Dillon Mok

tech, music and more

The 30 Day Song Challenge

06 July 2024

I thought it would be a fun challenge for myself to post a new guitar cover every day for 30 days during my uni break. It would be good way to get me practicing guitar and working on my transcribing, composition, and recording skills.

I asked my friends on Instagram for song suggestions, which allowed me to discover and play music that I'm not so familiar with, as well as get others involved and excited about the challenge.

It also serves as a bit of a content creation experiment. People always say that you need to post regularly on platforms like Instagram or YouTube if you want to be successful and picked up by the algorithm. This challenge was the perfect opportunity to put that to the test. One month is not very long and regular uploads does not guarantee results, nor do I expect my videos to go viral or anything, but I was interested to see what would happen anyway. I have been shooting my covers as 45-60 second vertical videos and posting them to Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts and TikTok.

At the time of writing this, I'm currently on Day 19 of the challenge. I'll do a full writeup about the results at the end, but I'm happy to say that I have not yet missed a day. I'm enjoying the process of recording these covers and writing a short solo/guitar part over these songs (most of which do not have solos or lead guitar parts).

If you want to follow along on the final 12 days of this challenge, or go back and watch any of the previous days, you can find it all on my YouTube channel. Any support is greatly appreciated.

I will leave you with one of my favourite covers of the series so far, First Love/Late Spring by Mitski.

Brandon Shepherd's Overcomplicating Famous Brands

30 June 2024

If you haven't come across him yet, Brandon Shepherd makes excellent YouTube videos where he'll take famous brands/logos and remix the designs in some way. His work is really awesome and makes me wish I had half the drawing skills or even patience that he has.

My favourite video of his is "I Overcomplicated Famous Brands". Check it out:

Bilmuri

21 June 2024

I have been loving the singles from Bilmuri, the solo project of Johnny Franck (formerly of Attack Attack!).

His upcoming album "AMERICAN MOTOR SPORTS" comes out June 28. I would describe this album as country metal, a sound I wasn't sure if I'd be into at first. But the songs are super fun and catchy. Johnny is a really good songwriter and pulls off the mix of country and metal surprisingly well.

All the singles are great, but "TALKIN' 2 UR GHOST" has to be my favourite.

Don't miss the interview Nik Nocturnal did with him:

Thoughts on WWDC24

11 June 2024

Here are my reactions and thoughts about Apple's announcements at WWDC24:

  • That intro was incredible. Phil flying the plane and using an old iPod, Mike wearing a Vision Pro. Craig's hair helmet was perfect.
  • I cannot wait for Severance season 2.

Vision Pro

  • 2000 apps for Vision Pro, but no Netflix or YouTube.
  • Turning 2D photos into 3D looks cool, interested to see how well this feature works.
  • I wonder how much the new Canon lens for capturing spatial video costs.
  • Vision Pro coming to more countries. That's exciting, more people will get to try the demos in-store. Of course there's no New Zealand, but can't complain as we don't even have Apple stores here.

iOS

  • Placing icons anywhere on the grid. FINALLY
  • Years ago I wanted dark mode app icons, but since then I've come to appreciate the beautiful colours of icons from different apps. Colour tinting does not look very nice in my opinion, at least not the colours they showcased in the keynote.
  • You can remove the app names under the icons. FINALLY
  • My friend said it well, the rounded icons in Control Centre look like a Xiaomi Android skin.
  • Third-party controls in Control Centre. And you can replace the flashlight and camera. FINALLY
  • Locked and hidden apps. Not something I care for myself, but definitely a good feature to have.
  • New Contacts privacy API is great.
  • Emoji tapbacks. FINALLY
  • Looking forward to the new Mail design, it makes the app look more modern.
  • The Photos redesign looks nice if you have a lot of nice photos.
  • Reminders integration in Calendar. Nice!

Audio and Home

  • I wonder how sensitive the nod/shake detection is for AirPods. I could see accidentally accepting/declining calls if you move your head too fast.

watchOS

  • Training load and effort rating is a neat feature. Reminds me of some of the stuff Fitbod is doing.
  • Pausing activity rings and custom goals for each day of the week. I might start using the rings feature now, it didn't really click with me in its current state.
  • Double tap API. Hopefully we will see more third-party apps adopting this feature!

iPadOS

  • The floating tab bar looks neat. Customisation reminds me of the old iPod/Music app tab bar in like what, iOS 6? More of that please!
  • I like the new file picker design in the iWork suite and Swift Playground.
  • Remote control of iOS/iPadOS devices during screen sharing is huge for family tech support.
  • Calculator app on the iPad. FINALLY
  • The new Math Notes feature is awesome. This will be huge for uni students and makes me tempted to use an iPad for note-taking.
  • New handwriting stuff in Notes is cool. The fake handwriting feels slightly weird to me though, but a nice feature nonetheless.

macOS

  • iPhone mirroring is super cool. Great for accessing those iPhone-only apps without leaving your Mac workflow. Can't wait to use this feature.
  • Tiling window management. I currently use Moom for this functionality. It's likely more powerful than Apple's but still great to have this built-in.
  • Passwords app. FINALLY

And now we get to the juicy stuff in AI.

Apple Intelligence

  • It's all very private, (mostly) on-device and basically the "Apple way". Thumbs up
  • Summaries in Mail, Messages and notifications are great.
  • System-wide writing tools. This is what tools like Grammarly offer but in every text field across your devices. Maybe turning your emails into poems is gimmicky but proofreading and grammar checking is genuinely useful.
  • Can't wait to try those new Siri prompts like "show me all the photos of Mom, Olivia and me" and "play the podcast that my wife sent the other day". If they work as advertised, it would be a super cool feature.
  • I was not expecting Apple to go that heavy on the image generation stuff. There's Genmoji (we should've seen that name coming. First Animoji, then Memoji, now this.) which is fine, it works as stickers and even iMessage tapbacks. But then there's the whole Image Playground thing which they're telling people to use in presentations and reports to enhance their content. Personally, I do not like how current AI images usually look, and think it does not look Apple-like and cheapens the brand.
  • ChatGPT access through Siri and the system writing tools? It's what the rumours suggested but having a major third-party system baked into the system is unexpected coming from Apple.

