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December 31, 07

A Return to New Year's Resolutions


I've poo-pooed New Year's resolutions for most of my adult life, noting that the gyms tend to be full in January and sparse in February - ie, i never had faith that i'd ever have the willpower to actually commit to superficial statements of intended change. But after seeing the powerful effects of slaying a $55,000 debt ogre in only 9 months thanks to a written budget and goals glaring at me from a (digital) page, i'm beginning to realize the true benefits of word-smith'd dreams. What seems so mundane on the surface belies the underlying secret of such exercises, mainly: organization and focus.

Dan Miller, author of "48 Days to the Work You Love", runs a terrific life and career coaching website at www.48days.com. In his latest December newsletter, he has a link to a great outline for 2008 resolutions that models his 7-point wheel factoring all aspects of life balance:

  • Finances

  • Physical Health

  • Personal Development

  • Family Relationships

  • Spiritual Health

  • Social

  • Career


  • I spent some time filling in the outline via Google Docs and came up with the following goals for 2008 (so far):

    1. FINANCIAL Income, Investments

    Five-Year Goals
    Set up substantial kids' college funds
    Be on track to have net worth of $1 million

    One-Year Goals
    Set up $50,000 emergency fund
    Achieve all wishlist budget items

    Beginning TODAY!
    Budget weekly savings of $200 for wishlist items
    Develop better business accountability and profit/loss statements and future plans for real income growth


    2. PHYSICAL Health, Appearance, Exercise

    Five-Year Goals
    Get body fat down to 15%
    Be able to bench 200 pounds

    One-Year Goals
    Lose 5 pounds (get to 140 lbs)
    100 pushups daily
    100 situps daily
    60 pullups daily
    5 mile runs 3x per week

    Beginning TODAY!
    30 minute workouts in the morning


    3. PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT

    Five-Year Goals
    Improve Korean, especially reading
    Learn Japanese
    Learn German
    Learn French

    One-Year Goals
    Learn about mutual funds and stock market investing
    Find wholesome books for inspiration and motivation
    Read at least 2 new books per month
    Memorize Japanese characters
    Learn PureData/GEM
    Learn Blender 3D modeling

    Beginning TODAY!
    Learn 2 new Korean words per day
    Maintain list of books read on website

    4. FAMILY Relationships (incomplete...still working on this one)

    Five-Year Goals
    Get closer to family members - be praying for them regularly

    One-Year Goals
    Closer relationship with Mom and Dad
    video interview parents for their history and personal backgrounds

    Beginning TODAY!
    Teach piano lessons to Eric and Timmy more regularly
    Read to boys every day
    spend more time talking with Kyungmi

    5. SPIRITUAL (incomplete here too...)

    Five-Year Goals
    Memorize all of Psalm 119

    One-Year Goals
    Commit 10 psalms to memory
    Finish theology books (Thomas Watson, etc.)

    Beginning TODAY!
    Pray more actively and specifically for church members and missionaries
    Begin memorizing select psalms

    6. SOCIAL Increased number of friends, Community involvement, etc.

    Five-Year Goals
    hmmm....

    One-Year Goals
    Connect personally with network contacts at least once this year
    Reconnect with old school alumni
    Prepare Christmas cards and messages ahead of time
    Keep in touch with family on a regular basis

    Beginning TODAY!
    Improve responses to emails and phone calls

    7. CAREER Ambitions, Dreams, Hopes - REALLY INCOMPLETE

    Five-Year Goals

    One-Year Goals

    Beginning TODAY!


    I'll try to update this as soon as i'm able, particularly on the Career section. On the book side, here's a list of what's been read this month:

    Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
    Dance with the Dragon by David Hagberg
    Financial Peace Revisited by Dave Ramsey
    48 Days to the Work You Love by Dan Miller
    QBQ: The Question Behind the Question by John G. Miller

    A lot of personal development literature, as you can probably tell. Several books need finishing, as follows:

    The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
    On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee
    The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
    Life of Pi by Yann Martel
    The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley, Ph.D. and William D. Danko, Ph.D.


    Several more are on the burner as we speak - the list immediately above has been loaded from my Audible library onto my new 8 gig iPod Nano (Kyungmi's Christmas gift to me - thanks, Honey!)

    Quite a long list...certainly more than daunting at first glance, but hey - if i can chunk away almost $55K in 9 months, i think i can start attacking this list of resolutions, in much the same way: a little bite at a time. I'll keep y'all updated, and hope you'll keep me accountable in return!

