How the Pro’s practice

There’s a great article on GuitarNoise.com about how ‘Pro’ guitar players practice.  Almost every book out there mentions these same things, but home musicians almost ALWAYS ignore them.  (I’m VERY guilty of this).  Quick summary:

  1. Play Perfectly
  2. Play Slowly
  3. Practice Technique, not songs
  4. Simple and perfect is better than flashy and sloppy (unless you’re Jimmy Page or Slash )

Now, one counter point to this article… Different people have different goals.  Playing in a cover band requires a different set of skills than being a Session artist.  Do what makes sense to further your enjoyment of playing.

Advertisements

Favorite Book for Software Developers

More updates to the book list.  I’ve added two excellent books to the list.  I also want to talk about one of the best software development books I’ve EVER read.  That book is ‘The Pragmatic Programmer’.

First, a little bit of background.  I started programming very early on (Think Commodore 64, TRS-80, and Apple IIe time frame).  After dipping my toe into the water with computers through high school, I decided I wanted to study music in college.  (Can we say, ‘Not one of your brighter moves’?)  Then, to pay for my music habbit, I entered the work force as a hardware specialist.  I kept up a Xenix system for a doctor’s office for a year and a half, then moved to working for a mom and pop computer store, building and fixing computers.  I learned a LOT.  One of the biggest things that I learned was that I didn’t want to make a LIVING doing this .  I had dabbled in programming since I first started with computers, but had never really had ‘the bug’ hit me.  After a really bad career decision of leaving the hardware shop to help a ‘consultant’ out, I ended up back being a systems administrator.  What helped was that I ended up understanding enough to code for reports and such.  After that, I did a hitch as a C++ developer, and from there, the rest is good history.

Now, why is this necessary for a book review?  This SHOULD give some insight as to why I like this book and its practices.  One thing that I never had (and to be honest, would never accept) was a good mentor.  I never worked with one of those programmers who just were so awesome that even being in the same room with them, you improved by 10%.  Scratch that, I was around a great friend of mine, Shoaib, who was one of the best programmers I’ve known.  Unfortunately, he used vi to edit, so I could NEVER even keep up…  Again, I’m rambling, back to the book review…

Why do I think this book is great?  It’s not the ‘run-of-the-mill’ developer reference book.  Instead of focusing on how to do something, it covers more of WHAT to do.  I do not need another book to cover the language semantics.  There’s a lot of other books for that.  What I DO need is what to do to be more efficient as a developer.  This book covers that.  Between the DRY principle and Tracer Bullets, a LOT can be accomplished.

If you’re a software developer and think you are stuck in a rut, or have hit a plateau with your growth or coding, check this book out.

Windows programming is going to get INTERESTING!

Avalon Beta 1 RC has been released for general consumption.  Tim Sneath has the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Avalon.  Why is Avalon so interesting?  Well, it’s because Microsoft is finally catching up to Apple.  The graphics sub-system is one of the things that has had little change over the last 10 years.  GDI has only yeilded GDI+.  Yes, there are some good gradient things that GDI+ can do, but graphics cards can do SO much more.

Apple led the way with their Quartz Extreme rendering engine, but it uses an unusual API, Objective C.  C!?!  Not even C++!?!  WTF?  Ummm, Apple, don’t you have a little be more, ah, modern language?  Now, I might be completely mistaken, as I don’t work with mac’s too much (I really DO want a mac mini just to program on it), but C is NOT a modern language.  Efficient, yes, but VERY cumbersome.

Microsoft is giving Avalon (and Indigo, for that matter) MANAGED APIs.  That means C#, VB.NET, and C++ will all share the same interface.  Plus, the new ‘Metro’ document rendering engine is included within Avalon.  Finally, .NET’s equivalent to Java Applets will appear with Avalon.  You don’t know HOW long I’ve waited for that.

Interesting C++ books

Addison-Wesley has some very interesting C++ books available.  It’s good to see books that are not about ‘how to program in C++’.  I hope to see more books about how to THINK about programming, not just syntax.  Unfortunately, it’s a LOT easier to bang out a book on syntax than it is to write something that pushes the general understanding.

Arrgggghhhh!!!!

It never, ever fails…  Some things were going good… Hah, we can’t have THAT!