What an event. We'll see a ton of more details as people start digging into the betas. I'm already excited for the new OS releases without any AI features, and the AI stuff looks mostly very cool (except for the image generation), so I'd say it was a good keynote.

What do you think of the announcements at WWDC24? Let me know on Mastodon.

My WWDC 2024 Wishlist

06 June 2024

Here's a quick non-comprehensive list of what I'd like to see at this year's WWDC:

  1. Make Shortcuts great again. Fix the editor and add more actions. Improve the alerts and dialogs on the Mac.
  2. I'd love to see a standalone Passwords app.
  3. Fix home screen widgets being unresponsive/not loading.
  4. Revamp the Music app on the Mac and get rid of its iTunes roots.
  5. Access to the full SF Symbols catalog in more places, such as Reminders, Notes, and Shortcuts.
  6. Updates to the Journal app: allow third-party apps to make journal suggestions. Search bar, more sorting options, a calendar view. The ability to import/export data would be nice for peace of mind :)
  7. More system widgets and clock styles for StandBy.
  8. Allow JIT compilation on the App Store. More emulators!
  9. Maybe WWDC isn't the right place, but I'd love to see some updates to Logic plugins, for example Amp Designer. It hasn't been changed for years and amp sim technology has greatly improved since, I would love to see Apple take another stab at it.

What would you like to see at WWDC? Let me know on Mastodon.

Thoughts on Tidal

30 May 2024

I have been on the free trial of music streaming service Tidal. Here are my thoughts so far as a usual Spotify user:

  • This app feels like Spotify if the designers actually cared about music. No audiobooks, no podcast junk, just pure music and it's glorious.
  • The Mac app is solid. Apple Music is stuck in its iTunes roots and Spotify is a poor use of screen space.
  • The Tidal credits view is awesome. I wish Spotify showed credits more prominently instead of keeping it in a pop-up window.
  • Tidal's algorithmic mixes are quite good, a good variety of stuff I'm not as familiar with rather than Spotify's mixes which are just the same few songs on repeat
  • I like having a shuffle button that actually shuffles the music instead of whatever Spotify's does
  • Can't say I've watched any music videos on Tidal, but I'd much rather have this music-related content than podcasts
  • Tidal music quality is good, about the same as Apple Music from what I can tell. Where in the world is Spotify Hi-Fi?
  • Spotify search is still superior in surfacing the stuff I'm looking for. Tidal search on the desktop also seems a bit broken, sometimes I need to click back into the search field and hit Enter for it to trigger the search.

Overall, I've enjoyed checking out Tidal and seeing what other streaming services have to offer. While I have good things to say about it, I'll go back to Spotify as I'm on a family plan and likely can't convince my family to move to another service.

Adam Savage’s Amazing Animatronic Grogu Puppet

23 May 2024

The animatronic Grogu built by Julio Montagut, showcased in Adam Savage's latest video is insanely cool. The face movements and controls are very well done. I love how clever the design is in the way it hides the mechanisms under the robe, without the need to build a "body" around it.

Stuff like this inspires me to pursue mechatronics engineering and get into robotics.

The Curious Case of Double Trouble Creatives

15 May 2024

I woke up this morning to a spam email sitting in my inbox.

At first glance, I thought it was the typical App Store spam emails I get, usually someone promoting SEO services or offering to buy one of my apps.

However, this email was different. What immediately jumped out to me was the fact it contained four overtly Christian lines. It seemed rather over top, and certainly rose my suspicions that this was, in fact, spam.

I checked the sender address expecting a random address with a weird domain, but it seemed like a legit Gmail address which matched the sender's name (Double Trouble Creatives). Out of curiosity, I googled Double Trouble Creatives to see what would come up.

The results were not what I was expecting.


The top result was a Forbes profile for "Double Trouble Creatives", an Australian startup on the 2020 30 Under 30 list. They made an app called Moji Edit which has more than 10 million users and was highly ranked on the App Store. The cofounders are twin sisters Colina and Hripsime Demirdjian.

Wait, that name sounds familiar. "Hripsime" just sent me an email.

Scrolling down the rest of the Google results, I found the Instagram page for their NFT avatars, a feature of their app on PCMag from 2019, and the twins' LinkedIn page.

Looking at their LinkedIn page, they started a second company called Twinstar Creatives which made apps ScreenKit and StyleKit. Both apps are provide wallpapers, icons and widgets for customising your home screen aesthetic. (ScreenKit was featured on TechCrunch in 2022 with the release of lock screen customisation in iOS 16)

The twins have been featured on the App Store, featured in the WWDC20 video and invited to Apple Park during WWDC22. Not bad.

Apart from ScreenKit and StyleKit, Twinstar Creatives have a bunch of other widget apps, including one for StandBy widgets, widget games, and even a Pixel Pals knock-off.

Browsing these App Store listings, I noticed that the screenshots and app descriptions always contained a Bible verse or two. Nothing wrong with that, the developers are just sharing their faith while promoting their apps.

But then how do you explain this. You are reading the release notes for a virtual pet widget.

If you thought that was weird, look at their LinkedIn bio and their latest post from 7 months ago. (Their prior posts were completely normal and had no references to Christianity.)

Suddenly, that email I got doesn't seem so strange anymore.

It doesn't mean that the Demirdjian twins are really offering me paid app development work, but something is definitely going on here.

I'm not saying you can't pivot to making evangelic apps, but based on online reviews, their recent apps are rather low-quality or even straight-up "scams". Going from being featured in newspapers and attending WWDC to sending spam emails, it seems very strange and suspicious.

