Ch Ch Changes…

I’m working on a new project now, which has been gobbling up my time.  Consequently I have moved DenverDesignStudio.com over to WordPress, so that I can focus my time more on the project and less on developing yet another blog platform.  If you haven’t checked it out, Ashley is doing some incredible work.  What was originally intended to be wedding calligraphy has become a whole bunch of different things.  She’s doing wedding calligraphy of course, but she’s also doing maps, family trees, Christmas cards… It’s pretty awesome.  Surprisingly, she’s had as many international customers as she has local customers.  It’s pretty awesome that a little shop in Denver can get clients from all over the world.  The site is running well, and there has been an unexpected extra benefit to moving over to WordPress.  Because it isn’t running on the JVM anymore, the memory requirements have suddenly become very modest.  That means I can move to a cheaper VPS solution.

I moved this site, and all of the others that run on my servers, to the cheapest digitalocean VPS service, and they are running really well on ubuntu/nginx/php/mysql.  $80/month vs. $5/month.  Not bad.  Technically, their response time is about 20ms slower than my linode server; however, that’s most likely due to the new servers being in NY instead of in TX.  The load times appear to be about the same.

I haven’t had to deal with their support, but it was really easy to get things up and running and it took me about 4 hours to configure the server from scratch and move 13 sites over to it. I know that isn’t fast, but I didn’t have any of it automated because I hadn’t really planned on moving it, so lay off me.  Overall, I am pretty stoked about digitalocean and their pricing.  I hope they’re making money and can keep up what they’re doing.  My VM will probably fall over if any of the sites get slammed, but for $5/month, I’m willing to take the risk.  I’ll upgrade if I need to (and it looks like it would be pretty easy to do).

Windows 8

Okay, I’ve spent 2 weeks with Windows 8 now. I like it. Let me give you some of my history. Then I’ll tell you why I like it.

I use Ubuntu, Redhat, Windows 7, and MacOS extensively every single day. I program in Python and C# primarily these days. I mess around with Erlang, Java, and Scala when I get a chance. I make music with Ableton Live. I write my own controller software in Python. I make noise manglers in Max/MSP. I’m a dork; however, I’m a pretty indiscriminate dork. I’m pretty agnostic as far as operating systems go. I try them all out, and go with whichever one feels the best as far as workflow. I’m shallow though. I do care how it looks. Redhat is fine from a server perspective. I never use a GUI in it, which is good because it’s an abomination. There is something sexy about the simplicity of command line though; and that is my Redhat experience. If I didn’t use it at work, I’d never use it. I don’t like rpm and yum, but that is most likely because I use ancient redhat at work and have no access to all the modern refinements. It serves its purpose, and stays up. I always run the latest Ubuntu in a VM. I use it for testing things, Occasionally code on it. I like apt-get. I hate Unity (nothing works how I expect it to) and KDE (I gave up after 2 hours of trying to get dual monitor support to remember my settings. Seriously, I still have to edit X settings after this many years?) Gnome feels old, but it works. I really want to like Ubuntu more, but it seems to always come up short. I love my Mac track pad, the gestures, and the hardware. I use Macports (although I think the OS should better support this kind of thing). I dislike the skeuomorphic UI stupidity (I’m even too young to have ever used a real address book, and I am not young). Jonathan Ive may get an opportunity to fix that bullshit if Apple gets back to spending more money on innovating rather than litigating; however, that remains to be seen.

Now to Windows 8. Microsoft built a UI that looks and feels new and modern. It feels like someone young and/or with little regard for tradition infiltrated their design group. I keep reading reviews whining about how it looks; however, I think the people whining about it buy their furniture at Costco. That isn’t a bad thing necessarily, I just don’t care about their opinions on aesthetics. Windows 3.1 – Windows 7 all look like they were based on 80’s ideas of how buttons and menus should look. If you like that kind of thing, then Windows 8 will look bad to you. One review I read talked about Longhorn as if was the panacea of design. If Longhorn looks good to you, you will not like Windows 8. Longhorn looks like what people in the Eighties thought the future would look like. The Eighties didn’t generate a lot of classic design though. Windows 8 looks like how someone in the 50s might have thought the future looked. It’s the Helvetica of UIs. It’s like an Eames lounge chair. It’s simple, but I can’t help but stare at it. I want to touch it and see what it does. I’m not a graphic design guy so I don’t know how to explain it; however, it has my attention.

“But Jason, they took away my start button!” Shut the fuck up. Seriously. When you have a start button, you do the following:
move your mouse to the bottom left corner of the screen,
click it,
move your mouse to the app you want to open,
click it.

In Windows 8 it works like this:
move your mouse to the bottom left corner of the screen,
click it,
move your mouse to the app you want to open,
click it.

