“Unfortunately, common sense is just not common. We have to regulate every aspect of people’s lives.”

— Santa Barbara Councilman Strawman Jason Dominguez

Slot wars

Back in October, I participated in a phone survey about proposed legislation to expand gambling in California. I rather liked the structure of the survey, and made a mental note to keep an eye out for the results.

I’m guessing the results didn’t match the expectations of the group who commissioned it, because this recent news story not only fails to mention a survey, it leaves out several of the facts that were presented to me in the questions.

It doesn’t mention that the Indian Gaming Association’s arguments against allowing card parlors to install slot machines included “Larry Flynt and other pornographers will profit from this” (how? They didn’t say). It doesn’t mention the ban on opening new card parlors, a “more for me and none for thee” trick from the sponsors.

The indian casinos are right about one thing: if slot addicts can get their fix in San Jose, they won’t drive the “two hours” to Jackson Rancheria. Of course, if Jackson’s billboards mentioned the fact that alcohol is prohibited on the premises, nobody would drive there anyway.

GarageBand notes

First off, the iLife ‘04 installer does not ask if you want icons for all five apps added to your Dock, it just puts them there.

Second, when you launch GarageBand for the first time (or, at least, when I do), it pops up a dialog box saying:

Can not find /Users/jgreely/Music/GarageBand
Please make sure this directory exists

Why won’t it just create it for me, or find it after I create it? Because GarageBand can’t follow aliases. iTunes is happiest if your iTunes library remains in ~/Music (although that bug might be fixed finally), but I wanted to strip down my home directory for backing up onto DVD and investigating FileVault. So I made ~/Music an alias to /Users/Shared/Music. iTunes is perfectly happy with this, although .Mac Backup is not. Add GarageBand to the list of Apple-supplied applications that are incompatible with Apple OS features.

Third, only one project can be open at a time. This would be fine, given the memory requirements, if it weren’t for the fact that the program exits when you close that project. Just as bad, it insists on opening the last active project at startup, so if you want to start a new one, you have to sit through the overhead of loading the old one, and then remember to use “New” in the menus before closing it. Blech.

Workaround: clear the “Open Recent” menu. On the next launch, you’ll get the Open/Create dialog again.

Fourth, faux wood grain and “dark brushed metal” looks silly.

Update: the overhead of loading a project is non-trivial. I created a simple 32-measure “song” with four loops, and loading it at startup added fifteen seconds to the application’s launch time (1.25GHz PowerBook G4, 1GB RAM). Oddly enough, the far more complicated demo song “Reflection” that’s included in the package added only eleven seconds.

Update: changing the length of a song does not trigger a “do you want to save?” dialog box. I thought that was interesting, especially since it’s ridiculously difficult to drag the end-of-song slider around. As far as I can tell, it has a selection area that covers approximately 3 pixels, and if you miss them, you move the playhead instead. Hello? UI designers? Make the damn triangle bigger!

Other than that, I’m having fun mixing loops and discovering just how much (or, more precisely, how little) I retain from the piano lessons I took 24 years ago. On that note, I’m glad I didn’t order one of the USB keyboards that Apple is pitching as a companion to GB. I got to try one out at an Apple Store, and while it’s a decent enough gadget that fits nicely on a desk, I grew up with an honest-to-gosh piano in the house — a spinet grand — and cheap plastic keys just feel wrong.

Then I spotted this Roland FP-5 with a USB interface…

It will be a while before I recover any kind of skill at playing, so for now I’m amusing myself with loops. Since all the other kids are doing it, here’s a highly-repetitive background track I knocked together out of the included percussion loops. I used all the default settings for a new “song,” so it’s 6:40 long (at the default tempo, the shortest possible song is 1:02).

Mind you, it loops every four seconds, but both iTunes and my iPod insert a short delay when they loop back around, so the long version minimizes the breaks in the sound. If you don’t really feel like downloading 6 megabytes of, well, crap, here’s the 1MB version.

If you have GarageBand and Jam Pack, the really short version is “drag these loops into the timeline and tweak their volume and balance knobs”:

  • Conga Groove 01
  • Conga Groove 11
  • Djembe 01
  • Indian Tabla 01
  • Motown Drummer 24
  • Tambourine 01
  • Shaker 11
  • World Bongo 04
  • World Maraca 03
  • World Triangle 01

One question answered…

Latest Apple press release: “With Apple Loops support, future versions of Logic Pro will easily import projects from GarageBand.”

