Wednesday, March 30, 2011

HP 2730p takes on the Pops

I inked this on the 2730p during the rehearsal because the conductor decided to run the rehearsal in show order rather than in order of decreasing instrumentation, and then ran over.  The standard procedure would be to run full orchestra stuff first, then let the orchestra go to run the pieces that are big band only.  Since he chose to run big band only piece in the middle of things, there was plenty of time to sit around and not play.  Luckily, I was reading music from the 2730p this time, so I just took the computer off the stand, put it in my lap, switched over to OneNote, and scribbled away.  It’s nicely unobtrusive.  While wind players will frequently whip out magazines, or start shaving reeds in rehearsal, I have a feeling popping open a laptop and typing would be less well received.  Since I can keep it closed in tablet mode and write silently with the pen, it didn’t disturb those around me while we waited for a piece that we actually play. 

On to the 2730p’s performance as a music reader – it’s fine.  The widescreen means the music is a little smaller than on the Motion LE1600 I had used at the last concert.  Since this concert involves a big band crammed on stage with the orchestra, I’m practically sitting on top of my stand, so the smaller screen really wasn’t a problem.  I had no trouble reading the music apart from the fact that some of it' is sloppily hand written.  But those parts would be hard to read no matter what size they were.  Also, I ran the whole rehearsal on just the internal battery.  I didn’t even need to break out the slice.  It’s comforting to know I have plenty of battery life and don’t need to worry about finding an outlet on stage or having to run to a plug in the break.

I’m using Windows Journal like the previous concert.  The parts are emailed to us ahead of time, and I just used the Journal Note printer to print them from Foxit into Journal.  This time, I did it all in one huge 39 page Journal note rather than printing each piece into a separate file.  The extra power provided by the Core 2 Duo of the 2730p meant that a 39 page file was not a problem.  There was no lag in page turning or jumping around in the file.  I just made sure I had the page bar showing, and I could go directly to any page.  I was actually beating most of those flipping paper books, as the books were in alphabetical order rather than show order.  It’ll take some cut and pasting to get the file into show order, but not really much longer than it takes to reorder the paper books. 

I’m page turning with the Footime pedal, which comes in handy considering most pieces are two pages and I can only see one at a time.  If they are written with page turns, then it’s only every other page at best.  Hands free turning for the pages that play straight through is critical.  Well, at least it’s as critical as the viola part in a big band/orchestra mashup can be. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

NeatDesk unboxing

After almost a year of going paperless in the studio, it was time to get the whole business paperless. The studio is run as a schedule C self-employed business, which means taxes involve holding on to tons of paper. When the deal of the day was a NeatDesk, I scooped it up. Of course it takes ages to actually get something from woot, and the first one showed up DOA, but I didn't know that when I was taking the pictures. I have since received a replacement and begun the monumental task of digitizing all my tax records, receipts, and other paper work. The full review will have to wait until taxes are done, but for now, enjoy some pictures…

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wine and Windows Programs on Joli OS 1.2

Just because you are not running Windows doesn't mean you can't run Windows programs. Joli OS offers Wine, a windows emulation layer that makes running many windows programs possible on the linux based OS.

wine install

To add Wine, you can simply search for it in the desktop search bar. When the option comes up, choose to search Jolicloud rather than on Google. It should take you to the app install page where you can click add to install it. This takes a while.

Installing a Windows .exe is not exactly click and go as the default action on an .exe is to open it with archive manager. You'll need to choose "open in folder" from the file browser, then right click on the file and choose to "open with wine windows program loader." This also takes a while.


open in wine

If you want to know what the computer is doing while it's taking a while to load an .exe with wine, you can run it from the terminal by navigating the folder with the downloaded .exe and typing: wine name_of_program.exe

Some Windows programs I’m running regularly:


While you can add a webapp version of Evernote to Jolicloud quite easily, the desktop version offers many useful features including ink notes. The interface can be a little slow to respond, but once you get a new ink note created, writing in the note is mostly good. Changing the color of the pen takes ages though, best to pick a color and stick with it.


