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June 29, 2006

I've been very busy with work lately (a contract with a fairly short schedule and a lot of work) and a squeezing in bit of music around the edges of work. I'm in two bands that are making good progress and I expect that it'll only be a few weeks more before at least one is performing a full set.

I've also been trying to figure out what to do on the techie work side after this contract ends. I though it was going to last all summer but it turned out to be a 2 week gig, which ends in the next couple of days (depending on when I get all the bugs squashed). I've been talking to a number of companies, from household names to small companies, startups to staffing companies. Day by day it becomes more obvious that a full time job with a commute and a salary and a cubicle would really get in the way of music. So, I'm going to try the opposite, which is really not that far from what I'm doing now: freelancing. Since late 2002 I've been a part time contractor, but for only one company at a time and with an indefinite contract each time.

Does it count as freelancing if you work for only one client for two years? I don't think so, because there's no business development, and marketing, and networking, and handing out of business cards, and lurking in online communities trying to find work, in what I've been doing. I'm going to have to start doing that. I have a bunch of very exciting (to me, anyway) ideas for how to be successful as a freelancer so I'm eager to get started when my current contract runs out.

I just got a MacBook Pro on the 15th. I needed it (or some kind of PC capable of running Windows at a reasonable pace) in order to do my current contract and to do some of the stuff I hope to do as a freelancer, as many of the tools are Windows-only. (The rackmounted PC server I had used previously was just too annoying and loud for me to want to keep using it.)

Performance is excellent on x86 apps like Firefox, Thunderbird, and all the built-in stuff. Parallels Desktop is at least as polished as Virtual PC or VMWare Workstation 4.0, and works just fine. The difference of course is that it's running Intel code (a bunch of developer applications on top of Windows XP, in my case) on a smokin' fast Intel processor, so it's hella fast. It's the fastest PC I've ever used; it's definitely faster than the 1.5GHz P4 desktop I used at Planitax, and I only told Parallels to give it 128MB of RAM. The Core Duo processor is just a beast. The best part is that it can be running the PalmOS Simulator (which has a 68K emulator in it) and the other development tools I'm using inside Parallels, and I can be watching a DVD and have a couple dozen applications open on the Mac side, and it's still super fast, and has idle CPU cycles left over. Parallels doesn't clobber the machine for any other uses when you're running it, unlike VirtualPC.

Photoshop is fast enough; here's a benchmark: MacBook Pro Photoshop benchmarks. If you use Photoshop all day on a quad G5, you will be disappointed by Photoshop CS2 performance under Rosetta. If you have a 1.33 GHz G4 laptop as I did, it's hard to tell the difference in performance without running a benchmark and busting out a calculator. I forget who said it, but they were right: with computer performance, what matters is factors (2x faster, 5x slower, etc.), not fractions (15% higher frame rate running Unreal or whatever). Maybe it's 30% slower, who cares? Everything else is shockingly faster. Safari launches in a half second, for cryin' out loud, and Firefox takes about one and a half seconds. I mean, damn that's a lot faster than my old 12" PB G4.

Rosetta is entirely unlike using VirtualPC. It's seamless and stuff is quite fast - just not any faster than it was on my old laptop. I use Photoshop, Palm Desktop, Chmox, and Sibelius which are all PowerPC applications that use Rosetta and they're fine.

The only thing that wasn't fine was Eclipse. It uses a PowerPC native library that is linked to the Java VM (an x86 application) so it fails to launch and complains with a hideously cryptic error message. Fortunately Google is great with hideously cryptic error messages so I found the solution:

How to get Eclipse 3.1.2 working on an Intel Mac:

  • Download this:
  • The downloaded file is called; unzip it
  • Put org.eclipse.swt.carbon.macosx.ppc_3.1.0.jar in your Eclipse plugins subfolder. (It says PPC in the filename; don't worry about that.)
  • Delete org.eclipse.swt.carbon.macosx.ppc_3.1.1.jar which is the PPC-only version, also in the plugins subfolder
  • Launch Eclipse and rejoice at being able to use the IDE that everybody says is not as good as IntelliJ IDEA

(Fix found in comment #45 of this Eclipse bug)

Rumor has it that there are some "whining" issues with the MacBook Pro and that it runs really hot. Yeah, it's pretty hot, but no whining so far. I'm very happy with it and with the fact that I don't have to use VirtualPC (or Remote Desktop client to a real PC) anymore. (If you have a white MacBook with the commonly bemoaned discoloration problem, try this tip.)

