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Re: Using a laptop onstage: Dominic Frasca's take is misguided

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Warren Sirota" <wsirota@wsdesigns.com>
To: <Loopers-Delight@loopers-delight.com>
Sent: Thursday, 05 January, 2006 13:56 PM
Subject: RE: Using a laptop onstage: Dominic Frasca's take is misguided

> Hi Travis,
> I see how the math adds up. Interesting. It is true that computers, like
> almost all electronic devices (vintage gear excepted) seem to depreciate 
> in
> the real world at about 50%/year, and that software pretty much 
> depreciates
> 100% the day you "drive it out of the showroom". The latter is mostly
> because of the whole software protection/piracy mess which makes it 
> impossible to establish or transfer ownership in a trustworthy manner. 
> but true.
> OTOH, I don't know too many people who paid $2700 for their laptops - my
> Powerbook G4 is not state of the art, but together with 1GB of RAM it was
> about $1800, and while it's not as fast as main desktop pc, it is fast
> enough for now (until I start loading up with plugins, I guess). You can
> probably get a pretty fast Wintel laptop with a couple of gigs new for 
> $1500
> (just a guess).

Actually Dell sells an Inspiron model with 1.8GHz, 1GB memory and an 80GB 
hard drive, including bluetooth/wireless/lan and a 15" screen - and it 
for $1200 with XP Pro and a full Office 2003 setup, firewall sw, a/v, the 
lot.  We got it as a Christmas prezzie for my nephew who's starting at Ole 
Miss next year under a Baseball scholarship (so yes there was a discount 
the basis of academic use for the software).  This guy pitches left hand, 
too.  The model we got (B130) is the minimum spec for the college to hook 
to their network, thus the higher cost.

We found that if we hadn't had to be at 1.8GHz - the next lower option was 
1.5, which really isn't that much of a difference anymore - the whole 
would have cost under $800.

The Powerbooks can't compete on the cost factor, and never did.

> And - this point was made before, mostly - to be really nitpicky about 
> the right way to calculate the cost of the computer is to calculate how 
> much
> *extra* you had to pay to make the computer music-ready above and beyond
> what you were going to pay for an email/word processing/web/(and possibly
> work) computer anyway (which I assume is a necessity of life for anyone 
> this list). For me, that amount was $30 for the firewire card on my 
> computer, and probably another $100 for extra hard disk space for audio
> files, since I need a fast machine for work anyway. The audio interface 
> was
> pricey, but I paid for that with the last computer and just transferred 
> to the new one.

I find the net worth calculations that use the used-car-lot to be sort of 
accurate - but they don't really apply to the real world.  If your car 
fine and you like it, and people you drive around in it like it, then its 
value suddenly attains a non-monetary plus that can't really be figured on 
an accounting level (except as some weird form of "good will").  Here's an 
example of what I mean: If you buy an $800 laptop new, and it works fine, 
who cares if it's street value went down 50% the moment you hit the shrink 
wrap?  If the laptop helps you do a show your own value of the thing is 
important.  Whatever you make on the show adds to the value of the laptop 

In a PC firewire cards only cost $4.50 now, and a casual look at CDW (a 
price in comparison with other vendors) has a Western Digital 7200RPM 
drive for under $90 

Stay away from Maxtor and IBM's "deathstar" drives - they overheat and 
a poor QA.  Maxtor was just purchased by Seagate (which perhaps means that 
China will no longer be making the drives), but Western Digital has the 
hat on this one.  I've only had three WD drives fail on me before four 
was up, in 20 years of installing and using them.

As far as large audio files are concerned I only keep the stuff I'm using 
working on, on the hard drive.  Otherwise it's archived in double on CDs 
(and soon DVDs, as they store nearly several gigs, in comparison with a 
680MB sported by the CD).  If you think along the lines of "but I'm using 
ALL of it!" then invest in an external drive.  Iomega makes what I imagine 
is a RAID-based box that allows up to 1 Terabyte of storage.


