A couple of weeks with Audirvana+

What a week. Our house is now closed and we have gone fully nomadic. Next time I write here, I’ll be on the east coast for good and I truly can’t wait.

While we’ve been on the road, I’ve spent a little bit of time auditioning Audirvana+ as an iTunes replacement. The short: I now load this when I want to listen to music. I frequently don’t have iTunes running at all. That says quite a lot considering I’ve had an uptime measured in years for iTunes.

headphones-1Warning: I am about to get into some serious ruminating about audio software in the paragraphs ahead. Save yourself. Go listen to something on Youtube or Spotify or whatever floats your ears. If you like reading about uncompressed listening, read on.

First, if you don’t have a decent outboard digital to analog converter with a headphone preamp, you’re not likely to notice any improvement over iTunes. If you can’t tell the difference between 192KHz, 320KHz MP3 and uncompressed, you probably don’t have a good enough listening setup to make use of everything Audirvana has to offer.

I feel like a douche saying this, but it’s true. Go take Tidal’s compression test (got a Heroku error, service is gone?). Most people can’t do better than 50/50. I myself wasn’t familiar enough with their music selections to do better than that on most tracks, but on the tracks I recognized, I did pretty well recognizing the uncompressed versions. You can setup your own test with uncompressed vs. compressed audio just by exporting different settings in iTunes and setting them to play on random. Go nuts.

My portable listening setup:

  • Fiio E17k DAC+Headphone amp (US, Canada).
  • Grado Prestige 225 headphones (US, Canada).
  • Shure SE535 earphones. (US, No Amazon Canada link because prices are stupid – check ebay).

Obviously, I don’t listen to the Grados and Shures at the same time. (Hmm…) The Grados are for general listening, comfortable and sound absolutely stellar, but leak sound. The Shures are for noisy environments or when I don’t want to subject people to my music. They sound great, but I do mind having to stuff them in my ears. For a more relaxed fit, try the Comply ear foams.

OK, setup’s out of the way. Why is Audirvana+ better than listening to iTunes? One: Exclusive use (hog mode) of my DAC. It’s the only thing playing through it, the system doesn’t have to mix in email sounds or ichat notifications. Two: Integer mode. Rather than converting your bitstream to floats, it keeps everything as an integer for absolute precision. Three: Buffering. It’ll load the entire music track into memory. Four: External volume control. You can tell it to leave the volume control to the DAC itself which means absolutely no futzing with the stream to attenuate the sound.

You can do other things with it, like use the included iZotope Sample Rate Converter to upsample to higher bitrates, but for most music, this isn’t a big difference.

Does this sound better than iTunes with the volume set to maximum? I think it does, though I am fully willing to accept that I’m fooling myself on this. It does sound great with uncompressed 24 bit files, though I’ve found iTunes sounds pretty good with decent source material too.

As a music player, Audirvana does a pretty good job. I find it odd that there’s no mini view, forcing you to keep the window around while playing. Some extra control options, like a playback menu on the dock icon or a mini controller in the menu bar would be welcome for minimizing and hiding the app window. It will let you use an Apple IR Remote or the media keys on your keyboard for control, so this is somewhat mediated.

I haven’t got a huge library of music on this laptop, but dragging in the iTunes source folder seems to work well and leaves the files where they are. Changes I make to metadata are reflected in iTunes on the next load. I was a little reluctant to do this on my main library, but after a couple of weeks on my laptop, I think I’m going to give it a shot the next time I have my main machine setup. Editing tags is pretty painless and works well.

There is even rudimentary Smart Playlist support. I can’t “nest” smart playlists the way I do in iTunes, basing multiple layers of playlists on top of each other (e.g., Jazz->High Bitrate->Recorded before 1965), but there are a lot of options there. Better understanding of high definition and more indepth metadata than iTunes lets you play with.

So, will this let me get rid of iTunes and have a better life? Not exactly. If I want to share libraries around the house, I need to either stream from my NAS or from iTunes directly. I haven’t tried Audirvana+ with a big library stored on a network device, but maybe that’ll just work, and I hope it does. That with the separate remote app will make my home stereo setup work the way I want it to.

Then there’s all the other stuff. I’ve got an alarming amount of video in iTunes – TV Shows, movies, drone videos. Streaming those to an Apple TV is the best way I have of bouncing content to screens around the house. I’m moving a lot of that stuff over to my NAS and using VLC these days, but there’s still stuff locked into iTunes.

Then there are the iPods and iPads I have no way to sync outside of iTunes…

Apple’s done a great job of building an all-inclusive pile of software into a single application and locking it to hardware. They’ve made it nearly impossible to get rid of it without going cold turkey and ditching the whole thing in favor of something else. I don’t know what that something is, and I like my iPad as a big portable screen thing. The Android alternatives just aren’t as nice.

