No sleep ’til dub dub (WWDC)

Actually, that’s not true.  I’ll sleep a LOT before Apple’s WWDC conference this year.  For some reason, Apple’s announcements haven’t had the urgency or excitement that they used to have.  The OS X (macOS) / iOS changes haven’t been terribly drastic lately.  The built in programs have been incrementally improving, but nothing earth shattering.  I’m not even sure that I truly care that much this year.  There have been no major change rumors, and with no major hardware announcements going to be announced, it might just be one of Apple’s quieter Apple-notes.

Hopefully, I’m wrong!  I want to see new Mac Pros, Macbook Pros, updated iMacs, etc…  I’d love to see some cool changes in the OS.  OS X is incredibly awesome, so I guess boring is a good thing!

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Wow… talk about some surprises from Microsoft

Well… Build 2016 certainly started out with a bang…  For some reason Microsoft is having a complete love affair with Linux.  Between buying Xamarin, SQL Server for Linux, and today’s announcement that bash will be native in Windows 10.  Oh, let’s not forget that .NET for Linux/Mac and ASP.NET for Linux/Mac are real things, too, and fairly close to shipping.

“Wow, this is great!”, you say.  On the initial announcement, yeah, this seems like a great idea, something developers have been clamoring for for YEARS.  No more Cygwin, no more crazy emulators, native everything Linux on a Windows box!

But, as Charles Dickens wrote in the tale of two cities, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

After getting over my initial giddiness of these VERY cool announcements, the question that came to mind is ‘WHY!?!?’  Why is Microsoft doing this?  This isn’t just a ‘hey, lets do some cool experiments to get developers back’.  These are very serious investments that are not being done on a lark.

First off, the Linux love affair seems to have started with Satya Nadella.  I think under Steve Balmer, the words Linux, Unix, and OS X (and iOS) were banned.  Microsoft had not successfully done cross platform software since the early days of Excel for the Mac, and porting it to Windows.  Windows for Alpha, and Windows for Itanium never took off.  Office for Mac was a red-headed step child.  Heck, even getting Windows Mobile to run on the phones proved to be a huge challenge.

Since Mr. Nadella took charge, Linux has not only been unbanned, but it has completely been embraced.  It started with the Mac and either Silverlight or Office.  Since OS X is based upon BSD Unix, Microsoft had to come up with tools to allow them to develop for the Mac.  Microsoft started out slow, but lately, they have been able to bring a pretty good parity to Office for the Mac.  In doing so, they have build up some better understanding of developing for Unix, and are now applying that to Linux.

The one thing that worries me is that Microsoft seems to be developing somewhat of an inferiority complex.  Microsoft under Bill Gates and Steve Balmer would have always been ‘we think ours is better, deal with it’.  They would be almost as arrogant as Steve Jobs.  The new Microsoft is almost apologetic.  ‘Hey, we want to be where the cool stuff is, and we realize our stuff isn’t cool’.  Which is sad, considering that the latest Visual Studio is awesome, Powershell is cool, and Windows 10 is probably the best OS they’ve ever done.

Am I excited by what Microsoft is producing?  Sure!  I love the fact that my skill set will start to be more cross-platform.  I just want to know ‘why’.  Yes, I understand this will help Azure, and that is where the future of Microsoft probably is.  But, this seems like a LOT of resources are being poured into this Linux initiative, and there doesn’t seem like a way that Microsoft will make money.  Microsoft is not Google, where they only play with cool.

 

Thoughts on Apple (iPhone 6S+ content included)

For everyone reading this who doesn’t follow Apple, they had a recent event in September announcing a LOT of new goodies.

The first one really available to the public is the updated iPhone 6S (and 6S+).  I’ve had the 6+ for a year now, and even though the outward appearance of the phone hasn’t changed, almost everything else has.  I didn’t think I would update, until I really got to see the phone in person.  Right off the bat, one thing literally jumped out at me… the new S feels sturdier.  The 6+ always felt like you could bend it easily.  I never felt comfortable leaving it in my pocket when sitting down, as it felt like it would bend.  The S certainly does NOT have that feeling.  The S feels very solid.  That alone made it worthwhile to get.  Second, the camera upgrade was important to me.  In the past, I haven’t really been a camera freak.  I’d take pictures, but they were so ‘meh’ that it wasn’t important.  The 6+ changed that for me.  Between videos of my cats and pictures of just about everything, I really ended up using the camera.  The bump from 8 megapixels to 12 megapixels and the low light photo improvements made me instantly want the new phone 🙂  Also, the ‘live pictures’ are pretty cool.  I’m beginning to feel like I’m a Hogwarts… 🙂  One thing that I thought would be interesting is the 3D touch.  So far, I haven’t gotten a warm and fuzzy from this feature.  I think the idea is very cool, but nothing I use really makes use of it.  Now, when they get 3D touch on an iPad and my mixer software starts using it, I’ll be really impressed.  Overall, I like the 6S+ upgrade.  I was able to get AT&T to get me switched over to vNext fairly reasonably.  One last thing, it’s awesome that AT&T *FINALLY* enabled Wi-Fi calling.  I’ve been waiting a YEAR for that feature.  After some initial bumps, it’s doing pretty well.

The next new Apple goody is the iPad Pro.  I’m very interested to see one of these in person.  With my wireless mixing, any extra surface area will be awesome.  I wish 3D touch was included, but the idea of a better screen & sound really has me interested.