It's not just the App Store listing or the LinkedIn page- someone on Reddit reached out to ScreenKit's customer service and they got the following response:

"God bless you! Hope you're doing well. Praise the Lord Jesus for another year! God's Kingdom come and His will be done. We were working hard on optimizing the app size and responsiveness last month. ScreenKit now takes up to 5 times less space on your device than before, but to be able to do this we’ve needed to rework our widgets system. We’ve removed old widgets and introduced new better ones."

I'm not sure what exactly I just discovered, but you can imagine how I felt going down the rabbit hole this morning. If I had to make a guess as to what's going on here, Double Trouble/Twinstar Creatives was sold to new ownership, who decided to spread Christianity in their apps. This sale included the apps, developer accounts, email addresses and even the LinkedIn profile, and the owner decided to keep using the twins' names.

But that's just a theory. It doesn't explain everything but I don't have the journalistic skills to investigate this further so I'll leave it here.

What do you think? Let me know on Mastodon.

Apple’s Let Loose Event Reactions

07 May 2024

As it happened at 2am here in New Zealand, I didn't get to watch Apple's "Let Loose" event live. Instead I watched the replay of the keynote before diving into the product pages and social media.

Here are my reactions to the event, written while watching it:

  • Nice artistic intro graphics of Apple Park.
  • Is this the first event in HDR? Shot on iPhone again?
  • Biggest day for iPad. About time!
  • iPad Air up first.
  • John Ternus on the train? Makes sense.
  • 11 and 13 inch Air. Just as expected
  • Landscape camera. Finally!
  • That guy put on AirPods Max. When are they gonna update them?
  • Colours look kinda meh
  • Magic Keyboard and old Apple Pencil live on.
  • $599 is a solid starting price for the Air.
  • iPad Pro time! "It's thinpossible"
  • Black iPad Pro. Please???
  • When John said "crush", he literally meant it.
  • Thinnest Apple product. (iPad nano shoutout!)
  • Space Black!
  • Not just one OLED, but two OLED screens!
  • "Tandem OLED"
  • "Ultra Retina XDR" on both sizes- very nice!
  • John Siracusa will love this.
  • Nano-texture glass option. Rumours were pretty spot-on.
  • M4! Apple is literally racing with these chips.
  • M4 is pretty good for AI, huh?
  • "AI PC"?
  • Up to 4x faster than M2 iPad Pro.
  • Final Cut and Logic 2!
  • Live Multicam and Final Cut Camera actually look pretty cool.
  • If Final Cut Camera works as a standalone camera, it will probably replace Blackmagic Camera in my workflow (Blackmagic Camera isn't super reliable for me)
  • Session Players- Drummer, but for keyboards and bass! (When is this coming to the Mac version?)
  • Stem splitter- nice to see Apple introducing AI features before WWDC. (I need this on the Mac version of Logic already!)
  • Coloured/matte camera bump- that's new right?
  • They did it. Landscape camera with Pencil charging on top!
  • Function row on the new Magic Keyboard!
  • Aluminium palmrest... is the whole thing aluminium?
  • (That was quick.)
  • Apple Pencil Pro.
  • That Procreate transition was pretty cool.
  • Squeeze gesture with haptics. (Haptics would actually be pretty cool)
  • Gyroscope.
  • Find My on Apple Pencil. Neat
  • Procreate CEO gets airtime. Fitting.
  • Pencil Pro works with iPad Air as well.
  • (Does regular pencil work on new iPad Pro?)
  • $999 starting price. That's gone up, hasn't it?
  • iPad base model price drop. Nice.
  • iPad mini gets a shoutout
  • Yep, shot on iPhone again!

Pretty short event as expected. Rumours got pretty much everything right. While the new iPad Pros look very nice, I don't use the iPad quite enough to justify the price, although I'm kinda interested in an 11" Air to replace my 2017 10.5" iPad Pro.

Just a quick detail I noticed on the website: the new iPads, both Air and Pro, support the new Pencil Pro and USB-C Pencil. So the 1st and 2nd gen Pencils are effectively outdated, although still very much on sale.

Jacob Collier’s Home Studio Tour

05 May 2024

Caleb Simpson's latest video showcasing Jacob Collier's home studio is an absolute delight. Jacob is a massively successful musician, yet he chooses to keep the room he literally grew up in as his main base/studio. It's rather beautiful and profound.

Some highlights from the video:

  • Jacob's desk made from an old Ikea shelf (my family have the same shelf!) is testament that you don't need a fancy setup to be successful.
  • Need a hi-hat sound? Use a box of your grandfather's spoons.
  • Many musicians dream of winning a Grammy. Jacob uses his as instruments
  • Jacob's idea of a "post-genre world" resonates with me and is something I think about when writing my own music.

Last thing, with that many instruments everywhere and all the gear on the desk, I'd be afraid bringing water anywhere near. This cup on the desk seems like an accident waiting to happen.

Say what you like about Jacob Collier, but I love his music and what he does. The fact that he's rather open about his creative process is an absolute gift to songwriters and musicians.

Let Loose on 7 May

24 April 2024

Apple have announced their next online event on 7 May at 7am PT, titled "Let Loose". The artwork for this event, if you haven't seen it already, is very artistic and features a hand holding an Apple Pencil.

Like the rest of the internet, I'm hoping we get some major changes to the iPad line, especially for the iPad Pro. I'm currently holding onto a 10.5" model from 2017- if these new models are good I might be tempted to upgrade. Apart from the highly-rumoured OLED screen, I would love to see a selfie camera in the horizontal orientation, a second USB-C port, a variety of new accessories (keyboards with different form factors, a magnetic screen cover for tactile handwriting, or a drafting table-like stand perhaps?) and some fun colours.

