Studio Update: Gonna Needa Pasteboard

April 27, 2012

We recorded Gonna Needa Pasteboard, a rockabilly romp through the world of NSPasteboard. Joining me in the studio was John Scalo on guitar—who also played live on the original—and Raleigh Ledet from the AppKit team who sat in on drums.

John Scalo playing electric guitar in the studio
John Scalo rips it up!
Photo by Adam Tow

John has been at Apple for more than 18 years. He got his start in tech support and says the experience gave him a much greater sense of empathy for users and their issues—an experience he recommends for every engineer or designer at some point in their career. Moving to OS X software engineering, his gigs have included parental controls, screen savers, Internet accounts, Stickies, and security. He also plays a mean guitar.

When John was about 12 or 13, he heard Jimi Hendrix for the first time and made his dad show him how to play Purple Haze. And then he got into the Texas blues. One summer, night after night, he’d walk a mile from his home to hear the house band play at the legendary Antone’s Blues Club in Austin. While in college at UT Austin he played in jazz, funk, and jam bands, doing weekly gigs on 6th Street and ‘The Square’ in San Marcos. His funk band Zzyzywuzsky played at the SXSW music festival. These days John’s tastes are more eclectic ranging from bluegrass to Brazilian, jazz, and some Eastern styles—but he sill loves those Texas blues.

Raleigh has been coding for a long while—he wrote his first commercial software for the Apple ][ in high school. He’s been doing Mac development for 14 years, including eight years at Wacom getting down and dirty with Mac tablet drivers and pref panes. A big fan of pressure-sensitive tablets, Raleigh has also written a number of shareware titles including inkBook, a notebook app with handwriting recognition (using Inkwell, one of the best-kept secrets on the Mac).

Raleigh Ledet playing the drums in the studio
Raleigh Ledet—AppKit meets drum kit
Photo by Adam Tow

For the past four years, Raleigh has been a member of the AppKit team, working in a variety of areas such as event handling, scrolling, various controls, and drag and drop. His focus on drag and drop makes him a perfect fit for Gonna Needa Pasteboard, which has an entire verse about it.

When Raleigh started drumming in 5th grade, his snare drum and case almost weighed more than he did. Growing up in south Louisiana, he played drums in numerous Mardi Gras parades. He has also played drums in various contemporary Christian rock groups over the years.

As for me, I’m definitely learning a lot in the studio. It’s a very different experience than performing live. And although I’m aiming to keep the recordings true to the spirit of the live originals, it is fun to be able to go a bit further, such as adding drums on this track. I also learned that drum sets don’t just load, unload and transport themselves. Maybe next time we just add some piccolo.

James Dempsey at the microphone in the studio wearing "I'm cuckoo for Cocoa Apps" t-shirt
I really am cuckoo for Cocoa apps
Photo by Adam Tow

Categories: Mac, Music

The Cisco ad with the robots

April 20, 2012

During a presidential election year, I tend to watch the news much more often than usual.  This doesn’t seem to make me any better informed, the news outlets seldom provide more useful detail than I can glean scanning headlines and blurbs in Google News.  I watch as a guilty pleasure.  It’s like professional wrestling dressed up in a suit and tie with hyped-up rivalries and dramatic outrage over trivial matters.  It is entertaining theater, even if it doesn’t seem to lead to particularly effective government.

I bring this up because throughout the primary elections, the commentators have been speaking a great deal about the high unemployment rate, people out of work, and the need for more jobs.  And, because during a 24-hour news cycle there only seems to be time to report on a handful of things repeatedly, this point is made again and again.

Which brings me to the Cisco ad with the robots.

In the same time period, during commercial break after commercial break, Cisco has been running an unintentionally ironic ad.

In the ad, a bunch of industrial robots are busy building a car in an otherwise lifeless factory.  Suddenly one goes dead and all work comes to a halt.  A neighboring robot makes an adjustment on the broken one, the robot is fixed and all go back to work.  A voice over proudly proclaims something like, “Assembly lines that fix themselves.  Great innovation is possible with Cisco”.

This is all brought to a close with a shot of the Cisco logo and the tagline “Built For The Human Network”.


Despite the message it is trying to convey, the narrative that runs through my brain is:

  • Relentless news: Unemployment is high, people need jobs
  • Commercial break: Hey everyone!  Now Cisco enables firing the people who fix the machines that got everyone else fired!
  • Cisco: The human network.

The commercial is well produced, but its placement and tagline are tragic.
One possible explanation is that Cisco advertising is handled by an industrial robot.

Category: Miscellaneous

Scenes from the studio

April 19, 2012

Recording the album is underway. We kicked things off by laying down the bit-flippin’, head-trippin’ tracks for the song Endian Reservations. Here are a few photos from our first session.

It’s been great playing these songs with Gordie Freedman again.

