30 September 2015

Making an Apple Music playlist

The task: I have a list of songs that I want to make into an Apple Music playlist using iTunes on my iMac.

Step 1: Search My Music. If I already have the song in my library, that is likely the version I want in the playlist.

If it weren’t for step 2 below, this wouldn’t need to be a full, separate step. I’d search My Music and—if the song wasn’t there—one click would switch me to searching all of Apple Music.

The good news: If I find the song in My Music, it is easy to add it to my playlist. On to the next song. Otherwise...

Step 2: Search Wikipedia for the song to find which album (or other information) will distinguish the version I want.

Apple Music almost never has just a single version of a song, but it gives me precious little context to help me distinguish them from one another. I’ve learned from experience that things go a lot smoother when I check Wikipedia before searching Apple Music or the iTunes Store.

I’m not suggesting that a service should choose a definitive version for me, but it would be nice if it gave me some useful context. This sort of context seems in-line with Apple and Beats’ “people over algorithms” stance. In fact, I’d argue that this fits it moreso than mere curation.

Step 3: Add the song to My Music. Apple Music doesn’t allow you to add a song to a playlist unless you add it to your My Music first.

Well, I did find ways to do it, but it didn’t really work. The song wasn’t added to the playlist. Or if it was, it remained invisible.

Step 4: Search for the song (again) in My Music, and add the song to the playlist. Finally go to the next song on the list.

Compared to Spotify: Doing the same task in Spotify suffered, of course, from the issue of step 2 as well. Although it benefited from not having steps 1 or 3. Once I’d found a song, I could add it directly to my playlist. My biggest complaint about Spotify when creating a playlist was not being able to see the search results and the playlist side-by-side—which is also a problem in iTunes.

So... Even leaving out step 2, creating an Apple Music playlist with iTunes is shockingly clunky. It is hard to believe creating a playlist wasn’t an important enough use case to get better treatment. And a music service that wants to truly differentiate itself from the competition should perhaps look farther than just algorithms and farther than just curation.

A side note: Apple Music’s curation (over competitors’ algorithms) is touted as a distinguishing feature. I’d argue that Spotify’s shared user playlists are more useful curation that all of Apple/Beats “experts”. The ideal service would have both and ensure they both worked well.

24 September 2015

Will the iPad Pro get pro apps?

Why there is no Sketch for the iPad?

On the one hand, I certainly expect a developer to know their business better than I do.

On the other hand, this certainly sounds a lot like the same logic I heard from my competitors for not supporting the Mac back-in-the-day (the latter half of the 1990s) when my company was making a third of our profits from the Mac.

It’s ironic that Apple sells its products for a market willing to spend premium prices, yet the App Store has this perceived race-to-the-bottom justified by developers’ skepticism that the same market is willing to pay premium prices.

From products to platforms

Microsoft’s and Adobe’s subscriptions do not appeal to me. Although perhaps that has as much to do with my experience as a customer of both companies than with the subscriptions themselves. I’m glad they’re support the iPad, but I want apps from smaller developers too.

Would trials or upgrade pricing or other things “solve” the problem? Surely it could help, but this looks more like a perception problem to me. Although, sometimes the way to address a perception problem is to address the perceived problem. But those “solutions” have their own downsides.

Meanwhile, the Omni Group seems to be doing fine selling iPad apps for $50 each.

As an iPad user, someone who wants good apps, and someone willing to pay for them; this is something I worry about. Whether true or not, how many apps is this conventional wisdom keeping off the platform?

23 September 2015


...or “What for brains?”

Final update on the JetBrains Toolbox announcement

I’d been waffling on whether to buy JetBrain’s CLion when they announced their move to a subscription model. They’ve made the decision easy for me.

I do like to see companies admit their mistakes, and I like to reward that. But this has all the hallmarks of a leadership that is customer-unfriendly and not smart. I am not going to reward that.

22 September 2015

Modes and guitar

I find the use of modes in guitar instruction generally unhelpful.

The first problem is when modes are used simply to name positions. A mode is what notes get emphasized, not where on the fretboard you are playing them. You can play Mixolydian in the position that’s called Ionian. Using the mode names for positions simply confuses things for no reason.

