Friday, December 31, 2010

Screen Size–usability vs portability


I’m privileged to have in my possession at the moment tablets ranging in size from 5” – 12.1” with all types of digitizers and touch screen technologies.  With tablets, the size of the device is basically the size of the screen. With each increase in screen size, you get a more usable device at the cost of how easily it can be carried around.  I find each one of these sizes offers an interesting compromise making it uniquely suited to certain types of usage. 


While to most people, this is a crazy big phone, to me it’s the smallest tablet I have.  It’s the biggest screen that will still slip into my back pocket (not that I would keep a phone there, I’d likely sit on it. I’m a girl; it goes in a purse).  While I can write on it with the Targus stylus, I don’t.  It’s running Android, so the selection of handwriting apps is small and doesn’t sync with the other places I keep notes.  The Streak is my reader – google reader, email, Tweetdeck, nook, bible.  5” is perfect for holding up in one hand and reading.  So much so, that I sold the actual nook and just read on the Streak now.  Angry Birds is also pretty nice on a 5” screen.


This is a relatively new addition to the collection, so I haven’t had as much time to test it in the scenarios I think it’s perfect for, but I think 7” might be my new favorite.  I can hold it in one hand in portrait mode, and it’s light enough that it’s not too heavy in just one hand.  With the OS upgraded to Windows 7, the inking is actually very smooth.  At first, I was put off by the glossier (than the Archos 9) screen, but it turns out that it’s a really nice surface for writing on.  This machine also has a really nice set of built in speakers, making it just as good for watching a video as it is for jotting down notes in OneNote.  While too big to be pocketable, it’s small enough to fit in any purse I have.  The only real drawback is the thickness.  If only this thing were as thin as the Archos. 


This has been my portable notepad until the Viliv came in and took over.  While both have the same resolution (1024x600), 9” feels like a ton more writing space.  Unfortunately, that can actually be a bit more awkward as it means the bezel is farther away.  On the resistive screens, you actually want to be close to an edge to rest your hand on it.  It’s significantly thinner than the Viliv, making writing on a table much more comfortable.  It’s also just small enough that I can still hold it in one hand in portrait mode, but the weight is a bit more bothersome on this device.  The size is also just too big for a few of my bags.  Bonus points for the built in kickstand.


Oh the iPad.  Too small for music and too big for reading.  The capacitive screen works great with the stylus, but I haven’t yet found an app that integrates with my workflow.  That relegates the iPad to more of an entertainment niche, which it’s just a little too big for.  My husband keeps threatening to get into app development, so it stays.


Old faithful, the tc1100 is still one of the smallest form factors you can get with an active Wacom digitizer.  The 4:3 aspect ratio is good for reading, and it’s just bigger than the iPad by enough for sheet music to start to be readable.  However, it’s only fits in the few bags I got specifically for bigger devices, and has to be held in the arm, not the hand.  It’s pretty light for what it is though, and the weight doesn’t feel bad when you’re using it.  The active Wacom digitizer is just a joy to use, and the thinness makes it great for writing on a table.  While not really powerful enough for much video watching, it’s plenty good as a internet browser and notepad.


I’m evaluating a bModo 12G, and I’m really liking the combination of the 11.6” screen with the 1366x768 resolution.  The extra pixels make it so much more usable without feeling cramped or restricted, like I do on the tc1100 or smaller screens.  It’s thinner and lighter than the tc1100 and small enough for more bags, but still too big for about half of them.  It’s the length of the widescreen that prevents it from fitting places, but that length also makes movies look great.  The capacitive screen is harder to ink on, but the keyboard is much easier to use.  After just a few days with it, I’ve gotten pretty fast just working with the on screen keyboard and have never felt the need to plug in an external one.  The weight is just too much for wanting to read a book, but fine for some couch surfing when propped up on the legs.


This is a convertible tablet, so it qualifies more as a full fledged laptop.  In fact, it spends a lot of time on my desk in laptop mode.  It also spends a fair bit of time in the studio in slate mode being my notetaker, SmartMusic playback, and sheet music display.  It’s a little thicker, making writing on a table more awkward, and the weight makes holding it for longer periods more difficult.  The active digitizer on this one is even better than on the tc1100, making this my best writing device by far.  The problem is, it’s a laptop, and only fits in bags I specifically got for it.  It’s a great computer, and it gets treated as more of a computer than a grab and go writing pad. 

So, there you have it.  Each one is really good at being a specific type of device.  The Streak is a great reader.  The Viliv is a great handheld notepad, but thick.  The Archos has a bigger writing surface, but fits less places because of it.  The iPad is awkwardly too big and too small at the same time, but it’s the only thing that runs the apps it runs and the battery life is stellar.  The tc1100 is a thin and light Wacom tablet.  The bModo is a fabulous screen in a thin package, but too big to be handheld.  The 2730p is my main workhorse.  I like them all.  Now I just have to pick one to take to CES.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Setting up an iMac for the in-laws

Actually, they already had it set up, but my father in law was waiting for me to help him learn how to do some stuff with it. Remembering back to my short time at the Apple store, I dragged the iLife app demos out of my memory to prepare for the kinds of things I thought he would want to do. As it turns out, I was about 5 steps ahead of what really needed to happen.

At first, he sat in front of the machine, and I in the chair next to him, and he almost formed a question a few times. Then he looked at the screen and just asked me to just show him what kinds of things he could do. Oh, the general OSX demo, that was probably still in my memory somewhere. As I was trying to think of where to start, he did finally come up with a specific question. It was nothing I had anticipated, but makes perfect sense as a top priority in his case. He had been a Windows user for years for work, and has been preparing family taxes with Turbo Tax since 2005. He had those files, and many other family financials backed up onto a USB stick. He wanted to know where to put them. That's right, the file structure and Finder were different enough from what he was used to that he wasn't sure where he should put the files. After introducing him to the concept of the Home folder, I showed him where his Documents lived, and how to get there from the dock or the Finder. We went through the different views the Finder offers and settled on columns so he would know where he was. I showed him how right clicking still gave the option to create a new folder so he could go about organizing the files. We decided to move the files from the stick into a temporary pre-sorting folder on the desktop so he wouldn't miss anything and could come back to the sorting later.

The rest of the afternoon was spent tackling the Alaska pictures. Between the two of them, they had about a million photos on two different digital cameras that they were deathly afraid transferring wrong and losing. The first camera was a Kodak. Easy Share may be great if you want to deal with that software, but when you have iPhoto, why on earth would you want to use Kodak's proprietary mess? Oh, because Kodak cameras won't mount as a drive, that's why. But we weren't playing that game, oh no. This is a new iMac, with a SD card slot (thank you Apple, you have no idea how you just saved Christmas). So out came the card, and into the iMac it went. iPhoto then had no problem importing directly off the SD card. After a short discussion of how photos are organized into events, we went into full screen slideshow mode. Just in case you've forgotten how a slideshow runs in the hands of the master of the house, we then got to discuss every single photo as he clicked through them and continued to marvel at how great they looked on the iMac's screen. Rinse and repeat with mother in law's camera, and that ate up the afternoon.

