OS X Multi Messaging Client

It seems like the more teams I work with, the more friends and family I have, the more messaging clients I need to work with. Over the years I have been on many services including iMessage, ICQ, AOL Messenger, Google Chat, WhatsApp, Telegram, IRC, Slack, and many more. There are in fact so many messaging applications, that I am not going to bother to list them all.

Sure, you can load all of the local apps, but anybody who has tried doing this knows that you end up with a mess in your taskbar, and worse, trying to mute messages can be a real chore when you are in a meeting because you may have 10+ services that need to be silenced.

About two years ago I checked out Franz based on a some co-worker’s suggestions, and beyond having to wait for a “please pay” time out, it worked well. It can be used for free, but I ended up bouncing off of it for a few reasons. First, I have no problem paying a one time fee for something, but I have a gut reaction to monthly fees, I just don’t want to pay them. Sure I get that it may cost less than a cup of coffee, I have heard that argument many times (and probably made it myself in the past). For me though, I just don’t like coffee, and I don’t care to pay for any more monthly fees than I have to. So if you want my money, please make it a one time payment. Second, the platform became somewhat unstable and stopped supporting some of the services that worked previously. I have read that Franz is somewhat unsupported, which may or may not be true, but for what is effectively a browser wrapped into a client, it really needs to work better than just using the browser in the first place.

Once Franz stopped meeting my needs, I did consider looking back into Trillian (I don’t believe this is supported on OS X, but may look into it again), just using the browser, and both Rambox and Station popped up on my radar.

Rambox looks to work very similar to Franz, so I gave it a look, but unfortunately it also has a monthly subscription for it’s Pro use. I have read that if you do not go pro it only supports three client tabs… which if I only needed three clients I wouldn’t be looking for a management system in the first place. Again, I don’t know if this is true, but definitely something to look into if this looks to be something you are interested in.

Station has been what I have settled on for the last few months. It worked well enough out of the box that I deleted Franz almost immediately. The client setup and overall interface is pretty clean, and you can configure quite a lot. It also allows you to load multiple accounts of the same service on different pages, which is very important if, like me, you have both personal and work accounts of the same products. Most important to me, it has been quite stable for me, and I have not (yet) had any issues with services no longer being supported.

All that said, Station hasn’t been all roses for me. I’m not exactly excited about how much memory it uses, and on my older MacBook Pro, every MB of memory does count sometimes, especially during self isolation and quarantine where I am forced to have all these clients open, video conferencing software running, and all the other software necessary to keep working. A small nit pick, but the application doesn’t load the client page until you open many of them. Which results in me frequently loading up the slack page, only to find out it was not running for a few days and I have a backlog of messages to respond to. Whether you find this a feature or a problem is up to you.

Walking the Dogs

I’ve still been taking the dogs out on walks with me, and trying to get both of them at least a mile a day. The oldest pooch Amy continues to be super stubborn. The first eighth of a mile she just stops. Today I took a picture.

No more walks dad!

I have tried a couple of tactics to change this behavior, and so far have not had any success.

Treats

Amy absolutely loves snacks, to the point that we’ve had to keep an eye on her diet enough to ensure she doesn’t turn into a foot rest. We’ve kept her around twenty pounds for several years now, but she was about twenty five pounds a while bag. She just loves food, and knows how to beg for it.

However, food has not been a great motivator to teach her new skills or motivate her to take specific actions. She is getting older, and it is easy to think she is just getting stubborn in her ways. That said, the biggest problem with bringing treats on a walk is that it becomes a giant distraction for her, with her trying to jump up to my hand or paw at the pocket that has the food she wants so badly.

I’ve been concerned that with the treats, she is so focussed on the food that she really isn’t paying attention to where we are going, which would be okay, but she also doesn’t pay attention to where she is going. This has been to the point of me worrying about her getting caught up in her leash and her sister’s leash, tripping over things, and possibly leading to a serious injury.

Waiting

Another tactic I have tried is when I feel the leash go taught to just wait for her to come to me. She never does this, and if I give her some slack she will immediately turn herself around and start pulling to go back home. I do not have all day to wait for her on the end of a taught leash to move forward, and Amy is super patient.

So yeah, I don’t have time to wait, and as a side effect to waiting, or other dog Zoe gets super agitated waiting as she wants to continue the walk, leading to her running around and nipping her older sister. While this might not be an immediate problem, I also haven’t wanted this to cause problems between the two dogs.

