Posts tagged tech
Internet radio streaming

Here's a question. Someone emailed me and asked me:

Also this is off topic, but if you have any suggestions on where to host an internet radio station please send those as well, as right now we are using a host that will not allow us to do anything live.

But I don't know anything about internet radio stations. Anyone know the answer?

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.

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.

Wolfram|Alpha

I've been so-so about the Wolfram|Alpha hype, but it finally launched and it's definitely neat. Comparing it to Google is semi-ridiculous as Google uses structured data and “facts” only as an afterthought.

The servers are taking a beating right now, but here are some queries that were interesting to me:

A lot of data I encountered is old-ish – a lot is from 2004 -- which I think says more about the crappy state of authoritative structured data than Wolfram|Alpha itself.

I think the most exciting thing about Wolfram|Alpha is that it's intriguing and useful enough that it may encourage more organizations and individuals to make their current data available and keep it up to date. Which would be a huge benefit to everyone.

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.

Powered Speakers

00584060_2 The borrowed PA in the practice garage went away so I reached into the vast (vast!) Brad Sucks war chest and bought two 270 watt Peavey PR10PN Powered Loudspeakers. Despite forgetting my mixer at home they did a nice job at rehearsal last night. Very clear and full sound, plus I have them up on stands now which I think helps them stand out from the murky low frequencies.

I knew nothing about monitors or live sound before. I did a lot of reading and here uh are some... knowledge:

  • People on live sound forums are kind of annoying, possibly worse than recording forums. God forbid you not want to outfit your garage with multiple $1500 JBL's.
  • Powered speakers are now a viable alternative to a powered mixer + passive speakers and offer more flexibility. But they're newer so they're hard to find used.
  • The Peaveys have optional brackets to position them as floor-wedge monitors.
  • The Peaveys actually have three inputs on each speaker. Two quarter inch and one 1/4"/XLR combo. All have level control, which is impressive.
  • With powered monitors you can use a regular passive/unpowered mixer, which are cheap and plentiful.

The other point of this was to make it easier to integrate the laptop into the full band, which so far has been a huge struggle technology-wise.

FriendFeed

A long time ago I wrote a thing called the Temple of Ego. It was inspired by a few other websites but basically the goal was to aggregate all the data you put out on other services, creating an overall stream of all your activity on the web. FriendFeed just opened to the public and it does just that. It's slick and does what it's supposed to do. I'm at http://www.friendfeed.com/bradsucks/

It's extremely simple but there's a lot of potential here. Searching, filtering, shuttling data from one service to another, openID, trust networks. With a nice simple API a lot of services could be built on top of it. It'd be the new meta-Twitter.

CAPTCHA Blindness

I played Half Life Episode 2 and Portal over the weekend. EP2 was good, Portal was brilliant (and many props to Coulton for the awesome credits song).

Anyway I was trying to search the Steam forums and you have to prove you're human by entering a CAPTCHA. I got so many wrong I gave up. Here's a small sampling:

captcha-04 captcha-01 captcha-03 captcha-02   captcha-06 captcha-05  captcha-07 captcha-08

Can you guys read any of these? I had to check with friends to make sure I hadn't suddenly become colorblind or something.

Early data points to Valve's CAPTCHA algorithm sucking and my vision being fine.

Brad Turcottemisc, tech
WordPress 2.3

WordPress 2.3 is out and I'm now upgraded. I'm fairly excited about tagging though I'm not sure if Windows Live Writer supports it yet, which could be a downer. If you notice anything broken (other than my spirit) please let me know.

Brad Turcottetech
State of the social networking

Time to take stock of my social networking participation.

Twitter - Still updating on Twitter against all odds. Being able to monitor and update it via IM is really all it's got going for it. I've had to start ignoring certain people though because the noise level got too high.

Pownce - I'm really not sure what to do with Pownce. It's nice, but the lack of IM makes me lazy about it. I really like the reply-to-posts feature. I've started experimenting with uploading songs I've been listening to, which is fun but would be way more fun if everyone I knew had access to it.

MySpace - I still log in and add friends who request it and try to reply to messages in there. Spam has reduced from a few months ago so MySpace doesn't bother me much anymore.

Facebook - Even though I only have around 70 friends on there and don't whore it out like MySpace it's rapidly becoming the most annoying social network. Check out what I'm met with when I log on:

facebook

Hey Facebook, I've got 1 leave me the fuck alone request for you. Oh and a fortune friend request.

socialBrad Turcotterant, tech
Some product reviews

Here is a chronicling of some items I purchased recently:

ALLSOP Mouse pad - For many years I've been using a mouse pad with a wrist-rest on it. In fact it's been the same one, so it's nasty and gross and needs replacing. The new one has a feature called "memory foam". This is code for "if you use the wrist-rest for more than half an hour, it squashes down under your wrist and no longer provides enough support". Awful.

Belkin WaveRest Keyboard Wrist Support - I wanted to replace my rusty roller-based wrist-wrest and the only one they had in Staples that wasn't some retarded hot/cold gel pack was this one. It's not high enough, my wrists sink down into the gel, it doesn't fit on my (admittedly a little weird) IKEA Jerker desk the way my old one did. Awful.

APC 650VA - After 11 days of rain and thunderstorms and power brownouts, I finally invested in a UPS / battery backup for the Linux box in the basement. It seems to work great and the forecast is coincidentally showing sunny weather for the rest of the week. Great!

Brad Turcottereview, tech
White Glove Tracking

The White Glove Tracking project is done. I did a few frames a few months ago:

On May 4th, 2007, we asked internet users to help isolate Michael Jackson's white glove in all 10,060 frames of his nationally televised landmark performance of Billy Jean. 72 hours later 125,000 gloves had been located. wgt_data_v1.txt (listed below) is the culmination of data collected. It is released here for all to download and use as an input into any digital system. Just as the data was gathered collectively it is our hope that it will be visualized collectively.

There are already some visualizations, very neat stuff.

Windows apocalypse

As a follow-up to my hard drive terror I guess I'm now in a full-blown Windows apocalypse. I was fairly sure it was the power supply crapping out on me and it was only crashing during the night, so I was waiting till this week to get a new one. Then yesterday it rebooted in the middle of doing something. Then would only give me an "lsass.exe - System Error Object Name not found" error and reboot when I hit OK. Much research and fiddling hasn't righted things so I think my Windows is just toast.

Anyway if I'm extra slow to answer your emails that is why.

Brad Turcotterant, tech
Hard drive terror

Woke up this morning to my desktop machine frozen on the Windows boot-up screen. I hit a key and it rebooted. What the. Let it go through, it froze again. Tried safe mode, froze again. And a second time. Uh oh.

Tried some rescue LiveCD rescue stuff, maybe my Windows install was just barfed. My hard drive seemed to be gone. I fearfully checked the state of my backups -- was pleasantly surprised to see they were intact. Also Gmail meant my email still worked and Google Browser Sync meant I had all my bookmarks and cookies on my laptop. Sweet.

I started going through the motions of getting a replacement hard drive, rebooted the desktop again for kicks and everything worked fine. "Windows has recovered from a serious error." I'll say.

Hard drive on the way out? Power supply dying? Heat? I don't know but that was a dumb way to kill a couple hours.

Zen Stone

And the award for "most annoying music loop used in a Flash product demo" goes to Creative for the Zen Stone Plus! Way to go guys! You've driven me insane!

Seriously though, you make audio products. Let's show some hustle.

Brad Turcotterant, tech