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Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

We took in the movie “Jobs” this afternoon, the bio of Apple founder and industry visionary Steve Jobs. Despite the crummy reviews and relatively low-level of hype surrounding the movie, Barb and I decided that it beat the uninspired collection of cinematic dross playing on the other 15 screens.

Before I get into a review of the movie, let me just say I never knew Steve Jobs personally nor have I read any of the biographies about him. I will say that Barb and I lived for a couple of years in Cupertino and we both worked in Palo Alto so I had some early experience with Apple as a company.

We lived and worked in the Valley during the mid to late ’80s. I had occasion to know some folks who worked for Apple during those years and I was indeed struck by the passion they felt for the company and its products. They were almost religious in their devotion.

During those years it was not uncommon the have people working beside you that were just putting some bread in the fridge while they looked for a real job. The company I worked for had numerous refugees from Atari who had recently laid off a huge number of folks. It wasn’t unusual to have several HP folks show up, maybe some IBMers or Sun employees hitting your HR office as a group following a round of downsizing or reorganization or de-funding of some project or another.

I don’t ever remember working with someone who used to work for Apple. I don’t know if they didn’t have lay offs or if people just stop working after leaving Apple.

The movie does not paint Steve Jobs as a very likable fellow. I can’t really venture an opinion about Jobs in terms of his personal warmth or fuzziness rating. It does give him passion, creativity, vision and drive. I have to assume he possessed these traits because they would be necessary to accomplish what he did.

For me, the best aspect of this movie was the realistic portrayal of the ongoing tension that exists between Finance, Marketing and Engineering. In that regard, I think this movie did a superb job of showing just exactly how difficult it is to convert a dream into a product concept and then turn that concept into a market changing (I will not use the word disruptive) product and then selling that product as a profitable business.

During my career, I have had the privilege of working in marketing with some very smart folks, I’ve also worked with some superb financial guys and I would have to say the engineers I’ve been around were some of the best in the business. Getting these three elements in sync and making a buck at the same time is supremely difficult.

So, in that regard, if Steve Jobs lost his temper, lashed out at someone or fired people, I’d have to say so what? Those things happen all the time. Business requires us to occasionally be overt, curt and a bit dispassionate.

During the movie, Jobs mentions the concept of making the PC work like an appliance. He talks about removing it from the box, plugging it in and then, “it just works” was how he put it. That kind of simplicity is almost always impossible to attain.  Almost anything you buy requires tweaking, set up or at least a protracted amount of time reading a manual.

About three years ago, I decided to do something radical. My home PC died. We took it down into the basement where we have a family crypt for our deceased PCs. After placing my PC in its niche of eternal rest, I headed out to Best Buy to replace it.

For some reason or another, I decided that this time I was going to go with a Mac. I picked out the model I wanted and waited for the stock person to bring all the boxes and stuff up to the cash register for me.

They rang up my purchase and then handed me a single brief case sized box with a suitcase type handle. I laughed and told them that I had purchased a desk top machine, not a laptop. They assured me that my entire Mac was indeed in the box.

Once I was home, I opened the box and found the monitor and integrated CPU, the keyboard, a mouse, the stand and a power cord. There was also one very slender, very small booklet.

I put the monitor on the stand and plugged the thing in. A message popped up telling me that a wi-fi signal was detected and it asked if I wanted to connect. I tried the mouse and clicked on the “yes” icon. That was it. My Mac was up and running.

No cables, no manuals, no software loads, no CD-ROM, no download this or that, no learning curve. Nothing. It just worked.

So, thank you Mr. Jobs for understanding the beauty of simplicity but also understanding that the best simplicity allows us to exploit astounding complexity.

Go see the movie.

By Lou Washington

Last week, on April 8, 2012 Jack Tramiel died. His passing generated only modest notice on the part of the industry media. His death wasn’t ignored, but it just didn’t create the kind of buzz one associates with the death of a luminary in the IT industry.

Jack was the founder of Commodore International, the folks that brought the Commodore 64 to the world. He was also the top man at Atari when it was spun off from Warner International in 1984. He took on Atari after leaving Commodore.

The world of IT was a much different place in those days. The idea of personal computers was very new and in many quarters thought to be a waste of time. There were just a few fledgling companies trying to make money selling computers to everyday people. PCs were largely seen as toys for the hobbyist.

