Fancy New Machine Blues

I was planning on writing about my fancy new machine and how much I love my life. Instead I have an appointment with an Apple Genius to look at a dead hard drive. Boo. But let's start at the beginning.

Six days ago, I received a big, shiny, new Macbook Pro. Giant, bright 17" screen, smokin' i7 processor, etc. Awesome right? Would have been more awesome if I had received one of the improved models that quietly came out the Monday after receiving mine but I digress.

Awesome until you get to the migration assistant part. It demands that you leave your two machines alone to do their thing. Completely alone. Like, kill all your apps, disable the menubar. The only sign of life as it's doing it's thing is a changing estimate that occasionally veers into terrifying territory (I saw numbers as high as 20 hours). Nothing to do but cuddle up with a book.
It's worth pointing out that the old machine ran Snow Leopard and the new machine came with Lion. While I was in no hurry to enter the lion's den with the old machine, I figured it worth a try on the new one. So after dorking around for a while figuring out how to live with the new state of affairs (I'm still not sure about Mission Control) I figured I'd try some music apps.

For reasons I did not understand, I decided that MainStage was the first thing I'd fire up. This led to the gates of hell. Almost immediately, it asked me for my serial number/license key what-not. So I dig out my Logic 9 box and rummage around, find the paper and hand transcribe a very annoying string of characters (it's times like these you wonder how high the tech actually is at Apple). Then I'm told that this key was for an upgrade, please enter the original key. Seriously? Dig out the much larger Logic 8 box, and hand transcribe another string of characters. Annoyed but still calm, I watch as MainStage starts to check my plugins. Now this is the thing I was dreading and my dread was not ill founded. Soon I found myself re-authorizing and in some cases (AudioDamage) I had to re-download and re-install (as a way to do the re-auth)... For Native Instruments, I fired up Service Center only to find out that not only did I need to re-auth but that I needed to download a pile of upgrades (presumably fixes for Lion).

I don't remember how I noticed but I found out that many of the instruments that come as part of the Jam Packs were not present. Looking closer (using my killer UNIX skillz) I found that the new machine had 12,000 files in /Library/Application Support/Garageband and the old machine has 41,000. Clearly something didn't get moved. Ask the Googles and get told that I should reinstall Logic. I outsmart the Googles and install only the "content" but not the programs (since they'd been upgraded bunches of times by Software Update I didn't see any value in installing the .0 versions of everything). After that, I'm still a few thousand files short. On my list of crap to figure out.
A metric tonne of work for a program I have not used all that much... and short of loading every track I ever made with it and fixing the problems I don't know of a better way to ensure that old tracks continue to be loadable than brute force making sure I never lose any of the 1000s of files that are part of these packages.

So on to the program I do use, Ableton Live. It comes up, makes me reauth, tells me that I've just used up my last one and then starts checking VSTs (Logic only supports AUs we haven't had VST fun yet). For some odd reason, only 6 of the 12 AudioDamage plugins I own are visible in the library. Rescan doesn't. I send of the "WTF" email but it's Friday night and I'm not seriously expecting a response.  In the end, I solved this by blowing away the Live preferences file which triggered a "real" rescan.

Somewhere along the way, I saw a complaint about my Focusrite plugins. When I tried to reauthorize them, it would fail. Eventually I got to a webpage that told me that Focusrite would no longer hand out authorizations for those plugins. WTF?!? It did have a form to fill out which I did with minimum venom. I saved that for Twitter. This subplot does have a happy ending though. The following Monday, Focusrite hooked me up with their new plugins which are way way better. Good save.

So now I'm getting settled in, things are mainly working; I still have to figure out which 5,000 files I still need to migrate over from the old laptop's backup disk. Then I can reuse that disk to back up the new laptop. My stress level is receding.

That was until today. When I came back from lunch, unlocked my screen and was met with a grey screen of death. After letting that go nowhere for about 10 minutes, I power cycled. Only to be met with grinding noises from the hard drive...

My point in sharing this tale of woe was not really to make myself feel better (didn't work). Rather, it is to highlight some vulnerabilities that we have and think about ways to mitigate them.
  • if you buy software and you should, it is probably locked to your machine in some way.  When you get a new machine you may find yourself wrestling with licensing, begging for help. As much of a hassle as this is, it goes easier during the week. As a side benefit, you'll have your weekend free for making music instead of fuming about software licensing
  • software ages; that's not to say it gets old but rather that the people or companies supporting it decide for various reasons to stop or upgrade or go out of business
  • must of the music you produce in a DAW is not music at all but rather a pile of data. Some of that data is in the form of references to external sources like plugins, sample files, etc. Some of it is parametric data like automation, MIDI notes, signal routing. If any of these piece change or stop working, you will not be able to recreate your music. It seems that the only way to completely future proof tracks is to not simply save your rendered masters but also each track as an audio file (at least that way you'll be able to load those files into an entirely new DAW)
  • disks fail; back up all the fucking time. The odds of having a catastrophic disk failure in 5 years are pretty high. I naively thought that I was safe (6 days, come on!)  As it turns out, I get to repeat my tale woe because I did not have a backup of that 6 days of effort.
This just sucks.  Don't do as I did. Be smarter.
Photo by flickr user doegox

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