The best solution for protecting your music collection is backing it up. At least if you hit a bug, you’re not going to lose your media (and your metadata – keep the itunes.xml file backed up too!).

I really am enjoying Audirvana+. I like that it tells me what it’s doing to my DAC. I like that I have control over this level of playback. Unlike iTunes, it feels optimized for high definition music and it understands the needs of people who want to listen to those formats. It’ll even handle DSD files which I have none of outside of SACD.

Lastly, the people at Audio Engineering who make Fidelia never got back to me after multiple requests for a refund. Their software is terrible. They are bad people and they should feel bad.

Trajectory Book 2 Available for Preorder

Trajectory Book 2 is now available for preorder on Amazon Kindle (US, Canada), priced at $4.99 US. Full release is scheduled for June 7, 2016 and will be $5.99. I’d release it sooner, but still need to do a final read-through and cleanup plus a couple of minor additions. It’s clocking in at 125k words and nearly 500 pages.

Why a preorder? It gave me some additional pressure to get it finished and I really wanted to get the entry up on the Amazon store. Plus it gives early adopters a bit of deal on the final price of the book.

Deb’s been ripping through it adding commas all over the place and she’s got about 100 pages left to go. She seems to be enjoying it, but she’s probably biased.

Storage

I’ve been thinking about storage capacity lately. I had a couple of IO errors on my aging Synology NAS drive that caused a minor panic at the thought of losing all of my redundancy and archived media. At 6TB of RAID5 backing up all our photos, ripped DVDs and iTunes libraries, it’s a daunting prospect to imagine replacing it all.

For the curious, I upgraded to a Synology DS416 and 4x4TB Seagate NAS drives, rated for 3 years of warranty. After RAIDing, that’s 10-12TB of effective storage which can theoretically survive a drive failure, if not an all-out zombie apocalypse. This should serve as personal cloud storage for the next 6-10 years.

It’s been nearly 10 years since I last looked at how much storage I’m carrying when going nomad – something I’m going to have to deal with very soon. Back in 2007, I was toting around 338GB of capacity. That’s almost 4 times what Johnny Mnemonic was working with in the 1995 movie based on the William Gibson short story. That much seems decidedly lotek these days and that movie was set in a fictional 2021. (still no monomolecular filament whips either)

Let’s add it up!

  • 2012 Macbook Pro (I’m writing this on it!): 512GB (SSD)
  • 1TB Thunderbolt/USB3 drive, camera+video backup
  • 160GB iPod classic
  • 16GB Nexus 5
  • 64GB iPad Air
  • 64GB SD Card for my OM-D E-M1
  • 2x32GB SD Card backup
  • 64GB flash drive

The total: 1968GB.

2TB. Two. That’s not including any of the RAM in each of these devices, which probably adds up to another 20-30GB.  Nor does it include the many terabytes of cloud storage I have access to in varying drip-sized portions.

Also notable is how much of that is in purely solid state memory. Half of it – the slow half – is a spinning platter. There’s a tiny spinning harddrive in the iPod classic too. The rest, nearly 1TB of it is in solid state flash memory.

That’s roughly the amount of storage you’d need for a complete academic research library. It fits in my backpack. It’s amazing how fast you can fill it up with GoPro and HD video footage and stills from my camera, and I’m not even trying to deal with 4K. If VR takes off in any meaningful way, the storage requirements are going to be monstrous.

Trajectory Book 2 Update: Almost There

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 09.53.52

Yesterday, I dropped a little teaser tweet:

That tasty morsel means that last Friday I finished the major rewrites (aka PROJECT INFILL) and some tidying up around the edges. It was a bigger project than I expected and ended up introducing something I hadn’t planned originally but turned out to be a pretty important piece of the story. I’m taking a few days off to recuperate before commencing my final read-through and doing things like working on a cover and getting everything ready for publication. Y’know. Easy stuff.

I hope to have a Kindle preorder up by the end of this week with the release date set for sometime in May. I say “sometime” because we’re moving East this month and that’s going to play havoc with any sort of well-intentioned planning. What I can say is that I’ll have some extra time for reading (hopefully) and that should turn into some book-bug-fixes. I need an intern.

In the meantime, if you haven’t rated Trajectory Book 1 on Amazon (US, Can) or Smashwords or wherever you bought it, please put some honest stars on it. Goodreads too, if you can. If you haven’t read it yet, because you were waiting for the second book, now’s a good time to grab it.

