Do “The Kids” Manage Music Libraries Anymore?

[Edit: Apparently my memory was faulty: According to my iTunes library, I apparently own at least some songs from some 1903 CDs–not the 800 I originally posted!]

One of the casualties of the move to Nashville was a NAS drive that held my home copy of my 20,000+ song library — 1,900 or so CD’s worth — which I’d spent a lifetime building.

This isn’t a post about tech tragedy, however: I’m a massive believer in backups, and I had a second drive on a work computer (as well as a backup spare) which held nearly an identical copy of the library. The “nearly” part consisted of those disks I’d striped up to one location and not the other– a small but annoying part of the total.

Additionally, I noticed that the metadata and folder organization of the backups wasn’t quite up to the standards of the home copy, with almost 2,000 tracks that were missing their album covers, duplicates of other tracks, or with albums scattered between similar-but-not-identical artists like “Reggie AND the Full Effect” vs. “Reggie & The Full Effect”. Nothing life-threatening to be sure, but having spent countless hours getting the whole thing into shape previously, I wasn’t thrilled with the need to spend another dozen hours or so editing ID3 tags and chasing down album covers to restore my collection to a state of relative organization again.

In the past, I’d used a tool called “Tune-up” to help with the process, although their more recent “3.0” release seemed to choke utterly on collections of this size. In the years since I’d last used it, it seems the company that makes it had actually done something I’d rarely seen a company do: pull the new version and revert to development on the previous series. As a result, the current version of Tune-up is 2.7, and it did indeed help quite a bit in getting the whole library back into shape, although the software does not appear to be actively in development.

But this led me to wonder: does anyone out there even mess with this sort of thing anymore? After all, my record-collecting habit goes back almost 40 years, and as I laboriously made the move to digital in the 90s, all the time spent organizing and filing physical albums was replaced with the lesser, but still burdensome task of managing a 200 GB collection of audio files.

But for the kids of today, do they do any of this? If you never actually buy an album, but instead merely stream your music over Spotify, Pandora, or the like, is there even a reason to manage a big stash of music on a local device? Judging by the poor state of development of automated tools for helping organize such a collection, it seems to my eye like it’s possible that this is a market that is not exactly healthy. At the same time, I can’t be the only person who feels a need to actually own his precious digital music collection, vs. streaming or renting it… can I?

Under-30s in the audience: what do you do for music? And do you feel a need to organize your own music stash — or is it all just a collection of Pandora channels and Spotify playlists?

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Getting Started in Xamarin Forms with Visual Studio 2017: Why Your First App Won’t Compile or Deploy

Visual Studio 2017 was just released with much fanfare, and if you work in the Windows world, your set of tools just got a major upgrade. One of the biggest toys in your new toolbox is the built-in support for Xamarin–a recent acquisition of Microsoft’s, and whose technology allows developers to write an app in C# that will deploy and run natively on iOS, Windows, and Android mobile devices. This is Really Big Stuff, and a technology which we’ll be spending a lot of time with in the coming years.

One of the more surprising aspects of the new Xamarin Forms support in Visual Studio 2017, however, is that the built-in templates for Forms-based projects don’t actually compile(!). These are the “Hello World” apps which are there to get novices (such as ourselves) started, so not being able to get them to… you know… work… is sort of unnerving.

After a couple of weeks dealing with Xamarin, here’s a few tips on how to get that first app running under Windows, using the Community edition of Visual Studio 2017. Hopefully Microsoft will fix much of this soon, but in the meantime, this article is for anyone who’s also getting their feet wet with Xamarin is might be getting flustered by the constant stream of errors standing between themselves and “Hello World”:

  1. You’ll likely need to install a new Windows SDK, or you’ll get errors when targeting different versions of Windows UWP. As soon as you choose to create a new “Cross Platform” project (iOS/Android/Windows), Visual Studio will go through the work of creating separate sub-projects for each one of these platforms. When it hits the UWP (Universal Windows Platform) one, you’ll be presented with a dialog asking you which version of Windows you want to target, and which level is the minimum you’ll support. Whatever you choose, there’s about an 80% change you don’t have the exact right version of the relevant Windows SDKs installed on your machine, and you’ll get a message with a “https://go.microsoft..” url as part of the error message. Copy that link into your browser’s address bar (the error message is not a hyperlink, unfortunately), and it’ll take you to the Windows  SDK download page. Install the relevant version, restart Visual Studio, and try again.