Finally, the AppleTV looks interesting.  Even if it’s just a better way to stream iTunes to the TV, it will be a winner.

Lots of good new stuff from Apple, but are some things that are becoming a concern.  There has been no significant update to the iWork applications (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote).  My guess is now that Microsoft has gotten serious about Office on the Mac with 2016, Apple doesn’t feel the need to really do much more with the iWork apps.  The iLife apps of Garageband and iMovie received a bit of love, but no major new features lately.

All in all, lots of good stuff!

I can’t believe I’m saying this…

This is the first Apple event I’m not really interested in.  WWDC (dub-dub) has become Apple’s launch pad for the next version of their iOS and OS X (and now watch OS).  There have been several hardware announcements at dub-dub which were very exciting, such as the retina MacBook Pro and the radically redesigned MacPro, but last year had nothing hardware-wise, and this year is looking the same.  The Wall Street Journal is reporting no Apple TV, and just about every system short of the Mac Pro has been updated in the last 12 months.  I doubt that a new type of product would be announced so soon after the watch, and certainly not at a developers conference.

So far, the rumors and banners point to updates to OS X, version 11, iOS 9, the first real OS for the Apple Watch, and a music subscription service.  Ho-hum…  I’m *very* happy with OS X 10.10 and iOS 8.  Is there room for improvement?  Of course!  Is there going to be anything radical?  Probably not.  This is one of the real challenges of creating an OS update on a yearly schedule… it’s hard to do anything truly different in that amount of time.

The rumored music service actually bothers me on many levels.  First and foremost, it’s the return of DRM.  I currently like the fact that if I buy a song on iTunes, I can play it in one of my transcription programs.  If I want to pull it into a video, that’s no problem.  With the subscription service, it’s back to the bad old days of songs being locked into the players.  Also, unless Apple ups their game to lossless, I’m not going to be terribly interested.  I feel like the subscription services are starting to really hurt the music industry, as artists are getting even less and less for their work.  Check out this article on Rolling Stone for more info http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/the-new-economics-of-the-music-industry-20111025

What is ironic is that Microsofts Windows 10 (or WinX as I like to call it) is starting to be VERY interesting.  The latest beta of WinX is very stable and very cool.  Microsoft has realized that they have to do a better job with Windows, and it shows.  WinX is the most OS X like version of Windows that I’ve seen.  Plus, Microsoft is putting a lot of focus on being able to deploy WinX and be more developer / administrator friendly.  The latest PowerShell has a ton of features that make dealing with large numbers of computers easier.  I don’t see Apple trying to really push beyond what is in the basic Unix system.

Well, tomorrow should be interesting, but not for the usual reasons!

Apple saves the day, again…

Two weeks ago, I had the unthinkable happen… my wonderful, perfect, Macbook Pro died on me the moment I needed it most.  I was working along, and *poof*, the screen went black and the computer would not start at all.  Uh-oh…  I have one of the 2011 MacBook Pros that have the AMD graphics cards, and it seems like I got bit with the GPU Issue.  Fortunately, Apple has instituted a repair policy for this issue.  Once I was able to schedule a genius appointment, the computer was fixed in 3 days flat, at no charge!  Woo-hoo!

I did run into a couple of concerns, though… One, the genius appointments are rather hard to come by.  On a Monday evening, I checked three Apple stores near me.  There was only ONE!?! available appoint before Saturday.  REALLY??????  Three Apple stores and only ONE available Mac appointment over a 4 day period of time???? Of course, I signed up for it 🙂

The other issue, which I should have expected, was that everything that uses the CPU ID as a key was totally hosed.  I had to reauthorize several programs, and clean up a bit of a mess with my iCloud account.  Nothing earth shattering, but definitely a pain in the rear….

Oh well, all’s well that ends well.  My computer is back and working perfectly.  I even managed to fix a couple of long standing issues that I’ve had with the computer.

Thanks Apple!

Thoughts about the tech industry (Apple Watch launch and Microsoft state included)

April 10th, 2015… the first day the public gets to see the Apple Watch and new Macbook in person.  Products the tech pundits are calling ‘ho-hum at best’.  I’m constantly amazed at how short the media’s memory is.  Full disclosure, I’m an Apple fanboi.  For some reason, I remember hearing the exact same media comments about, oh, let’s see… 1st Macbook Air (overpriced, slow), the 1st iPhone (what!?! no physical keyboard, removable battery or media slot!?!),  the iPad (it’s just a big iPad), etc…  The list goes on and on.  I think the tech pundits miss a lot of points.  The bell curve of the world population doesn’t need the most expandable, Swiss Army knife, biggest, latest-and-greatest CPU phone.  What people want is something that is they can identify with.  Since Apple tends to focus on the user experience from top-to-bottom, left-to-right, and end-to-end, they’ve done incredibly well.  And, I think that they will continue to do well with both the Apple Watch and the new Macbook.  In two to three years, both products will have iterated to bring the functionality up to the form.  Heck, the first really slam dunk, no brainer to buy iPhone has been the 6.  Up until that point, there’s always been something that’s made people crazy with the iPhones (mainly battery life!)

On my personal opinion, I’m not terribly thrilled about how Apple is launching products.  For a company that used to do announcements and shipping on the same day, it seems like lately there’s been a lot of announcements with 3+ months of lead time.  Between the Mac Pro, Photos, and Apple Watch, each one has had an announcement time of over 6 months ahead of shipping.  I realize that this is one way to beat the leaks, as the latest leaks seem to be pretty dead on target, but 6 month pre announcements have gotten ridiculous.

