Things I’ve Learned Down Under Part 1: Preparation

I’ve been living down under since the 3rd of September now, and have had a number of experiences, both good and bad. This is where I shall spew some of the tidbits that have stuck in my brain thus far. May you benefit from my ways and see the light; for “many wild monsters are said to be lying in wait in the dark below, but remember! The magic of the Southern Cross is always on your side“.

The first thing to note, is that the flight to Australia is a long one. The second thing to note, is that there is a lot involved in moving: the fewer the items you can bring, and the smaller those items are, the better. I made an executive decision not to bring my workstation with me as it’s large and I’d still need to buy a monitor when I got here. This means that I had to find a computer that would suit my vfx, demo reel editing, photography and entertainment needs. Due to the vfx needs this meant I needed nvidia, lots of ram, 64 bits of processing, and a good solid processor. I definitely wanted blu-ray as it would mean I could continue to watch movies in Oz (DVD’s have regions, Blu-Ray doesn’t) and could get away with leaving the PS3 in Canada. I also wanted bluetooth and hdmi so that I could easily use this thing as an entertainment system in conjunction with a tv. I’m addicted to the numpad so I wanted one of those on the keyboard too… and since I’d be doing a lot of work on this thing I needed a decent sized screen too… no smaller than 16 inches. Surprisingly finding a system that could suit my needs was pretty tricky, especially if I wanted to get the system without it costing an absolute fortune.

computerIt grits on me to admit it… I had a little bit of resentment toward Sony after they decided that their customers are not allowed to use Linux on their PS3’s anymore, but I just couldn’t find a system that had a decent price and all my specs without turning to Sony. I ended up getting a Sony Vaio: i7-740QM (1.73GHz), 16.4 inch Display (1920×1080), GeForce 330M GPU (1GB VRAM), Blu-ray Read and Write, Windows 7 Professional x64, 8GB (4GBx2) DDR3. Came to just over $1800 w/ tax and shipping. I have to also admit that so far the system has served me well. So glad that I got Windows 7 instead of Vista too. My only complaints? Well, Windows has some issues still. At first I couldn’t get my computer to shut down. Additionally, after spending mucho amount of time on this one, it seems like Windows 7 is shit when it comes to sound recording. You cannot use external usb interfaces with Win 7 at the moment. Basically, there is no way to do a hardware loopback so that you can hear yourself/record at the same time because the default driver (which 99% of interfaces use) doesn’t expose this option.

You can do this with *some* sound cards, but it is obfuscated with an option called “listen to this device” that is in the sound options for your recorder. This “listen to device” is a red herring and should *NOT* be used. It does not monitor in realtime, and was not designed to do this. Instead, you need to go into the speaker options, and unmute your microphone there. This option may need to be revealed either by editing the windows registry…. or through your audio drivers. On laptops, this is of NO use if you are using the onboard mic. You HAVE to use a plugged in mic, and it CANNOT be via a USB/firewire soundcard but rather through the line in or mic jacks. I cannot verify if this is true for pc based usb mics, or bluetooth mics. For more info, go here. Also, before I go on, I want to mention that the program you see on the monitor of that laptop there is GameEx. A fucking awesome front end for running emulated games on your computer. I consider it to be particularly ace for those times you plan to be on an airplane so long that multiple dates will pass between the start and end of your flight, but altogether lovely for just kickin’ back at home with your pc connected to a big screen tv. With this program I was able to substantially calm my nerves in regard to getting rid of linux on the ps3.

computerI also ended up picking one of these. Took the two 1 terrabyte drives out of my workstation, and ripped apart a terrabyte western mybook drive that I had kicking around to fill it up with. I feel justified in giving these guys a little bit of grief for not labeling on the BOX that your Motherboard’s SATA port MUST support Port Multiplier in order for your computer to recognize multiple hard drive if the unit is connectd via eSATA. It’s not a concept that I was familiar with before buying this set-up, and so it took me a while to figure out. At first I could only actually make a single drive register on my computer. That said, I bought an expressport to usb3 adaptor and am now getting great use out of this RAID set-up… not quite usb 3 speeds… but still faster than usb2. I definitely recommend it.

Be aware that any electronics you take to Australia must be compatible with the voltage (240V) which most modern devices will be. I got a good scare that I’d fried my hard drives when I first plugged them in. I’d blown a fuse and saw a small wisp of smoke come from the plug for the Probox. What was the problem? I’d made sure to look at the device and make sure that it could handle the voltage. What I hadn’t paid attention to was the fact that the PLUG itself wasn’t compatible with the voltage. I luckily didn’t cause any harm to anything, but here’s a word of advice. DO NOT PLUG your devices in until you make absolute certain that not only the device, but the plugs you’re using themselves can handle the higher voltage. If the voltage all matches, and the plugs all are ok voltage wise, the only thing you’ll need is a simple plug adaptor. If the plug isn’t ok for voltage, you’ll need to buy a replacement plug if possible and use it instead. If your device cannot take the voltage? Leave it behind! Otherwise you’ll need to buy a very expensive power converter. Generally not worth it. The devices I’ve brought with me that can handle the voltage fine include: The laptop, the raid set-up, the Canon battery charger and plug to connect the 7D directly to a wall, my Zoom H4n, my wife’s Yamaha keyboard, my PSP, my Nintendo DS Lite. Oddly, Nintendo claims the DS Lite can’t accept the voltage, but someone on the net (pardon me for not keeping the link) did some extensive research on their own DS and found that the internals are identical around the world. The voltage is ok, but you do need to buy a new plug once you get here.

appleDespite my annoyance at the cell phone culture, and extra annoyance at the Mac Cult… I found myself looking at the benefits of getting my first cell phone plan when I got to Oz. With a smart phone, I’d be able to check maps and weather on the go. Incoming calls in Oz are free. I gotta say, I’m even more unimpressed with Apple after actually having a phone in my possession. I’m disappointed with companies that feel it’s their prerogative to tell their paying customers what they can’t do with the devices that they’ve purchased. Anyways, long story short, I jailbroke that thingamabob. Not only because it was MANDATORY to jailbreak it if I wanted it off Toronto’s Rogers network but because it meant that I’d be able to use Skype over 3G to make free calls to my wife back in Canada who won’t be here for another week as of the posting of this particular discussion. Note that Google Voice doesn’t seem to work outside of the US for cell phones…

appleThe last big step of preparing to come to Oz for me, was figuring out what to do with my guitar. In all honesty, for this particular model of guitar it may have been more cost efficient to simply buy a new one and be prepared to leave it when I depart Oz rather than ship to and from Australia (keep in mind that moving will be expensive because you are shipping possessions TWICE!), however for sentimental reasons I wanted *this* guitar, and I wanted it to be in solid shape when I was ready to play it here. Youtube, as always, came to my aid. I also was able to get a good sized box for free thanks to the awesome folks over at Metro Sound and Music on Yonge near College in downtown Toronto. Thanks to that box, I was able to pack my mic boom, mic, guitar safely into some NOW Magazines and clothing, and everything arrived in perfect condition. I will point out that it’s key to detune a guitar when taking it on a plane if you want to make sure that there won’t be too much tension on the neck.