Awesomely super cool: Pirate Baby's Cabana Battle Street Fight 2006. (via Shawn) I recompressed this mofo with iSquint and it's on my new (bundled with the MBP at a discount) iPod now. iSquint has successfully recompressed everything I've thrown at it. Love it.


June 20, 2006

My rebuttal to In Offense of Classical Music:

The idea that music is approaching some glorious asymptote of direct emotional manipulation is simplistic and ignores individual variation and the changing way that people have encountered and used music over time.

Bach's music is highly formulaic and rule-based, so if your perception was that there were performance mistakes, chances are very good that there were. His genius lies in the depth of sophistication of the formulas he used, so that a musically untrained listener can say "gee that sounds pleasant" i.e. consonant and predictable, while still allowing music theory nerds to dig in and find all sorts of nuggets like advanced counterpoint and extensive use of Christian numerology. Here's a fascinating analysis of Fugue No. 2 in C minor from the WTC.

Art appreciation is extremely subjective. Your assertion that there is "some shared sense of musical appreciation" is just plain wrong. Art is not MDMA. It has to go through your mind to get to your emotions. You may be annoyed at the obviousness of Bach now, but if you go study music theory you might come back and suddenly hear something there that you missed before and love it. This doesn't make you wrong before or after, it just means that perspective matters tremendously. That perspective may change over time, or environment (coding music vs. driving music vs. washing the dishes music vs. workout music vs. WoW music vs. Frodo-fighting-Gollum-for-the-Ring music...) and most definitely varies from person to person. I bet you can think of some music that you like and would play for your friends but not around your parents...

Psychoacoustics is only the beginning of understanding what sounds good; over time, the general Western public's tolerance for (intentional) dissonance has vastly increased, from extremely strict church music of the middle ages to Baroque music (such as Bach's WTC) to classical and romantic and jazz and modern music. Debussy stomps all over Bach's and Mozart's rules. John Coltrane's use of the tritone substitution in the "Coltrane changes" pattern would make a Romantic-era listener scrunch up his or her nose in disgust even though it sounds smooth and classy to a modern listener.

Likewise, timbre doesn't have to be as squeaky clean anymore. I remember being shocked upon first hearing Nirvana using, in what became a #1 pop song, a heavy metal distorted guitar tone similar to the "ooh scary" Metallica of just a few years before. I couldn't believe that the general public had suddenly gone from preferring goofy 80's analog keyboard music to crunchy guitar. Now, pretty much any mainstream rock band has to have super crunchy guitar. At one time, Jimi Hendrix was considered groundbreaking and even scandalous in his willingness to intentionally play with a level of overdrive that was far less than Metallica's.

So, the rules for what you can write and how you can play it are relaxing, rather than becoming more clearly defined. As the rules fall away, or become loose guidelines that are increasingly broken, the total amount of variation increases. That diversification is at odds with the idea of some kind of ideal, "better" music that the world is moving toward.

Another thought for you: the human condition is at the most basic level defined by the fact that we are mortal and we know it. We start life as a clean slate and learn and learn and learn (and maybe lose a bit near the end) until we die. Human society progresses because we communicate what we learned, but that communication is nowhere near 100% of what we learned, and nowhere near 100% of people alive receive our transmission. Therefore, humanity spends (wastes?) a tremendous amount of effort re-learning things that someone already had figured out centuries ago, due to poor knowledge transfer.

In this light, again it's hard to justify a claim that music (or any art) is just plain getting better over time. Art is not science or engineering. There isn't a series of increasingly right answers figured out one after the other, after which all of the prior, wrong answers are rightly discarded. If there were, wouldn't "the old folks" at the Bach performance prefer to listen to 50 Cent? Different musicians deliberately listen to different influences and produce vastly different music that they believe is good.

The industrial age of music distribution is coming to an end; the artificial narrowing of musical tastes is giving way to a fragmentation of styles with smaller audiences. That means that in the future, listeners won't have grown up listening to exactly the same thing, and won't share a sophisticated appreciation for the exact same kind of music. We're already in the middle of this process, actually. Improvements in recording and sound reproduction and instruments means that someone with little or no training or skill can assemble and present original music that sounds vastly better than some drunk in a pub could have produced a thousand years ago on a cheap lute or whistle. It may have less musical value from a perspective of compositional sophistication but it might still sound fabulous due to digital sampling, synthesis, and nonlinear editing.

