Wow, I think my heart actually fluttered

I was starting to believe that nothing about consumer technology could really excite me anymore.  New smartphones and wearable computers just don’t excite me like they used to.  I’ve started to think it may be my age.  I know that as you get older, things just don’t work like they used to, at least not without pharmaceutical help.  Today was different.  My interest was piqued.  I was sitting up straight.  Paying attention to every little detail.  My age did not feel like a factor anymore.

So what captured my attention so vigorously?  It wasn’t a new computer, or a world changing killer application.  No, it was something as old as time.

I was sitting at my desk, working on an assignment, and had the Apple press event streaming in the background.  I didn’t feel it needed my full attention since these gatherings have become very boring and predictable.  Gone are the days of Steve Jobs saying “just one more thing!”  There are no more surprises, no more gasps from the audience, until this day.

Tim Cook and colleagues had run through the gamut of refreshed hardware and software lines including their workhorse operating system OS X.  Mavericks, the newest operating systems nom de plume, was being given its normal run through, with discussion of specs and performance enhancements, and I was listening out of one ear until Mr. Cook said the one thing that always makes me sit up and take notice.  “Mavericks will be FREE!”  I was gobsmacked.

To be fair, Apple hadn’t been charging large sums of money for the past three updates, but to offer a full operating system that can be installed on many legacy models for free is quite a business feat.  Not only will it allow people who have been financially unable to update their computer, schools and large business facilities that have been holding off because of cost, will be able to get their workstations up-to-date for the cost of labour alone.  It may look like financial suicide on the surface, but I truly believe there is a monetary brilliance to it.

I am going to assume that Apple makes a hefty amount of money annually from commissions on all the apps sold through either the Mac App Store, the Mac OS application purchasing portal, or the iOS AppStore found on all iOS devices.  Those commissions could offset the OS purchasing loss alone.  This wasn’t what I felt was the most interesting part of the Mavericks scheme.

If Apple can update all, or most of the still-operating Macs in the world, they will give every machine on the Internet access to the Mac App store.  Viola! In the blink of an eye, if you have a really fast Internet connection and you only blink once in the time it takes to download 5 gigabytes, Apple can vastly increase its purchasing base.  What an economic coup.  I do wonder what the Apple software developers’ thought of this move.

They no doubt put a lot of effort into this new OS.  Suffered, sacrificed, gave all of themselves to only have their bosses give this effort away for free.  I’d find this very disheartening.  Although I am sure they are telling themselves that it’s much better than working behind the Genius Bar at their local Apple retailer.

This event has left me wondering who Apple feels they are in competition with to take such a measure as to give away their operating system for free.  In a tuaw.com article I read later on that week, Linus Torvalds, creator of Linux, said that even though Mavericks is free, it’s not open source and very strongly tied to Apple specific hardware.  He’s right; the OS isn’t going to take over all of the PCs in the world.  Still has me wondering what the next step will be for Apple.

Until next week,
A Clockwork Techie

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I will never be Jimmy Page

Lately I have been taking the piss out of technology.  I have been doing this for the sole purpose of shining a light on what I believe is technology’s insidious penetration into areas better off left untouched.  I may sound bitter and angry and that I might set off a giant electromagnetic pulse around the world bringing the digital world back to zero, however nothing can be further from the truth.  I don’t hate technology I love it.

It is a hard statement to prove from within a blog, however let me try.  The following is a list of modern day tech that I own and use on a daily basis: a tablet computer, a smartphone, a laptop computer, a desktop computer, a streaming video device, and a flat panel TV.  I’d like to say they aren’t essential to my life and for the most part that is true, however I am an information junkie.  I would go off the deep end if I didn’t have access to the Internet in one form or another.   Whenever I’ve had questions over the past 20 years, the Internet has been there to nurture and direct my little boy nature to always ask the question “Why?” but I digress.

Last week I talked about how technology is ruining popular music, and I stand by that belief, however I should qualify that by saying there have been changes in music tech that have benefitted my personal musical development.  I had mentioned Apple Garageband, but another item in my musical arsenal that I absolutely love for it’s technological integration is my Squier® iOS Stratocaster.

