7 iPhone Apps that can make you a better musician

Are you a musician that owns an iPhone? Take a look down Connor McKnights list of suggest apps that can help you lift you game.

Evolver.fm – iPhone Musician Apps by Connor McKnight

Music teaching apps consistently rank high in the app stores. Tuners, metronomes, digital songbooks, reference guides and more benefit everybody with a smartphone or tablet, from the dorm room dabbler to the gigging professional.

Electronic musicians have been riding the digital wave for some time, but even the open-minded coffee shop crooner can benefit from technology designed to sharpen skills and bring new life to practice routines.

Metronome Plus: The Finest Metronome in the iTunes App Store ($2)

Designed by musicians with ease and simplicity in mind, Metronome Plus is the cleanest, smoothest-operating metronome app we’ve seen for iOS. Simple to use and brilliantly packaged, with no extraneous features or small buttons to fumble over, this app is dead accurate when it counts with user-customizable accents, meters, subdivisions and sounds.

Peterson Strobe Tuners’ iStrobosoft Puts You in Tune for Sure ($10)

Offering an unparalleled degree of precision in a software tuner, the Peterson iStrobosoft is a mobile equivalent to the long line of respected Peterson hardware tuners. This top-choice tuner can be calibrated to within one-tenth of a cent (one-thousandth of a semitone), and comes with built-in input boost and noise cancellation technology to ensure that you’re always tuning to the note that you want to be.

Roni Music’s ‘Amazing Slow Downer‘ Facilitates Song Learning ($15)

Amazing Slow Downer offers users the ability to slow tracks to up to one-fourth of their original tempo without altering pitch or clarity, making it the perfect practice tool for transcribing and playing along with your favorite songs. Features including an adjustable looping function (with Save option), easy transposition and pan controls make this app worth the price.

Free iPhone Guitar Teacher Walksoft ChordBank Helps Write Songs for $4

ChordBank is a comprehensive chord index featuring over 2100 chords in over 20 common qualities. The app’s strengths are its clean interface, fret-position selector and playback options (did we mention it’s free?).

Reverse-Engineer Music With Reverse Chord Finder Pro ($10)

The yin to the Chordbank yang, Reverse Chord Finder Pro bridges the gap between fretboard and lead sheet. This inverse chord index offers the option to input notes on the staff, keyboard or fretboard, allowing users to program chords for up to 12 strings at a time to accommodate a wide variety of fretted instruments. Reverse chord pro also gives three possible chord names for a given fingering and plays back the selection in either block chord or arpeggiated form.

Technimo iReal b Lets You Fake It Until You Make It ($8)

Rebranded for copyright reasons, this is the app formerly known as iReal Book. A ‘fake book’ app that offers an easy way to create, export, print and share chord sheets to popular songs, as well as play them back with a mock three-piece accompaniment in a number of available styles. The app comes with 50 chop-building exercises with additional chord sheets easily downloadable. iReal b also offers in-app purchase of additional comping styles to bolster the included three. The app is compatible with iRig and other quarter-inch connectors for easy jam-along with other benefits including in-song transposition to any key, global transposition to concert keys Eb, Bb, F, G and number system notation, tempo control and looping functions to aid in practice.

Circle of Fifths: Crucial Music Theory Basics for iPhone ($5)

What list of music-education tools would be complete without the circle of fifths? Circle Theory packages this essential musician’s reference tool into an interactive chart that can help musicians of all levels to better understand the fundamentals of Western music theory.

HTC Desire

Due to a combination of circumstances (Priscilla’s phone turning off 50% of the time when someone calls her) and myself wanting to only carry one phone, we’ve both gotten new mobiles. Work was willing to reimburse me for mine (rather than pay for a company phone) but preferred I go with Telstra for their better coverage so we could afford to pay a little more for Priscilla’s than we would otherwise have been able to convince ourselves to.

HTC Desire

As a result, we’ve both now got new HTC Desires running Android 2.1 on Telstra. An excellent phone and certainly rarer than the seemlingly ubiquitous iPhone. Priscilla is loving being connected to her email, messenger & facebook wherever she is, which is a big help given her reduced mobility at present. She’s also taking up the challenge of combining her phone and email contacts and getting them up to date, complete with photos.

As for me, exchange support means email, calendar and contacts all come from work simply (the secret to making it work – add your webmail address rather than your actual server address) and the gmail sync is excellent for all my personal stuff.

