Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Yes, that's a cheesy title for a blog post, but I'm gonna go with it.

Like generations of parents before me, I find that I worry about the world that my children will live in as adults. I know a lot of people who worry about global warming, or nuclear war, or antibiotic-resistant flu. But I'm worried about the government.

I should clarify that I and my family are all legal residents of the United States of America. Which is, as countries go, a pretty good one. We live better than 99.9% of all humans who've ever lived: hot showers, meat 7 days a week if we want it, air conditioning - we daily take for granted thousands of comforts that simply weren't available to even the most powerful of 18th century kings. Even today, living in the USA, we have stuff that you'd need to be stinking rich to have in many parts of the world (cars, computers, plentiful food, etc). An old friend of mine from high school and college used to proclaim "I already won the lottery: I'm a white American male!" It may not be politically correct, but there's a fair amount of truth to that.

But I worry about my country, and the way things appear to be moving. A funny thing about the way laws are made in this country: someone proposes a law, it gets voted on, and it either becomes law or not. That's grossly simplified, I know, but what I see happening is that "bad" laws -- laws that undermine our basic civil liberties, laws that unfairly benefit special interests, laws that take away our privacy -- more and more of these things are becoming law. It's just a consequence of how The System works: a bad law is proposed by someone. With luck it gets voted down. But then the same law or a varient is proposed again. And again. And again. Until it finally passes. It's considered a truism in American politics that if you have enough money and time, you can get a law made.

And the kinds of laws that are being made are just plain scary. Here's a Wall Street Journal article on the growing number of federal criminal laws. What's especially disturbing is that many of these laws don't require the government to prove criminal intent:

Last September, retired race-car champion Bobby Unser told a congressional hearing about his 1996 misdemeanor conviction for accidentally driving a snowmobile onto protected federal land, violating the Wilderness Act, while lost in a snowstorm. Though the judge gave him only a $75 fine, the 77-year-old racing legend got a criminal record.
Eddie Leroy Anderson of Craigmont, Idaho, is a retired logger, a former science teacher and now a federal criminal thanks to his arrowhead-collecting hobby.
In 2009, Mr. Anderson loaned his son some tools to dig for arrowheads near a favorite campground of theirs. Unfortunately, they were on federal land. Authorities "notified me to get a lawyer and a damn good one," Mr. Anderson recalls.
There is no evidence the Andersons intended to break the law, or even knew the law existed, according to court records and interviews. But the law, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, doesn't require criminal intent and makes it a felony punishable by up to two years in prison to attempt to take artifacts off federal land without a permit.

And so we are effectively caught in an ever-tightening skein of bad -- sometimes downright insane -- laws that are progressively limiting or removing our basic liberties and civil rights. It's all done in the name of "anti-terrorism" or "save the children" or "the war against drugs" or whatever. So yeah, here's the part where I quote Benjamin Franklin: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Sadly, I foresee a future America that is a lot more totalitarian than Communist Russia ever was. One that really does bear more than a passing resemblence to Orwell's 1984.

I can see the future, and it's grim. The time will come when:

  • Use of cash will be illegal. All financial transactions will be electronic and recorded.

  • Every citizen will have a National ID Card. You'll be required to produce it upon demand by any law enforcement officer or agency.

  • A national database of everyone's DNA, fingerprints, and other biometric information will be online.

  • All public areas will be under camera surveillance.

  • All computers / internet usage is monitored and tied to one's National ID Card.

  • There will be a publicly-accessible national criminal and arrest database containing information on everyone who has had any kind of brush with the law.

  • National databases containing all medical and financial information on everyone will be online.

  • All of the data and databases above will be accessible by any government agency without any requirement for a warrant. And this will (of course) be widely abused.

  • All computers and encryption schemes must legally provide a government-accessible "back door".

  • Criticism of politicians or their policies is criminal libel. Ie, the First Amendment is simply ignored.

  • Possession of hand-guns by private citizens will be illegal.

  • Everyone will technically be a criminal -- and thus subject to arrest and all that comes with it -- all the time.

  • "One strike and you're out": all it takes is a single "incident" with authority and you lose your job, your medical insurance, your home, your money -- your life.

Like I said: grim. In short, it's an America where Order comes before Justice and Freedom.

Is it possible to live in such a state and be happy?

I hope I'm wrong. It's been said that American civil rights law has always been a "pendulum", slowly swinging left and right and back again. I hope so. But I'm not sure how we can avoid the seemingly inevitable accretion of bad laws that will occur over the years and the decades. Kids: if you're reading this sometime in the indefinite future, I want you to know that I'm doing what I can, writing to congress about bad laws etc. I don't want you to live in the future I envision -- and I sincerely hope you don't.

Monday, August 1, 2011

iPad Synthesizers: The Next Generation

As mentioned earlier, I obtained a Korg nanoKEY2 controller and (combined with the iPad Camera Kit USB converter) it's a blast. I confess I was more than a bit nervous about doing it -- going around an plugging random USB devices into an iPad seems like it might lead to heartbreak -- but it seems that almost any controller device that is CoreMIDI Compliant can plug into an iPad via USB. Note the "almost": here's a nice list of devices that are known to work -- or not work with the iPad.

