Posts tagged nerdy
The state of collaborative recording software

There wasn't a lot of exciting software at the NAMM music trade show this year and it made me wonder: why are recording software manufacturers being so slow to add Internet collaboration features? Anyone will tell you that we're in an Internet indie music golden age but popular recording tools barely recognize the Internet exists for anything more than patch updates. Cloud services have come to the most mainstream services (email, calendar, music, photos, contacts) but recording software has barely made a move in that direction.

There are so many ways the Internet could improve software like Pro Tools, Reaper, Reason, Logic and Ableton Live -- easy collaboration, cloud backups, portability (easily access your audio data on your iPad & iPhone), revision tracking, quick in-software purchasing of samples/plugins/devices, preset sharing and hands-on lessons to name a few off the top of my head.

And it makes business sense for the companies. By making the Internet an integrated part of the recording software companies could get their customers into a subscription model instead of this weird yearly upgrade cycle and they’d be free to roll out & market new features any time, distribution and copy protection would be easier, companies could gather metrics on performance to improve the software & stamp out bugs, you could demo and sell features, samples, presets, plugins and lessons to your customers, sell iPad/iPhone/Android apps to work with your cloud data, etc, etc.

I feel Ableton Live and Reason are uniquely positioned for success in this area. They’re largely MIDI, sample and loop based so they’d use less bandwidth to sync. Plus their interfaces are already very modular -- selling new devices and features and packs wouldn’t require much redesign.

My suspicion right now is that Ableton (who haven’t released a major new version of Live since January 2009) is working on a full rewrite and I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t include a lot more Internet. But whoever it is, someone’s going to make a move and then all the other players will have to play catch up.

Computers and music

George emailed me to say:

I wanted to ask your opinion on what you think computers could do to make it easier for musicians to create and perform music.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately and wanted to blog two of my replies:

Collaboration: There's a lot of opportunity right now for better creative tools. The biggest feature missing from all the major Digital Audio Workstations is semi-realtime collaboration (realtime is probably asking too much until the net gets better). I was just bugging Justin at Reaper about that the other day. Maybe ohmstudio (http://www.ohmstudio.com/) will fill the collaboration role but I think it's a feature every DAW should have within a few years.

Songwriting: For a long time I've been fantasizing about rapid songwriting software. Something analogous to a lot of the more creative, less technical software for screenwriters. The software could prompt the songwriter for sections, melodies and riffs and keep them cataloged. It'd let you easily rearrange the structure and experiment, organize your notes & ideas and help you generate new ideas. Throw a good rhyming dictionary in there, a markov chain generator for lyrics, etc. So a musician can quickly hammer out a bunch of song ideas and flesh them out without spending much time dicking around in software. I should be able to write and record an entire song with a guitar, microphone and foot pedal to control the software.

And that's the tooth.

Google Circles

I'm sure everyone is tired of hearing about Google Circles, but it's nice. You can find me on it here. Are invites still a thing? If so, just send me your email address. It's still early on and I have my complaints and suggestions but so far I'm finding it easier to manage than Facebook, where friend lists & groups are annoying. And it's so far been a lot more social than Twitter, I feel like I'm discovering interesting people on it and conversations are happening more. Some of that could be the novelty of the new platform but I feel like it promotes casual socializing in a way I haven't really felt since BBS's. Also the Google Hangout multi-video chat is fun.

The other point in Google's favor is that I don't trust Facebook and never have. Google has a good record of openness and being pro-web, whereas Facebook has been intent on creating a locked-in walled garden from early on. I believe my interests align more with Google than Facebook, but time will tell.

Forums update

I upgraded to the latest beta of bbPress and it's sweet. I finally have forums integrated in the site design. If you feel like testing them out you can see 'em here. I'm still working on it but feel free to post about issues. Once I get things running in OK shape I'll try adding Facebook logins and that will be sweet.