    Best wishes for your own New Year's resolutions for 2008!

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    November 12, 07

    Self-Tuning guitar (wish they'd put this on pianos...)

    ...or on violins...or harps...especially harps...



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    October 10, 07

    More Portals for Podcasts

    Earlier today i received happy news that InstantEncore.com has just added my blog's RSS feed to their News section. Pickings are a little slim at the moment, but hey! this site's just a few weeks old! Already it's easy to see how nicely their strategy to be a comprehensive Classical Music portal for news, podcasts, concerts, recordings and streaming media is coming together. The interface is clean and easy to navigate, and promises a wealth of consumer-friendly access to the rich world of Classical Music activities.

    The "Video" section is still blank, and i've put in a request to have my video podcasts from Blip.tv added to their "Podcast" page. Hopefully we'll see some more legs for some of my video and audio material.

    Special thanks to Evan, Margo and the entire InstantEncore.com team! Keep up the great work!

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    September 03, 07

    Video of MusicReader test

    I just received an email announcing a successful test run of a new product being developed in the Netherlands called the MusicReader. Not many details about the program yet - it appears to run on Tablet PC's with page turns enabled by foot paddles from Pedalpax Corporation (enabling both forwards and backwards page turns). Check out the demonstration video from their website below:



    I'd love to see more details on the various functions of the MusicReader program, particularly with regard to annotation and networking capabilities. It'd be nice to see details about the pedal paddle too - seems to be silent operation from what i can tell from the video, but it's hard to confirm. Looks very promising and a welcome addition to the growing field of digital music readers!

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    May 07, 07

    A Silent Page Turning Footswitch Solution

    Chris Neff, a resourceful reader, has generously contributed this fantastic solution for creating a silent page turning footswitch, using a Digital Keyboard pedal controller and a USB/Serial Switch Connector interface. Many thanks to Chris for generously allowing me to repost his email message:

    Like I said yesterday, I have the switch connector that I've told you about and I finally got the chance to set it up. It turns out (like most laptops nowadays) I didn't have a serial port, so I had to get a USB serial adaptor too, so my solution would be the same as what yours would be:

    1) This serial switch connector: http://www.sensorysoftware.com

    But do to the weirdness of this whole world of handicap accessible computing where they are found, the only place I could find that sells them is zygo-usa.com, and you have to call to order. Make sure you ask for the two input serial switch connector with a female serial port. They screwed up and sent me the one input serial connector the first time that I had to send back. Cost: 15+15 shipping (yeouch) + tax = about 32 bucks. Also you need the software from the sensorysoftware site for setting the switch inputs to PgUp/PgDown.

    2) A USB-Serial connector if you don't have a serial port (I don't think stylistics do). This was the one I got: http://www.newegg.com

    It works great. Some other USB-Serial connectors had reviews where it said that every time you unplugged the USB side and plugged it back in, the serial port would change (which would mean every time you would need to see what it changed to then update the software for the switch connector, not my idea of fun). This one doesn't have that issue. It just works like it should after installing the drivers that come with the CD. Cost 15+5 shipping= 20 bucks.

    3) A keyboard footpedal with a 1/4" -> 1/8" adapter, which you already have. Or even better, two of them ;)

    And there you go. After setting up the Sensory Software program (I'll go into more detail on how if you ever buy it), it just works. One switch input now controls PgDown, the other controls PgUp, and best of all you now have a portable footswitch solution that doesn't make noise and can be used with any keyboard foot pedal. I am very happy with the outcome. Only issue is I don't have an extra footpedal! Need to go buy one so I can have my sustain pedal back :)




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    January 29, 07

    The Mac Tablet - almost

    Walter Cosand sent me the link to this fascinating video, demonstrating a prototype MacBook converted to a Tablet computer, complete with Wacom digitizer pen and eraser:






    It should be pointed out that the ModBook is NOT made by Apple, but by a 3rd party company called Axiotron. Each ModBook will be custom made to order, as they are essentially modifications of existing Macbook hardware (albeit, very, very nice modifications!)

