28 February 2013

Notion for iPad

Thanks to the 128GB iPad, I can now install and use Notion for iPad. I originally bought it in December 2011, but it’s a big app. When I was fighting against the 64GB limit, it was near the top of the storage usage list and—since I hadn’t had a chance to use it yet—I had to uninstall it.

I have to say that now that I’ve used it, I am pretty impressed. It seems to be a fairly complete music engraving package for the iPad. It looks like it will do complete scores as well as supporting guitar tablature and guitar specific articulations.

As far as I can tell, the answer to the unanswered question is that Notion for iPad appears to be able to do everything Progression for iPad can. Although the only thing I have to base that on is the feature list for Progression.

My only real complaint so far is this: It lacks the “Convenient file sharing” they claim. It can...

  • Export Notion format to e-mail or an “Apps/Notion Mobile” folder within your Dropbox
  • Export PDF to e-mail
  • Export MIDI to e-mail
  • Export MusicXML to e-mail
  • Export WAV to iTunes file sharing, Dropbox, or Soundcloud
  • Export AAC to e-mail iTunes file sharing, Dropbox, or Soundcloud

Exporting to e-mail is the least convenient method. At least for me. I never want to share files via e-mail. Much less use e-mail as the workaround to get files into other apps or into things like Dropbox.

And iTunes file sharing is only marginally more convenient than e-mail.

I use Dropbox to share files with my bandmates, but the only thing I can export to Dropbox are the Notion format files or WAV/AAC files, which isn’t very convenient. What would be convenient for me:

  1. Export GuitarPro, MIDI, and PDF to an arbitrary Dropbox folder
  2. Export GuitarPro, MIDI, and PDF to another app

If I had #1, I could workaround the lack of #2 with the Dropbox app.

On the import side, I could use importing GuitarPro 6 and MIDI files from an arbitrary Dropbox folder, neither of which Notion can do. It appears that it can import GuitarPro 3–5 files and MIDI files through iTunes file sharing, but iTunes file sharing is inconvenient so I haven’t put it to the test.

27 February 2013

Swingy vibrato arm fixed!

The vibrato arm on my Roland-ready Fender Stratocaster used to just swing around and hang straight down, which makes it hard to use. I like it closer so I can grab it more easily when I need it.

Some research online uncovered several possible solutions, but here’s the one that worked.

This little spring goes down into the hole before you screw the vibrato arm into it. I was skeptical that this would really do the job. Plus, I was worried that it might not work with my guitar since it is MIM (made in Mexico) instead of an American model, which seemed to be the case for some people. It seems to work just fine, though.

The annoying part is that it is likely to get lost whenever the vibrato arm is removed. Thankfully, it came with eleven spares, but it’d be nice if it was held in place somehow. There are some suggestions online about how to do that as well, but I haven’t tried any of them yet.

Well, now ten spares. I dropped one into my Westone Spectrum ST, and it just fell straight through.

17 February 2013


While doing some research for this rant, I ran across this gem:

Q: Why do we need a Postal Service if it is only going to be delivering junk mail?

That is the question.

A: It’s only junk if it ends up in a landfill. We prefer the term advertising mail. Americans and American businesses rely on the mail and will continue to do so in the future given that it is measureable and that it works. There is value in mail. Trillions of dollars in transactions are completed through the mail. The Postal Service is the most affordable gateway to international markets for many small businesses. As we continue to build on a strong foundation of technological innovation, we’ll become more accessible to more Americans, making it even easier to do business with us. We will remain a vital, vibrant part of the American fabric.

Deëmphasis mine.

Wrong! It is also junk if it is wasting our time. It is also junk if it drowns out the actual important mail.

I like snail mail†, and there are things I would still prefer to get that way. But it is broken. It is broken because the USPS sees junk mail as revenue instead of junk. I’ve jumped through the hoops to eliminate as much junk as I can, but you can’t eliminate it all. So, I’m shifting as much as possible away from it, which simply exacerbates their problem. But it’s the only choice they give me. As much as I’d like to see it survive, if they can’t fix it, I’d rather they shut it down.

†I could write another rant on “snail mail” not being automatically derogatory.

16 February 2013

More messing with ability scores

Previously I wrote about replacing the intelligence ability in classic D&D with quickness. This yields three pairs of ability scores...

strength / constitution
dexterity / quickness
charisma / wisdom

In Star Frontiers, ability scores are paired in a similar manner. When generating them, you roll once for each pair, and the same value is applied to each score in the pair. Then the player may adjust them by taking points away from on score in the pair and adding them to the other.

(The AD&D2e book Players Option: Skills & Powers did something similar, though it split the original six ability scores into twelve scores.)