I made the joke on the Club MacStories Discord that we're not getting new iPads at this event, but instead it's clearly about bringing the Apple Pencil to the iPhone. I know, who wants a stylus, but an "Apple Pencil mini" that works with the iPhone is actually a product I'd be interested in. I've wanted to take quick handwritten sketches on my phone but my fingers are too fat and imprecise for it to be a good experience. Not sure if we'll ever see it, but I strongly agree with the opinion that Apple should experiment more and try weird things.

This Week in Metal

13 April 2024

In the last two weeks or so we've seen the release of lots of new music in the modern metal/hard rock scene. There are too many good bands to list them all, so instead here are some my favourite new releases:

Their album "You Won't Go Before You're Supposed To" comes out on 10 May. I can't wait to hear what Knocked Loose and Poppy can come up with in the song "Suffocate", Poppy doing more heavy stuff is what I need in my life. There's also "Slaughterhouse 2", the sequel of the song featuring Knocked Loose on Motionless in White's latest album.

  • Architects - Curse Architects with Jordan Fish and Nolly, this song has a huge chorus and great production.
  • Alpha Wolf - Half Living Things I'm not too familiar with Alpha Wolf's previous music, but this is a solid album of heavy bangers. Gonna be checking out their discography after this one. The outro track "Ambivalence" is my favourite on this album.
  • SeeYouSpaceCowboy... - Red Wine and Discontent I recently got into these guys- they're making emo metal like it's the 2010s (think ADTR) and I love it. Their new album "Coup de Grâce" comes out on 19 April and all the singles have been great.

Random fun fact: when I was six or seven me and my sisters had (private) WordPress blogs. One of mine was called "Music is Fun Guys" and it was me posting music videos and lyrics to whatever songs I was into at the time. Unfortunately I don't have access to that account or any photographic evidence, but I find it amusing how that's come full circle and that's pretty much what I'm doing now with this blog. Seven-year-old me would be proud.

EQing AirPods Pro on the Mac

11 April 2024

Earlier this year, I wrote about the setting for a more balanced sound out of AirPods Pro. It works well for me and is what I use on my iOS devices, however this setting simply does not exist on the Mac.

Lucky for me, macOS allows apps to control system audio so there is no need for the Headphones Accomodation setting. Instead, I have come up with a simple solution that gives maximum control and the optimal listening experience for AirPods Pro. Let me explain.

It starts with SoundSource, the excellent utility by RogueAmoeba for controlling audio on your Mac. One of the many features it has is the ability to apply parametric EQ settings system-wide. This is great for people who like to go in and tweak the EQ of their headphones/speakers exactly to their preferences. My ears are not quite discerning enough to make such often small adjustments, so I prefer to use a more methodical approach and use presets from the AutoEQ repository. SoundSource thankfully has these presets built-in under the Headphones EQ effect.

All I have to do is select the Headphones EQ profile for the AirPods Pro 2, turn on the setting and enjoy music with a balanced, neutral tuning.

That's great but what happens when I want to listen to audio through my speakers or another pair of headphones instead? SoundSource lives in the menu bar, so I just need to go up to the menu bar, click SoundSource and turn off the Headphones EQ setting with a single switch. Easy, right?

You'd be wrong because I am certain type of computer nerd who is incredibly lazy, and clicking a single button every time I put on or take off headphones is too much work.

BetterTouchTool to the rescue! BTT has an automation trigger for when Bluetooth devices connect and disconnect. This means I can make things happen when my AirPods connect/disconnect, like turning on/off an EQ setting. SoundSource provides an interface to most of its features through the Shortcuts app, so I built a shortcut to run through BetterTouchTool.

In BetterTouchTool I pass the parameter "connect" or "disconnect" to the shortcut to determine whether the effect should be turned on or off.

Just like that, the EQ setting is automatically applied when I use my AirPods Pro and turned off accordingly. An EQ setting built directly into AirPods would be more seamless, sure (akin to the Headphones Accomodation setting on iOS), but it likely wouldn't provide the same granular control over the sound that I have using SoundSource. With a few simple automation tricks, you can replicate "missing" features of your devices and often go beyond. That's the beauty of automation.

Tall Business Cards

03 April 2024

As a tall person, there are a bunch of questions people always ask me. Including but not limited to:

  • "How tall are you?",
  • "How tall are your parents?",
  • "Are you the tallest in your family?",
  • "Do you play basketball/volleyball?",
  • "What did you eat growing up?",
  • Or my personal favourite, "How are you so tall?"

I thought I'd have some fun and make cards to hand out to people who ask any of these common height questions. I was inspired by this viral image which you've probably seen a version of on the Internet before. I have no idea what the original source is or who started it- but they always follow the same template.

It's a great idea and exactly what I wanted to do. One thing though: I'm not a fan of that template, so I thought I'd take matters into my own hands and design my own card.

I figured most of the people who will ask about my height and get the joke will be a younger audience (fellow university students) so I put a gaming reference in my design, specifically to the Xbox achievement popup.

Here's the design I came up with:

It's a little snarky, but also adds some fun for the recipient who just unlocked this secret achievement, the card being their badge to keep.

Since making these cards it feels like fewer people have asked me about my height. I've been averaging about one person a week for the past five or so weeks, which isn't bad, but I was honestly expecting more questions especially with me starting university and meeting a whole bunch of a new and curious people. It's just anecdata, but maybe university students are less inclined to ask such questions compared to, say, curious customers in a retail store.

That said, the reception to the cards for those who have asked has been excellent. People have seen the viral images but they don't expect to see such a card in real life. Many people keep the card, while others don't- that's fine, what does one do with a business card nowadays anyway? Nonetheless, the cards have turned attention and questions I used to find slightly annoying to something fun and enjoyable as it gives me an opportunity to bring smiles to people's faces. Instead of awkwardly answering the question as someone stares in amazement of my height, I take one of these out of my pocket and let the card do the talking.

If you see me around, I would love to give you a card, if only to finish my stock so I can print a second batch with a new design.