Barnes and Noble Nook reader:

Mostly because I can. I had a nook for a while, so I have a lot of ebooks in the Barnes and Noble store, and I find the nook reader for PC to be a nice way to read. It's a little slow to load and navigate, but fully functional and fast enough turning pages once you’ve got your book open.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Garage Band on the original iPad


The day before the iPad 2 was released to the waiting crowds, Apple dropped Garage Band into the App store, and it's compatible with the original iPad also. Naturally, I downloaded it as soon as I could. Unfortunately, that was right before I had to leave to teach, restricting my play time. I teach back to back lessons on Thursdays, no breaks, so I didn’t really get to play until later that night. It runs quite well on the 1st gen iPad, although I’m sure it’s better on the new one. I then spent the rest of the weekend playing Smart Piano. It was my intention to play some over the weekend and then post about it.Turns out, a weekend is not nearly enough time to explore all the potential in the app.

I've done a little recording with it, and a little playing around creating little pieces with the smart instruments. Mostly, however, I've just been messing with the smart instruments seeing how they work. I spent a fair bit of time just sitting on the couch going through chord changes with the smart piano. I've strummed the smart guitar, which reminds me quite a bit of the auto harp my aunt showed us when I was a kid. I've laid out the smart drums on the grid (creating beats that my husband would then imitate on his real drum set, that was quite fun.) I would have played more with the smart bass, but I had some actual bass playing to do this weekend. Recently, I've enjoyed setting the electric piano to the Japanese scale and messing around with the arpeggiator. Some friends from out of town were in over the weekend and they had lots of fun with the sampler. And I think I still haven't messed with half of what it can do.

Will I use it in the studio? Probably not. I have better recording equipment than the little microphone on the iPad, and better accompaniments for the students in Smart Music. I could let them improvise over one of piano fills or guitar fills, but even the students I thought would enjoy improv practice weren't that into it. Once again, it's an interesting toy, and I've found some interesting applications, but not so much for the studio.

The real joy of Garage Band for me is how easy it is to experiment with the smart instruments and make stuff that sounds good. I think it's going to be a really great tool for people who don't know much about playing an instrument to really be able to create something they can enjoy. And for those of us who know music, but barely scraped through our secondary piano classes, it opens up a lot of possibilities for creating music that would otherwise take hours of practice to pull of on a real piano. This is a great app, and I can’t believe it’s only $5. 

Perhaps the best way to get to know Garage Band is to check out the information Apple has put up:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Xournal on Archos 9 running Joli OS 1.2


One of the main benefits to choosing a tablet over a netbook are the options for touching or using a pen on the screen to write and draw. While the resistive touch screen of the Archos 9 is not as responsive to finger touches as newer capacitive screens, it does work very well with a plastic tipped stylus. The writing experience is not as smooth as an active digitizer, but it's still easier for handwriting than capacitive only screens.

While Joli OS itself doesn’t come with many tablet and stylus friendly applications, there are some good alternatives in the linux world. Since Joli OS is built on Ubuntu, you have access to the Ubuntu repositories through the Synaptic package manager. From Synaptic, you can search for and install Xournal.

Local Settings > Other Settings > System > Synaptic Package Manager

Or the short version in the terminal (Alt+F1)

sudo apt-get install xournal

While the inking is not quite as smooth as OneNote running under windows 7, it works. Xournal offers several pen sizes and colors as well as several highlighter options. Perhaps one of the most useful features is the ability to annotate a PDF and then export it again as a PDF. Write or draw on PDFs or start clean with a lined or blank template. Best of all, both the OS and the program are free.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

String Basics and the Interactive Practice Studio


I was optimistic when String Basics showed up with play along software.  Classroom methods aren’t really my thing, so the pedagogy of the actual book was not particularly inspiring.  But I was interested to test out their practice software called Interactive Practice Studio.  It’s a neat idea – a digital version of the book with accompaniments for each exercise, the ability to record yourself playing along with that accompaniment, and some neat historical context pop-ups for pieces that have a background. 