The second problem is that modal playing is one style. And not a style for beginners. Modes should be introduced much later than they often are and only if the student is interested in that sort of style. Just as in music theory courses. Introducing modes early simply creates confusion for no good reason.

21 September 2015


The quarterstaff and its use—as described by 15th & 16th century sources—differs greatly from what we tend to see in movies, on TV, or in games.

You may have heard various reasons for the name “quarterstaff”, but the truth is that we don’t know.

The “short staff” of George Silver’s Paradoxes of Defence (1599) is 8–9 feet. (Contrasted against the 12–18-foot “long staff”.) This was not simply a scavenged branch (or a wizard’s walking stick) but a purpose made weapon, often with iron shod tips. Perhaps even sharped. It would, of course, be made of a hard wood like ash.

I haven’t found information about a period source for the diameter. Perhaps 1¼–1½ inches?

While the hands were presumably repositioned during use, the “default” grip would be to have one hand near the butt end and the hands about 1–1½ feet apart. Much like the use of other pole weapons.

To—as is my wont—apply this to role-playing games: A walking/wizard’s staff and a quarterstaff should be different things. A wizard’s staff used as a weapon ought to be treated as an improvised weapon. A quarterstaff should certainly not be free. For D&D, wizards should not get quarterstaff proficiency. (Indeed, oD&D and B/X do not allow magic-users to wield quarterstaves.)

If applied to my classic D&D melee weapons, perhaps a quarterstaff should become a large weapon?

On a related note: Did Gandalf use his staff as a weapon? (Spoiler: No.)

20 September 2015

Why don’t fans like Jar Jar?

From “Jar Jar Binks: A Digital Star is Born”:

Lucas doesn’t care too terribly much that some folks have a problem with Jar Jar. “I think the comic-relief character is an important dramatic device,” he says. “Some of the fans that want The Phantom Menace to be The Terminator don’t like the idea that there are comic characters in it. I certainly am not going to make a grim bloodfest out of Star Wars.”

I think Lucas is wrong. While there may be some fans for whom this is true, I think most fans who don’t like Jar Jar don’t like him because this comic-relief character is much too much the focus of The Phantom Menace. He detracts/distracts from the story rather than enhancing it.

(Which is why I’d love to see The Phantom Edit.)

I also suspect this is a direct result of Lucas experimenting with ways of filmmaking—doing pre-production, production, and post-production somewhat concurrently. My guess is that this process obscured the “big picture” from the filmmakers.

19 September 2015

Wizards’ closing their fora

Wizards of the Coast are shutting down their community fora.

Back with D&D3e came out, I was an active participant. Back then, I accessed them through an NNTP client instead of through the web site. (I still think NNTP worked better for such things than web sites.)

When I went “back to basics” with RPGs, I often spent time in their out-of-print forum. My “I used to think...” page was originally a post there.

They tried to turn it into a social network called Gleemax in 2007, which seemed poorly executed and was shutdown by 2009.

By the time D&D5e was in the works, I could still log in to comment on articles posted on their site but got an error when trying to log into to the fora.

I certainly spent more time on Dragonsfoot, ENWorld, and various other RPG-related fora; but the Wizards’ fora were always a fixture of that landscape. I spend almost no time on such fora today. Mainly because I’ve chosen to spend that time other—though not necessarily better—ways. So, I can’t really say whether this is a good decision or a bad one.

18 September 2015

Food network without cable

We love the Food Network in my household. And while we still have a U-verse subscription and DVR, most of our TV watching these days is on-demand via iOS apps or Apple TV. (And...to a lesser extent...Amazon Video via iOS or Roku.)

Unfortunately, the Watch Food Network app is not great. It frequently drops when using AirPlay. It frequently crashes. Those problems would be mitigated some if it remembered your place and resumed playing from there, but it never does. To add insult to injury, trying to manually jump forward to where you were is frustrating. In the best case it makes you rewatch all the commercial breaks you’d already sat through, and you eventually find the place despite not having the help of a good scrubber UI. If it should crash, however, it sends you back to square one. There are episodes we haven’t finished watching because several attempts to resume failed.

