My Pro Mac Setup [NOT Mac Pro]

I recently read an interesting article about how some experts use their Macs. Here is the article: http://www.macworld.com/article/2055458/how-mac-experts-set-up-their-desktops.html

I figured I would chime in, because I really love how I have things setup, and maybe others would benefit from some of my practices.

General Background

I use a 2012 13” MacBook Air, which is almost always plugged into a 27” Thunderbolt Display. Sometimes I will open the MacBook Air and utilize the 13” screen as a secondary work space, but I rarely need to do that as 27” provides plenty of screen real estate. In the past I had two 24” monitors, one set up vertically for coding. I’ve found that the 27” Thunderbolt Display provides me with almost as much flexibility and space as my previous setup.

My dock is in the left hand upper position, tucked just under the Apple menu. It is always visible, but shrunk to about the smallest size possible. I keep no application shortcuts in the Dock. If an icon appears in my Dock, it is open. Essentially I use the Dock simply as an application switcher. I also have my Applications folder and Downloads folder at the bottom of the dock. I can quickly see a grid of my applications by clicking on the Applications folder, which makes launching apps easy. Even easier, I launch my apps almost 100% of the time with Alfred. This way I can simply hit Option+Space, type the app I want, and I’m there. This to me is much more convenient than having a dozen or more icons cluttering my Dock.

I rarely use full screen apps. I do use Spaces for several things:

1. I use one space for my software development. This way I can have my notes, my ticketing system, my development IDE, and any related folders and graphics open on one space.

2. I use a dedicated space for use when screen sharing with clients, so I can have a clean view with no added distractions.

3. I use a dedicated space for audio editing, which allows me to have my DAW application, note pads for lyrics and mixing notes, and then plugin settings windows and other parameter windows at easy reach.

Software Development

When I am writing software, I generally have a couple of note pads open on the right of my screen, while my IDE takes up about 75% of the rest of the screen, top to bottom, all the way to the left. This allows me to see a lot of code all at once, manipulate the GUI design environment, and have my notes at a glance to keep me on task.

If I have to reply to emails, or reference an email, I have the Mail app open to the right of my IDE, above my note pads.

Audio Recording and Editing

I pretty much mimic my software development layout for this. DAW on the left, top to bottom, stretched out about 75-80% of the screen. Lyric and mixing notepads are open on the right. When I am messing with plugins, EQs and other settings, I will open the MacBook Air and have those windows open on the 13” screen sitting to the right of my Thunderbolt Display.

Graphic Design

I generally use most of the screen for graphic design. Even when working on smaller images, I like to have the window be large, so I can zoom in for detailed pixel-level edits. I rarely need notes or other windows open, so I leave a small space to the right for toolbars and parameter windows.

Video Editing

I keep my video editing environment open on the left, top to bottom of the screen. I keep folders of media and note pads open on the right.

As you can see, I typically follow the same general pattern for most of my use case scenarios. Meat of the task on the left of my screen, taking the entire height of the screen top to bottom, with notepads and supporting windows stacked off to the right.

Apps Regularly In Use

xCode

Xojo

TextExpander

Dropbox

AudioSwitcher

iStat Menus

TimeNet

Master of My Domain

Transmit

Terminal

Photoshop

Soulver

Alfred

My Own Ticketing System/Business Tracker

Time Sink

Pixelmator

GarageBand

TextEdit

Mail

iTunes

Safari

iMovie

iPhoto

GarageBand 10 Transition Report (Spoiler: It is very disappointing)

Apple released GarageBand 10 on Tuesday. The new interface is very nice, and I was thrilled to see it get the update it’s been needing. I was so excited with the announcement that I literally jumped up and down with joy.

I’ve been using GarageBand for over 9 years, since version 1.0 came out. I’ve used it to produce thousands of professional tracks, and three full length albums. GarageBand has always struck a great balance of ease-of-use and professional features that allow you to create truly pro audio.

I haven’t spent a whole lot of time with the new GarageBand 10, but it does seem that many of the pro features have been dumbed down or removed all together. This was very disappointing to me. However, the more I look around, the more it seems that I’m finding some of these old features again — they are just in a different area of the program. Many are still missing altogether.