    The Inkwell handwriting applet seems pretty impressive, but i can't help feeling that as nice as this mod looks that there will remain some serious handicaps for 'real' usage. Once thing i'm noticing right off the bat is that the Modbook seems to only operate in landscape mode - not the most comfortable position for handheld operation, certainly not for music score reading unless you like your scores to appear reeeeeaaallllly tiny....Windows XP tablet version (and from Tuesday on, Vista) has ink handling and recognition really down pat in so many ways. It'll really take nothing short of Apple diving in directly to make the Mac Tablet comparable. Hopefully, enough interest will be generated from this modification to make Apple take a serious second look at this potential market...

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    December 04, 06

    Music Schools of the Future

    Henry Fogel, president of the American Symphony Orchestra League, recently spoke with students at Curtis about the future of orchestras. You can read his thoughts on the subject at his blog on Arts Journal. The three areas he discusses seem to apply to classical music in general, not just orchestras: the need for artistic flexibility to rethink the concert experience, more emphasis on outreach activities to enlighten the audiences, and a need to examine how technology can serve artistic and administrative ends more effectively.

    To springboard on that a bit, i thought i'd spend a little time in today's blog daydreaming about the music school of the future. Many might argue that tradition-based arts such as Classical Music have no need for new technologies, that time-tested pedagogic techniques of the past have proven themselves to be more than adequate. It may be difficult for musicians to imagine what more is needed beyond hours of dedicated practice and a devoted teacher working one-on-one to hone their musical craft to the highest levels of artistry.

    Perhaps a few make-believe scenarios might help to paint some possibilities for the future of music pedagogy:

    The Musician's Holodeck
    In Star Trek, The Next Generation (the second iteration of that 40-yo sci-fi tv series), there was a wonderful device envisioned called the Holodeck. The Holodeck was basically a virtual room, where one could enter and have the computer simulate lifelike environments and even interactions with computer-generated personalities. I remember one scene where physicist Stephen Hawking appeared, playing poker with Einstein and some other scientific luminaries - great fun!

    I grew up at Curtis hearing legendary stories about Madame Vengerova, wishing i could've taken lessons from Rudolph Serkin, wondering what it would've been like to have interacted with Josef Hoffman or David Saperton in person...wouldn't it be wonderful to capture living records of our legendary faculty in as close a fashion as possible to a 'holodeck lesson'? Imagine a student working on the Brahms Violin Concerto, wondering what Joseph Silverstein or Aaron Rosand would've said - then being able to access a screen, instantly calling up video records of actual lessons on that piece, recorded from a variety of simultaneous angles and audio sources, so that she could watch the lesson in its entirety, or just jump to bookmarked portions if she only had questions over a specific passage, viewing a corresponding digital score with the teacher's own markings displaying fingerings and bowing. If she wanted to see just how far the elbow needed to be placed under the violin, switch to digital camera angle 3. If she wanted to hear the balance from the right portion of the room when the f-holes were facing away as in comparison to the left side, she could switch between microphones 1 and 2. If she wanted to see why the pianist was having a hard time catching her on such and such a passage, she could switch to the rear camera 4 and listen to the audio from the pianist's perspective through microphone 5...in other words, an interactive, virtual lesson that could be analyzed from multiple perspectives.

    Imagine every lesson, every master class, every performance virtually recorded in such a fashion, with simultaneous multi-camera and multi-microphone views, and those recordings digitally archived, cataloged, bookmarked, score synchronized, and instantly accessible via intra-web or ultra-high broadband web connections, with a simple virtual interface and database access system so that you could find any historical activity on any piece you'd be interested in - lesson, masterclass, performance, or recording.

    Imagine teachers being able to instantly assign historical audio or video recordings to their students for review, downloaded wirelessly to the students' iPods (or Zunes), or even the day's lesson downloaded instantly with corresponding digital ink annotations in digital scores, tagged with references to spots found in the assigned listening list. The lesson would be preserved and accessible to other students wanting the insights of any particular teacher on that piece.

    Bending the Time/Space Continuum - Dr. Who's Transporter

    Dr. Who was one of my favorite BBC sci-fi tv characters, a Time Lord who used his TARDIS to traverse time and space, leaping all over the universe at different points from the distant past to the far-out future.

    Ahem - no TARDIS yet for music schools, but certainly one of the ways technology helps is in how it can minimize physical and time-based boundaries, particularly when implemented in asynchronous teaching models. Using Internet 2 technologies to have virtual master classes with teachers in different locations is one example. Giving students tools to digitally record their rehearsals, then upload the session files to a teacher to comment on asynchronously might be another example, especially when physical space is limited and schedules don't line up for teachers and ensembles to be in the same place at the same time.

