Tags: controllers, pads
If you’re not a musician, you may be unaware of one trend in modern music – sequencing.
Many years ago, sequencing software first arose in tools like Cakewalk. You added a track for each instrument and placed “notes” that used MIDI data. MIDI is a digital language for music data that allowed various devices, instruments and computers to talk. It could produce synthetic notes from pre-defined instruments. Computer sound cards of the day added MIDI instruments to their repertoire.
You could compose complex songs in such software, or just use it for background tracks like drums and bass.
Over time, the ability to add pre-recorded sample sounds of live instruments was added, greatly expanding the quality and flexibility.
You sometimes hear sequencing software used in live performances to duplicate studio techniques that can’t be easily reproduced on stage – like a backup orchestra. It may sound like prerecorded content – which might also be used – but sequencing software allows adjusting the tempo and changing other details live that can’t be done with recorded content.
A friend of mine, who is not a musician, composes entire songs with samples in sequencing software. He markets the resulting albums on-line and makes a small income from his hobby. Such software now has thousands of instruments available and more can be added.
A parallel development was in instruments like drum pads where rubber pads could be used to trigger pre-programmed drum sets. This allowed drummers to expand their available drums but also to practice much more quietly.
Similarly, piano keyboard controllers came out that were used to trigger software or other keyboards (via MIDI) rather than having built-in sounds. They were just a keyboard – like another form of your computer keyboard.
Over time, “pad controllers” were added to other instruments like keyboards as it was easier to play drums or trigger events with pads than keys. Then the controllers became instruments in themselves. They’re used to trigger digital events in computer software – either an individual sound sample (like playing an instrument) or an entire pre-programmed sequence.
Unlike a typical instrument where this key is middle C, and that one is C5; pad controllers are entirely programmable. Any given pad can be anything. And then be something else for the next song. Better controllers have pads that are both touch and pressure sensitive so they can be quite expressive, giving contours to the programmed sound.
Controllers are also inexpensive compared to traditional instruments as the basics are simple. They’re a group of fancy buttons. All the sounds and intelligence are in the software. That’s where you do the programming, assigning sounds to keys. Then you can record the result – as a song or as a sequence to further polish.
In this example, notice how even voice is used as an “instrument” via pre-recorded samples. Also notice the sound samples being played have various lengths – some short, some longer. This is different from a normal instrument.
You have to have good spatial memory for this.
Here’s someone with 2:
A basic 16 pad unit with “lite” versions of the needed software is only about $30. It also works with pretty much any sequencing software like the free Hydrogen drums. (a dedicated drum sequencer, what might be called a software drum machine)
At first, people used pads for programming sequences. But pretty quickly, they began using them in live performance too. I saw a single live musician with a digital drum pad lay down the bass drum beat, then the next drum, then the next, building up over a dozen instruments, then jamming over the top. It has an interesting crescendo effect. One musician playing multiple parts in a kind of time dilation.
A related example:
The next stage of that was recording acoustic instrument samples live into a sequencer and then having that play back while they added other layers. The lines between live and recorded, acoustic and digital all blur.
Here’s an example – watch them use the foot pedal to mark the end of a sample recording. The pedal is carefully triggered so the sequence repeats from that point. (this is called looping) Notice a pad controller also being used but they’re using various triggers.
You don’t see pad instrumentalists on mainstream radio much yet. It’s a new style of musician – but they’re quite common on the net. It will be fascinating to see where this evolves.
A wind turbine that has no blades?? One that is much cheaper to make, basically silent, safe even for birds, has no mechanics to maintain, and actually looks like art?
They have a working prototype and are coming up on crowdfunding. Here they present at MIT:
Here’s an interesting video made for a product in development. I’ll let you watch it first.
Certainly intriguing. The video has had over 10 million hits. But it’s also creating some controversy as they illustrate some features without explanation. Features only possible with another device, making it a bit misleading. It’s a very bad sign to mislead possible investors up front.
Part of the issue may be that many are viewing the video out of context of their web site. On the site, they talk about it as a wrist screen but seen as above, the video doesn’t stand alone.
Everything in the video is simulated. The video shows a smart phone screen but the device has WiFi and Bluetooth only. Any cell abilities require a separate cell phone. In fact, you’ll note the screen content and functionality is all from the smart phone. So this is more like a variation of a smart watch but without a glass screen. This offers a larger non-fragile view but remains more dependent on a cell phone for the displayed functionality.
When they answer the phone in the clip, it’s the cell phone that answers as the device has no speaker nor mic – just a vibrator. Again, illustrated in a way that could be taken wrong.
They show someone playing a game – their own illustrations suggest the sensors would be good for button pressing but I’d be dubious it would be high enough resolution for game play.
