Thursday, March 7, 2013

Wrestling with Mountain Lions: Don't Fear the Reaper

Yes, I got gifted a fresh new Mac.  It's been an amusing experience.  Throughout most of my computer life I keep getting told by vendors and tech support, "The problem is your machine is too old."  Now, I keep getting told, "Your machine is too new!"

More rant and so forth below the fold:

The machine is a 2012 MacBook Pro -- pre-retina, thank you! -- but when Apple did the factory refurb, they loaded it with Mountain Lion.  Which apparently can't be removed.  And even though the latest mange-fest from Apple has been prowling the crags for over six months now -- and the API was released even earlier -- the list of applications that don't run under it is much, much longer than the list of aps that does.

I'm facing an even worse transition, as this is my first Intel machine.  Many of the tools I've been using on a daily basis are actually PPC tools -- and with Lion, Rosetta emulation was dropped for good.  Doesn't help at all that Mountain Lion changed several basic things in security and file handling; it is very much a whole-number upgrade that makes major changes to the behavior of the OS.  So even the tools that were already Intel-compatible are not working correctly.

There are two reasons I wanted a new machine.  One was the Intel chip, and a clean install of OS 10.5 or better, so I could run Yamaha Studio Manager, Dante Virtual Sound Card, and a host of other applications that just don't work on a PPC.  That, and the possibility of Windows emulation and running some of those small but useful Windows-only tools.

The other was for power.  Most of what I do on the computer, my oldest computer is still quite brisk enough (a white G3 iBook).  Rendering large mixdowns may take a bit of time, but most of the time spent in audio work is based on the speed of my fingers and brain and the need to play back audio in real time to listen to it, not by the sheer speed of the computer.

But there are a few things I'd like to do that don't go well.  One is that I max out on the virtual instruments pretty quickly when creating symphonic works.  When you are instancing each string section, or worse yet, building a section from solo players, it doesn't take long before you can't play back the full orchestration in real time without jitter and break-up.

I also do a bit of 3d here and there.  3d modeling for design and printing.  And every now and then I wrap up a model with the dials and buttons required by Poser/DAZStudio users, and make it available as library content via a host vendor site.  It isn't much income, but I'm buying groceries this week off one of those checks.

And as the meshes get more detailed, and the default figures get more complex in all ways, even my best computers were starting to stutter and lag with poor screen redraws.  Especially rendering texture effects was starting to get rather annoying -- and in that, most of my time was spent waiting on the computer instead of the usual vice-versa.

Well, the main thing I've been doing on the new machine to date is programming,  With one of the Lions comes, finally, Java version 5.  And the various MIDI libraries work again.  Some other things are broken -- font handling, of course.  Processing is a bit limiting of an environment but I think I can transition with only a little pain to working with Java native.

And possibly Java with an Apple wrapper (via the Apple development tools) is better for the moment than trying to switch gears and go Objective-C.  But the differences between platforms for MIDI makes Java's platform agnosticism not useful for what I'm doing.  I really have to write for the specific environment.  And that means it makes more sense to reach directly for Core Audio instead of taking the long route in via the Java Virtual Machine.

Of course computers are fast enough these days it hardly matters.  Not for something like turning stage events into a MIDI stream. Arduino can keep up with that data rate!  (So can an XBee link).

I am hoping to be able to put together a user-friendly, simple and intuitive set of tools that will work hand-in-hand with small AVR and XBee-based devices I might -- one day -- even be able to make available in kit form.  My dream is to be able to offer the functionality I've enjoyed with my remote MIDI button and wireless MIDI link and so forth to other theaters, in a form that is simple to use and budget-conscious and self-contained.


Today Smith Micro put Poser 9 on sale again.  I don't "use" Poser, but the 3d content I sell requires I rig and set up my meshes according to that standard.  Poser 9 might run under Mountain Lion.  It took me several hours to learn that well as to confirm it could create standard rigs that would work in DAZStudio (the increasingly popular alternative).

In the course of this research I discovered that Steinberg has been doing excellent work in establishing OS 10.8 functionality -- even including an update package for their venerable handed-out-with-your-firewire-audio-interface Cubase LE4.  I happen to prefer SE -- LE has too much of that cutesy Garage Band look where the clever colors and obtrusive graphics get in the way of whatever limited functionality is left.

But if I have to, I'll pay the hundred-odd bucks for Cubase Elements (which has all the functions I use, and the cleanly functional interface I need).

On the other hand, in following up on possible vendors for Elements, I discovered a nifty little newcomer called Reaper.  Which sound extremely promising, as well as cheap.  It is proprietary but it is scriptable.  Hosts VST and VSTi (which might not be that much of an issue on the new machine as most of my go-to plug-ins aren't Mountain Lion compatible anyhow).  And overall seems to be designed around the way I work -- even more, around the way I'd like to work (with undockable windows, customizable workspaces, and assignable hotkeys!)

Oh, yes, and I'm still wanting SMAART.  But that's still 900 bucks a seat.  But I do have my eye on a freeware suite of tools written in Java -- REW -- that might just cover a big chunk of what I'd need from SMAART.

On the 3d side, my current mostly-hated modeler -- Carrara -- runs with some issues.  Had to visit the UNIX core in terminal mode just to register it!  And fonts are broken, making the menus near-unreadable.  I have considered this is a good chance to give Blender another try, and perhaps Silo.  Oddly enough Hexagon (another product poorly treated under the DAZ umbrella) may work -- the forums and the Roaring Ap table are in disagreement on this.

3d aps are always more miss than hit on the Mac these days; they are written for PC first in most cases, and due to the simple fact of having to move a viewpoint in three dimensions whilst manipulating things there,  they make heavy use of every button and scrollwheel on the serious PC mice.  Apple's growing suite of gestural controls works great for flipping around their own OS, but play very badly (if at all) with the navigational needs of 3d aps.

So the only aps that work well are, well, shareware.  Because shareware has the philosophy of, "The user is pretty smart, we'll let them move things around to agree with their own workflow."  As opposed to the mainstream attitude made emblematic by Apple; "The user doesn't know what's good for them.  We'll make the ap work like we want it to, and we're so sure we're right we won't even bother to make feedback or bug reports possible."  In shareware 3d aps you are more likely to find options to tailor the interface -- and this is really the only way to get most of these PC ports to any kind of functionality on a Mac.

Well, so that's at least six new applications I need time to try out.  But after spending all morning and a big chunk of the afternoon doing this research, I'm not up for anything more challenging than a brisk game of Civilization.

On my old computer.

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