37

30 March 2024

After watching this fascinating video by Veritasium yesterday (if you're not subscribed to him, what are you doing?) I started seeing the number 37 everywhere. A Spotify playlist I just made yesterday was 37 minutes long. I had 37 minutes tracked in Timery for the day. Today when filming some videos for YouTube one of my clips was shot at 11:37.

Yes, my brain is now primed to look for the number, and if I was looking for another number I might well get the same result. But it is certainly interesting finding this number in the wild, one which seem random but has deep significance in mathematics and might not be so random after all.

Let me know what you think on Mastodon.

What I’m Listening To (March 2024)

23 March 2024

Since I have no idea what to write about for this week, I thought I'd just share the music I'm into at the moment. Serving as a time capsule to capture what I am listening to at the end of March 2024.

1. Twenty One Pilots - Overcompensate

Really solid first single from their upcoming Clancy- which I wrote about here.

2. Jacob Collier - Djesse Vol. 4

This album has been out for nearly a month and it's still on daily repeat on me. Just so many mindblowing songs. I should probably write a full review of the album at some point.

3. Haken - Fauna

Really good prog metal album that I first found through the Elephants Never Forget guitar playthrough on YouTube.

4. Poppy - I Disagree

I'm a little late to this album, only discovering it late last year. Concrete and I Disagree are great metal-pop songs, but some of the later tracks, especially the ending Don't Go Outside are kinda underrated. Unfortunately Poppy's last album isn't as heavy, or good as this one.

5. Genesis Owusu - Struggler

A friend of mine recommended this album to me. It's a wonderful mix of rap, R&B, 80's, pop and rock that sounds really fresh.

Let me know what you think on Mastodon.

Vondynote Against the Wall Speaker Stands Review

16 March 2024

As the next evolution of my desk setup, I bought some stands to raise my studio monitors up to ear-level. I got the "Vondynote Set of 2 Studio Monitor Stands Desktop Clamp Speaker Stands Against the Wall" from Amazon, which was the only option I could find that clamps to your desk and can be setup up against a wall. Other options stick out quite a bit on the back edge of the desk which is not ideal for my setup. There are also stands that are simply placed on top the desk which is fine for me but I wanted to save a bit of desk space if I could.

At around $110 NZD the Vondynote stands happen to be one of the cheaper options. It's also got decent reviews so I thought I'd give it a shot.

Build quality is decent. There are four height adjustment levels and it has a safety pin to prevent the stands from dropping. The screw that clamps to the underside of the desk isn't the thickest but it holds the stands in place just fine.

Each stand come with 2 stick-on foam pads. They're quite thin both in thickness and in width, but they work to prevent the speaker from sliding around on the plate.

The top plate has two holes, allowing you to mount in the middle for a more traditional setup, or mount along the back edge which allows you to setup these up against a wall. At the back position the plate doesn't feel super sturdy, and placing my JBL 305P MKII's on them confirms this- the plate flexes slightly under load due to having insufficient support. This could potentially be solved with a thicker top plate, but for now it seems to hold my speakers well enough. It's not the prettiest because it's not straight but it gets the job done.

Coming from a Chinese company on Amazon, you get what you pay for. It won't be as nice quality as other brands (such as Gator or JamStands) but it's still the best product available in my area to suit my needs. Despite the flaws of this product, I'm greatly enjoying having my speakers at a proper listening height.

Let me know what you think on Mastodon.

Twenty One Pilots: Clancy

01 March 2024

Twenty One Pilots are back with a new single "Overcompensate", with their new album Clancy out on May 17.

This song goes back to the darker, edgy style like we heard on Trench. I wasn't really a fan of Scaled and Icy so I'm excited they are back to this sound. Josh Dun killing it on the drums as usual. I can't wait for the rest of this album.

Last week they released a 4-minute video explaining the lore of the past few albums. Worth checking out for a refresher, or like me you don't follow the lore too closely. It seems the Scaled and Icy part of the story has passed, which is fine by me :)

What do you think of this song and the upcoming album? Let me know on Mastodon.

Living on the Cutting Edge of Software

22 February 2024

For the past several years, I have been fortunate enough to be able to update my Macs to the latest OS releases and not have any core apps in my workflows break. Granted, my workflows aren't the most complicated by any means. I usually don't update to major releases on day one, but I tend to update within a few weeks of them coming out and have been just fine.

That is, until this week, when I was reminded of the risk I take every time I click the Update button: sometimes software changes, stuff doesn't work together and then it breaks.

After updating from macOS Sonoma 14.0 to 14.3 I noticed my music practice tool of choice, Anytune, started having massive performance issues. Audio playback was fine, but the scrolling waveforms were very choppy and input was unresponsive.

I first thought it was a one-off issue or perhaps because my song had several markers (perhaps the most I've ever had in one track), but restarting the app several times, and even reinstalling the app did not help.

Looking at the App Store page for the app, the developers said they are aware of this issue in 14.3 and are working on a fix. But in the meantime, I'm left with a music slow-down application that's really hard to use, if not unusable if you're interacting with the app or looking at the waveforms. It's bad enough that I started looking at alternative apps, although there aren't many great ones. (Anytune wins in the design department compared to its competitors. For now, I'm using Capo, but that's a story for another day.)

In the end, it's not the fault of the Anytune developers or Apple. Instead, it's a reminder for me to be appreciative of software that works and is reliable, and to sometimes remember that instead of always pushing for the latest and greatest.

Duolingo’s Music Course

16 February 2024

I have been playing guitar for about 10 years and studied music theory in high school (as well as on my own), so when the language-learning app Duolingo released a Music course I was curious to check it out.

Duolingo should need no introduction... it's a gamified language learning app with millions of users worldwide and has become quite the meme. At least their social media manager is leaning heavily into it.

Anyways, I tried the first six lessons of the new Music course. Here are my thoughts:

When you first select the Music course, it asks you a series of questions. I chose "I'm new to music" as I wanted to see what a first-time user would experience.