They illustrate it as being waterproof – certainly an interesting detail for an active person. But it has a USB port, probably for backup and charging. So that may be a little fraught.
This video shows their first working prototype.
Note the focus issues.
This certainly could be a viable alternative to a smart watch for active people. But the illustrated functionality means you can’t leave the cell in your backpack and answer the phone but could check a map as illustrated. They have a lot of problems to solve.
The company is French. I was amused to see they have a muse portrayed along with the founders.
In recent years, how we consume media has changed markedly. Video rentals stores have mostly died. Some have cancelled their cable service. Flat screen TV’s, then Smart TV’s (with built-in computers) have become common. On-line media sources as well. Movies now offer digital copies and so on.
If you mainly get your services from online sources like Netflix and Hulu, then you want a Smart TV or attached media box with a wireless keyboard and a smart remote like LG’s Magic Remote. (a standard TV remote is near useless for web browsing and such)
But if your main source is local digital media, like your movie, photo and music collections, you need a local storage solution. It might seem like hooking your computer up to your TV is a great idea, but that’s not likely to be convenient for how you normally use it. It will also create issues with backup sizes. Plus, I’ve found that TV media serving software tends to bog your computer and doesn’t update changes reliably.
Custom-building a PC as a media server may seem like a great idea, but the form factor and energy consumption are not as good. And PC’s need all those fricking updates.
Your better solution is a NAS (Network Attached Storage) that includes a media server. These are energy efficient boxes designed for handling large media files. They’re somewhat similar to an external hard drive except they plug into your network (typically the router) and contain a small computer that allows them to handle several drives. They’re a natural for the job.
You do need to check it will work for your setup though – will it hold drives large enough for your growing media collection? And does it have the right kind of media server for your TV? Typically a DLNS is supported by Smart TV’s but do check yours. Can your TV even connect to a network? Smart TV’s do.
In my own case, I have an LG Smart TV and their Magic remote.
Normally with a NAS, the drives are set up to appear as a single massive drive or are mirrored in pairs. A mirrored drive creates an immediate backup of everything that’s on the main drive. This is a common practice on servers. You get half the available space but a perfect backup.
Buying a NAS, they don’t typically come with drives pre-installed – you choose your own. The exception would be some home offerings like HP’s My Cloud models. They’re more limited and pricey but get good reviews. The reviews oddly seem to compare wildly different types of NAS (with huge variations in price) rather than separating out home and business systems. Ideally, you get matching drives – especially if you’re going to mirror them. But you can start with one and add the other later.
I got a Shuttle OmniNAS KD20 on sale. This is a basic model made by an established small-format computer maker. It’s not a fast NAS but is much less expensive than many and does fine at turning your TV into a media centre from local content. We’re not talking about your office data centre here. The box is well designed and I found it very straightforward to set up. They indicate it’s supported by Win XP+, Mac and Linux.
In buying drives, the OmniNAS supports 2 drives up to 4TB each for max of 8 TB. That’s a lot of media. The WD Reds get the best reviews for the purpose, but this is a budget project. I found 2x 3TB Seagate external drives that were on sale for much less than the bare drives. Removing them from the case is straightforward but this does void the warranty. Thus it’s a good idea to test the drives in their cases prior to removal, if you take such a route. It’s also a slight bit more work.
Also note that setting up the NAS will erase anything on the drives, so copy anything off them before installing in the NAS. They’re generally configured to be in an array in a NAS. That way they appear as a single drive on the network.
In my case I was disassembling Seagate Expansion drives and used the free Seatools to test the drives prior. Seatools is not restricted to Seagate drives. This video reviews both the testing and the drive removal for that model. Shims do a better job than a screwdriver to avoid breaking the clips or damaging the surface – then you have spare cases for another external drive.
The OmniNAS supports both PC and laptop-sized SATA drives. Installing the drives is straightforward. Just follow the Quickstart Guide. You screw them onto the drive tray, then slide them in. Screws provided, as was a network cable. Plug it in and turn it on, voilà!
You then install Finder software on your PC. You can get the newer version from the web site. This finds the NAS on the network, then opens a browser window to configure the device.
It will ask for an Admin password, then later wants to set up a username and password. Make sure you have strong passwords, especially if you plan to share the media through the Internet. A tool like LastPass can help you track all your passwords securely.
I highly recommend you install the Firmware upgrade through the browser interface. (see the Downloads tab) The problems I saw reported with the unit when I researched it prior are addressed with this update. If you loose access to it on the network prior to updating, shut it down and then restart.
Be sure to edit the Workgroup name to match your LAN if it’s not the default “Workgroup”. (on your computer, right-click My Computer and select Properties. Scroll down to see the Workgroup name)
In my case I set up mirrored drives as the backup was more useful than all that drive space. I can easily change that later if I need more space.