The final task of this trip was to drag them kicking and screaming into the digital music revolution. Father in law had gotten Mother in law an iPod for Christmas. Once we found this out, we went and got them an iPod speaker dock for Christmas. She's a librarian and they're both always listening to books on CD. She frequently also gets the little overdrive mp3 players the library checks out, with a single audio book on it. He prefers the CDs, but complains about ones that aren't split into enough tracks, as the tracks then end up too long and it's hard to pick up where you left off if you stop in the middle of a track. We thought the iPod was a brilliant solution, because we know how they work. We tried to explain downloading audible books from iTunes or the library's website (which actually turned out to be ridiculously over complicated, but that’s a rant for another post), ripping CDs to the iPod, the magic of having all your music and books all the time in one little device, but to no avail. They couldn't imagine a world without CDs. We managed to get them used to the idea of using the speaker dock for the kitchen, so he wanted to move the old CD boombox up to the office to listen to the books. You know, the same office the iMac is in. We tried to explain the awesomeness to just using the iMac to listen (or ripping to iTunes first), but he wasn't convinced. That is, until he took a CD up, stuck it in the computer, and we started talking about how iTunes works. When I showed him that you can click anywhere in the playback progress bar to go to anywhere in the track, I think I blew his mind. That was the most excited he had been about anything we had showed him up to that point.

It was a good reminder that what's important to those of us who use computers all the time might not matter at all to the "average user" and that the "average user" may surprise us when we find out what is really important to them. But, with all the new hardware I'm seeing, it can be easy to take for granted how many neat and useful little things computers can do. I know how they work, so there's not much magic or mystery. New features are hardly ever revolutionary, it's just slightly faster stuff packed into slightly smaller or sleeker boxes. Watching someone be so excited over playback control on a CD rekindled a lot of the excitement in me. I'm really looking forward to seeing what's being shown at CES, and hoping I can remember what this might look like to an "average user."

Sunday, December 26, 2010

bmodo at breakfast

Morning coffee and all the news you could want wrapped up in a neat little package called google reader. As my father-in-law's newspaper sprawls all over the kitchen table with news of only the local area, I have all the news I want, in a much more compact space. The nice thing about the tablet is that it sits flat on the table, just like the newspaper, so there is no visual barrier between any of us.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

On the road with the bModo 12G

I'm posting this from the bModo tablet while we drive between my parents' house and my husband's parents.  I thought it would be a nice test of the bModo's mobility options.  I have been using the main tools that set this tablet apart from so many others - GPS and 3G.  I may not have been able to get a GPS signal indoors, but now that I'm out in a car (being a passenger, not driving) it connected quickly and was able to send data to google maps.  I'm also connected to the 3G network via the SIM pulled from my phone, which is how I'm posting this.  I've typed the whole thing in with the Windows on screen keyboard, which is getting more and more comfortable as I get used to it.  I may just be typing using a few fingers, but it's fast enough to not be frustrating.

I don't know how often I really "need" access to these kinds of tools (3G on a full Windows based tablet), but it sure is nice to have right now.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Inking on the bModo 12G vs iPad

After the pretty terrible performance of the targus capacitive stylus on the ctl 2go pad, and other poor reviews of capacitive styluses on Windows 7 tablets, I wasn't too hopeful.  But I like to try everything, just to see.  Imagine my surprise when it actually worked!  It's certainly nowhere near the smooth accuracy of an active digitizer, and it's a little bit rougher than the iPad, but it works.  It works well enough that the TIP can convert to text and both Journal and OneNote can index my handwriting well enough to accurately search through it.

SmartMusic on the bModo 12G

This is why I need Windows 7 on my tablets.

Full review of the bModo 12G

The full review is posted at tabletpcbuzz


The tl:dr version: It’s a good all around machine.  Best of the new wave of Windows 7 based capacitive screened tablets I’ve seen so far.  It’s performs well as an entertainment tablet due to the high res screen.  It performs well as a work tablet due to the built in 3G and the fact that this one actually works with my capacitive stylus, so I can effectively ink in OneNote.  It’s thin and light for it’s screen size so it’s easy to carry. 

I’ve been granted some extended time with the review unit, so I’m going to fill it up with sheet music and see how it works as a music tablet (I just got SmartMusic installed).  At 11.6” it’s only a little smaller than the 12.1” HP 2730p I normally use, and it’s much thinner and lighter. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

bModo takes on the media booth

Originally uploaded by violajack

Well, actually, the bModo took on the Christmas play, which is way more than just the media booth. There were 5 screens on set, each controlled by a computer, run by 3 people. I had two to run myself, and the bModo is sitting between them, displaying the script in OneNote. Most of the markup was done with the Archos 9 before I got the bModo, but by keeping the notebooks on the web, it was a simple matter of installing Office on the bModo and connecting to those notebooks. I was able to ink in changes with either my capacitive Targus stylus or my finger. The tablet held up through two dress rehearsals, two shows last night, and three more today. After 3 hour long runs this morning, it was telling me I still had nearly two hours of battery life left.

The general consensus among those who saw the set up (specifically, what I can do to uploaded PDFs in OneNote) was that this is way better than an iPad. I have to agree.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Posting from the Chromebook Cr-48

After figuring I wasn't going to get picked for the pilot program, I came home to a box last night.  Oh yeah, I got picked to get a chromebook!  As per the pilot program instructions, I will be trying to use it as my primary computer as much as I can.  Unfortunately, right now, my two main studio tasks can't be done in a browser just yet (OneNote and SmartMusic).  However, about 95% of everything else I do can be done in chrome.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Zoom Q3HD


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The HD version of the Zoom Q3 is now shipping.  I have the older SD version and use it all the time in my studio.  The kids really enjoy watching themselves (as long as you get them used to it when they’re young enough).  Teens will grudgingly watch, but still learn a lot.  It’s also graduation season, so we’ve been doing a lot of graduation recordings with SmartMusic providing the accompaniment for pieces that need it.  It does a great job of capturing high quality audio and enough video to be useful.  For my uses, I don’t think the bump up to 720p video would be necessary, but if you want to play back on a tv, those extra pixels could come in handy.  Sadly, the Q3HD suffers from the same lack of fine control over audio levels.  Your only level control is to capture “high”, “low”, or “auto”.  Luckily, “low” is perfect for getting a strong signal from a solo kid in the studio.  Sometimes I have to switch it to “high” if there is a full accompaniment track or more than one of us playing.  It would be nice to have a slider for finer in between controlling of the level however.  Maybe the next version….

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Klaus Christian Grumpelt Violin

2010-12-02 11.46.07

It’s back to the old-school music technology today.  As it turns out, a friend of a friend is a German violin maker.  And he was in town with instruments!  He’s already sold instruments in New York and Chicago, and was looking to make some connections here in the Bay Area.  He left one instrument with a local shop on consignment but really wanted to get his instruments into the hands of teachers to more directly get to the advancing students looking for this step up.  I will have one of his violins for the next 6 months to play with and show off. 