Sunday was not too bad.  I managed to get my hard drive working again, and recover 99% of what was on it.  In fact, I was able to get Windows XP 64 installed on my other hard drive.  I am now total 64 bit!  (Yeah!!!)

Monday, I dropped the car off to check out a leak… Well… let’s just put it this way, not a pleasant surprise.  The actual leaks can be fixed fairly easily.  The rest… It’s like the car smells money.  I finally get a week ahead, then this.  Sometimes, I think it is DEFINITELY not worth it.

 

So much for a nice quiet Sunday…

It never fails…  I have been working/living on Windows XP 64 RC2 for the last couple of months.  I haven’t blogged much about it because everything has just ‘worked’.  Yesterday, I received my copy of the release of XP 64.  I decided this morning to transfer my user directory over to my old hard drive, wipe my XP 64 RC2 hard drive, and install the new version from scratch.  I have XP 32-bit set up on my other hard drive, so I booted to that to copy all the files over.  The file copy went smoothly.  I then had to reboot back to XP 64 to de-authorize my Yahoo Unlimited music account.  As I did this, I checked to make SURE my files were on the other hard drive.  It’s a good thing I did!  My drive decided to die!  I tried rebooting to the old hard drive, but it only goes ‘poof!’.  I ran Maxtor’s utilities, got an error code when checking the drive with the suggestion to RMA the drive, as it is failing.  Ok, go to Maxtor’s site.  Check the warranty… The drive’s warranty expired on 4/27/05.  I don’t know if I’m ever going to purchase another drive from Maxtor OR Western Digital.  Almost every drive I’ve purchased from these two manufacturers have died.  Hitachi and Seagate are starting to look really good right now…

Quick ‘Sith’ Review…

Just walked in from seeing ‘Revenge of the Sith’…  THIS is the movie all the fans were waiting for.  We finally get two things… Bad Guys being BAD! and music everywhere.  Episode I and II didn’t really have much in the way of bad guys…  The worst thing Darth Maul did was have an unconditional urge to flash Jedi…  Dooku?  What, is it a crime to have a really stupid name that rhythms with doo-doo?  If you remember, the first thing Darth Vader did in the original movie was STRANGLE a guy!  He’s a BAD DUDE!  The other thing that really bothered me about this whole series was how disconnected it was.  Each movie jumps 5 – 10 years at a time.  The original series was set over the space of a couple of years.  Characters were the same in all three movies.  In the prequel series, it’s a different set of characters in EVERY movie.  And why the heck did EVERYTHING have to tie back together?  Can’t there be a LITTLE bit of mystery?  Ok, enough of the ranting of the things that went wrong with the series.  I personally wish Episode I and II didn’t exist, and Episode III was I, but I’m not George Lucas. 

I did like the movie.  I will have to see it at least once more in the theater, and will DEFINITELY buy the DVD.

Long and short… For Star Wars fans, it is a very good movie.  For people who get drug along, it’s bearable.  If you wish Star Wars didn’t exist, don’t walk in the theater.

Slowing down a bit.

I’m slowing down a little bit on the blogging.  Life and jobs have been pressing, and very little exciting has been going on.  I’ll be going to stand in line to see ‘Star Wars’ tomorrow night.  That should be interesting.  I’ve read the book already, but am reserving judgement until seeing the movie.

Naming Names…

<rant>

About a week ago, I blogged about a sales call from an unnamed software vendor.  I made the statement that if I got another sales call from them before an email, I would drop their name.  Well, today, I got a sales call, and still had not received an email, so here goes.  Compuware.  (No you DON’T get a link )  These people have the absolute WORST sales tactics in the world.  They have a product listed on their site as a completely free version.  They ask for information before allowing one to download the software.  This is a fair trade, one would think.  Instead of sending the link to the free version, like the page says, you WILL get a sales call.  WTF!?!  Name a developer that can afford to be interrupted on SALES CALLS.  Scheduled sales calls are one thing, no warning calls are an altogether different matter.  To beat all, instead of the free version of software that is ‘advertised’, they wanted to send a ‘free-trial’ version…  Ummm, do they have that much CONTEMPT for developers?  Sorry, no dice.  Compuware, you are dealing with people who have an above average intelligence level who DELIGHT in solving puzzles.  Bait-and-switch will not go over well with these people.