As to Microsoft… talk about a company that really HAS turned it around.  Windows 10 is shaping up to be a very good release.  I currently use Windows 10 as my main work desktop OS, with very little issues.  The fact that since Windows 8, it has been possible to do an inlace OS upgrade has been nothing short of a miracle from Redmond.  The current beta test release system seems to be working very well for Microsoft.  Of course, there are some snags here and there, but nothing that can’t be worked around at this point.

Also, I like the fact that Azure is doing well.  Because of Azure, Microsoft has really stepped up their game in several areas.  Deployments are now THE first class citizen.  The tools that have been built to handle the Azure systems are working their way down into the core products.  PowerShell and Desired State Configuration and really starting to be expanded, and those improvements help Windows in many way.

The other interesting things that Microsoft is doing is in .NET world.  Between open sourcing a majority of .NET, embracing the open source community projects, creating a cross platform .NET runtime environment and speeding up the time between Visual Studio updates, I feel that there is a LOT of development growth going on.  The .NET renaissance is happening.  It may be stealing everything from the Java community, true, but considering how stagnant Java *seems* to have become lately, I think the future looks bright for the .NET tools.

I just wonder how long before Apple buys Microsoft or IBM?

One other tidbit for today…

Somehow, the announcement of the preview for the OneDrive for Business client for Mac OS X went completely unheralded.  This was supposed to be delivered in early 2014, but seems to have fallen off of Microsoft’s radar.  Why is a client for OneDrive interesting?  For starters, OneDrive for Business allows each user to have over 1 TERABYTE of cloud storage space for a very nominal fee.  The other interesting thing is that the OneDrive application for iOS was recently updated to consolidate regular OneDrive and OneDrive for Business into one app.  I expect that this will happen to the current Mac OS X OneDrive client as well.

Thank you, Microsoft!

Quick review of the CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 2

Quick review of the Caldigit Thunderbolt Station 2… It works and does what it says!

Now to meander a bit more…

Thunderbolt has been one of the really awesome technologies that Apple and Intel brought out in 2011, but has VERY slowly caught on.  This is too bad, as it has allowed me to extend the life of my computer considerably using a couple of Thunderbolt devices.  One of those devices was the original Caldigit Thunderbolt station.  By using this device, I was able to get USB 3.0 and use HDMI for my second monitor allowing me to free up a Thunderbolt pass-through for my UAD Apollo Twin audio interface.

The one thing that the original Thunderbolt Station lacked was eSata.  I was using a PC Card eSata connector with my 2011 Macbook Pro to connect up an external drive.  The issue I was having with the PC Card was that the drivers were not really supported with OS X 10.7, 10.8, 10.9, and 10.10.  With every OS update, the drivers would be kicked out as not usable, I’d rerun the install program, and everything was good.  While this arrangement worked, there always was this little fear that the PC card wouldn’t actually work, and I’d have to do something with the drive to get to the data (or worse, the data would get corrupted).

When the original Thunderbolt Station was announced, Belkin had announced a similar product, but with eSata support.  I waited for the Belkin device, but when they finally shipped it, the company had deleted the eSata connection.  I was very disappointed, and went with the CalDigit, as it was cheaper and had the HDMI port.

Fortunately, Caldigit decided to update the Thunderbolt Station to Thunderbolt Station 2 (TS2).  This device added back in the eSata port (x2!) and updated to the newer Thunderbolt 2 specification.

I received my TS2 over the weekend.  It was simple to swap out the original Thunderbolt Station for the USB 3.0 and HDMI functionality.  Where I did run into a bit of trouble was with the eSata drive.  I plugged my drive in, but the drive was not recognized.  After reading the FAQ on Caldigit’s website and uninstalling the drivers for the old PC Card, I still could not get the drive to be recognized.  In frustration, I wiggled the eSata cord around, and, lo-and-behold, the drive was recognized for a moment.  This prompted a quick run to CompUSA, I mean, Tiger Direct for a replacement eSata cable.  The new cable did the trick!  The box now works 100%, my PC card worry days are over 🙂

All-in-all, the TS2 is a great upgrade from the original, but if one does not need the eSata connector, there’s not really a need to upgrade, at least for us Thunderbolt 1 device users.

Logic Pro X 10.1 is out!

Woo-hoo!  Apple updated Logic Pro X to 10.1 today! (and MainStage to 3.1) http://www.loopinsight.com/2015/01/21/apple-releases-logic-pro-x-10-1/

This is a great development.  There are several key elements to this update that I’m VERY happy to see.

  1. The update happened at all!  The time between Logic 8, 9 and X was VERY long, almost 4 years between the release of 9 and the release of X.  There were some upgrades during that time, including the 9.1 release that switched to 64-bit, but there did not seem to be any major work being done on the program.  Apple has been much better about updating X, but with nothing since May, the Logic user community was beginning to worry.
  2. Drummer received a great update.  Even though EDM / Techno is not my thing, I’m very happy to see a current feature continue to get updated.  Many times, Apple has created some awesome things for music, and then let them rot.  The two examples that come to mind are in GarageBand.  Those two features were the lessons and the instant songs.  They were great ideas that never received any additional material.  Same thing for the Apple Loops.  After the first 5 packs, nothing happened.
  3. The update focused on more than just one or two specific things.  A couple of months ago, I remember getting a survey from Apple about Logic.  In filling it out, I noticed that it was very comprehensive.  It appears that Apple took the responses to heart, and made lots of changes to improve the program.

