Saturday, December 18, 2010

Captain Beefheart's 10 Commandments of Guitar Playing

I have taken this lock, stock and barrel from The Captain Beefheart Radar Station to commemorate the passing of Don Van Vliet, who showed us how roots music should be done... loud, crazy and out of control.

1. Listen to the birds

That's where all the music comes from. Birds know everything about how it should sound and where that sound should come from. And watch hummingbirds. They fly really fast, but a lot of times they aren't going anywhere.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Choose My Best Photo

1. Telecommunication
telecommunication

It's difficult enough being a photographer without also having to be an editor and figure out which of my shots are "the best". But at this time of the year various competitions and networking sites ask "What is your single best photo of the year?" In an attempt to answer that vexing question, I put together a bunch of candidates and asked my friends on Pentax Forums what they thought.

I've now narrowed it down to the top eight and want to get your opinion as well. Let me know in the comments which you prefer. You can click through each photo to get a larger version on Flickr. And if you find something totally different that you prefer from my Flickr stream, let me know that too.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sony PCM-M10 and Olympus LS-10 Sound Examples

There are now over sixty comments to my original Sony PCM-M10 versus Olympus LS-10 / LS-11 article and the follow-up Revisiting the Sony PCM-M10 versus Olympus LS-10 / LS-11 Discussion. Lately they have been coming thick and fast, no doubt as people look to buy something nice for Christmas. In answer to the call for some sounds to listen to, it did some quick and dirty recordings this week, which you can download in a ZIP archive.
Saturday, December 11, 2010

Official Beer Protocol of Canada

It's winter here in the Northern Hemisphere. But that doesn't stop Canadians from indulging in what they love best... beer. A hilarious photo on a photo forum inspired me to list the rules Canadian beer drinkers live by. This was off the top of my head so if you have any more, please contribute in the comments!

Here follows the Official Beer Protocol of Canada:

1. There is always time for one more beer.
Friday, December 10, 2010

Andrew Huang's Cornucopia Of Musical Goodness

It's not often I devote a post to another website; there are other blogs dedicated to the task of cycling and recycling. I must now make an exception for the most amazing -- nay genius -- Songs to Wear Pants To, home to musician Andrew Huang. Andrew takes ideas from his internet fans, fashions then into amazingly funny ditties in his home studio in Toronto and then posts them to his overly pink website... which encourages the next iteration. If you send him money he'll write a tune specially for you; otherwise you take your chances that your request will be the one in one hundred that catches his attention.

In all cases you can listen for free, while downloads are either gratis or a buck. He also has several CD compilations that come cheap for the amount of sheer work that went into them. Andrew is smart, generous and will hopefully never give up this process. Folks, this is what the Internet is all about!
Thursday, December 09, 2010

Sample Shots From Pentacon 135mm Preset

is that me in the window?

In my last article I recommended three different 135mm lenses based on their price (less than 100 significant units, whether they be dollars, pounds or euros), image quality and build. These were all M42 lenses that will require an adapter to use on your digital SLR. I have an official Pentax brand M42 to K-mount adapter to fit the Pentacon 2.8/135mm preset (made in DDR) to my K20D. Here I'll share some results and initial impressions.
Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Three 135mm Lens Recommendations

Pentacon 135mm f/2.8 preset (top)

In my last article I looked at 135mm Lenses in general and the Pentax offerings in particular. That overview considered those made for the Pentax-specific K-mount, but also those for the M42 mount, which is easily adapted to Canon, Nikon and other systems. In this article I'll be looking at some of the third-party offerings, and again much will be applicable no matter what system you use.

