Writings about Macs, music and more by Kirk McElhearn

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Mac Pro Audio Ports: Microphones Not Recognized

08/01/2014

I’ve got a microphone to review for Macworld, specifically for its use with speech recognition software such as Dragon Dictate. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) I was surprised to find that the Mac Pro doesn’t recognize this microphone.

HT6024_1-macpro-audio_ports-001-mul.png Apple has a support document entitled Mac Pro (Late 2013): Audio ports which explains the audio interfaces on this computer. It says:

Audio out: The left audio port with a speaker icon is a 1/8″ stereo minijack for audio line out. It can use analog audio and digital S/PDIF fibre optic cables. Audio devices you connect to the port will appear in System Preferences > Sound > Output. Note that this port does not support headsets or microphones.

Headphone port: The right audio port with a headset icon is a 1/8″ stereo minijack for headphones. When you plug in headphones to this port, sound is redirected from the internal speakers to the headphones. Headphones will appear in System Preferences > Sound > Output. If the headset contains a microphone, it will appear in System Preferences > Sound > Input. iPhone headsets including mic and inline controls are supported. Digital output devices are not supported on this port.”

You’d expect that the headphone port would work with a microphone. When I plug a Sennheiser PX 100 II-i into that port, it shows up in the Input pane of the Sound preferences as External Microphone.

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But when I plug the microphone I’m reviewing into the same port, it doesn’t show up. Since it’s a microphone only – not a headset with mike – it’s not recognized.

2014-08-01 10.27.55-4.jpgI’m not sure why this is the case, but I suspect it has something to do with the type of plugs each device has. As you can see in this photo, the Sennheiser headset with microphone has a 4-part plug; the other microphone has a 3-part plug. My guess is that the Mac Pro is recognizing the different parts of the plug in order to detect whether or not it will recognize the device.

Whatever the case, it’s important to know that a standard microphone with a 1/8″ plug won’t work in the Mac Pro. They’re not that common, but you may have one – or another audio device – and, if you do, you’ll need some other way of getting the audio into the computer. The mike I’m testing does come with a USB adapter, but I wanted to try it without the adapter to see if there was any difference in accuracy.

SpeechWare USB TableMike: A Great Microphone for Speech Recognition and Podcasting

08/01/2014

31swg6bRw2L.jpgAbout two years ago, I reviewed the SpeechWare USB 6-in-1 TableMike for Macworld. I looked at the microphone, at the time, for its use with speech recognition; specifically with Dragon Dictate for OS X. It was the best microphone I tested, among a number of different mikes, offering the best accuracy for speech recognition. It is also easy to use: it sits on your desk, and has a long, flexible boom, so you don’t need to worry about the wires of a headset, or the often finicky wireless headsets available.

Since them, I’ve been using it regularly when recording podcasts, such as the one I co-host, The Committed. It’s great for podcasting, since it takes up very little space, and the flexible, telescopic boom means I can lean back in my chair and be comfortable. (It’s not obvious from the photo, but it flexes both at the bottom of the boom and the top, just below the microphone.) It also has a line out port, so I can plug a headset into it to hear my other hosts.

The version I’m using is the 9-in-1 (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), which includes an additional USB port, an SD card slot, and a built in speaker, which can be good if you’re using Skype or other VoIP software. There are slightly cheaper 3-in-1 and 6-in-1 versions (it was the latter that I reviewed for Macworld in 2012).

If you want a great microphone for speech recognition, this is one of the best. It’s not cheap, but if you dictate a lot, you know how much time you can save with a good microphone. And if you want an unobtrusive mike for podcasting, this is also a great choice. Unlike many other mikes that podcasters use, which are big and bulky, this one has a small footprint, and a slim boom. In both cases, this is my mike of choice.

Three of the Best Rock Concert Movies of All Time

07/31/2014

I like using iTunes’ shuffle mode, and every now and then, it pops up something I hadn’t heard in a while, giving me an Aha! moment, reminding me to spin a (virtual) disc that hasn’t been heard recently. Today, the one that set me off was Born Under the Punches, by Talking Heads. Listening to this, I was reminded of their great concert film Stop Making Sense, and that made me think of a few of the greatest concert movies of all time.

81p94HdVNPL._SL1474_.jpgA great concert movie isn’t just a film of a great concert; it has to be more than that. Stop Making Sense (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is one of the best as much because of the innovative approach to the concert itself, as the way it’s filmed. And the music’s great too.

