“Since I have only received 4 replies as of today I must assume I did not post to a wide enough variety of groups. Here it is reposted for all.”

— Michael R. Johnston

getting MIDI into GarageBand

First pass at a third-party MIDI importer for GB, courtesy of Bery Rinaldo. Much nicer than the previous workaround.

Variant Nigerian scam email

This one’s new: it’s targeted by last name, claiming that someone sharing your last name died in Nigeria, leaving $6 million in a bank account. The fraudster presents himself as an accountant at the bank holding the money, and offers to split the take with you if you’ll pretend to be the next of kin. The cool thing is that he sent it to an address that has never received a non-spam message, clearly establishing that he bought a low-quality mailing list instead of scraping web sites.

Best line: “I guarantee that this will be executed under a legitimate arrangement that will protect you. From any breach of the law”

Actual clever wrinkle: the email address you’re supposed to contact is at the official-sounding “justice.com”. This is apparently a service of the legitimate site findlaw.com, a web portal for legal professionals. This may backfire on my new friend…


GarageBand: adventures in UI design

GarageBand only allows you to have one project open at a time. This is not an obvious or necessary feature of a music program, but at first glance, it’s defensible in the context of Apple’s iLife package. For a bunch of more-or-less free tools designed for light use by non-professionals, allowing multiple documents adds the risk of clutter and confusion (not to mention memory management and engineering effort). iTunes, iMovie, iPhoto, and iDVD all work the same way, right?

Well, no, they don’t. iTunes and iPhoto simply don’t have the concept of multiple projects. Something is either in your library or it isn’t. iMovie and iDVD are single-project-based, but the projects generally have a much larger scope. I’m sure a lot of iMovie users wish they had an iPhoto-like clip library to store their favorite video elements in, but for the most part, few people are going to want to edit more than one movie at a time.

This is not the case for music, especially in an application that encourages experimentation. One of the very first questions I saw on the various GB forums was “how do I make my own reusable loops”. Tied with it was “how do I import MIDI tracks”.

The answer right now is “through painful workarounds.” To make your own loops, you export your performance to iTunes, find the AIFF file on disk, load it into the SoundTrack Loop Editor that’s part of Apple’s free AppleLoops SDK, manually mark it up, drag the tagged file into GB’s loop browser window, and then wait while the complete index of available loops is rebuilt. To import MIDI files, you download two third-party freeware packages and string them together to fool GB into thinking that you’re playing the music on a keyboard.

Even the simple act of cutting and pasting between songs is made difficult by the single-project design. You can do it, but only within the same session, because GB clears its private clipboard on exit. And it exits whenever you close a project. So, if your goal is “copy my cool bass track from RockDude into BluesDude,” the order of operations must be Cut, Open, Paste. Anything else will wipe the clipboard and force you to start over.

Sure, after you’ve done it a few times, you’ll adjust your behavior to match GB’s expectations, but isn’t that precisely the problem that consumer-friendly creative applications are supposed to avoid?

Objective nonsense

Take a good look at the way Time/AOL has framed the questions in this “objective” comparison of presidential candidates. Fair and balanced, they ain’t.

Advice for desperate comment spammers

Not only is it painfully obvious when you come by to try to bump the page-rank for German credit “repair” agencies by manually spamming my comments, but it’s pointless, because my comment pages don’t show the MTCommentURL field.

If you put the URL in the body, it will actually work (for a few more minutes, at least), but then it will be even more obvious what sort of cretinous lowlife you are, and make it even easier to delete your spam.

Why don’t you go join that asshat who tried to kill himself by eating everything on the menu at McDonald’s for thirty days? You’ve already got the public vomiting down pat, so the weight gain and failing health should be a snap.

Bowling for Bullshit

Michael Moore has apparently infested a new generation of “documentary” makers, including this schmuck who documented the alleged effects of eating only at McDonald’s for thirty days.

Given the obvious bias that he went into the project with, is it any surprise that his results were negative, or that he’s become the darling of the entertainment media for presenting this dreck at Sundance?

