Archive for January, 2004

Refer(er) Madness

One of the things I’ve always had in the back of my mind to do on this blog is add a referers page or sidebar. For the uninitiated: when you click a link in your browser, your browser goes to get the new page. It tells the host webserver what page your link was on. This is called the “referer.” Many weblogs publish referer lists as a way to easily see who’s linking to them, and where traffic is coming from. It helps to establish conversations.

Of course, like every other good thing, if someone can use it, someone else can abuse it. referer abuse is the practice of faking referers. So if I want you to visit my online pharmacy, I make a bunch of page requests to popular blogs, but send my website address as the referer, but without actually linking to you. There are varying ways of dealing with this; a simple one is to have your software follow every referer link and look for the reciprocating link before displaying it.

Mine is a fairly low-traffic site (Thank you to those who do visit!), so you would think it wouldn’t be a problem. After all, I don’t even publish any referer stats! Nevertheless, when I look through my referer logs, I see plenty of referer spam. Some stats:

  • I have 21 referals from a blogspot-hosted site with the name of a certain hotel heiress and the word “video” in the site name. I’ve never been to the site except to confirm that they don’t link to me. If I listed my referers by number of referals, they would be #5 on the list.
  • I have 7 referals from a homosexual politcal action group’s home page. I have never visited their site, except to confirm that they do not link to me.
  • There are 3 referals from a company selling “Referal Advertising Systems”. Talk about truth in advertising. They were a bit clever, though… they run their site in blog format, and linked to a post from Jan 1 saying “Happy New Year”. I had to click the home page link to see exactly what the site was about. And no, they don’t link to me.
  • Three links from a Copyright advocacy group funded by the MPAA, and two from the RIAA‘s homepage. Maybe they like my CreativeCommons licencing :) No links to me.

There were, however, some legitimate links as well. I’m going to have to do something to support referers eventually. In the mean time, here’s a couple of blogs I’ve never read before, but who were kind enough to link to my moreentries plugin for Blosxom.

And finally, a big hat tip to Simon Willison. Simon’s excellent blog has been on my list of favorites since I used my first aggregator a year ago. I get referals from some of his posts, because I’ve left comments there before. Today is the first time I’ve really looked at my referal logs in a while, and I saw more referal’s from Simon’s website than normal. There were links from posts I don’t remember commenting on. After looking at one of the refering posts for a minute, I figured it out… I’m listed on Simon’s blogroll! Wow, I’m floored. Go read his site – and be sure to watch the top right corner of the page about 10 seconds after loading. Meep Meep!

This also reminds me that I need to get my blogroll onto my webpage, which I will try to do this weekend. In the meantime, you can view my blogroll via Bloglines. If you haven’t seen Bloglines yet, you can read more in my prior post on the subject. It’s really fantastic… it’s the only aggregator I’ve used in the last month.

Hanging out in the Garage

GarageBand arrived today. As I alluded to previously, I had a few problems getting iLife installed, owing to my partitioning scheme. With that all resolved, I spent some time this evening playing with GarageBand. Here’s a few thoughts and observations. (Note: I also have the JamPack installed)