Gordie Freedman playing guitar in the studio
Gordie Freedman—the original guitar player for the Breakpoints
Photo by Adam Tow

When I’m recording vocals, I’m put in an isolation booth. Fortunately, I’m not overly prone to loneliness.

James Dempsey singing into a microphone in the studio
Singing about my endian reservations
Photo by Adam Tow

It’s been great working with Russell Bond.  He is a wellspring of recording wisdom, great suggestions, and patience after multiple takes.

Russell Bond, James Dempsey, and Gordie Freedman in the control room
Russell Bond enlightens James and Gordie
Photo by Adam Tow

Category: Music

Is the end near for System Preferences?

April 18, 2012

Table comparing settings / preferences on Apple platforms
One of these things seems out of place. Can you spot it?

When Mountain Lion was announced back in February, I enjoyed reading John Gruber’s Daring Fireball account of his advance peek of the upcoming OS, including this section:

“Apps have been renamed for cross-OS consistency. iChat is now Messages; iCal is now Calendar; Address Book is now Contacts. Missing apps have been added: Reminders and Notes look like Mac versions of their iOS counterparts. Now that these apps exist for the Mac, to-dos have been removed from Calendar and notes have been removed from Mail, leaving Calendar to simply handle calendaring and Mail to handle email.”

While I don’t believe that the Mac should become an iOS clone, I do think that natural similarities between the platforms should be emphasized.

This made me wonder about the fate of System Preferences.

In Leopard, the System Preferences icon on the Mac received a complete makeover, bringing it visually in line with the Settings icon of the original iPhone.  That was back in 2007.

For five years and two subsequent releases of OS X, we’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop.  In that time, System Preferences has been dressing up like Settings, but hasn’t been willing to take on its name.  Will Mountain Lion retire the wordy “System Preferences” moniker and unify the naming of those icons across platforms?  Time will tell, but meanwhile, idle speculation over Apple matters large and small is always an enjoyable pastime.

Screen captures showing changes to the System Preferences icon in Mac OS X over time, asking the question ‘Has System Preferences reached the end of the line?’
The look of System Preferences over the years.

Category: Mac

Recording at The Annex

April 3, 2012

In the coming weeks, James Dempsey and the Breakpoints will be recording our first album at The Annex in Menlo Park, a Silicon Valley studio with a long and storied 35-year history.  As we get ready to do so, I wanted to describe the setting and share a little bit about why I find this place particularly special for the project ahead.

The gold records lining the walls highlight the long list of artists and celebrities The Annex has welcomed a over the years.  Windham Hill artists such as George Winston, plus many others including Joan Baez, Chris Martin, Alan Parsons, and Michael J. Fox have spent time in the studio, working on everything from recordings and rehearsals to videos and voice overs.  Even Steve Jobs came in once to do a quick voice over. There is an awesome vibe just walking into the place.

Gold records line the walls of The Annex studios
Gold records line the walls of The Annex studios
Photo by Adam Tow

But the physical studio is only part of the story.  We’re very fortunate to have Russell Bond recording and producing the sessions.  Russell was part of the crew that originally built the studio and now has come full circle as the owner.  He has decades of recording experience and is a longtime Mac user who immediately clicked with the geeky fun found in the songs.

Talking with Russell, I discovered that he came of age as a producer right alongside the Mac and digital recording.  In those early days, The Annex served as a software proving ground for audio pioneers like Opcode and Digidesign.  Engineers would drop in from their nearby offices to test their early betas in a working studio.  Today, the studio is filled with modern Macs handling the production duties—a fact likely appreciated when original Mac evangelist Guy Kawasaki recently came in to record excerpts from his latest book.

When old Mac-heads get together, the conversation seems to eventually turn to the first time you used a Mac—that electric moment when you realized that your world had just changed in a big way.  For Russell, that moment happened when Apple was recording “Guided Tour” cassette tapes at The Annex to teach users how to use the amazing new mouse-driven interface.  Unable to resist, Russell snuck a prototype Mac 512K home for the weekend, pulling all-nighters playing with MacPaint.

For me, it was my college roommate’s Mac Plus.  My freshman year found me completely mesmerized by the bitmapped wonder of it and very lucky to have a roommate willing to let me use it for countless hours.  (For someone who never used an early Mac, it is hard to explain the profound joy that I experienced the day that my roommate bought an external floppy drive.)

When I started looking for a place to record, I wanted to find a great studio and someone who was not only excellent, but who would also really get into the spirit of the project.  So, I am incredibly excited about the environment we will be working in, not only the fundamentals of the studio facilities and recording expertise, but also the feel of the place with its great history and Apple connections.

A large audio mixing console
Big honkin’ console in Studio A at The Annex Studios
Photo by Adam Tow

Category: Music