Now I’m off to the store for some more harddrives…

Wattpad Demographics and Readers

104-notificationsA couple of weeks ago my book got featured in the Science Fiction category on Wattpad. Since then, my phone’s homescreen has basically looked like the above image and the little notification blinky has been solid orange. No, I don’t want to turn those off, leave me alone.

Before being featured, I thought my book was pretty popular for a new work from an unknown writer, yo-yoing between the mid 400s to falling off the ratings entirely. I had maybe between 5-8 unique readers on any given day. A new reader plowing through 20 chapters could bump my book up 200 positions in the rankings, telling me something about how many books are in those lower echelons in the science fiction category. Lots of books and comparatively few readers.

Also, when you’re far down the listings, you’ll see updates in rank 2-3 times per day. They shuffle the deck more frequently. Once you’re in the top 100, it takes way more eyeballs to move you around in the list and updates drop to 1x per day. Usually around noon for me in the eastern timezone.

How do I know this? Wattpad has some pretty neat charts and graphs available for writers. The Unique Readers graph now looks something like this:

uniquereaders

This is still a day behind: Wattpad generates these every day against the previous day’s data. The high point on April 12th was 95 unique readers. You can see the jump from March 31st to April 1st when I landed on the Featured list.

Another neat tool is Wattpad’s Demographics chart. Before getting featured, I took a snapshot of what my readers looked like up until that point, on April 1st.

demographics-0401

In case you can’t read my scribbles, the bulk of my readers were male, aged 35 and up. About what you’d expect for something in the “hard science fiction” category. Most of them from North America, split between the US and Canada. Countries in Africa, South America and Asia accounted for the remaining 50% scattered around in little 3-4% blobs.

Now let’s see what the map looks like today (April 15th):

demo-0415

The US is still the bulkiest part of the population, but Canada’s dropped to a mere 4.7%. Nearly 50% of readers are in SE Asia, Africa and South America. The UK has most of the readers in Europe as you might expect.

The gender distribution’s a little more even too, with 30% of readers listed as female and 20% undisclosed.

Female readers are far more likely to comment than male readers.

For the most part, I’d say 80% of all readers are silent. They find a book, they read it and they move on. Many readers have no contacts and no activity on their feed. Most don’t vote and I’m seeing that reflected in the number of views vs. votes on my book. Votes are near 20-25% of total reads. Comments are even rarer with most people never saying a peep. This may be in part because of the category I’m in. Other types of fiction get chattier. I’m OK with this honestly, I find the concept of “commenting on a chapter” a little weird as a reader, but I like it when it happens.

So what does all this mean if you’re a writer putting your book out there? Well, getting featured makes a HUGE difference in visibility on Wattpad. If you’re in North America, your book will travel around the world, so be prepared to debate the relative strengths of “aluminum” vs. “aluminium”. You may make some new friends. You will likely meet other writers trying to get noticed. It’s ok, they’re nice.

Bottom line: 2 weeks in and I’m sitting at #11 in the Science Fiction category with 13k reads and 2k votes from people all over the planet. That is pretty cool.

Don’t worry though, I haven’t been entirely distracted by Wattpad. I am still working hard on Book 2 and coming to the end of this batch of rewrites. More on that next week…

 

Banana Loaf

banana loaf

When I was a kid, there was nothing better than banana loaf. Or banana bread if you prefer. I like the word loaf, so that’s what I call it. I think it’s funny.

My mom would make it, not very often, and the whole house would have that special delicious smell all through it. Warm banana bread right out of the oven with some butter melted on it is one of life’s simple pleasures. If it lasts long enough to get a little dry, popping it in the toaster for a few minutes and covering it in peanut butter is a great way to finish it off. Some have even said you can make french toast out of it, but that’s ludicrous.

Warmed up with some maple syrup and cream in a bowl and you’ve got yourself a monstrous dessert.

I gave up waiting for other people to make me banana loaf. I studied the black arts of simple bread making extensively and perfected my craft over many years. This recipe is the culmination of decades of research and painstaking experimentation. I don’t want to talk about the unfinished loaves that spewed forth their uncooked innards in a sticky gooey mess all over the counter. Or the blackened crispy stuck-to-the-pan loaves that carbonized themselves into inedibility.

If you follow this, and know your oven, this will give you a perfect warm banana loaf just like mom used to make. The smell of banana loaf in the oven still takes me back to when I was a kid licking the spoon clean in mom’s kitchen.

Ingredients

  • 2c all purpose flour
  • 1tsp baking soda
  • ¼tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • ¾c brown sugar
  • ½c butter
  • 1tsp vanilla extract (opt.) or 1 vanilla bean
  • 3 ripe bananas

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350-360ºF. Grease a 9″x5″ bread pan with butter.