That wipes out about half a dozen common complaints about GarageBand.

Citi wants me, and they’re not alone

I have a mortgage with CitiBank. I have a home equity loan with CitiBank. I have a Platinum MasterCard with CitiBank. Apparently, this isn’t good enough for them.

Today’s mail contained pre-approved offers for a Citi Platinum Select MasterCard, a Citi Dividend Platinum Select MasterCard, and a Citi Diamond Preferred Rewards MasterCard.

Would it surprise you to learn that the basic Platinum Select has the best interest rate of the three?

But those are just amusing. The real excitement in today’s mail was the postcard announcing my selection as an honest-to-gosh Nielsen Family. I have arrived.

Sadly, I don’t think their logbook has a space for “watched six anime DVDs and a full season of Babylon 5 over the weekend”.

Dear Hollywood,

Please stop doing this.

A remake of Walking Tall, starring The Rock. Kill me now.

Sampling Windows trends

My pictures site gets about 28,000 page requests per day (way down from the days when my bandwidth was unlimited). 87% comes from Windows and 5% comes from Mac users, which sounds about right. Less than half of one percent comes from Linux users, which narrowly beats out the “known robots” column, but loses by a factor of two to Windows 95. This also sounds about right.

WebTV comes in at just under half the size of Linux, which is a surprising showing for a product that only has about 650,000 subscribers left.

Windows XP beats out other flavors, but it’s still used by only 54% of my Windows-based viewers. 98, 2000, and ME get 22%, 15%, and 7% respectively.

One page-hit a day comes from someone claiming to run Windows 3.1. I disbelieve.

Western Union misses the boat

I recently had a reason to ask a stranger for a favor. There was this Mac game I was interested in that was about to be released in Japan. There are lots of companies who import Japanese console games, a few who import PC games, and even one or two who buy up the rights to make translated versions of hardcore sex “dating sims”. But nobody seems to be interested in the Mac games.

I was able to find it on amazon.co.jp, and they even support a mostly-English UI for people whose Japanese is less than perfect (or, in my case, barely there). Unfortunately, they won’t ship certain products overseas. Books, music, movies, no problem; computer games and consumer electronics, not a chance.

Given how Silicon Valley works, I figured the odds were good that one of my friends knew someone who was currently in Japan, and I wasn’t disappointed. Zane and I exchanged email, I had the game shipped to his place, and he reshipped the package to my house. Neat, simple, and it took about a week and a half, start to finish.

Except for reimbursing Zane for the shipping costs. I’ve had good luck with Western Union in the past, so I went to their site and sent him the money, and emailed a link to their list of places he could pick it up.

A few days later, he wrote back, telling me that Western Union had apparently contracted with the smallest bank in Japan, which only had branches in the Tokyo area. He’s in Hiroshima, which is, shall we say, “not close”.

He had two basic choices: open an account with the tiny bank by mail and then ask them to mail him a check, which would take about three weeks, or travel to the nearest bank branch, which was roughly equivalent to taking the train from San Diego to San Francisco.

After many days and more than half a dozen toll-free phone calls, I managed to get someone at Western Union to look at a map of Japan, at which point they refunded my money. I then went back to amazon, pulled up Zane’s wishlist, and bought enough stuff to pay him back.

Oh, the game? Mahoromatic Adventure, with the limited-edition scented hand towel (currently hanging on my office wall). :-)

Save the varmints!

The city of Boulder is dealing with an overabundance of urban prairie dogs by paying to have them trapped and relocated (presumably to some location that has so far managed to remain free of this infestation). Cretins rejoice:

“I think there's absolutely no reason to exterminate one more prairie dog,” he said. “I don't think a good reason can be given. I believe we are faced with a moral imperative to save every last remaining animal.”

My favorite part is that this clown actually thinks prairie dogs could become an endangered species unless steps are taken to protect them. Protect as in “prevent future land development by humans”. Apparently he hasn’t managed to figure out how these cuddly little rodents managed to take over Boulder’s open spaces in the first place…

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