Lots to chew through in the new update.  This, plus the other updates coming out of NAMM look to get me excited about mixing again!

Last one for the day… follow-up to my WWDC predictions

https://dscheidt.wordpress.com/2014/06/01/predictions-for-apples-wwdc-event/

Why am I revisiting this NOW?

I thought it was interesting that my ‘predictions’ were almost 100% accurate, if the timeframe is extended out through the end of the year.  The 4k iMac showed up (or rather, the 5k iMac).  So did the Mac Mini.  I was dead on with the port and option predictions.  The only real disappointment is that the Minis are dual core only (no quad core).  I still think the 5k iMac was slated to show up at WWDC, but was probably pulled due to monitor availability.  Also, 10.10 definitely got the flat look.  I thought I would hate the flat style, but once I started running 10.10, the older style looked very dated… If I really push it, the ‘new product’ could be the Apple Watch 🙂  I’m still not sure about the Watch, will have to wait and see.  I know people who have smart watches, and seem to like them, but I haven’t figured out how *I* would use it.  The iPhone and iPad, I instantly knew where I would use them (at least initially!), but the Watch is still a bit of a head scratcher FOR ME.

Still, it was a very ‘Apple’ year with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and the iPad Air 2.  I’ve had the 6 Plus since day 2, and have really gotten used to it.  Now, even the 5 / 5s feels ‘small and square’.  The iPad Air 2 has been a good upgrade, enough so that I did purchase one.

Now, let’s get the Mac Pros updated to the upcoming Intel chips and get the 12″ Retina Macbook Air out the door!

Predictions for Apple’s WWDC event

So, tomorrow is Apple’s WWDC (World Wide Developer’s Conference) keynote speech.  This is the first Apple-note of the year, and it’s going to be primarily focused on developers.  So far, the banners have shown iOS 8 and OS X 10.10.  What else is are we in store for is anyone’s guess.  I have my own predictions 🙂  I have 0 (zero) knowledge of what’s going to be done tomorrow, and even less facts, but I like to at least think through what *could* show up!

  1. 4k iMacs.  Yes, I know that Jim Dalrymple said ‘nope’ to a tweet saying no iMacs, but if you read the tweet, it is says ‘low cost iMacs’.  Why do I think that 4k iMacs are gonna show?  Well, for one, OS X 10.9.3 just came out with a complete 4K update.  Why do it now?  The current 4k capable macs have been out for a while (the retina MacBook Pros and the Mac Pro), so there’s no need to have the 4k feature added for them.  If it’s for a product that is due later in the year, then the update could have been addressed later.  I think that the 4k features had to be added before something could ship.
  2. If 4k iMacs show up, I bet a new Cinema display will too.
  3. Updated Mac Mini.  No one I’ve seen is mentioning how old the latest mini is.  The last update was almost 2 years ago.  It certainly can benefit from the updated Intel chipsets and Thunderbolt 2 connectors, not to mention that a lot of the Mac Pro tech could be used on the mini (1 TB SSD anyone?)  I’m wondering if Apple is doing a Mac Pro like make over on the mini. That would be REALLY interesting.  A Mac Pro with only one video card, maybe only two Thunderbolt 2 connectors, and only a few USB 3.0 connectors, and 1/2 the size of the Mac Pro…
  4. I don’t see a Retina Mac Book Air coming to light tomorrow.  The Air’s just got an update a month or so ago, even if it was just a small bump in specs, and a price drop.
  5. Something totally new???? WWDC has been interesting the last couple of years because Apple has been using this Apple-note to do the VERY high end products.  2 years ago, the retina Mac Book Pro.  Last year, the Mac Pro.
  6. I’ve seen someone pining for a 17″ retina MacBook Pro.  I have the last model year 17″ Macbook Pro, and the one thing it DOESN’T need is to double the resolution… 1920 x 1200 is bad enough!!!!  My eyesight isn’t that good anymore!!!! 🙂
  7. Please, no demo like the Anki drive tomorrow.  That whole thing was awkward and Microsoft-ish.  I think the Anki stuff is cool, but it was long, and not terribly pertinent to the Dev focus.

I have no real ideas about iOS 8 and OS X 10.10.  I’m resigned to the fact that OS X will probably get the iOS 7 flat treatment.  I bet that there will be a new Xcode release or announcement.  Apple is practically screaming ‘Developers, Developers, Developers’, so Xcode seems like a logical talking point.  The Healthbook rumors are getting interesting.  I hope that iBooks for iOS and OS X get updated.

At least tomorrow will be interesting!!!!

New iPad Air day! And some thoughts on the latest Apple software

Wow… In case you missed Apple’s event last week, then you missed a TON of announcements.  Instead of the event being iPad focused with little info about the Macs, it was completely the opposite.  The event was 2/3rds Mac, and 1/3 iPad.  Quick summary:

  • More info about the Mac Pro
  • Update Mac Book Pros and Mac Book Airs
  • OS X 10.9 Mavericks released, free
  • iWork updated on both OS X and iOS, all free
  • iLife update on both OS X and iOS, all free
  • new full sized iPad, called iPad Air, shipping Nov 1st
  • new iPad mini, now with Retina, shipping sometime in Nov.