    Another example might be theory lessons recorded on digital smartboards, then uploaded for review for the students traveling on concert tour to maintain his studies - a combination of written illustrations, textbook readings, and audio/video clip files that could be accessed either by hyperlink or RSS downloads into an iPod or Zune.

    The Federation of Planets - Networking
    Another Star Trek concept was the peaceful federation of planets, a network of thousands of worlds spanning the known galaxy. A convenient device was written into the script, allowing for instantaneous communication throughout all these worlds ("Ender's Game", by Orson Scott Card, describes a similar instant-communication device - the "Ansible" - while grounding interplanetary travel to more 'realistic' norms of Relativity). Sorry for the geek-speak, but these concepts have a way of helping us to imagine wonderful possibilities. Networked conferences with composers to regularly introduce new music to students would be one way to take advantage of the power of our current communication technologies. Virtual interschool exchanges, where entire student bodies could be plugged into streamed master classes or performances or lectures for discussion and participation. Networked digital pianos that can either stream in realtime or reproduce prerecorded rehearsal sessions between distant musicians (Yamaha has an amazing eCompetition that highlights this technology very effectively).

    On a more 'mundane' note, imagine networked practice rooms where a student could see an instant, updated readout of available spaces and estimated schedules of openings from their tablet pc's. Libraries that use digitally scanned music instantly available for streamed or downloaded viewing (eliminating the age old problem of 'not having enough copies' for everyone - or the perennial 'dog ate my music score' loss at the end of each year...)

    By Your Command - Technology for feedback
    "How's the balance?" This question gets asked a lot from the stage when preparing for ensemble/collaborative performances. Imagine multi-microphone systems and instant playback capabilities available wirelessly for the performer to hear what they sound like from the audience's perspective, instead of having to rely on a kind friend's ear. Likewise, instant multi-camera video playbacks for the performers to see how effective their physical presence is on the stage from various angles.

    Imagine a 'living database', where a daily journal of repertoire studied, practiced and performed is maintained via a central server. Different levels of access would allow for public and private views, allowing a collective insight into various aspects of repertoire. It would be fascinating to see how 10 different pianists came up with fingerings for that Liszt Transcendental Etude passage, or to explore the various bowings that 4 other violinists came up with for that Bach sonata. Imagine the time saved in learning a new piece if the 6 or 7 most difficult passages could be identified ahead of time, or if the commentary of various teachers, composers, and performers could be added to the collective wiki on that particular concerto. Private access would give an instant recall on all the repertoire learned and performed, instantly uploaded to the student's promotional website if they choose, and sample multimedia clips automatically collected for promoters to hear.

    More stuff to dream up later - perhaps this week's blog will be focused on future possibilities in music education, performance, and creation...i'd love to get your feedback!

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    November 30, 06

    Review: FlexiMusic Wave Editor

    FlexiMusic Wave Editor

    A few weeks ago, i received an email from FlexiMusic, an Indian software company, inviting me to review some of their products. As i work a lot with digital recording programs like Audacity, and Acoustica's Mixcraft, i thought i'd start taking a look at their audio editing program FlexiMusic Wave Editor (FMWE).

    It's amazing to see how affordable digital audio editors are becoming - i paid about $250 for an early version of Sonic Forge several years ago, yet programs like FlexiMusic Wave Editor present even more features now at a fraction of the cost. In fact, if you want to go with something completely free, Audacity, the open-source audio editor, is a top consideration for the musician on a tight (or even non-existant) budget. So - even given the cheap $20 price tag - why go with FMWE, when you could use a program like Audicity for free?

    I'll jump to the chase and point out these benefits that FMWE has over Audacity that make it worth a purchase consideration:

  • FMWE handles MP3 encoding better than Audacity - this becomes a major issue if you want to have your MP3 files played with Flash-based web players, like the ones provided on MySpace.com

  • If you're sticking with single track audio editing, FMWE offers a far wider palette of effects and processing capabilities than Audacity does

  • FMWE's bookmarking system is actually simpler to use and much more sophisticated than Audacity's label markers


  • Now for the details from a non-engineering layman's point of view:

    At first glance, FMWE's main program's interface looks really, really confusing. Even though the startup offers you a variety of color schemes to choose from, none of them look particularly attractive and it gave me a headache trying to make out what each icon was supposed to represent. Definitely needs the touch of a graphic designer's makeover! Interestingly, there are actually two versions of the program provided - the full program, and a stripped-down simplified version that is much easier on the eyes.