It’s the same EXACT thing, except in Windows 8 you can use a touch interface, have live tiles, etc.  If the day comes when Intel releases a chip that fits in a phone, your phone will be your phone… AND then when you get to work, you will hook it to a dock and it will be your laptop or your desktop or your tablet or whatever form/device your dock happens to be. One device to rule them all. Android can kind of do that now, but it will be awhile before it runs as nice as Windows or MacOS. Maybe it will never need to. Maybe it will completely take over the world. I have no idea. I don’t think Apple will ever offer that functionality. In any case, I look forward to the day when Ableton Live’s interface is optimized for Windows 8 and I can run it with a laptop in tablet mode and not have to have a separate device for controlling it. I digress though.

“But Jason, you can’t close the new apps.” You make me so tired. Move your mouse to the top of the screen and click and drag it to the bottom. It’s different. Wipe your tears. Legacy apps still work the same way. “But Jason, I can’t shut it down.” Bottom right, settings, power, shutdown. By the way, the bottom right move works for settings in every new app. It’s weird and new, wipe your eyes and nose.  Hit your windows button and just start typing what you want to use. It finds it an opens it for you. It works like a command line interface. It’s really efficient. That’s cool.  You weren’t expecting that were you?  You’re okay, now go play.  With a few changes in the way you do things, you’ll be more efficient than you are on anything else… or you’ll whine about it and pout. I don’t really care, this is the way things are going. You can get on board now or get on board later.

So why do I like it? It’s fast. It’s different, but intuitive when you quit trying to do things the old way. It works really well with a mouse and keyboard, even though it’s slightly different. It runs everything. It looks good. It’s stable. I love the key commands and all the quick little tricks they allow you. It anecdotally seems to be better at loading the cores on my machine more evenly when using audio apps than MacOS. It seems to use less memory as well. It’s easier to install Erlang, Scala, SBT, on than MacOS. Is it perfect? Nope. I don’t like ASIO audio on Windows. ASIO is a kludge compared to AU on a mac. I don’t like how my plugins take longer to load in Ableton (I do like how stable they are once they’re running though, and it doesn’t affect playout, I’m just impatient). I don’t like how I have to tweak my audio interfaces to get them to behave (I do like how well they run once I find the magic settings though). I don’t like the track pad (although that’s probably more of a Dell issue than an Windows issue).

Request: Some company please build me a machine with a big glass track pad with no buttons that recognizes my mac gestures!  Give me a two finger tap that does the same thing as a right click. While we’re talking here, throw in a 14″ 1080p or higher touch screen and a way for me to use it in tablet mode. Put a corei7 quad in it, 500GB SSD HD, and 16GB of Memory. Put a firewire port or an express card slot for my audio cards. Make it look simple and expensive. Basically, build me a 14″ version of my 15″ mac pro with a touch screen that flips open like the Lenovo yoga. You already know I’ll pay top dollar for it. Again, I digress.

This has been a rambling post. I am just sick of people saying this is the death knell for Microsoft. This product may actually be the coolest thing they’ve ever released, and I’m not a huge Microsoft fan. I think, in the next two years, that the general population will start to understand why. Hardware manufacturers just got a huge opportunity to make some truly revolutionary hardware because of the interface that everyone is bitching about. I hope someone steps up and makes all these negative reviewers look like fools.  (Lenovo, step up please.) In the meantime though, if you run Windows, upgrade it. It’s sick. You’ll like it if you quit expecting it to be Windows 7.

More with Max/MSP, Ableton, and now Python!

It’s pretty neat that so much of what I’ve been interested in, as far as technology and music go, are all kind of congealing into one big mess.  This weekend I started exploring the capabilities of this software call Kapture.  It basically does exactly what my MIDI mapper does, only it captures all configurable parameters of the Live set instead of just the parameters I had the foresight to write code to capture.  It also saves them to the set instead of a separate xml file.  It’s pretty badass.  It basically lets me snapshot my entire setup, save those snapshots, and then recall them whenever I want.  The only part I was missing was a way to get it working with my FBV controller in a way I liked.   Bring on the python!

I wrote a python script last night for the FBV Shortboard MKII that lets me control live with my FBV.  It is based very heavily on the work of Hanz Petrov who has done so much work documenting the LiveAPI that the code is pretty trivial to write now.  My code draws a red box around the tracks I am working with exactly like the APC40 does, and basically makes the FBV a physical extension of what is going on in Ableton Live.  This basically gives me the ability to create snapshots of all of my virtual instruments, mixer settings, etc. with Kapture, and then I can stomp on a pedal to switch between them.  My hands are free to play instruments, and my feet control Ableton.  Pro tools may be the industry standard, but this flexibility and stability makes it feel like a dinosaur.  I can do almost anything I can think of with this software.  It’s incredible.  Python is kind of a glue language, and that is exactly how I used it.  I glued some hardware to a neat Max/MSP app and have something better than what I was trying to write earlier.  I learned a lot writing my old setup though so it isn’t a total wash.