Hey, I’ve got a great idea! Let’s document the effects of only eating raw organic produce for thirty days. Surely our test subject will emerge as a paragon of health and virtue!

Or dead from malnutrition. It depends on exactly which of those “healthy” foods he eats, and in what proportions and quantities. If he demonstrates the same sort of intelligent decision-making that Morgan Spurlock did at McDonald’s, my bet’s on malnutrition.

Update: I no longer think it’s sufficient to use scare-quotes when referring to deliberately-misleading documentaries of the sort produced by Moore and imitators like Spurlock. Since he term mockumentary is already taken, I hereby propose documockery, which I think has the right ring to it.

Update: His girlfriend is a vegan chef. Care to guess how much meat protein he was consuming before his little “test”? I’m surprised he didn’t get sick sooner; habitual veggies aren’t known for their meat tolerance.

Suddenly, I regret my LASIK surgery…

…because it means I cannot remove my glasses to blur out horrible sights.

Starsky and Hutch, the movie, starring Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, and Snoop Dogg. Adding insult to injury, it’s A new comedy from the director of “Old School” and “Road Trip”.

The less said about The Son of The Mask, the better. Gouging out your own eyeballs with a spoon will be the summer fad, I think.

GarageBand resource usage

There are a lot of discussions about how GB seems to be a bit of a pig, especially compared to other applications that have much the same functionality (or, in the case of Soundtrack, include many of the exact same samples and features). So, naturally, I did some testing.

On my 15-inch 1.25GHz G4 PowerBook, with 1GB of RAM and the optional 5400 RPM hard drive, I can have at least a dozen software instruments playing at the same time, as long as no more than three of them are pianos.

In my testing this evening, I created an unplayable song that had eight software instruments: two drums, six pianos. Drop one of the pianos, and it pops up an error dialog and then continues to play some of the instruments. Drop another one, and it plays fine, although the display updates are sluggish. Add in four non-piano software instruments (specifically, a shaker, a triangle, a bongo, and an upright bass), and it still plays, although the display can barely keep up.

I was even able to add seven sampled instruments after that without creating a failure, although the display was hopeless and top claimed GB was using 384% of the CPU (when it finally managed to update). top also reported that GB had about 250MB of active physical memory and 450MB of active VM.

Obviously, in addition to the existing recommendations about CPU and disk speed, GarageBand users who are having problems need the following advice: “buy lots of RAM or cut back on those darn pianos!”

Oh, and an interesting note from my testing is that it wouldn’t let me have more than sixteen software instruments in a song, even if my system could support them. The error message was badly written, implying that I couldn’t add any more tracks, but it definitely meant “tracks containing software instruments”.

Definitely version 1.0, and an update is obviously needed soon (especially for improving how it interfaces with MIDI keyboards and audio input devices), but still worth playing with.

Update: passed this along to MacInTouch, after someone with the slightly-faster 17” PowerBook complained that it took forever to launch GB and open a song. The person who read my response asked me set the Energy Saver settings to “Automatic” and unplug the AC adapter. That actually worked fine, and didn’t affect load times or playability. Setting it to “Longest Battery Life” slowed down the launch and load times by maybe 15%, and stopped playback dead in its (17) tracks. And, unlike the earlier error dialog, this one clearly identified the processor performance setting as the culprit.

Oddly enough, when I went back to my standard high-performance settings, I was able to add another piano track without killing playback. I suspect there’s a memory management issue that is cleaned up by saving your song and restarting GB.

Update: The sixteen-software-instruments limit is configurable under the “advanced” pane of GB’s preferences. It’s currently set to “automatic” on my machine, and no doubt it auto-adjusts based on system specs. There’s also a tweakable “voices per instrument” setting, which may be the smoking gun in some of the dramatically different results people are getting on similar hardware: if the heuristic used by the “automatic” setting is flawed, it may be overestimating the power of certain hardware configurations.

Update: The guy with the sluggish 17” PowerBook has now reported that running the usual mix of disk-repair utilities (one of the most common solutions for odd OS X behavior) fixed his GB problems.

“Need a clue, take a clue,
 got a clue, leave a clue”