Bitching about iMacs

Hey, who wants to hear me bitch about iMacs! I don't care, here I go:

Switching to a Mac has been great in every way except for like... the hardware. I should point out that I began this switch by buying a refurbished 27" iMac from Apple.com to save $300. I'm not made of money you guys. I've bought many things from there before and all the devices have been flawless. Except for iMacs I suppose. A rundown of the iMacs I have known:

iMac #1: Worked great! Then I went to install an additional 8gb of RAM. One of the RAM slots was so out of alignment I couldn't get one of the sticks in there. I contacted Apple Support, they offered to let me buy another one and then refund my money for the first when I returned it. Fair enough.

iMac #2: Right away I noticed the hard drive was noisy (even when idle). I had iMac #1 and iMac #2 beside each other before I returned #1 and could easily tell the difference. Turns out it was a noisy Seagate drive. Since I'm recording with this thing, that's kind of a big deal but bleh I didn't want to return it yet again. Then I noticed the left internal speaker kept making annoying intermittent crackling/static noises even when the audio wasn't in use.

I talked to Apple support and they suggested I unplug the power cord and plug it back in and see if that helps. The iMac didn't immediately make the noise when I started it back up, so the friendly Apple guy said to call back if it did.

It did later, but it took me three days call back. I was out of my 30 day return window at that point and was told I'd have to take it in for repair + be without a computer indefinitely. I told them that made me so so sad so they talked to various managers and eventually agreed to replace it, plus gave me $150 credit back for my troubles. Nice!

iMac #3: This is the one I have on my desk as I type this. The RAM slots are fine. The internal speakers make no unwanted noise. But I've noticed the fans getting loud a lot whereas I realize now I never even heard the fans on the other ones. When I'm recording for instance or watch a few Youtube videos in a row, the fan turns on and is pretty loud in this small office. After an hour of mixing just now the top of the case is too hot to leave my hand on for more than a second or two. The others were pretty warm but not at all like that.

So. Do I have the energy to complain about this one? The fan noise is annoying and maybe not tolerable. The extreme heat worries me that it'll be prone to failure over time. But I'm getting pretty tired of swapping these bastards out. Basically I want to give up on buying refurbished and go buy a brand new one, but what if they're prone to the same issues?

So: ugh.

Update: well, that resolved itself. The display on iMac #3 died last night. So now I'm on hold with Apple support. Woo hoo hoo.

Update #2: Here is what the display looks like! (The lines move!)

broken imac

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update #3: Talked to four supervisors. They're taking iMac #3 back and refunding my money. I'm gonna drive to the Ottawa Apple store and buy a new iMac that hopefully isn't a piece of junk.

iMac #4: Seven hours later my Time Machine backup is restored and I'm back where I was almost 24 hours ago.

The Mac Switch

Whooo the switch to the Mac has been time-consuming. Nothing like re-learning decades of software and keyboard shortcuts and... everything.

Stuff I love:

  • Unix. Yay. No more DOS or batch files or Cygwin or whatever.
  • The apps are generally better. Lots of creative, well-designed software out there.
  • Spaces is great. Virtual desktops were always clunky in Windows, but Spaces is slick and works.
  • I always hated it in Windows but iTunes is excellent on OS X. I feel happier with my music collection than I have in years.
  • I feel more in control of my software and OS. I always suspected Windows was betraying me in the background, OS X feels pretty locked down.
  • The audio is rock solid. I had gotten used to Windows audio crapping out if I launched two audio apps at the same time or various other factors. No more!
  • Time Machine is great and has simplified my backups.

Stuff I don't love:

  • I hate the magic mouse and tiny keyboard. Holy god they're awful. It took me a week of struggling to get used to them before I tossed them and figured out how to disable mouse acceleration. And I also felt ripped off getting a shitty little laptop keyboard with my big expensive desktop.
  • I miss Total Commander. I feel like a dummy in Finder, clicking and dragging around like a baby. I'm adjusting, but slowly.
  • I haven't found a window manager I like yet. I was using Winsplit Revolution on Windows and it was nice.
  • Page Up/Page Down/Home/End. OS X hates these keys. I've remapped them but there are still a few apps that act weird when I hit page down and page up.
  • Every app seems to have a different keyboard shortcut to switch between its tabs. On Windows it's always ctrl-tab. I've remapped them now (yay) but it was a dumb struggle.
  • Mac software is really expensive.

These complaints are pending my switch to the replacement Mac as they might be due to this busted unit (more on that shortly):

  • The internal speakers could be a lot better. It sounds like the bottom panel in the front needs some holes poked into it.
  • The hard drive is a huge bottleneck. Hopefully this will improve once I throw more RAM in, but I'm routinely listening to the hard drive grind and it annoys me.