What’s truly sad is that the original company Nu-Mega was once one of the BEST companies for software.  They did not need sales tactics like this because they had an AWESOME product.  There’s a lesson in there… (To hit them over the head with it, spend money on DEVELOPMENT, not *SALES*, and you’ll get more business…)

</rant>

Imagination (and where did I misplace it?)

It just hit me why things have been kinda dull lately.  Imagation, and the lack thereof.  I’ve been pouring over lots of books and stories and movies and articles and sucking all of it in.  My mind can picture what I read, but it has had a hard time expressing who *I* am.  Lately, my life has been cold hard facts, with small bits of fun thrown in, but nothing ‘earth shattering’ or ‘mind blowing’.  I admit, my life requires a certain level of ‘boring’ especially when it comes to food.  I get sick and have mind crushing headaches when I eat different foods.  This causes me to try to maintain a certain level of normalicy in parts of my life.  Also, my job is about consistency.  I have a goal to deliver code and ideas on time and on budget.  Of course that rarely happens, but…

Now, here’s where the imagination comes in.  To break out of these ruts, one first has to be able to picture one’s self in that particular situation.  I’ve had a hard time imagining myself in any other situation, because, frankly, I enjoy the life that I lead.  I know what I like and have been able to gerenate and maintain a certain comfort level.  Unfortunately, this seems to also be holding me back.  To be the best at something, one must know one’s limits.  This means trying to go beyond those limits, which sometimes leads to crashing and burning…  Not having crashed and burned lately tells me that I haven’t been pushing my limits.

Ok, enough rambling, back to a regular, boring blog… (for now)

Uneventful weekend

Sometimes, no news is good news.  I just had a very quiet weekend, and thoroughly enjoyed it!    Staying away from the computer can be a good thing, especially to let one’s mind clear out.  Monday morning, it will be time to focus back on work.

Stop the Rating madness!

Argh!  I just opened up a Template in Visio, and Micorosft wants me to RATE it!?!  Common, this is ridiculus…  I understand why companies want this infomation, but it can be overdone.  I really don’t like the fact that can ‘rate’ my music collection.  Hey, if I spent money, AND took the time and hard drive space to store my music, I *PROBABLY* like it.  Why the heck would I waste time, effort, and storage space to keep music that I don’t like?  Besides, needs, tastes, and understandings change over time.  What was once something that seemed trival, is now vitally important.  Take a look at my previous blogs about C# 2.0.  One fo the things that I would have rated as completely unnecessary, now makes total sense and, in fact, IS a requirement for me (partial classes). 

As far as rating music, this may hurt the music industry even more.  Most long term, good musicians’ first, second, and/or third albums, for lack of a better term, SUCK!  I would not actively go out and listen to most artists first or seconds works because that is where they are growing.  If the artist gets poor ratings, no more album contract for you!  This is just one more example of the music industry’s short-sightedness.

A Computer Is A Musician’s Best Friend…

It just hit me how powerful a computer can be to a musician.  I mean, I’ve always known what a computer can do, but recently, I’ve been really using my computer to help my music skills.  Tonight, it all came together when I learned a song from start to finish, with a solo in less than an hour…  Being the hardware junkie that I am, let me detail the hardware pieces first, then the software.  I don’t wish to sound like a commercial, but I WILL detail the pieces that I use, and why, and also make suggestions as to other options.

Hardware: 

1.  Start with a Windows-based PC.  What!?!  After all my talk of Mac!  How dare I suggest such a thing… The truth is, both Windows and Mac are EXCELLENT music machines.  Almost everything I detail here works under both a PC and a Mac.  There are a couple of exceptions, and that’s why I recommend the PC.  A decent machine is going to be 2.4 Ghz up, with 512 Megs the minimum.  Get one with lots of USB and/or Firewire ports.

2.  Add a decent audio sub-system.  Multi-channel audio is very reasonably priced, and most of them are now either USB 2.0 or Firewire.  I use an M-Audio FW1814, and it works great.  The FW410 is cheaper, with the same internals, if all the extra inputs/outputs are not needed.  Edirol also makes some excellent I/O devices like the UA-101, FA-101, and FA-66.  A good set of recording speakers helps, and a killer set of headphones is a must.  The headphones I love are the Sennheiser HD 280 Pros.  The headphones have to be light and comfortable, but have excellent sound quality.