In the early 1980s, everyone knew the field of the future, the field to get into was information technology. But, the avenues of entry were limited. If you were interested in getting into the business of computing, you had several choices.

First, you could sell business or scientific computers for one of the companies actively addressing those markets. Second, you could major in computer science and learn the business from the more technical programming and systems architecture end. You could also go to a trade school and learn the mind numbing skill of keypunch. Finally, you could get into the business from a ground up type job such as a Tape Librarian, Computer Operator or similar titles used for entry-level hires in IT shops.

None of these options offered anything related to personal computers. They really didn’t exist, certainly not in the world of business. I saw the advent of the personal computer as way for me to expand my information system knowledge from a Records Management focus to include something with a bit of a technical edge. It would be a way for me to “get into computers” without having to back track in life and go back to school or take an entry-level job.

At that point, there were very few options. Tandy had their TRS systems, Osbourne and Sinclair had offerings. Apple was just rolling out their Apple 2 and IBM laughed at all of them by entering their “toy” computer into the mix. They called it The Peanut.

IBM just wasn’t seeing the vision. The vision they did see was the end of centralized, corporate computing being fostered by the PC on every desktop.

But, for me, all of those options were way beyond my price range. There really were no serious choices in the sub one thousand dollar range.

For the Masses not for the Classes

That’s where Jack Tramiel came into the market. Commodore offered up the Vic–20 for about fifty bucks and later the Commodore 64 for well under a couple of hundred. Jack was quoted making the statement that Commodore will be making computers for the masses not for the classes. He meant this as a double entendre, Apple was well on their way establishing their presence in academia with special programs for schools and colleges.

Jack wanted to sell to everyone. He almost did sell to everyone. The Commodore 64 set records for the largest number of installed systems. The record may still stand.

commodore sx-64

My SX-64

I owe Jack Tramiel a huge thank you for bringing the PC into my price range. I bought the VIC and almost immediately after, the Commodore 64. It did not take long for me to see the potential for these devices as personal tools. I was building spreadsheets and doing job estimates, tracking job expenses and all sorts of things that were manual process in my working environment.

Then Commodore did a most remarkable thing, they entered the world of Mobile technology. They introduced and I immediately bought the Commodore SX-64. An integrated 64 system with built-in color monitor and a 5.25 inch disk drive.

I used this system until the late 1980s when I succumbed and finally bought a real PC with a MS-DOS operating system.

I’m sure my story is not at all unique. This whole industry is populated with people who went through similar development in terms of acquiring their skills by investing in the technology that interested them.

This has become something of a tradition in our space. The whole notion of BYOD is based on the fact that people want to make their lives better by learning to use new tools. We can’t wait until someone hands us an iPad, we go out and buy one. No one thinks twice about acquiring their own smart phone, they just do it.

Jack Tramiel saw this vision and turned it into a reality. If the desk top revolution needed heroes, Jack Tramiel would surely be one of the greats.

By Lou Washington

Everyone is speculating on what Apple should or will do with the pile of cash it is currently sitting on. New leadership in Cupertino is already showing some willingness to do things a bit differently with their recent stock buy back and dividend declaration.

Last week Business Week ran a piece by Mathew Ingram that took on the suggestion that Apple might be wise to pick up Twitter in an acquisition move. The article makes a number of good points. The most powerful argument for the acquisition is centered around a perceived missing social media component within the overall Apple market strategy.

I think this is a weak argument for buying Twitter. In fact, I would suggest that buying any social media vehicle would be counter productive for any platform manufacturer. At the end of the day, Apple is a platform manufacturer. They make devices and operating systems. They also produce some very good proprietary software products that exploit the platform environments that they build.

Social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook are different. They are not at all proprietary. They cross-platform lines, cultural lines, social stratification and segments, political orientations and every other human pigeon-hole you can think of. All are welcome in the very large social media tent.

But, once that tent takes on the aura of being proprietary or in any way oriented toward a specific group, it begins to feel a little bit exclusionary.

Consider this, what would happen to Twitter if one of the major political parties bought it. What would happen if a media company purchased Twitter? Would ownership of Twitter by the Republican Party or the Huffington Post increase or diminish the membership of active users?