Re: the busted unit. I bought a refurbished Mac to save $300 or so and three of the four RAM slots were dead. One was physically misaligned. Apple support was good and I'm moving everything over to the replacement Mac they sent me.

Also if this Time Machine restore on the new system works as advertised, I will be so impressed.

GeneralBrad Turcottemac, nerdy
Live setup improvements

Getting the laptop into the live show has been a long dumb technical process. It's been working solid now for a long time so the last step was to get it all into a nice portable form factor that was quick and easy to set up and tear down.  I think I'm just about there:

IMG_0356

IMG_0366

I bought this Gator Studio-2-Go case - which is a 2U rack case (front and back) as well as a laptop compartment on top (and most importantly a hole between the rack and laptop compartments for cable runs). Getting it was a stupid ordeal. I actually couldn't find it anywhere in Canada (everyone said it was discontinued) so I had to order it from Sweetwater, get it delivered in the US and drive across the border to get it.  Sine then it's been a gradual process figuring out everything I need in it.

IMG_0362

In the front (sorry for the crappy photos) I've got a Furman M-8X (rack-mounted power strip), a MOTU Ultralite mk3 (sound card) and a Shure PSM200 wireless transmitter (for feeding the click to the drummer). The power strip means I only have one power cord for the whole box, which is great.

In the back:

IMG_0357

The sound card's outputs go into a Behringer ULTRA-DI PRO DI800, giving the sound dude three channels of DI'd output.  I had to learn how to build some short angle patch cables since non-angled ones wouldn't fit with the back cover on.

Remaining issues:

  • I need an 8-channel XLR s-s-snake for the DI outputs (this has been ordered.)
  • The power supply for the PSM200 is one of those dudes with the AC adapter block separated from the plug. Meaning the block is floating around in the case, threatening to knock all my other connections out. I'm not sure how to secure it down or if I should try and replace it with a different adapter.
  • The Firewire adapter in the laptop sticks out of the side of the laptop a great deal and makes the side-foam the case comes with not fit properly. I guess I'll cut a hole in it.
  • I wish it was easier to get the DI in and out in case I need to adjust something.  Right now I can squeeze my arms in but I'm only getting fatter so that's not a permanent option. I don't know much about racks - is there a. thing for that? A rack drawer maybe?

So instead of bringing in a pile of devices and having to set up all my cables each time, I'm down to one AC adapter and a handful of XLR outs and I don't need any DIs from the house.

That was a lot of work.

GeneralBrad Turcottegear, live, nerdy, tech
Synthing it

IMG_0375Despite some shows coming up in the next few weeks we decided to try and add some lead synth to the set at the last minute. I had been playing solos on guitar but it doesn't have the same feel.

So the past week and a half has involved me trying to put together a stable PC running Windows XP, Reaper and various VSTis that can reliably run headless (no monitor, no keyboard, no mouse). ASIO drivers are provided by an Edirol UA-1EX as the ASIO4ALL drivers were too clicky and laggy.

The plan is then to cram all that into a 2U rackmount server case and then stuff that into a gig case for an instant on, portable, minimal worries synth machine. It would be great to get a solid state hard drive to minimize the moving parts, but my budget for this is low as balls.

As you can see from the photo on the right and my torn-up bloody hands (not pictured) it's been a struggle to find a combination of working spare parts. I thought I had solved it all a week ago but the motherboard I was using was only USB 1.0 and would intermittently flake out with the M-Audio Axiom 25 I've drafted into service.

Of course I'm currently running the show off a laptop but I felt having it do synth duties as well was too risky. At least this way if the laptop fails we can still put on an OK show. And if the synth machine fails I can still shred out some crappy guitar solos. If both fail, I will just run away from the venue as fast as I can.

Ottawa crime data lock-in

image Here is a nerdy data complaint:

Earlier this year the Ottawa Police announced they would be publishing daily crime data via CrimeReports.com, it's a nice searchable interface using Google Maps. I loved the idea and thought it was fantastic that citizens had an easy way to search and view this data.