I do think the GarageBand 10 update is nice, but it definitely feels like a 1.0 product, and I really hope Apple releases an update soon to bring back certain features and fix some very annoying bugs.

Pro Features in GarageBand 6 vs. GarageBand 10

The big thing that makes GarageBand so great is its support for 3rd party plugins. GarageBand 10 still supports Audio Unit plugins, however there are some caveats and compatibility issues. We will get to that in a moment.

Another great feature of GarageBand is the ability to create and fine-tune a software instrument using one of the many sound generation modules. For example, in GarageBand 6 you could make a new software track, pick the sound generation module, and then fine tune it. Here I am adding a new synth track to my project in GarageBand 6:

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And here I am editing the parameters of that synth module:

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This allowed advanced granular tuning to get exactly the sound you were looking for (within reason).

In GarageBand 10, it appears we no longer have this option. We can load presets, and change a few of the same parameters using the Smart Controls panel, but we cannot change the sound module, and it appears we are missing some of the settings we used to be able to adjust.

All we can do in GarageBand 10 is select a preset from the Library:

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We can no longer choose whether we want an analog, digital, swirl, sync, or other sound module. If there is a way to do this, I haven’t figured it out yet. This is the first disappointing thing in the new GarageBand 10. No advanced editing of software instruments.

Custom instruments you’ve made in previous versions of GarageBand (by dragging samples to the onscreen keyboard) no longer seem to load in GarageBand 10. This is a HUGE bummer, as I’ve made quite a few custom sample/dub instruments. When trying to select them, I get this error message:

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Another huge drawback of the new GarageBand 10 is any old projects you try to open will not retain their plugin settings. Let me clarify. Here is a project I loaded from GarageBand 6 into GarageBand 10. This project employs heavy use of plugins. When opening and playing the project, the plugins are clearly loaded, and the song sounds the same as it did in GarageBand 6. HOWEVER, when I try to view/edit/disable the plugins, they simply do not show up:

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You can clearly see the Smart Controls show that this track is using the TH2 guitar plugin. However, nothing shows up in the Audio Units section — I cannot see the plugin on the track, I can’t disable it, and I can’t make changes to the plugin settings. This is a huge huge backwards compatibility issue and is probably my biggest gripe with the new version, other than the fact that many plugins do not seem to load. Making changes to the Smart Control knobs does nothing to change the sound of my track. Not very smart…

The other big gripe I have with the new version is that it kills compatible with tons of plugins. In fact out of 20 or so plugins I personally use, only 5 seem to be working on GarageBand 10:

TH2

FM8

EZDrummer

Nectar

FreeG

The following plugins do not work:

Ozone 3 and Ozone 4 (confirmed with Izotope, they have no plans to fix this or release an update, which is very lousy of them)

CamelSpace and CamelPhat confirmed not working. They’ve responded and say they are working on a fix. That is good news at least.

Guitar Rig 2, 3 and 4. I have not heard back from them yet on whether they will be updating their plugins to work or not. I will update this post when I hear.

TubeTech and TubeDelay plugins do not work on GarageBand 10. No reply from them either.

iDrum

FETCompressor

SpringReverb

Tonelux

Other Missing Features & Annoyances

Podcasting features seem to be completely gone. I’ve never used them myself, but I know many folks used GarageBand to produce podcasts, and these missing features are a big bummer for them as well.

I cannot seem to find the Ducking feature in GarageBand 10.

Fine tune editing of the other amps is gone (Bass Amp, for example).

When selecting a software instrument, everything is now split up into New GarageBand, Logic, Legacy, plus each and every jam pack. This makes quickly sampling and selecting a drum kit, for example, a nightmare process! I have to scroll left and right and left and right and move back and forth over and over again just to find the kit I want! There is also no way to only show user created sound instruments like there was in GarageBand 6. This is a mess!

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All in all I am very disappointed in this update!

I was so extremely excited to see the refreshed interface and new drummer features, along with other new features and improvements. I was jumping up and down and couldn’t wait to download. Now, I find myself incredibly let down by this “update”. Yes the UI is new and pretty. And that’s about it. To recap:

• Cannot open old GarageBand projects that used any plugins at all

• Cannot edit our software instruments

• 75% or more of old plugins simply refuse to load

• It is a nightmare to find the software instrument you want, because they are all split up and doubled into dozens of folders that make no logical organizational sense.

