Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Product Review: Glen Burton Wine Red Electric Guitar & Rocksmith on Xbox 360

Cover art
Cover art (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I bought my first Guitar when I was 17 (a few decades ago :-)) in Pakistan but never had the time to learn, especially as I got more into music synthesis, sequencing, and keyboards.

Arriving in Manhattan to attend Columbia Business School almost 25 years ago I immediately purchased a Yamaha (acoustic) that still adorns my Long Island home for nearly 20 years. During that time I did manage (despite an utter lack of talent and complete lack of training or music education) to create an electronic music CD a few years ago. Email me about nTrance: To The Tunnel Of Love. :-)

Of course, I have to thank Atari for the original experience (Atari 520, then 1040ST and finally Mega4ST) and Apple (various Macintosh desktops and laptops) along with Korg, Yamaha, Casio, Roland, and many others (including Ashar Nisar, as well as whoever wrote Music Studio for Atari, Dr. T for KCS, and Opcode for Vision) for helping but not completely hiding my total lack of musical talent. By the way, I still own those products in running condition 25 years later.

Anyway, back to this review. Despite my love for the Piano and for electronic music and the dual creativity of music tunes and sound synthesis on keyboards, here was something about the guitar that always attracted me. But, lack of time, knowing there was a calloused fingers price to pay, and other obligations kept me from it.

Then I bought an Xbox 360 with Kinect, and my interest in guitar was rekindled (not the Amazon Kindle kind :) ) by the availability of Rocksmith. At the price, for what is elaborate software, including a cable interface for ANY electric guitar to connect to the Xbox, along with licensed music (including the first rock tune I loved as a 7 year old, Can't Get No Satisfaction), and an ability to help even the untalented learn to strum guitar, I had to order it, and I did, from Amazon.

Since Rocksmith required me to purchase an electric guitar, I looked around, on Amazon, and one of my other favorite music stores, Guitar Center. I also checked out Best Buy. There were many great guitars in the several hundred dollars price range but I also knew that the likelihood of it becoming an expensive unused showpiece around the house was high. So I looked downmarket in price. Reading the great reviews on the Glen Burton guitar, I settled on it. Heck, even if it was never used, it matched the colors of my new Yamaha Y-ZF R6 motorcycle :) and would be a not too terrible waste of money. I did email the seller to see if there was a way I could get the Blueburst (gorgeous blue and black body) but I could not get it in time, or with Amazon Prime that I was planning to use. So, I went with this Glen Burton in wine red.

Both Rocksmith and the Glen Burton arrived on time the next day. I love Amazon purchase experiences but this was the first somewhat less than perfect ones.

Rocksmith, a software DVD and cable, came packed beautifully sturdily in the typical Amazon carton. The far heavier, more "breakable" and sensitive guitar, on the other hand, arrived in a carton just slightly larger than the guitar's own carton, with just a few folded layers of brown wrapping papers thrown in for "cushioning". (Others have commented on the poor packaging also). Mine, fortunately was not damaged, but the packaging was not up to par for Amazon experiences, in my opinion.

This is when it got more annoying. The product name clearly states: '39" Inch WINE RED Double Humbucker Full Size Electric Guitar [Fat Style] & DirectlyCheap(TM) Translucent Blue Medium Guitar Pick'.... but, there was nothing in there with a pick. I had to email the seller and was told that is shipped separately! It is "just" a piece of plastic but to get Prime (and pay extra per item for next day delivery) and then find out the pick will arrive later, after I would have left for a trip, was annoying.

Another thing that I was surprised by was the complete and utter lack of anything remotely like an "owner's manual". Even if I buy something for $1.99 at a Home Depot or someplace these days, I usually find even a tiny scrap of folded paper with some usage, or care, instructions. Nothing, zip, nada, for a nearly $100 product that will be used by many beginners. Nothing about a warranty. Nothing about how to care for it. Nothing about not putting it in a washing machine... OK, I say that last piece in jest, but you get the idea.

For less than $100 I am not expecting 2 separate manuals in 20 different languages and colored how-to plug-in instructions. But to have nothing at all in the box, and the seller's advice in an email to go buy a book, were extremely annoying and dissatisfactory. What do I ask for at the book store... "How To Clean Your Wine Red Electric Guitar For Dummies"?

The Rocksmith software, on the other hand, was delightful to set up and use - except for an initial hiccup. As you probably know, the software is basically of the type you've seen people play, e.g. Rockband etc., on their TV consoles. Notes of different colors come down the highway lanes representing different locations on the fretboard. But, no matter how hard I tried, each note made Rocksmith tell me to move one note over to the left. Every note, on every string. I tuned and retuned the guitar, but kept getting the same error.

I then did a Bing search (why Google when using an awesome Microsoft console :-) ) and found others reporting the same problem and found the answer to be exactly what I said. "No matter how hard I tried...." was the problem... When the strings are pressed too hard they stretch enough to change their tone, making Rocksmith thing you played one note to the left. Using a lighter touch I was immediately able to hit the right notes... of course, every 20th note of the actual songs. I have used Rocksmith thrice, once each day for about 15 minutes, so as to slowly toughen the fingertips, without overdoing it.

The guitar itself has been a satisfactory purchase. I will read up more in other places to learn about the upkeep and maintenance of such instruments (manufacturer gets a Fail for not including something in the box).