Plow Ahead

I have tried the tactic of walking fast enough that Amy doesn’t really get the chance to dig in her heals to stop, and it does cause her to become a bit of a drag, which I suppose could be good from an exercise standpoint for me, I have been concerned about stretching or pulling her neck when using a leash attached to her collar.

Certainly I do not want to cause any long term damage to her, and while this has caused her to keep up better, it also makes it harder for me to keep tabs on her when she has to stop to go to the bathroom. Overall I’d say it’s not a great strategy, and I would not suggest it, at least while leased to the collar. We do have body harnesses, and as I type this up I am reminding myself to give this a bit more of a try while she is leashed with the body harness.

Alternate Route

By far this has been the best strategy, just to take her on walks that take her through areas that she is unfamiliar with. Amy is a very stubborn dog, and she does not like things to change too much. The good news is that once I get her onto a new path, she is happy to just follow along and really only stops to go to the bathroom. The bad news is that she knows the area around our neighborhood pretty well, and we have to keep doing wider and wider circuits so that she does not know exactly where she is until we are ready to get her on her way back.

Since I have been working to spend more time exercising and getting outdoors though, this has lined up pretty well with my own personal goals. I can tell you, I am definitely getting to know my neighborhood more intimately by walking side streets and areas I hadn’t bothered to explore before.

Summary

For me, taking alternate routes to walk around the neighborhood has been the best for myself and for my dogs. You might wonder why I am going through all this trouble, and the answer is to get us all healthier. My goal has been to get both of the dogs at least a mile of walking in a day, and it has really helped them a lot by giving them more energy and raising their attentiveness levels. They both do love being outside, it is just getting Amy moving in the right direction that has been a little challenging.

Audio Book Vocal Processing

My sister has released the book SOMNIUM Beyond the Darkness on Amazon as a kindle book and as a paperback book, which is an excellent read for young adults and adults alike. She’s been looking to expand out into the audio book space, which makes sense to me!

She had been looking into some voice actors who could read the book. When I heard the audio quality of the demo, it was rather poor. We were hoping that it was just a quick demo, but it suffered from a lot of background noise. My sister passed on links to the voice actor, and the demo’s she had on her website were great. After I gave my sister a few questions to ask and suggestions for contract negotiations, unfortunately it fell through. We suspect that the voice actor recorded her website demo at a professional studio, and likely recorded the demo she produced for my sister at home. Total bummer, but it’s better to both live and learn, and get through these miss steps early is what I always say.

This lead somewhat naturally into a conversation with my sister about how she could do this recording work herself. I warned her that the deeper you dig, the more picky you get, and that it can turn into a budgetary sinkhole, but so far she’s been digging into figuring out how to get this going herself.

She pretty quickly knocked out the reading of her first chapter, and did it on her Apple Headphones, and honestly, I was shocked at how decent the audio quality sounded, especially since she has had little to no experience in voice recording, and honestly I always thought the Apple headphones were okay at best. I ended up helping her out with some additional de-essing, eq’ing, compression, and reverb for some post treatment, and at first she seemed pretty happy. (Un)Fortunately she listened to her audio tracks, and compared them to what she heard other amateur audio book recordings sounded like. She pretty much immediately picked out a lot of qualities she didn’t like in these other amateur recordings, and then quickly realized she had a lot of the same problems in her recording.

This put her back to the drawing board, and I ended up discussing with her about microphones, recording technology, audio processing technology, as well as vocal speaking and positioning techniques. Do not misconstrue and of this that I know what I am talking about, I just know enough to be dangerous, and at least get her into the top rung of the amateur level, but I doubt I’d be able to compete very well even at the bottom of the professional level.

From here, she decided to pick up a Blue microphone. I am pretty sure she picked up the Blue Yeti, though I’ll have to ask her to be sure. Likely because this was the easiest way for her to hook it up to the computer without having to go through the hassle of using a pre-amp, converting the line audio to a digital format that the computer can understand. I am absolutely guessing here though. Once she got a few tracks recorded, she reached out to talk to me about whether her breaths were too heavy. They were very noticeable! Not super loud, but as anybody who’s done vocal recording knows, the closer you are to the microphone to get a good audio level and presence, the louder all your mouth sounds such as plosives are. She was using Audacity to process her vocals, and I think she spent some time removing the breathing and mouth sounds by hand. If you’ve ever done this before, you know how much work that is!