• Can’t use your custom software instruments/sampler instruments

There is probably a lot more that has been removed or dumbed down, but because of these huge limitations out of the gate, I can’t even really use the software at all. I will continue to use GarageBand 6, and hope that point release updates to GarageBand 10 will fix these issues. I really hope this isn’t becoming the normal for Apple going forward — dumbing down their software to a point where it’s almost unusable, and incompatible with its own previous versions.

I will update this post if I learn any more.

iOS 7 — The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

iOS 7 — The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

I’ve been using iOS 7 for a few weeks now. Everything is new and different, and that isn’t a bad thing. There is a lot to really like about this new version of iOS.

I’ve been using iOS 7 on an iPhone 4S and an iPad 3. My iPhone 5S is on its way, but won’t be delivered until next week.

For the first week or two, it was a honeymoon. I loved all of the new design interactions, the animations, the new features — especially iTunes Radio, improved Safari, improved Mail, Control Center, and even the new icons (though a few are less than perfect, but they don’t “bug” me like they do some people).

Having used it for awhile now, there are some things that have started to annoy me. We will get to those in a minute. First, let’s talk about what iOS 7 does well.

The Good

Clarity. For the most part, it is easier to get to your information. Case in point, Control Center, showing timers and alarms on the lock screen, smart mailboxes in Mail, beautiful typography that still impresses me every time I use my phone, and the Weather app, which is like looking out a window (it’s accurate and very fun). Time stamps in Messages was always missing, and while not a big deal most of the time, was critical to me at certain points. Not having access to this data in iOS 6 was very annoying at times.

The new years, collections and moments views in Photos are nice. It makes it fun and even a little easier/quicker to find the photo you’re looking for. I also like the new frosted look of folders, though I wish they showed more icons per page like in iOS 6 — especially on the iPad!

Depth. I enjoy how objects move and interact with each other while following the rules of physics and physical space. I like how things stack on top of each other, and zoom in and out as you move. This makes it easy to follow the path of where you’re going. I like the gaussian blur effects when you bring up panels that cover UI elements.

Safari, for the most part, is a vast improvement (with one caveat, which I’ll cover below). The interface is streamlined, and the ability to have more than 8 tabs is hugely liberating. Even the unified URL/search bar is nice. At first I wasn’t sure if I liked it, and I kept hitting a period when I tried to use the spacebar. I still do this, but it’s not as bad. My muscle memory is still training to help avoid this issue.

There’s a lot more to love about iOS 7, and many reviews have covered this already. Overall, there is a lot of good here, and I am really enjoying iOS 7. However, now we need to discuss some of the ugly issues I’ve ran into.

The Bad

Safari’s new unified URL and search bar no longer shows the full URL of the page you’re on. On top of that, it no longer shows the title of the page you’re viewing! This is a ridiculous misstep in my opinion. Maybe 80% of people won’t notice or care, but one, or preferably both, of these critical pieces of information need to be shown to the user.

There are numerous reasons for why this is, including security, convenience and clarity. I really hope it gets addressed soon. It’s a minor niggle, but one that truly bothers me every single time I’m using Safari.

There are some areas of the system that lack polish. Saving attachments from emails, for example. Some icons have no obvious symbolism, so the only way to figure out what they do is to tap them and see what happens, or consult the manual. This was never the case with iOS 6.

Sometimes, my lock screen controls for music, podcasts etc. just simply stop working. This has only happened once or twice, but when it does it is very annoying (and unsafe). Having to unlock the phone and switch to the app to simply pause or skip around is a major nuisance, especially when driving or walking.

Some animations are too slow. Especially going into and out of folders and the app icons cascading onto the home screen when the phone is unlocked (EVERY TIME!!). There is also a noticeable 1-2 second delay when hitting the Home button, before the phone actually goes home. This happens every single time. These animation durations need to be cut in half, and any delays between the button presses and the actions need to be completely removed. Even though the phone feels fast and smooth most of the time, these (intentionally) slow animations and delays make the phone feel much slower than it is, and definitely add up over time. Apple, please fix this!