It starts with David Byrne coming on to a bare stage, alone, carrying a boom box and an acoustic guitar. He presses a button on the boom box which starts playing a rhythm track – it’s not really the boom box playing that track, but who cares? – then goes into an acoustic version of Psycho Killer. Another band member comes out for each of the next few songs, until the full complement is on stage. From then on, it’s a rocking show, with foot-tapping rhythms and powerful beats.

I remember seeing Talking Heads on this tour, at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, in Queens, New York, and it was an awesome show. It’s great to have some of that tour on film.

51JFQ6SRTCL._SY300_.jpgThe Last Waltz (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is a film of The Band’s 1976 retirement gig at Winterland, in San Francisco. Held on Thanksgiving day, this epic concert featured the A-list musicians of the time: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Hawkins, Dr. John, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, Ronnie Wood, Neil Diamond, Bobby Charles, The Staple Singers, Paul Butterfield, and Eric Clapton.

Filmed by Martin Scorcese, it features a few interviews, and a couple of songs shot on a soundstage, but the essential of the movie is (parts of) the live gig. The movie itself is only about two hours, but the concert lasted from evening until dawn; after it was over, promoter Bill Graham treated the audience to a Thanksgiving dinner for breakfast.

The Band’s music is great, but the movie shines because of all the guests who play some of their best songs. And there are great jams with a pantheon of rock musicians on stage at the same time.

91YuwZKlRRL._SL1500_.jpgEveryone knows about Woodstock. Maybe your parents told you stories about it… If you’re old enough to remember it – I was a bit too young to go, but I heard about it at the time – it was a major event, especially to those of us in New York City. When the movie and albums came out, it was a magical experience, seeing all those great musicians performing in such epic surroundings. The movie shows not only the music, but the creation of the event as well. Some of the interviews can be a bit boring, but they do set the scene, helping viewers realize the scale of the festival.

With the director’s cut released in 2010 (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), we now have a lot more footage. At just under three hours, there are also two hours of songs that had never been shown before (including a huge 39-minute Turn On Your Love Light by the Grateful Dead) on a bonus disc.

Back in the 1970s, there was a cinema near where I lived that had midnight showings of concert films on weekends. I saw numerous great movies there: two of the three I mention above, and films such as Yessongs, The Grateful Dead Movie, The Song Remains the Same, Pink Floyd at Pompeii, Gimme Shelter, and lots of others. But the three above stand out as the best marriage of music and filming, and, in the case of The Last Waltz and Woodstock, huge events.

It’s commonplace now for bands to film their performances, and concert films are a dime a dozen. But none of them have improved on these three classic films. Woodstock is pretty old now, and The Last Waltz is from the 70s, but if you like that music, you’ll love the movies.

Stop Safari from Asking You if You Want Notifications from Websites

07/31/2014

Safari for OS X has a feature called Push Notifications, which lets you get notifications on your Mac – banners or alerts – when a web site wants to let you know about a great new article. I find these quite annoying, and I’ve turned them off, but I realized recently that a lot of people don’t know how to keep Safari from displaying the dialog.

When you go to a website that uses this feature, you’ll see a sheet in Safari like this:

Safari004.png

It’s annoying to have to click Don’t Allow each time you land on a website using Push Notifications, but you can turn these dialogs off in Safari’s preferences. Choose Safari > Preferences, then click on Notifications. Uncheck the option at the bottom, Allow websites to ask for permission to send push notifications.

Safari001.png

If you’ve already allowed certain websites, you’ll still get notifications; you just won’t get asked any more. And you can remove any of the websites that have asked – whether you have allowed or denied these notifications – by selecting them in the same window, then clicking Remove, or nuke them all by clicking Remove All.

For Sale: One Slightly Used Box Set of Twin Peaks on Blu-Ray

07/31/2014

The other day, I pointed out that Twin Peaks had been released on Blu-Ray. Having never seen the series, but having heard so many good things about it, I bought it.

Well, I watched the pilot and the first two episodes, I realize this is not for me. From the hokey acting to the cheesy soundtrack, this type of sort-of-parody just doesn’t work for me.

So, if you’re in the UK, and want to buy my Twin Peaks box set, I’ll sell it for £40, postage included. If you’re elsewhere in the EU, I’ll sell it for the same price, if you pay shipping. (It’s £49.75 new on Amazon UK.) Contact me if you’re interested.