3.  For a guitar player, a good effects box like the Boss GT-8 is necessary.  This allows for a good guitar sound that can be directly fed into the computer.  The Line 6 Pod XT Live is also a good choice, plus is has built in USB port to go directly to the computer.

4.  A couple of good microphones are helpful for recording acoustic instruments.

5.  Overlooked hardware… A music stand is absolutely necessary!  Get something with page holders.  Good mic stands.  I use a Kick-drum mic stand with a boom so that I can set the mic on a desk.  Get good cables.

Ok, now we’ve got the hardware, what are we going to do with it?  There are several pieces of software that I use to help my playing grow to the next levels…

1.  The absolute most basic thing… A metronome.  Crystal Metronome is great, has a LOT of useful features like beat subdivisions and customizable sonuds.  Can’t beat the price, either (sorry, bad pun)

2.  Transcribing software.  I love Transcribe for all of its excellent features.  Good transcribing software should allow you to alter the speed of the song without changing the pitch, alter the pitch without changing the speed, have a good EQ for isolating frequencies and allow for easy to use loop setup.  Transcribing software is best used with the headphones.

3.  Music downloads.  Huh?  I absolutely love being able to find a particular song, download it, and try to transcribe it.  With Yahoo‘s new Music Engine, $7 a month gets you all the music you can download and listen to on 5 computers and a WMA player.  The great thing is that Transcribe! can open the downloaded files and manipulate them just like any other type of music media.  On a personal note, please be legal with this stuff.  I will refrain from getting on my soapbox here.

4.  Backing track software.  Band-in-a-box is a great program where all you do is type chord changes into an excel-like interface and pick music styles, and it generates some excellent music.  This is great for practicing jazz changes or setting up backing tracks for songs.

5.  Notation software.  Guitarists, PowerTab is an excellent tab notation software and there are some good sites that have free sheet music for it.

6.  Last but not least, recording software.  Ultimately, this is the make or break software for a music computer.  This is where you find out if all the work pays off.  Recording yourself is the best way to find out what you need to work on.  I LOVE Cakewalk‘s Sonar.

This has been a rather long winded post.  If anyone has suggestions for other tools for a musician, PLEASE let me know.

Ah, this finally makes sense (Yahoo Music)

After playing around with the Yahoo Music Engine, I decided to go ahead and subscribe for a month.  After doing so, I pulled some music that I wanted to listen to.  It now makes a LITTLE more sense.  I did not understand how $7 a month would keep the record industry happy.  I can pull $7 in music in seconds with DSL.  Well, I found the fine print.

Downloaded music on the subscription cannot be burned to CD without paying the $.79 for the song or price of the album.

Still, I can download the songs locally, so my transcription program, Transcribe!, will allow me to work with the files for transcriptions.  I will need to get a WMA player so that I can listen to music at work and in the car.

All in all, still looks like a good service.

Figured out how to add comments to my own posts

Doh!  One thing that I could not for the life of me figure out was how to add comments to my posts without logging out and looking at the blog as a normal user.  I finally stumbled across how *I* can add comments to keep conversations going…  If anyone else uses MSN Spaces, this is a cool tip.  Look at the blog entry in the archives.  When you click on the comments tab, a space is provided to add comments to the thread.  Cool!  How/why did I discover this?  I was reading all of my old posts.  It’s amazing what one is thinking/writing at any given point in time.

Why does blogging keep me up in the evening?

It seems like I’m my most prolific starting about 9:30 pm and running until 11:00 pm.  If my old english teacher had assigned it as homework, I’d NEVER have done it.  In fact, at one point in school, keeping a journal WAS assigned as homework (well before the internet took off).  I ended up writing a given time period’s journal entries the day before and just backdating the entries.  (The more things change, the more they stay the same…)  Why is blogging so different?  Why is it that I can spend 1-2 hours a night writing and not feel bad about it? 

It’s really scary how many words a blog entry takes up.  My friend Rick just found the limit to what his blog engine could handle (something like 1200 words per entry).  He split his thoughts up to two entries totally over 1500 words.  That’s a LOT, folks!  Especially considering that the average Male usually says only 7500 words a day.

