Monday, January 23, 2012

Interesting Times

The news has been very "interesting" of late.

I've been a Computer Geek for the vast majority of my life (learned to program when I was 13yo, started using the Internet in 1980, yadda) and as you might surmise, I'm one of those crazy liberal anti-censorship "the internet wants to be free!" kind of people. So I've been watching with interest as the "War For The Internet" heats up, with the (apparently successful) "blackout" protest of SOPA / PIPA:

SOPA / PIPA stalled

Which (I can only hope) may have backfired into the MPAA's face:

Online Petition Targets SOPA Comments from MPAA Chief Chris Dodd on Fox News

(And I'd urge you to join the fun by signing the petition yourself. I like the idea of us "free Internetters" going on the offensive versus simply responding to threats as they appear.)

That said, it looks like the government is fighting back:

MegaUpload raided, founder arrested; Anonymous launches mass DDoS against entertainment companies and US law enforcement

And it's got some people running scared:

Cyberlocker Ecosystem Shocked As Big Players Take Drastic Action

But on the bright side, there's been some good news in the Civil Rights arena:

Supreme Court rules warrant needed for GPS tracking

And there's this not-overly-reported tidbit:

DOJ urges judge to side with plaintiff in Baltimore police taping case

"The right to record police officers while performing duties in a public place as well as the right to be protected from the warrantless seizure and destruction of those recordings, are not only required by the Constitution," Justice Department attorneys wrote in a "statement of interest" filed Jan. 10 in the case. "They are consistent with our fundamental notions of liberty, promote the accountability of our governmental officers, and instill public confidence in the police officers who serve us daily."

Hell yes!

And finally:

US Senator Rand Paul refused a TSA pat-down

I would dearly love to see the TSA get their wrist slapped. Hard.

Alas, SOPA and PIPA are just two of a number of pieces of legislation that threaten the freedom of the 'net. ACTA is yet another, and you could do worse than sign the petition against it. And H.R. 1981, the deceptively-named "Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011" is yet another.

But I'm happy to see Things Happening. And some of them are even Good Things. I'm keeping my fingers crossed about the future, it might be bright.

Friday, January 20, 2012

My Favorite iOS Synthesizers

I've spent a somewhat embarrassing amount of money on music and synthesis apps for my iPad. Not all of them are jewels. I won't name any names here, but I'll warn that it pays to shop carefully, and to look at the app developer: is the app developed by one person who's just kinda futzing around with an idea, or by an actual company? The latter is preferable if you are hoping for any kind of support / bug fixes / feature updates.
The exception is, of course, free or $0.99 apps. For $0.99, who cares if the developer lives in his mom's basement in Belarus? (although it's sad to run across a $0.99 app that's *almost* perfect, which you know will never be updated or fixed).
Having said all that, I'd like to attempt to steer you, dear reader, towards the exceptional synthesizer and sound generator apps that I've encountered. Many of these cost $4.99 and up -- but they're worth it. (note: after one buys an app, it can be a bit difficult to determine the current price of the app -- some of my prices might be off.

Animoog for iPad $9.99 - A subtly seductive little synthesizer that didn't really impress me until I'd noodled with it awhile. It has an interesting synthesis paradigm, kind've like vector synthesis over a set of wavetables -- I suspect Moog will continue to add voices to this and really expand the kinds of sounds it can make. Also of note: it has a really charming kind of retro-Buchla keyboard that (among other things) registers the position of your finger along the length of the key, thus offering another control parameter on a per-note basis.

Animoog for iPhone $0.99 - If you just want to stick your toes in the water first, the iPhone version is cheaper and has all the same featurers, just the misc control panels are organized differently for the smaller form factor. This version also runs on the iPad, BTW.

Alchemy free / $14.99 upgrade to Pro - This offering comes from Camel Audio, who have a very solid reputation in the VST and soft-synth biz. It doesn't look like much at first, but if you start playing with it, it "comes alive". I haven't upgraded to Pro (yet) -- the app has a storefront that you can purchase additional waves / sounds for $4.99 a pop. This may sound like a lot but so far I've been impressed: some very high-quality sound design goes into these voices. Mac/PC/VST versions available.

Sunrizer $4.99 - If you can find a better iOS synthesizer for $4.99 -- buy it! But seriously -- you won't find such a thing. Sunrizer has a really great synth "feel" with great sounds for a great low price -- it's one of the best values on this list.