The worst part is that our experience with this app is making us not want to watch Food Network at all.

Here’s the deal: We pay $12 a month for Hulu without commercials. We would watch enough Food Network, that we’d be willing to pay the same $12/month for just a Food Network subscription without commercials.

But...it would require an app on par with the other big streaming services. (e.g. I hear the people behind the MLB streaming service have helped out others in this department.) And it should allow downloading episodes for offline viewing.

And if anyone from Food Network reads this...while I have your attention... Why is there no way I pay you to watch Feasting on Asphalt?

17 September 2015

Early RPGs

One important thing to understand about the first role-playing games is that the people who created them were already role-playing when playing other games. So their role-playing games weren’t designed as rules for role-playing. They didn’t need rules for role-playing in other games, so why would they need them in a role-playing game? Rather, the rules were designed to not get in the way of role-playing.

This is why the combat system† in original D&D is anemic compared to the wargames with Gygax’s or Arneson’s name on them. This is why the combat in the main three classic Traveller books is anemic compared to the wargames Marc Miller had previously designed.

†While original D&D said to use Chainmail, neither of the creators did so in practice. Arneson said he abandoned Chainmail early on in favor of developing the “alternate” combat system. Gygax said he never used Chainmail for D&D combat.

16 September 2015

On genre

Surf and power pop are not what they say they are.

Surf music is only called that because—at the time it was named—it was popular among surfers. You can claim that the dimed reverb is meant to sound like the waves and such, but I remain unconvinced. In any case, most surfers today probably aren’t surf music fans, and most surf music fans probably aren’t surfers.

Power pop has never been popular. Of course the “pop” refers to the elements of pop music—at the time that power pop was named—which power pop uses. “Pop” here isn’t saying that power pop is popular; it is simply referencing other music that was popular.

Some people are very strict about genre.

It isn’t surf if it isn’t played on white Fender Jazzmasters with 11-gauge strings through a dimed Fender spring reverb tank and a vintage Fender amp. And if a voice appears at all, it is not surf.

(Note: While the Beach Boys and similar vocal acts are similar to surf music, the genre applies to instrumental music. I think most reasonable people, however, would call Wipe out surf despite the words.)

It isn’t power pop unless it has crunchy guitars, melodic vocals and vocal harmonies, minimal guitar solos, and no influence from the blues.

Such strictness is understandable, if overzealous. It is really hard to draw the lines between everything that is in the genre and everything that is outside of it. (And that’s just with songs. It’s even harder to classify bands into genres.) In reality, there will always be gray areas. But saying “I know it when I hear it” doesn’t really help anyone know what you’re talking about.

But, the point is: These labels helped me discover music I might not have otherwise. So, I’m not willing to dismiss genre as useless.

15 September 2015

Guitar pedals: learning and problem solving

Previously posted to Google+

I’ve always been more of a multi-effects guy than a pedal guy. But lately my pedal collection has been expanding. Then came the point at which I wanted to use my pedals with headphones. (And—in particular—solving this would also let me use them with the Jamhub.)

I could plug them into one of my multi-effects units and use its headphone jack. But none of my multi-effects units have stereo inputs, and I do have stereo pedals.

I could run them into a couple of amps and then plug the headphone outs from the amps into two channels of the Jamhub†. That seems like overkill.

It turns out, though, that the last pedal in my chain—a Digitech Jamman—has a headphone out! This works, but it didn’t sound very good.

It also turns out the Digitech Trio will add speaker emulation if you just use its mixer out. It’s only mono, but putting it after the last mono pedal seems to work. (It seems like most stereo effects don’t need speaker emulation the way some mono effects do.)

In the long run, it’d probably be good to put a Sansamp in the Trio’s place, but I was happy to be able to find a short-term solution with what I already have.

†Or some other way of combining the two mono signals into a stereo signal. The Jamhub is probably the easiest way to do it that I have on-hand.

14 September 2015

Angry birds 2

I have—altogether—spent $21.90 on Angry Birds games. Only $2.98 of that was in-app purchases. (Which bought level packs rather than bennies.) As they’ve moved to “free to play”, they’ve made less-and-less off me. It is at zero now.