So oops… but we ended up talking about de breather plugins, and she was definitely interested in the Waves Debreath. I looked into the description with her, and it sounded like what it said “on the tin” as it were is what she was looking for. Fortunately this plugin worked for her in Audacity to do the vocal processing without having to deal with any further hassle.

She doesn’t have a lot of the software or hardware I have, so she’s been asking me to put together some audio processing chains together. I have some hardware compressors I was thinking of using, but honestly I just used the chain I put together in Ableton Live, and reprocessed it. My sister was asking how it was going for me, and I told her the most time consuming part for me was just visually adjusting the audio levels for the clip, to which she decided to record her microphone at a higher level. This made the compressor work better without having to normalize the clip, and seems to have had no negative side effect on the noise floor post processing.

One thing we played around with was the reverb, and I had been using about 9% wet, but this was too much for her taste. I dropped it down to 6%, and she felt it was still too much. We’ve settled on about 3% wet reverb, which is just enough to add some presence to the audio, but you hardly hear the difference.

I’ll keep some updates going in the future for how things progress, but for now my sister is happy with the process, the amount of work, and the overall quality of the output.

If you’re interested in the signal chain, feel free to ask. I may take some time in the future to write it up a bit more and possibly provide the project file that I have put together.

Exercise Update

According to the health app, I now have a 38 day streak of exercise! Two weeks ago I was complaining about just feeling sore everywhere, and now I feel sore in just a few muscles when I push myself for walks. And walk I have, I am still managing 2-3 miles on average a day, and I feel great. Getting through the spring allergy season is always brutal for me, but I made it through the worst of my allergies. Go me!

So I’m getting my walking time down, I’d say that I am hitting about a 16 minute mile (in sandals even), which is not great… but I was around an 18 to 20 minute mile when I started. I could absolutely hit a 16 minute mile before, but I was just being kind of slow. Now I am sure that I can get my walking time down a bit more without too much effort and will see what I can do.

Weight wise, I’m a little sad that with adding the exercise I haven’t dropped any weight really, though this wasn’t really a primary goal when I started to get myself exercising more. I have been far more focussed on just establishing the habits for getting outside more often and doing any kind of physical activity, and for that I have certainly been successful.

A bonus of all this walking is that I feel like I am able to breath a lot more comfortably, and I guess I have been keeping myself inside intentionally without realizing it. I have very fair skin and I sunburn super easy, but I have been making sure to keep a hat on and don’t go outside for too long. Plus, drinking water has been critical to ensuring that I stay hydrated. I have even been getting in some great time talking with my wife more freely, because we cannot always be so open in our conversations with our nearly teenage daughter around.

For those of you getting back out and exercising through all this social distancing I salute you, and keep up the good work!

Track – STBB Forever BB 693

Well I rushed my MPC Forums beat battle submission, and ended up deciding to post a track to STBB Forever this time. Not sure that I’ll dive deep into the STBB community and beat battles or not, but it’s fun to find some other communities and see what may or may not stick with you.

For the STBB #693 track, there was a *lot* of content to parse through, and there was a lot that would absolutely trip up on a submission to YouTube or Soundcloud. So, who knows how long my submission will last, but it is posted for now. The rules were pretty simple, use something from every track, no snares on 2 or 4, and something about being able to used instruments, but no sampled melodic content. I decided to just use all of the content just from the tracks, that’s been most of my style lately, and it makes it more of a fun challenge to see what you can squeeze out.

Well, I listened to almost all of the content, and just scrubbed through it while I sat outside and enjoyed the breeze. I found a handful of sounds that inspired me, so I cut exported them into some samples for future processing. I think I grabbed fourteen samples total, really all just one shots, and the sound I used as a crash got EQ’d into both an open and closed high hat. Honestly, nothing really tricky going on.

Some of the other samples I grabbed however, were just too noisy, and needed some taming through low pass and high pass filters, and some judicious use of effects. One sound in particular I gave some delay, reverb, and gating treatment to make it more synth pop’ish. I spent a little time trying to mix the levels of clips, but honestly not enough to really balance and polish things up. I was really trying to hit a two hour time max, so it didn’t really leave much time from the start to get to arrangements.

If I am being honest with myself, this has been a big downfall for my BB submissions, and maybe I should just commit to spending more time, but I still hold out hope I can streamline my process to get faster.