Apple does not need to buy its way into this arena. Apple users will do that on their behalf. Apple users are not a shy lot, they are passionate about Apple technology and they won’t hesitate to build out a variety of social media based manifestations of that passion.

Apple needs to continue to facilitate the use of social media within the design and concept of the products they bring to market. They do a good enough job of this, but further commitment in this direction will deliver a far more effective social presence then simply buying one of the components.

A good social media strategy must cover multiple social media outlets. Attaining excellence within one, does not guarantee excellence in another. Certainly, one flavor may lend itself more naturally to the goals and tactical processes of any given company. But, this doesn’t mean the company should avoid the other outlets.

The ability to effectively exploit LinkedIn does not mean you should ignore Facebook. Apple surely understands this. Purchasing Twitter would doubtless make it very difficult to develop and maintain close collaboration with communities operating within the other.

There really is very little to be gained by this move. The further you stray from your core competency, the higher the risk of failure.

By Lou Washington

Today is the big day; the day that has been anticipated for months. Today is the day the iPad 3 finally hits the market. If you believe the various news outlets, people are in one of two camps on this. First is the panting, drooling, tail wagging group who is speechless with excitement. Or, second, you are in the wake me when it’s over group.

In reality, most people are somewhere in between.  I certainly am.

The 3rd iteration of the iPad is exciting. A greatly improved camera and an upgraded display will make for an improved product. But, I’m not ready to turn in my iPad 2. I have not actually seen the new improved display or used the upgraded camera, but, I just don’t see those features driving me to abandon the 2 just yet.

The iPad is revolutionary. It has changed lives. But, why is this true. What is there about this device that causes so much hoopla?  As a dedicated user, I’ll try to answer that.

First off, what makes any device a better alternative than not having the device?

1)      It must deliver a decided advantage to the user

2)      It must be convenient

3)      It must allow the user to do more by doing less

4)      It must be consistent

Okay, so the iPad bats 1000 on these four categories. But, the thing that makes it transcend the merely great and cross over into the territory of world-changing is the fact that it does all four of these things on multiple levels. It touches and benefits so many processes within our daily lives.

Here’s what I mean.

Let’s take the going to a presentation meeting experience.   In the pre iPad world you would go to the meeting with a pad and pen. Throughout the meeting you would jot down little notes and quotes that might be useful in the future. Finally, you go back to your office, lose your notes and that’s the end of things.

With the iPad you sit down at the meeting. You open a notes app and as the speaker talks you enter your notes into a named retrievable document. Perhaps the power-point presentation has some interesting graphics; you shoot a picture of the screen to capture the graphics. Perhaps, the presenter has a special verbal presentation that sums up his message. You can click on your recorder and capture the guy making the key points.

When you are done, you have an illustrated, multimedia presentation of the entire meeting. You can send it to others via email, you can store it, you can let it rest and review it later. That’s very powerful for people who attend trade shows or must sit through multiple meeting over the course of a day.

If someone would have built a little box that did all of that in 1995, and called it the Meeting Pro, that person would have appeared on the cover of Fortune Magazine by the end of the year.

So, how much greater is a device that also stores your music, facilitates access to the always open music store, movie store and book store and gives you access to these things anywhere you go?

How much greater is a device that replaces your telephone and email with VOIP and video phone functionality?

What would the worth be of a device that allowed you to carry around not only pictures of your family, but also all the pictures you’ve ever taken in your lifetime?

How about a device that does all of the above and also helps you tune your guitar and then record the latest song you’ve written playing your guitar?

Not musical, no problem, what about photo-shopping your pictures? Image editing software abounds for the iPad.

May be you want to try out a new route to your Aunt Zelda’s house. Fire up your iPad GPS system and you’re there in no time.

When you buy one of these things you have no idea how much it will impact your life. The more you use it, the more ways you find to use it.

So, pardon me if I’m not all over the iPad 3 just yet.  I’m still just blown away by my iPad 2.

By Lou Washington

Now we have BYOD to worry about. As a writer, BYOD is especially irritating because my spell checker keeps turning it into BOYD. I don’t know BOYD, don’t really care to know BOYD and I promise I won’t write about BOYD.

Bring Your Own Device seems to be a big area of concern. IT departments must now develop and publish BYOD policies and procedures. Companies must decide if they are going to be BYOD friendly. BYOD teams will need to be formed and BYOD vision statements will need to be crafted.