We are very happy, now just looking forwards to Android 2.2 coming available on the Telstra Desires, and hopefully keeping up to date over the next 2 years as Google update and improve Android.

NASA Image of the Day

NASA publish an Image of the Day which is normally an awesome picture of space, from space, or relating to space in some way. Here is today’s (I thought it was really cool):

Mirror Images

Space shuttle Atlantis (foreground) sits on Launch Pad A and Endeavour on Launch Pad B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. At the left of each shuttle are the open rotating service structures with the payload changeout rooms revealed. The rotating service structures provide protection for weather and access to the shuttle.

For the first time since July 2001, two shuttles are on the launch pads at the same time. Endeavour will stand by at pad B in the unlikely event that a rescue mission is necessary during Atlantis’ upcoming STS-125 mission to repair NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. The missions is slated to launch Oct. 10.

After Endeavour is cleared from its duty as a rescue spacecraft, it will be moved to Launch Pad 39A for its STS-126 mission to the International Space Station. That flight is targeted for launch Nov. 12.

Image Credit: NASA/Troy Cryder

Large Hadron Collider

The new LHC is about to commence operations. Some scientists believe the LHC is possibly going to create a black hole which will destroy all life on earth as we know it. They believe this might happen as the LHC is designed to smash protons together at the speed of light (or very close to) creating matter and antimatter in close proximity – hence the black hole.

It’s a bit hard to explain, so the nerds over at CERN have created a rap video to make it easier to wrap your head around.

For more info:
[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CERN](Wikipedia: CERN)
[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Large_Hadron_Collider](Wikipedia: LHC)
[http://public.web.cern.ch/Public/Welcome.html](Official CERN Website)
[http://www.lhc.ac.uk/](Official LHC Website)

MythTV on Ubuntu

A few months ago I rebuilt my development box to be a PVR using Ubuntu Linux and MythTV. I originally planned to use Mythbuntu but had a lot of issues installing it, let alone getting it to work the way I wanted it to.

Firstly I did a standard Ubuntu 7.04 desktop install – Gnome desktop, LAN connectivity – and hooked it up to my Dad’s Panasonic widescreen projector via VGA cable. This was a little problematic as both Ubuntu and the Projector were trying to adapt to each others settings rather that just going for WXGA like they ought to have. Eventually I got a nice 1366×768 picture going and set about installing MythTV.

MythTV screenshot

MythTV is a PVR software project that is roughly comparable to Windows Media Centre. There is even a theme that will ape WMC if you like, but at it’s heart it is a TV recording and playback system, but you can make it do almost anything using the various plugins. In my case I was using an old Twinhan Digital TV tuner card, outputting to the projector and the stereo amplifier in the lounge room.

Installing MythTV isn’t painful at all using Ubuntu’s software repository: $sudo apt-get install mythtv

Configuring it on the other hand was very complex. If you are very lucky your system will detect your video card — my tip is to get it working beforehand – if /dev/dvb0 exists configuring MythTV is much simpler.

Once you have MythTV talking to your TV card you can scan for channels and watch and record TV, if you like. MythTV is setup as a frontend/backend arrangement (or client/server, if you prefer). The MythTV backend needs to be constantly running so it gets schedule updates and can start and stop recording when unattended. The frontend does not have to be on the same computer and is the part where you get to interact with the program and videos.

One cool thing I got working after a bit of effort was the Electronic Program Guide (EPG). Until this was working the box was really a learning experience rather than something useful. Using the community provided guide over at Oztivo and some clever scripting to get the EPG periodically, suddenly MythTV was alive and autonomous. Tell it you want to record Formula 1, or the Rugby World Cup, or The Unit or Heroes or Doctor Who and it schedules it as soon as the program appears in the guide data. You can pay for the IceTV guide if you like, but I found the XMLTV format provided at OzTivo to be both accurate and accessible.

Playing back recorded videos has a few cool features. Using simple keyboard commands or your remote control (once setup) you can easily skip advertisements or jump forwards or backwards through the video. Even better, you can get MythTV to scan the program for Commercial breaks (blank screen, lack of station logo etc) and it will automatically mark or even skip these breaks for you. This was great and makes TV much more watchable.

The recorded programs are stored in MPEG2 format and are simple to edit and store for future reference or archive (to DVD or as XVID).

