Hi, I’m James, and I’m a recovering smartphone addict. (Hello James). I used to wander aimlessly from app to app. Social Media, YouTube, Google — hey what was the name of that girl from Gremlins? Wonder how she’s doing... things like this. And yea, I was lost in the darkness, as an angler fish with no nose light. I once was blind, but now I’m lit. It’s an indisputable fact that I have poured an inordinate amount of time and attention into smartphones. I’m not alone. Adults in the United States spend 3 hours and 35 minutes on smartphones per day, on average. People aged 18-34 watch 105 minutes of videos per week on their phones. That’s a lot of make up tutorials.
Its not just a matter of time spent, but the quality of time. The cognitive load, and the residual effects that last even after the phone is off. There is mounting evidence that smartphones are changing the way our brains work. Its an an assault on your senses.
So I have come up with a few strategies for managing my smartphone use.
Home Screen Cleanse
Here’s what my home screen looks like.
As you can see it’s pretty spartan. Only apps which would be most commonly used go here. Things that I use often, or may need to use in real life. You may also notice that the wallpaper is grey. For comparison, here’s the not-grey version.
It’s quite eye catching. It evokes ideas of futurism, technology, design, and elegance. But it’s like moving your work desk to the warp core of the star ship Enterprise. So I’ve found it’s better to desaturate my wallpaper with the ‘mono’ photo filter. Many have suggested switching your whole phone to black and white mode. That is a great tip. But some of us need color. Some apps use color for navigation, or categorization. I’ve been known to design an app or two. So I leave it on. The wallpaper trick works surprisingly well though.
The most important apps go on the first page of the home screen. Each folder name is verb. They ask, what do you want to do?
The second page is for everything that I couldn’t justify putting on the first page.
Apple is a forward thinking company when it comes to smartphones, so it should come as no surprise that they were the first to announce a ‘Screen Time’ control manager.
The Downtime section can be used to set a special ‘restricted time’, where only certain apps are available. You can use it like no-bite nail polish. If you want to avoid Twitter during the work day, and get in on some of that Deep Work, this feature will be your wrist slapper.
You can also set time limits for each app, or category of app. Keep an eye on this screen, you may be surprised by what you see.
We are creatures of habit. Hopefully smartphone makers will create new ways to help us structure our phone use. In the meantime, with just a little planning up front, you can set yourself up for a better smartphone experience.
SquareSynth 2 is now on the AppStore. SquareSynth is a hybrid analog/8bit synthesizer for the iOS operating system. It takes features from the NES console and the Commodore 64 Personal Computer. It is a versatile pro-quality chiptune music maker. SquareSynth is compatible with Audio Unit version 3 hosts (AUv3). Many instances of SquareSynth can be opened within a host to create a complete songwriting solution.
If you want to experiment with lofi sounds and sound effects, look no further.
● Audiobus support.
● AUv3 extension.
● 8 Multi-timbral channels (5 voices each)
accessible via MIDI.
● 4-waveform oscillator.
(Pulse, 4bit Triangle, Short Noise, Long Noise)
● Classic 8bit video game sounds.
● Multi-mode Filter.
● Looping sound recorder, with .wav file export.
When people first hear about Behringer’s new line of Roland drum machine clones, I think their first thought is “oh Behringer is making a new analog drum machine.” That’s what I’ve been hearing from people on the net already. Because of course, why would they make a digital TR-808/909 clone? That might as well be a VST plug-in right?
Well I think that hypothetical opinion is not right. On both counts. By far the most important advance in music technology since the debut of the original TR-808 in 1980 is the digital revolution. It’s far cheaper to design and build a DSP filter than an equivalent Analog filter. I imagine it’s the same with most of the elements that comprise a synthesizer. The low cost and versatility of modern processors make digital far more practical than analog in many cases.
Of course, analog components have a kind of natural musicality; they tend to distort signals in a harmonically pleasing way. It’s often very difficult to simulate an analog synthesizer in its entirety with software. In the case of the TR line of drum synthesizers however, the design may lend itself more easily to simulation.
On the TR-808 for example, no drum has more than 3 parameters. Most of the drums have no parameters, which means that while they may be synthesized on the fly, those drums are essentially static sounds. On the TR-909 three of the drums are actually digital PCM samples (crash, ride, and hi-hat). When you compare the thumps, pops and noisy tonal percussion of the 808 with the intricately programmed modulations of the TB-303 bass synthesizer, you can appreciate that when it comes to being replicable, not all analog synths are equal. Drum machines in particular are quite limited in their sonic range.
All of this is to say, I’m sticking my neck out to guess these new units have an almost entirely digital signal path. I have no direct knowledge of this product. They could totally release this as an analog product, and I could be completely wrong. Part of what makes me doubt it though, is that they say it’s expected be under $400, and it would be quite unusual to see a massive, high-quality, polyphonic synthesisizer along with modern digital features at that price. Behringer have shown that it has an analog filter, which can be applied per drum (cool!). But I would be astonished if those were analog oscillators and filters throughout the signal path. Not because analog wouldn’t be nice, but because the benefit of analog in this case wouldn’t justify the expense.
Analog synths are beautiful things, but not just for nostalgic value. I believe it’s perfectly feasible to make a digital Roland drum machine which is indistinguishable from the original. Putting it into a single dedicated box lets you throw as much computing power as you need at it, and gives you the niceties of a buttons-and-knobs interaction. I can totally see the value of it, even without analog circuits.
The real question for me is, will the price be right, and how will they use software to modernize the experience? I just wanted to comment on the analog expectation, and tell you that it’s shouldn’t be a deal breaker. There are things here to be concerned about here, but don’t count out digital for clone machines like this.
There’s of course the question of copycatting. Is it right for Behringer to make exact replicas of the most popular line of drum machines ever made? I think the category of clone devices is pretty well established, and we’re mostly okay with it. But most of those are one-off projects by bored engineers, like x0xb0x. There is something a bit unseemly about a major company making clones of another company’s devices. It’s not a great look. I’ll leave it to others to sift through the ethics of it. What’s vexing to me is that Roland already resurrected the 808 and the 909 as low cost digital synthesizers. This move just feels profoundly uninspired.
Here’s a video of Roland’s TR-8 (which is totally available right now).
Update 9-19-18: Ok this is way bigger than I thought.
Meet the Behringer MS-101, and Model D. There’s also the VC-340 (Roland Vp-330 clone), a Pro One, and an Arp Odyssey clone.
Do I really have to say anything? This is a YouTube gem. The original went out of print years ago, on vinyl of course. Otherwise I’d post an iTunes link or something.
The sonic possibilities!