Oddly enough, this instrument is actually younger than my TC1100 tablet.  It was made in 2006 in Hamburg.  It hasn’t been played in a while and has some old strings on it.  Klaus recommended Evah Pirazzis for it, and while I don’t like them on my viola at all, I can see how this violin could benefit from that set.  I’ll probably switch out the strings and give it a good few weeks of playing in to really form opinions, but I’ve enjoyed the few hours I’ve already had with it. 

It’s a real treat to get an instrument directly from the maker.  For one thing, it’s nice to know the fine art of violin making is still alive and well.  For another, even luthiers working full time on producing new instruments only complete about half a dozen every year.  Klaus has spent a lot of his time recently restoring instruments and making a double bass, which is a much longer term project than a violin, so his current stock of personal instruments is small.  It’s a real privilege to have one entrusted to me for the next 6 months, and quite a treat to get to sit down with Klaus to chat and get to know the violin. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Archos 9 Full Review

Yes, I’m late to the party on getting one of these things, but when the deal came up on craigslist, I just couldn’t resist.


Archos is a French company that has been making PMPs for years. They have recently turned to Android to power their PMP line, which will soon head into a 3rd generation. Along the way, they built a 9” touchscreen slate based on the Atom platform and running Windows 7, and managed to get it to the market about a year before most other Windows net-slates. They had to compromise a few things to get there, mainly going with the slower Z515 processor, and that was an upgrade after reviewers and consumers complained about the slowness of the original Z510. There’s only 1GB of RAM, and it comes out of the box with Windows 7 starters. The resistive touchscreen might look like a compromise to some, but it’s actually much more pen friendly than the more popular (and expensive) capacitive screens. It may not be up to par with the HP slate that’s going to come out one of these days, but it’s a good collection of compromises that results in a decent writing and internet experience for times when you don’t want to haul a full size tablet.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Archos 9 in “netbook” mode



I’m hanging out at the office while some of the guys record stuff, and I brought the Archos 9.  I’ve been using it mostly as a portable notepad and couch surfing tablet, but thanks to the handy kickstand, a bluetooth keyboard and USB mouse (which could be the bluetooth one, but that’s currently paired with the big tablet), it’s standing up on the desk being a netbook while I turn the handwritten notes I’ve taken in OneNote into a typed review in Word.  Also, it made this blog post.  Yay for versatility. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The current state of tablets


Tablets are all the rage, and none of them are what the original Tablet PCs started out as.  I’ve been following several tabletPC related forums to get the most out of my HP TC1100, and my “new” HP 2730p tablet PCs.  Note the “PCs” part of it.  What makes a tablet PC?  The tablet part comes from the world of drawing tablet input devices.  Those are things like Wacom Intuos or Bamboo pads that attach as a peripheral to a PC for input.  These use active digitizers to sense where the pen is over the tablet.  The PC part comes from the fact that there’s a whole PC hiding behind the drawing tablet.  So a tablet PC is a full computer with an active digitizer. 

Lately, folks have been wandering into the forums “what tablet should I get” sections asking about cheap android “tablets” or other iPad alternatives.  What happens is general confusion, as the tabletPC crowd doesn’t really know anything about crappy android tablets, and the people asking don’t know anything about active digitizers or actual tablet PCs. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

SmartMusic needs some competition

To start though, let me just say that Smart Music is awesome.  It has become an invaluable tool in my studio, from providing accompaniments I can’t play, to reading exercises with clear feedback, to Harry Potter with full orchestral accompaniment.  My students love it. 

The problem is that it’s buggy, and bloated.  However, with no competition, there is little incentive to make it better.  Since it runs as subscription software, they don’t even have to worry about selling us the upgrade, they just make us renew the subscription, or we lose access to all the accompaniments.  There is nothing else out there that even comes close to providing what SmartMusic does, and I haven’t even come close to using half the features it provides.  I actually only use the Student edition, as I don’t need a gradebook, and Suzuki pieces don’t provide assessment anyway.  One of the main reasons behind upgrading my tablet was so SmartMusic would run more smoothly.  2011 already performed much better on my older tc1100, but I wanted really perfect playback and recording.  Which I got, except for….

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The ctl 2goPad

I’ve had it since Monday and will be getting the full review out over the weekend.  I’ve done an unboxing here.  Ever since trading away my Viliv S5, I’ve missed having a small Windows based tablet.  I like the idea of having a small Windows tablet as a digital writing pad that I can keep on me all the time. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What’s wrong with Windows on tablets?

I have Windows 7 on my TC1100 slate tablet, and it’s working out quite nicely.  Yet, whenever anyone reviews one of these “new” Windows slates, they complain about how Windows was not designed for touch.  While technically true, Windows was designed for use with a mouse and keyboard, I don’t seem to have a problem using it on slates. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My handwriting is getting better


As a follow up to my previous post, I noticed my own handwriting has been improving.  I take sermon notes in a paper journal (I know, paper, how old school) at church.  I had been getting sloppier, but I had not noticed how much so until I went through some old school notebooks in a bookshelf move.  I hadn’t handwritten anything of length for years until I started keeping a journal for church again about two years ago.  Sure, I write lesson notes for students, but that consists of a few words at a time on a chart, not long form writing of complete sentences.  I had also been taking sermon notes on my little Viliv S5 for a while.  I do like having my notes in Evernote (which reminds me, I have some transcribing to do), and that little device was unobtrusive enough to be used without distracting those around me.  However, the resistive touchscreen and Evernote’s less that stellar inking didn’t do anything to improve my writing. 

Now that I have some experience with tablets with active Wacom digitizers and I’m using them to write more (I hardly ever attached the keyboard to the tc1100, I did a lot of note-taking at institutes this summer, and all my reviews have been done in ink in OneNote first), I think my handwriting is getting better.  Now this could be a product of seeing what my handwriting used to look like and paying more attention, but I think it’s also due to practice.  I can mean to write more clearly all I want, but without the opportunity to actually do it, nothing would change.  I think the recent experience with the increased accuracy of the Lenovo x201t and now an HP 2730p, I’m paying even more attention and getting even better.  While the TC1100 is significantly more accurate and smooth than the resistive screens I used to use, the HP 2730p is another level up from that. 

I’m considering an attempt at a full on ink-blog style post ala Sumocat or Stevieblue.  I find it much more interesting to write by hand than to type out at the keyboard.  It’s good to feel the pen and form the letters.  And how much opportunity do we get to write things by hand anymore in this world of computers? 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Why all students need a real tablet

By real, I mean one with an active digitizer, and a pen.  One that prioritizes handwriting over multitouch party tricks.  Not that pinching to zoom isn’t useful, but these new tablets are all about the flashy side of touch and consuming media, rather than harnessing the power of the pen for content creation.

