Reinventing your old MacBook

Back in 2008, I generally stepped away from Windows computers in my home.  Our school district was still Windows-based (at the time), and I eventually bought a small Asus T-100 to use when helping teachers (through the blog) with Windows issues.

As I have mentioned recently, I have to retire the Asus as it is a 32-bit computer and too many programs require 64-bit operation these days.

My MacBook dates back to November 2008.  I originally bought it to make iPhone apps.  I quickly learned that Cocoa, Objective C, and Xcode were things that I would need significant training with to be able to program…and I didn’t have the time as a teacher and parent to learn them (I would still like to, and if I won the lottery, I would want to be an adjunct professor at some college and then a programming student).  My MacBook was $1700 with the included Apple Care (I do recommend it on a MacBook), and it was a tough price to pay.

Eight years later, I am still using that machine.  I have put in a couple of traditional hard drives over the years, had the DVD drive replaced under warranty, and put in the maximum amount of memory.  Until this fall, this MacBook has been supported by Apple OS upgrades, so it is running the latest version of OS X (El Capitan).  Sadly, Apple has announced this will be the last version it can run–it is just too old.  Early in its life, I dropped the MacBook (while in a bag) and there is a good dent in the corner, and there are lots of other scratches on the machine.  But the machine was slow, and it does lack some features that come with newer MacBooks.

All that said, I breathed new life into my MacBook, which will keep me from having to buy a new MacBook (one is coming, but this extends its life further).  First, I was sent the WIDI Bud by CME for a review, and now my old MacBook has BLE MIDI (Bluetooth MIDI).  Second, I bought a SSD Drive from Amazon on Amazon Prime Day–a 480GB Drive for $92.

Let me be clear about this: If you have a MacBook that uses a traditional drive, an SSD drive will make your machine into a completely different device.

On this older MacBook, replacing a hard drive is relatively easy…with newer MacBooks, it is possible, but requires a little more work to do.  You need to have an enclosure for a new drive (take a look at those offered by OWC, or just buy the kit containing drive and enclosure).  Then you install the new drive in the enclosure, connect it to the MacBook, and run a cloning program.  I recommend Carbon Copy Cloner, which has worked for me every time I have cloned my Hard Drive.

When that program is done, you turn off your computer, make sure you ground yourself (avoid static electricity), disassemble your computer, remove the old drive, install the new drive, put everything back together, and start up the computer.

You will be left with a MacBook that is exactly the same, but incredibly faster.

If you have a MacBook Air, you already have an SSD drive.  So do the new MacBooks.

All that said, I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase a used MacBook from 2009 or 2010 (which should still be eligible for Mac OS Sierra) on the cheap, buy a new SSD drive, and walk away with a computer that will last for years.

The real “line in the sand,” however, is 2012.  2012 was the year where MacBooks could communicate via AirDrop with iPads and iPhones, and when BLE was integrated into the device.  So for a machine that will last even longer, look for 2012 or newer.

I’m not sure how much longer I will be using this MacBook.  It still has cosmetic damage and the battery just doesn’t last (it is on its 3rd battery).  But it works with everything that I throw at it, and even programs that used to struggle (e.g. Finale 2014.5), it can run those programs without an issue thanks to a speedy SSD drive.

Of course, if you are terrible with electronics and struggle to use a screwdriver or to run a program on a computer–don’t try to replace your hard drive.  Find someone else that can do it with you or for you.

But if you are a MacBook user whose computer is old and slow…putting in a new drive is a great way to breathe new life into an old purchase.

If you are a Windows user, you’ll need to check forums to see what options exist for your machine.

One other thought: make sure that your SSD drive is TRIM capable, and after your new drive is installed, make sure to turn on TRIM support.  TRIM allows the Mac OS to properly manage the new SSD drive to make sure that data is stored and erased properly for the maximum life of the drive.

 

Yamaha MD-BT01 Bluetooth MIDI Adapter

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Yesterday morning, a package from Yamaha arrived.  That package contained the MD-BT01 Bluetooth MIDI Adapter, the sister product to the UD-BT01 that I reviewed a couple of weeks ago.