    The Simple Version of FlexiMusic Wave Editor

    The simple version should be fine for basic recording and simple editing - this is a very thoughtful inclusion for folks who are new to digital recording/editing, and a definite plus given the price of the package!

    Back to the full version - another notable feature is the auto-help text box that pops up when you move your mouse over virtually any aspect of the interface. You are given the option to remove these help boxes at any time, or to select different 'levels' of help (from "new" to "normal" and "experienced").

    Lots of text help boxes pop up everywhere in FMWE

    Once you spend a little time with the interface, it actually starts to make a lot of sense. One of the nicest features of the interface design is the center timeline bar which enables instant playback from any point clicked within the bar. This is great for spot checks and quick references.

    FMWE is packed with impressive editing features - everything from fading cuts, EQ and Variable speed playbacks, to reverb effects, some simple noise reduction, reverse playback, modulation effects, direct sound wave drawing capabilities, and many others. A complete list of features for all you uber-audio techies can be found here.

    The recording window in action within FMWE

    FMWE can record sound at 8 or 16 bit resolution, up to 48 KHz. This is fine if you're working with a USB condenser microphone like Samson's C01U (which is limited to a maximum resolution of 16 bits mono), and to be honest it's good enough for most audio needs - certainly if you're thinking of using this program to create podcasts and other web-based streaming material. If you want to play with the big boys though, 24 bit resolution is probably what you're looking for at a minimum - the folks at FlexiMusic assure me that the next version will feature that capability (Audacity can record at 24-bit and 32-bit floating point resolutions, 96 KHz, btw).

    FMWE can work with several popular sound file formats - Wav, MP3, Au, Raw, and Snd files. Working with MP3 files requires a separate download for the encoder (due to copyright issues, i think) - the link is automatically provided (WMA, Microsoft's own audio compression format, will also require access to a separate downloaded file). Interestingly, FMWE does a better job than Audacity 1.2.6 of encoding MP3 files using the LAME MP3 encoder - Audacity uses a variable bitrate format for MP3 encoding, which becomes a serious problem when you want to play your MP3 files via Flash-based players (like the ones provided on sites like MySpace or Podcast provider sites like Podcast Alley). Variable bitrate mp3's sound like chipmunks on caffeine when played through those flash players. Fortunately, this isn't the case with MP3's processed by FMWE, so this is a strong reason to buy FMWE if you plan to make a lot of MP3 audio files for web based players.

    As good as FMWE's editing and effects features are, i'm really most impressed with - get this - its bookmarking capabilities.

    Bookmarks in FMWE

    Audacity has a bookmark capability, but you have to press two sets of double keystrokes to add the marker on a label track (and i always forget which keystroke combination to use - one combination for marking during playback, a separate combination for marking when idle. Very cumbersome and annoying!) FMWE has the capability to add single-point bookmarks while recording by pressing a single key ("B"). The bookmarks are automatically labeled sequentially, but you can edit them and add whatever commentary you choose. During playback, you can either add single-point bookmarks or ranged bookmarks with a separate keystroke ("\").

    Ranged bookmarks example

    Ranged bookmarks can also be selected manually with the mouse if you choose, and the selected ranges can be saved as individual sound files. The bookmarks can also be saved as a separate file set and reloaded onto a sound file selectively.

    Why am i so excited about bookmarks? Imagine this: you're using FMWE to record a student's lesson. Whenever you hear a mistake or a part that needs to be reviewed, you press the bookmark button during the recording: voila, instant lesson review system! You could jump to bookmark number 3 and play back the mistake for the student to hear. No more fishing around the score, trying to remember where that spot was that needed fixing! The digital audio would provide an objective reference to show exactly what kind of mistake was made (This would be particularly helpful if you're coaching a chamber ensemble and trying to determine exactly who was coming in late at bookmark 15!) At the end of the lesson, you could send the recorded sound file as an MP3, along with the bookmark set if the student has their own copy of FMWE, and they could go back and review all the spots you marked for them. If you're receiving an audio file to critique from a long-distance student, you could even write down specific text commentary at each bookmark. These are just a few examples of the powerful possibilities of bookmarking and labeling audio files!