Being the stupid, bleeding edge person that I am, I almost immediately installed Mavericks, iWork, and iLife (plus the small update of Logic).  My initial first impressions are very positive.  The Mavericks upgrade is a no brainer.  Unless one has the initial 32-bit Intel processors (the absolute first Intel macs), Mavericks will install on a machine.

The good:  So far, the OS part of Mavericks is awesome.  The boot time on my MacBook Pro decreased significantly.  I don’t know if that’s because Mavericks has a better handle on my SSD, or if some other voodoo is going on, but the boot up, and general responsiveness of my computer seems to have gotten better.  Unfortunately, I don’t have benchmarks, but ‘it feels faster’ works for me.

The bad: I’m coming to grips with the changes in applications.  I’m one of the people who like the skeumorphic apps like the calendar, notepad, and contacts.  The new apps are a bit bland.  Sometimes, skeumorphisim really works.  In my Digital Audio Workstations, plug-ins that look like their real counterpart seem to be much more accepted than ones that have abstract interfaces.

Then there is some ugly:  The multi monitor implementation might work for most, but I hate it.  I’m just glad that there is a check box allowing one to go back to the ‘old’ screen system.  iBooks is another issue.  Did anyone actually try to READ a book on an mac with the iBooks program?  Trying to get a large, single page view is impossible.  I expect iBooks for Mac is why iBooks for iOS didn’t get updated.  The iBooks team has probably been feverishly working on iBooks for OS X, and had to rip out the features in the program to get it to ship.  Hopefully, iBooks will get updated a LOT.

As for the other apps, I don’t use Pages, Numbers, Keynote, iMovie, and Garageband that much.  Garageband is more and more ‘Logic Lite’ as the latest Logic features, like Drummer, are showing up in it.  The other apps seem to have regressed a bit, as lots of features have been pulled to allow the apps to get a solid baseline.  I expect the extra features will come back, but only when  the feature can be implemented across OS X, iOS, and the web sites.

All in all, the hardware and software are great update, and show that Apple isn’t only focusing on the phones and tablets.

 

I had also told myself before the presentation that my current iPad, the 3, was ‘good enough’.  Well, that’s until the iPad Air was announced.  A lot of people have been calling the iPad Air a ‘boring’ release.  As for me, once the iPad Air’s information showed up, I decided to sell the iPad 3, AND my iPad mini to fund an update to the Air.  What makes this release not boring TO ME was several things: one, the weight dropped by almost 30%.  The new Air falls squarely in the middle of an iPad 4 and an iPad mini for weight.  At the same time, the reduced the size of it and changed it to be more ‘iPad mini’ looking.  I’m undecided on if I like the shrinking of the size.  On one hand, one can use the Air one handed.  But for someone like me who uses a stylus a bit, the edges were exactly right.  Now, there’s no where to rest one’s wrist.  Next up, is the processor upgrade.  This one is huge.  The iPad 3 has always been a bit lag-y.  I’m sure the 4 helped, but I’d skipped that version.  Still, the new processor is MILES ahead of even the 4.  Plus, the 64-bit change over makes the processor a very interesting upgrade.  And finally, 128 gigs of memory.  Yes, this was there for the 4, but the extra space was not enough to cause me to go out and upgrade from the 3 to the 4.  However, when you put all of the features together, the iPad Air became a no brainer.

So far, so good.  Apple is executing well, and I’m personally very happy with all the new toys!

 

Correction on something I said about Logic X

I have a correction to make to one of my posts about Logic X.  In this blog post, https://dscheidt.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/decisions-decisions-decisions-personal-daw-comparison-of-logic-x-studio-one-and-pro-tools-11-with-industry-thought/ I incorrectly stated that Logic X only did strip silence destructively on the audio file.  That is incorrect.  There is a ‘Strip Silence’ command that works on the clip in the Arrange view.  The menu item is hidden on the toolbar.  That is exactly what I was looking for.

Adventures in Guitar Amp Modeling, Amplitube style

Today, IK Multimedia released an update to Amplitube.  Ok, so they’ve been doing this for a long time, why is today a big deal?  Well, 2 things… first off, the latest version is compatible with ProTools 11.  But that’s not what this article is about 🙂  The second thing is that today they added a model of a pedal that I actually own, the Fulltone OCD pedal.  Again you ask, why is that interesting.   Because, this is the first time I can personally compare the program / model to the real thing, as I have a Fulltone OCD on my pedal board.  Long and short of it is that the model is excellent, works like the real thing.  VERY impressed.

So, why the blog post, then?

One thing that I’ve seen is that guitar rig modeling has gotten a bad rap over the years.  There have been some very crappy pieces of software that have deserved to be ridiculed.  In fact, Amplitube was one of them!  There have been lots of pieces of software that have sounded hideous.  And, probably every one of them is somewhere on a ‘professional’ recording 🙂  Whaaaaa!?!   How’s that?  Well, the current modeling software can sound darn good, but there are some things that one needs to do to get that good sound.

1.  Know what sound you want.  This is important.  Certain modeling software does certain things.  Check the software to see if it has the amp you are looking for.  Looking for high gain?  or low crunch?  Some programs are stronger than others.  Can you live with it inside of a DAW?  New DAW software has some great plug-ins, but they only work in each particular program.