The second question is "Why are you learning music?" I don't think this affects the learning experience, it is likely just a survey question for collecting statistics.

The last intro screen before starting the course tells you a bit about it. It says you will build music skills, learning to read music with no instrument required. You will also learn 200+ fun, familiar tunes, and as well have fun with music.

The course begins with a squat keyboard of 5 keys (ranging from C-E) and the app tells you to play the note C. The C key is helpfully labelled and highlighted.

Then it instructs you to play notes repeatedly, using these black dots with note names on them. These do not have any note values.

While the keyboard somewhat resembles a piano keyboard, albeit short and cute, I don't think there would be much harm in making the keys longer to make it more representative of a real keyboard.

You are soon introduced to a staff, the treble clef and 4/4 time signature, although it does not explain what they are. The instruction is to play the note C. In this lesson, you are to play four crotchets. The app does not explain what crotchets are or their note duration, but when you press a key on the keyboard it will tell you to hold the note until the bar is filled, then that note is "complete". You do this four times to move on to the next lesson. In this lesson there is no metronome or accompaniment, so there is no aural understanding of how long the notes should be held for except for reference clip you can listen to.

A few exercises later and you're now playing a scrolling score, Guitar Hero-style where you play the note when it reaches the cursor. This is the first time we see crotchet rests, although again no explanation as to what they are- at this early stage, it's not important. But when you play the note, you can hold it for as long as you want (or until the next note comes I guess) and there's no penalty for doing so. If they don't want to introduce rests, they could have introduced semibreves at this stage to fill the spaces between notes (From what I saw, semibreves are only taught in Unit 14). They also could add a mechanic to detect when notes are held for longer than they should be.

This is not a big deal, especially for beginners, but I believe a proper foundation is important when it comes to learning music. So far, this course is lacking in the fine details which did not exactly fill me with confidence for the rest of the lessons. When you teach "Hot Cross Buns" with only two notes (C and D) and "Mary Had a Little Lamb" with no G, are you even teaching music?

I did like this ear training exercise though, where you match three intervals to their corresponding sound clips. I found another exercise towards the end of the course where you recreate the rhythm of a song snippet by filling in the blanks and dragging pieces puzzle-style.

After doing the first few lessons, I skipped ahead to the final unit to see the level it goes up to. Scrolling through the 69 units and reading their descriptions, it looks like you learn semibreves, minims, about two octaves of notes, 2/2 time, and dotted crotchets. I can't say without having gone through the entire course, but it does not appear that they teach key signatures, although songs later in the course do feature key signatures such as G, D and Bb.

Another thing I did not like is their use of up and down arrows to indicate octaves. Up and down arrows are not part of musical notation and as a traditionally trained musician I find it rather confusing and unnecessary. Take this exercise for example, why does it ask for a high D specifically, when the small segments they like to break the keyboard into look the same, no matter the octave?


If you have some music theory knowledge, even just the basics, I would not recommend using Duolingo to learn new skills, or to "keep them sharp" as the app suggests. For that I would recommend MusicTheory.net or their Tenuto and Theory Lessons apps for a more thorough and precise learning experience. There are also plenty of excellent music theory resources online or on YouTube that reach a much broader scope than Duolingo and you can pick and choose what to learn at your own pace.

If you are a complete beginner, I suppose you could try Duolingo if you want a gamified experience. The streaks system with online leaderboards is popular with many people although it doesn't work with me personally. I can see this course being popular among younger kids or parents who want their kids to learn, although I'm not sure how skills learned through this app would translate to real world playing.

Am I being too critical or misunderstanding Duolingo's music course? Let me know what you think on Mastodon.

ATP Tour: A Reality Show

10 February 2024

If you're a tennis fan, you've probably seen the ATP Tour YouTube channel where they do interviews, fun games and trivia with the men's tennis players. They've been consistently putting out high quality, entertaining content for the past few years ranging from quizzing players on their careers, showcasing what foods different players like, tour trivia and guessing the silhouettes of players.

This week, however, they released possibly the funniest piece of tennis media ever.

The whole thing is perfect, from the acting from Djokovic and Murray, or should I say Fraser McKnight and Bert Critchley, Monfis being an absolute goofball, Thiem and Rublev recording SFX in the studio, to Rune and Shang as the "kids". The ideas for the next season written on the slideshow are incredible. "Roger comes out of retirement (CGI)" is something we all need in our lives.

Don't forget my favourite line from the video, from Fraser McKnight: "People are stupid, so y'know, they'll buy anything."

Please watch it if you haven't yet already. It's better than anything Netflix could create. (cough Break Point cough)

This video does make me wish that they did even half the media content on the WTA. We hardly get to see any off-court action from the women, apart from what they post on social media.

Let me know what you think of this video on Mastodon.

Blackbox for Vision Pro

01 February 2024

Apple's Developer blog recently wrote a feature on Ryan McLeod's excellent puzzle game Blackbox, and how he is working on a version for visionOS.

I'm a big fan of Blackbox on iOS. I love the creativity of the puzzles and out-of-the-box thinking it requires. For those lucky enough to get an Apple Vision Pro, Blackbox will definitely be a game to try out. I can't imagine the new possibilities for puzzles enabled on this new platform with entirely new interaction models and computing paradigms. I look forward to playing this game in 4-5 years when I can finally get my hands on whatever the current Vision hardware is at the time.

How to Get a Balanced Sound Out of AirPods Pro

26 January 2024

If you're looking for a brighter, more neutral sound on your AirPods Pro, I would recommend trying the Balanced Tone setting. This can be found in the Headphone Accommodations settings in Settings > Accessibility > Audio & Visual. I've been using this setting since November 2022 and haven't looked back since.

This setting is not for everyone, I know. Most people like a punchy, bass-heavy sound and the warm neutral tuning of AirPods out of the box is good for that without being unnatural or exaggerated. However, my preferred tuning for headphones is flat (I like the IEF neutral target), and I find the Balanced Tone setting makes AirPods Pro sound that much sweeter.