Stephen Goodman
* Cartoons about DVDs and Stuff
* http://www.earthlight.net/HiddenTrack

> Best wishes,
> Warren Sirota
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: Travis Hartnett [mailto:travishartnett@gmail.com]
>> Sent: Wednesday, January 04, 2006 7:50 PM
>> To: Loopers-Delight@loopers-delight.com
>> Subject: Re: Using a laptop onstage: Dominic Frasca's take is
>> misguided
>> Oh, I've been on the downside of a number of platforms.  Ask
>> me about the Tascam multi-track minidisk recorder.  Or,
>> don't.  My rule of thumb was if I got one album out of a
>> system, it paid for itself, so I wasn't hit that bad, but
>> music can be an expensive day at the races.
>> I don't really mind paying for software/hardware upgrades,
>> but I don't want to pretend that computers are cost-free
>> tools, or even necessarily cheaper if it isn't so.
>> What's funny is how we perceive various "ownership" costs.
>> If you're an active guitarist, you may got through a hundred
>> dollars of strings, picks, etc. over the course of a year.
>> Every few years you may need some fretwork for another couple
>> hundred dollars.  Tubes, caps and speakers need replacement
>> in amps and so on, but these are viewed as "consumables",
>> even though the amount of money laid out is about the same as
>> keeping your DAW software up to date.
>> With computer-based tools, you've got the problems of
>> depreciation and obsolesence of both hardware and software.
>> I think Mr. Frasca is correct in that if you buy a $3K
>> PowerBook today, it's worth only a fraction after a few
>> years.  I wasn't able to include the entire article detailing
>> his PowerBook based setup, but it's basically a 17" Powerbook
>> with a custom breakout box (he's individual output channels
>> from his guitar for each of ten strings, plus a mic feed)
>> going into a MOTU interface, into the PowerBook running
>> Logic.  He's then got a bunch of plug-ins for the usual EQ,
>> compression, reverb, chorus and pitchshifting, all of which
>> can and frequently are reconfigured for each piece, and then
>> everything goes out to the PA in stereo.  At home he does some 5.1.
>> Logic is probably going to be around for at least the next
>> three years, probably longer, and none of the plugins he's
>> using sound terribly idiosyncratic, so I would guess he'll be
>> able to duplicate his current functionality for quite some
>> time.  Of course, in a year or so he'll hear about about some
>> amazing new reverb that requires a newer version of Logic,
>> which will require a paid update of the OS, and then the
>> PowerBook will start to feel a litle pokey, and someone will
>> have a vastly improved firewire audio interface, and the new
>> setup sounds really great in 128-bit sampling, and so keeping
>> his system up-to-date will cost another $5K.  He'll be able
>> to get some money back on the old hardware, but old software
>> isn't worth beans.
>> On the other hand, he'll have saved a ton of money in air
>> freight by not having to schlep around a twelve channel mixer
>> and a rack of processors, the sum total of which would
>> doubtless cost more than the PowerBook set up, but will hold
>> their resale value better for the seemingly inevitable
>> updates--new reverbs, better mixer, etc, and he can probably
>> write the whole thing off as a business expense.
>> On the other hand, for the serious, yet non-professional
>> musician, air-freight savings probably don't factor in too
>> much.  It's interesting to compare how much a
>> non-computer-based setup costs versus the alternative, for a
>> real-world setup.  Let's say I tried to switch over.
>> Currently my signal path is:
>> Guitar
>> A/B box ($200)
>> Tuner ($100)
>> Yamaha acoustic guitar preamp (includes EQ, feedback control,
>> reverb, compression, etc) ($300) Rane SM26 mixer/splitter
>> ($125) 2 Echoplexes ($1600) Echoplex foot controller ($125)
>> A/B box for sharing controller between EDP's ($50) Volume
>> Pedal ($50) DI boxes ($125)
>> Which totals about $2700, assuming new prices.  That's
>> leaving out cable and rack costs, and amplification, since
>> that'll be roughly the same in the new setup.  If I use a
>> PowerBook ($3K with max ram, etc), Logic ($500), some two
>> channel audio interface ($200), SooperLooper (doesn't do
>> everything, but reasonably close for now--plus it's free!), a
>> Behringer FCB ($150) then I'm looking about another grand
>> over the old setup.  The old one is heavy, but retains much
>> more resale value.  Maybe I can get by with a cheaper laptop
>> and VST host, but I'd imagine it's difficult to shave off
>> much more than a grand while staying in the Mac platform (and
>> maybe not even with an audio-appropriate Windows solution).
