DayOne I thought that after some time there would be some kind of integration between to the two. But so far nothing.

The DayOne people posted this on their blog. Which does more than allude to integrations, in fact it promises them. That was back in June last year. The announcement from Automattic goes further still:

That doesn’t mean that everything you journal has to stay private, though. When you want to share specific entries – or even entire journals with the world – you can expect seamless integrations with both WordPress.com and Tumblr to do just that. On the flip side of that, importing your favorite content from WordPress.com and Tumblr into Day One is on the near-term roadmap. 

But so far nothing at all. As a long time user of both apps I have to say that I am a little bit disappointed. I kind of thought that about six months was enough time to get something working, but obviously I am wrong about that.

Goodbye walkman

Earlier this year my old walkman finally gave up. I had owned this walkman for a long time, and by that I mean a few decades. It was a lovely device, a lovely piece of engineering. It was barely bigger than a cassette itself and it would run for ages on just a single AA battery.

But it stopped, just stopped working one day and I have no idea why at all.

You might ask if I tried to repair it. The answer is no. The technology was so small that you’d have to have been a specialist to even attempt a repair. I knew that I wouldn’t be up for it.

But I have considered replacing it. I had a good look around eBay and I was amazed at the prices that a functioning walkman will go for. I’m sure that I had looked some years ago and they were going for next to nothing. My guess is that the prices spiked after the first ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ movie came out.

Anyway, so far I haven’t replaced it, I’m not sure that I will now. I still have cassettes. I still like them. So I expect that one day I will.

Impressions of the Apple Watch

I bought an Apple Watch around half way through 2020, over a year ago now. It was a device that I had always been tempted by, but never got around to buying. Initially I didn’t like the Apple Watch because it was actually thicker than the Pebble Time smartwatch I had for a long time, but with the more recent series Apple seem to have made them slimmer, and to me, more acceptable as a watch.

There are lots of reasons why I got it. One major one was around data. Data about me, and being able to use that data to create music. But enough of that for now. It is a subject for another day at some point in the future.

When I bought an Apple Watch it was before OS 14, so some of the functionality that I now enjoy wasn’t there, but it was a series 5 watch so hopefully it will last a few years at least. I don’t expect it to have the same replacement cycle as an iPhone. Sadly, for me, they brought out the series 6 watch just under two months after I got mine, which was annoying, but never mind, these things happen. At least I will be able to time my next purchase a bit better.

The device itself is a nice piece of technology, and the connection between it and the iPhone is very solid. The health data is interesting and useful, and as a device for receiving, and in some cases acting on notifications it is actually extremely useful. Certainly more useful than my old Pebble devices.

However, what I really want, is for it to useful as a device in its own right and not just as an adjunct to other devices. That has been my aim with most of the wearables I’ve had over the years, and my expectation was that the Apple Watch should be the device that meets those expectations.

So far there are only a few things it does completely on its own. For the most part it is a companion to my phone, and, whilst that’s ok, it isn’t quite what I want.

The apps I am finding useful at the moment are:

  • Just Record – A very simple audio recorder, but a very useful app to have on your watch
  • Shazam – Finding tracks using my watch is very handy (yes, pun intended)
  • Wotja – Generative music controlled from my watch
  • Holonist – Music data created from my own motion and bio data

There are a few others too, but the above are things are use regularly.

I was skeptical about having an Apple Watch. It was an experiment, and, thankfully, one that paid off. Since buying it have used it every day and now I’m not sure that I would be very comfortable without it.

I expect I will write again about how I’m getting on with it. Probably in a few months. Well, maybe.

The quantified self, the sonified self

The idea of the quantified self is not a new one at all. Capturing data on steps, heart rate, weight etc is something that a lot of people do on a regular basis. I’ve been slowly taking this on board for over a year. It started with just step counting but now extends to all manner of data. However, in the last few months I’ve began to extend this into a new concept which I call ‘the sonified self’, that might be something that already exists, but if it does I’m not aware of it. This involved the capture of data, again like steps, motion, heart rate etc and turning that data into sound, or in fact music when that’s possible

I’ve been experimenting with this idea for a few months now, and more recently I think some of my experiments have got to the point where I might even share them. Not in this post, but perhaps in the coming weeks.

Before I do share some of the experimental output I plan to go into more detail about how the process works for me, or at least the component parts of the process and the technologies involved in it. As you might imagine the process involves a number of different devices and apps. However, in the centre of all of this is an app called Holonist. Holonist is in many ways the operating system for my ‘sonified self’ concept. Without it the whole process would not hang together at all.