It’s a simple, entry-level, solid body electric guitar built by Fender®.  It has a clean sound, is easy to play, and stays in tune for a long time.  It comes in a standard sunburst finish and shaped in the classic Fender Strat profile.  It has a ¼ inch output that allows me to plug into any amp or effects rack.  Standard tone and volume knobs that control the neck, mid, and humbucker bridge pickups.  These can also be mixed with the 5-way selector switch.  To me, these are important qualities in an electric guitar.

The really cool thing about this guitar is that the pickups are wired to a digital output.  The built in mini-USB port it allows me to plug the guitar directly into my computer, smartphone, or tablet all without any special pre-amps or other interface devices.  This is great for recording spur of the moment riffs, or playing around with different digital effects racks without ever having to leave my chair.  I can sound like Jimmy Page one moment, or Joe Strummer the next all with the click of a mouse.

One of the really fun things this guitar has allowed me do is play along with songs that I love.  I have been able to find multi-track recording stems online that can be imported into an application like Garageband.  I can then plug my guitar into the computer, create my own guitar track, and play along and record my own version of the song.  It’s a lot of fun and great practice as well.

Overall, the Squier iOS Strat is a fun, inexpensive, and well-built guitar that uses the right combination of old and new world technology.  It allows the amateur and professional alike to play around with their musical inspiration in any situation, as long as there is room for you, the guitar, and a smartphone.

You can find the specs for the guitar here, http://www.fender.com/features/usb-strat/

Until next week,
A Clockwork Techie

To bad it wasn’t seven cents change

“No matter how hard you may try, you’ll never be a good singer”.  That’s what most of the popular music artists these days should be told.  “You suck so get over it.  Making music isn’t for everyone”.  Instead they are told, “That was great!  We will clean it up with the computer.  You will look great on the video!”  It’s a crying shame.

Do you want to know how popular music should sound in this era of digital music?  Listen to Jack White.  In January of this year I was watching the Jack White episode of Austin City Limits on PBS.  I was blown away by the musicianship of Mr. White and his two different accompanying bands.  I was really enjoying the show, but it took me a couple of minutes to realize he was playing music of his latest album Blunderbuss.

My lack of recognition didn’t stem from poor rhythm, singing out of key, or the bands lack of enthusiasm.  I realized that they were performing different arrangements of the same songs.  It was astounding.  They were just as exciting, and engaging but completely different from the recorded album I had been listening too on a regular basis.  This is what musicianship is all about.

Do you think that today’s pop artists could do the same thing?  I don’t.  I really, really don’t.  I think whatever singing talent they may have, is completely fabricated and manipulated.  Their songs could not be easily translated into other arrangements, or musical genres without a team of writers and directors to fall back on.  Without the help of modern computers and high-end editing software there would be nothing musical about the final output.

Popular music has been infected by technology.  Auto-tune, multiple tracks, non-linear editing, looping tracks have taken average singers and made them pop stars.  They are not what I’d call true musicians.

It’s not that the river of popular music doesn’t ebb and flow, or that one hit wonders has never existed till now.  It’s that they are all the same.  There is no sound, vocal, or musical hook that sets todays bands apart (and I use the term band very loosely).  There’s no soul.  It’s like an out of tune tambourine.  Shaken, but not very well.

I recently watch the documentary Sound City directed by Dave Grohl.  Sound City was a music studio in Van Nuys, California that produced some the seminal rock albums of all times.  Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, Tom Petty’s Dam the Torpedos, and one of the biggest selling albums of all times, Nirvana’s Nevermind.  However the documentary was not about the music was produced at the studio, but how it was produced.  It was all done with analog mixing boards and reel-to-reel tape recorders.  No digital tomfoolery.  It took more time to record an album.  It meant that the musicians had to know their parts.  However the music that came out of that studio had soul.