Of course, on a Mac you can EQ to your heart's content using an app like SoundSource (my preferred app for headphone EQ). But without parametric EQ in apps like Apple Music and Spotify, the Headphone Accomodations setting is the best thing we have on iOS to tweak the sound of AirPods.

Give it a try and let me know what you think on Mastodon.

Mi Coraźon (feat. Camilo) - Jacob Collier

19 January 2024

A day after revealing the tracklist for his album "Djesse Vol.4", Jacob Collier released the sixth single, "Mi Coraźon", featuring Camilo. I was not expecting another single, we've already heard seven of the sixteen tracks (five singles, two played live). I'm just slightly afraid we won't get enough "new" tracks on album release day itself.

Anyway, I love this song. It's very Latin-pop with the classic Jacobean touch: intricate vocal harmonies and excellent pop production like we heard in Djesse Vol. 3. The beat drop goes really hard. I'm going to be listening to this one on repeat for a while, the bassline is very addictive.

The music video is chaotic, choreographed, loaded with green screen visual effects- very on brand for this album. Camilo's look in this video with the pink glasses, and overall vibe in this reminds me of Oliver Tree.

The song itself is only 3 minutes and 5 seconds long, however the end of the video shows us some clips of Jacob working on the song with Camilo. As a musician/songwriter myself I love getting a peek behind the scenes at artists in their process.

What do you think of this song? Let me know on Mastodon.

Jacob Collier's Djesse Vol. 4 Tracklist

19 January 2024

Jacob Collier revealed the track list for his upcoming album "Djesse Vol. 4" and I couldn't be more excited. The five singles we've heard are all great, and with this tracklist and featured artists revealed, the album is shaping up to be a doozy.

TRACK 1: 100,000 Voices

This is the track sampling all the audience choirs throughout the Djesse World Tour. Jacob's been teasing this one for a while, I just know he's gonna do something insane.

Track 2: She Put Sunshine

We don't get much of a teaser for this song, but we do hear the lyrics "she illuminates me" with an upbeat, happy chord progression. So far I'm liking what I hear, excited for this one.

Track 3: Little Blue (feat. Brandi Carlile)

This song is beautiful and lovely. The Mahogany Session version he did live with fans in London is a must-watch and 8 minutes well worth the time.

Track 4: WELLLL

My favourite song of the singles, it's his foray into a rockier sound and the video saw the introduction of his custom Strandberg. I hope we hear more of this sound in the rest of the album.

Track 5: Cinnamon Crush (feat. Lindsey Lomis)

I was not familiar with Lindsey Lomis so I checked out her popular songs on Spotify. She's got a great voice which I can see fitting nicely with Jacob's.

Track 6: Wherever I Go (feat. Lawrence & Michael McDonald)

Great groovy, soulful vibes on this one.

Track 7: Summer Rain (feat. Madison Cunningham & Chris Thile)

This song was not released as a single but they've played it live. Jacob and Madison's vocal harmonies with the acoustic guitar and Chris Thile's mandolin sound heavenly.

Track 8: A Rock Somewhere (feat. Anoushka Shankar & Varijashree Venugopal)

I'm interested to hear Collier's take on Indian music with Venugopal, an amazing singer, and Shankar, an incredible sitar player.

Track 9: Mi Corazón (feat. Camilo)

The four seconds we hear of this song sounds like a dance banger. Camilo has 19M monthly listeners on Spotify and Latin pop is very popular right now, at least on Spotify. I'm guessing this song will help bring Collier's music to a new audience.

(I wrote this post before Mi Coraźon came out as a single. My reaction to the song can be found here.)

Track 10: Witness Me (feat. Shawn Mendes, Stormzy & Kirk Franklin)

Great song with a warm, wholesome vibe. I'm a big fan of Stormzy's track "This is What I Mean" so it's cool to hear him feature on a Jacob track. The music video is fun and lovely too.

Track 11: Never Gonna Be Alone (feat. John Mayer & Lizzy McAlpine)

Another beautiful song. Love Lizzy's voice. And you can't go wrong with John Mayer's killer touch on the guitar.

Track 12: Bridge Over Troubled Water (feat. John Legend & Tori Kelly)

Looks like he's finally doing a full version of his cover of Bridge Over Troubled Water. Going to be some classic Jacobean acapella with the vocal chops of Tori Kelly and John Legend.

Track 13: Over You (feat, aespa & Chris Martin)

Jacob's worked with Chris Martin/Coldplay before, but was not expecting a crossover with Aespa. Consider me intrigued.

Track 14: Box Of Stars Pt. 1 (feat. Kirk Franklin, CHIKA, D Smoke, Sho Madjozi, Yelle & Kanyi Mavi)

Don't really know what to expect with this song, but that is a stacked list of featured artists and we hear what sounds to be an African-folk inspired teaser.

Track 15: Box Of Stars Pt. 2 (feat. Metropole Orkest, Suzie Collier, Steve Vai & VOCES8)

Jacob worked with Metropole Orkest for most of Djesse Vol.1, with VOCES8 on the intro track and his mum Suzie on "Onto You". Now throw in Steve Vai (who's on "Can You Feel The Love") and this song is going to be crazy. The teaser sounded Djesse Vol. 1-like.

Track 16: World O World (feat. The Aeolians of 2018, Jason Max Ferdinand)

He's performed this one live back in September, and what a way to end the album and the whole Djesse project.


I'm really looking to Djesse Vol. 4 and listening to the rest of the tracks. From what we hear in the teaser this album is like the encapsulation of the past three albums: we hear the orchestral stuff, the mellow acoustic stuff, and some pop/electronic stuff, with many returning featured artists and many new ones too. February 29 is going to be special this year.

