How much?

There’s plenty of talk about Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies these days; from endless banter from people who don’t even understand the basic premises, completely nonsensical information from folks who have no concept of money and finances in general and even some discussions anchored in fact and knowledge. One kind of vital piece of information is impossible to be found though: how much money has been put in BTC and its derivatives? It’s easy to calculate to the total value of all Bitcoins: quantity times price, just like the market cap of a stock, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I want to know how much money all of us together have spent on buying them and that’s not that easy to figure out.

One more thing: please, PLEASE take all these analyses on the web about BTC’s price movement (moving averages, death cross etc etc) with a pallet of salt. The people writing them are using methods that may hold value when applied to stocks representing companies, for predicting the value of something completely different, and that’s asking for trouble. You see, even if investors would lose trust in Ford as a company, its stock would still be worth something, based on, if nothing else, the company’s assets (factories, inventory, cash), but BTC could be worth $0 overnight if something bad enough happens. I’m not exaggerating; its price is 100% dependent on trust. I’m certainly not saying it’s worthless; I believe we have something incredibly valuable here in the long run, but our old methods of analysis can not be blindly carried over.

x64 to ARM, come in ARM

It’s been rumored for a while, but today even Bloomberg is reporting on a possible platform change coming in 2020 to macOS; supposedly Apple is seriously considering making its own chips for Macs, just like it has been doing for phones and tablets for a while now. While in the iOS the transition from Samsung to self-designed SOCs didn’t mean breaking compatibility because just about anyone can use the ARM architecture and build on it, laptops and desktops are a different story.

You see, there are only three entities allowed to build x86 and x64 CPUs, and the Big Fruit is not one of them. What that means is that Apple will almost certainly transition macOS to ARM if it starts making its own CPUs. Now, most discussions I have read on the interwebs focus almost entirely on performance and whether the “mobile” chips will be able to keep up with “laptop” and “desktop” chips. In my opinion, there would not be a problem in that department; especially with higher TDPs Apple’s chips should be just fine. Also, all frequently updated software (think browsers, Netflix, MS Office) should be operational pretty quickly, although there will be some hell to pay in the bug department as there always is with such a major operation.

The real problems will be affecting a small subset of users, among which are a LOT of people I know. This is because there is a whole subset of software that does NOT get updated frequently or at all; I’m talking about Audio Production software. If I had a dollar for every Mac user I’ve heard complain about what happened when Apple went from the G5 to Intel chips…. great plugins, like the Native Instruments B4, were never updated, Spectrasonics stuff was the same. Mind you, on Windows I can and still DO use them (there hasn’t been released anything better!). Now look at Pro Tools: the list of which versions work on which OS is a mind-bender! It’s such a mess that I occasionally get calls from Mac users to see if I can help them, and now the musical director at my church told me he’s fed up with Apple and asked me to help him transition to Windows. There’s simply nothing worse than a company forcing you to give up the tools you already know and love, because of arbitrary reasons. Windows has shown the way for years now; I can still run software from the 1990’s for goodness’ sake.

When a company ‘steals’ your data

Sometimes a vast majority can be dead wrong; as a matter of fact, in this world of #fakenews it seems to be happening more and more. Here’s a little story about Facebook and its evil companion called Messenger.

Years ago, when social media was in its infancy, the early clients out of Zuckerberg’s company included the ability to send private messages to another user. Yet another channel through which to communicate, I thought, I hope it doesn’t catch on, but whatever, we’re using the app, it is what it is. Then came Facebook Messenger, at first with the option to still do without it. Then all of a sudden, functionality was removed from the main app, and it became mandatory to use the stand-alone system! I never installed it in the first place simply because on installation it very clearly asked for permission to access all kinds of stuff on your phone, including your calls. Even before all the latest improvements in permission management, it seemed immediately unacceptable to me to give this company such private info, for what? The ability to send text messages? Send a picture? WTF, I though, why is everybody just jumping on this bandwagon?

