Welcome to onfocus—a weblog by Paul Bausch where I post recommended links, my photos, and occasional thoughts. Subscribe here if you like RSS.

Light Saturday

an old oak tree with unusual colors

Some mellow guitaring for your Saturday.

Underunderstood
Great podcast episode about those mystery Chinese seeds that people were getting in the mail a while back. It's a good story that touches on our collective paranoid psychology, Amazon scams, government agencies, international shipping, and the weight of seeds.
Washington Post
"Each lawyer has a responsibility to evaluate the merits of a case or an argument before bringing it before a judge. No one, in fact, has a right to file frivolous lawsuits, and lawyers are supposed to either talk their clients out of filing frivolous claims or withdraw from the representation. Telling a client they have no case, when that’s what the facts and law indicate, is an essential part of the job. If lawyers fail to do so, court-imposed sanctions or bar discipline can follow."
I hope there are some consequences for these frivolous lawsuits.
New York Times
"In response, the employees proposed an emergency change to the site’s news feed algorithm, which helps determine what more than two billion people see every day. It involved emphasizing the importance of what Facebook calls “news ecosystem quality” scores, or N.E.Q., a secret internal ranking it assigns to news publishers based on signals about the quality of their journalism...Typically, N.E.Q. scores play a minor role in determining what appears on users’ feeds."
Facebook has developed an internal metric for determining the quality of a news source but they choose not to use that knowledge in how they distribute information.
buildbackbetter.gov
First message on Biden's .gov transition site:
"We are building an administration that looks like America."
Very relieved and happy about this: The presidential transition begins as the GSA formally recognizes Biden’s victory. Also, this: Biden Names First Cabinet Picks, None of Whom Want to Destroy World Order.

Knock Knock

a campfire with colors from purple to red

Who's there? Every 80's synth sound.

Factory Chime

clouds in a glass ball with psychedelic colors

Goofing around with an MPD218 + GarageBand.

The Markup
“We will prioritize pages with great page experience, whether implemented using AMP or any other web technology, as we rank the results,” Google said in a blog post.
This is amazing. The AMP experience in Safari on an iPhone is terrible. AMP doesn’t even do well the thing it set out to do. Add in the way Google HOSTS those pages causing domain confusion and you get a total mess that has only been adopted because Google has monopoly power. Making efficient pages is a good goal but AMP in its current form can’t die soon enough.
The Atlantic
"It’s time to buckle up and lock ourselves down again, and to do so with fresh vigilance. Remember: We are barely nine or 10 months into this pandemic, and we have not experienced a full-blown fall or winter season. Everything that we may have done somewhat cautiously—and gotten away with—in summer may carry a higher risk now, because the conditions are different and the case baseline is much higher."
This article has a good summary of positive news that is on the horizon for ending the pandemic. But we need to buy more time to get there and that means getting through winter. Oregon just ordered a two week freeze to try to get a handle on climbing cases and hospitalizations.

Rain Wave

raindrops reflected on a surface with psychedelic colors


New lofi twin peaks-ish track. I guess my blog is my SoundCloud now?

(The sound effects in this track are thanks to cc attribution-licensed sounds I found: Rain Background and Distant Thunder which both appear to be by Mike Koenig but I couldn't find a definitive link. Thanks for making your sounds available!)

Coping with GarageBand

One of the activities I miss most from pre-pandemic times is getting together with friends in a garage and making music. I still get together and play online with friends via JamKazam. We affectionately call it Lag Jam which gives you some indication of the problems with playing live together online.

Part of the process of getting up and running with JamKazam was getting my instruments wired more directly into my computer. A microphone pointed at an amplifier works ok, but once you're running your guitar directly in, the sound improves dramatically. I picked up a Yamaha AG03 USB mixer which lets me plug in a guitar and mic and that's all I need.

Getting the mixer opened up more possibilites than just live jamming. I also got a new Mac Mini not too long after lockdown and started playing around with GarageBand so I could add parts to my own playing. Cringe along with me at an early stab at recording The Girl from Ipanema:


(I was inspired to record it after watching this amazing video: The Girl From Ipanema is a far weirder song than you thought.)

I was lulled into thinking I could record with GarageBand because the interface is simple at first glance:

GarageBand interface showing six instrument tracks

The basic function of selecting a track and pressing record is easy to figure out. However, each button here is hiding a world of knobs, settings, and sounds you can tweak:

GarageBand interface showing the pedal board, loops panel, automation tools, and more

If you search around for GarageBand help online the first thing you'll see at every forum is someone responding to a GarageBand question with "Get a real DAW, newb!" (Digital Audio Workspace). Yes, and: GarageBand is surprisingly configurable once you dig beneath the surface a bit.

Early on I commandeered the family electric piano (my kids have moved on to cellos) and that opened up the world of MIDI instruments in GarageBand. Not only do I have dozens of keyboard sounds to choose from, but it lets me add percussion to recordings like the latin shakers in that early track.

Here's a heavy synth track I put together while I was watching election returns come in:


Some parts of learning to record felt awkward—like playing to a click track to keep things synced. But the part that I really enjoy that is different from playing live is finding sounds that work well together. Anyway, here's Wonderwall (not really, it's a Boards of Canada style track I made after I discovered loops and sound effects exist in GarageBand):


I'm trying to incorporate more guitars with my synths and having fun with lofi-style tracks:


There are good tutorials for GarageBand out there. This one helped me select some good sounds to go together to get a head start: How To Make LoFi Beats In GarageBand. One more, why not?


In conclusion, to sum up, all in all goofing around in GarageBand has been a fun pandemic activity that has given me some new ways to enjoy music. And if that isn't a real DAW, whatever. (Thanks for listening, I don't have a SoundCloud.)
New York Times
"The New York Times contacted the offices of the top election officials in every state on Monday and Tuesday to ask whether they suspected or had evidence of illegal voting. Officials in 45 states responded directly to The Times. For four of the remaining states, The Times spoke to other statewide officials or found public comments from secretaries of state; none reported any major voting issues."
Good to see confirmation.
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