Share Box sets your NAS up to serve media onto the Internet as your own “private cloud”, accessible from your Internet connected devices. Basically your own Dropbox service. This is done through an Omninas domain portal. You can skip that and set it up later if your main desire is for your local network and TV.
The box has a Twonky DLNS media server included free, which the LG TV happily and easily supported. Anything added to the “disc” folder is available to the TV. I added a lot of files – this took a bit of time to copy over on my non-Gigabit network – but the NAS had no trouble serving it all. In contrast, the LG PC software choked on a fraction of it and didn’t update reliably.
It also has an iTunes server, if you’re in Mac world or like serving your media that way. If not, turn it off.
And it has a print server to share your USB printer on the network. And an SD card reader and USB ports if you want to add or copy media that way.
It even has a torrent server, although you have to disable the media server for that. Several reviews criticised that but it may be a security measure.
The OmniNAS also comes with a copy of Acronis imaging software if you wish to use the NAS for your backups as well. It will work fine with recent editions of Microsoft Backup and Mac Time Machine as well – in fact any software that will backup to network locations.
If you want your backup to also serve as a remote access store, use a tool like Cobain Gravity that copies files rather than images them. Imaging software is ideal for the operating system and programs but copy software is better for your files to ensure immediate access in the event of trouble.
If you Map the network drive, then the NAS shows up as a drive in Windows Explorer and such making file transfer easier.
For simplicity, I set up the free Microsoft SyncToy to echo to the NAS some of the media folders like Photos. I like copies of those on my computer, so when I update them, Synctoy will match all the changes to the NAS.
Then you can have slide shows, music playlists, and more on your TV. It becomes today’s stereo. If you have surround speakers, it’s better even than an old Quad system. Any other devices on your network also have access to all the content now too.
And if you also want to access that media on your tablet, smartphone (Android or iPhone apps in the Stores) or laptop on the road, Share Box to the rescue. No worries about storing your stuff on someone else’s servers. If you’re a small business person, you can backup your documents to the NAS, ensuring both a backup and that you always have access. No worries about remote access to your PC. (note the comments about backup types above if you want document access – don’t image those files)
I’ve been much happier with the OmniNAS than serving from my laptop. It’s been more reliable, frees up computer resources, and provides another layer of backup.
Just as software has it’s open source and licensing has Creative Commons, open knowledge of hardware is crucial for us to grow as a society in healthy ways. I recently wrote a similar article on network infrastructure – an open Internet.
Why is this even an issue? Current laws concentrate knowledge into property rights for economic control rather than the common good. Corporate structures, treated legally as a person and thus given the same rights, are concentrating economic activity into monopolies. The result is the concentration of knowledge and wealth in a progressively smaller group, the so-called 1%. (although that’s overstating it now) This has historically destabilized and destroyed civilizations.
If we’re going to learn the lessons of history, we need more balance and a more diversified economy. We need opportunity in the commons and that is best served by accessible knowledge.
“This increased access to knowledge is hugely important…it acts as the foundational infrastructure on which we can start to build a whole new economy.”
— Alastair Parvin of WikiHouse
This video outlines how it can be applied to hardware:
And this page lists 10 open hardware projects. If you’ve been around long enough you’ll recognize the Access to Tools theme that was common in the old Whole Earth Catalogue. It was also a theme of R. Buckminster Fuller.
What if your new driveway powered your house? And ran your car. And connected you to the Internet, telephone and TV. And kept itself clear of snow. And paid for itself.
It’s a real product.
And they’re doing an IndieGoGo funding round to take it to the next level. It’s already had real-world testing.
It will also optionally process polluted stormwater…
Tags: Android on a PC, Ubuntu, Virtual machine, VirtualBox, Windows XP
Say you want to mess around with Android and apps, but you’re a little nervous about experimenting on that rather expensive phone or tablet. One solution is to load Android into a virtual environment where you can play around all you like and nothing is ever broken. All you do is back up your virtual machine (VM) software folder first, then if anything goes sideways you can restore it in about a minute. Developers use this approach all the time.
Oracle’s VirtualBox (VB) is free virtualization software you can install just about any Operating System (os) into (assuming you have a legal license). I’ve been running Windows XP, Ubuntu Linux and Android this way for several years. XP, mainly to support some old software that won’t run in current OS’s, the others to explore and experiment with. No messing with my main computer or setting up a boot loader. The other systems run in a window, so no rebooting required. File sharing is much like sharing over a network.
Fred Langa has written an article with step by step instructions for installing VirtualBox and Android on a PC. Most of the steps are pretty obvious but there are a few options that are not and a couple of gotchas. Note his comments about the captured mouse (for touch-screen behaviour), for example.
