“Can I open my eyes yet?”

"That depends. Are you waiting for us to be anywhere near ground?"


"Keep your eyes shut."


— from Skin Deep, by "David Peters"

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.

Pocky and Pretz for everyone!

Just received a large order from AsianMunchies.com. This is not a porn site.

No, the box contained a large stash of Tomato Pretz, Salad Pretz, Vegetable Curry Pretz, and Pocky G, flavors I can’t find at my local Albertson’s or nearby asian groceries.

I’m particularly fond of Tomato Pretz, and if I’d known how much I was going to like them, I’d have bought a lot more when I wandered into Uwajimaya in Seattle.

Great stuff, and unless you’re one of those Carb-Fearing Atkins Disciples, you’ll find that most flavors are quite compatible with a losing-or-at-least-not-gaining lifestyle.

Scam and spam

Somehow this garbage made it past Mail.app’s generally quite effective spam filters. Once. Email addresses and paypal payment information deleted to avoid inadvertently helping this fraud (I forwarded it to Paypal first, of course…).

It’s an amusing, imaginary, tale of woe, combining equal parts bad parenting, bad storytelling, and bad English. And why does a poor father in Chile have an email address at a Russian ISP, anyway?


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.

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