Archives for January 2009

The flip side of home working

I can totally empathize with this:

It's not just a matter of feeling lonely: all kinds of emotions depend on regular, face-to-face human interaction, and you run a serious risk of becoming unproductive, uninspired, and even depressed without it. -- [From "Working from Home: Why It Sucks" by Shimon Rura]

I don't want to be chained to a desk in an office, but working from home all the time isn't working for me either. There has to be some kind of middle ground.

Alan, Stu, and I tend to get together one afternoon a week and that's been a big help but it's not really enough.

29/01/2009 13:33 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Reconsidering Amazon

I have no idea how much money I have spent at Amazon since they started. When I look at my books (and I have a lot of books) a very great chunk of them came from Amazon, ditto DVD's, and CD's. And why not? They are cheap and offer an excellent service.

Then you read articles like the Times recent piece:

Amazon, Britain's most popular website for Christmas shopping, is making its staff work seven days a week and threatening them with the sack if they take time off sick.

Staff were warned that days off for illness, nonattendance or lateness would result in "points" against them. Any sick days, even if justified by a doctor's note, resulted in a point against the worker.

The area manager for packing, Christophe La Corne, told staff that overtime was "mandatory" and that he was going to be "strict" about enforcing it. He said he "did not want to hear people's excuses" about why they could not work the extra day.

Conditions in Amazon's sweat-shop style packing house on the M1 would not have raised an eyebrow in a Dickens novel:

  • Made to work a compulsory 10.5 hour overnight shift at the end of a five-day week.
  • Set quotas for the number of items to be picked or packed in an hour that even a manager described as "ridiculous".
  • Set against each other with a bonus scheme that penalises staff if any other member of their group fails to hit the quota.
  • Made to walk up to 14 miles a shift to collect items for packing.

Is this why Amazon is so cheap? Do their profits depend upon hiring the poorest from Eastern Europe, paying them the least amount legally possible, working them into the ground, and treating them without human kindness? That's what it sounds like.

Oh it's all perfectly legal. And that's the worst part about it, because it's legal they think it's right. I wonder if Christophe La Corne has kids? I wonder he'd encourage them to work 7-day weeks at Marston Gate for minimum wage?

I'd always had this idea of Amazon as a benevolent organisation. They make EC2! Werner Vogels is a nice chap! Their service is so good! What on earth could be wrong with them?

I wouldn't damn Amazon on the basis of one newspaper report. But it has made me very uncomfortable about the idea of buying from them again. When I consider receiving an item and thinking about the situation of the poor bugger who packed it. Not the happy Amazon employee I imagined but some poor sod from Romania at the end of a 10 hour shift.

Let's just say that I will be much more likely in the future to pay a little more to feel that I am not buying my books, DVD's, and CD's from people who may be on the verge of abuse.

24/01/2009 11:06 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Kiva update

The micro-lending organization Kiva alerted me to the fact that I have a shade over $50 credit available to lend. Unfortunately it seem that they have run out of loans to finance again. I've had this a couple of times: There seem to be two or three loans left and, by the time you click on them, poof! They've been funded already. Well I guess that's a good thing ;-)

So, instead I thought I'd post some info about the loans I've made to date from my Kiva lenders page:

Category Me Average
Total Amount Loaned $600 $134
Total Amount Repaid $351 $81
Amount of Ended Loans Not Repaid In Full $0.00 $1.28
Amount of Ended Loans $200.00 $50.44
Default Rate 0.00% 2.53%
Delinquency Rate 1.39% 2.84%

For reference I made my first loan in August 2006 so I think I've probably been active on the site longer than the average user (a hunch, I have no data to back up that assertion). I'm pleased to have made loans that have been repaid though I'm not sure if my default rate and delinquency rates are significantly lower than the average.

If they are I would like to think it's because I try to choose people running businesses that seem likely to elevate not only themselves and their families but also their community. Here is what I wrote on my lender page:

I respect the effort other people are making to improve their lives and the lives of those around them and the sums I can afford to invest here are significant for those people.

