Awesome Guitar Software is Awesome

I have two — two! — pieces of awesome software to showcase today for the iPad. Perhaps you thought the iPad was only good for watching Netflix streaming but now it is made of rock.

TabToolKit by Agile Partners

At first blush you may be all “buh?” But let me tell you the greatness of TabToolKit.

If you’ve played guitar for years… and years… and years… and years… you occasionally open up an old book or an old bag and there, lurking within, is a badly scratched out downloaded from an ASCII document from some repository tab of some guitar song or other you really wanted to learn but all you had was this tab that sort of told you where to put your fingers and not a hell of alot else. You struggled for a while and then gave up. TabToolKit:

1. Organizes your tabs. If anything else, it means no more printing them out, folding them up, or ripping them while trying to play awkwardly on the couch.
2. Displays them in a neat and easy way for practice — especially on an iPad with an easel stand.
3. Uses Guitar Pro tabs which have all the parts to a song, the sheet music, and the tabs so the music-saavy can actually look at notes and go “oh, that is way less difficult than I thought.”
4. Has metronomes, speed up, slow down, looping and repeat features for working on a particular practice.
5. Count in and play at any point in the song.
6. Drop voices in and out.
7. For those wondering how to play said power chords, it highlights where to hold the strings down on the fretboard.
8. And Guitar Pro tabs are extremely plentiful for free.

I love this piece of software. I absolutely love it. I recommend TabToolKit to anyone with a guitar — a beginner, someone looking to improve, someone wanting to carry their collection of tabs around conveniently, anyone. It is squee in a can. It’s iPhone/iPod/iPad — the iPad version is a native, full screen version.

Amplitube for iPad by IK Multimedia

I love the original Amplitube but getting my guitar jacked into my Macbook Pro was always a huge hassle — converter boxes that never worked, feedback noise, weird issues. I ended up with an actual guitar-to-usb cable that lost sound and had high latency but at least worked. Despite this, Amplitube is such a marvelous piece of software it justifies buying a Mac (a Windows version is now available) to complement one’s electric guitar. Who wouldn’t go through the trouble for all those stompboxes, amps and cabs in one place to model any sound, anywhere?

Now I have Amplitube for iPad. Sure it has far fewer stompboxes, amps and cabs then the big software load but what it has is more than enough to model up any sound for any purpose.

1. The iRig dongle works out of the packaging without any software or configuration. Plug guitar into iRig. Plug headphones into iRig. Plug iRig into iPad. Done.

2. Amplitube for iPad (iPhone, iPod) works right out of the box and comes with 12 presets, 11 stomps, 5 amps and 5 cabs for the full ($20) install of the software. The stomps and amps all have little knobs that turn by running a finger along the screen for custom settings. Settings can be saved.

3. The modeling sounds excellent. The latency is low. The feedback is non-existent.

4. Everything sounds better with the Delay pedal which does lock to a BPM. You, too, can sound like a bad Yes knock-off!

I have not played with pulling in my own track and putting effects over it on the fly but this is a supported feature.

It’s just full of squee. Instead of carrying around a Mac and a whole toolbox full of chords and gizmos to get it to work and then not able to get it out to a speaker or an amp all I need is my regular guitar cable, the iRig, headphones and/or output device and the iPad. It sounds fantastic.

For someone who just wants to sit and pick up a guitar and play, and have the guitar sound good through the headphones, this is a must-have. The iRig is $40. The software is either free (Amplitube FREE) with the option to add to it, or $20 for the full build. Everything, yes, is $80 but $80 is the cost of a single, good stompbox*.

So see? The iPad does do things other than just stream videos.

The alternative I recommend for the same price is TabToolKit and a Line6 PocketPOD, but the Amplitube has the visceral feeling of messing with gear where the PocketPOD is dialing to a setting. Not that I don’t love the POD, but I am more likely to have the iPad on me than the PocketPOD.