Speaking of underpricing, Yahoo Music

If there ever was a music service that would make me go out and buy a WMA player Yahoo! Music Service is it.  $5 a month, unlimited downloads, if you want to permanently keep the track, it’s $.79, and can send out the downloads to a music player.  The things a TRULY like about this service are these things…

  1. Price.  $5 a month?  Come’on who CAN’T afford that?  That’s cheaper than lunch for one at any fast food restaurant.  $.79 for subscribers, $.99 for non subscribers to keep the license for the music.
  2. Selection.  ALMOST everything I looked for, they had.
  3. Encoding… WMA 192kbs.  Microsoft’s encoding is VERY good, and a higher bit rate really helps add back definition that most people don’t realize is missing.
  4. Once Yahoo works out the kinks, it will be some nice software.
  5. Supports Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, and AAC as encoding formats.
  6. Software works with Win64 out of the box.

With the good, comes the bad…

  1. Gah!  What gets installed!  I DON’T WANT Yahoo messenger.  Fortunately, it can be uninstalled, but ASK me, don’t assume.
  2. No way to tell the apps not to load on startup UNTIL you’ve started up the apps and logged in.  This is more of a bitch about all the stupid icons showing up in the lower right hand corner than anything else.  Plus, I don’t want it to slow up my startup time.
  3. Doesn’t support WMA as an encoding format?  WTF!?!  The songs on the website are in WMA…
  4. The Beatles.  Why in heck can’t I get ANY Beatles songs?  I heard that there was a lawsuit with Apple about the Apple name (the Beatles publishing company is called Apple) but what’s that got to do with Yahoo, MSN Music, Napster, etc…?
  5. The user interface feels like a pastel version of iTunes.

All in all, this has got to be the best service currently.  Now I’ve got to find a good portable music player…

Underpricing one’s services?

As a side job, I do normal ‘computer maintenance’ for people who have been referred to me.  I usually pick my customers and I try to be fair.  I might work for 2 hours, but only charge for one.  Or, I might just say ‘whatever’ to how much.  I do the work because I LIKE to, not because I need to.  I would much rather see someone USING a computer rather than being fustrated by it.  Besides, if I charged what I SHOULD, it would cost most people the price of the computer for one or two sessions.

On the other hand, there are times when you get the ‘stupid’ calls.  Again, all the people I work for I like, but sometimes…  Today was one of those days.  I received a call that a computer was not working.  Ok, will be up after work.  Drive up, look at computer.  First issue, the keyboard is not responding…  Check the back of the computer.  The keyboard is plugged… Hmmm.  Dead keyboard?  Let’s trace it from the keyboard to the computer.  Whoops, the keyboard came unplugged from the keyboard extender.  Done.  Now, this takes all of 10 minutes.  Even charging for a half of an hour feels wrong, but there is time and gas.  The gross income doesn’t even pay for dinner.

What sucks is that, if I charged top dollar, wasn’t shy about asking for money, and didn’t feel bad about charging for EVERYTHING (including travel time), I would have people lining up for work.  People expect to get what they pay for, and if you undercharge, I don’t think they appreciate the actual work that gets done.  Really, when is the last time you felt good about getting a real ‘steal’.  Not getting the price that ‘everyone’ gets on sale, but truly getting something made by a mastercraftsman who enjoys his work and wants people to enjoy said work?  Most decent people feel ‘bad’ about that and will tip, overpay, or generally say ‘I appreciate it’ in some other way than words.

In fact, I had something similar happen recently.  I tried to sell my guitar amp (the one in the pictures) for $850.  The amp lists for over $1600.  I will not disclose what I paid for it, but, even at $850 I was going to come out ahead.  Now, I listed it 3 times trying to sell it, and the best offer I got was a trade for something in the ballpark of what I was asking (unfortunately, at the time, I needed cash).  I never ended up selling the amp, and am glad that I didn’t, BUT… Yesterday someone listed the exact same amp.  It was dustier and dirtier, but the guy wanted $1200 for it PLUS shipping.  It was gone before the day was over.  I’m still shaking my head about that one…

Ok, enough moaning and groaning.  Hopefully, I’ll have some good stuff later.