2.  Accept that it’s not going to be the ‘real amp’.  This is what hangs most guitarists up.  Tubes react a certain way.  No matter how much is tried, digital circuits don’t feel the same.  Keyboard players have had to deal with this for years.  NOTHING sounds or feels like a grand piano, yet every keyboard tries to get there.  It’s just a lot easier to carry today’s keyboards than it is to lug a baby grand.  Guitarists are headed in the same direction.  Turning up amps to 11 has gone the way of the dodo in most places.

3.  Know how the real hardware works!  This is one of the reasons I wrote this post.  The current rig modeling is getting things EXACTLY right.  Which means, you have to know how the things that are being modeled really work.  Take the OCD pedal that came out today.  One thing on the real pedal that I had to learn was that unity gain on the pedal (where the signal out of the pedal isn’t louder with the pedal on than when it it off) on the level knob is as somewhere around 9 o’clock.  The convention on pedals is that the 12 o’clock position is unity.  Well, the model has it exactly right.  Unity on the pedal model is at 9 o’clock.  That can definitely negatively affect the sound, and I would not have known that unless I’d used the real thing (or experimented a lot).  So understanding what is being modeled, and knowing how to make that sound good definitely helps.

4.  Good hardware.  This starts with a good guitar, good cables, a good interface, good computer, good software, and good speakers.  Skimp on any one of those, and the sound is going to be horrible.  I recently changed my Line 6 Toneport UX8 audio interface out for an MBox Pro 3, my M-Audio BX-5 speakers for Mackie 824mk2s, and my PRS guitars out for a Les Paul.  (Aside, PRS are still my beloved #1s, but I found an awesome Les Paul that gets some playing time).  I’ve switched between several Amp / Rig simulator programs / plug-ins, and I’ve settled on Amplitube currently.  These changes have made an enormous difference in the sound.  It sounded OK before the changes.  Now, my guitar tone at low volumes is great, very much what I am looking for.

5.  Guitar cabinet simulations are important.  Impulse Response (IR for short) cabinet models go a LONG way to making a modeler sound good.  Also, modeling room points help.  One trick I use with Amplitube is the room mics on the cabinet.  Amplitube has 4 sound points.  You can have two mics on the cabinet, plus two ‘room mics’.  Mixing the room into the output can really open up the sound, and take away the digital harshness that modelers are known for.

6.  Don’t be afraid to throw what anyone else says out the window.  The number one rule is that ‘if it sounds good, it is good’.  Experimenting with modelers can be very interesting.  Find a sound you like?  Save the settings, and then it’s easy to get back.

All in all, there’s a lot of great programs out there!

New Macbook Pro’s ROCK!!!!

I just got to check out the new MacBook Pros… all I can say is ‘WOW!!!’  My Mac Pro scores around ~5100 on the Geekbench test.  The new MacBook Pro 17″ scores over 10100!!!!  Whoa!  More than twice as fast!  I love my Mac Pro, but, sheesh…  Talk about a true mobile desktop…  Hmmm, time to start saving my pennies 🙂  Plus, I’ve heard that 10.7 Lion is fast as well on current hardware… (hey, an OS that gets FASTER with each revision on the same hardware.  Microsoft, are you listening and learning?)  I’ll gladly sell my Mac Pro for a new 17″ MacBook Pro!

iLife ’11 rocks!

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, there was an Apple event on October 20th, and yes, iLife ’11 DID ship. And I stopped on my way home from work to pick it up… About 10 minutes of installing, and everything was ready to go. So far, I like the upgrade. iMovie is much more useable now that the timeline view is available again. The timeline is accessible by going to the iMovie menu and selecting Window -> Swap Events and Projects. That puts the timeline on the bottom. Nice!

Garageband got some interesting updates as well. I like how you can just select a track, and it will automatically be armed for recording. The new piano and guitar lessons are good, too.

iPhoto is iPhoto for me. I know it changed, but nothing jumped out at me so far. Maybe that’s a good thing 🙂

My only gripe with iLife has to do with content… Garageband has a couple of features that are SCREAMING for more content, and Apple has not added very much… First up, Magic GarageBand. At one point, Apple added some great ‘starter songs’ for jamming that would allow one to customize a bit. They shipped 9 songs… they’ve never added another. Second, lessons… Apple did add some new lessons for piano and guitar, but what about bass, drums, vocals, etc? What about the artist lessons? Why not open the lessons up, and let people create their own? Could you imagine what a guitar teacher could pull in by doing Garageband lessons?

Lot’s to say, just not a lot of time to put it on the blog!

Wow, where does the time go?  I want to get back into the habit of posting a bit more often.  Many tech toys have been in my life lately, and I’ve written NOTHING about them!  An iPhone 4, an iPad, a Spider Valve MkII, and some other stuff, too.  The devices are getting used!  I’m finding new ways to work with them in my life.  The iPhone 4’s video camera and voice recognition for making calls… how did I live without that before?  The quality of videos that was done of the band that I play with is pretty darn good for a freakin’ PHONE!!!!  I’ll post the videos on Youtube soon!  I love the iPad… games, reading, notes for work, and surfing.  The iPad really is a game changer.

Ok, so today is just random thoughts.  Tomorrow, the Apple event.  I’m hoping for some interesting information.  I just hope the new iLife SHIPS tomorrow!

Happy Apple/Mac Day!