The Ugly

Apps crash pretty frequently. No, not all the time. Not even once an hour, but on iOS 6 I guess I was spoiled by the stability. Even 1-2 crashes a day is unacceptable to me in a bulletproof product, as I’ve come to expect from Apple.

Mail has repeatedly crashed when trying to save attachments, but other times it works fine.

Siri is really bad. Sure, the new voices sound great. And that’s about it. On iOS 6 I could use it and it would function about 8/10 times. On iOS 7, Siri is abysmal. I’d say about 2/10 requests work. I either get an “I’m sorry, I can’t do that right now, try again later” error, or it just randomly puts up sports scores and/or lineups?? What the heck is that all about? It’s gotten so bad that I don’t even use Siri much anymore, which was a beloved and fairly reliable feature of iOS 6.

In the Music app, trying to find an album is much much harder now. Used to be you tapped Albums, selected the artist, and just saw a scrolling list of albums. Now, the album view also shows all of the tracks. So when you have 10+ albums by a single artist, you have to scroll and scroll and scroll just to find the album you want. Plus, the albums seem to be sorted by date released, or some other random metric. Not alphabetically. Even worse!

The text selection lasso has become less usable. It is very squirrelly, and positioning the cursor has become much more difficult than it was in iOS 6 (and it already wasn’t a joy to use in iOS 6).

The Calendar is ugly, and harder to use. Yes, scrolling from month to month is very nice. But I miss a dedicated list view. You can tap the magnifying glass to search and see events for the day. However, they are laid out on a vertical grid for time of day. This means as you’re switching between days, you have to scroll up and down A LOT just to see the events you have for that day. This scrolling is needless and annoying. The stark white background and red text is jarring. This whole app needs an overhaul. Visually, it needs to be less grating, and functionally, we need a better dedicated list view for the day’s events. I really hope this gets polished, and SOON.

Battery life has noticeably decreased since updating to iOS 7. This could have something to do with my 4S battery being 2 years old, but still I had noticeably better battery life with iOS 6.

Overall

I know iOS 7 is still essentially a 1.0 (1.0.2 to be exact) release, and these bugs will be ironed out. That is of little comfort for the frustrations I am experience right now. Overall, I am well pleased with the direction of iOS 7, and very excited for the future of iOS. There are some annoyances, and design decisions that don’t make perfect sense, but I am confident that over the next several months, these areas will become more polished.

iOS 7 Thoughts

I’ve been using iOS 7 for a little while now. Here are some random observations.

Good Stuff:

  • I love how the timer now appears on the lock screen. I hated having to unlock my phone and switch to the timer app to check a timer, especially when I’m cooking.
  • If you snooze your alarm, the countdown to when the alarm goes off again is also now shown on the lock screen. Pretty nice.
  • You can finally Mark All messages in Mail with one tap. Useful when you have 345954839 unread messages that you’d like to mark as Read.
  • The new smart mailboxes in Mail are great too. You can have an Unread mailbox, or a mailbox that shows all messages with attachments.
  • The typography continues to impress me every time I unlock my phone. Beautiful text is everywhere, and really shines on the retina displays.
  • The Weather app is strikingly beautiful. The animations are tasteful and accurate, and seeing weather for all of your saved locations at once is a wonderful touch.
  • You can see timestamps for every message in the Messages app (finally!). Swipe left on the screen and hold to see all timestamps. I think this is a great touch, as I really don’t need those timestamps cluttering up the interface all the time, but those few times I do need to know, the information is easily accessible.

Bad Stuff:

  • I really really dislike how Safari does not show the full URL or the page title of the website you’re visiting. What if you miss-tap a link? With iOS 6 you knew right away and could click back. With iOS 7, there’s no indication. It gets worse if you’re unsure of what exactly is loading – is it a large PDF file? A PHP script? I find it absurd that they took BOTH the full URL and the page title out of Safari. This really needs to be an option!!
  • When I’m AirPlaying stuff from my iPhone to Apple TV, going to the Photos app to look at pictures hijacks the Apple TV. When I tap a photo to view it, my video stops, and the still picture comes up on my Apple TV. No, I am not using AirPlay mirroring. This is a very strange bug (or maybe it’s a feature, but I don’t like it).
  • The Calendar app is a little weird. I don’t like how you can’t tap a day in the month view and see all appointments. You have to scroll down a vertical timeline to see everything, even if you only have two events (one in the morning, one at night for example).
  • Tapping the unified URL/search bar in Safari no longer places the cursor at the end of the field. I used this all the time to add words to my Google searches in iOS 6.
  • Making the above matter even worse, the text selection lasso is very wonky now. Selecting text has become much harder since iOS 6. This needs to be fixed ASAP.
  • Some animations are too slow, and starting to wear on me. App and folder transitions, locking and unlocking the phone, and the icons cascading onto the home screen are my main gripes. Cut these animation lengths in half, please!!
  • I don’t like how the volume/silence HUD is completely opaque and obscures the screen. It was much better when this was transparent. Why did they make this change?

I will continue to add observations as more come to mind. Overall, I’m extremely pleased with iOS 7. Remember when Aqua was first revealed in OS X 10.0? This is much like that. Striking, hugely contrasted differences over iOS 6, sometimes a bit over the top (remember the pinstripes?) iOS 7 is essentially a 1.0 update. I’m incredibly excited to see how it evolves over the next few years. I think it has a whole lot of potential.

Mac OS X 10.8.5 is breaking my Mediasonic ProBox! (With Solution)

There is a bug in 10.8.5 that causes drives to spin-down or eject completely when the display goes to sleep. Even worse, the drives routinely will not properly wake up, requiring a full system reboot or at the very least, ejecting all external disks and remounting them.

To be clear, I have my Mac set to never sleep, and have the “Spin Down Drives” option disabled. For a couple of weeks, I was coming into my office, waking up my Mac’s display, and finding that Time Machine failed, and all four of my drives were reporting -50 errors when trying to write anything to the drive.

At first I thought my enclosure was going bad, or one of my drives. After some research, I found that many people are experiencing this issue with 10.8.5, and my issue did seem to start right after updating as well.

The temporary solution is set display sleep to Never. I just kick the brightness down when I walk away. Was having these hard drive issues constantly, but now haven’t had any problems in over 24 hours.

Apple is working on a supplemental 10.8.5 update to fix this issue and others with HDMI, Bluetooth and some other stuff. I’m looking forward to the update, but am just glad to have a solution in the meantime.

iTunes Radio is on Fire!

Having used iTunes Match for over a year, and iTunes’ Genius feature for many years, I suspected that Apple already knew a great deal about what music I enjoy listening to. I was absolutely correct. After only a couple days of training (mostly plugging in bands I really don’t like into the Never Play section of my stations), I am able to listen to the radio for almost an entire 8 hour work day without skipping a single song! Did I mention how GREAT the sound quality is? It really is much higher quality than Pandora, and never lags or buffers (even on 3G cellular data).

Tuning the station for more variety, I’ve already found and purchased great new music that I otherwise would have never been introduced to (seeing as I despise FM radio).

I like many different styles of music, and many times a band or album will be extremely hit or miss for me. I’ll like 1-4 songs, but really can’t get into the other ones. iTunes Radio knows to play just the songs I like, or songs similar in style.

Not having to figure out which playlist/artist to play, but rather just pull up iTunes Radio, select a station and click Play, removes a lot of the indecisive delays I would struggle through when figuring what music to play out of my 20,000+ song library. I’m well pleased with iTunes Radio, and can’t wait until it learns even more about what I like, and introduces me to more great music.

iTunes Match is Down Again

iTunes Match sure seems to be having lots of issues. I can forgive the random lags, I can even forgive butchering my favorite songs with the edited/censored versions (only because it doesn’t happen much of the time). But this is now the third time in a month where I’ve really needed (okay wanted) access to my music and it just isn’t there. iTunes Store Error 5002, iTunes Store Error 4010, the Music app crashing on my iPad and iPhone, or just trying to play a song perpetually, but never actually playing anything. Called their support line, apparently having lots of calls about iTunes Match today (again). No expected time for service to resume, so just “try again in a couple of hours and call us back if it still isn’t working”. Sigh.

Come on, Apple. Get your act together. This is 2012. People expect their web services to just work. Apple is supposed to just work! I just want to listen to some music, man!