Facebook killed this blog

Technophilia Social

I have a pretty narrow definition of what constitutes a weblog. At some point in 2003, the mainstream media co-opted the term "blog" to mean any kind of online journal writing, thus painting with a large brush two different perspectives — one extroverted (blogs) and one introverted (journals).

Hyperlinks, punditry and meta were pretty essential to the success of early blogs. Not so much online journals — meta, yes, punditry, perhaps, links, optional. Blog topics could cover any number of subjects. Journal topics focus primarily on the events of the writer’s life.

I come from the journal tradition. I’m not much of a blogger because I’m not combing the web for things on which to comment. Well, I do for Musicwhore.org, but for this site? This site which was intended to be my dumping ground for commentary? This site which was supposed to deal with subjects other than myself? Not so much.

I’m just not suited to write a blog — which hasn’t stopped me from launching about seven of them — because I’m just not a link collector.

Or so I thought.

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I used to code in my free time

The moment I read "I Don’t Code in My Free Time" by Ted Dziuba, I could already picture the rebuttals popping up on DZone. I was not disappointed. (I’m sure more will pop up as the days pass.)

I could see where Dzuiba is coming from, although I wouldn’t word it as strongly. I’ve seen a lot of posts pop up on DZone extolling the virtues of being a "passionate programmer", someone who always strives to learn, devotes free time to improving, living and breathing code … all the usual self-back-patting by overachievers.

I used to code in my free time. But that’s because I was learning from scratch. I spent my college years learning such esoteric topics as orchestration, music theory, Associated Press style, defamation of character, points and picas. Control structures, variable types and design patterns were not part of that curriculum.

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Music video social network shootout, part the second!

Technophilia Visual

When I uploaded some videos to YouTube last year, I encountered some heinous audio problems. YouTube was forcing some really draconian compression on the audio, and it turned me off from the site.

After considerable uproar from users, the forced compression was removed. So I begrudgingly uploaded my videos again.

This past summer, I put new audio tracks on my videos, and I wanted to update them on all the sites to which I uploaded. The difference in user experience between then and now was drastic, and it forced me to update the 2008 shootout. High definition is now the norm, and each site handles it differently, some better than others.

This time around, I stuck with uploading MPEG-2 files, forgoing the comparison with MP4.

Here’s how each site performed.

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Instant radio hit, revisited

Technophilia Aural

Back in 2007, I tried out a site called Hit Song Science. Since then, it’s become uPlaya, and it’s been tricked out as a music marketing site.

When I tried out the early incarnation of the site, my mixes were pretty novice. (Now, they’re safely amateur.) I think the results I got were softballs, and my second go at the site confirmed it.

In fact, I even dropped cash to get full access to the site’s services. I uploaded a beta mix of Imprint, and the results were brutal. Of the 12 tracks on the album, only "Choices", "Take It Apart" and "Late Thaw" were considered having hit potential. Most tracks got an "Honorable Mention", and a few earned the rank of "Keep Trying". At least I didn’t score so low as to be told to keep my day job.

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The Great Code Migration of 2009, Part the Second

I’ve been wanting to redesign my sites for a long time, but the idea of tinkering with CSS does not appeal to me. I’m competent enough with front-end code, but the whole cross-browser compatibility thing is such a headache. I already have enough to do debugging server-side code. By the time I get around to working on the client-side, I want as little resistance as possible.

Given my whole move to frameworks, I decided to try out a CSS framework, namely Blueprint. It was a paradigm shift for which I wasn’t quite ready. I made the mistake of trying to use Blueprint to recreate an existing design. The final product looked … odd. Rather, my eyes were so accustomed to how it has looked that I didn’t see how else it could look.

I abandoned the idea and moved onto other projects.

When my sister asked me to build a web site for the daycare her son attends, I decided to use Blueprint rather than figure out all the minute details of the design myself. I whipped up something fairly decent in a couple of hours, and I was impressed — Blueprint, like any good framework, sped up development time.

So I gave Blueprint another shot, this time in creating entirely new looks for my sites. I’ve spent the past two weeks moving everything to Blueprint. A few sites — including this one — did not undergo any redesign, but Blueprint does a nice job of cleaning up the layout. I did, however, make some very major changes to the Musicwhore.org family of sites.

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Block first, ask questions later (if at all)

Technophilia Social

I don’t believe in the idea that you should follow everyone on Twitter who follows you. This topic is debated quite a bit, but that idea just doesn’t suit me personally. My policy on whom I follow on Twitter is pretty simple:

  • I know you.
  • I know of you.

Beyond that, I can’t say I’m terribly interested. Yes, that flies in the face of the idea of "social media", but anyone who knows me can attest that my sociability has its limits.

I also have some very draconian criteria of whom I allow to follow me. I actually tend to block a lot of people, most of whom seem to gamble on the idea that if they follow me, I will follow them back. Here’s what determines when I block Twitter followers:

  • A following-to-follower ratio more than 2:1. Just now, I blocked a guy who was following more than 900 people but had only 169 followers himself. That rose a flag to me that he was trolling for another follower. I may let you slide if you have a manageable following count of fewer than 100.
  • Following or follower counts in the thousands. I don’t care if you think you can pay attention that many people. You can’t. I’m doing you a favor by blocking you. I cannot in good conscience contribute to your attention deficit disorder. Also, I’m egoistical enough not to want to be lost in a stream of thousands of posts.
  • SPAM. I do have to say Twitter has been very good at targeting mass followers.