As I write this post this morning, I think there are four questions that should be asked:

  1. Why am I writing about BLE MIDI?  Why is it important?
  2. Why did Yamaha make both the MD and UD versions of this device?
  3. Does the MD-BT01 Work?
  4. Should I buy it?

So let’s take a look at those questions, not necessarily in that order.

As for BLE MIDI (Bluetooth Low Energy MIDI), I consider it a format that revolutionizes MIDI interaction with computers (or mobile devices).   I have nothing against MIDI, and I think it is a pretty remarkable standard.  Think about it: MIDI 1.0 was released in 1983, which is over 30 years ago.  Look around your house or office and ask yourself this: what item of technology is still using the same basic standard that it has used for thirty years?

That said, interaction with software and MIDI was always complicated for me.  We have MIDI do things it was never really intended to do (which again, is quite amazing) but dealing with MIDI settings and software can be tricky.

BLE MIDI does two things.  First, it simplifies the MIDI connection process (particularly on iOS Devices).  Second, it removes wires.  Both of these things makes my life better as a singer, player, arranger, composer, and teacher.  It is the single advancement in the past five years (after the iPad) that has real impact on my life.

Meanwhile, there are only a handful of companies doing anything with BLE MIDI.  I reach out to those companies and ask to test products.  On most occasions, companies wish to get the word out.  On some occasions, I am nicely told to “take a hike” (most recently by a company that rhymes with “Borg.”)  I am grateful for the many companies, in this case, Yamaha, that sends a product that I can test.

Back at Winter NAMM (January), Yamaha introduced two new Wireless MIDI Adapters.  One was the UD-BT01 and the other was the MD-BT01.  These both sell in the $50 range and enable a keyboard without BLE MIDI to have it.  The UD-BT01 is a USB adapter, allowing a keyboard with USB MIDI to plug into the adapter (which itself plugs into a power adapter).  The MD-BT01 (the subject of this review) simply plugs into the MIDI ports on the back of a keyboard.

The MD-BT01 functions in a way that is similar to an older product, the Quicco Sound mi.1.  The mi.1 features shorter ports, but each plug is square, whereas the Yamaha MD-BT01 is the same size as a regular MIDI cable.  The mi.1 has three flaws at the moment: it cannot connect to the CME WIDI Bud, the square part can conflict with the back of some keyboards (some do not have clearance around the MIDI ports), and it requires a MIDI port that has a powered pin.  The Yamaha MD-BT01 only has one of these flaws, which is that it also depends on power from a MIDI port with a powered pin.  Some keyboards (particularly those that are older) do not have a powered pin, and therefore the MD-BT01 (or the mi.1) will not work for those keyboards.  I also like that the MD-BT01 has a little more cable between the two sides of the adapter than the mi.1.  This just offers a little more flexibility when working with the device.

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The Yamaha MD-BT01 on the left, the Quicco Sound mi.1 on the right.  Notice the different in depth and design.

I had thought that the longer length of the MD-BT01 (versus the mi.1) could have been a problem when your keyboard was against a wall, so I compared the MD-BT01 to a regular MIDI cable.  It turns out that the MD-BT01 isn’t much longer (half an inch) than a regular MIDI cable, so those fears were unwarranted.

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The MD-BT01 isn’t much longer than a traditional MIDI cable.

The MD-BT01 is also labeled on each plug, having an arrow to show which side goes to MIDI IN, and which goes to MIDI out.  Plug it in, turn on the power, and you are ready to connect with your device (as long as your device is BLE MIDI enabled).

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The MD-BT01 connected in the back of the keyboard.

As expected, the MD-BT01 connects easily to the iPad (remember, you have to connect using a program that connects to the BLE MIDI device, such as GarageBand).  It can also interact with more recent (2012) MacBooks, and nearly any other device via the CME WIDI Bud.  I was finally able to get my old Windows device (Asus T-100) to connect to BLE MIDI devices with the WIDI Bud (I needed to use Notion to do it).  That said, it is time to give that old Asus away, as it cannot handle 64-bit programs (like Finale).