The range of scores is 1–100 (though initial values range from 30—70) and the adjustment is limited to 10 points. So that would translate to 2 points in D&D. e.g. If 12 was rolled for dexterity/quickness, the player could set the scores at 12/12, 13/11, 14/10, 11/13, or 10/14.

I’m not sure that only rolling three scores would be a good thing, though.

15 February 2013

Notion for iPad vs. Progression for iPad

Notion vs Progression

I’ve just bought ‘standard’ Notion for iPad and was wondering what the differences were between Notion and Notion Progression? I was interested in also getting Progression but from what I can tell it seems that Notion has all the features of Progression anyway?

That message was posted to Notion’s own forums on 27 Nov 2012. Today is 13 February 2013. (Yes, I write these posts earlier than they appear.) The message has zero replies.

It’s hard to understand why Notion didn’t anticipate this question and have an answer on their web site the day Progression for iPad was announced. It’s even harder to understand why they would let the question go unanswered for 2½ months.

14 February 2013

Reading Premier Guitar electronically

Premier Guitar is both great and awful. Reading articles on their web site is painful. Their iPad app is also painful. It’s gotten better over time, but it is still one of the many awful Newsstand apps.

(For an example of a great Newsstand app, check out Marco Arment’s The Magazine. Perhaps it isn’t a model for how every Newsstand app should work, but it does show that Newsstand apps don’t have to be as bad as most of what we’ve seen so far.)

The actual paper magazine? Sure, it’s fine, but a paper magazine clutters up my house. A magazine on my iPad gets read.

But I have found something that works: Their RSS feed, the Reeder app, and Reeder’s Readability button.

The one thing that’s missing is their gorgeous photos. Not the photos from articles; I still get to see those. There is a really nice section of stand-alone photos in the print and app versions of the magazine. But I’ll take readability over the photos.

13 February 2013

Why I broke my skip-a-generation iPad pattern

So far, I’ve stuck to a skip-a-generation pattern with iPhones and iPads. With the arrival of my newer iPad 4†, I’ve broken that. Why?

1. If the iPad 3‡ had come in an 128GB model, I would have bought that. Between role-playing game PDF files, music recording, books, games, etc., I was already pushing up against the 64GB limit when I bought my iPad 3. Now that the iPad 4 comes in an 128GB model, it is time to upgrade.

2. My iPad has become my primary computer. My iMac and iPhone are the companions. So, if I’m going to upgrade any of them on a faster schedule, it should be the iPad.

3. My son is still using my iPad 1*, which is showing its age a bit quicker than previous iOS devices. The fact that it can’t run iOS 6 is probably more of a symptom of that than the cause. His younger sister got an iPad mini from Santa. So, this allows me to pass down the iPad 3 to him a little sooner than if I were to wait for an iPad 5 to appear.

†What Apple calls “iPad (4th generation)”

‡What Apple calls “iPad (3rd generation)”

*“iPad (1st generation)”

05 February 2013

Winter NAMM 2013

I can’t go to NAMM, but I enjoy following the coverage. It took a while to put together, but here are some things that stood out to me this year.

Boss DA-2, MO-2, and TE-2 New and interesting effects in the “polyphonic without a hexaphonic pick-up” category. Not very tweakable, but sometimes that’s a good thing. Affordable compared to many of the other polyphonic effect options.

EHX HOG2 On the polyphonic effects front, EHX updated their HOG.

Marshall Slash SL-5 There’s nigh zero need for a guitar amp more than 5 Watts. Well, it might be useful to have more clean headroom, but is anybody buying a high-Wattage Marshall-style amp looking for clean headroom? (I get more than enough clean headroom from my 15 Watt amps.) 5 Watts amps are loud. This one even switches down to 1 Watt because 5 Watts is loud. If you need more volume, you’re better off micing the amp and running it through a PA.

Low-Watt amps, however, almost always get treated as a “practice” amp. They’re given tiny speakers, no footswitch, and no effects loop. Well, this one gets a 12" speaker, a footswitch, and reverb. (No effects loop, but that is the kind of feature that’s overlooked in bigger amps too. And, hey, it’s progress.) There have certainly been amps like this before, but here’s one from one of the big boys, and it’s nice to see.

IK Multimedia iRig HD Rant time: This doesn’t seem to be any different from the Apogee Jam. It’s a good thing for IK to have in their line-up, but it really bugs me when they act like it is something new. Not even the Jam, which they’ve copied, was the first dock-connector guitar interface. When IK says they’ve been working a long time on this, that isn’t a good thing. They are playing catch-up, and I think they need to be honest about that. Don’t tout your catch-up product as if it were innovation. (And if there is anything innovative here, why aren’t you touting that?)

This is why I’ll search for a competing product before buying something from IK.

Worse, though, are all the people reporting on this that just follow the press release or pitch instead of providing context.