So, I argue that music is in one way returning to the way it used to be before recording was possible, and in another way is becoming even more accessible to novice composers and performers. Bach's music wasn't nationwide Top 40 material in his time; we only pay attention to it because it holds up to scrutiny. I'm sure that nightly pub performances of that time featured much more popular and well-loved folk tunes, just as you'll find the White Stripes in a bar jukebox now. But creating sound is throroughly post-industrial now, in that a composer can push a button and have a computer provide a convincing rendition of what was written, only falling short in comparison to a first class professional musician. As any classical musician can tell you, this is why it's so hard to get work as a classical musician these days: amplified samplers are a whole lot cheaper than a dozen violinists playing the exact same thing (if you're lucky).

But even the infinite monkeys approach to composition isn't applicable here, because taste is subjective. Instead, music is re-fragmenting, replacing geographic boundaries with communities of taste. Those communities will each have to produce their own genius composers over time, and in the process will have to selectively ignore what's going on elsewhere, because there's just too much out there to hear everything. Perhaps some communities will borrow from contemporaries or predecessors, but in doing so, they will filter out some of what they heard, partly losing what previously was considered good. Music will continue to remain in step with contemporary taste, and at best, the re-fragmentation into communities of taste will make it more likely that there will be music that you can find which you happen to like. But as for a monotonic march toward paradise down the sucks/rules axis, forget it. :)

June 14, 2006

Hiding in Plain Sight, Google Seeks More Power.

Cute: Scuba diving cat (video).

June 13, 2006

Flippin' round the dial and what did I see? Gnarls Barkley on the 2006 MTV Movie Awards in a live Star Wars themed performance. Awesome. YouTube has the video. Here's a music video version that looks really amazing.

Also on the MTV Movie Awards: Samuel L Jackson is optimistic about Snakes on a Plane (video).

Apparently, Microsoft blogger and all-around defender of the faith (we're not perfect but here are 10,000 awesome things we're doing that nobody gives us enough credit for etc. etc.) Robert Scoble is leaving Microsoft.

Via Schneier on Security: wireless security camera detector.

City CarShare has phased out the original Beetles for various new cars. My opinion on each:

  • MINI Convertible: Fun, stylish, but... they got 'em with automatic transmissions. I've never encountered a worse transmission. It really sucks. It's way worse than a regular automatic transmission; it's got a half-assed manual shift option that sorta works (doesn't disengage soon enough, so downshifting is a whiplash-inducing maneuver), but the regular "just shift for me" is terrible. Great stereo. The transmission doesn't ruin the coolness of rocking out with the top down on a nice day. On a cloudy day I'd rather drive a Prius.
  • Scion xB: boxy, but in a kind of cool way. Lots of cargo space, great stereo. Not very powerful, but that's OK; it does fine on steep hills with a bunch of cargo.
  • Toyota Prius: Fast. Boy I never expected this thing to be so fast, but it is. Plus it's a four door and has lots of cargo space. The stereo is outstanding. This is my favorite of all the CCS cars simply because it's the most fun to drive and has tons of space and passenger space. The hybrid hippie angle is just gravy.
  • Toyota Tacoma: Spacious, really really long (no fun to park), good visibility and interior space. Not bad for a big boxy cargo vehicle; great at carrying big stuff like piles of Ikea merch.
  • Scion xA, Honda Element, Honda Civic Hybrid: haven't driven one yet.

