Doing things differently

Doing things differently is hard. Some years ago I read about the Dvorak keyboard layout somewhere and have always wanted to try it, but have never found a physical keyboard with such layout.

I believe in change, or at least I want to believe in change. I also believe in Muscle Memory. It just takes some time to do the same thing over and over until your brain rewires itself and what took some real effort to achieve becomes “normal”, so to say.

And it’s not like I’m discovering something new or anything. I remember learning to type on a PC by myself, as everyone I know, and it took me quite some time to “memorize” where each key was located at, but I eventually did, so I thought “why not give Dvorak a try?” and here I am.

Currently my typing skills are about the same I had ten years ago, being able to type actually quite fast as a consequence of me trying to express myself as fast as possible on IM and chat, both good examples of events that might push you to learn by doing. After all, didn’t we all (or at least my generation) find the way to type SMS really fast until a couple of years ago using only the twelve keys of a cellphone? And even further, really old cellphones didn’t have the T9 software in them, and still we found the way to communicate, or at least entering the names for the address book.

So, the muscle memory… It’s what helps us do everyday actions without giving it much thought. Simple actions like brushing your teeth, playing a musical instrument or video games (using a controller without looking at it, more like knowing and feeling it altogether).

I recently learned how to properly ride a motorcycle. My first experience was in 2002 with an automatic 50cc , which not only tops at about 60 Km/h but also pretty much drives by itself, so it was somehow “safe”.

Last year, around way, a friend of mine let me ride her motorcycle, a 125cc semi-automatic Suzuki. The “semi” part implies a big difference, challenge or advantage, depending on how you see it: Although there is no clutch, as in most motorcycles, there is a gearbox, so it adds an extra something to the regular throttle-brake routine. As with my first experience, there were no further instructions besides “wear the helmet” and “shift up and down when it ‘asks’ you to”.

So there I was, alone with the bike at a main avenue, rush hour, and three hours to do whatever I wanted. One of the greatest things of a clutchless motorcycle was that the engine wasn’t going to shut off randomly due to my clumsiness and lack of skill. And it was easy: Start the engine in neutral Shift up to the first gear pushing the foremost shift lever Twist the throttle

That was it. Throttle, brakes and shifting gears as needed (“when it ‘asks’ you to”). It took me only two minutes to get going. I spent the rest of the evening riding just for the joy of it, and it felt good.

Things got bit more complex with my brother’s motorcycle, which not only had a clutch but the gear scheme is a little different to what I was used to: Instead of the natural N-1-2-3-4 transition I knew from my friend’s bike, this one had the standard 1-N-2-3-4-5, which gave me a little trouble the first couple of times until I got used to it. It took me longer, though, since I let go the clutch too fast before twisting the throttle, resulting in the engine shutting off several times on the first half an hour, but again, some practice (and dealing with the pain that the clutch leaves in the left hand) you start doing it without thinking.

And yes, without thinking. Free of the need to think about something and doing it by default while leaving the brain and it’s resources more room to perform other tasks at the same time, almost like a daemon would in computer jargon, which lead us back to muscle memory.

Now that I don’t need to think when to release the throttle, pull the clutch and shift gears as I speed up on the road, I can appreciate more the experience as a whole while being more aware of my surroundings (other vehicles, streetlights or alternative routes). And that’s what I expect will happen after the little experiment I will be doing for a week (or more if needed) which started with the writing of this post, of typing exclusively with the Dvorak layout on my iPad until achieving a decent speed and typing without thinking, just as I did (and can still do) using a 12-key layout.

That means I will have to install this Dvorak Cydia tweak on my iPhone as well.

En otra zona horaria

En ocasiones me como algo, un sandwich o ensalada, entre las 3:00 o 4:00 am, me duermo cerca de las 6:00 am y despierto en en algún punto entre las 11:00 am y las 2:00 pm. En base a esos números me puse a sacar cuentas y mis horarios están bien si consideras la separación de horas entre las actividades.

Levantándome a la 1:00 pm, tomo café y me como algo ligero si tengo animos de desayunar. Mi comida fuerte viene cayendo cerca de las 7:00 pm y me tomo un café al rato, a eso de las 9:00 pm. Ya mas tarde a la medianoche me baño y me pongo a leer en internet o ver series hasta dormirme.