I know this is a little stale (2 whole days!) but I have some quick thoughts on the whole Wikileaks thing:

1. The documents posted aren’t the Pentagon Papers. They contain nothing people didn’t already know. They say the War in Afghanistan is going badly and was never funded well. No news there.

2. Regardless, these were classified documents and leaking classified documents to unclassified sources is bad. Yet, it was a matter of time. If anyone has been following the Top Secret America series on the Washington Post, you know the Intelligence Community in DC has almost 900,000 people. Holy Jumping Jesus, it’s a government jobs program! And all of those people have been cleared. That’s an awful lot of Trust with a capital-T. If 99% of the people involved are honest and 1% of those people feed information to places like Wikileaks, that’s still 900 people — most of them contractors.*

According to Threat Level, the Pentagon claims it has someone but I would be shocked — SHOCKED — if that was the only person leaking to wikileaks. By a long shot.

3. Why is everyone breathlessly surprised at the rise of rogue media?  Hell, if spammers and phishers can put up renegade sites, run them for a few hours, tear them down, and bring them up somewhere else, why are we so surprised someone with a hard drive can move a PHP wiki?

Really? Surprise? Hosting sites abound — many nicely outside the US jurisdiction. How hard is it to find a DNS server, a LAMP stack, and SCP to upload files? Wikileaks cannot be stopped or killed — and certainly not by some angry words and a shaking finger. If you can hide your millions offshore, you can certainly run a website.

It’s point #3 that gets me — the shock and surprise. I want to Vanna White and say, “The Internet — Let Me Show You It.” What did people think was going to happen when mass communications met guerrilla disclosure and guerrilla journalistic tactics?  Or did we all believe we were going to hold hands and watch FOX News together, forever?

* As a professional security weenie, I have a hard time believing in a mere 1% of dishonesty in contractors.


Quick update:

Katie desperately wants to start writing her highly elaborate stories. She has characters! Plots! Chapters! Only one problem…. She doesn’t know how to spell the words yet. Reading she has down cold. Basic sentence structure, sure. Spelling not so much.

So we’re spending hours with her asking me to spell words and then writing them down.

Bonus points: in Katie’s stories, science is awesome!

Diet Nattering

A quick note on diet —

After recording everything I eat for several days and trying to eat completely normal, I have learned that:

– I could go completely vegetarian and not miss anything in life. I hardly eat any meat — but plenty of fish* given the chance.
– I don’t eat much dairy.
– I eat about 1/2 the cheese I thought I was eating, and that’s not much.
– I scarf vegetables whenever I get the chance.
– Hummus is my personal bane. I love hummus and I can eat it with every meal given half a chance. I’d slather it on oatmeal if I could.
– I am struggling, really struggling, to eat over 1500 calories a day.
– Why I don’t weight 10lbs is an utter mystery.

I have a back appointment this week so I am going to ask them if they can recommend a dietitian to me. I bet the problem is not that I’m overeating but that I’m not eating enough, and we may need to start injecting smoothies into my diet.

That likely explains my rate of getting food poisoning. Ah well.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

It is easy to forget how far we all have come in medical science to get where we are today, and some of the ugly decisions made in the 1950s. Truly ugly decisions, nearly mad-science level decisions, have all been forgotten and brushed under the rug.

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” isn’t just about the HeLa cancer cell line, although the book is about that. Henrietta Lacks was infected with a line of cancer that simply would not and will not, to this day, die; the line simply grows and grows, ignoring the Hayflick Limit and carrying on. It’s not just about the horrible things done during the times of segregation when people of one color were still seen as “less human” as those of another, or the impact to the family, or that the HeLa cell line forced science to examine its own sets of rules and ethics. It’s more about history — the history of this remarkable find of this cancerous weed, what it meant for science, and what it meant for the Lacks family.

