Thu, 12 Jul 2007
Herts LUG 20070711
This month's talk was by David Honour on the subject of producing music using free software.
I took along my guitar, some speakers and assorted cables in case they were needed, but it turned
out they were not.
David and Malcolm had built a small recording studio in our meeting room with PC, PA system, electric
piano, microphones + pre-amp and an assortment of percussion and string instruments. There were around ten
of us there. David was using an assortment of software hooked together with
JACK. This makes for a powerful system as you can combine a drum
machine, sequencer (driving soft synths) and effects. Ardour
was used to record the results. This does involve being careful to start all the right programs in the
right order and to ensure that they are all connected correctly. That looked to be a little prone to
error, but the results were impressive.
For my own musical experiments I may settle for something simpler. I still think that
Jokosher has possibilities if I can get it all working.
I tried to record some guitar this week, but couldn't even get the audio to record. Something
is not set correctly somewhere in my system.
I had slightly more success with getting video from our camcorder into the PC. I'm using
Kino. It recognised the camera, but I could only control it
when running as root. I hope to resolve that. A bigger problem came when I tried to export
some video. I thought I would try Xvid, but I never get the file. It seems there is some issue
with either Kino or mencoder. I will look at upgrading Kino. I also tried some other formats.
VCD worked, but DVD got errors. Any of these should work with my DVD player, but I will go for
whatever gives the best quality to capacity ratio.
My wonderful remote control has been
playing up lately. Various buttons stopped working. At the weekend I took it apart and cleaned
the contacts. They are very basic, just a rubbery button with some conducting material that touches
a grid on the cirecuit board. Finger grease may get inside and mess it up. It's much better now.
I finally got rid of some redundant kit. Firstly I sold my old motorbike! It's been sitting in the
shed for years, but still runs well. Then I posted my spare computer bits on Freecycle. I had lots of
responses, but they went to someone just up the road who is ivolved with
Electroshare, a volunteer group who pass equipment on to
needy causes. He said that my PCs would be going to a school for the deaf. That's perfect as far as I
That's enough catching up for this week. I always find that there was something else I meant to
write, but it can wait.
Wed, 04 Jul 2007
I first heard of this play whilst reading
Brian Eno's diary.
It sounded interesting as it featured discussion of mathematics, including chaos theory. It was
broadcast on Radio 4 as the Saturday Play
last weekend. You can listen to it there for a few more days, but that page will get overwritten soon.
The Wikipedia page has some links to various articles about the play and the mathematics.
I listened to it yesterday and it was great fun. It switches between the early 19th and late 20th
centuries, with both played out in the same room of a country house. The people in the later time frame
are trying to work out what went on in the earlier. This gets a bit confusing in parts as the switches
can be very rapid and radio lacks the visual cues as to who is speaking. It made me laugh in places
due to some witty dialogue. The mathematics is not too intrusive, but made it more interesting for me.
I worked out a couple of the twists before they were explained, but others caught me by surprise.
I may have missed some of the subtleties, but then there is so much going on.
The acting was nothing spectacular. Fairly typical radio/stage acting where everything is overstated,
as opposed to the naturalism you get in most TV. I would still be interested to see it on the stage.
On the technical front, I recorded the broadcast via my Hauppauge
Freeview card using ZapDVB to set up a timed recording
and convert it to Ogg Vorbis audio. I listened on my
Acer n35 PDA using
GSPlayer. Free software and formats all the way.
The resulting audio quality was excellent.
Fri, 29 Jun 2007
I don't want an iphone
I'm sure Apple's new toy will be delightfully
shiny and fun, but I won't be rushing to get one when they eventually reach the UK.
I don't have an ipod either. I've not had a desperate need for a portable music player
and have got by using my various PDAs. One of my issues with the Apple products is that
they have too many restrictions on what you can do. I find it frustrating that technology
is opening up so many possibilities, but certain parts of the industry insist on locking
the user out. This is why I prefer to use more open platforms where anything is
possible as long as someone writes the software for it.
So as far as mobile phones are concerned I am keeping an eye on the
Openmoko project. With luck there should be something to
buy this year, but they have been having some issues.
This release appeared yesterday and clears up
a few points.
Fri, 22 Jun 2007
I signed a few of the petitions on the Number 10
site/ One of these called for a ban on government-funded faith schools. 3191 people signed it
and now you can read the response.
Basically, they dismiss it.
I am increasingly of the opinion that religion should be kept out of schools. We can't
stop it in homes, but the government should not be encouraging the isolation of children from
society in general. By all means teach them what the various faiths are about, but also
teach them about the wonders of science and give them a chance to make up their own minds.
A quote I've seen used by Richard Dawkins is repeated
"good people tend to do good, evil people tend to do evil, but for a good person to do evil–that takes
Sounds about right to me. I won't bother quoting the obvious examples from just about any
faith. I'm sure most religious people are good, but you can be good without believing in fairies or
Sat, 16 Jun 2007
A New Hope
So I built the new PC using the parts
I planned on. I went for 2GB of memory as it was just so cheap. Assembly was pretty easy.
The processor slipped in and the supplied AMD heatsink has a lever to make clipping in place
a screwdriverless effort. The harder bits are the mechanical ones, getting the board and drives
screwed in. Then there's the usual fiddly bit of attaching the case wiring. Maybe, one day, someone
will make a single connector version. The motherboard has plenty of spare headers for things like
serial, midi/joystick, digital audio output. Finding the appropriate backplates may be tricky.