Anyhow, I know I've said before that I wasn't too interested in software synthesizers that run on the iPad -- but this CoreMIDI stuff changes that. It means I can hook my iPad up to my DAW, hook a keyboard up to my iPad -- and then blissfully tickle away at the "ivories", switching between any number of different synthesizer apps.

Addictive Synth ($5.99US) -- A dynamic wavetable synthesizer with a ton of fun real-time control options.

Sunrizer Synth ($4.99US) -- A virtual analog synthesizer that sounds really good.

It's hard to put my finger on it exactly but these two apps seem representative of a new, 2nd generation of iOS synthesizer apps. They seem more solid, extremely responsive, and the sounds they generate are very rich and clean. Other things I've noticed are

  • An emphasis on tricking out the arpeggiator -- I'm still trying to figure out all of the options, and
  • Creation of new presets via "morphing", ie, pick a Mommy preset and a Daddy preset and then listen to see how Junior turned out. Repeat as necessary. (and here's a shout-out to Crystal Synth, which I think was one of the early apps to promote this (extremely useful) feature).

Long story short: Do you remember a couple of weeks ago when you and a friend had a late lunch at 2:30pm at McDonalds, and you somehow choked down a quarter-pounder with cheese and fries that had been congealing under the heat lamps since noon? And there was something wrong with the drink machine so it tasted "off"? And you gallantly picked up the check, which came to $11+? You, my friend, need to restore your faith in humanity and the American economy by spending $10.98US on these two apps and reassure yourself that yes, even in these trying economic conditions, you can still buy something Unbelievably Freakin' Cool for $11.

My New MyBook Live 3TB NAS Device / WD 2go

So I guess I'm kind've a nut about the MyBook Live. As reported earlier, I recently acquired another one, this one being 3TB, and I'm going to use it to back up my 2TB drive.

I kinda got off to a rough start with this new drive: without going into details, it gets hot. Real hot. Make sure you've got lots of free air-space around it.

I didn't realize it when I bought the device, but there are a couple of iOS / Android apps that will work with it: the WD Photo (a photo viewer that I don't have much use for) and WD 2go (which is pretty nifty). WD 2go allows you to access one or more of your MyBook Live devices from inside and outside of your local network. It's a little rusty: the interface could use some polish, I had problems with the PDF viewer, a few other minor things. But it's a good start and also it's free. Using WD 2go requires a firmware upgrade that wipes out the previous MioNet access method, so if you like MioNet (I never used it), it looks like you're stuck at the 1.05.07 firmware level forever. But I like WD 2go and I'm hoping WD will continue to improve it (and, for better or for worse, one of their people wrote that there might be a for-pay version with enhanced capabilities in the near future).

Anyhow -- WD 2go supports a fair number of filetypes: it will stream .MP3, .M4V, .MP4, .MOV, and it'll take a shot at displaying PDF, HTML, MS WORD, PPT, Apple Keynote, and just plain .TXT files. Oh, and the usual image formats. I wasn't crazy about the PDF support; maybe they'll integrate with GoodReader in a future release. The audio and video streaming worked flawlessly at home on my local network. When I tested at the local Tea Lounge, I could still stream MP3s but smooth video just wasn't happening. Natch, this is the kind of thing that depends a lot on one's home ISP connection, the wifi connection at the external location, general Internet topology, and just random luck in general.

I installed the firmware upgrade to both of my MyBook Lives, and doing so wiped out all of the changes I'd made to TwonkyServer. To some extent this is no great loss, since I've got the whole family set up with WD 2go and they can watch video on their iPads without Twonky. But whatever the WD people are using to stream video, it isn't the DLNA protocol, so we still need Twonky to stream to our XBOX 360 and onto the bigscreen teevee. So I'll have to make those mods again.

One (kind've annoying) thing I discovered about the MyBook Live (both versions) is that it continuously runs a little process called "miocrawler", which looks for photos and pre-reduces them in size for mobile device display. I've got less than no need for such a thing, so I (rather inelegantly) disabled it: ssh in and find the file 'miocrawlerd' and make the first two lines read

exit 1

And then reboot the drive. Problem solved! (note that the process is different if you haven't upgraded to the 2.00.* version of firmware). (Also, note that miocrawler may be necessary if you want to use the WD Photo app -- I don't know if it's a requirement or not, but it's something to be aware of).

One other thing that comes with the 2.00.* firmware is an auto-backup feature that allows one to backup one MyBook Live to another. I looked at the process tree and yes, this is based on rsync as you might expect, but it has a nice control panel interface. Seems to work okay, although it's not especially fast -- it claims it will take 2+ days to backup my approx 1.2TB of data. It will also automatically keep the backup up-to-date, and I'll give that a try once I get an initial full backup.

All in all, I give it a pretty solid thumbs-up. I'll sleep somewhat better at night knowing that I've got a nice full backup of all of our audio/photo/video data. And did I mention that this 3TB NAS cost less than the 2TB NAS? How low can these prices go?