strumzilla

​A blog/journal about my life and the stuff I like. Popular subjects include music, guitars, gear, books, movies, video games, technology, humor.

Filtering by Category: Technology

Mac - Anticipation

For all my fellow circuitheads, today is one of the more geektastic days that comes along every once in awhile. My new desktop computer is in a Fedex truck as I type this and it should be on my doorstep sometime today. Even more exciting is that it's an Apple Mac Pro which is my first Mac ever and it's basically geekmas in May. I know I'm going to suffer some sort of letdown because I can only think of all the great things that will come along with this system and I'm not concerned about any serious technical hurdles. In fact, my hope is that it's going to run so much smoother than my Windows PCs have that even if there are some glitches or temporary problems they will seem inconsequential compared to all the advantages of speed, efficiency and ease of use. 

The only negative right now is that where I live Fedex is consistently problematic in their deliveries.  UPS is like clockwork every time, delivering everything before noon without fail and that's with probably a couple dozen of deliveries in two years.  Fedex makes home deliveries in my area from about 40 miles away and it always seems like the driver is unfamiliar with the process (I live on a military base) and it usually adds a business day or two to the delivery because they often give up at the first sign of difficulty. There are multiple entrances to our base but they are not all open all the time. In the past, if a driver pulls up to a closed gate they usually just turn around and say they couldn't get in without trying to call and find out if another gate is open. Hopefully that won't happen today. If it does, I probably will have to wait four more days because of the holiday weekend. I don't know if it's because Fedex uses independent contractors (and therefore gets different drivers unfamiliar with the area more often) or what because they do seem to be the only carrier service that has this issue (DHL also has never had a problem).  

Mac Community?

Now that I have a mac on the way, I'm inclined to start behaving appropriately so that I can fit in once I get my system.  I'm going to have to grow my hair longer, slouch more and start acting superior (the latter won't be such a transition). :)  Don't sniff, you've seen the commercials as well unless you've lived in a cave for the last few years. I find the idea of a mac community somewhat laughable as it is just a computer, but considering the overwhelming popularity of even more trivial activities like some of the social networking sites, I guess it's not as irrelevant as it seems.

I see the value in most web based activities, but I don't understand the relative importance anything like this plays in someone's life. If you use a certain piece of equipment or have a hobby you want to share with others the web is really the best place to network with others. But, too often people need to separate themselves from others as a means to establish their individuality and a common result is a mac user flaming a pc user or vice versa. I think both sides can argue for their advantages, but it's really irrelevant in the grand scheme.

I think demographically the Mac community is usually a little more wealthy, educated and artistic. I'm not making that up, I've read it in several places and here is an example of one study. That sounds like I just called the pc users poor, ignorant, and boring to boot. I don't relate education directly to mac use, but I think it's established that with wealth goes education and the likelihood of artistic pursuits (not counting the starving artists out there, I think those with more money usually have more opportunities).  So, because Macs cost more on average, I think the other statistics follow, and that's making no value judgment on the mac vrs a winpc. 

If pc users are less educated, etc., then so am I because I have been a winpc user for the last 15 years with an Amiga 500 as my last non-mainstream computer system.  It's difficult to say if a large portion of the loyal mac users are just sticking with what they know as opposed to actually analyzing the pros and cons of a mac vrs pc.  I think that most mac users are more familiar with pcs vrs the other way around.  In the case of musicians, it's very true that they are usually less willing to change once they have a working system hence the overwhelming predominance of macs and the related hardware/software within the professional recording world. It's probably the same reason that Fender and Gibson guitars still have such large market shares, when there are dozens if not hundreds of great guitar companies.

There’s no going back

Well, actually there probably is, but it sounded dramatic anyways. I have somehow talked my better half into allowing me to purchase an Apple Mac Pro Desktop system which is due for assembly and shipping in the next week or so.  In the last two years my typical computer based activity has been predominately music and to a lesser extent, video centered.  That combined with the fairly recent change of all Apple processors to Intel (allowing windows to be run natively) has made the decision to change platforms more appealing and decidedly less risky. 

My main reason for change is the (by all reports) much more stable and intuitive operating system, and the same user friendliness of the major software programs.  I am looking at a couple of the mid level audio/video programs to start with since my needs are still fairly simple and because the full featured programs start to get prohibitive from a cost standpoint (especially if you're just a hobbyist like myself). One other positive aspect of the change is that my comprehensive software sequencer package from Native Instruments (Komplete4, Kore, Guitar Rig 2) will run on Mac as well as Windows, so I will be able to transfer all that software over, and most likely it will run as good if not better on the Mac. 

The majority of programs I use regularly for practicing, composing and recording will all run on Mac. The only major exceptions are my DAW (Sonar) and Video Editing (Premiere Pro) programs. Considering that I have been relatively unhappy with the performance of both, I don't think I will miss them even if I start off with less featured programs.  I hear good reviews of even the most basic programs (Ilife with it's packaged software that's targeted at consumers) so I'm optimistic that the starter versions of the standalone audio/video editors will suit my needs well.