It all worked first time. I may still have to tweak the BIOS, but nothing major is wrong.
It's running from my old drive with no re-install. Everything is working so far, but I have
been unable to get the non-free nvidia driver to work. I tried
Envy, which is supposed to sort it
all out, but that didn't work. I've also tried making the changes manually, but there seem to be
some files missing. I really need this if I'm to use some of the fun stuff like 3D games
and Google Earth. It might even let me try the latest 3D desktop gimicks.
The PC is pretty quiet. I can just hear the CPU fan plus the hard drive when it's working
hard. With dnet maxing out both cores it runs at a steady 40C. General usage feels quicker.
I spend less time waiting for things to happen. My
should show a healthy increase. Converting an MPEG to Divx ran about 4x quicker, but
was only using one core. I would hope that annoyances like a Flash web site left running
in another user session will have a much smaller impact than previously.
I hope that this PC will keep me going for a few years. What is likely to come along that
will require much more power? I guess things like Photosynth may make it to the desktop
and suck up all available processing power. If
Moore's Law holds then I'll be able to
afford an upgrade when the time comes.
The first computer I owned had
16kB of memory, a 1MHz 8 bit processor and used audio tape for storage. A lot has changed,
but it still takes me about as long to type this much text.
Thu, 14 Jun 2007
After some comments from Bigpresh I have joined
Facebook. It's got some neat features, such as tagging
people in pictures and lots of optional add-ons. I've linked to a few people now and there
are many others I know on there. The numbers just seem vast. Even a search for a rare
surname often returns loads of people, so finding people can be tricky unless they
are friends of a friend. A limitation is that you cannot see much there until you
join up. This may be to reduce spam.
I will still keep my Multiply page as I
can't face trying to persuade friends and family to learn another system when they
haven't got to grips with that one. There will some duplication of contacts, but
Facebook seems to encourage more activity, especially among the geekier element.
Herts LUG 20070613
Only seven of us this month. Due to a lack of a main speaker I suggested that people
could do a short talk on whatever they had been playing with recently. I kicked off with
my impressions of Jokosher. Conversation rambled around
and sundry current affairs. Someone whose name I need reminding of had some videos
demonstrating the latest technology that the dreaded Microsoft have been previewing.
It's called Photosynth and is simply
stunning. It's about how you can view photos. It's hard to describe. Just watch the
videos and gasp in wonder. I had heard of it via my friend
Imel. I wonder if the free software people
can match it. I really need to organise my pictures so that I can find what I want.
We also talked about Second Life. I've heard so
much about it, but have yet to try it. It seems that it can be run on Linux.
I built my new PC, but have only booted it from an Ubuntu CD to test it.
I'm in the process of backing up some things before I transfer my drive.
I've not had a proper impression of it's speed apart from some impressive
figures from the Dnet benchmarks. It
looks to be 5 or 6 times faster than my current unit. I hope to get moved
over before next week. This PC really seems to be slow these days. I suspect
that there are issues with my user profile that are causing problems. I may
strip it right back and gradually copy things back in an effort to fix this.
I'm reading a book by Stewart Brand about the concepts behind
The Long Now. Good stuff. See the
Mon, 11 Jun 2007
Following our success at Little Berks
the agents of Secret Bass made their second appearance of the
year at Hertford Fun day. This was a bigger event in nice surroundings. It went pretty well. The first of
our two sets had a few mistakes, but the audience may not have noticed. The second was much better.
I got to play the big dun dun drums on one of the songs. I find I don't really get nervous at these events. I
just sing and play as best I can and hope people enjoy it. It might be difference if money were involved and
I would definitely be more nervous if I were playing guitar as mistakes tend to be more obvious.
Malcolm has more images and
words on the event.
I've made slight progress on my recording studio. A friend gave me an old DJ mixer that I can use as
a microphone pre-amp and to switch between different signals. I've played some more with
Jokosher, but it needs more work before it's stable enough for
serious use. I also had a brief play with the Hydrogen drum
machine. This looks like great fun and is simple to use. I just need to learn how to make decent drum patterns
that I can use as a backing.
I've also ordered the parts for my new PC that should arrive today! More new on this later.
Fri, 08 Jun 2007
For Dawkins's Sake
It seems you will never stop people believing in fairies, but it's frightening that some
of them have the political and financial power to build a
to push their beliefs. People are spending a lot of time trying to make the facts of our world
fit a story in an old book. Judging from their displays they don't think much of 'human reason'.
So how do they reason out their theories?
The internet is full of this sort of thing. Some of it makes for
For a bit of fun I spent a while on a
Does God Exist discussion. The believers
trotted out the same old stories, but I got bored with it after a while. Much as I'd like
to make them see sense, I don't have the patience.
Wed, 06 Jun 2007
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Another cracker from XKCD. You need to click it for a bigger
version. I have one minor issue with this site. It always has a piece of text for the image that you
see as a tooltip. In Firefox it displays as a single line and sometimes gets truncated so I have to view
the page source to see it all. In IE it gets wrapped to all fit in a box. Is there any way to tell
Firefox to show it all?
Listening to Radio 3 this morning I heard part of Vivaldi's Four Seasons played by
Red Priest. This was great fun with incredible
lead recorder playing. Another one for the wish list.
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