$600 invested in Aug 2006 would have bought me about 9 shares of Apple Stock. I feel like I got a better return trying to improve the lives of people in Pakistan, Mexico, Tajikistan, Peru, Ghana, Guatemala, Cambodia, Togo, Tanzania, Uganda, Ecuador, Honduras, and Sierra Leone.

22/01/2009 11:23 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Practice! Practice!

I've now finished my third lesson and the magnitude of the thing I'm trying to do is starting to become apparent. It's kind of like I naively said, "Hey, let's walk to LA from NY." And then three blocks from my house I start to realize, "Uh oh. This is big."

MMI is realizing the size of the boulder he has chosen to roll up the hill in learning the guitar. It sounds very like the boulder I am rolling uphill learning the piano. Big, heavy, and it's a steep hill!

On the plus side however I managed a 40min practice session this evening where I actually felt I'd made a little progress.

22/01/2009 00:17 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Slow down

Interesting piece from PsychCentral on some new research into weight gain:

Researchers studying food behavior have discovered that eating too quickly may be an important contributor to becoming overweight.

The researchers estimate that the combination of eating quickly and eating until full more than triples the risk of being overweight. This calculation took into account age, alcohol intake, smoking, occupation and regular exercise.

In 2002 I lost about 13kg (from 82.7kg to 70.0kg) over a long slow period (about 0.5kg per week) but I wasn't able to keep it off or even stay at what I thought was a good weight for me of about 78kg. I'm not sure what I weigh right now but I'd hazard a guess it's about 85kg.

Interesting to note that I am prone to both eating very fast and to eating until I am full. Without even getting into the kinds of food I like to eat.

Read the whole article. I think it's something to think about.

21/01/2009 15:02 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Rebased

Coolness... Elysium got a mention in the latest GitHub Rebase posting:

jscocoa allows you to write Cocoa applications in JavaScript. Sounds crazy, but it's possible! It allows you to call Objective C or plain 'ol C code from JS along with inheriting from Obj-C classes. See it in action in the Elysium MIDI synthesizer, check out the project's site, or read up on how it works.

It's a sequencer rather than a synth but that's a minor nitpick. It's also available on GitHub. We use JSCocoa as a bridge to Leopards Javascript core engine. You can script the sequencer using Javascript callbacks.

Over the weekend I put in some effort to get Elysium into a state where it could be built by someone other than me. That was good timing because my friend MMI was ready to have a go. He forked and was able to build Elysium successfully and even went on to put some stuff in my fork queue :)

Thank you GitHub!

21/01/2009 13:15 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Feeling happy

So, as people who know me will testify I can sometimes be, errr, challenged in the "being cheerful" stakes but last night something unexpected and really great happened.

When I got home from karate Sudara pointed out to me that Create Digital Music had done a great review of my music sequencing application Elysium.

Peter obviously spent some time with it and, while he correctly identified some flaws in what is a new and rather experimental piece of software, I felt he also gave a sense of the excitement and possibilities I feel when I am playing with Elysium myself. It really made me smile.

This makes me feel really proud. Elysium is my 3rd Cocoa application and it's been, by far, the most challenging and rewarding to build. I've had to learn a lot and go through a lot to get it to this point. I hope it does turn out to be an interesting tool and that people will play with, have fun with, and create a lot of interesting music with it.

Certainly hearing that other people think it's interesting and worth their time to explore gives me a good feeling and I want to say thank you to everyone who has commented or let me know.

14/01/2009 20:41 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Not just kids

Researchers from the University discovered children who feel that their lives have meaning and value and >who develop deep, quality relationships - both measures of spirituality - are happier. -- [PsychCentral blog]

I don't think that applies only to kids.

14/01/2009 14:39 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

LMDial

Just been working on my next Cocoa custom control, a dial control a la Ableton Live. Hopefully a refined version of this basic control will be streamlining the Elysium interface soon. I'll also have need of it in my next project...

This one is also available via GitHub under the MIT license.

13/01/2009 00:29 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Mac OS X is not without annoyances that make you want to scream

Like, why the hell is that I find myself waiting while OS X spins up my external disks whenever I try to open or save a file?!?

