Saturday, January 29, 2011

First rehearsal with Footime pedal


And it was a huge success.  While my colleagues were dealing with pages and pages of photocopies taped together and spilling off the sides of their stands, I had just my TC1100 with the Footime pedal on the floor near the base of the stand, and fast page turns that didn’t require my hands leaving the instrument.  There is still some lag in the turn, probably due to the age of the tablet I’ve chosen for this performance, but it’s shorter than if you had a stand partner turning physical pages. 

Yes, there is some glare on my screen, but there were windows directly behind me, something I won’t have to deal with in the concert.  I was able to keep the screen at about 50% brightness, and still have good readability.  My older, more worn battery will give me 3 hours under those conditions, and the newer one will give closer to 4. 

Between the page turn lag, and the lag in starting new ink, I’m being tempted even more by the Asus slate.  I could use the 2730p to get more speed and responsiveness, but I’m not sure I like the idea of added bulk, especially since it won’t make the readable page area bigger.  I wish I had access to a Motion le1600 or 1700 to see if the 12” 4:3 screen would make much of a difference.  But then, the battery life on those would require having the extended battery slice, and then we’re dealing with bulk again. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Footime pedal is here!

My footime pedal showed up a day early, just in time for the rehearsal tomorrow morning.  First impressions, it’s solid.  The build is good, the buttons are sensitive, and the feet hold it steady.  Enjoy the unboxing….
Not much in the box, just the pedal and a short page of instructions. It’s plug and play, so there's not much necessary in the way of instructions.
Good feet on the bottom keep the device stable and prevent sliding.
Button toggles between sending page down/up or arrow down/up.  Pushed in, it also works with the iPad through the USB camera connection kit.
Testing on the desk, works as expected!
USB cable is long enough to have the stand at standing height, with plenty of leftover.
I can’t wait to give it a go in rehearsal tomorrow morning.

Temptation–Asus EP121 Slate


My TC1100 is old.  There’s no way around it.  While it may perform comparably to a netbook for most tasks, it’s showing its age in other areas.  The upgrades to 2GB of RAM and an SSD have helped, but nothing can change the processor or graphics card.  One of the most frustrating places it lags is when turning pages in Journal.  A half second lag on a page turn is a full measure of music in the second movement of Shostakovich 8th quartet. 

For work purposes, I have upgraded to an HP 2730p.  The extra screen space, battery life (5 hours on the internal and 3+ more on a fairly worn slice), and power are worth the trade offs in bulk and weight.  It’s also nice to have a keyboard attached so it can be used in laptop mode on my lap, as I have no desk at the studio.  But, that extra bulk (especially with the slice) makes is less stable on a music stand, and harder to pick up and put down for notetaking during lessons.

This makes the new Asus Slate EP121 that I got to play with at CES a very tempting upgrade.  I could have even more power than the HP 2730p with less weight than the TC1100.  Even more tempting is the fact that several local (about an hour drive to either Fremont or San Jose) have them in stock.  Or, at least they had them.  By the time I got to the San Jose store (I was already down there running other errands) they had sold all the boxed units.  They were willing to sell me the display, but due to the popularity and newness of it, no discount and the same return policy, with restocking fee, would apply.  They said they would be getting more soon, so after spending some good quality time with the display unit, I left without it, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it. 

Upon using the TC1100 at rehearsal a few days later, however, I noticed some things that I rely on in the TC1100 that Asus slate lacks.  One of my favorite physical buttons on the TC1100 is the jog dial.  I’m sure scrolling by touch on the capacitive screen of the Asus Slate is nice, but I’ve found flicks to be unreliable.  When it comes to turning a page in performance, nothing beats the reliability of a physical button.  It’s possible that now, with the Footime foot pedal, I may no longer need the jog dial, but it’s nice to have the built in option in case I don’t want to carry the foot pedal.

The other, non fixable, deal breaker is the non-removable battery combined with a less than 4 hour runtime.  Most performances don’t go past 2 hours, but rehearsals can go 3 or 4.  I like the option to swap to a fresh battery in a rehearsal break.  Many potential owners are talking about getting an external extended battery to extend the life, but that’s not something I want to be tethered to on a music stand.

I’m still waiting for a 14” slate with 8 hours of battery life, weighing less than 3lbs, and running windows 7.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Creating Digital Sheet Music

I’ve tried several programs for scanning music and turning it into PDF files.  My scanner is a flatbed, so it just spits out multiple JPG files.  I usually use some little freeware or trialware utility to convert those multiple JPGs into a single PDF file.  But for this upcoming concert, I realized I needed the stronger inking capabilities of Journal.  I know some Adobe products have good ink annotation tools for PDF files, but they’re not free and Journal is.  I will sometimes insert my PDF into Journal with the Journal note printer, but then I found a more direct route. 

Scanning MusicThis time, I decided to scan straight to the TC1100, and since I’m running a pretty fresh install of Windows 7, I had none of my little PDF creating utilities.  I just went with Windows Fax and Scan to do the scanning, and was pleasantly surprised to see how easily is allowed me to crop before the final scan and then kept things organized once it was done.