As a book, this one is a pretty brisk read. The chapters are short and to the point. The narrative never lingers or dwells. It would be trivial to take a few of the points in the book and spend hundreds of pages on them but the book never does. It does have several “squick” moments here and there — some of the things that happened to Henrietta herself and to her family are amazingly awful. But the book also demonstrates that without the HeLa line, many things done in medical science today, while doable, would be far more difficult. This feels like a six of one, half a dozen of another situation: the family was shafted but humanity profits. Do we come out ahead?

This is one of those books I can recommend. I know it is already being made into a movie. It’s on all these reading group lists. Everyone and their cousin is reading it. It’s a good read for a book about science if not a bit depressing from its narrative viewpoint.

The post is brought to you by lekhonee v0.7

It’s The Economy, Stupid

Rob, whose gaming blog you should all read, pointed out an article this morning that I now share with you from Bob Reich, Clinton’s Secretary of Labor. This one is about the one and a half dip recession the country is in and what Obama should do:

The President should stop talking and acting on anything else – not the deficit, not energy, not the environment, not immigration, not implementing the health care law, not education. He should make the whole upcoming mid-term election a national referendum on putting Americans back to work, and his jobs bill. Are you for it or against it?

But none of this is happening. The hawks and blue dogs are still commanding the attention. Herbert Hoover’s ghost seems to have captured the nation’s capital. We’re back to 1932 (or 1937) and the prevailing sentiment is government can’t and mustn’t do anything but aim to reduce the deficit, even though the economy is going down.

To which I say: Yes. That. I point to that and say, do that.

I am sadly addicted to the C-SPAN morning call-in show* and every topic, it does not matter what, segues near instantly to “and I do not have a job.” Don’t we have several thousand miles of Gulf Coast that needs to be cleaned? Do we not have idle people who could clean it? Is there not something we can do?

And I am totally for a payroll holiday on the first $20,000 income. Nothing will get money moving faster than a payroll tax holiday.

Anyway. That. Every time I hear Obama talk about anything that is !jobs bill I will get itchy and bitey and ranty. Not that I will ever vote for a Republican after the last decade but I might not be so keen to donate much cash.

Callers on the C-SPAN morning call-in show are the sort of people who would call in to the C-SPAN morning call in show.

Extra Bonus Post!

1. I found a nice program called Calorie Tracker for the Droid (free) that backs to a massive database of restaurants and foods. It also has barcode search via the camera, tracking across all sorts of metrics (carbs, fat intake, etc), graphing, etc. My experience with trying to find out what is wrong with my diet is mostly one of data collection. Whatever it is, I’ll find it and stop eating it. Or at least find things I shouldn’t be eating in general and stop doing that.

2. I fell asleep watching this older documentary on the Dark Ages from the History Channel last night. Yay Netflix streaming to device that… I shouldn’t be in bed with but I was trying to stay up and failing. It occurs to me two interesting facts:

A. These documentaries are myopic. They completely leave out the existence of Constantinople and the Eastern Roman Empire. No mention is ever made that they tried to recover Rome through several invasions via southern Italy. All of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe simply disappears off the map. Leo the Great! The General Basiliscus! Zeno vs. the Ostragoths!

Oh… nevermind. No one gives luv to Constantinople.

B. If one wants to know what would happen in the case of a Zombie Invasion, study the Fall of Rome. Seriously! A decadent Empire is felled by invaders who take over the cities and force the few survivors to scrabble through the ruins to scratch out survival. Any moment a barbarian may appear and take people out with an axe (or a zombie virus). They never stop coming! To survive, the survivors collect next to the ruins of technological marvels they could never hope to replicate and strip them for parts. Aqueducts fail. Roads crumble. Bits of civilization holds out — the Roman Governor of Gaul held out for a breathtaking 70 years — before the barbarians (zombies) took out the last bit of existence.

I was so excited by the parallels last night I fell asleep. But don’t duplicate my example. Read a book! Or Wikipedia! The perfect blueprint for a Zombie Invasion — right from history!