Si a todo ese esquema anormal le restas seis horas, se vuelve normal:

  • 7:00 am – Desayuno: El café y comida ligera de las 2:00 pm vendría siendo desayuno, oficialmente es la primera comida del día (13-6=8)
  • 1:00 pm – Almuerzo: La comida de las 7:00 pm es el almuerzo de la 1:00 pm (19-6=13)
  • 3:00 pm – Coffee break: El café de las 9:00 de la noche se ha vuelto una especie de tradición en mi casa, pero dentro de mi horario no es mas que el café post almuerzo o el break de café de la tarde (21-6=15)
  • 6:00 pm – Relax: Me baño a la medianoche y me pongo a ver series, en el momento en el que “cae la noche” (24-6=18)
  • 9:00 pm – Cena: Mi comida de la noche, si la hago, viene a las 3:00 am, que siguiendo la receta de las seis horas viene siendo a las 9:00 pm. Eso es si decido comer, porque ya a esas horas lo que tomo normalmente es té.
  • 12:00 am – A dormir: Cuando consigo el sueño después de leer en internet y ver series (o escribir, como estoy haciendo ahora) son ya las 6:00 am, es decir que ya es medianoche (6-6=0)

Oficialmente estoy viviendo en otra zona horaria. Luego de sacar cuentas, veo que estoy sincronizado con la gente de Honolulu o Tahití, aunque no es una sincronización estricta sino mas bien oscilante. Pensándolo bien no me molestaría para nada vivir en una islita el Pacífico…

My favorite speaker so far

BOSE SoundLink® Wireless Mobile speaker

I’ve always wanted an easy alternative to listen to music and internet radio. I really dig internet radio. But I also love internet music services, such as Grooveshark and Spotify. Wanting portability, good sound quality and connectivity, I set my eyes on Logitech and Grace Digital. I was almost certain that the Logitech Squeezebox Boom was what I needed. It looks nice, simple and even kinda retro, but the pricetag was way above what I was willing to afford and the device is currently discontinued, so the only options were to get it aftermarket. The second most logical option was also from Logitech, the Squeezbox Radio. Way cheaper, portable and able to log into Spotify network. Charming. But never made up my mind after months (or even years), so I never bought it.

A couple of months ago, while listening to Spotify on my computer, this ad showed up talking about the “new” Bose Soundlink wireless speaker. I was thirlled. Literally. I’m a fan of Bose devices and the technology behind. I remember seeing the Wave in BestBuy back in 2002 and was amazed by the quality and depth of sound that box could make, made me feel ashamed of my Panasonic stereo. The thing was over $400 and didn’t even have a CD Player, just FM/AM Radio and a 3.5mm line-in. For $100 more you could get the upgrade, which was basically the same device with a built-in CD player and a remote. Back then, being in my mid-teens, I knew that was the device I wanted/needed but also knew there was no way I could afford it.

So back to Spotify and the Soundlink, after seeing the ad I obviously clicked it and found out there was this new device, based on the Wave, which was portable and wireless via Bluetooth, and has this nice retro look, with a chrome and leather finish, and knowing the quality of Bose device I was sure this was the right set of speakers for me. While in the iStore (local Apple authorized retailer) with my boss a couple of weeks ago, I saw the Soundlink sitting in one of the shelves, turned on and playing some music from one of the clerk’s iPhone. Loved it. I held it with both hands and was amazed of how small and portable it was, smaller than the last Harry Potter book, and yet the bass response was great. Being an A2DP compliant device, I thought I could stream iTunes and Spotify from my MacBook via bluetooth and that’s all I needed.

I bought the device this weekend. Got to the store around 6:00 pm on saturday and told one of the clerks I was going to test the speaker and he said it was ok. I paired my Palm Pixi to it and played some tunes, It sounded ok but there was a small noise that bothered me. It was like when you play mp3s under 192kbps, that kind of distortion, and I blamed the phone. Next, there was this free iMac and I paired it with the speakers. Total different thing. The sound came right from iTunes, just as expected. I said “I want it” and 10 minutes later I was driving out of the mall.

Came home, plugged it in and turned it on. Bluetooth pairing couldn’t be easier, and Mac OS X recognized the device right away. I remember the first song I played was Tin Man by America. The bass came out so deep, with no signs of distortion, and the treble is so crisp that you could hear the metal strings of the guitar and the closed hihat as if I were listening in my car’s stereo (Pioneer, good speakers, gread sound). I poked around iTunes, playing through different styles and genres, everything was great. Until.