This functionality has obvious live music implications, but it turns out that it is so efficient that I can probably use it when recording and mixing too.  I barely have to touch my laptop which is awesome.  I am now working on getting my Maschine integrated with everything and I should have a really flexible setup with a pretty minimal effort.

I am cleaning up the code now and I am going to try it out over the next few weeks.  I’ll post the code if anyone wants it, but for now I am going to play with it a bit first to make sure it all works as expected.

DDRUM4 Hi-Hat Controller “Fix”

Disclaimer: I’m not sure why anyone other than me and a handful of other dorks would care about this; however, it seems like a shame to not share it if there is someone out there that could use it.

I built a MAX/MSP patch for MAX for Live that will allow you to use the ddrum4 hi-hat controller with basically any drum sample library you can find.  This may not sound like a big deal, but this controller came out in ’94 and has been discontinued for years despite it kicking the shit out of every controller before or since it was created.  The patch does what it does by taking the CC:4 messages that the ddrum4 uses to determine hi-hat position to control which note actually gets sent to the drum sample library you are using.

You tell it the closed note for the hi-hat, the open-hat note, set the threshold you want to use, and it does the rest.  You can see your pedal position on the Hi-Hat Current Value slider and you can see what note it is sending to your drum sampler in the Output After Processing keyboard.

What this means is that you can use the ddrum4 hi-hat (which is my favorite hi-hat controller ever made, suck it Roland) to control whatever sample library you use without having to do all kind of insane configuration of your drum library.  I got sick of using BFD2 and jumping through hoops to get it to work and then having it all be for nothing if I wanted to use kontakt or some other library that had standard keyboard mappings.  You use this, set up your ddrum4 brain to send regular keyboard mappings, and rock out with your cock out (as much as you can playing midi drums in your bedroom).

At some point I plan to had another feature so you can get the tones of playing the hat with just the pedal with no stick.  It kind of works right now, but it could be better.  I was going to program it to do a splash as well so that if you stomp it and release it real quick it will make a sound.  I’ve found though that it already does that like a real hi-hat with the existing code because it’s using a real hi-hat stand and the abrupt stop of the pedal is what causes the splash… yet another perk of the ddrum hardware.  It just works.

Here is a screenshot of the actual “code” and here is the actual code if you are one of the 10 people on the planet who still use this hardware and want to use it with Max for Live.  Good luck and let me know if you have any suggestions or questions.

Microsoft stole my idea!

Okay, so have any of you seen the new ad campaign for Vista? It shows a bunch of people using Vista only Microsoft tells the people using it that it is a new OS called Mojave. Sure enough, everyone likes it. It’s faster, it has cool features, gadgets are cool, blah blah blah. Then Microsoft tells them it is Vista and no one can believe it. I was going to write a blog about that very thing but then Microsoft beat me to it.

I’ll come out and say that I am not a big fan of Microsoft on a lot of things; however, Vista does kick ass. The people whining about how it is slow and doesn’t run on their ancient computer need to suck it up. It wasn’t built for old computers. If you have an old computer then stick with XP. XP is solid. Run Ubuntu if you want, it’s cool too (if you don’t need exchange and don’t mind spending time getting it set up to do what you need to do). If you have the means though, Vista kicks ass. It runs fast as hell on my laptop. It’s snappy. It looks good. Gadgets are way cooler than I thought they would be. It’s just good.

I do a lot of development in Python using PyQt for Gui design and Eclipse as an IDE and I have not had a single problem with any of it. It all runs great, it looks good (a testament to Qt as well). I don’t know what else to say. I am pretty critical of software and gadgets that make big promises and then punk out on them and so far Vista hasn’t pissed me off. People complain about it always asking permission to do things; however, that only happens when an app is doing something it probably shouldn’t be. Well written apps behave. If I could talk Microsoft into changing anything it would be the way the networking configuration is set up. Opening 5 windows to change my IP is a drag; however, how often do I really need to do that?

Anyway, since Microsoft is building an entire ad campaign on this idea I am not going to go into tons of detail as to why I am happy with Vista. I suppose I have been so busy getting things done that I haven’t had time to write up anything on Vista. That is a good sign. Microsoft seems to be on track and lately they are coming around to the open source community (ironpython actually works, they are throwing money at apache, etc). Microsoft out from under Bill Gates might be a company that people get can excited about without feeling dirty.