Fast-forward a few months and I had some ideas I wanted to try with the public crime data. I hunted around for a way to access the data in a usable format or at least an RSS feed, but there were none that I could find. I looked into scraping the data from CrimeReports.com and that was non-trivial. CrimeReports.com offers emailed crime reports (blegh) and here's what their Frequently Asked Questions page says on the matter:

How can users access crime information for their areas of interest?
CrimeReports.com is a community-facing Web application, and as such, emphasizes the user experience. A CrimeReports.com user simply enters an address of interest (home, office, school, etc.) and clicks on "Get Report" to see criminal activity in a given area on an easy-to-use map interface. The CrimeReports.com Web application also integrates data from multiple agencies into a single interface and offers automated, location-based alerting services.

Which to me is code for “CrimeReports.com would rather lock-in the data, and as such, not help potential competitors.”

Finally, I contacted the Ottawa Police and asked if there's a way for regular folks to access the daily data they're providing to CrimeReports.com. They pointed me to the weekly reports (which look like this, and would be usable with some parsing). Only problem: these have been discontinued in 2009 in favor of sending all the data to CrimeReports.com. They said there's no public feed for that data and that I'd need to make a Freedom of Information request.

So we have a situation here where the Ottawa crime data has been moved to a site that's easier for 99% of citizens to access and understand, but the data is locked up in a third-party website and inaccessible to anyone who wants to do some serious work with it. Which to me is a huge step backwards.

MOTU

After having so many live performance troubles with the M-Audio Firewire 410, I looked around for the best alternative. My research lead me to the MOTU UltraLite mk3. People referred to it as “rock solid” and I had previously heard lots of great things about MOTU hardware. There's not a lot of competition in this area for some reason. Anyway, I bought one.

Immediately I started having audio drop-outs. Firmware upgrades were involved. I filed a trouble ticket and I complained on Twitter. I read lots of posts and comments about MOTU's “legendary” bad support (which was not so legendary that I knew about it before I bought one of their products). I wound up going back tonight to have a look at my ticket's status and check this out:

 motu-sucks

Wow, ten days later and my ticket's still Unread. I mean I guess appreciate that they're up front about not caring, but maybe putting forth at least the illusion of customer service would be a better business strategy. I don't know.

Project: Guitar with arcade buttons

For the past year I've been thinking a lot about solo guitar interfaces. One of the challenges with being a guitarist and playing solo is that both hands are almost constantly busy with the guitar and your feet are usually busy with pedals. Doesn't leave a lot of other options.

I've thought up a lot of ways the guitar as an interface could be improved or augmented and the simplest idea seems like it would be to put a bunch of easily accessible buttons in the guitar and have those buttons simulate keystrokes on my laptop. How hard could that be? Let's see.

Step one:

I ordered some Seimitsu PS-14 arcade buttons. A lot of the buttons I found were wayyyy too deep (such as these) but these ones looked like they might not go all the way through my guitar and halfway into my torso while playing.

image

I also impulse bought an Arduino. The Arduino is awesome but turning button presses into keyboard strokes isn't really its main deal. So I ordered an I-PAC VE which is dedicated entirely to simulating keyboard controls.

image 

Step two:

Months later when the I-PAC finally arrived, I wired up the buttons and the board and it all worked on the first try. I made a little cardboard stand for testing:

IMG_6072

image

But it doesn't look like there's much testing to do, it's pretty brain dead easy. I had it entering keystrokes on the computer and triggering clips in Ableton Live within minutes. Windows XP even recognized the I-PAC without any additional drivers, very nice.

Step three:

Where should the buttons go on the guitar? I put some cut-out circles on it to see where they'd fit and be most useful:

image

This is the layout I'm thinking of right now. There's a lot to take into consideration, such as:

  1. Ease of access while playing (the upper right ones seem close enough I'd be able to hit them with only a brief pause in playing)
  2. Staying away from locations where accidental hits are likely (the right side is where my arm is while playing)
  3. Making sure I don't interfere with any of the guitar's guts
  4. Keeping them far enough away from the edge that I don't weaken and collapse it

Right now I'm wondering if I should try to house the circuit board inside the guitar and run a USB cable from the guitar to my laptop or should I run the wires from the buttons to the external I-PAC which would be by the laptop? I do not know.

My latest podcast attempt

terminal I tried doing a podcast a few years ago and failed. I just wanted to share some music I was into but compiling the podcasts was time-consuming enough that it got pushed aside almost immediately. So I've started another podcast on Sellout Central which I'm planning to put out every Monday.