Wow, where to begin… Apple dropped a SLEW of updates today, and they didn’t even do a ‘Event’!  There is a new Airport/Time Capsule, new Mac Minis, new iMacs, new Mac Pros, and a quiet update to the MacBook Pro.  Plus, a couple of video cards showed up, an ATI 4870 and an nVidia GT 120, for the Mac Pro…

There’s a LOT to digest here.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen Apple release so many products on one day, EVER.

First off, even though a lot of stuff is ‘new’, it isn’t really.  The main thing that changed on all of the machines is that the base line video is now fairly decent.  The worst video option available on any Mac is now an nVidia 9400M chipset.  It’s a good graphics card that can do all of the fancy rendering, play DVDs well, and play a decent game.  No, it’s not going to be a 3D shooter monster, but since developers have a very limited set of cards to write for, they can optimize for that card.  (And they will, as most Macbooks, Macbook Pros, Minis, and some iMacs will contain this video card.)  The processors got bumped a bit, but not much.  Memory has gotten better, as all but the base Macs come with 4 gigs of memory, and have options for 8 gig upgrades.  Hey, the Mini can even be upgraded to 4 gigs.  Also, the hard drives increased up to a decent amount.  Nothing earth shattering, but still respectable.

Now, the Mac Pro is VERY new… in fact, INTEL hasn’t even announced the chips that are being used in the Mac Pro.  This has happened before, Apple gets chips that are unavailable to the rest of the world.  The Mac Pro also got cheaper for a single processor box, and more expensive for a dual processor box.  The video card options have increased, and they are finally getting the latest cards available from ATI and nVidia (well, at least today… ATI is supposed to be bringing out new cards in a couple of weeks).

Here’s the dilemma…  All of these updates are VERY welcome.  They bring the Mac hardware in line with the rest of the industry.  The only problem is that they still are more expensive than a similar Dell system.  A Quad Core Dell with 6 gigs of memory, a 640 gigabyte hard drive AND a 22” LCD monitor goes for around $950… It’s hard to convince someone to send $1500 for an iMac with less memory and two fewer cores, even though it might have a bigger monitor.

Personally, I think OS X is worth the extra money.  The machines are exceptionally well designed, and they are a lot less hassle.  I know that a Mac Pro is gonna be on my wish list for Santa!

Hotmail and Windows Live Mail free POP3/SMTP access seems to be live in the US!!! (At least for me it is!)

Well, it looks like Microsoft finally got the free POP3/SMTP access working for Hotmail and Windows Live Mail in the US.  This is one of the LAST pieces of ‘Windows Only’ things that I used to use. 

There are only 2 reasons I keep Windows around anymore… One is for Microsoft Money.  This is a major sticking point for me 😦  Quicken has not released a ‘DECENT’ version for the Mac, and I doubt Microsoft will ever port Microsoft Money to the Mac.  All I ask for in a program is that it connects to my banks/credit cards/401k and automatically downloads the information.  And, by automatic, I do not mean that *I* log into the site, download a file, then drop it into a program.  Several Mac programs say ‘connect to your bank’, but they require going through a very manual process.  If Quicken Financial Life will do true automatic downloads, I’ll switch to Quicken, but as I’m using the beta, automatic downloads really don’t seem like a feature that is implemented yet.  Come on guys, if Microsoft can do it, surely Quicken can.  The second reason is Visual Studio.  As I make my bread-and-butter with .NET, I have to keep a copy of it around.  Oh, and there is Windows Live Writer, from which I write this blog.  But, many things might be changing with this blog soon, so that might not be an issue 🙂

Sorry, got a bit off topic…

To set up Hotmail in either the Mac’s Mail or the iPhone mail, one will need the following settings when setting up a POP3 account:

Incoming Server: pop3.live.com

Outgoing Server: smtp.live.com

Use SSL for the outgoing server (port 587).  Use your full email address for the Username.

It should be fairly easy to set these up under both the iPhone and Mac’s Mail program.

One LESS ‘Windows Only’ feature!  Yeah!!!!!

Is Apple really serious about being a great development platform?

I’m not one to criticize Apple very often, but recently a couple of actions on their part have really made me wonder if they are really interested in courting developers…

First off, Netflix released their On-Demand movie viewer for the Mac.  What the heck does this have to do with Developers and the Mac OS?  Well, check the article out… Netflix used Microsoft’s Silverlight plug-in to write it.  WTF!?!  Why is Netflix using Silverlight?  One, the tools to develop Silverlight code are very accessible to developers.  Visual Studio Express is free, as is the environment for writing Silverlight code.  Two, Silverlight code is also cross platform, it runs under both the Mac and Windows.  No need to develop two versions of code for the two different platforms.  Three, Silverlight supports DRM encoding.  This makes it easier for Netflix to not have to worry about people stealing the video.  What I don’t understand is that Apple has Quicktime / iTunes which support *the exact same features*. 

So, why did Netflix pick Silverlight?  I think that there are many reasons, but here’s the one that sticks in my mind.  Apple is starting to abuse it’s development community.  Yes, the full XCode is free.  The tools are great… BUT… try moving beyond the ‘hobbyist’ developer. 

Look at the iPhone development.  $100 just to run code on your iPhone.  More to develop for a company.  Limited help, and the forums are ONLY for developers who’ve been admitted to the Development program.  Limited betas.  One doesn’t know if their app will be approved until they finish it and submit it.

Then, on the OS X side, Apple started charging for the WWDC videos.  Granted, these are probably VERY in-depth and well worth the money for an OS X developer, but Microsoft gives these kinds of videos away for free.  BTW, they are charging for those videos even if one is paying membership into the Apple Developer’s Connection program.  Previously, those had been included with the price of admission for ADC members.