A recent Wall Street Journal article that was covered by several blogs in my google feed, confirms what we all really already knew.  Handwriting trumps typing for memory and cognition.  Duh.  Taking the time to form the letters by hand will cause what you write to stick in your head way better than just pushing buttons on a keyboard.  As a kinesthetic learner, this makes a big difference to me.  My method of preparing for a mid-term or final in college was to sort through my daily notes from lectures and re-write them by topic.  Just re-reading my notes didn’t get me anywhere, it was re-writing them that did it.  Of course, not everyone is a kinesthetic learner, so not everyone will get the same benefit, but everyone can benefit from the physical action of forming letters. 

So why don’t schools give out tablets?  What good are netbooks and macbooks?  Or even iPads and slates with capacitive screens.  Sure the reviewers all love them for their responsiveness.  They open a web browser and zoom with two fingers, or spin and resize photos, and then ooh and ah over how slick and responsive it is.  But how does that help anyone learn?  Intel came close with the convertible classmate tablet, but still no active digitizer.  Okay, maybe they’re more expensive to build in, and you have to deal with kids losing pens, but resistive and capacitive screens even with styluses don’t even come close to a normal writing experience.  If you can’t lay your hand down and just write, without worrying about selecting things, or generating extra ink, or having the computer think you really want to zoom, it’s no good.  Inking on a tablet with an active digitizer is, for me at least, no different than writing on paper. 

Except for the fact that it’s way better than paper.  You have an infinite writing surface in Evernote or OneNote; the page just keeps getting longer as you get near the bottom.  OneNote will let you insert blank space in the middle of your handwriting too.  It will also let you search your handwriting, and link from page to page.  Today’s lecture expanding on a concept that was introduced last week?  Link to it.  Insert audio so you can listen to the lecture if you’ve got one of those teachers who can talk faster than you can write.  Insert PDFs and write over them, without having mess up the originals. 

I used my tc1100 with OneNote to take notes at the training institutes I attended over the summer, and was very pleased with the experience.  I was able to write as much as I wanted for each page without running out of space.  Some of my collegues couldn’t take notes through a whole observation because they were using single page observation templates and filled them half way through.  I had scanned in all the music, so I was able to mark it up while still keeping my books clean.  I could ink in music notes if I wanted, and I did want to, a lot.  There was another trainee taking notes on a netbook and I have to wonder how she managed to type music.  If I had to do school over again, or any more academic work, I know I’d be living off my tablet and OneNote. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Practicing with the iPad

The St Peter's Chamber orchestra is performing this weekend, and I'm principal violist. It's a small orchestra still in the "start up" phase, so there is no librarian. That means the responsibility of music distribution falls to the principals. I like to just email PDFs to my section and then bring the originals to the first rehearsal. Two of the three pieces were available from IMSLP and the other was a quick scan. I figured since I had the PDF versions, I would give the iPad a chance. After two days of trying to view the music that way, I gave up. It's just too small.

I have the PDFs in UnrealBook (on recommendation of choirguy at the TechInMusicEd blog, it’s his current favorite).  They display nicely in portrait, just small.  In landscape, the music becomes more readable, but the program doesn’t really handle scrolling well.  Sure, you can grab the music and drag it up to see the bottom half of the page, but a tap is all it takes to turn to the next page.  Half the time, the app thought my attempts at sliding to move the music were really taps and I ended up going forwards or backwards pages when all I wanted was to see the music on the bottom half of the page.  This just reinforces my desire to find a bigger screened tablet.  The problem is, 12” widescreen is the new norm, and I’ve already seen that it doesn’t add anything to the overall size of a full sheet of music. 

Oh for a 13” 4:3 tablet.  With 10 hours of battery.  And a core i5 processor, with 4GB of RAM.  Less than an inch thick.  Under 3 pounds.  That would be nice.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My x201t review is up


Here it is, the full review of the Lenovo Thinkpad x201t.  I also have a first impressions post.  It was a great machine, but I think I’ll stick with my tc1100.  I had been watching craigslist and seen some good deals on this machine, the x200t, and the x61t, but none of them really fill my tablet needs better than the tc1100.  Turns out, all I really need is an electronic writing pad that can run SmartMusic.  Sure, I’d love to have more battery life and more power, but in the end, smaller wins. 


I’m getting closer to an iPad set up that might work.  I found a decent PDF annotator that could work for practice charts – Noterize.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite import the PDF right.  It comes out not centered so a bit of the right and bottom get cut off.  Also, despite finding a good stylus, it’s just not nearly as accurate as the wacom digitizer on the tc1100.  Oh, and there’s no SmartMusic on the iPad.  That’s kind of a deal breaker right now. 


All I want is a 12”-14” 4:3 (1400x1050) slate with a wacom digitizer and touch (that can be turned off if I don’t want to mess with it that day) with 8 hours of battery life, under 3 lbs.  Oh and it should have a core i5 processor, 4GB RAM, and 2.5” SATA SSD of 64GB or higher.  For $500.  Or less.  And a pony.  Definitely a pony.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lenovo x201t in the studio


Yep, it’s there.  Hiding in the pile of stuff that sits on one side of me while I teach.  On the other side is my double case.  During the lessons I’m alternately picking up an instrument to demonstrate or the tablet to write something down in the student’s homework assignment.  As you can see, 12” is about as big as I can fit on this little side table. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

What I learned today



A 12" widescreen offers no advantage over a 10" 4:3 screen when it comes to displaying music


Perhaps I should try to pick up an x61.

It’s here….

It’s my very first review machine!  Big thanks to John of TabletPCBuzz and Allegiance Technology Partners for the use of this Lenovo x201t.  I’ve been getting it set up to run the studio for the next few weeks and will be working on a first impressions and full review. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

A busy year and an exciting opportunity


I’ve been quite busy with the start of the new school year, and haven’t had as much time to write as I would like.  Part of that is because my writing time has been given to an “interview” review of sorts.  My review was accepted and is published at!  This site is a great resource.  It’s where I’ve gotten a lot of the information that has helped me get the most out of my TC1100.  The “interview” part of it was that they were looking for someone to write reviews.  I started with a machine I already have but will now have the opportunity to have access to many other tablets for the purposes of writing reviews.  I will also get to post about my experiences here, and may even add a guest blog over there that will focus more on my use of tablets in the world of classical music. 


Speaking of which, the TC1100 went out for its first live performance this weekend.  It has been behind the scenes often helping when I’m running media for services.  But I also play bass for the women’s ministry – Coffee Talk.  Chord charts are sent to us via email as a Word document.  Rather than printing them out, I just downloaded them to the tablet.  Inking in Word 2010 is smooth and accurate.  It allowed me to take all the additional notes I needed for each piece.  Each chart is only 1 page long, and I had plenty of time in between to switch to the next one.  Full screen reading view showed me the whole chart.  The position of the bass player on stage is off to the side to be by the drums, but it’s a bit dark.  They have a stand light, but the lighting people aren’t thrilled about that, and I’m not so good about remembering to turn it off when I’m done.  It was nice to have backlit music, which meant I didn’t need to bother with the stand light.