I could hear a decrease in quality while playing certaing songs. I used the line-in option with the cable that came in the box to connect the speaker directly to the MacBook and the quality was back. So it must be a Bluetooth issue, I thought. After a Google search and a bunch of opened tabs, I found out what the problem was. Bluetooth itself and A2DP. As it turns out, A2DP uses different “bitpools” which tells the “slave” (speakers or headphones) the specifications of the current stream. It seems like the “master” (in this case my MacBook) has the ability to negotiate the bandwidth and sampling rate, which affects the output. I inmediatly thought there surely was a way to “fix” this. And there it was.

This article shows a string to paste in the Terminal which was supposed to fix the problem. It made the sound better, but not perfect. The best results I had were by setting the bitpool to 58, as this article suggests.

defaults write "Apple Bitpool Min (editable)" 50

Update @ 08.07.2013: A more comprehensive set of values to change can be found here, which helped me fix the pops and cracks of this same speaker with my new MacBook Pro.

Of course, this is only an issue that affects specific bluetooth chips, and my MacBook being 5 years old might have a conflicting configuration of some sort, and older chip or anything. The thing is that this “problem” might not be a problem at all for some other users using other bluetooth drivers/chips/OSs.

Why Bluetooth over Airplay one might ask, and the answer is easy and I couldn’t agree more. Besides the SoundLink there’s also the popular Jawbone Jambox, and many others. Bluetooth is a Standard and there’s still place for it. I’m happy with the speaker. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever bought. It’s portable, sounds great. Totally worth the price.

Snowy Road

Cerca de mi casa hay una calle que tenía algo en el piso que asumo que serían bolitas de anime. De regreso de comprar unas cosas grabé ese pedazo de la calle, parecía que hubiera nevado.

primer sábado del año

me despierto después de las 12 del mediodía, viendo que mis planes para la mañana simplemente no van porque el tiempo ya pasó. hago típica rutina de revisar email, twitter, facebook y noticias a ver si el mundo se esta acabando o si sigue siendo la misma mierda.
bajo a la cocina y me sirvo un vaso de leche para “desayunar”, me lo tomo mientras voy abriendo nueces para desayunar. ahi es cuando me entero que mi mama casi tiene listo el almuerzo: pasta cuatro quesos y carpaccio de lomito.
ahora llevo unos 40 minutos despierto y estoy a punto de desalmorzar. el día bien podría seguir así de bien y estaría feliz. espero encontrarme con una solera verde en el camino. nada mal para ser el primer sábado de 2012.

Solución fácil a un problema fácil

Hace unos años tocaba con una banda de Funk que no dió muchos frutos pero sonaba arrechísimo. Era 2007 y comencé la transición de teclados convencionales a usar una combinación entre controladores midi e instrumentos de software. Todo lo que tocaba en el M-Audio Keystation 61 que me regaló Mary pasaba en digital por USB a la laptop y salía directo por un cable miniplug a RCA que conectaba directo en la cónsola.

El problema era que el sonido que salía en analógico de la laptop venía con un ruido de tierra por culpa de lo malas que son las tarjetas de sonido en la mayoría de las laptops. La solución fácil y rápida en el momento era pasar de RCA a XLR por una caja directa que me quitaba el ruido, pero siempre sonaba un poco. El técnico del estudio dijo que el problema era una doble fase por el cable estereo, y por eso estaba ese ruido terrible que sonaba como una turbina de avión.

La solución “normal” al problema habría sido hacer lo que hace todo el mundo, sacar el sonido en digital por data vía USB usando una interfaz. Habría sido ideal porque ademas disminuye la latencia y pone menos carga en la computadora, ademas de permitirme meter y sacar sonido a 96khz / 24bits pero eso nunca pasó porque nunca compré la interfaz.

Hoy, a unos tres años que dejé de tocar con esa gente, conseguí una solución que habría sido mas sencilla y directa: Usar la salida óptica de la tarjeta de sonido. Un cable Mini-TOSLINK me habría permitido sacar el audio de manera digital por la conexión S/PDIF que está en el plug de audífonos y que la mayoría de las computadoras traen. De ahí podía haber conectado directo a la cónsola por la entrada TOSLINK convencional, y de no tenerla podía haber usado un convertidor de TOSLINK a RCA y listo, problema resuelto.

Ya lo sé para la próxima.