Book Review: Give My Regards to Eight Street, by Morton Feldman

07/31/2014

FeldmanComposer Morton Feldman was a voluble man, but he didn’t write much down. He taught and gave lectures, but his collected writings fit in this book, Give My Regards to Eight Street (Amazon.com, Amazon UK). At just over 200 pages, it contains articles about art and music, and liner notes and program notes for some of his works. While Feldman famously wrote many multi-hour works, in has later phase, his words are more concise. Unlike his friend John Cage, who wrote a number of books, Feldman never published any collection of his writings while alive.

As the publisher’s blurb for this book points out, “While his music is known for its extreme quiet and delicate beauty, Feldman himself was famously large and loud. [...] Feldman’s writings explore his music and his theories about music, but they also make clear how heavily Feldman was influenced by painting and by his friendships with the Abstract Expressionists.” Feldman discusses music, but more often he writes about art. He was strongly influenced by artists such as Jackson Pollock, Philip Guston, Mark Rothko and Robert Rauschenberg, all of whom were his friends.

Art was, to Feldman, a way of life. But, as he says:

Art in its relation to life is nothing more than a glove turned inside out. It seems to have the same shapes and contours, but it can never be used for the same purpose. Art teaches nothing about life, just as life teaches us nothing about art.

He writes a lot about art, and how it influenced his music, and, in one lecture given in Frankfurt in 1984, goes into some detail about his music and the way he composes. But this is not a treatise, and there is little real insight into why he composed the way he did, especially in the longer, late works that have been so influential. He didn’t seem to want to go into much detail about those works. He explains some of his processes, but lets the music speak for itself.

This book therefore isn’t a key to Feldman’s music, but it is an entertaining read to better understand his influences, especially those that came from painting. If you appreciate Morton Feldman’s music, you’ll want to read this book to get a better idea of what made the man tick.

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Indie App Developers Have It Rough: So What?

07/31/2014

Indie app developer Jared Sinclair released an RSS reader for iOS in January, 2014, and he recently wrote about his travails and the lack of income from the app. This article has been taken by many to show that the life of an indie app developer is rough. So what?

All due respect to Mr. Sinclair, but this type of article shows a lack of understanding of business in general; after all, selling an app is a business. And running a business isn’t easy; as Forbes points out, 80% of businesses fail within the first 18 months. So it’s no surprise that an app doesn’t meet the expectations of its developer.

In the case of Mr. Sinclair’s app Unread, I would say that, in spite of the excellent reviews and ratings the app has received, it is in a crowded market, that of RSS readers. And it’s a dying market; more and more people are abandoning RSS for other ways of getting news. If Mr. Sinclair had done some market research, he might have discovered that the number of users who want an RSS reader, divided by the number of RSS readers available, means that there’s a very small segment that he could hope to conquer.

I bought Unread when it was released, and I don’t use it any more. There’s nothing wrong with the app, but I found a better RSS reader for iPhone; and I don’t even check that often, because RSS is no longer essential to me. And, if there had been a demo version of the app – something that I really hope Apple will allow at some point soon – then I may not have even bought it. I might have tried it for, say, 30 days, and found that I just don’t need it.

Unread has generated $32,000 of income for Mr. Sinclair; after expenses and taxes, that translates to $21,000. Not much for what is now a year of work (he started working on it in July, 2013). But should he expect more? To be a successful developer, you need more than just one app. And you need to offer new features to get more users. Granted, there’s not a lot you can do with RSS (though if it could do this, I’d go back to using it).

So a developer needs to branch out and work on new apps. Expecting to make a living on a single app seems naive; imagine if, say, writers had that expectation, that the first novel one publishes is a hit, and it’s all easy after that. It’s no surprise that most writers of fiction have other jobs, often as teachers; with advances often in the four figures for first novels, which may take years to write, the per-hour income is so low that it’s better to not calculate it. And what about indie musicians, who spend years practicing, composing music, and recording it? There’s no guarantee that they’ll sell their albums either.

Back in the early days of the App Store, people made money selling fart apps; that period is gone, and those who enter the market now have to innovate or fail. If the market simply isn’t there for the type of app they’re selling, they need to move on and create something new.

I wish Mr. Sinclair luck in his future ventures, and I hope he’s working on a new app by now to maintain his income. But there’s a lot of competition out there, and it’s tough to run a small business. One should never expect success when starting a business; you hope for the best and plan for the worst.

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