The studio this year is full to the brim, and despite my general policy of not taking new students, a few younger siblings and few friends of current students have slipped in.  I have 4 pre-twinklers, all 3 or 4 years old, and I think I might explode from the cuteness.  I’ve also had another student ask about switching to viola, and her parents are totally on board with the idea.  Yay for more violas! We’re trying to get more involvement for the violas in the local Suzuki organization.  I’ve been working with the coordinator of the local play-in to find a way to have violas involved with the violins this year.  I’m very excited to see violas getting a chance to stand out and be recognized too. 

Friday, September 3, 2010

The quest for a 7” tablet

Or, why I don’t hate the Pandigital Novel.
pandigital novel
A lot of reviewers do.  It should be noted that those are reviews of the black version of the novel, and the differences between that one and the white novel go deeper than just the paint job.  The white one fared even worse when it first came out.  There are some significant hardware differences between the two, which results in difference firmware for each.  The black one doesn’t seem to have an accessible adb mode.  This is important as this is how Android takes commands from a computer.  The white novel runs Android 2.0 and with adb on, is very easily hacked. 


“Join the party, as the Bay Area's top professional violists come together for an evening of alto clef, viola jokes, and great music to celebrate the rebirth of the Northern California Viola Society. Watch our "viola progressive" onstage, as we attempt to set a new Guinness world record for the largest viola ensemble ever. Violists, please bring your axe and join us.” From Classical at the Freight hosted by the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Smart Music 2011

sm 2011 logo
The upgrade to Smart Music 2011 was released recently, and I’ve been enjoying it.  I’ve been on vacation, so I haven’t had a chance to try it in the studio yet, but the fall season starts soon.  First impressions are that this is a really good upgrade over 2010.  Navigation is much better, and it runs much more smoothly on my older tablet. 

Friday, July 30, 2010

Both tablets take on Chamber Music Camp

And the tc1100 wins for being able to print.

2010-07-24 12.57.44

The iPad did a nice job of letting us watch some youtube performances of the pieces the kids were working on.  It was even able to show me the score from, but that was all it could do.  When it came down to the kids needing parts, the tc1100 stepped up to the plate, plugged into the printer, and gave us music. 

I brought the iPad on day 1, but when it became clear that printing would be needed, the tc1100 came for the rest of the week.  I was able to keep scores for all the groups I was coaching and mark them up quite nicely in Journal.  Although, it’s not entirely a fair comparison as I don’t yet have a stylus for the iPad.  It’s hard to feel motivated to get one as the inking on the tc1100 is so nice. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Meet Paddy-Pad, the new tablet in town

2010-07-14 15.09.58

Not the cat, the thing hiding behind it.  The cat is Mr Fluff, and like all good cats, as soon as I had a good comparison shot set up, he came and sat in front of it.  Amazing how they do that.  Anyway, though the wonders of craigslist, I am now the proud hopping-on-the-bandwagon owner of an iPad.  There are already plenty of reviews of the iPad on the internet, so I’m not going to bother with that.  But what I will present are some nifty comparison shots of the new iPad and the tc1100 I’ve been using.  They’re not as far off as I had initially thought when I set this up.

The tc1100 rocks the media booth

2010-07-10 20.12.53

I’ve recently completed my training to begin working in the media booth at church.  I’ve been wanting to get more involved and this really feels like a good place for me to be.  I just love sitting behind a computer and letting it run through things.  We run words during worship and sermon points with ProPresenter 4, which makes the experience, especially words during worship, feel very much like clicking through page turns for a pianist.  The main difference being that the slides do not run straight through like a piano score does.  It’s more like a score with a gazillion multi-endings and DS’s.  That’s where the tablet comes in.  I just create a new section in my church notebook in OneNote (which is one of Microsoft’s best kept secrets and most valuable tablet tools), print in the charts for the songs from PDFs, then start a new page to keep track of the roadmap.  There are any number of Verses, Choruses, Bridges, and Tags (which can run like let’s tag this other tune at the end of the one we’re on or maybe go back and do another Chorus or two, but this time with the background down so the words can be overlaid over the video) happening.  I just jot down a quick list of the order the band goes through things in and they hope they do it the same way when we hit service time.  Some of the nice things about using digital ink for this are the paper savings, the ease of erasing and re-writing sections, and the ability to have the (annotatable) charts for reference in another tab in the same program.  My new after market battery will easily survive the meeting, rehearsal, and evening service on Saturday, then the rehearsal, and 3 services on Sunday.  By the last service, when things are running more on auto-pilot, I can even open up Evernote where I keep my sermon notes and get my own notes in.  This tablet just keeps getting more and more useful. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

SMC and the tc1100

2010-06-19 19.58.16
The institute just flew by with not nearly as much time as I had hoped to report here about all the wonderful stuff I was doing.  The tc1100 got a lot of attention and did a great job keeping up with the demands of the teacher training. 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Suzuki Music Columbus

My first day at the institute was great.  There are about a dozen of us in the combined book 2/3 teacher training, and another dozen taking ECC and book 1.  The students will arrive tomorrow, so it was super chill and quiet today.  Part of me is looking forward to the 400 or so students arriving and filling the campus with violin playing, and part of me really enjoys the quiet. 

I used the TC1100 to take notes and keep the music close at hand.  Taking notes in One Note is great with basically infinite pages.  I just write as much as I want and keep scrolling down, no need to turn the page.  As the resident geek, I’ve been volunteered to run the “CD player” which means logging into the PC and opening iTunes.  During a break I poked around in the back of the media setup and discovered I can steal the audio line from the PC and plug in the tablet directly should we want to use Smart Music.  I have let the instructor know of my set up and that I have all 10 books of accompaniments available should he want.  We did go back to book 1 to talk about where some techniques are first introduced.  He’s really good at connecting the big picture and looking at book 2 material in the larger context of techniques that will be required of the kids as they advance into orchestras, chamber ensembles, and solo music beyond the Suzuki repertoire. 

I may or may not have also used the Droid to entertain myself at certain points.

Speaking of being entertained, the nook did a stellar job of keeping me entertained on the flight.  Nothing like a forever battery and super easy on the eyes eInk screen to read for hours. 

This should be a great week.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Computex, PixelQi, and my ideal Music Pad



This year’s Computex show in Taiwan seemed to be all about the tablets.  So many manufacturers are pulling out their iPad killers. Several of the concept devices have potential to create my ideal music pad.

The most intriguing technology being shown off are the displays by PixelQi.  They were also on display at CES some months ago, and are probably still a ways off from a real product on the market, but whatever they do make should be good.  The displays look like a regular LCD when the backlight is on, but they also have a transreflective mode where the backlight is off and the display looks like epaper, but with full color and video capabilities. 

There is some great coverage at Liliputing and Engadget, complete with reviews and great videos.  One of these, with a Wacom digitizer in a 12” slate with an Intel CULV processor would be so awesome.  I wonder how long it will take the industry to actually do something about it. 