  2. Visual Studio Itself may need to be updated or you’ll get “(limited)” Mac Client connectivity and the iOS app won’t compile. After a day last week  spent wondering why my Mac Client was connecting with a “(limited)” next to the icon in the toolbar–and having the builds which worked the night before suddenly fail (and in desperation, spinning up a second Mac as a build computer only to have it also fail)–I discovered that Microsoft had just released a patch some 2 hours earlier to Visual Studio which solved the issue (itself likely caused by one of the Windows 10 updates that downloaded overnight). The solution: watch your “Notifications” in Visual Studio like a hawk, and download any updates you see there. You can also use Tools > Extensions and Updates to verify that you’ve got the very latest–and we do mean the very latest–updates.

  3. Your Android SDKs are out of date. If you want to work with the latest Android OSs (and you do), you’ll need to install more recent versions of the Android SDKs than are included with the Visual Studio 2017 install. The current versions of Xamarin (more on this later) also expect the Android SDKs to be updated. To do this, use Visual Studio’s Tools > Android > Android SDK Manager. Warning: the installs take a long time to complete, so throw on an episode or two of Breaking Bad before you kick them off.

  4. The default installed version of Xamarin is out of date, and will cause errors around InitializeComponent() in App.xaml.cs; when you try to compileThe solution: Before you do anything with a new project, right-click on the solution, go to Nuget Package Manager, click the Updates tab, and install all available updates. Then Do it Again as the Build component for Xamarin won’t update until the rest of it has updated. It’ll want to restart Visual Studio afterward, so do that too.

  5. Your Mac’s XCode and Xamarin also likely need updating. This is tedious. You’ll need the latest version of XCode… which in turn likely requires the latest version of the OS… along with the latest version of the Xamarin components (which you can get by downloading Xamarin Studio). It’s all pretty easily managed, but the installs take hours.

  6. The default project settings will nest the path too deeply and you’ll likely get deployment errors. By default, projects are created in the [My Documents]\Visual Studio 2017\Projects folder, creating a sub-folder for the project itself. Due to the depth of the folder nesting within the various sub-project folders, it’s far too easy to have some of the paths exceed Windows’ limit of 255 characters in the total path name. The solution: Don’t use the default location, and create the project’s directory as close to your drive’s root as possible.

  7. Your Android Devices need to be set up in developer mode to let you debug on the device. And trust me, after waiting several minutes for the emulators to boot up, you will want to debug on an actual device.The trick to turning on developer mode varies depending on the version of Android you’ve got. For mine (the “Marshmallow” version of Android), it involved tapping the Android OS version number a jillion times in a row under Settings. See http://www.androidcentral.com/android-50-lollipop-basics-how-turn-developer-settings or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKIRXVhBvBY for more.

  8. Your iOS Devices need to be provisioned… and have their certificates set up… and a bunch of other stuff. The easiest way to handle all of this is through XCode. Start by paying the $99 to Apple to join their iOS developer program (you’ll need to bite the bullet and do it anyway if you distribute through their store), then connect your iOS device to your Mac, launch XCode, and follow the guide here: https://developer.xamarin.com/guides/ios/getting_started/installation/device_provisioning/Oh, and that part about needing to create a dummy app to get the proper provisioning profile installed? That’s actually real.

Hope these tips give you a smoother ride getting started. I’ll undoubtedly be blogging more on Xamarin in the future…

 

The New iPad: That’s It??