Anyway, once I had a bunch of different samples looping over some four bar tracks, I figured it was time to start making different sequences on the MPC, which I did, to epic failure, which consumed a lot of time. Instead of doing Track Mutes, I accidentally did a whole bunch of sequences with Pad Mutes… which follow sequences. I know this, I know this, I know this… but it just completely passed my mind.

So… I had to redo all the work, by breaking up my single track into multiple tracks. Yeah… it soaked up precious time I could have used in other places, but now lost probably 15 minutes breaking the one track into several tracks. Before you suggest I use the explode function, which I absolutely could have, I did it by hand, this was my punishment for making this mistake. I do need to break myself of the habit I have fallen back into for not just recording everything on separate tracks. Plus to be fair, a good amount of time was spent just renaming things so I could find may way around faster afterwards.

From here, I was able to flip to different sequence sections, and name them appropriately so that I could put something together in song mode. What you hear below is what I was able to put together in roughly fifteen to twenty minutes of arrangement time. There are a few sections I’d like to tweak, but honestly it’s the mixing that would have offered more improvement, followed by at least one pass to give it some mastering spin.

Track – Sounds of the Old Reliquary

Boy, I thought I had posted this track a while ago… heck I made it nearly a year ago, but here it is.

I put this track together in about an hour, and it was recorded on the Teenage Engineering OP-1 in conjunction with a Bastl Instruments Micro Granny. I spent a lot of time working out sounds to get it fairly noisy, and making it sound like it had some dark, odd vocal sounding components. The Micro Granny provided a lot of the ground work for those sounds, and I then spent some time to find string instruments on the OP-1 and played them at various tape speeds to get a more stretched out sound.

The Micro Granny is absolutely the star here though, and did most of the heavy lifting to get the interesting sounds that came out particularly distorted. It was not too hard to load up different sounds into the Granny and then play with the pitch and grain size to get interesting pulsating and dark sounds. It’s definitely a fun little device to have, and has made me on several occasions consider getting the Grandpa Eurorack module to add to my collection. Maybe some day. For now, I’ll stick with the Granny!

Akai MPC Live mk2 / One CV outs

If you’re like me, and looking to integrate CV output from your MPC so that you can track out gate and CV to devices that will take CV input, you’ll find a difference from the MPC X to the MPC Live mk2 / One. On the MPC X, it has eight discrete CV output jacks, so you can connect a TS 1/8″ cable to the jack to each of the CV ports for each channel.

Unfortunately on the MPC Live mk2 and the MPC One, instead of having eight CV jacks, you only have four jacks, but these jacks are TRS style, so if you’ve got the right cables to split the output to two channels, you can get access to all eight.

There are several types of cables you can use to do this, but I picked up the Hosa Technology YMM-261 from Amazon.

Hosa Technology YMM-261

With four of these cables you will be able to split the four CV jacks on your MPC Live mk2 or MPC One. Of note, the cable labelled TIP will be your CVs 1/2/3/4 and the cable labelled RING will be your CVs 5/6/7/8. Just keep this in mind as you are routing your CV cables into your gear and you’ll be all set. To keep my own sanity, I got a set of different colored 3′ cables, so that I could try and remember which CV output from the MPC mk2 corresponds with which color.

Colored CV outputs

For my tastes I did the following:

  • CV1 – Red
  • CV2 – Orange
  • CV3 – Yellow
  • CV4 – Green
  • CV5 – Blue
  • CV6 – Purple
  • CV7 – Brown
  • CV8 – Grey

Obviously your milage may vary here, but this has really helped me get the right CV output to the appropriate module. Good luck, and happy patching!

Album: Embrace Your Roots

This here is the fourth album I put together, and it is steeped in Ableton Live… Live 2.0 and beyond I believe. I’d have to go back and look… if I could even find the old project files… woof. Most of this is just taking loop libraries, sometimes chopping them, but probably mostly just placing the loops on the timeline and mixing the volume levels. I had been reading a lot about Ableton at the time and it was getting a lot of hype. Note: I still miss the old warping method… *sigh*

Heck I probably wasn’t even sure how to use envelopes and filters properly. For me this was just getting my feet wet still, hanging out at the local music store, and sharing tracks we all put on our mix CDs. Sure it was dorky, but it was also a whole lot of fun!

There are a handful of tracks on here that have some Triton Studio sounds… because I rapidly got bit by the music bug and wanted to get into instruments. Mostly the sounds are stock patches played with the Triton’s arpeggiator which is still a pretty fun tool to mess around with.