(Presumably I am an outlier, and they made up for the loss from people like me by getting more out of others.)

The sadder thing, though, is that I am not enjoying Angry Birds 2. I haven’t quite put my finger on it, but somehow the gameplay has changed in ways that have taken all the enjoyment out of it while remaining superficially the same.

13 September 2015

Forget about the mobile internet

Forget about the mobile internet:

For as long as the idea of the ‘mobile internet’ has been around, we’ve thought of it a cut-down subset of the ‘real’ Internet. I’d suggest it's time to invert that—to think about mobile as the real internet and the desktop as the limited, cut-down version.

For as long as I have known† about the internet, I have believed that there should never be the idea of a limited, cut-down version.

And even if I believed that the cut-down “mobile internet”‡ ever made sense, it is long past the time to have forgotten it.

†And I’m old enough to remember the days before the web. And the days before gopher.

‡For all its faults, as I recall, WML had some nice improvements over HTML when it came to forms.

12 September 2015


Wizards of the Coast has an iPad electronic magazine called Dragon+. The app seems good. It would be a pleasure to read. Except their really nothing worth reading there. sigh

So...constructive criticism... Let me reïterate my review of the D&D 5e Players Handbook: Not enough backgrounds; too much of everything else.

Generally, I approve the idea not to publish lots of crunchy add-ons. But backgrounds can be as much creamy as crunchy.

That said, we know what happened with 2e kits. That said, I’m not convinced that is a reason to not do it rather than a reason to try to do it better.

But then, I’d prefer a book of backgrounds rather than trying to keep track of them in a periodical. Although I want to like Dragon+, I don’t really think magazines make sense anymore.

11 September 2015

Apple September 2015 post mortem

Assuming there will not be any more big announcements this fall, I like having them all at one event.

My midnight blue watch band has been ordered.

I will order the new Apple TV. We already use our Apple TVs a lot, and this one is better.

No new 4-inch iPhone. No anodized “iPod touch” blue iPhone. sigh No new feature that I’m not willing to live without.

With the old subsidy from AT&T, upgrading every two years was a no-brainer. My bill would not go down once my phone was paid off, so I would be paying for a new phone whether I bought one or not. But that’s not the case anymore.

(Actually, it isn’t entirely clear to me whether the subsidy with 2-year contract is still an option or not. Apple doesn’t show it as an option, but AT&T still lists that option with the current phones.)

The AT&T Next program—the payment plan that replaces(?) the subsidy—seems unnecessarily complicated, and I’m not sure I like it. Since I usually hand my old phones down to someone, I don’t want to be locked into a trade-in. And what if something happens to my phone so it isn’t in acceptable trade-in condition? It may be great for someone who upgrades every year, but it doesn’t look great to me...yet.

And now there is Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program, which I haven’t seen enough details about.

So, at the moment, I’m not planning to get an iPhone 6s.

I think I will get an iPad Pro. For graphics editing and music, I think I’ll find the larger screen useful. For running RPGs and some other things, I think side-by-side apps on the iPad Pro will be useful. I am confident it won’t replace my iPad Air 2. It will just occupy use-cases between my iPad and my iMac.

For me, I’d rather have an iPad Pro than a MacBook Air. After all, my favorite drawing app (InkPad) and my favorite word processor (UX Write) are iOS apps without Mac equivalents.

(And after comparing the size of the iPad Pro to my clipboard—see previous post—it seems like the size I’ve always wanted a tablet to be.)

I’m also planning on getting an Apple Pencil. The iPad Pro + Apple Pencil looks to be about the same price as a 13-inch Cintiq. But a Cintiq is just an accessory to a computer, not a stand-alone tablet. (There are certainly advantages to a Cintiq over the iPad Pro, but still...)

The new Smart Keyboard...I’m not currently interested in. I’ve been pretty happy using a Bluetooth keyboard with my iPad. I’ll try it out the next time I get to an Apple Store.

How big is the iPad Pro?

The iPad Pro is big, but let’s put that in context.

The clipboard I use is 12×9 inches.

The iPad Pro is 12×8.7 inches.