For the last few months, I’ve been anxiously awaiting news from both Microsoft and Apple as to what they’ll be doing with their latest rounds of tablets. I’m in the market for a new tablet, since my old iPad Retina 3 got passed on to my Mom ahead of what I expected to be a short wait for the next generation of mobile devices from the big guys.

As it turns out, both companies have gone over a year since the last major refresh of their tablet lines, so rather than throw down money on old technology, I’ve been holding out for news from both Cupertino and Redmond as to what new marvels they would bring forth with their new releases.

Redmond is still MIA on a new Surface Pro 5, but today, Apple ended the suspense with the release of their newest iPad (dubbed, simply “iPad”), which replaces last year’s iPad Air 2. Here it is:

ipad-wifi-select-spacegray-201703_GEO_US

Look familiar? It ought to. Because for all intents and purposes, it’s the same iPad as last year’s model. It’s got the same screen, same camera, same memory specs, same form factor, and a processor with a tiny speed-bump (the “A9” instead of the “A8x”)… oh, and it’s a little heavier.

But hey, at least they took $70 off the price.

Unsurprisingly, the new iPad was launched with zero fanfare. Indeed the news that got bigger interest is that they’ve refreshed the iPhone 7 lineup… by making it available in red. Yes, red. I can barely contain my excitement.

What happened to you, Apple? You used to be the folks who forced everyone else to innovate. And while I remain convinced that Apple is packed with smart and creative folks, we’re seeing blessed little of this potential realized in the products released since Tim Cook took the helm.

 

 

Things I Can’t Live Without: Drawer Boxes

There are some times when you just need to stop and say “Thanks!” to the people who invented and brought to market some of the amazing things that make your life awesome.

I’m reminded of one of these people–Rich over at Collection Drawer Company–every day I go down to the garage to file comics, or pull a comic order from Atomic Avenue. Rich is the inventor of a thing called the “Drawer Box” — basically, a two-part comic book box which consists of a “shell” which holds the box’s place in a stack, and a “drawer” (much like a heavy duty long box without the top) which holds your comics, and slides into the shell. The net effect: comic boxes you can stack six rows high, while still letting you access any one of them just by pulling on the handle of the appropriate “drawer”.

As soon as I saw Rich demonstrate the drawer boxes at Comic-Con about a decade ago, I knew I needed to put in a large order to store my 50,000+ comic book collection. In the years since, the boxes have shown remarkable durability with near daily use, and they’ve–well, I was about to write “saved me countless hours”–but the real real truth is “made it possible” to work sensibly with my comic collection. Simply put, there’s no way I’d be able to keep a collection of this size–or even a tenth of the size–in any sort of order if I couldn’t easily get to any comic in question without needing to constantly rearrange and restack boxes.

Instead of having a nicely organized collection where I can access any comic in 30 seconds or less, I’d have long ago tired of the sheer work or lifting boxes out of each other’s way and started dumping all my new comics at the end in a set of “to be filed” boxes. From there, it’s a short step toward, “well, I think that comic’s in here someplace” which inexorably leads to, “man, do I have a problem here!” Because let’s face it–not being able to quickly lay your hands on an item in a large collection is virtually identical to not having that item at all.

The sheer density that the Drawer Boxes afford is remarkable. All 57,000 of my books (and counting!) can be stored in two “aisles” (one against a wall, the other with back-to-back drawer boxes, like the way you’d store books in a library) in my two-car  garage. The boxes are just five high, allowing me to easily reach any comic without a ladder, and I can store other assorted shipping boxes and other garage foo on top of the boxes as well.

Are there any downsides? Well, the initial investment–around $10/box plus shipping–less if purchased in pallet quantities–seems considerable. But it’s negligible when considered in light of the comics they hold, or the long, tortuous hours moving boxes around in order to access your collection that they save you from having to cope with.