For Android, you need VT-x (AMD-V on an AMD processor) enabled in the PC’s BIOS. Most modern processors have it but it may be off by default. I checked a couple of utilities to confirm I had it but it was off anyway. Just reboot into your computers BIOS and turn it on. (instructions vary by maker) If you skip that step, the instructions will tell you Android is not supported, so do take care of that first.
I also noticed that some people who also use Microsoft Virtual Machines (like XP Mode) may find VT-x not working because Hyper-V is hogging it. In that case, it’s on in the BIOS but still unavailable in VB. In Windows 7+, the Hyper-V setting is hidden. Comment 5 on this thread offers the command line for turning it off and on. If you want to get fancier, I noticed this article on Hyper-V Manager. It still requires a reboot though.
If you just want to play an Android game on your PC, you might like Bluestacks. It’s designed for loading apps on a PC. It says it’s free only while in beta though.
Genymotion is an Android virtualization tool to create various OS version and screen size variations to test an app in. That’s for more advanced testing.
The advantage of using a tool like VirtualBox is you can also play around with other OS’s. You can get other images (VMs) here, for example. A popular Linux distro, Ubuntu is here. Install the current VB Extension Pack to support it.
The 13.04 version of Ubuntu is an OVA file. OVA files are preconfigured – just double-click to load into VirtualBox. Far fewer steps than in Fred’s article above. It also comes with LibreOffice and other software pre-installed. Note the password on the download page for your first Ubuntu login. You can go into System Settings (gear top right) and add a new User of your choice once logged in.
Rather than downloading a virtual machine, you can also install an OS directly yourself. Create the container in VB (New button), then install into that. This article reviews installing a distro from Ubuntu directly.
You can install a wide range of other OS’s, including Windows and Mac, in a virtual machine – it’s a great way to test and experiment without messing anything up. Or to run old software that won’t install in a modern OS.
Given the end of Windows XP’s support in April, it will soon no longer be safe for web surfing and other Internet uses but it may still have a role for old software in a virtual machine. Fred reviews installing XP into a virtual machine and the VM backup process here. (article free for subscribers) If you have an old XP install you’re retiring and want to move it to a virtual machine, you can use the free Disk2vhd. This is especially useful if your old computer didn’t come with system install disks. VHD is a Microsoft virtualization format but VirtualBox can use it.
And if you have some concern this is experimental technology or something, it’s been around for years. If you surf the web, you’ll have used a virtual machine. Many large web sites are run in virtual machines so they can, in moments, shift from one physical server to another when under load.
A weird episode in Internet “marketing” this week. A real company, HUVr Tech, seeking funding sought buzz. First, they faked up a Promo video for Hoverboards, complete with the famous and Back to the Future references. Note the 0 noise and that the video is named “belief” (on their web site). They apparently used the Back to the Future wire harness.
Fake promotions and fake apologies? Lame. Pranks are funny only if you include the punchline. Has their home page been updated to reflect this? Nope. This is what they think of their possible customers?
Recently, I explored the idea of getting a game console. I liked the Nintendo boxes as they had fun sports games and were modestly priced. However, the newer Nintendo consoles are oddly designed or overpriced. The WiiU has a large tablet-style controller. The Wii Mini has substantially reduced features over the original Wii. In fact, one site recommended you find a used Wii instead – they have more bang for the buck. Plus the earlier model Wii’s have the connections to play Gamecube games (with controllers and memory cards) too if you can find one. You may even find a new Wii around as they were just discontinued last fall.
Accessory’s are still very available as well as tons of games. The Wii games run on the new WiiU so will continue to be around. If you upgrade the TV cable to component, you get much higher quality video for modern screens – not the HD of the newer PS and Xbox consoles, but at 1/4 of the price. Plus the Wii motion controllers are a lot of fun. (waving a tablet?)
If you buy used and have no warranty to worry about, you also have the option to “homebrew” the Wii and add further abilities, like making it into a Media Centre that will not only play DVD’s but will play formats not supported by the big consoles. And you’ve got a “magic remote” already. You can play classic games you own, fully backup your Wii, and much more.
The process is a bit geeky and you have to follow the steps carefully but it’s not difficult. They suggest you review the FAQ’s and follow the instructions. All of the original Wii functionality remains.
See you at the baseball stadium. Or the bowling alley.
Ever heard of Elon Musk? TED branded him a serial entrepreneur, but that’s an understatement. He is a practical visionary:
1 – the co-founder of Paypal
2 – the CEO and product architect of Tesla Motors. Their new all-electric model S has just been named by Consumer Reports as the highest rated car ever! It’s still a luxury car but it’s phase 2. Phase 3 is a mass production model. And the company has posted it’s first profit. That will keep it going.
3 – he’s involved with solar power company SolarCity
4 – and he’s the chief designer at SpaceX, a reusable rocket company. They’re already doing work for NASA and the space shuttle.
His TED talk from February this year: