The Easy Part Is The Computer

I’m going to add a little more to my post from last week. Yes, yes I’ve whinged and kvetched about computers here many times but I’ve been rethinking my relationship with technology quite a lot over the past few weeks.

Up until the past year or so, I’ve been what you would call a die hard Mac user and had been since around 2007. Apple was my jam. The house is filled with MacBooks, iPhones, iPads, Apple TV’s, Apple Watches, and HomePod mini’s.1

I still have two Macs but one is at deaths door and the other is so slow it’s been relegated to being a lowly media server.  In the meantime, I’d been researching new machines and using my work computer, a Dell XPS running Windows 11, as a stopgap – and we all know that using your work computer for personal shit is never a good idea.

While I’m somewhat interested in MacBooks, I’m no longer the fanatic I once was. Apple made some design and pricing decisions over the past few years that soured my taste. Touchbars, USB-C, shitty keyboards, $500 wheels, $1200 monitor stands … you get the picture. Some of their recent designs are good (well the MacBook Pros anyway), and the Apple Silicon chips are interesting. Yet while I was considering saving and getting a MBP, in the end I simply could no longer justify the prices Apple is asking for their computers. So instead of spending a small fortune on a new MacBook Pro started looking at the PC market.

After years of deriding Microsoft, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Windows is actually really good now. Especially Windows 11. Sure, there’s cruft, legacy garbage, and weird design decisions hanging out in the background, but there is cruft, legacy garbage, and weird design decisions hanging out in the background of any operating system.

The work Dell I’ve been using would be a really nice computer if it wasn’t so prone to hardware issues. At the beginning of of the year I had to run the gauntlet with Dell Support. Three motherboard replacements later and currently the trackpad doesn’t work if the laptop is plugged into power – and this is a $2500+ laptop.

I also am partial to Lenovo ThinkPads but one of those would also run me a couple of thousand dollars.

And then I got to thinking: do I really need to part with that much money just to get a computer, any computer, that can handle basic music production and light video editing?

“Marketing, marketing, marketing. Everything is Better! Faster! Thinner! Lighter! New new new! Forget about what was out just a few months ago! Check out what we have right now! It’s better!”
– Every Tech Company That Exists.

So I started looking at the second hand and refurbished market.

Here is what I found:

      1. Companies market to us in order to get us to buy new and stigmatize anything second hand/refurbished.
      2. Thanks to this, people rely on new items way more than we should which, in turn, is creating massive amounts of e-waste.
      3. There are way more second hand/refurbished options out there than I think anyone realizes.
      4. It’s all good stuff.

So count me in. Here I am on my refurbished HP laptop and everything is going just fine.


1: I’m severely disappointed with the HomePod mini’s.

Pros:

    • They look good.
    • They sound great for their size.
    • They pair and work ok with the Apple TV. Sometimes.

Cons:

    • Siri is just  as useless as it is on the iPhone and it’s the only way you can control the HomePods.
    • The setup and settings in the the Home app is non-intuitive garbage.
    • They only work half the time when mirroring a Mac to the Apple TV. 
    • When starting a move on Apple TV more often than not, they’ll forget they’re connected and there is no sound for nearly two minutes. Then they’ll remember the ATV and sound kicks in.
    • They constantly lose connection with each other or the Internet.
    • They only work with Apple Music. As luck would have it, I was trying out Apple Music this summer and let me tell you, calling up music on the HomePods was shaky at best. It would ether play the wrong thing, or try and play it on the TV. More often than not, I’d hear “There is a problem with Apple Music please try again later”. I canceled my Apple Music subscription because I found it in no way better than Spotify and it never worked as advertised on anything past my iPhone. It sucked on the HomePod and the Apple TV and my computers. The Mac app is merely ok. There is no dedicated Windows app so you either get iTunes or the Apple Music web interface (both of which are garbage). You know what Spotify has? An app for Windows, Mac, and Linux. And they’re all fucking great.

Linux Tip #1: Max Amount of Locked Memory

This is primarily for Mixbus and Mixbus32c running on Linux. the distro I’m using is Fedora Jam, however this may apply to other distros as well as Ardour, which Mixbus is based on.

Issue

Mixbus 32c shows the following message when launched:

WARNING: Your system has a limit for maximum amount of locked memory.
This might cause Mixbus32C to run out of memory before your system runs
out of memory.
You can view the memory limit with ‘ulimit -l’, and it is normally controlled by /etc/security/limits.conf
Solution

Open a Terminal window and check the memory limit by typing ulimit -l . You may see something like this:

$ ulimit -l
8192

This means that Mixbus is limited to 8GB of memory. To open this limit up, in Terminal, edit limits.conf:

$ sudo vi /etc/security/limits.conf

Add the following line (or if it already exists with a # in front of it remove the # and change the number value to unlimited):

@audio – memlock unlimited

Save the file and check the ulimit again. You should see this:

$ ulimit -l
$ unlimited

Launch Mixbus. If you see the same warning message, check your group in Terminal:

$ groups username

If you don’t see the audio group listed, for example:

username : username wheel pkg-build

add your user to the audio group:

$ sudo usermod -a -G audio username

Check groups again. You should see audio listed:

$ groups username
username : username wheel audio pkg-build

Launch Mixbus and the message should be gone.

Another Major Shift

After all my posts opining about Apple, macOS, Dell, and Windows, I’ve thrown my hands in the air and given up looking at new computer hardware. I have a ton of reasons which I’ll write about, but the main one is that I’ve become dismayed thinking about the amount of second hand computers that exist while companies churn out new product for ridiculous prices. As a friend of mine recently said: “I like the idea that Apple is making high performance chips that are low on power consumption but I can’t, and won’t spend that much money on a computer.”

After looking into the second hand market, I headed to a local, mom and pop PC store and marveled at the WALL OF LAPTOPS they had on display:

WALL OF LAPTOPS

These are all second hand/refurbished. And they have more than these stored away in the back. They have old old computers, not so old computers, and newish computers. Give them an idea of what you’re looking for and they’ll hook you up. Why would anyone buy something brand new? Performance? The ability to run whatever is shiny and new?

Well …

I ended up purchasing a refurbished HP EliteBook  850 G3. The model is around six years old and came with an i7 6600u, 16GB of memory (which I upgraded to 32GB thank to an extra stick of ram I had lying around) and a 512 SSD. Supposedly the CPU is not Windows 11 supported but who cares?

In another twist, I decided to flatten the hard drive and give Linux a run for its money.

After doing some research, I settled on Fedora Jam as it’s geared towards music production and so far so good.

I’ve got my Tascam US16x08 running using ALSA – which came with Fedora Jam and needed no configuration – and it all works with Mixbus32c. I have to say that, so far, Mixbus runs so goddamned smooth on Linux, which makes sense considering it’s based on Ardour.

My usual go-to and longtime favorite DAW is Reaper, and it turns out they have a Linux build.  I managed to get it installed and running but, at first, it would not pick up the Tascam. I kept at it over the past few days and now it seems to be running just fine – although under JACK rather than ALSA. I mean ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Music aside, I’ve managed to set it up Fedora as a full-on desktop environment running KDE Plasma and with all my usual apps (Firefox, Spotify, FocusWriter) as well as a good number of Open Source alternatives. The most pleasing surprise is a video editor called Kdenlive. it’s go just the right amount of features that I used in DaVinci Resolve and Premier Pro to make it just right without excessive bloat.

I’m also loving how well a new release of Linux runs on six year old hardware. When I first brought the laptop home, and before I nuked the drive, I gave the Windows 10 install a spin and it was a little sluggish. Fedora, on the other hand, is running like a dream.

Linux has come a long, long way since I seriously tired it last. I know it will never overtake Windows or macOS – I mean, it’s been poised to take over for as long as I can remember – but wow, it’s so much better than I remember.

So far so good.

A Call To Action

Last year I decided to try my hand at content creation on YouTube.

I ended up doing five videos which picked up a grand total of twenty one subscribers, got some comments, and one video got well over a hundred views. Nothing earth shattering, but kind of cool since I didn’t tell anyone at all I was doing this. I never promoted my channel in any way, other than posting the videos here (and I haven’t told anyone about this site either).

While it was fun and I learned a little more about video editing, I came to realize that the sheer amount of time needed to keep a channel going is simply unsustainable for me.

The effort it takes just to get a piece of content done is amazing. Scripting, lighting, sound, shooting, editing 1 all takes time. A lot of time, which is something I have precious little of.

Now I know there are those out there that who would simply pshaw at not having enough time 2:

“You need to sacrifice everything to make it, man!”

“You gotta hustle, man! You gotta griiiind!”

Listen, the Hustle/Grind Culture thing is toxic and grossly misleading. Like everything else, there are a lucky few who manage to break through the cracks and make it. For everyone else, the grind becomes expectation, and hardly anyone achieves the promised pot of gold.

The Grind only leads to burnout. Which leads to stress and illness.

An old manager said to me regarding raises and promotions: “There are rarely salary bumps. We reward hard work with more work”.

I have a family that I love and I work to make sure they’re happy. I have a good job that I enjoy. Both of these things take up a good chunk of my life, and I jealously covet my time outside of work and I refuse to ignore this for a small slice of the YouTube global audience.

I’m well past the time in my life where I could make it in any artistic career. In my late twenties, I made a conscious decision to stop pursuing art as a career and, for lack of a better term, I “sold out”. I got trained up in computers, snagged a job in IT and have done pretty well for myself and my family.

Music, visual art, video creation are fun for me. It’s what relaxes me during the down time that I do have. Why ruin that by hustling and grinding away my free time to pump out YouTube videos that won’t even guarantee any kind of success?

I made a conscious decision: I’ve deleted the Low Budget Lifer YouTube channel. I didn’t even want to keep it up as a “hobby” or whatever, I wanted to be completely off the platform.

I am still playing around with video creation, and any that I complete will be will be posted on this very site. When I want. How I want.


1: Then there is the obsession with stats. When one of the videos got enough views to open up the stats a little more, I stared going back again and again and again to look at the graphs and charts – even though there was very little happening.

2: This fucking guy. I could do a whole rant about this dude because: JFC, really?

 

Punk Rock

Punk Rock is about freedom, it’s not about your chart position, and I’ll sing any fucking song I want.

– Patti Smith (The Defiant Ones, Ep1)

“Because Joe Rogan Uses It”

This is a great video about Shure microphones and how you don’t really have to drop serious cash on things to get a great result.

Remember, just because it’s expensive and all the famous people use it, doesn’t necessarily make it the best. You can work with what you can afford and still get a fantastic result.

Free Your Mind

I’ve been bashing away at the seven-ish songs I have in various states of progress. It’s slow going to say the least but the motivation is there. I’m currently working on the following:

      1. Writing and re-working (and practicing!) drum parts
      2. Writing Lyrics
      3. Tearing songs apart and building them back up again

Number One is fun and loud even though it’s a reminder that I haven’t been practicing, which is embarrassing.  The ideas are there but my execution is very, very rough. It’s all practice, practice, practice from here.

Number Two is somewhat difficult. The last time I sat down to pen lyrics was with White Lake Mountain. Writing words for for that band wasn’t what I’d call burdensome; it was stoner rock so I drew from Science Fiction and Fantasy. No inspiration required.

This time I’m running up a steep hill. While I have some half baked ideas, I’m having a hard time coming up with topics to write about. I’m not into love songs, or party anthems. With a few exceptions, I’m not really keen on political words. I’m also no longer the angry dude I once was; I’m happy in life. I also don’t like super lazy lyrics.

For now, I’ve dusted off my thesaurus and am chipping away at words. Hopefully good things will materialize.1

Number Three is, right now, the most important part of this whole process.

I took a two week break from the songs and then went back and listened to what I had with fresh ears. What I heard made me realize that I had fallen into a pattern. Most of what I had consisted of the same orchestration and arrangements: Guitar chords using the standard verse-chorus-verse-chosrus-overly long bridge-verse -chorus.

I like the bare bones of all the songs, but in their current state, they sound predictable. The lengths were all around five minutes and the arrangements were nearly identical; I was reminded of that Nickleback How You Remind Me Of Someday mashup.

It was time to get out the jackhammer.

I’ve stripped two songs back to just drums and bass and have removed the semi-flashy, dad rock guitars. It’s back to root notes and four on the floor beats and rearrangement.

So far so good on all fronts. There is good stuff to be found here. I just have to be patient and wait for it to show itself.


1: I have to write lyrics in a notebook with a pen. I’ve tried tapping on my phone and/or laptop and jut can’t make it work probably because pen and paper removes the distraction of the internet.

It’s Alive!

At the end of February, I posted about my beloved 11″ MacBook Air finally giving up the ghost.

This morning I was reading that the last of the 11″ MBA’s were being added to the obsolete list and I started thinking about the error icon I saw:

bork bork bork

I looked it up. And found that it was most likely an issue with the SSD. For a goof, I pulled the laptop off the shelf, removed the back and and found …

There was no screw holding the M2 SSD in place. How in the … ?

My best guess is that when I took that machine apart a couple of years ago to  replace the battery, I forgot to put the screw that secures the M2 drive back in place. And in the time between then and now, the SSD managed to wiggled itself loose.

I have this tiny, external drive that holds a 128GB M2. I took it  apart and removed one of the screws holding the M2 in place. I then went to the Mac, re-seated the SSD, put in the screw, put the back cover on.  plugged it in, hit the power button and …

The Mac is humming away running a software update. Who knows how much longer it has, but I’ll take it.