The two major pieces of advice I’d give to someone considering Drawer Boxes to hold their collection would be to:

  1. Absolutely use the “box locks” (plastic fasteners which can hold a row of boxes together–it not only solves any potential tipping issues, but also makes a massive difference in the stability and longevity of the boxes. Yes, it’s a pain to install them (After a lot of practice I average about a minute a box to get the four locks snapped together), but it’s absolutely crucial if you want things to hold up over the long term.
  2. Do everything you can to ensure the straightness of your stacks, and to protect the ends of the stacks from tipping or getting off center. Most of the load-bearing strength of the shells is in the verticals, and it’s important to keep those aligned with each other (again the box locks help here greatly). Beyond that, there’s the danger of tipping: Stacking your boxes against, or between two walls is the obvious answer, but for times when you need to leave a stack open, I’ve found that box-locking groups of four or more boxes at the end ensures that the whole thing can’t move or tip.

If you’ve got a serious comic collection and haven’t tried Drawer Boxes, I’d strongly urge you to give them a shot. Due to the weights involved (they’re made of heavy-duty corrugated cardboard which isn’t the lightest thing in the world), expect to take a hit on shipping unless you’re lucky enough to live near a reseller who carries them. If not, my advice would be to contact Collection Drawer Company directly and put in a large order–enough to justify freight shipping–as it’ll dramatically cut down on the overall cost vs. smaller shipments which would go out via UPS.

You can reach Collection Drawer Company at www.collectiondrawer.com or just give them a call at 303.368.7873. Rich and his crew are a great bunch, and they’ll take good care of you.

 

The Analog Studio Fire Sale

music_gear

When our house in San Jose didn’t immediately sell when we put in on the market, I decided to take the heartbreaking step of demolishing the 3-room recording studio I’d painstakingly built in my garage, restoring it to a plain-old two-car garage. Whether due to chance, or (I prefer to think) since it opened up my home as a potential purchase to folks who had no idea what they’d do with a recording studio, the home sold soon afterward.

Although Carolyn and I definitely worked hard to cull the herd of our possessions before making the move to our new home near Nashville, most of my former studio gear made the trip–even though I don’t have a studio in the new house. As I try to piece together my new office and work area, however, I’m starting to think that I made a mistake in hauling most of the analog studio gear across the country.

Starting tomorrow, everything from my treasured 32-channel Mackie mixing board, to my vintage Kawaii R-100 drum machine, to a rack full of effects processors is going up on eBay. And my old studio furniture–custom-designed for my control room–is heading for the dump. The mere thought of doing this is killing me, but I’m increasingly convinced it has to be done.

Music Gear vs. Technology: Fight!

Whereas classic instruments and microphones can hold or even increase in value over time, the same is almost never true of electronics. Many a musician gets a thrill playing with the controls of an original Linn drum machine, or listening to unforgettable sounds of a Roland D-50 or Korg M1 synthesizer. But now, modern musicians can simply load up the sounds and characteristics of these old pieces of gear into their DAW (digital audio workstation) instead of maintaining a private museum of vintage gear.

My rackmounted effect units weathered the test of time even less well. The effect processing powers have improved massively in the past many years, to the point where even famous effects–e.g. a Lexicon reverb–can no longer compete with the algorithms and processing that powers a modern computer-based DAW.

Perhaps more to the point, my analog effect units are starting to no longer fit into the modern recording process.

Most older rackmount effect units typically processed analog signals (such as the input from a microphone or guitar), giving out an altered signal (i.e. adding reverb) over the rack effect’s (analog) outputs. If you wanted multiple effect processing on a signal–e.g. adding a delay, some reverb, and a chorus effect to a guitar tone, mixing it in with the bass and drums, then routing the result a compressor to smooth out the dynamics of the resulting mix–you’d accomplish all this by patching the whole signal chain through numerous effect units, effects returns, and submixes, adding a little bit of distortion each time the signal had to be converted between analog and digital.