This time though I've spent some of my vacation time figuring out how to automate most of the process.

The nerdy details:

Using sox, flite, lame and a bash script, all I have to do is export a playlist from Foobar2000 and run a script. Sox crossfades the songs and compiles them into one big WAV file, flite generates the speech synthesis for the intros and outros and then lame compresses them into an MP3 with appropriate ID3 tags. So basically, I export the WAVs and then run:

./podcastit.sh [episode #] [# of songs]

And get back a shiny podcastable MP3. Whether anyone will like the songs I like is a whole different matter.

If you want the script, let me know and I can package it up.

Update: and here is the script all packaged up.

Downtime

The data center the bradsucks server's in I guess had a big-ass explosion, which is why it's been offline for the past couple of days.

As they work out backup power I expect service will be spotty for a while, so if you want to read me complaining about it you can follow me on Twitter.

Also: if you emailed me in the past couple days, you may want to re-send.

Update: I guess their backup generator exploded resulting in another day of downtime. Man, what a shitty week for the bradernet.

Idea: Data Twitter

I want a Twitter-style service for freeform, taggable, time-stamped data. My intended purpose would be to log real-world items. Like I'd IM/text/email the Data Twitter service with:

bike ride tags: bike, ride, exercise

writing a blog post tags: status, writing

phone call from annoying dude tags: annoying dude, phone

basketball tags: basketball, sports, exercise

These would all be time-stamped as I add them. A duration may also be useful.

The data could then be queried, searched, accessed via API from other web sites & apps, read via RSS and imported into spreadsheets.

Potential applications:

  • import specific tags (like 'exercise') for a certain time period into a spreadsheet for analysis
  • power cross-site social widgets from the data feed (most recently listened to songs, task completion, current status)
  • use as a remote control for triggering events in software monitoring the feeds (bittorrent clients, server administration)

It's super nerdy, by nature deals with private instead of social data and likely wouldn't scale, but I still want it.

New music & store makeovers

In preparation for the new album release I've re-vamped all the music/store sections on the site. I'll spare you the boring tech details but it was A LOT OF WORK. Here's some of the new stuff:

  • Affected pages are music, I Don't Know What I'm Doing, I Don't Know What I'm Doing Remixed, Outside the Inbox and the store.
  • I tried to roll buying and listening together in a non-obnoxious way. Anywhere you can listen to the albums you can also buy them and vice versa.
  • Combined physical and digital buying instead of having two separate stores.
  • Every album has a flash player on it now for quick listening.
  • Variable prices for I Don't Know What I'm Doing. MP3s go for any price including. CDs have a $5 minimum.
  • Paid downloads come off the ultra-reliable Amazon S3 servers and free downloads come off my clunky junkbox.
  • Buying a CD gets you instant access to digital downloads of that album.
  • OGG format is gone, bye bye, hardly anyone bought you!
  • Lossless FLAC format is gone (but might come back?) It was more popular than OGG but not by tons and the bandwidth considerations make it rough to give away for free.

There are probably plenty of bugs (please let me know) but good lord am I glad that's over with. Did Prince have to write his own storefronts?

Sample organization

With completing all recording and sequencing on my next album and me regaining my enthusiasm for making new music, a complete sample library reset is in order. I'm a sample hoarder but my current setup (30-40 gigs of loops and samples in d:\music\samples\ subdirectories) has always been awful. The hierarchy's all wrong and it sucks to browse. For a long time I've wanted a del.icio.us tagging style sample browser but I understand it's a limited market.

But lately I've been using the latest beta of foobar2000 for my mp3 listening and organization. One thing I totally love about it is the facet view:

facets

You can enter a search query or click in any of the panels (you can choose what tag you want each facet to be based on) and it narrows down the other panels based on your selection or search query. It's really fantastic and makes it easy to explore your collection.

So a light bulb went off last night: this is exactly what I want for my samples! With some help from the foobar2000 forums I set up another copy of foobar and had it index my sample directories. Big problem: foobar saves all the metadata to the actual audio files -- .WAV files don't support genre metadata. Boned.

I've been scrabbling around trying to make foobar do what I want with various plugins but it's a pain in the ass. Now I'm on to trying other media players...