Holonist really deserves a post all on its own. It’s a complex piece of software and I have barely scratched the surface of it. There’s a lot more to learn and experiment with, and I’m very aware that I am at the start of what could be a long journey.

The next post on this topic will probably focus entirely on the Holonist app itself, after that I’ll cover the process, and, hopefully by then I’ll be able to share some output.

Endlesss, collaborative music making on iOS

I’ve been playing with Endlesss for a little while now. A few weeks anyway. To begin with I wasn’t sure quite what to make of it. Now I’m beginning to realise that I’ve only just scratched the surface and that there is a huge amount more that I can do with it, and also that I can do with others, after all, it is collaborative.

The idea of Endlesss is really simple. You create what Endlesss calls ‘Jams’. Each jam is like a track, except it isn’t. It is much more than that. A jam consists of ‘riffs’ (or it may be ‘rifffs’, I’m not sure). Each of these is like a moment in time when you add something to the jam, and as you build these up, adding instruments etc, you get a journal of sorts showing how this track (I use that term simply for ease) has developed and changed.

Here’s what the journal looks like

In isolation that’s pretty interesting in itself. But the more impressive feature is that you can take any point in the journal and then take your jam in a different direction. For me this is probably the most interesting aspect of Endlesss.

Endlesss Journal view

As you can see there are a number of different iterations of this jam and they’re grouped by date. This makes taking ideas in different directions very easy.

Original Pebble revived

I backed the original Pebble on Kickstarter, and used the original Pebble device for quite some time. It was great and very useful indeed, but I replaced it with the Pebble Time when that came out.

I had experimented with using the original with an old iPhone, and effectively converting the Pebble to be used as a keychain accessory. This is fairly easy to do with a 3D printed part.

However, on reflection, there was really no point to this, so I gave up this idea. It’s a shame, but if it serves no purpose, then there’s no real point in doing it.

So, whilst it still works just fine, it’s probably time to say goodbye to Pebble 1. Maybe someone else will have a good use for it.

The wonderful world of Griff

The excellent Griff application for Windows Mobile

This is a little journey back in time to before there were iPhones, and when PDAs were big. Ok, not big perhaps, but prevalent to a degree. Back then there were a few applications (we didn’t call them apps back then), that were for music, but, to be honest, they were few and far between. Also there was no standard architecture for things like plug ins on mobile. So it was an interesting time.

One of the most interesting and advanced was Griff. It was a Windows Mobile application, and it had a unique architecture, at least in terms of mobile applications. Griff was essentially a sequencer with a plug in architecture allowing it to be highly extensible.

There was also a reasonable number of these plug ins too. Mainly synths, but also samplers and drum machines. It was very cool in a world before iOS music making.

Whilst it’s not completely abandoned, the web site is still there. It isn’t what it quite was, but you can still find things, and you can still download things I think.

Whilst it’s understandable that Griff is no longer a going concern I still feel a little wistful about it. I remember first discovering it, although I was late to the party. It was a real revelation, and I actually bought a more powerful Windows Mobile PDA to be able to use it.

This is a good project for these times. Especially if you have an old Windows Mobile PDA hanging around. As I do!

I am annoyed that Blocks Smartwatch will never see the light of day

I know that you can’t guarantee that a Kickstarter project will come about. But when a project raises $1.5m+ and ends up with less than £20k in the bank you have to ask about why and how that happened. This is the case with the Blocks Smartwatch. It did really well on kickstarter and now is in receivership. I’m annoyed about this.

No one is going to get what they ordered. No one is going to get their money back. How do you turn all that cash into a complete failure? I just don’t know.

It makes me, and I’m guessing the other 500 odd backers, a lot more cautious about putting down money for Kickstarter campaigns that may never see the light of day. I’ve still got a couple that are now years behind schedule and fairly doubtful about. These days I find myself resisting most interesting ideas on Kickstarter simply because of being burnt once already.

I would have liked to have seen this device come to life. I think the idea of modular things, but perhaps it was just never to be.

Some random music

Randomly generated music created using Processing Code

I actually made this quite a while ago, but decided to revisit it as I thought that I might do a little more in Processing this year. I know I’ve said that before. There’s no guarantee that I will in 2020, but I might.

I was always quite pleased with this sketch though. It was fun and interesting to play with. Above is just a video of the sketch in action as I can’t work out how to embed the sketch here so it can be played. I’d like to be able to do that too, but it might take me a little while for me to figure it out.

Anyway, if I managed to do anything else with Processing then I’ll share it too. That is, if it’s good enough.