    Overall, given FlexiMusic Wave Editor's low price point, i'm pretty impressed with it's capabilities. That said, i have a few suggestions for improvements:

    1. The bookmarking features would be even better if the single-point bookmarks could act as split points for the audio file. Acoustica's Mixcraft has this capability, but it doesn't have the keystroke bookmark feature (you have to place the bookmarks manually by mouse in Mixcraft). What's so special about this? Well, imagine that you've set your bookmarks in the audio file for a student's recorded lesson, and that you've annotated the digital music score (in digital ink with your Tablet PC, of course! LOL) with the corresponding bookmark numbers. Each split point would match the bookmark number (ie, bookmark number 5 could be heard as audio-5.mp3, bookmark number 12 could be heard as audio-12.mp3, etc.). The student could then download all of the split files and place them in a playlist within an MP3 player (like an iPod). Played sequentially, the student could hear the entire recorded session seamlessly - but if the student wanted to review a specific bookmarked spot in the score, he/she could easily and quickly jump to the corresponding split audio segment! No more blind fast-forward/reverse to find that trouble segment! Instant navigation!

    2. When FMWE is set to record, the main audio editing window closes. It would be nice if the main audio editing window remained open so that you could see the wave file's recording progress (the programmers tell me they will add an option "Show/Hide Main Window While Recording" in the next version). Also, there are no audio level clipping meters to show if the sound level is too high. A visual bookmark indicator during recording would also be nice...

    3. FMWE really needs to have 24-bit recording capability. I've been assured that this will be added in the next version of the program. 96 KHz resolution would also be nice...

    Conclusion? This is a pretty good audio editor program at a budget price, with the potential to be a powerful semi-pro audio and pedagogy tool if they can follow through with some of my suggestions (along with a graphic overhaul...some of the icons that look similar, like the various playback icons, could be embedded in a nested tree that automatically springs open when the mouse hovers on top of the main visible icon - that would simplify the interface tremendously by reducing a LOT of clutter!)

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    November 29, 06

    An iTablet in the Wind?

    Rumors have been floating gently around for quite some time on the possibility of an Apple version of the Tablet PC. Patents by Apple for some intriguing touchscreen interfaces have been tracked down by tech watchers, so it seems to be just a matter of time before something finally comes out of development. While readers of this blog know how passionate i am about Microsoft's ground-breaking Tablet PC OS and resulting hardware devices, it's hard to ignore the fact that Tablet PC's in general haven't made the earth-shattering impact in the computer world that their avid proponents had been hoping for.

    A few days ago I received this email from composer David Toub, a die-hard Mac user:

    Hugh, sounds like one really is on the way. I'm still skeptical, since there have been rumors of one for ages, and as you know better than me, the PC tablet market has never taken off except in select vertical markets (like health care and among visionary musicians like yourself!)

    Here's the link

    It will be interesting to see how this progresses.


    If Apple can do for the Tablet PC what it did for the MP3 music player with its iPod line, we could finally start to see more wholesale acceptance of digital music reader/annotator technologies for classical musicians at large!

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    September 05, 06

    PDF Annotator Updated and Better Than Ever

    Most of my digital music is in Adobe Acrobat PDF format, that ubiquitous file protocol that ensures nearly universal readability. CD Sheet Music's library and most online sheet music stores distribute their scores as PDF's. One huge drawback, however, has been the clumsy inking capabilities of Acrobat's native reader - you're limited to one color, and it feels like you're writing with pickup sticks covered with marshmallows (hard to describe, but you'd understand if you try it).

    To get around this, i've been using PDF Annotator, a brilliant program that adds a layer of smooth inking capabilities to any PDF document being read within a Tablet PC computer. A regular computer and mouse could be used, i suppose, but to enjoy the natural interface you really should be using a pen input device (like the Wacom tablets).

    When the first versions of the program came out a couple of years ago, it was extremely slow with regard to page turns, making it virtually useless in a real-time musical setting. Fortunately, future versions corrected this and dramatically improved the page turn/screen refresh speeds. However, several features remained incomplete or missing, two of which i really yearned for: a handwriting text search function and a bookmark feature. Strangely, almost no news of any development work could be found from the developer's site for over a year, so i assumed that this program might be dying a slow death...