  • GarageBand is alot of fun to play with. It’s also a very powerful app.
  • Mixing loops is much harder than it looks. If you watched Steve Jobs’ Keynote, you saw Steve piece together a tune in about 5 minutes that sounded pretty good. Steve already new what loops he wanted. For every loop that will sound great in your tune, there’s at least five more that don’t.
  • The categories in the “loop browser” are only partially helpful. “Relaxed” and “Intense” are a bit subjective.
  • Most of the loops have a descriptive name and a number. So while it only takes a minute to sample “Rock Steady Beat 01” through “Rock Steady Beat 04”, you’d better set aside some serious time to check out all 219 loops named “Club Dance Beat”. Again, the categories are somewhat helpful, but it can still be frustrating trying to find just the right loop. Over time, I’m sure the favorites feature will help.
  • MIDI is a complicated subject. I bought a MIDI Controller keyboard on eBay, and tried it out with GarageBand. While it worked, for a long time the volume of the software instruments was very low. I need to research the features built into the controller a bit and learn how best to use it.
  • There are two kinds of loops: samples and sequences (my terms; I don’t know if GB has names for them). The ‘sample’ loops are recordings of actual performances. Many of the Orchestral Strings loops are samples. Sequences, however, are pre-recorded MIDI instructions driving software instruments. Both kinds of loops and be transposed and tempo-adjusted.
  • Sequence loops can be changed to other instruments.
  • Multiple loops and even recordings can appear in a single track as long as they all use the same (software) instrument and the regions don’t overlap.
  • To avoid making a loop-based song too monotonous I tried to use different loops that had the same instrument. This is much easier with sequence loops. Since these loops are playing software instruments, they all sound the same. You can play “Latin Nylon Guitar 01” followed directly by “Latin Nylon Guitar 05” (both sequence loops), and it will sound as though a single musician was playing a single lick. Sampled loops, on the other hand, can vary quite a bit. “Orchestral Strings 08” sounds like a different group of instruments than “Orchestral Strings 09”. This isn’t necessarily bad; but is important to understand.
  • Between GB and JamPack, I have 529 bass loops, 352 guitar loops, and 800 drum loops.
  • There are far too many loops of things I’ve never heard of (what’s a santoor?) and far too many sythesizer loops. Not nearly enough basics, like piano blues riffs and accoustic guitar struming.
  • The software instruments selection is also a bit lopsided. Way too many synthesizers. Not enough real instruments. There are some nice combo-instruments, like full horn sections for horn-stab effects, but surprising no solo versions of alot of instruments. No trumpet, oboe, french horn, clarinet, tuba, etc. Several solo saxophones are present; they sound okay but not great.
  • It’s possible to change keys during a song, sort of, but it’s a bit of a pain. For example, in order to do a 12-bar blues progression (I I I I / IV IV I I / V IV I I) with a base line, I had to break up the base line into individual sections (called regions), one for each chord change. Then to actually accomplish the chord changes, you transpose each region by a number of half-steps. You have to repeat this for every loop in your song, although you can multi-select regions and transpose a group at a time.
  • The copy/paste feature works well, including multi-track copy/paste. However, pasting always pastes at the current insertion point. If you are listening to your song in loop mode as you edit, the insertion point is constantly on the move.
  • It’s really a lot of fun.

That’s all for now; I’m sure I’ll have more later.

I put together my first song tonight; I’m not sure that it’s finished, but I’m going to post it here. It’s called Mirage, it’s under two minutes, and around 2 meg in size. If you enjoy it, please let me know (and if you don’t, well, let me know that too).

Starting Over

As detailed in my prior post, I can’t install iLife ’04, and I think my non-standard disk partioning is to blame. I’ve decided to bite the bullet and format the HD back to a single partition and re-install everything. I’ve copied my /Users directory tree onto my Firewire HD, so I should be ready to go. The notes I made during my upgrade to Panther should be helpful.

This is like Deja-vu all over again. See you on the other side.

Update: I’m back. Hard drive is re-partioned to a single 32gig OS X partition and spare, unformatted 5 gig partition for future use. Panther is installed and software update has been run (twice). XCode tools were installed and software update run again. I’ve transfered my documents, pictures, and music; I’ve moved my mail, keychain, and preferences. Firebird is installed and setup the way I like. I’ll be documenting the process soon, including some tips on how to restore iApps, Mail.app, etc. Haven’t tried installing iLife ’04 yet, but that’s next.

I did have one good scare… after formatting, installing, updating, etc., I was finally ready to attach the Firewire drive and start restoring my backed up data. When the volume mounted, I only saw the ‘Video’ folder, and not the ‘Users’ folder which contained all of my backup data. I think I might have hyperventalated :) I hadn’t yet installed iTerm, and Terminal wasn’t on my dock, so I had to scramble to find Terminal and check it from there. When I finally was able to ls /Volumes/Teapot there was my Users folder right where I left it. I had copied it using the unix command ditto, which apparently marked it as a BSD subsystem folder. And since Panther hides such folders (like /bin, etc.) in Finder by default, that is what had happened. Quite a little moment of panic, tho.

Partitioners Beware

I just installed iLife ’04, and it didn’t work. I think the problem is my partitioned hard drive. I’m going to consider my options for a bit, and keep and eye on the GarageBand fan sites and other blogs for a while, see if anyone else is having a problem.

The thing is, I expected a bit of a problem, since my Application partition only had about 5 gig free. And iLife+JamPack have a total disk space requirement of over 7 gigs. The GarageBand readme explains that the loops and software instruments are stored in /Library/Application Support/GarageBand. This is even worse, since that’s on my boot partition which is even smaller. I tried creating a GarageBand folder on my Users partition (plenty of space) and symlinking to it from /Library/Application Support, but the installer saw right through that, removed the symlink, and installed the stuff right where it wanted. Unfortunately, it didn’t install the App (or any of the iApps), just the libraries.

And on top of it all, the only reason I’m home to play with any of this is a touch of the stomach flu. Insult, meet Injury. You two should really hit it off together.

Sigh.

Guess What I’ve Got?

It‘s here! More Later. Maybe.