New Gear, New Frustrations

We just upgraded our camcorder to the Canon HV20 and so far it has been living up to the mostly positive reviews it received. It has better low light performance than our previous Sony camcorder (an older model from 2001) and the high def footage has looked very good. My biggest problem with it so far isn't the camera itself, but trying to upload and manipulate the footage on my computer.

I have a fairly recent vintage (early 2006) Gateway XP machine with a 3.0 gHz processor, 2 gigs of RAM, and a Nvidia 7600 GS Video Card with 512mb RAM which is decent. However, the uploading and then processing within video software is very slow at best. I have jumped back and forth between Adobe premiere and the plain vanilla Windows Movie Maker, and for the most part I have had better luck with the novice friendly Movie Maker. I make sure not to run any other programs, but even then the process of encoding and then exporting the video and audio is very slow. I don't have a good baseline to compare it to and since the source material is HDV, it may not be unreasonably slow.

I am holding off on my next computer because I have decided to changeover to Apple now that they can run Windows pretty well with the Intel processors and boot camp.  I know they are due to release Leopard later this year and it seems like they will also be offering new hardware (quad core and higher laptops) as well. I am hopeful to finally have a system that will be fast (and stable) for music and a/v production, which (in my experience) the Windows machines haven't been.

Line 6 Variax 700 Acoustic Review

I have had this guitar for a few months now and it's become my main guitar acoustic guitar for practice and recording. All the current samples (as of April 07) on my songs page were recorded with the Variax acoustic. I was so impressed with this guitar that I splurged on a Variax Electric 700, despite having another great electric guitar in the Fender EJ Strat. The ability to change tunings by rotating a knob is about the coolest and most useful (esp. for fingerstyle players) tech advance I can think of. Sure, you could have 5 different acoustic guitars sitting around in different tunings, but cost and care start to get overwhelming. This guitar also models many different brand guitars including classic Gibsons, Martins of different size/shape as well as steels, and even a banjo and a shamisen.  I have found that it's a little difficult to really hear the difference between some of the models, although the primary reference point for me is headphones and they may color the sound a bit when compared to a good pa system or through a better preamp than I have. The ability to play the various songs I love on acoustic that require different tunings (DADGAD, Nashville, that weird open C-ish tuning for the Rain Song by Zep, etc.) is such a convenience for me. This guitar is actually a solidbody but it appears acoustic and is very  convincing when amplified, but don't take my word for it, listen to one of the songs I uploaded. That's one of the few drawbacks. Since it uses electronics to change the guitar sound and the tuning, you can't play them unamplified. In fact, you need to make sure they are amplified loud enough that you don't hear the strings or it could get distracting.

Line 6 Variax 700 Electric Review

I bought this guitar after playing the acoustic model for several weeks and I haven't been disappointed. This guitar is actually even more versatile in it's own way than the acoustic model. I found on the acoustic that there were only a few models that I really liked, but I have found a greater of variety of useful tones on this guitar.

(Not so) Spectacular Vistas

So I think I may have finally recovered from my foray into the pre-release wilderness. After I got home yesterday, the attempted killdisk re-format and subsequent reinstall attempt resulted in the inevitable boot for a few seconds and then BSOD. Lather, rinse, repeat. So I googled and found someone who was having essentially the same problem as myself and an ITish person had suggested a different format utility while also suggesting that it didn’t sound like a Vista specific issue and perhaps it was something to do with the install program. I downloaded the suggested format utility which must have been really extra special deliciously good because instead of 3 hours, this thing took 14 hours to finish. Imagine my delight when I went home for lunch today and the cycle of reinstalling XP and the … wait for it… BSOD began yet again. This after peforming a destructive reformat 3 times in a row with a duration of approximately 20 hours of continuous erasing of the little 1s and 0s. So in a last dying gasp of an attempt I decided to try the Windows Vista disk to see if it would offer any recovery utility. After booting up I was given some recovery choices but I couldn’t tell if it meant recovering to my previous installation or to Windows Vista.

Since I was having no luck with anything else I decided to run a program called something like automatic or self repair of installation errors. I don’t know exactly what the focus of this utility is, but I couldn’t be any worse off than I was, so I tried it. The odd thing is that I let the program run for about 30 minutes (it does warn of taking several minutes, but several sounds like less than 30 to my ears) before giving up and shutting down the computer. After this I tried booting from the Windows XP install disc and lo and behold, there was my SATA original hard drive and the extra SATA I had added, ripe for installing XP upon (certainly no pesky data left to get in the way after having been formatted thrice over) which I immediately set about. After letting the install finish and getting to the Windows desktop, I realized that the Gateway recovery disk I had been using was to my wife’s Gateway and was actually from 2003 while my recovery disk is from 2005. I don’t know how much of a difference that makes, but I figured it would mean fewer updates to download, so I went ahead and ran my correct 2005 recovery disk right before I returned from lunch. I’ll see how it went when I get home.