What totally kills me is that the OS X platform with XCode, Cocoa, and Unix are an INCREDIBLE combination.  I think that the Application Development on the Mac platform is far simpler than in the Windows world.  But, I think Apple is going overboard with some of the policies.  Chasing developers away is NOT what they need.  The more ‘killer apps’ that show up on the Mac platform, the more machines will be sold, and the more Apple will ultimately make.  At least, I HOPE so!

Close call? (Mac content)

Earlier, I had talked about being so busy that I had to schedule time to fix my own computer. Looks like things are going to stay busy.

Fortunately, fixing my computer turned out to be incredibly simple.

First off, here’s what happened. I was in the middle of doing an upgrade when something failed. So, I tried to reboot the machine. No go. Uh-oh. No boot. The machine wouldn’t boot AT ALL! Ack!!!!

So, the first step was to restart off of the old drive that had 10.4. Rebooting the computer, and holding down the Control key when the computer started up, allowed me to select which drive to boot off of. So, I get the computer started, and 10.4 runs fine. (On an aside, 10.4 definitely feels dated after using Leopard for just 3 months! And 10.4 booted a faster). Next is to try to repair the disk. No problems there. Still didn’t help. Before going any further, I decided that I’d make a backup copy of the bad disk, just in case. Carbon Copy Cloner did a great job of making a copy of the drive to a backup disk.

Next is time to bring out the big guns. I pulled my Leopard install disks, and boot off of the install disks. Then, I ran the disk utilities on there. Do a disk repair, and do a permissions repair. Bleech. No go.

At this point, I decided ‘to heck with it, just reinstall’.

That’s where things got interesting 🙂

I ran the install program on the DVD, and because there were already files on the drive, it brought up a list of options. One of the options was something called ‘Archive and Restore’. This option takes what is on the install drive, copies it to a separate directory, installs the OS, then copies over the old data into the new system. Well, what the heck, I’ve got nothing to lose, I tried it.

Can we say ‘it worked!?!’

Even though I had 10.5.1, and was installing 10.5.0, ALL of my programs got copied and restored. My settings, my accounts, EVERYTHING! Oh, did I mention that my programs were copied and restored correctly, to? The only problem I had was that my soundcard drive didn’t make it, but that was easily restored.

One thing that helped this process is that OS X does not have a concept of a registry. All configurations are stored in files in specific areas.

Yes, I love my mac. I can’t imagine going back to Windows as my home desktop computer. With the news today that Roland basically purchased Cakewalk and Intuit showing off a decent version of Quicken for the mac, I’m not sure that I will have any reason to keep my PC virtual machine around at all!

Update on Leopard and the Presonus FireStudio Project

Well, as you’ve seen from my previous posts, my sound card and leopard have been acting a little funky.  I get crackles and pops when playing back audio, and I haven’t even remotely tried to record.  Fortunately, there is a temporary fix.  All one has to do is change the sampling rate to a different rate, then change it back, and the sound quality is restored.  Which, is quite good.  Hopefully, a driver update from either Apple or Presonus should fix the issue, as both know about it.

Even a Mac can have a bad day…

Well, it had to happen… I’ve been starting to get tech calls for fixing Macs.  It’s a good thing, they usually don’t need that much work. Usually, it’s just a a ‘how do I do this in OS X?’ type question.

Saturday, that all changed…

One of my clients has a Macbook Pro that he wanted to install BootCamp on.  Two weeks ago, it would have been super simple, just download the Bootcamp beta for 10.4, and install it.  I have already done that on his wife’s Macbook, and it has worked like a charm.

Unfortunately, (for him, not the rest of the world) with the release of Leopard, Apple has pulled BootCamp.  Personally, I think that’s about as silly as possible, they’ve have Bootcamp in beta working with 10.4 since they switched to the Intel Macs.  But, that’s Apple’s decision, not mine…  So, step one was to procure a copy of Leopard to install on this Macbook Pro.

Once I had a copy of Leopard for my client, I immediately started to install it on the computer.  This turned out to be Not the brightest of ideas.  I first should have backed everything up.  I would have saved me half a day on Sunday…  I started installing Leopard, everything runs fine, I walk away for a bit, then come back… to a yellow exclamation point saying ‘Leopard cannot install’

Uh-oh… time to take the Mac back to my place and try to get it working with the firewire connection.

Now, here is where Apple did some super cool stuff that I didn’t know about, and I expected the upgrade to be like a Windows upgrade.  Once the program stopped in mid-install, I thought it was hosed.  Turns out, 10.4 was still there, and able to be ran!  Try doing THAT with a Windows version upgrade. 

The next cool thing that I found out was that making complete copies of one’s hard drive is so ridiculously simple that ANY can do it.  Once I had found out that I could boot to 10.4, I hooked up an external drive and used the donationware software Carbon Copy Cloner to create a working copy of the hard drive in the Macbook Pro.  I then even tested the backup to see if the computer could boot off of the external drive booted.  That worked perfectly.  (Again, all you Windows kids, don’t try this at home).

What was funny was that once I ran Carbon Copy Cloner, the hard drive sorta fixed itself up.  I have no idea why, but I was able to install Leopard, it did it’s in place upgrade, and then I installed Windows XP.  It all went without a hitch!