In Europe, where SMS still costs money, everybody started using WhatsApp instead. It has the same problem, and even more, because it aims to replace your phones basic text mechanism so it cannot function without access to everything. Much to my friends chagrin, I refused to install it on my main phone; and when Facebook bought it, I felt even happier that I had resisted. In the meantime, here in La La Land, unfortunately more and more people had started communicating within the walls of Facebook, to the point where a gig offer might actually come through its channels. Now I’d rather miss out on a gig than get abused by this brave new world, but amazingly there was a pretty good solution!

Here’s where thinking for yourself  really pays off: it turns out there is a special version of the Facebook App called Facebook Lite, designed for parts of the world where data speed is limited and phones are not the newest and fastest. First off it’s tiny, loads superfast on any device, but more importantly, includes messaging without Messenger. It works exactly the way the old, old app works, all inside. No permissions necessary, no access to anything you don’t want to give to Zuck and his peeps.

So here we are; something like 50 million people have now given years of calling data to Facebook. That’s right, it (and who knows who else) now knows who you called when and for how long for the last few years. It probably knows who was cheating, or who’s at risk of doing it soon. This is what we KNOW they know. Did they secretly record the actual audio of our calls? Did they store text messages? Do all of those folks deserve sympathy even though most clicked willingly and knowingly through all the permission warnings?

One last thing, and it’s about something that we’ve talked about before: in EVERY, and I mean every situation in which something is ad-supported, the user is the product. When you watch ABC, the show is not the product, you are, and your attention is being sold to the advertisers. The programming is only to ‘lure’ you in if you will, to keep you tuned in the longest. It doesn’t even technically matter if you like it or need it; outrage works well for keeping someone’s attention for instance. I’ve been saying it for years: I don’t understand why people think it’s a good idea to frame our personal lives in a commercial operation in which we are the products. Social Media can be wonderful, but we need a paid system, where our data is sacred, or an open source peer-to-peer network that we collectively own. Until then, I will remain on the sidelines as much as socially possible, and boy am I glad I have so far!

(Added on 03-25-2018)

Credit where credit’s due: it turns out on iOS apps are not able to collect data about your calls and text messages! So even if you installed Messenger, and gave it access to your contacts, the inherent security of the platform prevents the app from ‘knowing’ who you’re calling or SMSing.

Death by machine: part deux

Amazingly, two videos of the first fatal autonomous Uber crash have been released to the public. I’m sure we’ll have quite the extended debate over them, and the human ‘safety’ driver, who is supposed to make sure the machine doesn’t make mistakes, or at least take over when it does; this dude failed spectacularly, that’s for sure. He was simply not even looking out the window, instead looking down at something in his lap until a split second before the crash occurred. The most interesting legal question is how much liability he has in this disaster.

When watching the dashcam of the car, one thing becomes clear: the victim made a move that just begged for a correction in the population that only natural selection can provide. There’s most likely no way the car could have been controlled to NOT hit her, certainly not by a person, but probably not even by a machine with infinitely faster response. She just came out of the dark in THE most stupid place to cross, in addition hampered in her mobility by the bike she was dragging along. It seems hard to believe she didn’t jump in front of the car on purpose but let’s assume she didn’t. In my opinion it would be unreasonable to put the blame for her death on anyone or anything other than her.

At the same time, there’s something very very interesting about the video and the little info about what happened that we do have. Apparently, the brakes were not applied at all! That the knucklehead behind the wheel didn’t is perhaps somewhat understandable, he had literally a fraction of a second, but for a machine that’s an eternity. Once she came out of the shadows, in those 2 frames, she’s clearly visible, and clearly in the path of the car. Did its sensors not notice her at all? Did it decide it was too late to start braking? Amazingly what the car was ‘thinking’ will be known, at least to the engineers with access to it. At the same time, I can’t shake the feeling that Google’s cars would have done better. In either case, it’s yet another data set, another set of circumstances that future Uber cars have in their experience.

Finally, to all the doubters of autonomous vehicles: just look at how utterly relaxed and trusting the safety driver was. Amazingly, it has to be prove of how well this tech already works, and Google is significantly ahead in its capabilities. Dead lady or not, this tech is coming quickly; you can improve computers, but you can’t fix stupid!