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Sift or whisk them up to get them mixed. Don’t spill the flour because that shit gets on everything.

In A WHOLE OTHER BOWL cream the butter and brown sugar with a wooden spoon. You’ll need a heavy wooden spoon because creaming brown sugar and butter is hard work. I’ve broken so many spoons doing this. Get a good one. Cream it for 10 minutes. I’m not joking. Cristina Tosi of the Milkbar at Momofuku says this is the most important part. Believe her if you don’t believe me. I’m serious.

In the same bowl as the butter and sugar, add in the eggs, beaten. I guess they were in a third bowl. Then add your bananas. These bananas need to be seriously ripe. They should be black. They should be so ripe, you should fear them and wonder if they’re poison. If you want to ripen them faster, you can freeze them, but I find if you leave them frozen for too long, even in a bag, they lose their flavor. For the best results, you want your bananas ripe and fresh if that makes even a bit of sense.

Swoosh the eggs and butter and sugar and bananas around, mixing them up but don’t be afraid about banana lumps: They are flavor lumps. You can add the vanilla here if you want to. Vanilla beans are magical and add an extra mysterious crunch to the loaf. Use’em if you got’em.

Combine the buttery, sugary, bananaey, eggy goop to the flour. Mix it up so everything’s moist but again, don’t worry too much about lumps.

Pour the batter into your bread pan. Bake on a middle rack for 60-65 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

When it’s done, take it out and leave it in the pan for 5-10 minutes. After that, flop it out onto a baking rack for another 10-15 minutes to cool down. If you cut into it too soon it’ll disentegrate and break apart. I know you’re impatient, but trust me, you don’t want to ruin your loaf (oh what the hell, it’s still delicious even if it’s in chunks).

enjoy!


A word about ovens: Unless you’ve got a super modern, digitally-controlled oven, your heat is variable. I think mine runs a little on the low side so I heat it up to 360º and cook for about 65 minutes. Nothing like baking to really fine-tune your oven calibration.

Trajectory Book 1 v1.5, and a Book 2 status report

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 08.25.42

Just a quick note: I’ve just updated Trajectory Book 1 on Amazon (US, Can) and Smashwords to v1.5. This contains all the most-recent edits (aka “bugfixes”) and should be propagating out on all platforms over the course of the day. If you’ve just bought a copy, I recommend poking your reading device to get the latest version, just in time for the weekend.

(edit: to verify you have the latest version, check the copyright page for the version of the book. Yours should say “v1.5” with an optional (ePub) tag if you downloaded from one of the Smashwords pubbed versions, e.g., iTunes, Kobo, etc.)

Status report on Book 2: Work is progressing again. I’m ⅔ of the way through this pass. I’ve removed 8 chapters, added 3 new ones and expect at least 1 more addition during Project INfill. 120k Words in total and I’m trying to keep it close to that for final copy. The restructuring is working out better than expected and I think it’s going to be good. I expect to be through this current series of edits and rewrites in a couple of weeks, followed by one quick edit pass to catch any glaring language problems, then we’re off to the virtual presses.

Trajectory Book 1 featured on Wattpad

trajectory in wattpad's science fiction category, featured list.

Trajectory Book 1 hit a pretty big milestone yesterday on Wattpad. It is now a featured story in their highly-competitive Science Fiction category.

I love charts and graphs, and it’s still too early to know what this will mean for mine, but I’ve already seen a bunch of new faces adding me to their reading lists. What I do know is that I’m reaching a different set of readers than I am in my usual channels and that’s fun and a little scary. They have a strong and enthusiastic bunch of community members, but it’s hard to get noticed because of the incredible mass of material being written there. It is a unique little microcosm on the internet.

I thought this was worth mentioning. I still have a book to edit and I’ve been distracted by houses and linux servers and funny tooth problems. I’ll have more to say about Wattpad in a future post where I’ll break down some of the tools they have for authors.

While you’re waiting for book 2, why not treat yourself and buy one of Deb’s prints?

New Theme!

cappuccino
Why should Deb have all the fun with her shiny new blog?

I wasn’t really happy with my previous theme so I splurged and dressed the site up in this hot little number. Ain’t she fine? So fine.

The state of WordPress themes continues to be a sore spot. Commercial themes are either spewed from Theme Farms where a few PHP coders churn out many different variants of the same thing over and over, or lonely devs slaving away at adsense integration in their painstakingly, handcrafted, bespoke themes. WordPress itself is showing its age. I’d say bad things about PHP being the root of all evil, but after a day of wrestling with ssl certs and dns fiddling, I haven’t got the strength.