    Suddenly, a few days ago, lo and behold as i was practicing some new repertoire with the wireless antenna switched on in my Fujitsu Stylistic ST5022 Tablet PC, PDF Annotator indicated through its automatic update feature that a new version was available for download! This one is hot off the press - two major updates within the span of a week (August 18 and 22, according to their website)! Several improvements have been made to the program, including - happily - the addition of handwriting text search and the ability to read bookmarks! There had also been a performance quirk where the program would not be able to initially turn pages with hardware keys (or programmed switches like my Griffin PowerMate) before you manually scrolled down at least one page with your pen. That quirk has now been corrected, and the page turns seem even faster than before!

    I haven't finished playing around with all the improvements, but a few items keep this from being the penultimate digital music reading/page turning program for me:
  • Bookmarks can only be read, not created from within PDF Annotator apparently. You still need to have the full version of Adobe Acrobat to make bookmarks

  • Unlike Windows Journal, the native notebook program that comes bundled with Tablet PC's, there doesn't seem to be an apparent way to paste images directly onto PDF documents (at least from what i've read of the update logs). This isn't a typical function for the average user, but something that i'm depending on more and more as i develop Visual Recital programs - i need to be able to easily paste image icons onto the music to show me what the successive projection scenes will be. I don't expect this atypical function to be incorporated, but it would be nice...


  • Minor quibbles aside, this is an absolute must-have program for anyone working with PDF documents and digital ink! Highly recommended!

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    August 22, 06

    Throwing in the multimedia towel: Liquid Media

    My frustration level is running pretty high after struggling most of the day to figure out the workings of Liquid Media, a highly advanced presentation program similar to PowerPoint, the program that i've been using to present my visual recitals (VizCon for Visual Concerts? Need to come up with a catchy name...) The interface for Liquid Media is NOT very intuitive, and the tutorials are a total joke. The manual is somewhat helpful, but the scripting process is really byzantine. Granted, there's a lot of potential power in this program, but herein lies the problem - with great power, comes great complexity. The support forum is pretty sparse, with hardly any activity over the 3 year life of the program, and no apparent way to post new topics (am i locked out until i purchase a full version of the program? grrrr....)

    [UPDATE: Turns out i simply forgot to activate my support forum membership from the confirmation email - silly me, i'll try posting some questions to see if i can make some headway...]

    Transition effects work fine in menu samples, but strangely dissappear when i try to run full view previews...what gives? The program was designed for an older generation of Pentium chips - surely my Tablet PC has more than enough horsepower to render the various effects?

    Liquid Media seems to be better suited for creating dynamic multimedia presentations where the user can interface with lots of hotspots and multi-key triggers. Fine for making standalone kiosk displays with lots of interface buttons to play with, but strangely lousy for creating a single key linear visual sequence trigger. My needs are so simple, why is it so hard to find a program that can handle this? I want a SINGLE key trigger for my video events with a program that doesn't hiccup with video clips like PowerPoint does...and yet, i want to keep the still image and text manipulation capabilities of PP, along with its streamlined interface...

    sigh...

    Maybe i just need to throw in the towel and embrace PowerPoint as an artistic medium like David Byrne apparently has...check out this 3 year old article from Wired magazine on PowerPoint art by Mr. Byrne, along with a subsequent article about the evils of PowerPoint...

    ...or maybe my brain is just too small and i need to give this program another hard look...

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    July 24, 06

    The Apple of my Eye?

    Apple's Patent Illustration for a No Touch IPod?Check out this article from CNN's Money section, about what may be soon to come from Apple - a "Tablet-Style" iPod that can be controlled by the finger hovering over the touchscreen, a "no-touch" interface of sorts...
    I've told my friends privately that if Apple ever develops a tablet pc form factor, i'll seriously consider jumping ship...that day may be soon at hand if they get it right...

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    July 12, 06

    Feedback on the Internal Piano Rear Projection System

    Last night was an evening of firsts: my first full recital with projected visuals, first performance with a double pedal cradle, first 4 hand performance with a tablet pc! It was wonderful to see some friends in yesterday's audience at the Axelrod Performing Arts Theater in the JCC of Greater Monmouth County - thanks to Katie and Melissa and their families for showing up, and to Nathan for being there as well! There weren't too many other folks in the audience due to some poor publicity apparently, but we managed to have a wonderful time nonetheless - in fact, we turned the whole recital into a bit of a technical demo for my new Internal Piano Rear Projection System with direct feedback!

    Most of the folks seemed to like the concept, but there were a handful of detractors. Here are some of the excellent comments and suggestions i received:
    I tried angling the screen lower by using a block under the back of the projector to bring the sightline somewhat parallel to the pianist, but the resulting glare from the projector was too bothersome - seems that a higher angle (as originally set up) helps to alleviate the bulb glare somewhat, but i need to add a black "skirt" under the frame to hide the remaining light bleed.