Right now, I’m following 40 people, and I’ve got 50 people following me. I didn’t block a few people because their profiles indicated some common interests, and maybe something I say will have some relevance to them. Only they could tell you.

But my stringent following and follower policies pretty much spares me from all the annoyances other Twitter users may experience. In the end, I use Twitter in a way it was probably intended — as a means to communicate with a tight social circle. I like some of the ideas that have bootstrapped on to that premise, but I’m not a true believer.

The Great Code Migration of 2009

Technophilia Professional

After three years of building site after site, I crafted what would become my own web framework in 2003. I didn’t know such a thing was called a framework — to me, it was just a bunch of code I kept reusing, so I structured it in a fashion I learned on my first job as a web developer.

I called that project Vigilante. It’s a code base that’s powered every site I’ve built, including ones I’ve done for the office. As of today, Vigilante is officially retired.

I spent the past week moving all my sites to CodeIgniter and jQuery. I’ve had a passing understanding of the Model-View-Controller pattern for a while now, and I even toyed with Ruby on Rails very briefly. I liked what Rails had to offer, but I’m at a point in my life where learning a new language just to use a new framework is a time sink in which I don’t want to invest.

At the same time, I knew Vigilante was getting creaky, and a shift in my own personal priorities — i.e., away from coding all the damn time — made me reluctant to bring it up to speed.

If I were to move to a framework, it would need to be one that would make the transition easy. So I did what I usually do when I’m stumped about something — I asked MetaFilter.

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Music video social network shoot out!

Technophilia Visual

Now that YouTube has gone out of its way to ensure crappy sound on uploaded videos, I’ve been investigating other sites on which to post Eponymous 4 music videos.

The major social networking sites — Myspace and Facebook — both support video uploads, as does Last.fm, and all three pretty much accept the same file types: MPEG-2, MP4, MOV, AVI.

To test the capabilities of Myspace, Facebook and Last.fm, I uploaded MPEG-2 and MP4 versions of my videos. The MPEG-2 files averaged about 150MB, while the MP4 files weigh in at about 36MB. The MP4 files have impressive picture and sound for their size, and I was hoping the encoding processes of these sites would maintain that quality.

Of course, not all video is created equal, and one in particular — "enigmatics IV" — poses problems because it was not "shot" as digital video. The footage is actually stop-motion animation from individual digital pictures. This video would prove to be the Achilles heel of all three sites.

On the whole, the picture quality of the videos was on par between the two formats and between all four sites. The MP4 files showed a bit more degradation than the MPEG-2 files after going through each site’s Flash encoding, which is to be expected given the amount of compression in MP4.

The more noticeable difference — still not by much — is in sound. The MPEG-2 files fared better than the MP4 files after the encoding. For folks who aren’t particular, uploading an MP4 on a high-speed connection gets the job done and produces fairly good quality. But if you’ve got an office T-1 connection, uploading MPEG-2 files is a better bet.

Here’s how each service performed.

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What I learned: V-Vocal turns me into a female Japanese backing singer

Technophilia Aural

I’m not enough of a singer to dismiss V-Vocal, the Cakewalk SONAR pitch correction plug-in, as an essential part of my recording process. V-Vocal, in fact, helps me hear my own voice sing my own melodies properly, and that helps me develop better muscle memory.

A long time ago, I saw a bulletin board post on the Cakewalk web site claiming V-Vocal is really good for creating temporary background vocals. I decided to give it a try.

One of my songs, "Melt", sounds better if the third verse were doubled an octave higher, but that would put the melody far, far out of my comfortable range. I’ve attempted it and practically had to scream. The microphone didn’t like that, and the resulting recording was clipped as hell.

So I tried a different tactic — I recorded a second part in unison, then used V-Vocal to transpose that part an octave higher. The results were remarkable — it sounded like me an octave higher without the near-screaming and without the clipping. Listen:

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

var s1 = new SWFObject(“http://www.musicwhore.org/mediaplayer.swf”,”playlist”,”400″,”40″,”7″); s1.addParam(“allowfullscreen”,”false”); s1.addVariable(“file”,’http://www.gregbueno.com/files/V-Vocal_Melt.mp3′); s1.addVariable(‘displaywidth’,’0′); s1.addVariable(‘shuffle’,’false’); s1.addVariable(‘thumbsinplaylist’,’false’); s1.addVariable(‘autostart’,’false’); s1.addVariable(‘author’,’Eponymous 4′); s1.addVariable(‘title’,’Melt (background vocal example)’); s1.write(“player1”);

If V-Vocal can create a frighteningly accurate facsimile of my voice an octave higher, what would happen if I went further into the female ranges?

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What I learned: Saving a fillable PDF that isn’t savable


I’ve been working with the forms available from the Copyright Office, and while they can be filled out in Acrobat Reader, they cannot be saved unless you have a full version of Acrobat.

Or so the Copyright Office assumes.

New forms with special bar codes that can be scanned are forthcoming, but if you want to back up the forms you fill out, you can instead print the PDF to another PDF.

On a totally different endeavor, I downloaded PDFCreator, a PDF creation freeware. I experimented with creating PDFs from scores made in Sibelius. I got some great results, and I wondered whether the same can be done from other PDFs. So I printed my filled-out copyright forms to PDFCreator, and lo and behold, backups!

It’s a nice temporary solution till the Copyright Office makes its new forms available.