In the modern world, once a signal is digitized, it’s typically processed entirely in the digital realm, where it’s immune to the noise that comes with analog combining, as well as multiple trips between the analog and digital worlds. Instead of chaining together several rack units using patch cables, a DAW lets you create a virtual patch bay allows the musician to chain together as many digital effects as they want, while keeping the resultant output entirely digital–right up to the time it’s mixed, mastered, and pressed on CD or distributed over the internet.

In a world where you can do all this digitally, why use analog effect units at all? Possibly the best reason comes down to the ease of doing a simple effects chain by just plugging in cables and twisting knobs. But when sound quality is critical, or the effects chain gets complex, digital wins hands down. My old rackmount effects have some good tricks up their sleeve, but at some point they become John Henry working against an infinite number of steam shovels.

In a new home, without a dedicated performance room and control room, I’ve got to be able to do the entire recording and performance job in a relatively compact space. Switching entirely to a digital recording chain just seems to make the most sense at this point, even though I’ll definitely miss the immediacy and tactility of working with dedicated sound and effect units vs. the rather abstract nature of a DAW.

So, it’s with real sadness that I’m preparing to bid farewell with what are truly some of my most cherished possessions. If you’re the sort of person who loves classic gear, check out eBay in the weeks ahead for some real bargains.

 

Viva NashVegas!

nashvegas

After weeks of pulling box after box out of POD storage container after POD storage container (6 in all!), we are now officially moved to our new home just outside of Nashville, Tennessee.

I’ll likely be living in the midst of U-Haul and comic book boxes for several weeks yet, and a small army of contractors are just now wrapping up the initial work to install the myriad data cables and electric runs our masses of computer and studio gear requires. It’s been back-breaking work (including the moving and stacking of some 320 comic book boxes comprising my 50,000+ comic collection!) but I think I see some cracks of daylight at the end of the tunnel.

As far as the town goes, I am becoming mightily impressed with the Nashville area, and Tennessee in general. The music scene is beyond belief–I even managed to take in a couple of shows already (including She Wants Revenge at Exit/In–a legendary nightspot in town).

Tennessee’s a beautiful place to be sure, but probably the most striking thing is how darn friendly everyone is. I’m even on a first name basis with most of the checkout staff at the local Home Depot…although the fact that I’ve been in there 3 times a day for the past month may have something to do with that.

But despite all the chaos, I am managing to type this on an actual computer, on an actual desk (instead of the the “laptop at Starbucks with the ever-colder coffee next to me” routine I’ve spent the past month with), and with any luck, I should be able to make some forward progress on some of the bigger projects I’ve had to sideline since we started the effort to sell our house move some seven months ago. So Viva, NashVegas–I’m really looking forward to all the adventures you have in store for me!

Lighting Out for the Territories

(Both classic and modern allusions in headline)

After 26 years in California, my family decided it was time for a new adventure. So we sold our house, and last Sunday all piled in my Ford Escape and rolled out of our driveway in San Jose for the last time on a one-way trip across America–most likely ending around Nashville, TN–from where I’m writing this post in a local Starbucks.

Carolyn’s been blogging our moving adventures over at her blog (daftmusings.com) — so check it out if you’d like lots of color commentary on the Great Bickford Road Trip (including all the weird things we ate at the Texas State Fair–fried Jello, anyone?)

In the meantime, we’ve had a great time seeing old friends as we made our way across the southwest, through Texas, and now, Tennessee. We’ll be looking at houses tonight and tomorrow with the very nice realtor who introduced us to Nashville Hot Chicken, and will likely be settling down if we can make something happen here and all the other factors work out right. At least, that’s “Plan A”.

“Plan B?” Well, it’s a big, amazing country with a lot of wonderful people and places in it. And I have to admit, it’s sort of thrilling to have all the possibilities wide open. I’ll do my best to keep everyone updated as things develop…