Track – MPC Forums BB 281

This post is curtesy of the MPC Forums Beat Battle 281!

So I was going to do a DnB track, but unfortunately pk1 posted one of his own tracks on accident. Sadly, no DnB track dropping for now. Here’s the snippet of what I was messing around with in case you are interested. You can see, Amy is super thrilled for being in the picture!

Fortunately, I wasn’t more than an hour into sampling and chopping, and had just started to sample a few instrument sounds. Check out the Rezo Bass for the MPC X/Live/One, if you’re looking for a bass sound that didn’t even make it into the DnB track. I had literally just sampled it and saw the “oops” post. Anyways… somewhat of a lost opportunity as I had wanted to do a DnB track for a change, but also figured I had invested enough time and energy and wanted to go a different direction with the next track.

And what a doozy the actual track to remix is. It is pretty much layers of sound, and there isn’t much to pick out for good one shots. Maybe a couple things at the start of the song, but yikes! For anybody interested, I decided to load up Ableton Live, and dust off Spleeter to split the tracks into Drums, Bass, Vocals, and Other. Yeah… kind of lame in some ways, but I didn’t want to spend the day eq’ing, filter, or doing messy chops. As I have noted before, this does leave some spectral process sounding artifacts, but when you start bringing it back together into a mix you don’t hear it quite so much.

From here, I got into chopping, picking out some drums, bass, and vocal sounds. Most of the chops are one shots, and I just applied liberal effects and fairly extreme pitch shifting to make the track. I wanted to settle on just a handful of sounds instead of trying to build out an entire massive kit for the track.

Today is kind of like a two for one I guess. Almost two tracks, one of which is more finished. Thanks everybody, peace!

Beat Battle Workflow

There are at least as many workflows as there are people doing it. There are certainly wrong ways to approach it, but don’t let anybody fool you by saying they know “the one way”.

For a beat battle, the two most important things are to familiarize yourself with the rules, and familiarize yourself with the samples. These two things will likely be the most important for setting your direction and where you want to experiment or challenge yourself, and knowing where you can safely stick to basics.

The following will likely make more sense for MPC X/Live/One users due to terminology… though much of it applies to other MPCs, DAWs, and what have you.

Chopping Samples
One of the most important things to do is to listen to the sample, and determine what you like, and what you think you can pull out. Listening for isolated drum hits, vocals, instruments, and all that… this will give you what will be the easiest building blocks to work with. Sure, you can EQ and filter out sounds, but it can also make some of the sounds muddy. For me this is usually one of the first steps, and I’ll just go to sample mode and keep moving the start marker and playing the sample to see where I can hear and extract clean or relatively clean hits.

Chopping Loops
While listening for samples, I often have a notebook and will jot down start markers for interest loops from the audio. Sometimes you’re lucky and can get a breakbeat or instrument solo, and sometimes there are quite workable mixed loops. I’ll go through these and tend to set start/end markers with looping on and listen for 1/2/4/8 bar loops. It’s great when they loop perfectly, but sometimes you just don’t get so lucky. Once I’ve extracted the loops, one way I will use them is to set the chop mode to regions and try and depending on the sound have enough regions for 1/8 note, 1/4 note, or whatever happens to work.

Drum Pattern
Usually I’ll try and use drum hits I have extracted to create a rudimentary drum pattern. It really doesn’t have to be fancy, but just something you feel you can jam to. Sometimes I’ll use the above chopped loops for reference to use the same tempo, but usually I don’t worry about it too much. The tempo is often dictated by my energy level when I kick off the project.

Loop Tempo Alignment
Remember how I said I don’t care about the tempo? Well, it can make it so loops sound janky because if you play them out they will either stutter, or they will be cut off too short. This *can* sound cool, but if you want to reasonably line them up to roughly play at the same speed, you’ll need to tweak something. That something for me is regularly the pitch that the loop chops play at. For me, what I do is load up the pattern into a new track and just knock out a01, a02 … a16 for example, at the appropriate tempo of the drums, regardless if it is too fast or too slow. Then I play the loop to the looped region and go to Program Master, and change the master pitch for the Loop program so that you don’t hear any silence or harsh overlaps. Again, this is trial and error, and sometimes it will sound great being janky… so just play around. If you want to keep the rest of the loops in key, you’ll want to do similar semitone changes to your other chopped loops, and possibly to your single hits as well. It all depends on the sound you are aiming for.

I could keep going, but let me know if this is a good start for you?