New Eyes

Almost 2 years ago I briefly posted about Magic Dance’s newest release at the time, Vanishings. It should have been a full review, as that album ended up being an absolute monster due to the guitar work, vocals, and everything else. Needless to say my expectations for the next album, New Eyes, were unbelievably (and unfairly) high. It didn’t help any when the first song, When Nothing’s Real, was released on Youtube. That song easily matched anything off of Vanishings, and it set the tone for what I expected.

That ended up being a bit of a mis-step for Magic Dance, I think, because the next song released on Youtube, These Four Walls, was such a massive change. My initial listen left me confused and irritated. But, I gave it some time and came back, trying to listen to it as if it was the first time I’d ever be listening to Magic Dance. And you know what? I really liked it! Yeah it wasn’t as hard-hitting or left my heart pounding like When Nothing’s Real, but it was overall a damn good rock song. At that point I was hoping the rest of the album would follow in its steps.

The third song to be released on Youtube, and the last before the album’s release, was Never Go Back. This one was even softer than the previous two, more pop than rock. But, it did have those great rhythm guitars and vocals; it was still unmistakably Magic Dance. Having listened to these three songs quite a few times, I felt better prepared and anticipating the rest of the album.

New Eyes has ended up being a very solid release, but I consider it to have some growing pains. It’s clear founder Jon is taking Magic Dance in new directions, with now a full band working with him on both the album and live shows. I couldn’t say if this affected how he created these new songs, but I feel there have been some sacrifices as well as simplifying, whereas I wanted more and better vocal harmonies (go back and listen to Still Haunting Me; it still reigns supreme!) and some more intricate guitar playing and solos (I don’t think Tim Mackey got to contribute anywhere near as much on New Eyes, and I could tell). I’m happy to hear Jon continuing to write new music with a full band, but my hope is with more live shows by the time they make the next album they’ll push themselves a little more!

My Setup – 2018

My original setup post was five (!) years ago. Since that time almost as much has changed as has stayed the same. Let’s go through everything and see where things were, are, and may be headed towards…

Who Am I?

I’m still Christopher, and my day job is still in IT. Music and writing are still my passionate hobbies, but that’s where they’re likely to stay. Doesn’t make them any less important to me!

Hardware

I built another desktop about four or five years ago, and it still handles everything I need it to just fine. Like the previous system it has a dual-core processor (this time a cheap low-power Intel Pentium) and 8GB RAM (I’ve thought about bumping it to 16, but it’d cost just as much as putting 16GB DDR4 into the next eventual system). The system drive is a 256GB SSD, while /home sits on a 2TB HDD. That’s primarily for Plex server, and it’s a little over half full. At the rate we (rarely) buy any new movies and shows, it will last well into the next system. Or by then a 2TB SSD will be cheap enough, that’d be nuts. The next system may get an AMD Ryzen or Intel i5; it’ll have a LOT more cores.

After starting out on Windows 7 and getting the free upgrade to 10, I moved it over to Linux Mint 18.1 when it was released. Everything just works, and I really like Cinnamon (seriously have you tried Gnome 3 on Ubuntu 18.04? Lol what a dumpster fire). No it can’t run my audio software, but that’s its only negative. It’s since been upgraded to 18.3. I may upgrade/re-do it once 19.1 is out, but since it runs Plex it’s definitely become a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” system, while the HP laptop can be the Linux distro guinea pig. The monitor is due for an upgrade, but I don’t know if I want to jump to 4K yet; I do want at least 27″ of screen space. I’m still using a plain mouse and an Apple keyboard. The latter may one day be switched out for a mechanical keyboard with brown switches (I have blue ones at work and they’re wonderfully clacky, but my wife would kill me lol).

The 2 older Mac laptops are long gone. Their limited RAM support and dying batteries spelled the end of their days. Now we have a 2013 MacBook Pro with Retina screen. My god is that great to work on. Its battery is still going strong, it has a decent 8GB RAM, and the SSD is still fairly fast. It just recently got upgraded to macOS Mojave, and for a .0 release it’s almost shocking how smooth everything is. Finally dark mode!

We have an HP Spectre laptop with Linux Mint 19 on it. It’s much faster than even the MacBook Pro. The only downside is its battery stopped working, which I removed. A new one just isn’t worth the price and its small size wouldn’t give it anywhere near the battery life of the MacBook Pro. It’s still nice to use, and it may be good for road trips and the like.

The iPad is also gone, it was just too slow to run even the basics. The new ones look great, especially the Pro, but I’m just too cheap and I have a phone that can cover most of that stuff. I do have a Kindle (cheapest one w/o a backlight) that I like to read from, although I’m not impressed with its battery life, even with keeping it on airplane mode most of the time.

Not that long ago I moved from the iPhone 6S to 8+. The battery was starting to crap out on the 6S, and I wanted the bigger screen and newest (at the time) processor. With the newly-released iOS 12 (like Mojave it’s crazy good for a .0 release) the 8+ still feels brand new, and provided its battery holds up I won’t be in a rush to upgrade for quite awhile. But, weirdly enough, I’ll likely go back to a smaller screen, if only for the weight reduction (trying to work out with a large phone in your pants is a pain!).