Death by machine

So, it happened. A self-driving car struck and killed a pedestrian. If I had a dollar for every person I ever discussed this tech with that said “one death, lawsuits will shut it down…..”, I’d be able to pay the families legal fees. Except that’s not what’s gonna happen. You see, these machines record every single detail all the time; if that’s not admissible evidence,  I don’t know what is.

Already police have said it seems the woman jumped out of the shadows onto a dark road,  away from a legal crosswalk, and that a human driver likely could not have prevented hitting her. These cars have 360 degree vision, radar, lidar and who knows what else. Their reaction time is a fraction of the fastest human’s; they don’t get tired, or distracted. I’m not saying they’re flawless, of course not, but every machine of a particular brand has all the knowledge of all the ones that came before it! Every human that has to learn how to drive has to start over. Just think about that for a second..

 

Betting on the wrong horse, part deux

Boy, I woke up to some bad news today: Gibson has decided to cease all development of Cakewalk branded products! That means my beloved DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) Sonar Platinum will not be updated anymore, perhaps ever! Of course there is a chance that someone will buy up the assets and continue developing it, but for now the future looks dark. Windows has been great in supporting older software so I will be able to use Sonar for the foreseeable future, but for the first time since I started producing almost 20 years ago, it looks like I must seriously consider moving to a different platform. I can’t believe it….

It’s been a fantastic journey, starting from Cakewalk Pro Audio 8, which I believe came out in 1998 and I acquired in 1999 with the purchase of a Peavey Studiomix, and quickly upgraded to version 9. Over the years I’ve messed with other DAWS, from the ‘industry standard’ ProTools (hate it!), to various versions of Cubase friends have, to Logic on the Mac, but I always felt Sonar was the best and not only because I knew it so well.   Companies come and go, always knew that, but somehow I never thought one that serves its customers so well and make such a stellar product would just up and quit one day. Let’s just hope someone comes in and buys out the code and other assets and continues away from Gibson with the development…

iOS 11

From AnandTech’s forum:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just one example of an increasing number of critical reviews of Apple’s latest operating system for phones and pads. Pretty much exactly as expected, as more and more functionality is tacked on, various screen sizes, changes to navigation, the code base becomes more unstable and unpredictable.  Bottom line is, the Ecosystem is far from perfect, and in fact going down in reliability, while prices are going up! What is going on? LOL

Cardboard

Cardboard? Really? A post about packing material? No, this is about Google Carboard, the most inexpensive way to experience VR! Really, I paid $10 at Best Buy for its Insignia version and it is AWESOME! I’d been reading about it for a while, but when my neighbor let me try the one his wife got at work, I knew I had to get my own.

Unsurprisingly it uses your cellphone to do the rendering and not all are supported, but his iPhone 5S worked great, my Nexus 5X even better, but my Huawei Honor 5X did not because it lacks a Gyroscope. You download the Cardboard app from the Play Store and off to the races with a built-in demo. There are a lot more apps available and the Titans Of Space one is my favorite so far; it’s an exploration of our Solar System, free of charge, with a $3 narration pack available. On my 1080P screen there’s definitely a “screen door effect” but it’s wonderfully enjoyable nonetheless. The head tracking works great, the effect is quite amazing. There’s a limited version of Google Street View too, which allowed me to stand in the middle of the town square in Alphen aan den Rijn through a 360 degree panorama someone took, but for the full experience one needs a proper headset like the Vive or Rift. Can’t wait to see what’s next!

FTP

Many, many moons ago, before the World Wide Web, before Facebook (no, there weren’t dinosaurs roaming the earth) there was already such a thing as the internet. Email has been around for a long, long time, but there was also a need for transferring large amounts of data and so came to be FTP: File Transfer Protocol. It’s been around since 1971 or so, believe it or not, and is today as ubiquitous and useful as ever. The beauty of it is, that it’s incredibly universally supported; instead of HTTP, using FTP://www.ricobelled.com will connect to my server and ask for login credentials, directly in Windows Explorer, and any web browser out there, allowing the user to upload and download files without the need to use third party services like DropBox. There’s support for this on any machine out there. I can do this on my Nexus 5X, right in Chrome, or download an app. Even a DOS machine from 1988 can get and send files this way, any LINUX machine….