Caudabe Sheath for iPhone 15 Pro Review

09 January 2024

I bought the Caudabe Sheath case for iPhone 15 Pro as a Christmas gift to myself. Previously I was using the Incipio Duo case, which is a good MagSafe case but it has a cutout for the Action Button. So when I saw Caudabe had sales on their cases for Black Friday I thought I'd check it out and solve my Action Buttons woes once and for all.

Here's my brief review:

The Sheath case feels sturdy and protective yet still being slimmer than the Duo. It feels great in the hand. I love the grippy texture especially since my hands tend to get sweaty in warm weather.

The Action Button button is perfect, it's way better than cramming my finger into the cutout of my old case.

I opted for the grey colour to match my Natural Titanium iPhone 15 Pro. In past years I would've gone with black, but this year I'm trying to move away from black everything and add more colour to my life. Sure, the grey isn't really colourful but I like the understated look without it being just... black.

Overall, this case exceeded my expectations. For $40 USD it's no cheap case but you get a quality build with buttons and cutouts in all the right places. Would highly recommend this as a sleek MagSafe-compatible case that's stylish with minimal branding.

I'm not sponsored, but you can buy the Caudabe case here.

If you have any questions about the Caudabe Sheath, feel free to send me a message on Mastodon.

My Desk Setup

01 January 2024

I planned this setup for a few years, and after coming home to New Zealand earlier in the year I was able to put it all together.

Here's what I'm using:

Computer: MacBook Pro 16" (Space Grey, M2 Pro, 16GB RAM, 2TB SSD)

I bought this in July 2023, six months after the M2 Pro MacBook Pros were launched. Had I known the M3 MBPs were coming out four months later, I might have waited. But oh well, it's still a great machine that'll serve me well in university.

Display: Apple Studio Display with Ergotron LX Monitor Arm

The Studio Display is expensive but great, it's honestly the piece of gear that made the biggest impact on my life. I see it as an investment that will (hopefully) last me for 7-8 years, and will allow me to upgrade computers while still keeping the display. The Ergotron monitor arm is solid, it's cheaper than the Apple height-adjustable stand and more flexible when it comes to positioning and viewing angles. I also like how it clears the spaces below it for other gear or random items.

Connectivity: Caldigit TS4 Dock (courtesy of MacStories)

I'm super grateful to have won this, along with the Loupedeck Live S, in the MacStories Automation April 2023 contest. The Caldigit TS4 allows me to connect my audio interface, monitor, Loupedeck, and any other peripherals to my laptop with a single cable.

Peripherals:

  • Logitech MX Master 3
  • Keychron K2 with Gateron Brown
  • Loupedeck Live S (courtesy of MacStories)

MKBHD certainly drove sales of the keyboard and mouse, but it is for good reason. MX Master 3 works great with my big hands, the thumb wheel and buttons are useful and have become an essential part in my everyday use.

I love the feel of the mechanical switches of the Keychron K2. It is my first mechanical keyboard and while I'm not "into" the hobby at the present, I am definitely mechanical keyboard curious.

The Loupedeck is not essential in my workflow, but really nice to have with quick access to various shortcuts. I don't love the Loupedeck software, it does occasionally crash but gets the job done well enough.

Audio:

  • Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
  • JBL 305P MKII
  • AKG K240 Studio

Scarlett 2i2 is a solid audio interface for recording guitar and microphone input. The interface is connected to the JBL 305P MKII which are my studio monitors of choice. They have a balanced sound and are plenty loud for my room, I usually keep the volume on my interface below 25%.

I've had the AKG K240 Studio for a few years. I don't love their default tuning but the semi-open design is great for recording while maintaining a larger soundstage. I'm eyeing the Sennheiser HD600 but they are open-back so they won't be as suitable when recording vocals.

Other:

  • Ugreen Laptop Stand
  • Gravity Headphone Hanger

I have this headphone hanger made by Gravity. I love their mic stand, it's super solid and this clamp-on hanger is no different. I place my laptop in clamshell mode with my old 2017 iPad in the Ugreen laptop stand to save space on my desk.


I like to keep my desk as tidy as possible, as it helps me to focus on my work. As part of my yearly theme for 2024, the Year of Expression (more on that soon), I would like to experiment with ways I could add a bit more personality to my setup.

But for now, that's my desk setup for the end of 2023/start of 2024. Let me know what you think on Mastodon. Thanks for reading :)

My Default Apps

27 December 2023

Joining the default apps trend. My choices probably aren't that interesting, but anyway here we go:

Hello World

20 December 2023

Hi, hello, and welcome to my blog! I'm so glad you could make it :)

This blog has been in the works for quite a while. I first had the idea to start this site at the beginning of 2023, with the resurgence of blogging and the whole idea of owning your own web presence. I didn't do much online writing before, but I thought it'd be a fun project for the new year. So I bought the domain, made a few design mockups, then promptly put the project aside until a few weeks ago.

2023 has been quite a year for me. I finally finished my two years of military service in Singapore, went back to my home in New Zealand, started working part-time at a local music store, launched a new app with my sister, plus the many more side projects I've pursued. Now at the end of 2023, I think I kinda missed my opportunity for this new project for the new year. But it was also the perfect time to give this website another crack for 2024.

How am I going to make sure this website doesn't fall by the wayside again? I don't believe in goals but instead building habits, so my plan is to make blogging a habit of mine. I might not write much at first and that's okay. I'll start by sharing cool stuff I'm interested in (this might be tech, music, books, or games) once every week. If I can write a few hundred words about whatever I'm sharing that'll be a great start, and from there I can decide where I want to take the blog.

Before I go for today, I will leave you all with one of my favourite Christmas albums: Family Force 5's Christmas Pageant. Unfortunately it's longer on streaming services, but it can be found on YouTube. It's an electronic pop-rock that's a fun modern take on traditional (plus some newer ones and an original too) Christmas songs. I was delighted to discover that Casey Liss is also a fan of this album.

That's for all now, looking forward to more posts on this blog. This is going to be fun. Let's do this.