We have Rokus on all of our TVs, running Plex or Netflix. The living room also has a PS4, which doesn’t see a whole lot of use. It does stay for being the back-up Blu-Ray player for those that refuse to be ripped. Besides a larger-sized TV I did setup a receiver just to have 2 nice Klipsch bookshelf speakers. To me sound is more important than visual quality (seriously we stream Netflix at 480p, take THAT data caps!) and it still blows me away how much more enjoyable films are with that setup.

Musical instruments haven’t changed at all, and I don’t foresee any new additions or such. I still like my Yamaha acoustic, but admittedly haven’t played it very much. I also rarely play the Strat, even after having its bridge fixed. I still like the feel of the Les Paul Studio the most, and aside from experimenting with heavier strings and tuning in D standard it’s pretty much set as-is.

The Stingray bass is also still fun to play. I tried a set of tapewound strings and loooooved the feel of them! Unfortunately the G string wouldn’t stay on the tuning peg so I left it off. I’ve since gone back to roundwound strings, and hate them. I’ll eventually get another set of tapewounds and have the luthier give it a full setup. Otherwise the Stingray is a joy to play on, even if it weighs at least twice what the Les Paul does (no joke, holy shit). I did replace the small guitar amp in the living room with a larger Fender bass amp, and it’s unbelievable how light it is! Yeah it weighs less than the Stingray, jeez. I still have the other bass amp in the garage, and like the drums would prefer to donate rather than try to sell it.

I still have the drums, but I’ve had no urge to play them. It may be worth it to try to sell it for at least a little money, but honestly I’d rather donate it to a school or church.

While I’ve posted twice about searching for a synthesizer, I don’t foresee ever purchasing one. It’s gonna take up too much of what little room I have or could make, and since I already use headphones for Reason I just won’t want to be so “closed off” in the house. It’d bad enough I have to keep the door closed because I can’t trust the cats! I’m likely just going to get a nice compact 25-key MIDI controller to use in Reason. It already offers enough instruments and sounds, and I did also purchase MiniBit for some retro goodness.

Software

For writing there’s a mix of writing in plain text as well as formatting, whether for short stories (and perhaps novels) and screenplays. While I championed doing as much as possible in plain text for years, I’ve recently relaxed and used what I feel is the best tool/software for each aspect. For plain text I use just about anything, switching daily between Notepad++, Sublime, Visual Studio Code, and iA Writer. Due to all the writing for Basic Fantasy RPG being done in LibreOffice, that’s what I’ve tended to use for short stories (and that novel fragment); I even uploaded a short story template for it. I also made one for Apple Pages; if I’m using the laptop for an extended period of time I’ll use that instead of LibreOffice; it just runs so much smoother and really isn’t that overkill for basic writing needs. I do want to try it out on the phone as well.

For the little amount of screenwriting I do, I’ve honestly gotten tired of Fountain, despite the enthusiasm I used to have for it. I didn’t mind writing in a text editor (Visual Studio Code even had an extension for text highlighting), but I grew weary of the little things in Highland that didn’t work, and the newer 2 release didn’t fix them. It also pushed itself more for other kinds of writing, which I didn’t agree with. Yes it can be good to write “distraction free”, but the page structure and length DOES matter in screenwriting, and in Highland particularly I was constantly switching back and forth to the preview. Plus, in 2 it now by default centers character names and dialogue, so it’s already contradicting itself. ANYWAYS, I spent more time testing out Fade In Pro, and my goodness I can’t believe I didn’t go with that sooner. Plus, when I had an issue with something I emailed Kent and he not only replied within a day or so, he incorporated some changes in the next release, which didn’t come too long after. Amazing! Oh yeah, it’s also the ONLY screenwriting program to run on Linux. Boom.

For file syncing I’m still on Dropbox. It’s never had a problem, and again it’s the only one in its category to run on Linux. I don’t have my pictures on it anymore, so I have more than enough space for documents.

For web browsing I’m pretty split between Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. The latter is just due to the battery life on the laptop, while I prefer Firefox overall for its open nature, plug-ins, and bookmark syncing.

For audio I’m still Team Reason. I finally upgraded to 10, and overall have been pretty happy with it. It is a bit hard to work on the laptop’s smaller screen, while at work it’s amazing to have it all showing or still split off parts of it to hide when not immediately needed. It still looks meh on a high-res screen, and there is a lot of newer items that can put off those new to Reason and DAWs period. But, it’s still the easiest for me to work with, and I hope to spend more time with it.

Bandcamp find: Matthew S. Burns

Like most of my interests, my enthusiasm in programming ebbs and flows, usually in pretty lengthy periods of time. In my most recent flow I’ve been looking into a growing category of games that either have some programming aspect to it, or even entirely focused on it. One game company that has taken this type of game and run with it is Zachtronics. They have released multiple games, including Infinifactory, Shenzhen I/O, and the upcoming Exapunks. While looking into these games I found a Bandcamp link for the composer of these games, Matthew S. Burns. While I initially started listening because of Exapunks, his soundtrack for Shenzhen I/O has actually grown the most on me, and it’s a wonderful ambient electronic album to play when working on coding, writing, or just relaxing and taking a moment to forget everything.

Bandcamp find: Mildlife

As mentioned in my post on Nim Quartet, I’ve been searching Bandcamp for more music where bass is a featured instrument. While not quite rooted in pure jazz, Mildlife have taken a mix of jazz, funk/disco, and psychedelic rock and cooked up some of the best music I’ve heard in quite awhile! I like that it has plenty of acoustic bass, but also some synth in there as well. I will definitely be checking out the various tags to find more music like this.