All in all this was the most powerful PVR I have come across, but was a definite challenge to get going. If you want a HTPC, I’d recommend almost everyone to use Windows Media Centre as it is much simpler to setup. If you want a PVR, buy one from a shop – they are getting quite affordable, are much quieter than a PC and are simple to use. At Strathfield Car Radios they even have a SD Set Top Box for $79 that you can put your own Hard Disk Drive into for an incredible bargain PVR.

The advantages of MythTV over those kind of setups are mainly in the EPG, the Commercial skip/delete facility and the built in Networking. Plus the fact it is completely free – both free as in beer and free as in speech.

MythTV screenshot 2

Wiring up a 5.1 surround sound system

Yamaha RX-V361B AV Receiver

Recently my sister purchased a Yamaha RX-V361B 5.1 home theatre receiver. My Dad first had a go at setting it up, but failed as there was a hardware fault with the receiver. After it was repaired/replaced, my brother, brother-in-law and myself had a go at setting it up (ruined the family Christmas celebrations, unfortunately.

My sister has a bit of a complex setup, a DVD player, Digital TV STB and Foxtel receiver all currently going into their 42″ plasma TV. They put a couple of restrictions on us setting it up too – all devices must still be watchable with the surround sound amplifier turned off and it must be simple to use (not too complex a procedure on the remote controls).

We couldn’t do it.

We tried, but it just wasn’t possible to have high quality picture coming through the AV receiver as well as directly to the TV, so you ended up having to chose between best quality or simplest.

The problem was mainly due to the Foxtel box. Foxtel signals are not very high quality. The Fox box is able to output video via S-video or Composite cable, at that’s it. Sound is only stereo. Both the other devices have at least Component picture (plus S-video plus composite) and the HDTV box has DVI/HDMI as well. Both have digital audio out (optical or coaxial) which allows the receiver to turn whatever signal is coming in (2.0, 2.1, 5.1, DTS, 7.1 etc) into the appropriate signals to the 5.1 speakers installed in the room. Plus stereo.

The Yamaha amplifier only has a “pass-through” video output to the TV. By this I mean that if you have one signal coming in as composite, one as S-video and one as component, they will be relayed to the TV via the corresponding output, the composite will only come out the composite, the S-video will only come out the S-video, the component will only come out the component. This meant if you decide to change the box you are watching, say Fox to DVD, you would have to change the input on the Amplifier, then change the input on the TV – this does not meet my sisters simple directive.

So what we did was hook all three input devices to the receiver via S-video cables, purchased from your local supermarket. This had a couple of unforseen consequences. Firstly, the DVD player would not output a 16:9 widescreen image via the S-video connection. Secondly the Foxtel box needs to be tuned to either output via composite or S-video, not both, and one or the other must look awful at all times.

We got past the first issue by trying a second DVD player that was fortunately in the house, this one was happy to output widescreen on all connection types. The second we couldn’t beat. Foxtel’s hardware deficiancies simply could not be beaten. In the end we had to get the residents to decide if they would normally watch Fox via the receiver and tune it for S-video, or direct on the TV, in which case we would tune it for composite.

We ran secondary outputs direct from each device to the TV. The DVD had a component cable which went straight to the TV, the HDTV had a DVI/HDMI output we were able to plug straight in, and the darn Fox box had that composite cable which wasn’t very watchable (all devices were able to send stereo via RCA to the TV in addition to the signal going to the AV receiver). This allows my sister to just flick around the inputs on the TV remote without having the amplifier on, if she chooses. We also explained that the DVD and HDTV pictures were actually better straight into the TV and to only have the sound coming via the amp, whereas the Fox needs the amp to show it’s best.

It was all a bit complicated, really, which is unfortunate. Fortunately, the sound from the Yamaha amplifier and JBL 5.1 speakers was excellent. Many hours of home entertainment are in store at that house, I tell you.

JVC RXD-701S AV Receiver

My Dad has also recently purchase a home theatre amplifier. His is a JVC RXD-701S 7.1 surround receiver which he has hooked up to the projector and various speakers we have scrounged/created over the years. One nifty feature of this unit is firstly it’s HDMI capability and another is video upscaling. Basically what this means is that if you have a bunch of different inputs as we had at my sisters, the receiver will translate them into the highest quality connector you have available (in Dad’s case HDMI) and send that signal to the video monitor. This means select one input on the projector remote and the receiver is happy to do the rest of the switching by itself.

Unfortunately Dad reports that the JVC doesn’t have as many inputs as the Yamaha, nor is it as flexible at mixing and matching audio to video signals, but it should provide a mighty sound and very impressive home theatre, when coupled with the projector and 106″ screen he has.