As another tip, George Litterst let me know that there is a program to update the firmware of both the MD-BT01 and the UD-BT01.  You can find that app (iOS) here.  It is an iPhone app, but it does run on iPads, too.  One of the great things about this app is that you can rename the device (if you were going to be running multiple BLE adapters, which is possible).  However, you have to re-rename the device every time you update the firmware (the firmware restores the original name).  Incidentally, George created a iOS MIDI guide for TimeWarp, which may be of interest to you.

MD UD App

The MD-BT01/UD-BT01 app.

Now: the big question: do you need one of these?

If you have an older keyboard without BLE MIDI (which represents most keyboards), I think there is significant reasons to add that capability.  Right now there are four ways to add BLE MIDI to an older keyboard: The mi.1, the UD-BT01, the MD-BT01, and the Zivix PUC+.

I can’t really recommend the mi.1.  At one point, it was less expensive than other options, but that really isn’t true any longer.  The device is in its third revision, but in my tests I could not get the mi.1 to connect to the CME WIDI Bud (although it does connect to my iOS devices).  Even though it is in its third revision, it still has the same design and flaws as I mentioned earlier in the article.

The MD-BT01 (the focus of this review) is something I can recommend.  Its form factor is the similar to the mi.1, but different enough that port clearance is never an issue.  It comes from a well-respected manufacturer, and is priced fairly.  It works with the WIDI Bud, which mean that you can make a Chromebook, old MacBook, or Windows computer into a BLE enabled device.  The only time the MD-BT01 might not work for you is if your keyboard lacks a powered MIDI port.  In that case, see the Zivix PUC+.

The UD-BT01 is basically the same device as the MD-BT01, but requires a USB connection and a power adapter.  If your keyboard is new enough to have a USB MIDI connection, it likely also has a powered MIDI port, so honestly, I don’t see why you would choose the UD over the MD.  That said, I do have a couple of keyboards that only have a USB port (such as my Akai LPK-25, which is still available) that requires external power, and the UD-BT01 can work with that device.  Like the MD-BT01, the UD-BT01 works with the WIDI Bud.  It is also priced in the $50 range.

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The two new Yamaha BLE wireless MIDI devices: the MD-BT01 (with MIDI plugs) and UD-BT01 (with USB connectivity)

The Zivix PUC+ is a BLE wireless MIDI Adapter that has its own power source (AA batteries), a single MIDI port, and USB connectivity.  The positive thing about the PUC+ is that it pretty much works with anything you throw at it, as it provides its own power and is unleashed from wall plugs.  In terms of negatives, it uses batteries and only has a single traditional MIDI port.  It sells for $99.  If your keyboard has MIDI without a powered port or USB MIDI, this is the solution for you.

Don’t you love that we have all of these options today?  All four options work with iOS.

And again, don’t forget the WIDI Bud, the small USB adapter that turns most non-BLE devices into BLE capable devices (including old iPads, but the iPad USB camera connection kit would be required).  It really works (and is also $50)!

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The WIDI Bud can make your old computer/tablet into a BLE equipped tablet.

Let’s say you have an old MacBook and an “old” Keyboard (with USB).  For $100, you can add BLE capability to your setup without having to buy a new MacBook and keyboard.  In the short run, that saves you $1700 ($1200 MacBook, $600 keyboard).

Back to the topic at hand: the MD-BT01.  Yamaha has made an attractive and pragmatic wireless MIDI adapter that can be attached to your existing keyboard through its MIDI ports to turn your old keyboard into a BLE MIDI Keyboard.  As long as your keyboard is new enough to have a powered MIDI pin in its MIDI port, this is a great device to purchase.

 

 

 

 

Finale 25 Now Available

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 8.20.58 PMEarlier today, Finale 25 was released by MakeMusic.  The program (Windows/Mac) features new 64-bit architecture, bug fixes from previous versions, transposing playback (see instruments at their written pitch, hear them played at their played pitch), and an expanded library of Garritan Sounds.  For those of you who interact with pro audio applications, you can now do that through ReWire (I don’t use pro audio applications for my workflow).

I have only been working with Finale 25 for a little while today…I was given a preview copy, but I had some installation problems on my old MacBook (those difficulties disappeared when I used the public installation file that was released today).