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Better Workflow

I have been trying to find a good program for managing my PDF sheet music library.  I need a program with easy scrolling using PgUp and PgDn (for use with a USB foot pedal) and good inking for making notations in the music.  The closer to free the better.  I have tried several programs and finally settled on one that I think will work well for my personal performance and practice library.


First, the things that didn’t work:


Minuet 3One Note

OneNote is great for inking, making clear and smooth notations in the music.  The problem is that it is terrible for scrolling.  It doesn’t seem to see the jog dial on the side at all for smooth scrolling through an imported PDF.  It will see commands from PgUp and PgDn, but it seems to want to move through imaginary text fields to the side of the music and keeps pushing the actual sheet music part of the document off center.  OneNote just leaves too much space around an imported document.  Great for taking notes, but terrible for keeping the music front and center.  OneNote will be spectacular for taking notes on the imported Suzuki books when I’m at the institute, but it will not work for real world playback.



Minvet3 Foxit

Foxit is a fabulous lightweight and free PDF reader.  It has a great full screen mode which lets the music fill all the available screen space.  The jog dial can then be used to turn pages forwards and backwards really easily.  It could also be easily controlled by a foot pedal sending PgUp and PgDn. Where Foxit falls short is in the notation department.  It has annotation tools, which is great for a free program.  The problems come in the way it handles smoothing the inked input.  For some reason, it seems to want to cut off the first chunk of any line I draw.  An up bow V turns into more of a check mark.  A tiny 1 for a fingering disappears almost entirely.  There is little customization for the pencil tool also.  I was able to change the color and thickness, but no matter what I tried, it cut off the first part of any stroke.  This rules it out for being a useful tool to track markings for performance.



My favorite program for Linux on a Tablet, xournal is great for marking up PDFs.  Sadly it is out for the simple fact that PDF rendering in Windows is terrible.  The staff lines are jagged making it harder to read.  If I were running linux on the tablet, it would be my program of choice.  But as it is, the SSD is only big enough for one OS right now, and Windows is needed for some of the hardware functions.



And the winner is:

Windows Journal


Surprise!  The free program that is included in all the tablet accessories turns out to be ideal.  When you first open it, it offers to install a printer for importing anything you can print into Journal.  It’s the only way to get a PDF in.  I open the PDF in Foxit, choose print, then choose the Journal Printer.  That creates a very nice file in Windows journal that fills the screen while being only the size of the music.  That means navigation is as easy as telling it to fit to width and then using PgUp and PgDn.  The inking is on par with OneNote as this is also a Microsoft product geared towards the active pen input of a tablet.  As a nice bonus, Windows Journal comes with many templates, one of which is staff paper!  Now I can draw out scales or new little exercises for my students without having to remember to bring my own staff paper!  I can’t count how many times I’ve wanted to write out a little exercise or a new scale, but I didn’t have blank staff paper with me. 

Minuet 3 Journal

The only drawback I found to Windows Journal, is that it doesn’t export to PDF.  I found a neat free Print to PDF program, called doPDF, that just installs itself as a printer and allows you to create a PDF through the print dialogue.  Now I’m wondering if Windows Journal and some good folder organization would be enough to keep my student notes in addition to keeping a music library.

Monday, May 24, 2010


scrshot_main  qr_market_pub_cohortor

I found a great free chromatic tuner in the Android Market called gstrings.  It’s accurate, has a really smooth moving needle, and a digital readout of your exact hertz.  There are million other useful looking settings.  This app has tons of potential beyond just telling you what you’re playing.  I’m looking forward to playing with it more and seeing what all it can do. I tested it side by side against my Korg and it consistently gave me the same read-outs through a full scale, with much smoother needle motion than the Korg.  It’s very responsive to changing notes on auto mode.  Just to see what it would do, I pulled it out before a concert today, to see if it could hear me while other musicians were also warming up.  No dice there, but I’m sure if I played around with the mic sensitivity settings, I could have gotten better results.  It works great in a quiet room.

As I was drafting this, during intermission at an afternoon concert, I noticed some of the guys singing into iPhones.  Turns out they were playing with iPhone tuners, so I got some recommendations for things to try on the iPhone platform as well. 


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Smart Music on the Tablet!

The last I tested Smart Music, it was pretty dismal on the tablet.  There was tons of popping and static in the playback, indicating that the machine was not up to the task of running the audio out while listening to the audio in and all the signal processing that goes with that.  At that point, the machine was still in the state it came to me in – slow hard drive near death, only 1Gig RAM, and tons of stuff installed by the previous owner.  Since then, I have upgraded to 2Gig RAM, a nice fast SSD, and done a clean install of Windows 7.  I figured I would give it another go and see if it made a difference.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

TC1100 vs. iPad

2010-05-14 19.21.08

Last night, I had the opportunity to compare my tc1100 to a friend’s iPad.  Both devices have the same resolution (1024x768) and very similar sized screens.  The tc1100 screen is only slightly bigger.  Brightness and clarity are better on the iPad, with its IPS display and clear capacitive screen.  It’s these direct comparisons that show the age on the CFL backlit, active digitizer covered screen of the tc1100.  It’s just a bit fuzzier or grainy compared to the screen on the iPad.  The extra bit of size on the tc1100 is really nice (I probably could have zoomed into the music a bit more on each device though).  I think the ideal music slate would be 12” or 13”.  Next time I have access to an iPad, I’ll try to get all around size comparisions.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

TC1100 vs Real Sheet Music

2010-05-09 22.25.27
This is the same page displayed in physical form and as a full screen One Note note.  The tc1100 is only slightly smaller than the page of music.  The main drawback is that you only get one page, not two.  The main advantage is that the entire bookshelf of music behind the stand can fit on the tablet.  Until I can move my entire studio to my home, having my full library be mobile will be invaluable.  While I get back to the scanning marathon, enjoy some more shots of the various ways to display music on the tc1100.

Friday, May 7, 2010

My “new” HP TC1100

I had totally intended to list my current devices and how I’m using them and how I hope to improve on my current set-up (read – how I can justify an iPad as a business expense), when I stumbled on a great deal on craigslist.  The device just had so much potential, and at 1/3 the cost of the iPad, it looked like a much better way to test my ideas than dropping cash on the iPad.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

OK, so now what?

Smart Music

It seems that the most important component in the studio is Smart Music.  I have used it more this past week and to my surprise, the students were more into it than I had remembered.  So, no matter how neat a sheet music tablet may be, if it doesn’t run Smart Music, I will still have to carry the laptop for Smart Music. 


Sheet Music Tablet

A good PDF reader is all that is necessary here.  Even an Android tablet could do that.  I’ve tried on the Droid and it works fine, just really tiny.  The only thing is that there are currently no Android tablets bigger than 7”, and even those are just announcements but not yet released products.  The iPad is a bit pricey for just this purpose.  I did more performing this week and while I’m not sure I could use one for performance just yet, it would be handy for practice as I create PDF practice parts to email to the section for the SPCO.  I would also love to have access to the Suzuki music and duet reading books without having to open Smart Music or carry the physical books.  I’ll be on the lookout for an Android tablet with a big enough screen.