The other part of wiring up a home theatre system, the tedious bit, is the running (and hiding) of the speaker wire and the installation of said speakers in unobtrusive locations. Fortunately my brother-in-law had already done this at his place which allowed us to focus on wiring up the inputs to the amplifier. Dad hasn’t done his yet and I doubt it will look as neat for some time as Dad is upgrading bit by bit, rather than starting from scratch.

Cheap PC = GNU/Linux

GNU and Tux

An interesting opinion piece over on Desktop Linux today – Linux is about to take over the low end of PC’s.

Basicly the author, Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, cites the recent development of low cost hardware platforms such as the Everex gPC, Asus eee PC and OLPC – One Laptop Per Child along with the excellent usability of the modern GNU/Linux desktop as an excellent alternative to the power hungry and wallet devouring Microsoft offerings.

Obviously a lot of businesses are tied in to Microsoft platforms and services, but when companies come up to upgrade time a lot will start looking at alternatives compared to the leap to Vista.

Open Source advocates have been claiming Vista as a great advertisement for FOSS but in reality the Vista install procedure isn’t that bad – so long as you are prepared to purchase a new computer along with the operating system. Open Source would do very well to target the price conscious segment of the market before going for the power users.

GNU/Linux and modern distros are really easy to use and very stable, but they are different to Windows so take a little getting used to. A lot of non-technical users want their computer “to just work” and aren’t interested in how free a system or learning a new method to check their email or edit a document.

Power users will probably be attached to certain software on their current operating system – games, CAD, illustration, multimedia – and therefore resistant to change, but as alternative operating systems gain more acceptance and use, the native software will improve and many commercial programs will be ported over to work on the O/S.

But basic users need office, email, web, messaging, media playback and VOIP – all of which have excellent offerings available on GNU/Linux or via “software as a service” on the web. By making their products easy to use and available at a low monetary cost and able to run on older or cheaper hardware GNU/Linux may have finally found it’s niche onto the desktops of home users and small businesses.

gPC from Wal-Mart

Over in the US, budget department store Wal-Mart has started selling the Linux based gPC for US$200. It runs a modified version of Ubuntu with the E17 Enlightenment desktop environment called gOS.

gOS screen shot

Applications installed seems to be at a minimum as they encourage you to use Google’s online applications for your regular use (hence the g in gPC and gOS). Mail, calendar, office are all handled by Google webapps by default.

Gizmodo have a review online saying they believe this is a good unit for the price but aren’t too complimentary about the clientèle at Wal-mart. Indeed they believe this is the direction Linux should go – people new to PC’s or basic computer users.

Also linked from the same site is some info on the Google mobile phone software development kit (but better info from the official website and the new sub-notebook from Asus, the Eee PC. The Eee runs a customised version on Xandros Linux, by the way.

WordPress upgrade – 2.3

Wordpress Logo

This weblog is written in a online framework called WordPress. WordPress was setup back in 2003 by some folks who were jaded with Movable Type and decided to make a free, open-source blogging platform that was user friendly and highly extensible. That it is, though it’s popularity means that it is a target for hackers and other malcontents, no security through obscurity here, I’m afraid.

They’ve just updated the release version to 2.3 and it brings a few cool features that were missing before but most desirable.

  1. Tagging support – tagging is different to categories. Categories I have but a few (and could probably get away with less) – beer, church, tech, entertainment, personal. Tags are like “key words” and good for searching on and also giving the gist of an article. Categories you would expect to reuse, tags can be one-off.

  2. Update notification – a big AJAX pop-up in the admin screen lets you know if there is a new version of wordpress, or even more helpfully, your plugins. This will reduce vulnerabilities and help get new features faster. The plugins I use (Akismet & Bad behaviour for antispam, Google XML Sitemap for submission, last.fm for tunes and Markdown extra for writing) will now be at the latest version, simply and easily.

  3. Canonical URLs – this means that a page such as my Irish Cream mixture now will always show its proper address in your internet browser, not index.php?p=160 which would also work.

  4. Pending review doesn’t do much for me as this is a single user blog, but I can see it would be handy for an author/editor sort of setup.

  5. Better WYSIWYG post writing – I write in markdown via the text editor, so again, not much good for me.

If you are running a WordPress site, update to version 2.3 for the security updates and love the extra features that make life easier that are part of it.