Overall, I have to say even the seller has been fine, and Amazon, as always, has been great to deal with. The seller's auto-reply says emails may take 24 hours to reply and generally he responded well within that time frame. Amazon was awesome in how quickly they offered to take the guitar back or to otherwise make up for the less than satisfactory experience. So, for that I would make this a 4.5 Star experience. But since there is no half-star option, and I do not want to give 5 stars due to the shortcomings, I will leave it at 4-stars.

I had to be in Seattle for the weekend and only got back to Long Island, New York, late last evening. I will get back on the Xbox starting my learning experience this week. Who knows, in these next few decades ahead, I may actually learn to play, not just own, a guitar. :-)

Rock On!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Summer Dusk Panorama At Heron Pointe NY - IMRAN™

Another Spectacular Summer Dusk At My Blessed Home Beach. iPhone panorama from 28 handheld photos, stitched, then cleaned up on MacBook Pro, Photoshop. 7300x2500 image. IMG_6447

Monday, July 23, 2012

Shades Of Red, White & Blue in/and RGB! - IMRAN™

iPhone 4S Photo Of A Perfect NY Summer Weekend At Home On Long Island, NY.

It is great to be back after 2 weeks away. Great trip to Seattle, Atlanta, Cincinnati, etc. Great meetings, great new professional connections, great new friends made (esp you TLC & MSM :-)), great weather, great (too much) food, great conference, great appreciation...

Worst part was being stuck at Philadelphia Airport's third world Terminal F and horrible USAir 'service', incompetent clueless people, crappy planes (two separate planes broke down on the same day just for that airport!)...making it just slightly less horrible than the airline I find most disgusting and never travel, AirTran.

But, I am safely home, happy, blessed, thankful, as always!

© 2012 IMRAN

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Product Review: Eikon To Go USB Fingerprint Reader With Apple Mac + Windows Software

I have always believed in the convenience of biometric devices. They have been hard to come by on Macs, but for many years I have used and appreciated a fingerprint scanner (infrared pad to USB) from Microsoft, that only worked on Windows, though sadly now does not work in Windows 7.

This Eikon fingerprint scanner is a USB plug in type for the Mac and comes with Windows software also. I tested and use it on both platforms, after buying from Amazon.

The product itself gets 3 stars, but the 4th star is for the fact that they made the effort to develop it for Mac, and even more so for how absolutely wonderful both the seller (reseller) and the manufacturer were to my emails about the bugs and frustrations I encountered.

It is finicky, it often takes 2-3 slides of the finger(s) or one slow very accurate swipe for it to work. Often I wonder if the 2-3 attempts are worth the hassle of using the device. On the other hand (no pun intended) it does log me in quickly when I do it "right". Using it regularly and getting used to it provide the benefit that you can ( I did) make the password far more complex/long than when just typing it in my hand. E.g. &*mYpa$$word&*43!! Instead of just &*mYpas$$ etc.

The worst thing about the design is that it is useless to plug in to a typical MacBook Pro (i5 15" for this case) when anything else is plugged in. It is too wide. So, it comes with a maybe 6" USB extension, but then it makes it even less attractive, in visual and usage sense.

Now you have loose hanging thing twisted upside down or sideways sitting on the side of your laptop (as the cables often have an inherent 'twist' torque in them that flip the device on its side), and it is now even less usable as you almost have to grab is with one, hold it up firmly enough so you can swipe a finger from the other hand through it.

Since I use external USB keyboards with my MacBook Pros, I tried to plug it into the USB built in to Apple keyboards. No joy, as the device will not fit there and even if it did, it would be under the keyboard body and not usable. Hanging it by the USB tail extension I can use it but it will always move around, still requiring the 2 hand use, unless I scotch tape it. Then, it makes the laptop a little less mobile if I have to remove it every time I travel.

I am also disappointed that despite taking far more repetitions to learn a fingerprint than a 10 year old Microsoft infrared fingerprint reader (sadly not compatible with Mac or even Windows 7 now), it still needs the finger swipe to be so specifically accurate. But, it i doable, and when you get used to it, it does save time.

A plus is that I have it working on an office provided Windows 7 laptop. A disappointment is that it does not store finger prints on the device for MAC users. It does store the fingerprints for the Windows software! So, technically I think I can carry it to different Windows desktops/laptops without having to save fingerprints x 10 x 5 repetitions per finger on each machine, but for each Mac I would have to go through that process.

Based on just how cooperative the seller and the manufacturer have been, and the price, and overall tolerable usability, I am considering getting another unit so I can leave one taped to the desk and one to carry with me or use on the other laptop(s). Or, of course, I will be happy to buy the next great biometric device that comes out for my preferred platforms. 

But please be aware of the shortcomings (and advantages) before you order this or similar devices.

Imran Anwar


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Palm ~ Beach. Far From Palm Beach! - IMRAN™

Palm Beach, Florida, one of the most affluent, and classy, places in the world, is also one of my favorite places to have lived in. Singer Island, the location of my old Tiara condo, and the mega rich Palm Beach Island, have some of the most stunning Atlantic Ocean waters and beautiful beaches with palm trees lining the roads, and the area.

I finally got to visit the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida several times this year, including a beautiful memories-making trip to the Naples, Fort Myers Beach, and Captiva/Sanibel areas culminating in another visit to Apollo Beach and Tampa Bay.

It was on my first evening in Fort Myers Beach (the island side) that I captured this sunset view from my resort balcony showing a stunning silhouette of trees against the melting pink vanilla gold sky.

A vision of Palm ~ Beach, far from Palm Beach! I am sure you will love this photograph.

© 2012 IMRAN

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