Electronic Lesson Notes

This one is a bit trickier as it is dependant on the students to actually use an electronically delivered set of lesson notes.  I will be trying some options this summer, but I’m thinking the best thing for the older ones would be to have them keep their own notebook.  I think they would really remember things better if they wrote it themselves.  For the younger students, I can have the parents keep a notebook in the lesson and follow up with email notes.  Either way, it would still be good for my own reference to keep notes on the students either in Evernote or with the Music Teacher’s Helper system.  The main benefit of Evernote is that it can be done offline. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Novelty vs. Utility vs. Reality pt.6


Yes, I’ve been avoiding reality.  This whole thing started over my Spring Break, when I had all this time to sit around and browse craigslist for toys.  I traded my beloved Viliv S5 for a Sony Vaio P.  The Viliv was one of my longest running toys at almost 9 months before I got rid of it.  I would have happily kept it, but this opportunity to trade it for the P came up and I went for it.  I have gotten more into writing since discovering, and had been pining for a keyboard.  The Viliv was great for content consumption, but I found that even for just email, I would set it down and go to the laptop to type.  I enjoyed the ability to handwrite notes into Evernote, but I’m still faster typing that trying to get stuff in with handwriting recognition.  I enjoy the keyboard on the P so much that I finally started the blog I’ve had in my head for so long.

But then, reality hits.  As much as I love the Vaio P, it still can’t replace my hackintoshed HP Mini 311 as a “work” computer.  Now that I’m back to full time teaching and heading into the busy season of performing, I have less time to play with toys and need to get more directly to work.  I’ve taken the P to the studio a few times, but didn’t really use it.  It doesn’t run Smart Music.  As it turns out, Smart Music is the one tool that really gets used regularly.  No matter how neat it would be to have music on a lightweight tablet than can be set on the stand, I will still have to haul the laptop if a students needs to play with accompaniment.  I’ve also had some requests to try more assessments.  It would seem that some students enjoyed that more than I had thought.  Smart Music has fairly hefty processor requirements, which is rather annoying.  It won’t run on Atom hardware unless it’s over OSX, like my hackintoshed Mini 311. 

The Mini is over 3 pounds, which may not seem like a lot in the context of laptops, but I really feel it my teaching bag.  I’ve managed to trim down the amount of music I carry with me, but I still carry a heavy bag already.  I can throw in my nook or even the Vaio P without noticing the difference.  The 3 pounds of Mini does make a difference.  That means, I would ideally find a device that’s under 2 pounds with enough horsepower to drive Smart Music.  I’m not sure why that extra pound makes such a difference to me, but it does.  Ideally, it would be a slate that could be set (safely) on the music stand.  As it is now, getting the Mini to music height for students is not easy.  9” screens can display Smart Music readably, but 11” is better for PDF sheet music.  Actually, a Smart Music iPad app would be fit all those requirements.  Let’s see if Make Music can get an app out before some hardware manufacturer can build a Windows box that will do it. 

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Novelty vs. Utility vs. Reality pt.5

Utility – SmartMusic

SmartMusc is a great piece of software capable of so many things.  I’m currently only taking advantage of a few of the things is can do, but nothing else out there can do what this software does.  It plays accompaniment files while displaying the music on the screen and scrolling the display to keep up.  It will also listen to the performer and adjust playback to match.  This is adjustable so I can set how strictly my students need to follow. 

This is tremendously useful for me, as my own piano accompaniment skills end about halfway through book 1.  Smart Music allows me to hear my students with the piano accompaniment and even create graduation recordings with the proper accompaniment without the need to hire an accompanist and set aside a special day to record.  Recordings with accompaniment can now be done in the lessons. 

It’s only $30 for a year subscription, which allows you do download all the music you want from their library.  I have all the Suzuki violin and viola books, in addition to some neat little song books I picked up along the way for fun.  It allows you to create playlists, so i have a playlist for each review day to make going through the review lists easy and much more fun.  Sadly, the assessment feature doesn’t work in the Suzuki repertoire.  I can understand why the Suzuki association chose to leave that out, but there are times it would be nice to have. 

It will do assessments on all the songbooks.  It listens to the performer and then goes back and turns all the notes you got right green and drops red notes where it heard extra or wrong notes.  It’s a neat visual feedback and can turn practice time into a video game.  I’ve used a few times in lessons.  Most students think it’s neat, but none have ever asked about doing more.  I think it’s more a novelty that an actual useful tool.  Perhaps if I set up a system where they had to work their way through a particular set, or replaced the reading book with using the songbooks here.  Most students just really enjoy the pieces they are already playing and don’t feel much of a need to play around with the more simple pieces in the assessable books.  They also know when they’re playing it right or wrong and don’t seem to be particularly motivated by little green or red notes.  It’s too bad, as it seems like such a neat idea in theory, but it’s never really taken off in practice, at least not for me.

While the assessment feature is not as useful as I would have thought or hoped, the ability to provide piano accompaniments to more advance Suzuki repertoire is huge.  Even if I had another device to consolidate a PDF library of my music, I would still need to bring the laptop in for Smart Music accompaniments on occasion.  Finding a tablet that could run SmartMusic would really be ideal, but this is not a lightweight piece of software.  It won’t run on the Atom processor that powers most netbooks and tablets, at least not under Windows.  My hackintoshed HP mini 311 handles it just fine in OSX.  I’m not sure whether to blame that on Windows for being crappy, or MakeMusic for writing bloated software. Heavy duty recording stuff (logic, pro-tools) used to run on less.   Either way, the only way to run it on a slate would be to try something like the Havnon slate with it’s CULV processor, or find a tablet that can be hackintoshed. 

Friday, April 23, 2010

Novelty vs. Utility vs. Reality pt.4

Utility – Music Teacher’s Helper

For as fun and rewarding as teaching is, it is still a business, with all the things a business needs to be managed.  I have to keep track of students, families, lessons, invoicing, and event planning.  I use a website called Music Teacher’s Helper to get that done.  These are the things I’m currently using it for:

  • student database – including online registration; separation into active, wait list, and former students; and mass emailing
  • invoicing – tracking tuition per student, automatic charging it monthly, and emailing PDF invoices with a link to Paypal
  • calendar – my full teaching schedule with recurring lessons, syncing to Google calendar
  • file sharing – it has a file upload area where my students can do and download things I post for them

There are so many more features that I’m hoping to take advantage of going forward.  This is the first year I’ve actually used the calendar feature since it can now be synced with Google.  This means I see the same calendar on the website, on iCal, and on my Droid.  I can make changes anywhere and they sync back to everywhere else.  One feature I’m going to be investigating is the notes feature.  You can reconcile a lesson after it happens and add notes, which can then be emailed.  I’m not sure if it will be enough to replace my current lesson notes, but I am working on eliminating the paper system.  Unfortunately, there is no wifi at the studio, which makes using a web-based system for notes more difficult.  A mobile solution would be great, but there are no iPhone or Android apps yet.  An iPad app could be fun, but with a screen that big, just using website directly may work.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Novelty vs. Utility vs. Reality pt.3

Utility – the electronics

The march of technology has not completely passed the world of classical music.  There are several electronic tools we use in the practice room.  Sure there are electronic instruments, but they are more toys as I can’t teach from them or take gigs with regular orchestras.  I do have an electric and enjoy it on occasion, but that’s for another post.  The tools I’m talking about here are the tools of the practice room – tuner, metronome, and quick recording devices. 