    Here's a picture from home of what i had in mind for the lower frame sightline...you can see the glare of the bulb along the left side of the image frame.


    A few people thought that the screen blocks the sightline between the audience and the pianist; others thought that having the screen in front of the piano seems to distract people's attention away from the musician too much. Perhaps having a screen behind the pianist instead of in front? My projector cable isn't very long - i'll have to see if i can either find a longer cable to try that out, or perhaps a wireless adapter (pretty pricey, but that might be an interesting solution if i go with the 'behind the pianist' approach...)

    One lady thought that that perhaps white backgrounds were too bright for the screen - perhaps having more muted backgrounds would help? Not sure if this was related to the bulb glare issue, but that's something i'll have to ask my next audience about.

    I didn't think the "Babar" piece worked particularly well, given that nearly everyone in the audience (except for my friends) was a senior - this works best for an audience that has young children (my 4 year old son Timmy loves the piece); i may try to drop it for the next recitals, unless i know for certain that children will be attending. I managed to find time to add some very simple title frames for the Schumann movements, and that seemed to go over very well with the audience, helping them to follow along with a clearer understanding of the music.

    Art Topilow, the jazz pianist/Oncologist who invited me to play the recital, joined me in a rendition of Poulenc's Sonata for 4 hands. I was expecting to use his paper music, but to my delight he was really taken with my Tablet PC and had no problem viewing the music from the digital screen! He even came up with the idea of projecting the score onto the screen for the audience to follow along - what a neat idea! Perhaps that's something that could be incorporated with a multiple screen layout in the future - one screen showing the score, another set of screens for accompanying visuals...not sure if there would be a feasible way to operate this as a one-man show, but it'd be interesting to look into...

    The Mussorgsky - perhaps not surprisingly - worked the best by far. I had put a lot of work into putting together a really elaborate visual show for each of the movements, tightly choreographed phrase by phrase, with lots of mixed video clips, animations of pictures being drawn, and photos/text effects set to special fades and motion paths. As effective as some of the sequences were, i was pretty frustrated with the visual limitations of Powerpoint, in particular with the way it tries to work with video clips. i've looked into other VJ software like Resolume and ArKaos, but those video sequencing programs work primarily with multiple keystroke assignments for realtime mixing as opposed to a linear single-key trigger sequence (which my footswitch is supposed to emulate). Freepath looks promising as a Powerpoint supplement, but for some reason it has a hard time opening video clips within Powerpoint; i'll have to send an email to the developers to see if there's a way to address this. Any VJ jockeys out there with some suggestions?

    Man, my feet were busy last night...here's a picture of the 2 pedal cradle that helped to keep my feet under control:


    The left pedal was used to trigger the video sequences, the right one for turning the pages of my digital music. To secure the USB cable, i created openings using my drill press along the back of the cradle and split seams with the rubber grips sheet on the bottom:



    Here's a detailed view of how the cable slips through:


    Here's the cradle by itself:


    Next time i'll put up a sample page of one of my scores from last night - i came up with a really neat way of showing cues for the video triggers!

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    June 10, 06

    Collaborative Pianists Unite on MySpace

    I've just created a new group for Collaborative Pianists (and those looking for them :) on MySpace.com. I'm hoping to create a network of collaborative pianists, accompanists, répétiteurs, and chamber ensemble musicians, initially with this type of social network forum, eventually with a more sophisticated database on a separate site that would eventually correlate pianists and repertoire (much like the database system i've developed for Curtis) so that if someone is looking for a pianist who knows the Boulez Sonatine for Flute and Piano for example, they'd be able to pull up a list of pianists who have that specific work in their repertoire list.
    BTW, my MySpace profile is still pretty bare - most of my attention (and my main web love!) has been building this site, but given the powerful networking capabilities of sites like MySpace.com, i'll be working to beef up that profile in the weeks to come. Add me to your friends list and drop me a comment!

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    May 31, 06

    Why a techie like me hates digital pianos, Part 2














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    Thank you for visiting this site! I hope you'll find this to be a friendly place to learn about and discuss the fascinating technologies available for the Classical Musician. A great place to get started is with the ongoing "Getting Started" series. Remember, the worst questions are the ones you never ask, so feel free to email me!

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