Unfortunately, the actually execution leaves plenty to be desired.  Just getting past the software registration required an email to the support team.  The problem was a hidden “Click Here to Send” button.  Where was it hidden?  Turns out the bottom of the interface was cut off.  There was no scroll bar or any other indication that there might be more to the interface than I was seeing.  Despite the minimum resolution requirements being 1024x768, my 1280x800 screen was not big enough.  I had to move my taskbar to the side, then reopen the window to get it tall enough to display the button.  Yup, I had to close and reopen the window to make it bigger with the taskbar out of the way.  The actual program’s window is not resizable and does not generate scroll bars when the content is outside the viewable size of the window.  On the plus side, the email support team is very responsive, and I had a reply within the hour of submitting the question. 

Once you get past the registration hurdle and into the actual program, it doesn’t get much better.  The window remains non-resizable.   The music cannot be zoomed in, it just is the size that it is.  Not only that, but the whole page does not fit in the window and there is no scrolling.  At least it’s not quite as bad as the registration screen though.  See that obnoxiously neon green down arrow next to the page?  That will move to the bottom of the page.  So you get either the top or the bottom, no smooth scrolling, and nothing in between.  With my 2730p in slate portrait mode, it was able to display the whole page in one screen. 

Navigation within the book is much better.  There are arrows that let you flip forwards and backwards through the book, and clicking the giant page button at the top will bring up a table of contents, allowing you jump directly to a page. 

The speaker icon next to the title of each piece will bring up the accompaniment playback window.  There, you have options to mute the student part or loop the whole thing.  I have to say the accompaniments are ridiculously overdone for my taste.  We’re talking epic full orchestra accompaniment for plucking open strings, or all the percussion toys pulled out to play a scale.  Perhaps I was just a cynical kid, but I would not have been fooled into thinking I was doing anything more than plucking open strings.  Additionally, the student parts are not book specific, with many pieces in the violin book being played on cello or bass.  I realize this is a mixed class method, but the Suzuki teacher in me wonders how kids are supposed to learn the ideal tone they should be getting out their instrument when they are listening to a totally different instrument which is half buried under crazy accompaniments. 

IPS playback window

The microphone icon opens a simple to use recording window so students can make recordings of themselves playing the line.  Some pieces also have stars next to them which open neat historical information windows. 

The idea of an interactive method book is great, and the Interactive Practice Studio adds a lot.  But interface is just inexcusably poor.  If you really want an interactive experience for your string students, I would take a good look at Essential Elements with SmartMusic first. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Archos 9 graduates to Joli OS 1.2

And wow is it fast.
UPDATE: resume from sleep works!

It may not look different on the surface (except for some new backgrounds, and the new name) but the performance enhancements are quite noticeable.

The update breaks the touch screen and the auto login so have a USB keyboard and mouse plugged in.  Jolicloud should let you know that you are running an outdated version and offer to upgrade.  Go for it.  All it will give you is a small “syncing” indicator that seems to scroll for each of the 100-some files it needs to update.  It seems like an oddly small update, as I’m used to Ubuntu dist-upgrades that can be 700+ files. 

The updating happens in the background, and it will prompt you to reboot when it’s done.

The first thing you will notice is that auto-login is broken.  That’s an easy fix we’ll get to in a bit.  The bigger issue is the lack of touchscreen, again.

This is based on the guide to installing 1.1.  You will just need to redo a few things.

Re-add the kernel option to grub - i8042.nomux

The rc.local file should have stayed the same, but it doesn’t hurt to check.

Re-run ./ in the eGalax folder that should still be in your home folder.


After a reboot, my touchscreen worked again with the same good configuration.  I did not have to recalibrate.
According the Feature List for 1.2, it’s now a 1 click option to enable auto-login.  

Gear icon > This Device > Info > check the box to enable auto login.

The keyboard button should still bring up OnBoard or cellwriter, whichever you have configured.  Enjoy your faster Joli OS.