99 times out of 100 I am not opening, nor saving, a file to an external disk.

Yet I have to wait while it laboriously spins each one up in turn...

Was this not supposed to have been fixed in Leopard?

Seriously it makes me mad.

Stop it.

10/01/2009 23:58 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Logic automation problems

I'm having a problem with Logic Automation. I have two AU's Sinevibes Gateboy and Audio Damages BigSeq that aren't working properly.

If I automate one of the plugin parameters from Logics automation track that's fine. The plugin responds to the automation. However if I change something within the plugin (i.e. select a preset, move a control) nothing is written to Logic's automation track.

This severely hampers my ability to automate these plugins as it's much better to get an effect you like by manipulating the plugins controls and saving a preset then selecting that to automate than it is to try and do the same thing in the automation track directly (not to mention the hassle of creating tracks for each parameter).

Does anyone else have this problem in Logic 8?

10/01/2009 23:31 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Up and over

Great fun at karate last night. We started the lesson working on the bags, kicking and punching. That's always hard work and my knuckles are suitably skinned today. Then we did something new. We borrowed the mats the Aikido club use and started practicing some of the throws from the kata's.

While I realize that practicing a throw with a willing participant is not quite the same thing as actually throwing someone attacking you, nevertheless, it was interesting and pretty fun. Then we got some even bigger mats to try something else.

This required learning to do a forward somersault and protect the head. Never having done such a thing before I was rather nervous. My brain kept saying "You can't be serious about doing this." Nevertheless I tried it and discovered it's quite easy, actually quite enjoyable.

Then we practiced the 'sacrifice throw'. So named because, in order to throw your opponent, you end up on the floor as well. If it goes wrong you're going to be in trouble. I still don't quite know how I did it but apparently I was able to throw my partner Terry over my head and, then safely, be thrown.

A really fun, out of the ordinary, lesson and a good way to end the week. But I will say this... make sure never to be the senior grade in the room when Sensei is demonstrating throws :)

10/01/2009 16:30 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Hi-way Hi-fi

This is too good not to look at.

08/01/2009 17:19 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

What piano teachers and karate teachers have in common

It's funny. As I was listening to my piano teacher, Elliot, talking to me today I kept hearing Sensei. When he said "I'd rather you played it slowly and got it right, then speed it up" I could almost have been in the dojo.

I was just saying to Bethlet that I'm having to get comfortable with that noob feeling all over again. Like when I started karate and felt like I had two left feet. It's the same uncomfortable sensation. I think maybe that's a good thing. To keep going through that.

Elliot says there is hope for me... with a lot of hard practice ;-)

I have to say that the feeling when I played a bar and knew I'd got the timing right and it sounded right was very good.

08/01/2009 15:46 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Propane has been launched

Trevor Squires, he of the neat Ack bundle for TextMate, has released his most excellent Campfire chat client: Propane. Now at v0.9 (but rock solid for me for some weeks) it's available for a limited time for $20. I just snagged license number 197.

It's a nice, focused, app that adds value to campfire and delivers all the nice stuff i've had from various different routes to campfire in one app. Well worth it to me. If you've ever used Campfire I recommend giving Propane a try.

08/01/2009 10:27 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Making Xcode sub-projects actually work

Since I am just bound to forget this pretty soon I thought I'd publicly thank Rainer for his help last night in getting Xcode sub-projects to work.

The problem is that just dragging the sub-project into your main project isn't enough. The sub-project target can't be dragged anywhere and doesn't build. Nor can you make it a target dependency via any of the myriad dialogs and panels that Xcode will sprout on demand.

Rainer had the answer which is to right click the "Groups & Files" header and include the "Target Membership" checkbox in the project tree. Then click the revealed checkbox next to the sub-project target.

With that done the sub-project builds and it's target can be dragged into, for example, a later copy files build-phase.

I'm grateful, once again, to Rainer for solving what was becoming a quite vexatious issue for me!