The metronome started out as a mechanical tool, but modern electronics can offer more features in a smaller package.  I had been using the same metronome for a good 10 years and finally decided it might be time for a new one when I broke the kickstand on my current one.  One would think a neat little electronic gizmo with a bunch of buttons and lights and a pretty little screen would be interesting, but no.  The thing beeps at me.  That’s about it.  Not much to play with there.

Well, it does do more than just beep, it’s a tuner.  Most devices now are combo metronome/tuners.  The electronics all fit easily in the same size box, so why not?  The only stand alone tuners now are the kind that clip on to the instrument.  I’ve never tried one of those and don’t really care to.  The tuner simply supplements the work my ears and brain are already doing.  It’s mostly just there to keep me honest and check the initial tuning of the instrument.  I don’t have perfect pitch, so when I first get going in the morning, I need a reminder of a true A 440.  The tuner offers a little more room to play though.  Even though I don’t have perfect pitch, I like to try to sing an A first thing to see how close I am.  Beyond that, not much of a toy.

There a good video of Heifitz on youtube watching slow motion video of himself playing as a practice tool.  Recording is one of the best ways to get a truly objective idea of how you sound.  We all know we should do it and we all hate it.  I have used many tools in the past to record myself with great success, when I actually do it.  The problem is, I hate to do it.  I don’t mind recording myself so much as I hate to take the time to listen to it.  There are some dedicated recording devices that are targeted at musicians, with better microphones than your standard voice recorder, but I don’t know anyone who has one. 

All of these functions could actually be accomplished with just my Droid, but I don’t use it for any of them.  All the metronome apps lose time.  It’s apparently very difficult to properly allocate the resources to keep that perfectly steady click going.  And a metronome that’s not perfect is useless.  I know there are tuner apps, but I’ve honestly never tried them to know how accurate they are or aren’t.  My metronome has a good tuner on it already, so I’ll just use that.  I can do voice recordings with my Droid, but I hate doing that, so I don’t.  Besides, I do actually have a nice microphone and real recording set up for when I need to produce good recordings. 

So, while there are a lot of electronic tools in use, none of them are particularly exciting.  The tools are simple, dedicated things that do their one or two things very well.  As much as I love the novelty of a new gadget, these tools are nothing to get excited about.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Novelty vs. Utility vs. Reality pt.2

Utility – the actual instruments

So, what are the tools of a musician?  I think the most important would be the actual instrument.  Those haven’t changed in hundreds of years.  Sure the pitch of A has risen some, requiring a few structural adjustments.  The modern bow is a little more modern than some of the music will still play, but only a little. 

The biggest change to the actual instrument in the past hundred years would probably be the strings.  That’s also the one thing musicians actually seem to want to talk about and try new things with.  Most people are interested in experimenting with new strings, but as each set can last a month or more, and strings are not cheap, it’s a rather drawn out process.  Each instrument is so unique that the strings that work best on one will likely not be the best on another, so this is also an endless debate of personal preference.  I will on occasion try different strings, but I keep coming back to the brand I’ve been using since high school.

Sure, there have been advances in carbon fiber and its use as a material in instrument construction.  It is relatively accepted in the world of bows, as most people will keep a carbon fiber bow around as a “beater” for gigs in less hospitable environments, or as a backup for when their main bow is getting a rehair.  Musician are actually willing to talk about these things and play “can I try your bow?”  Carbon fiber instruments on the other hand are relatively newer and more rare.  I’ve come across a few, and the people I know who have them agree that they sound just like a carbon fiber bow plays – consistent.  Flat, stiff, and brighter than all get out, but consistently so.  Good for outdoor gigs and not much more.  I should probably have a carbon fiber bow of my own, but this technology really doesn’t excite me.  I mean why drop the money on a bow, when I could spend it on an iPad?  I have two perfectly good bows already.

Novelty vs. Utility vs. Reality


It’s no secret that I love gadgets.  I love getting a new thing, poking and prodding it to figure out what it can do, then selling it off once I’ve figured it all out.  Living in the Bay Area of San Francisco means there is no shortage of new toys available on craigslist, and a good market for selling them off again.  There’s always Gazelle for the other stuff.

Why do I get so much enjoyment out of gadgets?  Why does anyone enjoy any hobby?  I think for me it’s the thrill of discovery – new devices that do new things in new ways.  Also, there’s a strong pull towards shiny things.  I do like shiny things.  I’ll figure out what they actually do later.

Perhaps the other factor is that all of these devices come in squarely in the “toy” category.  I like to think they will be useful as tools, and some do gain “tool” status eventually, but not many.  I try to keep only one “toy” class device at a time, so there’s a lot of coming and going of gadgets as the novelty of the latest “toy” wears off.  The only way a device can hang around is to either move to the “tool” category, or be cooler than all the other “toys” currently catching my interest.  To become a tool, a device has to fill a utility role (that is not already covered by a current device) in my current work/entertainment flow. 

I realize this is backwards from the way a lot of people do things.  Most people want to do something, then find a tool that will do it for them.  Perhaps that’s what separates the gadget nerds from the general market.  For me, the potential of the device is exciting whether or not it actually fills a need.  So many in my field will grudgingly have a computer around for email, but could really care less about technology and have no vision for what it can do.  Considering what we do has remained the same for hundreds of years, with very little electronic intervention, there’s not really a pressing need for new devices or new ways of doing things.  But I’ve found a few interesting options….

Utility coming soon, reality will hit after that.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hi, I’m new here

Wherein I will attempt to make useful contributions to the internet at regular intervals about Technology, Music, and anything else I feel like writing about.

For example, just yesterday I wandered into Best Buy (again) to play with the iPad (again).  Like many, I’m intrigued by the device but not yet convinced of its usefulness at a level that will cause me to part with $500+.  I have been after this idea of carrying PDFs of sheet music (my entire library) in a single device for a while now.  Like an ebook reader full of sheet music. 

I was convinced that the iPad’s screen would not be big enough to properly display sheet music readably.  So, I wandered over the iPad display, waited my turn, and when I got to an iPad, pointed the browser to  This site is like the Guttenberg project for sheet music.  It is every work available in the public domain for free download or viewing as PDF.  It actually fit the screen nicely.  One full page of music filling the screen, no scrolling in portrait.  Flipping it over to landscape would make the music bigger and more readable, but I felt the size in portrait would be big enough for one person just practicing. 

Now I want an iPad.  Darn.  I would at least need to hold out until the 3G one is available as there is no wifi at my studio.  I have until then to come up with $650.  Hm.