Surface Pro 3

“Desktop or Laptop?” a guy behind me in line at Starbucks asks his companion.  “Macbook!” he replies confidently and proudly. “Lot of RAM?” …. “16GB! It works pretty well!”… wait…. what? pretty well?

“I do have the i7” he announces proudly, “but I don’t find it to overheat . Wait…what? You pay top dollar for a machine (>$2000 prolly for that config) and it overheats in a professional setting? You’ve GOT to be kidding me. When the other dude starts talking about ‘cooling pads’ for laptops the hilarity is complete. I mean, that’s what Windows gamers were using 15 years ago to much ridicule from Apple heads… this is too rich!

On a brighter note, I picked up a Surface Pro 3; incredibly cheaply by the way thanks to a less than accurate listing on Ebay! It was billed as a “Surface 3”, but in the picture it clearly showed a Pro, with even a sticker on the back stating the i3 processor! Add a messed up Windows 10 Educational install, a little dent near the USB port (not affecting operation at all) and nobody bid. I low-balled him at $80 and he took it! With shipping it came to $96. When I got it, I made a fresh Windows USB installer and did a fresh install. A few driver updates and 10 Pro activated just fine with the embedded BIOS key. All was beautiful except……oh no!…….there’s a one inch strip across the screen where touch doesn’t register! Don’t worry, all it needed was a digitizer calibration and everything is perfect now. My styli from the Surface 3 work and even the Type Covers attach and work perfectly, although they’re a little smaller than a Pro, so I start looking for a matching one.

Mind you, the Surface Pro 4 Type Cover fits as well and is much improved, with a bigger trackpad and better keys, but it’s $150 new… ouch! There are used ones for $50-$60 all day on Ebay, but there’s an even better option and it’s thanks to something I care very little about: the NFL. You see, they had a partnership (still do? don’t know!) and made a whole range of Covers for all the different teams. A Packers one is more than an unbranded one, but I guess nobody is proud of the NY Giants because a new-in-box cover with their logo cost me $68 shipped. I did have to buy a charger for $20 but for under $200 total this is now one of my favorite machines. The XPS 13 I’m typing this on still has a better keyboard, but the Pro 4 Type Cover is quite good really, much better than the old ones, and with the tablet together weighs barely over 2 pounds. The screen is gorgeous, its 3:2 aspect ratio wonderful; full size USB port, good speakers and surprisingly good battery life and sleep behavior. I love the magnetic charger connection (credit where credit’s due: thanks Steve Jobs!)

Installed Cakewalk on it, with the Lounge Lizard, B4, Ivory piano: flawless. It sits perfectly on the sheet music stand on my P115 together with a Korg Nanokontrol, Zoom G3X on the floor as an interface, Korg Microkey velcroed to the piano: incredible sounding super-compact gig system. Apple users eat your heart out, you can’t even get this from the big fruit if you took a second mortgage out on your house! I’m having a flashback to seeing my dear friend with a touch screen hooked up to his Mac, trying to figure out how to make the drivers work on this (Windows 95 days….ouch). Mac OS does not natively support and thus understand touch… and that’s not because Jobs is gone; quite the contrary, it’s because of him, because he said that touch is for iPads, and because he decided to separate development between ‘computers’ and ‘tablets’. Microsoft was fucking right! CPU power will catch  up sooner than later and tablets ARE computers! Windows 10 is awesome and touch works on software that was never even designed for it (Ableton Live 9 I’m looking at you!)

So there it is: I can HIGHLY recommend the Surface Pro, even the 3 that I have with i3 and 4GB of RAM. You can pick these up for $350 or $400 used with a Type Cover and Stylus, they’re incredibly well made and as long as there are no cracks in the screen I would not worry about buying used. If you fly a lot, it’s amazing to be able to take the keyboard off and use it as a tablet which is allowed during taxiing and landing. The battery will last for 7 hours on mine watching video in airplane mode, and probably for 12 on a new one. The screen is gorgeous, headphone output sounds excellent and loud, and operation is super snappy. Oh, and you can add a micro SD card. Another thing Jobs thought was a bad idea…..

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.

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 woman failed spectacularly, that’s for sure. She was simply not even looking out the window, instead looking down at something in her lap until a split second before the crash occurred. The most interesting legal question is how much liability she 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, she 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..