For something that didn’t even merit a Wikipedia page until January of 2012, BYOD seems to be gathering steam as the new goto issue for people who can’t find anything else to write about.

I don’t deny that user owned devices represent a challenge for IT directors everywhere. I don’t quite get the notion that this is suddenly a problem.

People are finding amazingly inventive ways to turn this into an issue. I read a Computer World piece about a week ago that suggested this was a kind of generational issue brought to us by millennials entering the workplace. What rot that is.

I’m not trying to take anything away from my millennial co-workers, but they are not the first generation of people to adopt technology more readily than their older cohorts. Happily our newest workers are tech savvy, are open to improving the status quo and are willing to invest in their own success by putting their own bucks into new technology that bridges home and work.

But the fact is that user owned technology entering the IT domain is nothing new at all. New tech has always been greeted by skepticism and mistrust. I knew a fellow that many years ago made his living selling early versions of electronic calculators. These were meant to replace the enormous mechanical calculators of the early twentieth century.

His biggest challenge was getting people to “trust’ the calculator. They simply could not grasp the concept of arithmetic functions executed at the speed of light. His demo would solve some huge multiplication or division problem and his prospect would want to know how they could be sure the answer was correct.

Being a creative sales type, his solution was to sell them a second machine to check the results of the first.

As prices came down, these devices made their way into homes and ultimately into common use in the workplace.

The Personal Computer went through a similar evolution. The big iron companies knew from the beginning that PCs had the potential of replacing the “mainframe in the basement” IT paradigm. They would demean PCs as being toys for geeky individuals to play with for hours on end in lieu of having a social life.

My first computer was a Commodore SX-64 which I purchased from a big box appliance store. Within a month or two I had picked-up a copy of Microsoft Multiplan (purchased from my local Children’s Palace) and I was doing implementation job estimates for my conversion operation at Tab Products Co.

The IT director at Tab would have never had the time or inclination to build an application for me to handle that kind of work.

Over the next few years PCs slowly made their way into the IT infrastructure of larger corporations. But, I would submit most of them, like mine, came from home first.

The internet itself had a similar history. Initially, anyone could and would build a website for their company or department. There was little coordination, no consistency, no corporate over-site.

But, once again, it was tech savvy end users who first brought it into the corporate world.

While BYOD does represent a challenge for IT directors and CIOs, I think that challenge is more related to budget and resources. I don’t see this issue being tied to some innate lack of technical prowess or willingness to change on the part of IT directors.

By Lou Washington

First off, I’ll admit it right up front. I have an iPad and I plan on taking it with me to the grave. By the time I die, I’m sure there will be an app for that.

I’m sure no one who reads this will be shocked to learn that I love technology. I love all gadgetry and all the shiny stuff that beeps and boops and flashes little lights off and on. I love it when one of my toys works perfectly for me in some new way that no one else had thought of.

To me that is really the fun part of using new technology. I was never one of those folks who “put the tool back where you found when your done”. My dad was meticulous about this but I just never saw the point.

So, because of that I long ago learned that a Floresheim wing tip makes a dandy hammer, a butter knife will easily do the job others would reserve for a flat head screwdriver and duct tape will do almost everything else.

As my technological sophistication increased, I applied the same strategies to some of the more common technical marvels of our age. Most companies have some level of support for their employees, like me, who bring their little techno-toys to work. It is nice to work for such a company, one that I can rely on to bail me out when my creativity exceeds common sense or the performance specification of one of my devices.

I know I am not alone in this. Most folks who work in technology, like technology. At that point, it simply becomes a matter of keeping up.

Seriously there are things to be learned in this and this week our group learned one such lesson. It wasn’t that the experience was particularly profound or even ended up causing a major problem. In this case, it was a simple oversight that provided the instruction.

Our marketing group recently completed the production of several video product demonstrations. These are short, less than three-minute, presentations that can be viewed on You Tube or attached to an email or linked to on our website. They are very nicely done and we are quite proud of the folks who provided the creative effort in making them.

A couple of our sales folks were headed out to Cleveland to attend a trade show this week. It only seemed natural that they should be able to exploit the power of these videos during their trip. We were not displaying, but rather talking to people who did display at the show. Since we did not have a booth, it would be necessary for our folks to carry collateral and sales material with them.