IK Multimedia BlueBoard I may be about to do what I just complained about. ^_^

One of the challenges with iOS music making today is only having a single docking port. I have an Apogee Jam and an iRig MIDI. I could use the iRig MIDI to hook-up a MIDI footswitch to control AmpKit, but I can’t do that while the Jam is connected. (Likewise with an iRig MIDI, AmpliTube, and an iRig HD; if you’re a dedicated IK customer.) There are some dock accessories on the market that have both guitar input and MIDI in/out, but they bring their own trade-offs.

The BlueBoard connects via Bluetooth, so it leaves the dock port open for a guitar interface. Besides four footswitches, it also has connections for two expression pedals.

The downside is that more music apps have MIDI support than Bluetooth support. At least for now.

I have seen another Bluetooth footswitch that can be used for this, but it didn’t have the expression pedal connections. (It was designed for use with presentations rather than music apps.)

Roland G-5A Rant: Another guitar with a hexaphonic pick-up but no 13-pin output. Such a little thing could increase the value of this guitar so much and upsell more Roland products.

In other news, Line 6 introduced another Variax that isn’t compatible with any 13-pin gear.

Roland GR-D and GR-S More ranting: These little boxes provide a small subset of VG-99 features in a small and more affordable form factor. Which sounds like a very good thing. The problem? They don’t work with any other GK/VG products. They don’t work with the G-5A. They don’t work with the GR-55. They don’t work with the VG-99 or any of its predecessors.

They don’t even work with each other. The closest you could get to that is to use the US-20 footswitch to split the 13-pin connection from your guitar to both boxes. Then you could send the out from one box into the mix input of the other. But that gives you the two effects in parallel instead of being able to run the same signals first through one effect and then through the other.

It seems Roland is targeting guitarists that might want to add a little VG into their existing systems. But who wants to buy dead-end gear? Something like this would be an opportunity to turn more guitarists into VG customers but instead it leaves them stranded. Not to mention that even these boxes require the commitment of getting a guitar with a 13-pin output or adding a GK pickup to a guitar.

Roland V-Combo VR-09 To say something nice about Roland†, the VR-09 makes me wish I was a keyboard player. Although the BK-3 is probably a better keyboard for me.

†Although Roland owns Boss, so I did say some nice things about them.

Fishman TriplePlay Wait, wasn’t this from last year’s NAMM? Yes. They are saying they might actually ship in this year. There may be an opportunity for Fishman to exploit the mistakes Roland has been making in this arena. Unfortunately, though, it looks like the TriplePlay does the pitch-to-MIDI conversions on-board and only transmits MIDI. Which is probably wise, but it means it can’t do the VG-style things.

Fargen JL-15 These didn’t look that interesting to me, but the John Lennon artwork on the grill cloth looks nice.

Last minute note This year’s NAMM correspondent for Six String Bliss, Erik, did I great job of talking to some companies that others missed. One stand-out moment was in an interview with Philippe of Caroline Guitar Company. Erik says that their Kilobyte is one of the most unique pedals he’s heard at NAMM. Philippe explains that it was inspired by the SIB Mr Echo. Philippe then say, “I am not afraid to admit to my influences.”

04 February 2013

Guitar practice with the iPad

So, I have some songs arranged using Guitar Pro on my Mac. I drop them in a shared Dropbox folder to share them with my bandmates. I can then use the Dropbox app on my iPad to load them into the Guitar Pro iPad app.

The Guitar Pro app is great for learning and practicing. Besides showing notation, it’ll play the song plus the parts for other instruments. In my case, all the songs have guitar, bass, and drums. I can mute individual instruments. So I can have it play the guitar part—alone or with the other instruments—when learning the song. Then I can turn the guitar part off and just play with the bass and drum tracks while practicing. It can also adjust the tempo, so I can slow things down until I get the parts under my fingers.

The trouble with Guitar Pro, though, is that if you have a guitar amp/effects app—like AmpKit, AmpliTube, GarageBand, JamUp, &c.†—running in the background, Guitar Pro kills it when it starts playing.

Another app—TabToolkit, which was around before the Guitar Pro app—doesn’t suffer this problem. It can read Guitar Pro files too. TabToolkit doesn’t sound as good as the Guitar Pro app, though. At least, to my ears.

To practice with the Guitar Pro app, I instead have to use my Vox amPlug, Digitech RP-350 multi-effects pedal, or one of my Crate GTD15R amps. All of these have an “aux in”. Just connect the iPad headphone jack to that. Not as convenient and portable as just guitar, Apogee Jam, and iPad; but it works.

The same situation exists with iReal b and Chordbot. These are “band in a box” style apps where you enter a chord progression and it generates accompaniment for you. The iReal b app will kill a guitar effects app running in the background, but Chordbot won’t.

†In all of these apps, there’s a “run in background” option that you have to turn on for them to stay running when you switch to another app.