 

BTC

“Bitcoin energy use in Iceland set to overtake homes, says local firm” says BBC news! Cryptomining is taking off like crazy and we the people are using more and more energy to do it. Everyone is doing it, yours truly included and the ideas and principles behind it are only now becoming more commonly understood. It’s been estimated that the total power usage of the Bitcoin network is larger than all electricity consumed by the country of Ireland. Let that sink in for a second… But what exactly are we doing? I’ll be talking about it in a few posts coming up in the next few months, but first I’ll tell you about my little experiment.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve set up two of my computers with a service called Nicehash. Mind you, I’m NOT recommending you do this; they were hacked and robbed blind in December of 2017 under very suspicious circumstances. My experiment is humble, my systems relatively low-power, and thus I’m not making major investments or running big risks with large sums of money. In my main system I have a GTX 1050ti 4GB and in the other a GTX 750 1GB.  I’ve been mining for two weeks, and have now been paid 0.002 Bitcoin, or about $17 at today’s price. Normally my main rig is always on anyway, the equipment is fully paid for, but of course there is extra electricity being used; my estimate is around $5 for a net profit of about $12. It’s nothing to write home about, but it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick and I just got started. If Bitcoin goes up 1000% like some people are forecasting, it’ll be $120!

Initially, I was planning on adding a GPU or two but after looking the current prices I flipped out: most usable cards are going for double MSRP! My 1050ti, which I paid $105 for,  has been going for over $200; USED! Video gaming is definitely a hobby of mine, and I’d love to get a 1060, but not at $400, even though it has double the mining power of my current card. Luckily things never stay the same and because of the drop in cryptocurrency prices, they now bring in half the profits they did only a couple of months ago.  Some people paid upwards of $500 and they will never recoup that investment because net rewards will only go down due to increased difficulty, even if Bitcoin goes back up to $20k. For a gamer like me, a 1060 is of great value, even when it doesn’t mine, but what are the hardcore guys gonna do with 6, or 12, or 24 of them when they’re not worth running anymore? I feel a great flood of used GPUs in the very near future!

Up next: transferring my earnings from Nicehash to Coinbase, and online wallet for safekeeping. My buddy Peter in Holland actually has a hardware crypto-wallet, which is the safest place to put them; might ask him to look after my coins for me. Through Coinbase and GDAX (its coin exchange), I might trade for some Ethereum once I get to a $50 balance or so. Unlike so many other ‘alt-coins’ I believe that ETH and BTC are here to stay, but that’s for a later article.

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!

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!

Surface meet Sonar

With the latest update, it’s quite amazing how well Sonar Platinum runs on my 2GB/64GB Microsoft Surface 3…really, after properly calibrating the pen (duh!), it’s just so cool to be able to draw in the “piano roll”. Fingers to move the canvas, pinch to zoom, pen draws notes, moves notes, eraser button works, even pressure sensitivity to determine velocity!

Listen, I bought this machine for $250, with a dock with ethernet, HDMI and extra USB ports, with the pen and the type cover. Used, but in excellent condition. After monkeying with some drivers I decided to do a fresh reinstall from a Windows 10 USB stick. It certainly made a difference, although there are still areas in which the system is noticeably slower than my i3 based XPS 13. Firefox is weirdly sluggish, sometimes in unexpected things like typing this blog. Pleasantly surprised!

Dosey Doe in the Woodlands, TX

Today I just want to give props to one of the very best places to play in these United States! When you travel with a band like the Rippingtons, you have what’s called a “rider”, a list of things you need/want ready at the venue. It usually contains stuff like batteries, food and drinks, catering during sound check, all kinds of amenities. Whether all of them are provided is certainly not a given, and the size of the place is not necessarily indicative of compliance. Some spots will even charge us half or full price just to have a beer or two, some stock the dressing room with a nice selection of beverages and food.

And then there is The Big Barn – Dosey Doe in The Woodlands, TX. Not only is it a wonderful venue acoustically and aesthetically (they took a 165 year old tobacco barn from Kentucky and rebuilt it outside of Houston!!) but it might just be the place that takes the best care of us. I mean, from the moment we get there every single person working is not only courteous and  happy to be there, but also goes way beyond what we need or deserve. The boss wants to order three dinners, two to go? No problem. Beer, top shelf whiskey, vodka, desserts….anything we want. They place is filled with genuinely great people, on a level that is beyond rare here in the city of Angels. And guess what: it results in a band that wants to do a great show! Dosey Doe started as a coffee roaster years ago and they still do it. At the end of the night they send us on our way with a pound of beans of our choice, each! Here’s a place that deserves to thrive and I’m glad to see they’re doing well.

So thank you Paul, Kevin, Barry and everyone at Dosey Doe for creating such an amazing place to keep live music alive and kicking! Hope to see you again soon!