Monthly Archives: July 2012

Chrome annoyances

Well, I guess it’s not much of an experiment if I’ve already missed three Firefox releases. So let’s make it official — Chrome is now my default browser.

There is no laundry list to explain the shift. In fact, there’s just one reason for the switch: Chrome gets out of the way of my browsing experience.

A few weeks ago, tech news sites were abuzz by a former Mozilla developer criticizing Firefox’s rapid release schedule. I have to agree that broken extensions fed into my discontent about Firefox, since the one extension that broke so often was one I really, really liked.1

On the whole, the browsing experience between Chrome and Firefox doesn’t differ much. It’s not the same jarring experience between those browsers and Internet Explorer 8. Sometimes when I have both Chrome and Firefox open for some cross-browser testing, I’ll forget which one I’m using.

Ultimately, I’ve stayed with Chrome because of the subtleties. Chrome seems just slightly more responsive than Firefox, enough to be noticeable over time. If something goes awry with my browsing experience, it’s mostly the page I’m visiting, not the browser itself intruding on my experience.

That’s not to say the transition has been entirely smooth. Perhaps it’s because I had been using Firefox for so long — back when it was still called Mozilla Firebird —  that I’m accustomed to some of its paradigms. Still, this list of Chrome annoyances is small and hasn’t made me defect back to Firefox.

  • Recently closed tabs is a better user experience in Firefox. I guess it must be some form of OCD on my part, but I’m particular about how my tabs are arranged. I have a series of evergreen tabs that I keep open and placed in a specific order. When I reopen a previously-closed tab in Firefox, the tab is placed at the point where it was closed. I like that experience because it triggers muscle memory. Yes, it was right around there that I saw whatever it was I was looking at before that tab was closed. In Chrome, you open a New Tab page, pick from a list of recently-closed tabs, and the previously-closed tab opens right then and there. I lose that muscle memory because the tab isn’t where I expect it to be.
  • Inability to stop animated GIFs using the ESC key. Firefox trained me to stop animated GIFs by hitting the ESC key. When I tried that with Chrome, the animation just kept going. I’ve since discovered an add-on to mimic that behavior, but why is there no default method in Chrome to stop animations?
  • Deleting a URL from the address bar is temperamental. In Firefox, you can remove a URL from the auto-complete history of its address bar by hovering over the URL and pressing DELETE. (Or SHIFT+DELETE on a Mac.) The same functionality exists in Chrome, but it requires a very specific set of circumstances to work correctly. In fact, it’s so cumbersome, I’ll split my findings out to a separate blog entry. Let’s just say that in Chrome, what you think is deleted may not be deleted, and it’s annoying when it pops up as a suggestion.
  • No way to set a default page for a new tab. I usually set my default home page to something I host myself — either locally or on my own website. In Firefox, I’ve come to expect an option that sets the default page of a new tab to something I choose. Chrome has no such setting. Google calls it the New Tab page, but I’d rather call it the Bullshit Page. It contains links to things I pretty much don’t need, except perhaps the Recently-Closed tabs. Alas, Firefox decided once again to do as Chrome does and created its own version of the Bullshit Page. Thankfully, I can go into about:config and set browser.newtab.url to something I choose. Chrome gives me no such option.


1So much so, I would wish someone would rescue Foxytunes from the neglectful clutches of YAHOO! and port it to Chrome.

What I learned: 16-bit applications don’t run on Windows 7 64-bit

The transition to a 64-bit operating system is the gift that just keeps on giving.

This past week, I decided to reconstruct a track I recorded in 1991. Back then, my studio setup consisted of a Kawai K4 synthesizer and a Kawai Q-80 sequencer. Both were stolen in a burglary in 1998, but I went on eBay and bought a used K4 many, many years back.

Compared to today’s hardware synths, the K4 is clunky, but I have it around because some of my demos used presets that are indelibly tied to that music. It would sound weird to me to substitute those sounds.

So I switched it on to discover that the internal battery has once again drained. I changed that battery a few months back, so I resigned myself to spending an evening digging into the K4’s internals to switch it out.

Of course, that kind of change means all the presets were lost, which wasn’t a problem since I have MIDI system exclusive files containing the patch information. All I have to do is transmit that back-up file to the synth through my MIDI interface, and I’d be done.

I use a program called K4Win to edit those system exclusive files and to send them to the synth. I tried to fire it up only to be informed that “The version of this file is not compatible with the version of Windows you’re running.”


Being new to the world of 64-bit, I was unaware that 64-bit Windows does not support 16-bit applications. Luckily, I have Windows 7 Professional with XP Mode, so all I had to do was spin up a virtual instance of XP and launch the K4Win with no problem.

But that doesn’t strike me as a viable long-term solution.

In fact, I ended up launching XP Mode a number of times in the same evening because I would discover a settings change that wasn’t reflected in the backup, but I wouldn’t know it till I started working on a track.

I bought a license for Visual Studio 2010 a few months back, but I haven’t done anything with it. I’ve been wanting to build a desktop application, but I wanted to build something useful that someone hasn’t already done better.

After scouring the Internet for a K4Win replacement, I reached the conclusion that the synth is so old, all the software built to support it pretty much froze at Windows 3.1. So I guess I have to build it myself.

This will be an adventure, surely.


Native Instruments and Windows 7: Better hardware means a smaller buffer

Although my post-upgrade problems with Cakewalk SONAR X1 had nothing to do with the upgrade itself, it didn’t mean I was problem-free.

I bought my external sound card — an M-Audio Delta 44 — back in 2005, set it up once and didn’t really think about it ever again. The custom Windows 7 installations I’ve put my machine through meant updating the drivers, and I usually went with the default settings, which were appropriate for 2005.

The 64-bit upgrade, however, resulted in some serious latency issues with Native Instruments Battery 3. When I would bounce the MIDI to audio, the latency was  significant enough to make the bounced track nearly half a beat off. It took me a while to find the right search terms to return this page: Windows 7 Tuning Tips for Audio Processing. It’s a knowledge-base article from Native Instruments itself, detailing what off-the-shelf or custom-built computers need to consider when dealing with audio for music production.

The third item in the article solved my latency issue, but it also revealed the blind spot in my studio setup. While I pay a lot of attention to upgrading the software components of my studio, the hardware (aside from my computer) hasn’t changed since, well, 2005. So it was easy for me to fall into a perception trap — just update the drivers, set it up the way it was before, and it should work fine. Plug and play, indeed.

That might work for printers and scanners, but for audio hardware, the Native Instruments article points outs:

The rule of thumb is, the faster the computer, the more calculations it can handle every second and the smaller the audio buffer can be. A smaller audio buffer is preferable because there is a direct relation between the “audio buffer size” and the resulting “latency.”

In 2005, my computer had a single processor. I replaced it 2010 with a computer with four processors but saddled it with a 32-bit operating system. After the switch to 64-bit, the latency issue made itself known, and what worked before did not work now.

The article goes on to suggest setting the buffer size on my sound card to 512 or lower, which I did.