Low Fat Diet

My cholesterol came back up a minuscule tick over normal and this sent my doctor into a tizzy of “lose weight/eat a low fat diet!” Here’s the problem, though — when I was losing all the weight after Katie was born, I retooled my diet and dropped a huge number of things out permanently so figuring out what new things to cut is challenging.

Going through the “bad” list I have:

Fast Food (McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, etc:) — I don’t even walk into those places.
Fried Foods — My two banes are fried tofu and french fries. Otherwise, no fried food.
Cakes, cupcakes, cookies, chips — I have to eat occasional whole wheat crackers to deal with the sugar crashies but otherwise, too much sugar in a sugary treat makes me ill.
Ice cream — Rare treat. Too much makes me ill.
Soda — Diet only, prefer hot tea on non-uber stressful days over diet coke. Although I do have a diet coke addiction.
Creamy dressings — Don’t eat.
Bacon — Don’t eat.
Eggs (like omelets, scrambled, etc.) — Don’t eat.
Mayo — Limited consumption. Sometimes I have mayo but it tends to be too greasy.
Red Meat — Have cut back some 80%.
Big Sugary Starbucks Drinks — Don’t drink.
Rolls on the table at dinner — Either don’t eat or limited consumption. “That’s how they GET YA.”
Booze — Way less than one would think.
Milk — I have refused to drink straight milk since I was 3; I don’t see that changing.

That sort of takes out all the low hanging diet-based fruit. When I surveyed what I ate and I could plausibly eliminate I came up with:

1. Any other processed white breads I can find. No more non-wheat buns or get burgers or sausages, when eating them, without buns.
2. Any cream-based sauces on any food especially Italian food.
3. French fries.
4. If eating pizza, only the thin crust pizza.

The last big one is cheese and, man, I have given up everything else. I can cut back on the cheese and yes, I know it is nothing but fat, but I am refusing to whole sale give up cheese. It’s simply not going to happen.

The other one is that salads at lunch don’t give me enough nutrients to make it through the afternoon so I end up crashing. And besides, salads can be just as bad as anything else.

I am well aware that French Fries are the Killer and I will have to Drop Them Entirely. Does anyone out there in Internet-Land have any good suggestions for other foods to cut/eliminate that I may be eating and leading to fatness?

2010 Emmy Nominations

A couple of quick notes on the 2010 Emmy Nominations:

1. Yay for Jim Parsons who plays Sheldon Cooper on Big Bang Theory!

2. Eric will be happy that his new true love, Adventure Time, was nominated for outstanding short-format animated program. Adventure Time scares and confuses me.

3. Is it just me or is the list of nominated shows heavy on the HBO/Showtime vs. AMC? I am not complaining — just the quality seems to be going away from the Networks. On the one side, we have True Blood and Dexter (the season with John Lithgow). On the other, we have Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Sure, a few other shows like Glee* and Friday Night Lights snuck in but looking over the noms, it is those four shows duking it out for all the Dramatic Awards. I haven’t seen Mad Men Season 3 yet — I am halfway through Season 2 — but I loves me some Mad Men so very much.

4. To amend my above statement, the networks seem to still be holding on strong to the quality sitcoms but have ceded the ground entirely on the half hour dramas.

5. I feel highly dubious about BEST HAIR awards.

* My Dad loves Glee.**

** My Dad is making a tactical strike on Katie and introducing her to Musicals. I’m not sure this is a good or bad thing, but she sure loves Musicals.

Harvey Pekar

I was going to post a long diatribe about the passing of Harvey Pekar at the age of 70 in Cleveland, Ohio, but Anthony Bourdain sums up everything I was going to say and more so over on his blog.

You should go read the above blog post. And then you should go pick through the free stuff over on the Pekar Project.

Remember: not all comics are about four-color super heroes with over-inflated pecs. And without Harvey Pekar’s original work with American Splendor, most of the long story web comics we have today would be inconceivable.