From there, I created a blank note in Journal, and inserted the JPG of each page into a separate page of the note.  It’s a bit tedious to drag each image to the full size of the page.  I do wish for a one click “maximize” option for images. 

Music in Journal

If I did want a PDF version from there, I could use doPDF to print to a PDF file with or without the annotations I’ve made in Journal. 

I find Journal to be a great reader for practice and performance as the inking tools are great.  I just set the view to “Reading View” which puts on page at a time to the full size of the window.  That makes it easy to flip pages with the jog dial, and hopefully the footpedal when it comes. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The TC1100 does rehearsal


It’s finally time to put my money where my mouth is.  I’m performing Shostakovich’s 8th string quartet with the St Peter’s Chamber Orchestra.  It’s a really exciting piece to play, but there are about 8 pages of straight playing with no opportunity to stop long enough to turn a page.  As it’s a quartet, we will have no stand partners to turn for us.  We were discussing solutions in the first rehearsal; the first violinist will do 3 pages, 3 pages, and simply memorize the last one.  It occurred to me that this might be the perfect opportunity to test my tc1100 in live performance.  I’ve read off my scanned copies plenty with my students in the lessons, but I’ve never used it for a performance with an audience. 

IMG_0365I gave it a go in rehearsal recently as a test, and I think this is going to turn out to be a very good solution.  While the timing may be too tight to switch the bow to my left hand, grab the page, flip it over, switch the bow back, and start playing again, I do have enough time to just reach out, bow in hand, and flick the jog dial.  It conveniently sticks out enough on the right side that I just have to swipe down along the side of the device and that’s enough to hit it and get it to flip the page. 

There are however, one or two turns where I don’t even have that kind of time though, so I’ve ordered a Footime pedal to do the turns with my foot.  I’m really looking forward to getting the pedal and seeing how it works.  They list a few compatible programs, including Word, so I’m hoping it will work with Journal as well.  I have a feeling it just sends arrow up/down or page up/down signals, which should be fine. 

The other members of the group are quite interested in the set up and have no reservations about me trying it, even though two of them are so out of the tech loop they barely use email.  Despite that seeming lack of tech knowledge, they were both like “oh yeah, there’s that opera company that does that now.”  Computers as communication devices may not be so prevalent in the classical music world, but people are starting to see the benefit of electronic sheet music, and especially the convenience of page turning with a foot pedal.  Now my procrastinating self just hopes the pedal turns up before the concert.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Finale 2011, music creation on a tablet

Finalein Portrait

Inspired by this post over at techinmusiced, I decided it was time to see if entering music in Finale is any easier with a pen.  He’s reviewing Symphony Pro, music notation software for the iPad.  There are many music readers for the iPad, but this is the first really robust app I’ve seen for creating notation on the iPad.  I thought, “hey that’s neat, maybe I could use my iPad to write some stuff.”  Then I realized that Windows tablets already run a great notion program called Finale. 

I had always figured pen input would be nice for entering music, since I had to handwrite so much of it in school. With Finale and a pen, all you have to do is pick your note value and then tap on the staff where you want it.  Faster that having to color in the notehead, right?  Well, not much faster actually, the screen shot of Minuet 3 came out of my memory and went into Finale in about 15 minutes on my HP 2730p with an active Wacom digitizer.  The active digitizer is essential to the experience as you can see what note the pen is hovering over before you tap the screen to lay the note down.  I did try Finale NotePad on my Archos 9, thinking it would make a nice little music journal, but it was a pretty frustrating experience.  The resistive screen is just not accurate enough for note placement at any reasonable zoom level, and without the hover detection of an active pen, you have no idea where the note is going until it’s down.  Then it’s equally hard to grab again to drag to where you do want it. 

Minuet3 JournalAs for jotting down a quick idea, I think Windows Journal’s staff paper template might be better, because you can just scribble away and translate it to notation later.  This version of Minuet 3 took all of 5 minutes and is just as readable as any Musical book I’ve played out of (I’m looking at you, Brigadoon).  Journal can output a TIF, and the scanning software that comes with Finale can import music from a TIF, but I haven’t successfully pulled that off yet.  Perhaps that will be my next project. 

It would seem that the best way to get music into Finale is still just to plug in the keyboard and play it in.  I’m pretty sure Finale has an onscreen keyboard (of the musical variety) floating around in the tools somewhere, but I just don’t use Finale enough to know where it is or to want to bother looking for it.  The thing is, I just don’t write much music anymore.  I used to arrange some stuff for students, but as I’m doing more private teaching and less ensemble work, I don’t really need to arrange things anymore.  So while I did finally decide it was time to get back up to date with Finale 2011, I haven’t really had a chance to use it much. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The strange simplicity of the cr-48

I've had my Chromebook for a few weeks now, and I'm amazed by how much I like it. It was fun over the holidays, and I have to admit it made me feel a little special to tell the guys at the Intel booth at CES that I had one of my own when I was playing with the one they had on display.