>> Plus, in my case I paid less than the prices quoted above for
>> many of those bits since I've had them for years now, but for
>> someone starting from scratch, I think those figures are
>> accurate for both approaches.
>> The laptop solution of course has the advantage of being able
>> to do a bunch of other things, even related to music, but I'm
>> not the sort of person who says "Great--now my lifetime dream
>> of twelve channels of diatonic pitch-shifting with
>> MIDI-synced panning and modulation is finally within my
>> reach!"  I use two reverb patches over the course of an
>> evening with my current setup, even though I could do much
>> more without a lot of effort.  It's an aesthetic choice.  I
>> could ditch one of the EDP's without too much hassle, in
>> which case the cost drops another $850, and now the laptop
>> setup is looking even more expensive.
>> But what works for me may not work for everyone.  However, I
>> think it's illuminating to consider how much our perception
>> of what tools we need are determined by what tools are
>> available.  How much loop time does one need and how much
>> just sounds like a good idea?
>> TravisH
>> On 1/4/06, Warren Sirota <wsirota@wsdesigns.com> wrote:
>> >
>> > I'm obviously a sw booster. And I have vested (albeit pathetically
>> > small) economic interests in boosting music sw. But still, I'm a sw
>> > booster for quite a few valid (for me, at any rate)
>> reasons. I'm not
>> > really interested in proving I'm right (ok, I'm lying, but I'm
>> > striving for that), but I do like to respond fully if I think there
>> > are new points to make.
>> >
>> > Anyway...
>> >
>> > Travis, good points. I have had to pay Cycling 74 more than
>> twice over
>> > the years for MAX/MSP upgrades as computer systems evolved
>> (but I've
>> > used it for a *long* time, and the PC version was *free*
>> once I'd paid
>> > for the Mac version). But the difference for me between
>> that and, say,
>> > a guitar controller with special features becoming obsolete
>> or a synth
>> > dying is that I *can* pay for an upgrade to the software.
>> Since I'm a
>> > software manufacturer, I don't mind paying other software
>> > manufacturers for updates at reasonable intervals and reasonable
>> > prices. Now, some manufacturers seem to be a bit
>> extortionist when it
>> > comes to their prices for updates (or frequency - but how can you
>> > complain about frequent updates?), and for those I usually
>> fall behind
>> > until the latest version presents a compelling value/price
>> > proposition.
>> >
>> > Upkeep costs are not limited to sw. When I got my first mono tape
>> > recorder as a teenager, I was shocked by my first repair
>> bill only a
>> > few years later. When the repair guy said, "expect to pay
>> 1/4 of the
>> > price of the machine every year for maintenance", I
>> staggered out of
>> > the store in shock, thinking "they didn't tell me that when
>> they sold
>> > me the machine."
>> >
>> > I think your best point about incompatibility relates to DAWs. They
>> > mostly use proprietary formats. But now that's largely addressed,
>> > isn't it, by the OMF format?
>> >
>> > Travis, you were unfortunate in your timing with the OS's - you
>> > adopted OS9 during its death throes. The transition from 16-bit
>> > pseudo-multitasking operating systems to 32-bit pre-emptive
>> > multitasking OSs was a huge one for both Microsoft and
>> Apple, and both
>> > companies learned how to create a "modern" OS in the
>> process (more or
>> > less). Both had to scrap compatibility in the process - the 16-bit
>> > systems weren't designed well-enough to survive. Windows 3.1 users
>> > moving to Windows 95 had similar problems.
>> >
>> > However, this won't happen in the switch to 64-bit. The
>> installed base
>> > of 32-bit software is a zillion times bigger than the
>> installed base
>> > of 16-bit software ever was. The stakes are huge. Plus, the big
>> > players in the music sw world have been around long enough that at
>> > least a few of them can be trusted to provide upgrade paths
>> (not for
>> > free, of course). Sonar already has a 64-bit version, and there's a
>> > bridge that lets 32-bit VSTs run under the 64-bit version
>> of Windows.
>> >
>> > To me, something doesn't become obsolescent if there's an upgrade
>> > path, even if it costs something (reasonable). I care about being
>> > *able* to perform all my pieces, even after my current computer or
>> > footcontroller breaks or is repurposed.
>> >
>> > Bottom line for me: I've had to discard or replace tens of
>> thousands
>> > of dollars of hardware, and at least temporarily retire quite a few
>> > pieces because of this. Hw doesn't become obsolete? It sure
>> hurts like
>> > it does...
>> >
>> > Best wishes,
>> > Warren Sirota
>> >
>> >