A US-letter size sheet of paper is 11×8.5 inches.

(With 1-inch margins that becomes 9×6.5 inches.)

The iPad Pro screen is 10.3×7.7 inches.

The iPad Pro screen is roughly equivalent to US-letter size paper with ⅓ inch margins.

02 September 2015

Why I didn’t back LightLead

I considered but didn’t back the LightLead Kickstarter.

Price is not an issue. I’ve had so many instrument cables fail that I’d pay $55 for a 15″ cable if I know it is reliable. And a LightLead has advantages over a traditional cable. While I may not have experience with LightLead to know that it would be reliable, it would be something I’d be willing to take a chance on.

The biggest issue for me is batteries. I’m an amateur musician. (Well...except for that one paying gig.) As much as I might try, I don’t get a chance to play every day. When I do get a chance, I don’t want to deal with figuring out what batteries might have failed. I avoid active pick-ups. I avoid effects that can only run off batteries. I don’t want batteries in my cable. If there were some sort of “phantom power” option, then I might have considered LightLead.

(What I’m imagining as a better way to power it is a small box between the amp and the LightLead that has a power input. While this would mean running some copper alongside the fiber in the LightLead, I assume copper for power has less issues than copper for an instrument-level audio signal. The box could still isolate the circuit that powers the instrument end of the LightLead.)

01 September 2015

What I hope to see from Apple (Fall 2015)

What I hope to see from Apple this fall:

A new 4-inch iPhone. While the iPhone 6 may have brought new customers to the iPhone (and brought some old customers back), it would be foolish to, at the same time, lose the customers that were happy with the smaller phones. So far, I have upgraded my phone every “s” year. I don’t want a bigger screen, but—depending on what else is on the table—I may still upgrade. I’m hoping, though, that I won’t have to weight a bigger screen against other factors.

Better colors. The iPhone 5c was a success by any sensible measure. Imagine how much better it could have been with decent colors. Even among the people I know who have and love their 5c, nobody seems to really love any of the colors.

I’m very curious about a bigger iPad should one finally appear. I tend to agree with John Siracusa that, in many ways, the iPad represents the future of personal computing. While conventional personal computers will always be around (and I’ll always have one), more and more of our personal computing should move towards appliances like the iPad.

There are so many creative endeavors that don’t require a keyboard. That said, using the on-screen keyboard isn’t so bad. A few weeks ago I wrote an actual, useful C++ program on my iPad using the on-screen keyboard, Textastic, and codepad while at my daughter’s martial arts class. I didn’t feel as if I was doing this in spite of the system. The only slightly frustrating part was the process of copying the code, switching over to Safari, and pasting it in codepad. (A fully solvable issue.) I, personally, would have been much more frustrated trying to balance a laptop on my lap and hunch over it. And I think we’ve only scratched the surface of the kind of code editing we could do on an iPad.

Of course, a real keyboard works beautifully with my iPad. For me, the ability to add a keyboard when I want it trumps having to deal with one when I don’t.

I’m not convinced there is ever any need for an iOS mouse. Even on my iMac I have (surprisingly) found I prefer Apple’s track pad over their mouse, and an iOS touch screen can do pretty much anything a track pad could. Tyype has long done a great job of this. I hope iOS 9’s “Easy text selection” brings that to most apps.

A bigger screen could be great for some games, music applications, and graphics applications. And iOS 9’s long-awaited Split View would be even better with a larger screen. But being bigger could be more awkward for a hand-held device. At what point does it make more sense as a drafting-table-like desktop device rather than a hand-held?

I don’t think a bigger iPad would replace my 9.7-inch iPad, which increases the chance of the data I want not being on the device I’m using. The “cloud” helps with that some, but it doesn’t make it go away.

While I’m excited for a new Apple TV, I also fear Apple going overboard with it. I often find the gesture-based Remote app more frustrating than the simple buttons of the physical remote... (although the app beats the remote for text entry) ...so I’m not excited about a touch-enabled remote. And as much as I like Siri on my phone and watch, I’m not so sure about it with my TV.

But I’m prepared to recant all of this once I see what they have to offer and get to play with it. ☺︎