I have strayed from the path though. I couldn't shake the nagging voice in the back of my head that said "but I need to run programs." With the new easy script for installing Ubuntu, I finally caved and now my chromebook runs my favorite linux. It runs quite well - snappy, quick boot, maintains the stellar battery life. But then, it's just another Ubuntu netbook. I tweaked the interface and made it all pretty. I installed a bunch of apps from Software Center. But then, I don't really run any of them.

So, today, I flipped the developer switch back over to normal user, putting me back in chromeOS. I am amazed at the lack of interface, and how much it doesn't bother me. There's nothing but tabs, an address bar, and bookmarks up there. There's nothing on the sides or the bottom, just content. It's surprisingly liberating.

I have to admit that I was inspired to come back to the simplicity of chromeOS after reading an article at Gizmodo about how the macbook air may be the perfect traveller's writing machine. Specifically, it was this description that struck me - "the kind of tool that gets out of the way and just lets a writer, well, write." I thought "hey, that's what the chromebook does, except it really does get completely out of the way." So, here I am, back in chromeOS, and what's the first thing I do? I write this. There's just something about having no interface at all in the way, just the raw internet, that makes me stop wasting my time poking at things and tweaking interfaces and just write.

On the other hand, I still had to take the SD card out of the camera and put it in another computer to upload it to picasa to post this. I tried the flikr suggestion, and while I got filesystem access, it crashed the page trying to load the photo. There's something to be said for having a little bit of access to the system.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Orange, a computer in an amp


I thought “oh neat, an orange amp” so I took some pictures.  Then I started wondering what it was doing at the Intel booth.  Turns out, it’s a computer.  In an amp.  How convenient.  That just unlocks all kinds of live music processing potential, all in one box.


Zoe Keating, cellist at Intel CES

To demonstrate the power of the Intel processors, Intel hosted a contest for musicians.  Zoe Keating and her amazing cello work won a spot to play at CES (and maybe some other prizey type stuff too, I can’t remember).  She’s live sampling and looping back to create layers and layers of sound, controlling it with the foot pedals.  

Zoe is based in San Francisco and actively performs all over.  She also has albums on iTunes.  Check out all her amazing work.  How’s that for using technology to create music!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

My CES coverage

I’m at CES in Las Vegas right now, and it is SO BIG.  The sheer amount of things I want to see and write about are keeping me very busy.  Most of my coverage will be at the TabletPCBuzz blog

Sunday, January 2, 2011

bModo on vacation

The bModo was a wonderful tool to have with me during my holidays back in the midwest. Here it is being my book while we waited for our 3 hour delayed flight out. Wifi on the planes was free thanks to google, so I was able to browse and play during the flights. Having a lit up keyboard was really nice. I had the chromebook with me also, but found that in the low light of the planes (one of the flights was a red-eye), it was easier to pull out the tablet and use the nicely lit up on screen keyboard rather than lighting up the whole area around me with the reading light on the plane.

The built in 3G was great, as it allowed me to be online and even upload a post on the drive between my parents and my in-laws. The GPS was quick to connect and accurate while in the car, even if it couldn't get a signal at all inside. Considering there is an entire sub-section of the exopc forums devoted to how to add a 3G/GPS card, I think there are plenty of people who would appreciate the built-in-ness of it on the bModo. This is actually the first device I've used with the 3G built in, and I have to say I'm sold. I know one can use a Mifi now and get several devices online at once, or even use tethering from the phone. But in this case, it was as easy as popping the sim card from my phone into the external slot on the bModo, and then I was online without having to worry about another device.

I think my favorite thing about this tablet is the size. It's a big screen with a great resolution. I don't feel at all cramped like I do on the netbooky resolution of 1024x600. The bModo is even usuable in portrait with 768 pixels across. It's a good thing too, as it comes with an accelerometer, making the orientation switch super easy. It's also so thin for having such a large screen. There's something about the thinness combined with the rounded edges and the soft rubberized backing that just makes it feel right. And the capacitive screen is just so responsive and easy to use. My dad, who strictly prohibits fingers from coming within an inch of a laptop screen for fear of leaving a smudge, actually enjoyed using the touch screen on this tablet. He took to it so quickly, that the first thing he did with the chromebook was try to touch the tabs at the top to switch from one to the other. I think that's the mark of a good touch interface - it's so easy and natural to use that it makes you want to touch everything.

Speaking of being easy and natural to touch, photos are great on this tablet. I used to think multi-touch photo manipulation was just a party trick to show off the two finger stuff. Then I took this thing to parents and in-laws and realized that the number one thing families do when they haven't seen each other in a while is show off photos. It was so neat to be able to flip through the slideshow with swipes and zoom in with a pinch. With the higher resolution, the interface doesn't get in the way as much, and more of the screen is devoted to actually looking at the picture.

Of course it does have some drawbacks. The vertical viewing angles aren't the best, so you do have to hold it up, or prop it up, or lean over it on a table. The screen is glossy, so you get reflections and glare. The battery life is just barely 4 hours. It is over 2lbs. The big screen does make the device too big to fit in some of my smaller purses. But it is a full blown computer in an impressively thin package with a very nice touch screen. Overall, I've really enjoyed using it and would definitely recommend it.