I think I have learned my lesson in that running a beta operating system needs to be done on not only a drive that you’re willing to lose the data from, but probably also on a secondary drive (read: smallest) that isn’t a better default drive that you would prefer to use. In my case, I would have been better off using the 200GB SATA drive to play with so I would still have the 500GB as the fall back OS and backup drive if things went poorly. Fortunately I just lost a bit of time, but no significant data that I couldn’t do without. This has also given me the excuse of cleaning up some excess BS off the hard drive I needed to discard anyway. The only big pain now is going to be the Itunes and other authorization hoop jumping I will have to do since the DRM cops will assume I’m trying to run my software on a “new” computer even though I’m still going to be running one version of all my software on essentially the same computer. I think I have had to get Apple, Audible and a few other DRM happy companies to de&re-authorize my computers on several occasions since I don’t keep a static setup for more than about 1 year at a time.



My Windows Vista RC1 experience

So, in the true spirit of the frontier, I decided to try out the new Microsoft Windows operating system in beta pre-release, because apparently I don’t have enough fun with computer and operator meltdowns at work. I used it for about a week and it wasn’t causing any major problems. I will say that I like the new graphical enhancements and the sidebar, but these are really just nice little aesthetic enhancements and not really worth upgrading for. One of the major changes to Vista is a real time search engine which constantly scans your computer for changing information with the apparent intent of being able to readily produce quick, context specific results to any searches you throw at it. It’s similar to the Google desktop search tool, especially in the “I’m now taking over your hard drives and you can wait your turn for whatever trivial task that you consider important” sense of the word.

This wasn’t such a problem at first because I thought it would eventually get done with the majority of the indexing and only need to update changing information. Well, in practice this seemed to result in the hard drive spinning CONSTANTLY regardless of what background tasks were or weren’t active. I tried shutting down everything except the bare minimums and still with the spinning hard drives. I would specifically try to shut down the search indexer, but it would always somehow restart itself and I couldn’t find a way to disable it (although I’m sure there is probably a very obvious way in the control panel or something in the interface, but I didn’t find it. If not, they need to provide this option or find a way to get the thing to get it’s indexing over with so the computer can be used for something else.

I don’ t know if this is directly related to the search indexer, but the straw that broke the wildebeest’s pinky hoof was the fact that I kept having problems with the audio engine freezing up which resulted in audio drop outs during recording. Nothing is more satisfying than finally nailing a take of a longish song (4+ mins), especially when you have had to try multiple times to get it down just right. Arguably, multi track recording and digital audio workstations eliminate the need for the perfect take because you can always tweak, tweak, tweak. However, in the world of solo acoustic guitar, I am a firm believer in the “nail it right in one take” school of thinking. I don’t mean you need to get it perfect the first time, but you should endeavor to be able to play the song perfectly and so it’s even more important to achieve this when recording. It makes the mixing process so much more straightforward than trying to splice clips and get the right volume, etc. levels. It’s much more difficult to fool the ears with an acoustic instrument that is basically recorded dry with little in the way of effects. Yes, I know you can do anything with digital audio, it’s just that I hate all the extra effort at the computer when I could expend the work at learning the song better and be able to play it in one take and forget about tweak, tweak, tweak.

Well, one of the “features” of Windows Vista RC1 is that the drivers aren’t quite up to par yet, and this combined with the hard drive on perpetual spin courtesy of (in my opinion) the search indexer, may have been the reason I was plagued with audio dropouts, especially when I had finally nailed a take. Because of these issues, I decided to let Vista work out it’s problems on its own time. This is where the fun begins.

Apparently Vista makes some changes to the master boot record of the hard drive (in hard drive terms, the holy of holies where thalt shalt not tread unlesseth thou knowest what the hell thouest is doingeth) (and thou doesn’teth) which Windows XP apparently gets very confused about and does what any good Windows machine does when it runs out of ideas. Yes, the BSOD. (That’s the blue screen of death if you were wondering). I had tried to reinstall Windows XP clean once I decided to rid myself of Vista, but XP wasn’t going along with my plan. I then tried my recovery disk courtesy of Gateway, which seemed to make better progress, but eventually led to the BSOD once again. As I type, my home computer is trying to perform a completely destructive low level format via the killdisk shareware program. It takes a long time, so hopefully it will be finished by the time I get home. If that doesn’t cure the problem, I may have just bought a 500GB paperweight in the shape of a SATA hard drive.

Yes, I had backups of everything important for those with the smug grins on their faces. It’s just a little frustrating when the XP format utility isn’t enough to wipe the hard drive clean and I have to go to these extra lengths. And no, I never wanted or expected to be able to recover the hard drive intact with the original files (hence, the backup was performed before I tried to reinstall XP).

All that being said, I will probably look at Vista once it’s finally released and had a chance to get a decent user base established to work out the bugs. It promises some nice improvements and there are a host of other features that I haven’t even mentioned. Time will tell.