My first opinion: Finale 25 opens and runs like Finale.  As much as that seems like the understatement of the year, remember that this program has been reworked extensively, so to have a program continue to look and operate as it did before is no small feat.  It is also important that previous users are able to open the program and use it.    Remember the nightmare for Sibelius users when a new version changed the operation of the program with Microsoft Office-like ribbons?  As another example, Finale has encouraged “simple entry” for years, yet those of us who have used the program for a long time (I raise my hand here) still use “speedy entry.”  Both options still exist, and menus all seem to be where they ought to be.

The upgrade price is $149 from a previous version of Finale, and of course, if you have bought Finale recently (e.g. last week), I would contact MakeMusic directly to see what they can do.

Should you upgrade?  Obviously, MakeMusic would prefer it if you did–and there is nothing wrong with that.  Your upgrade helps the company keep the lights on and continue development on the program.

If you are a Mac user, MakeMusic has let some versions of Finale fall into obsolescence on the Mac due to “old” OS conflicts.  I don’t expect MakeMusic to continue supporting old versions of any operating system, so if you have a Mac that can run El Capitan (current) or Sierra (coming), it might be worth the upgrade price to guarantee continued operation in the future.

If you are a Windows user, you are going to need a 64-bit machine to run Finale 25.  Sadly, my Windows machine is an Asus T-100 Transformer that runs 32-bit programs.  It is time to send that computer to the farm (it doesn’t feel that old, and in fact, my MacBook is older).  To check whether your old Windows computer is compatible, open the Windows Start Menu, Choose “System” and then look under “About.”  There is a category called “System type,” and my Asus reads, “32-bit operating system, x64-based processor.”  Time for me to buy the Surface 4 Pro, I guess (but in truth, I need a new MacBook and 12.9″ iPad Pro first–as well as a few more ukuleles!).

If you have a more recent machine,  the 64-bit program should be marginally faster and more stable than Finale 2014.  If you are running Finale 2012 on a 64-bit Windows computer, it is time to upgrade.  If you are running Finale 2014, you’ll have to decide whether the new features of transposing playback, expanded Garritan sounds, and ReWire integration are worth the upgrade to you.  If you export audio tracks for rehearsal files, the expanded Garritan sounds should make the purchase worthwhile, and if you are a band director who makes scores for your students, transposed playback will be a nice (must have?) feature.

Missing in Finale 25 is scanning, which was recently pulled from the product.  Have no fear–there are still ways to get music from paper or PDF into Finale, you’ll just have to do it outside of the Finale sandbox.  Although I will blog about that in the future, look at Neuratron’s PhotoScore Ultimate 8, Notateme/PhotoScore on iOS and Android, and the latest version of Musitek’s SmartScore X2.  All of these programs export scanned materials to MusicXML, which can be read by Finale.

So…congratulations to MakeMusic, and best wishes for a great launch and continued success!

Creating Ukulele Fretboard Chords in Notion

On my ukulele website, ukestuff.info, I created a post showing how to use Notion to create in-line ukulele fretboard symbols to make a lead sheet.

This is really crossover material, as it involved technology and music education, and some of you may want to add other types of chord symbols in-line to your own lead sheets for students.

You can find the article here: https://ukestuff.wordpress.com/2016/08/12/creating-fretboard-chords-for-ukulele-in-notion/

And for those of you who would like to watch the accompanying video without clicking through:

Some Sight Reading News

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A couple of sight reading updates have come to my attention, and I wanted to share those with you.

First, Dale Duncan has teamed up with MusicProdigy, and for $100, teachers can sign up for a version of Music Prodigy for all of their students that gives them access to Dale’s exercises.  As a teacher that uses the S-Cubed Method (which I think is appropriate for upper elementary or high school as much as Dale sells it as a Middle School method), I think I will be buying this for my students.  The S-Cubed Method is available through Teachers Pay Teachers, and I highly recommend it.

Second, Sight Reading Factory is an app that generates endless sight reading examples, and can now generate multi-voice exercises for vocal and instrumental music.  Sight Reading Factory does have an iPad version, but also works on Mac, Windows, and Chromebooks.  Sight Reading Factory offers some trial materials, but understandably, full access requires payment.  SRF is also available as a part of MusicFirst offerings.

 

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