And then, a stroke of genius. Why not put it on an iPad? At least the videos that is. That would be very cool indeed! People would actually be able to see the product in action. See what makes it special.

When you sell enterprise software systems, this is better than beer in a can. Being able to show it to your prospect is a powerful tool.

So, with that wonderful vision in mind, we headed down to the old IT department. Yes, they had a loaner iPad, Yes, they would help us load the video files. Perfect!

Today the road warriors returned. The trip was a big success, lot’s of contacts made, new relationships set up and many opportunities for future business were found. But I could tell, almost right away that some thing wasn’t quite right.

How did the tablet demo work I enquired? This was answered with some hemming and hawing, some shuffling and so forth. Then, being sales folks, they spoke right up.

It seems the trade show floor was noisy. Oh yeah, that’s right, I’ve been to trade shows, thousands of people milling around talking, demos involving machines that click and clack, booth guys hawking their wares and maybe a PA system making announcements. Yep, trade shows are NOISY.

In fact, trade show floors are noisy enough to make hearing the audio portion of a demo video impossible. Even when you crank it up, the iPad is just not going to cut through the ambient roar.

So, lesson learned; for trade show video segments on tablet devices (or net books, laptops or anything else portable) think in terms of making your message very visual with limited audio. Or, perhaps take several hundred sets of ear buds with you.

Now there’s an idea, ear buds with our corporate logo . . .

By Lou Washington

Following this year’s CES show there have been any number of pronouncements about the death of the desktop PC. I guess the first question I would ask is, what happened to all the desks?

Oh, we still have desks? I see, then we still have desktop PCs.

The whole question is rather silly. But the environment does not entirely drive the technology. The tasks to be performed are the critical factor in the selection of preferred platform architecture.

Which do you choose?

Does the task have a mobility requirement or user preference? Does the task not require mobility? Does the task have certain attributes or requirements that lend themselves to a fixed venue or other things associated with a desktop machine?

These are the questions we should be asking when deciding between ultra-book portability and desktop fixed location.

I’m not talking about what the device will look like, if it will have a big plastic box lurking under the work surface or if it weighs 40 pounds or 4 ounces. I’m talking about portable versus stationary. Mobile versus fixed location.

Once we get those questions answered, then perhaps we can talk more sensibly about requirements for our computing hardware.

Here’s is what you should ask yourself.

Am I mobile?

Seriously, how mobile are you? Do you travel as a part of your work? Do you have need of some functionality away from your desktop? How much of your mobility requirement could be handled by a smart phone? If you’re just concerned about staying in touch, phones do a great job with email, messaging and even voice communications.

Are my apps mobile?

If you run applications that are extremely visually oriented, you probably like a nice big monitor. Perhaps you spend a lot of time editing and touching up photography, maybe your thing is multitrack sound or video editing or perhaps you work with engineering drawings, floor plans or other oversized type imagery. Again, you’re not going to be happy with a 9 inch screen if you’re running apps of this type.

What would happen if my PC was stolen or lost?

If you’re walking around with your entire identity housed on a mobile device, especially if you are not disciplined about passwords and other security oriented activities, you don’t want to experience the loss of your device. Your life will be a living hell. If you’re talking about company data, your liability may be even more than you realize. This is particularly true when your work life and home life are blended together.

This is a serious consideration. Obviously, aspects of this also apply to the desktop world, but when the entire machine fits in a pocket and can be picked up while you’re busy sneezing, the danger of loss increases right along side the increase in portability.

How keyboard intensive are my needs?

Okay, I’ll admit it, I love touch screens. I like to be able to “turn the page” on my kindle and my iPad. But, right now I’m sitting in front of a full size keyboard. People who write a lot like real keyboards. Touchscreen keyboards are fine, laptop keyboards are okay, but neither of them will do the job for me when I blog or when I author white papers or even writing longer emails, I like a “real” keyboard.

So, for me I hope the desk top option remains available for many years. I don’t care if the big plastic box disappears, but I want my big screen, my keyboard, the security of knowing that I won’t leave my PC in an unlocked car. I want all the benefit that comes with a “big iron boat anchor” device.

I also want my smart phone, my tablet, my e-reader and I imagine I’ll be wanting an ultra book before too long as well. After all, I am a gadget freak and I love toys!