Sound City however fell to the digital audio state and was sold off in 2011.  Computer technology had become so invasive that it took down one of the great halls of musical brilliance.  One of the great moments of the film was in an interview with John Fogerty.  He and a young musician had been comparing notes on their recording experiences.  Mr. Fogerty had asked how much time he spent practicing before going into the studio.  The young musician replied that he didn’t need to because the computers allowed him to fix all his mistakes on the fly.  There was no such thing as capturing a song in a single take anymore.

Now there is a flip side to modern technology and music recording.  Setting up a simple, economic home recording studio has become easier than ever.  As an example, I have Apple Garageband and a simple USB 3 device pre-amp.  Why is this great?  Well, not all of us want to be pop stars.  I liken my recordings to putting poems down on paper.  It’s my way of keeping a record of some creative thought I may have had.

It’s also much more affordable than trying to rent studio time to put together sample recordings for up and coming bands, or cover bands trying to book gigs at local establishments.  These recordings don’t need to be perfect, but clear enough to give a good representation of what the band is about.

Okay, that’s my technological rant for this week

Till next time,
A Clockwork Techie

Social interaction is dying. Long live social media!

I’ve had it with smartphones, social media, and the societal ignorance it promotes.  Facebook, texting, BBM and so forth are contributing to the downfall of a socially fluent society.  I would love to pin it on a certain younger generation, but I can’t.  My generation is just as much to blame for this rampant devolution into isolation as any other.  We sit around checking our smartphones like our existence depends on it.  We could all disappear if we didn’t update our status every 3 hours, or tweet about seeing a bottle cap in the middle of the road.  It’s worse than a narcotic addiction sometimes.

I have been out for the evening with friends, having a jolly time when one of my companions goes into a panic because their phone is about to die.  Now if they had been worried about the babysitter, an elderly or sick relative I’d have understood, but they were in a panic because they couldn’t finish their game of candy crush (or some such nonsense).

A few years ago, before the advent of the iPhone, I would be able to go out the local pub on my own and be guaranteed a conversation with one, or many different people.  These establishments promoted social interaction.  It was how ideas were exchanged, discussed, and yes sometimes disagreed upon.  The establishment would be buzzing with laughter and raised voices, and these sounds most times louder than any music or a sports event on the television perched high above our heads.

Now, I can go into that same pub and the music seems too loud.  Conversations are nonexistent.  The only laughter I hear is coming from the TV.  I look around at the packed tables and spy people with their heads down, leaning over their favourite application (I hate the word “app”), rather than engaging with their compatriots.  It’s truly a sad state of affairs; our attentions are so easily swayed by little LED’s.  I liken the ability of swiping our fingers over a screen to kindergarten children working on their finger paintings.  Has that what great technological advancement has gotten us?  Intellectual regression?  I wish I knew.

We have replaced face-to-face communication with electronic screens.  We type out our conversations rather than orally converse about our lives now.  When we finally give in and actually agree to meet in public, our friends are genuinely caught by surprise by any physical changes we may have gone through.  Now this would be acceptable if your friends lived far, far away, but when they are live on the next block in your neighbourhood, well you do the math.

The other part of this “technological revolution” has been the removal of our situational awareness.  People seem to be completely oblivious of their surroundings when their communicator vibrates.  I was sitting in a common area at school this week, quietly working and observing my surroundings when a class change happened.  Students shuffled by in a steady stream heading towards the stairs.  All of a sudden a guy came to a dead stop at the top of the stairs, reached into his pocket to pull his phone out, and started typing madly.  He was completely oblivious to the traffic jam he had caused, and didn’t seem to care.  He put his phone away and carried on.  Ignorance is bliss, and he seemed to be a pretty happy guy.

Facebook, twitter, tumblr etc can’t hold a candle to face-to-face, in the flesh conversation.  If we don’t recapture this fundamental requirement of interpersonal communications we are heading towards a life of isolation and self imposed loneliness.  In all fairness, I do have social media accounts, however I do not use them to share my life or converse with my friends.  I use them to follow news stories and other hobbies that interest me.  If my friends want to talk or share something with me, they either call, meet me for coffee, go for a walk, or just come sit on my front step and talk.

Till next week
A Clockwork Techie