Addictive Synth $9.99 - A bit pricier than Sunrizer -- think of it as Sunrizer's twin brother who's kept in the attic. Great sounds, great feel.

Sylo Synth free / $3.99 upgrade to Pro - An inexpensive app that uses "granular synthesis" to produce sounds. The free version has advertising and lacks a few features, but it'll give you a taste of what you'll get if you go "pro". Not as nuanced as some of the other synths listed here, but one of the better / simpler implementation of granular synthesis I've seen.

Argon $1.99 - A good basic synth that will surprise you with the number of parameters it offers. Not really my favorite but it's a steal at $1.99.

The apps above are all kind've "standard" in that they have keyboards and relatively low learning curves. The apps listed below are "paradigm breakers" that can make some marvelously twisted, complex sounds, but you need to throw caution to the wind and experiment and *gasp* perhaps even read some documentation before you'll feel comfy with them:

Moog Filtatron $4.99 - If the VCS3 was a synthesizer, then I suppose one can call the Filtatron a synthesizer, too. Maybe. The name doesn't matter -- Filtatron is great for making all manner of "soundscapes" - it's difficult to describe. Musical toy or Pro SFX generator? I think it's both.

Jasuto Pro $4.99 - Here's where we really begin to leave planet Earth. Jasuto is a bit like a modular synth in that it allows you to connect miscellaneous sound functions together in an arbitrary manner ... but then it gets weird. One nice feature is that it connects to a user repository where people share their creations. Not for beginners.
Also available as a VST module.

CrystalSynthXT $4.99 - I'm still not really sure what to think of CrystalSynth. It's got a lot of "standard" synthesizer controls, but the controls can be automated and -- well, in the end, you can make all kinds of cools sounds with it. It also has a "morph" function that allows you to "marry" two different patches and listen to what their children sound like.
Also available as a VST module.

Reactable $9.99 - This one is a bit like Jasuto Pro (above) but a bit easier to comprehend. You build small 'systems' out of samples and oscillators and other components, and then let it play. If you do it right, you can build a system that's interactive, ie, where you really can play it by turning the shapes and moving them around. Also like Jasuto Pro: not for beginners.

So far, these are my favorites. There are many many other music apps out there: MIDI utilities, micro-studios, sequencers, alternative controllers, etc. But today I'm limiting myself to synthesizers and sound generation apps.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA / PIPA Blackout Day

“The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbours, kindle it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all.”

- Voltaire

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

AJB, 1924 - 2011

So 2012 has been kinda sucking so far.

Long story short: my father went into the hospital in mid-December and passed away early on new year's eve. Yes, this is Major Suckitude. I -- and my family, and my sister and her family -- loved my Dad a LOT. He had 87 really good years, and over the course of his career he did a lot of good work and had a big influence on many people. So I'm left feeling sad, yes, but also in a strange way, proud of my father. He was a good man. I hope I die as well as him.

Still, it's one helluva cloud under which to start the new year. Work's beginning to start moving, which is something of a relief -- it gives me something to do, something to focus on. But I'm still sleeping a lot more than normal, which I'm going to assume is my own idiosyncratic method for coping with stress / depression. I'll snap out of it, sooner or later. Hopefully sooner.

The rest of my family is, I think, taking it somewhat better than I -- perhaps in part because they stayed in Texas while I hung out with Dad in the hospital in Illinois. This was not an easy decision to make: should I fly my wife and kids out to Illinois? Should my wife drive the kids out? In the end R and the kids stayed home until my father passed, I flew back to Texas, then we all drove back to Illinois for the funeral service. I won't even start to get into all of the thought and argument that went into doing it this way, but we had just visited Dad over Thanksgiving. I wasn't sure there was much value in dragging everyone off to Illinois so they could hang out in an ICU waiting room for 2-3 weeks (Dad agreed, BTW). As it is, through the internet the kids got to talk to Dad, even sent him a video postcard they made, and Aidan played some music for him. It was a tough call, but I think it worked out okay. The kids miss him, and are sad, but not to a pathological degree. Which is, frankly, probably about the way my father would have wanted it.

Yeah, I'm proud of my father, but I miss him a lot. It's going to take some time getting past this -- but isn't that how it's supposed to be?

Love you, Dad.