I have 100GB on my hosting account, more than enough to deal with the kind of files I do this way. If I do a session, I can set up a secure way to send audio files, without anyone else having access. You see, anytime you use YouSendIt, technically they own in some way the stuff you submitted. Read the Terms Of Use, they are incredibly complex and all-encompassing. And I’m not even talking about security; what happens if their service is hacked?

Unfortunately, it’s also a great example of how Apple is taking us backwards, without many people even realizing, and how dangerous it is to lived in a “walled garden” ecosystem like the Big Fruit’s. Let me tell you a story.

On our last tour of Eastern Europe with Keiko Matsui, we did the first 7 shows with the amazing Lords Of The Sound orchestra from Ukraine. In fact they were so good that it we recorded the show in Odessa to send as an guide to the conductor for the orchestra that was going to do our last show in Tbilisi, Georgia. We ended up with a stereo board mix from the monitor system minus brass/perc, a mono track of just brass and percussion and a stereo track from a camera out in the audience. It came to me to mix those together and make mp3s to send out. Now we had to get them there but it was imperative that they were transferred securely and accessible anywhere. These are NOT to get out in public, so I set up FTP access on my server and send out the login info. Guess what? The iPhone users could not get to the files, Safari just displayed a search result for ftp://ricobelled.com! OK, I figured just use Chrome, since that works perfectly on my Android: no luck, same result! Wait, what? I looked into it and sure enough, browsers on iOS can not do FTP access! That means on an iPad too by the way! That’s right, your $1000 Pro has a neutered browser, all the while Apple is trying to tell you it’s a capable computer.

Of course there are FTP clients for iOS, but at this point, the iPhoners had given up, “this is too difficult!”. I explained to the boss I cannot in good conscience use those services that others blindly surrender all their data to, gave the MP3s to the tour manager who took it from there. It’s frightening to me how easily so many are giving up their autonomy, choosing perceived ease of use over true control. Trust me, FTP is not hard to use; as a matter of fact, I would say it’s easier than those services, not in the least because it allows you to access data in a multitude of ways. For instance, try the FireFTP plugin for Firefox, or logging in straight from Windows Explorer and Dragging&Dropping straight to your local drives.  Plus, it doesn’t change unless you want it to, where with Dropbox you’re dependent on ever changing interface options.

When old becomes new

Another win for Windows 10!  My good friend Brad Rabuchin’s machine we put together in 2010 stopped booting up properly; he hadn’t done a proper backup in a while (?!?#@?#@?) so the first thing to do was to save the data. Because it’s a desktop, it was easy to remove the drives, hook them up to my machine, and then pick and choose what to move over to an external 2.5″ USB disk. We were able to get everything, so the pressure was off. Now how do we move forward? Windows repair wasn’t working and neither was doing a system restore to an older point in time. At this point a fresh reinstall on a new drive (thus keeping the old OS install intact just in case) is what I like to do.

Seven years ago SSDs were first becoming ‘affordable’, but at $200 for a 64GB drive we chose to use a spinner, a 750GB Hitachi, hooked up to a 1st generation i3-530, 4GB of DDR3 and an Echo Gina 3G PCI audio card with Windows 7. You know what? Those specs are more than enough to run Windows 10, so we just bought a 500GB Samsung 850 EVO and installed the OS fresh, everything worked perfectly and just incredibly smoothly, booting from off to usable in mere seconds, just like a modern machine. Even that old Gina was purring along, with rock solid performance at 64 samples by the way for running Sonar at full real-time input monitoring.

After making sure all the data was there in under Windows 10, and having seen that the BIOS was set to IDE instead of AHCI for the SATA ports, I figured that perhaps that was keeping Windows 7 from booting. Sure enough, it now booted just fine from the old OS drive. But, what a difference in performance! All because of the SSD, it’s now a whole new computer! Microsoft was kind enough to let us install 10 with the old serial from 7 and Brad is ready for another at least 5 years with this thing. If needed, he can pop in an i5 or i7 and double the CPU performance, there’s room for another 2 DIMMS to go to 8GB of RAM for $50 or so, but even as it is, it’s a totally modern feeling machine…… seven years later!