By Lou Washington

Technology has always been a major force within the music industry. It is, sometimes, a rocky marriage. Just ask Steinway, the iconic maker of pianos.

In the late 1960’s Steinway introduced teflon as a replacement for felt as a material used for bushings in the construction of their actions. An action, for those not familiar with piano construction is the complex assembly of levers and hinges that responds to the player pushing down on a key by lifting the hammer to strike the strings.

Teflon was a great idea, poorly executed. Field technicians responsible for servicing these pianos were not properly trained in the techniques required to maintain the teflon bushings. The result was a clicking sound that was audible whenever the instrument was played.

Steinway responded quickly and recovered from this adventure. They continue on today as one of the premier piano manufacturers in the world.

This year, at NAMM 2012, technology was the big story. Almost every manufacturer displaying is introducing new and innovative products. For musicians, this is our equivalent of the Paris Air Show or the Detroit Auto Show.

I took a look at the Guitar Center website yesterday. They are listing about 250 new products in a special NAMM promotional sale. Looking over this and a ton of NAMM press releases, most of the new offering fall into two major categories. First is what I’ll call Retro and the second is Technology. Technology is the frontman this year however, because so many of the retro offerings are “powered by” new technology.

What’s New?

On the retro side of the coin both Fender and Gibson are introducing more throwback models to their Guitar lines. These things really fascinate me. The guitars are actually built to specs used in previous models dating from long gone musical eras. Then the instrument is factory aged, complete with nicks, scrapes and factory installed rust spots. They are finally finished in a darker, yellowed shellac or varnish type topcoat.

The effect is amazing. You have a brand new musical instrument that mimics the sounds from say a 1950s Telecaster played in some rural juke joint roadhouse. The illusion is made complete by an appearance one would associate with leaving a guitar unprotected in the back of a pick up truck for several years. When you pick one up, you would swear you were holding a 50 year old Telecaster.

Fender introduced two new tube amps this year under the Pawn Shop Special banner. These are aimed at jammers or small venue performers. They are tube driven and are stylistically tied to the late 1940s or early 1950s. The Greta model even features a functional VU meter. Tube amps are a must have for guitar players looking to emulate the mid 20th century sounds that many of the older blues artists and early rockers produced.

I have a Fender Blues Junior Deluxe and I can attest that the sound produced by these amps is incredible. You simple can not get the same warmth of tone from a solid state, digitally produced signal.

All of the new models interface directly with iPod and iPads or other MP3 players. More on that later.

In the area of amplification another big star is the battery powered amp. These things are really coming on strong. I picked up a Pignose amp the other day and it’s quickly become one of my favorite toys. It runs on a handful of AA batteries and is well under a hundred bucks. It produces a great blues sound with just the right amount of distortion.

Lots of new modeling amps, those with built in effects, were introduced as well. This is pure digital technology. Effects like reverb, vibrato, rectifier, blues drivers, fuzz and wah are all there ready to go with the flick of switch on the amp itself or on a foot pedal.

iPad Heaven

Apple has made a name for itself as the go to PC for graphical applications as well as sound processing. A huge number of music apps are available for the iPad. Garageband, Apples hugely successful, easy to use, sound recording studio is getting lots of company from third party apps these days.

Wave Machine Labs introduced Auria this year and it promises to step things up for those of us who like to record live music. Auria is a fully functional 48 track DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) that runs on iPad. This is a pro-grade recording studio that features a Steinberg VST effects plugin to complete the offering.

You really have to wonder if the local recording studio is an endangered species. Will they go the way of the photo kiosk? Probably not entirely, but I see these tools affecting the price charged for services rendered.

The great thing that technology has done for the music business is provide accessibility. Local musicians can promote themselves also record their concerts or studio sessions. They can produce and sell their own work in CD format or downloadable MP3s. People can actually make a living today as musicians working on a local basis.

Technology has made music egalitarian and the music business a viable, locally focused industry. No longer do musicians have to “go to LA” or New York to gain a market that can support them. The best part is we as consumers win big. Thousands of musicians that would have otherwise been locked out of the market place can now be heard.

There will always be more talent than audience, but technology is significantly closing that gap.

The music business is alive well today because most of the industry has embraced technology. NAMM 2012 has demonstrated that quite well.

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