June 9, 2006

Last week we went to the Skip Interaction launch party (they're my current contract employer; I did the PalmOS port of their mobile client this spring). It was a beautiful day, and I had optimistically reserved a MINI Cooper Convertible for the event, which worked out really well. The party was fun, we met nice people from Skip who I hadn't ever met in person, we had a good time, we saw Metropolis while hearing music selected by Pandora, and then we went to Ritual Coffee Roasters for the book release party of the updated version of The Coffee Book, by Greg Dicum. (Greg was Kim's manager at iSyndicate and is the organizer of the annual Halloween Castro Scarevenger hunt.) Friend and former co-worker Shawn joined us. It was a good time. I think I caught some kind of cold or something because between the long day (with mega caffeine intake) and a strange tickle in my throat, I was absolutely exhausted all day Friday. Kim said she had a similar mysterious sense of slightly feeling sick but being really tired. I think we both were sleep-deprived (possibly due to too much coffee late at night and staying up too late the previous night) and didn't notice it until the caffeine wore off, so we were probably both more susceptible to germs. It's bad to be a caffeine junkie anyway. So over the last week I've backed off of caffeine a lot. I've had decaf only, except for one time this week. When you bury it in a (vanilla soy) latte, I can't taste the difference between decaf and regular coffee anyway. And my new discovery now that I'm not drinking mochas anymore is that brown sugar totally rules for sweetening a latte. Love it. I got Kim hooked on it too, which I'm not sure is a good thing, but it's an endorsement of the brown sugar idea either way.

A few weeks ago, we visited Kim's family in New Jersey and spent some time playing Star Wars: Battlefront II. This is a really fun game that has a split-screen two player mode that makes it a great pick for gamer couples where at least one person in the couple is a Star Wars nerd. (We both are.) Space combat took a while to get used to (and I still can't land the imperial shuttle worth a damn; usually I crash) but now we're blowin' up frigates and fighters and sensor arrays and auto-turret mainframes like nobody's business. I think we went through the whole story as well as Galactic Conquest mode.

Recently we were near the PlayStation Store and picked up the Logitech wireless controllers, which totally rock by the way, and saw that God of War was selling for $19. Since that's been on my wish list for quite a while, we grabbed it. It's spectacular. It sometimes reminds me of Tomb Raider, Devil May Cry, the Final Fantasy series, or even Tekken, but always in a good way. What it doesn't do very much is to slap you in the face with the fact that you're playing a computer game, which I particularly like. Too many games (like all the ones I just mentioned) make a point of the fact that there's a camera that you're looking through at your character, and a controller with buttons that you have to hit in just the right way to get the character to do stuff. Want that really powerful attack move? Gotta hit the buttons in the right order with exactly the right timing or it won't work. Want to block an attack? Gotta hit the block button at just the right instant or you get knifed in the gut, etc. Want to make that complicated run-jump-jump sequence to get to the next part of the map? Too bad, the camera's got a mind of its own, and it's making it impossible to see what you need to see. God of War doesn't do any of that stuff very much. Mostly you're dealing with how you want to attack the enemies in front of you, and how to solve the puzzles in the game. You're not fighting to control the game, you're fighting to win it. And that's kept me interested and involved to the point where I'm still playing it.

The Bronze Age violence and gore of God of War blended well with the new Adult Swim show, Korgoth of Barbaria. It's really funny. It reminds me of Groo the Wanderer (a sort of Conan/Quixote comic book character) and the humorous take on D&D style fantasy pomp as seen in What's New with Phil and Dixie.

Via Faisal: TSA accepted combination lock by Pelican (warning: big dumb applet used for basic navigation buttons... have they not heard of JavaScript?). What a wonderful idea. Does anybody expect thieves to patiently try each and every combination when they can just pick the lock? I guess Pelican does, or maybe the TSA does. Why pick the lock on a car door when you can just open it with a slim jim? Why pick the ignition switch when you can just cut the wires leading to it and hold them together to start the car? This is the same stupid idea.

June 3, 2006

Schneier on Security: "Too many wrongly characterize the debate as "security versus privacy." The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny. Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that's why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide."

If you're developing for LAMP but using a PowerBook (or a MacBook!), check out MAMP.

Chronicle: Home sales drop to 5-year low: Steep decline sparks debate over whether the Bay Area real estate boom is over. Computerworld: Opinion: Why NSA spying puts the U.S. in danger. Time: Blame Mexico: the Mess Starts at Home.

Cool: Jet-powered VW beetle, amazing musical juggling finale (video), Morgan and Mats music video for Chicken (kick ass drummer and blind keyboardist from Sweden).

Funny: Firefox privacy bug that caused a couple to break up, a man for whom six strings on a bass obviously wasn't enough, Live Mario Brothers (video), Jobs' glass elevator locks in group customers, 'Da Vinci Code' steals from 'Star Wars' (from Faisal), Buckethead's fictional life story has apparently come true.