Akelos Logo

For the web gurus out there, another cool project I came across recently is Akelos. Akelos is a PHP framework – pretty much a copy of ‘Ruby on Rails’ for PHP authors. I read a good guide to it in Linux Format UK magazine and it looks like a really simple way to make quick, quality web applications.

I might be ramping my website/linux support business up again soon so Akelos looks like an excellent web development tool that means I won’t have to learn another programming language (Ruby).

Install your own car stereo

94 Mitsubishi Magna

My car isn’t great. A 1994 Mitsubishi Magna TS Executive V6 manual, it is better than some and goes pretty good, within reason. But it’s not great. One of the frustrations I had was the lousy sound system.

The Executive is the base model and as a result, the audio system consists of a radio cassette player (FM and AM) connected to two tiny, buzzy, cardboard 4″ speakers in the dashboard. Higher up models had 6″ speakers in the doors and 6×9″ speakers in the rear parcel shelf, along with a CD player if you bought a Verada.

Thanks to platform sharing, all Magnas have the brackets for those better speakers in the car body, hidden by trim, so if you are brave and willing to cut up your car, an instant sound upgrade is yours for the taking. As I had to run wires from the rear of the car to the back of the dash anyway, I decided to replace the stock radio cassette with a much newer unit.

So I went down to Supercheap, found some nice Panasonic 6×9’s going cheap, bought a JVC KD-G425 MP3 CD player/head unit and then had a good hard think about whether I was going to install it. Those speakers probably sat there for about 6 weeks before I got the courage to cut up my parcel shelf.

Panasonic 6x9 speakers

But cut it I did. You have to remove the back seat so you get good access to the parcel shelf. I ended up having to measure, mark, cut, fit the speakers, then do it all over again, then trim the carpet some more, but eventually I got the speakers screwed down securely with a (slightly) jagged edge around them. The speakers came with some cable (7m for each side) so I started feeding that down the cable run down the side of the car. After that I had to go out, so I replaced the back seat and took a big deep breath.

A week later I had composed myself enough to try and finish the job. I bought some spade connectors and crimped them onto all the wires that came out of the new stereo. I then finished running the new speaker cable through to the front of the car – I had to remove all the kick guards from the bottom of the door frames, but not a big deal in the end. Once that was at the front I removed the centre console from the car.

This involved about 10 screws in different places and the only complication came with the boot for the gear lever – it is fixed fast to the gear stick and heavily screwed into the console, but without detaching I could not get the console fully out of the way. With that done, I unscrewed the trim from the centre stack and could finally see the radio. I pulled out the bracket and unplugged the radio from the car – I was at last free of cassette tapes and FM radio that didn’t work which the engine was running.

JVC KD-G425

I had to snip off the plug which led from the car to the radio so I could attach my new cables. Aftermarket car audio manufacturers tend to adhere to a standard ping arrangement and plug type but car manufacturers do not, a Holden has a different plug to a Toyota, to a Hyundai etc, which is why I had to snip the plug. I then crimped the matching spade connectors onto the leads coming from the car (including the new rear speaker cables).

Once that was done, I had to match up the colours of the car leads to the colours of the stereo leads – a bit of a challenge. In Mitsubishi’s wiring diagram, the cables manage to change colour when you look at the speaker end (black/white & white) to when you look at the radio end (green and blue). I had to make a couple of corrections but it was mostly plain sailing.

12V battery – always hot, keeps your radio settings and clock set even when the car is off. 12V ignition – active when ignition is at ACC or ON, provides power to run radio. Earth – completes the circuit, attached to chassis, not battery Antenna – connects to radio antenna. Speakers – positive and negative for each speaker – 4 speakers = 8 wires

Once the cables were connected I mounted the JVC head unit in the bracket, plugged in the cables and replaced all the trim I had removed. Reconnected the battery and turned on the ignition – it worked first time! I had left the old, buzzy speakers in place and set the fade level most of the way to the rear, bass is back and volume is now an option, not to mention I can now play a CD in a car I own for the first time ever.

In the end, it wasn’t as difficult as I feared, but I would still hesitate to recommend installing your own car stereo unless you have a car you are willing to damage, or a desire to have a learning experience about cars and stereo equipment. Let me know if you’ve ever done something similar by leaving a comment below.

One regret I have is that the new 2007 model of the stereo I bought comes with an Auxilary input on the front, something that would be most helpful. Maybe on my next car, hey?

Tekken RX-7