08/01/2009 09:18 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Valid but maybe not true

Rainer blogged about an online logic test:

I got 14 out of 15 right. The last one (which I got wrong) is declared "controversial" in the answers. Bah.

I surprised myself and got 15/15. I guess this may make up for my abysmal showing on tests of grammar and speeling.

07/01/2009 10:08 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Respect

According to Mr. Taiwo, there are 3 basic kinds of respect. Human respect is our basic sense of self-respect that is bestowed upon us by our parents, teachers and role models. It is also our valuation of others, based on what we have learned about fundamental human value from our parents, teachers, and role models. Positional respect comes from the various roles we play and the titles we hold -- across all dimensions of our life. Earned respect is based on other's perceptions of our actual actions, words and associations. -- [by Sensei Jason Gould]

06/01/2009 20:58 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

A little further down a steep slope

The Times Online has an article today about an expanse of state power that grants police officers the right to hack into private computers without a warrant:

A remote search can be granted if a senior officer says he "believes" that it is "proportionate" and necessary to prevent or detect serious crime - defined as any offence attracting a jail sentence of more than three years.

Any information gathered can then be used or passed on to other authorities. No warrant is required and it's not clear what, if any, oversight there will be.

As the commenters to the piece have already mentioned, why bother having a system of warrants at all if police offers are to be trusted with such a power. The purpose of requiring a warrant is to ensure that there is reasonable grounds for action and oversight. This seems to be lost.

Another commenter makes the point that what can be obtained can also be fabricated. Since this information is going to be obtained covertly, without a warrant, and then passed on who is to say what may happen in the name of "getting the job done"?

I'm not suggesting that anyone is setting out with these intentions but this is very clearly power that can be abused and, if history is our guide, will be abused. The police themselves should not want such powers.

And so we slide a little further down the slope.

04/01/2009 14:01 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

No room for Mozart

I just read MMI's latest piece talking about a Guardian interview with the composer John Adams:

The author, Mark Wherry, is responding to an interview in The Guardian with none other than John Adams. Apparently, the composer laments that music is too easy to make and has given rise to a flood of mediocre music. Mark takes small issue with Adams as do I.

I think Adams has completely missed the point . If we are to be denied another Beethoven or Mozart it will not be because of the ease with which one can install Logic and East-West Gold on a laptop.

The reason Mozarts' are so few and far between is because of the effort required to become one. Even with the right parental encouragement and environment it would have been hard enough in the 18th century. In the 21st century the idea of a kid dedicating his life to the almost constant study of all the great composers is practically laughable.

The problem is not laptops but diminished attention span, the quaintness of the idea of "a calling", and the pace of life, the pace at which children are confronted with being adults. I was speaking to someone the other day who told me that what got him interested in reading was playing a video game! I suspect that, if Beethoven could have played GTA IV, we'd be a few sonata's short of where we are today.

So no, quite the reverse of Adams point, the democratization of music production can only lead to a vast improvement in the amount of quality of music available because, as MMI points out:

making music, as a side effect, teaches me and those like me how to listen. And that makes me a more informed consumer. That does not mean I'll be be buying more of Speers' or Cyrus' product. It does mean that I'm more likely to be interested in the work of artists producing what Adams calls "contemporary serious music" because I am better able to appreciate their work.

The availability of technology to make music leads to more people learning the fundamental principles of music, more people experimenting with music, and more people coming up with new ideas about making music. Not everyone is going to be, or want to be, Beethoven but not everyone in the blessed 18th or 19th century would have been mistaken for Beethoven either.

I challenge anyone to visit Alonetone and sample the music of Montgomeru, Glu, or Kavin and call it "mediocre."

I think not.

01/01/2009 22:50 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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A small act to start the new year right

Today I have made the source code to Elysium v0.9 public under the open source MIT license.

I'm pretty proud of Elysium as an application. It's rare that I build something that turns out to be more than I expected. I've been gratified that people who've tried it think it's fun. I hope that the source code being available will encourage more people to play with it and help others who want to build their Cocoa applications.

Happy New Year!

01/01/2009 19:31 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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