Giving the iPad another shot


In light of the announcement of iPad 2, I’ve decided to give our iPad 1 another go.  It spent some time being a test platform for my husband, but I’ve reclaimed it to test it again this week.  The best way to get to know it again is to really use it, so I’m making it my first go to device.  I will turn the iPad on first every morning and use just that until I run out of stuff I can do on it.  It’s doing a great job of getting me through my email, news, and social network feeds.  I have re-discovered Penultimate, and added a few apps that may be useful for collaborative note-taking. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The case for convertibles


Often, you hear about how nice slate touch tablets (android, iPad, or windows based) are for couch surfing.  I even promote the couch surf-ability of my various tablets.  But what about couch forum-posting, couch blogging, or even couch long-email-writing?  As good as touch screens and active digitizer are, and as easy as it can be to enter text via a good onscreen keyboard or inking in the windows TIP, none of those options are nearly as fast as a keyboard. 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Jolicloud a week later

I've been using Jolicloud almost exclusively (aside from an event that required OneNote) on the Archos 9 for over a week now, and I'm really liking it. I find it to be a good balance between the totally cloud based ChromeOS and the heavy slowness of Windows 7. Jolicloud is responsive even on the limited resources of the Archos.

Having a Cr-48 to test ChromeOS has helped pushed me even more into the cloud. Jolicloud offers a similar interface with icons representing "apps" that are mostly just links to websites. However, with Jolicloud you get real local apps in addition to the web based ones, access to local file storage, and greater control over the system in general.  I have even installed wine and have both the nook software and the evernote desktop client, complete with inking, up and running. 

Sadly, I still haven't figured out sleep, so it's not as mobile as I'd like, but as a secondary system on the desk, it's great. I've always been a fan of a secondary system rather than just a secondary monitor. I keep it off to the side with the weather app and seesmic open. While video playback can be hit or miss, it's mostly good enough to run videos off to the side while I work on the "big" computer. The nice thing is, I can grab the video and take to the kitchen with me while I cook lunch, which wouldn't work if it were just running on a secondary monitor.

All of these big icon driven interfaces (Jolicloud, Meego, Ubuntu's netbook remix, and probably even ChromeOS) are great to use on a touchscreen tablet in contexts like couch sufring. The biggest drawback is that the internet is actually not very finger friendly. Most links on webpages are hard to hit, and it mixes up whether you're trying to scroll the page or click a link. The browser is probably one of the least used apps on my Android phone. I think Google is getting this figured out now as the Google web apps are probably some of the easiest to use with just a finger. Forums are some of the worst with their tiny little "view new posts in this thread" buttons.

All in all, I'm enjoying the speed boost over windows, while having more functionality than just the cloud only ChromeOS can offer.

Friday, March 4, 2011

String Basics shows up out of the blue


As a member of several professional string teacher organizations, my name and address have ended up on some mailing lists. Unexpected stuff just shows up on occasion. Recently, a new method book just appeared in the mail. As a Suzuki teacher, I'm not particularly fond of any of the classroom method books, as it's a completely different setup to what I do. Classroom methods are geared towards beginning older (5th grade and up) students in groups, whereas my beginners tend to be under the age of 6, and I get to work with them one on one. While I'm not cut out to teach groups of older beginners, that's how I started my own musical journey, so I always respect the teachers who can teach that way and I fully support school string programs. String Basics is not something I would use in my own studio, but I'm always interested in what's out there. Especially since this particular method book comes with the promising "Interactive Practice Studio" software.

I'm all for method books taking advantage of current technology to enhance the student's experience, and I was just recently wishing SmartMusic had some competition in this space. It should be noted that most string method books these days come with an interactive DVD/CD with instructional videos and accompaniment tracks for some or all of the exercises in the book. Essential Elements comes with a basic version of SmartMusic (access to only EE accompaniments with an offer for a full subscription), Finale Notepad, and tempo adjustment software in addition to the usual CD/DVD. SmartMusic comes with accompaniments for Essential Elements, Ochestra Expressions, Sound Innovations, and String Explorer methods.

I've flipped through the book, watched the DVD, and I'm currently doing battle with the software to see if I can it up and running to evaluate properly (currently having some activation issues, not a good sign). Stay tuned for more.