With dozens of brand names and hundreds of models, where does one start? I went to the various forums and blogs where people chat about such things and gathered up as many recommendations as possible. Thirteen lenses were tested by Michel Pollet on a Canon, five of which I could strike off my list since they were zooms or incompatible with Pentax (your criteria may vary). Seven lenses were tested by Dave on Pentax Forums. A related discussion managed to list 40 possibilities.
Friday, December 03, 2010

135mm Lenses

At one time almost everyone had a 135mm lens. After your prime 50mm focal length it was one of the most popular choices in order to get more telephoto "reach" while maintaining a reasonably fast maximum aperture. As a bonus a 135mm lens does not have to be too large or heavy, so it's easy to handle. And the optics are generally excellent, so you don't need to fuss and fret over which brand to buy. Unless, of course, you like fussing and fretting over such decisions, which most of us do. It's part of the fun after all!

In this article I'll pique your interest in 135mm lenses and give an overview of the Pentax-specific offerings.
Thursday, December 02, 2010

SLR Aperture Control Mechanisms

We are a little spoilt by having automatic cameras that do half the photographic thinking for us. Of course there is still plenty of room for creativity (I am no Luddite) but this can only be fully developed by knowing what is going on behind the scenes. And the best way to do that is simply by taking a historical view of the development of photographic equipment. In this article I'll explain how SLR cameras evolved to allow control over the lens aperture, something which is automatic and taken for granted today. The side benefit of obtaining this knowledge is that you'll be able to experiment with older lenses that don't do all the work for you. You may find a hidden gem and will certainly save money over buying contemporary lenses.
Friday, November 26, 2010

A Primer On f-Stops and Apertures

handy f-stop chart
In this article I will explain f-stops as used in photography, on my way to a brief sketch of the history of aperture control in SLR lenses. This is a backgrounder so that when I come to present you with some old lenses in future articles I don't need to explain each and every term. I won't go into much detail here, just the basics. Any good photography reference can help you further.

I also present my handy f-stop guide, in the hopes it is useful as a reference. As usual you can click through that image to get to a full-size download from Flickr.
Friday, November 26, 2010

Random Links For November

Sorry I have been so quiet on the blog. This is not because I have been overwhelmingly busy, although I have finished two new pieces, a ninety minute live performance and other things I will document in due course. The main reason is that I tend to operate in terms of blocks of time and now I am ready for another "blog block"! To kick things off I will give you a random set of links of interest that I have stumbled across recently.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gravity & Grace Tonight!

Jesse den DulkTonight, 10 November 2010, at 8pm, I hope you'll come down to Daghdha Space for the kick-off of this year's Gravity And Grace, "Four Evenings In Dance". I will be providing original music and sonic textures for the event, continuing my partnership with this distinctive contemporary dance group.

The structure will be informal, with several choreographed events happening over the two hours, following the theme of "An Opening". It's an opportunity to meet for the first time the new practitioners in the Daghdha Mentoring Programme. Jesse den Dulk is coordinating the event.
Thursday, November 04, 2010

Using A Macro Adapter (Bower Revisited)

The Face Of Bastt

In the last article I reviewed the Bower "Super Wide Macro" adapter, which gives a fish-eye effect when screwed onto the front of a wide-angle lens. I mentioned there that it was possible to use the macro portion of the lens on its own. Immediately after publishing that article I got curious... and so here is a follow-up in which I try out that functionality.

Using the included 49mm ring, I screwed the Bower onto the front of my FA 77mm Limited, which I have successfully used as a macro in the past. Then I went over to my bookshelf, which I typically use as a test subject. The setup required a tripod and long exposure. I used f/16 to increase depth of field as much as possible, without getting into bad diffraction territory. If I remember correctly, the exposure was 30 seconds. Here's the result (no processing, shot on the K20D).

Bower macro test

Well, that looks decent enough. There was insufficient light to get focus any better; even the slightest pressure on the camera threw it out of focus. So even though I used a remote release I gave up trying to get anything sharper. (I blame the tripod which is a cheap piece of junk. But heck, my good tripod broke in the first month! So I am left using my junk tripod.)

Why was shooting so difficult, even for someone used to macro? Well, that's a teeny tiny part of the book spine. For comparison, here is a "normal" shot of the entire shelf. See if you can pick out the portion in the magnified image!

K20D ISO 3200 processed

My curiosity now piqued, I began to wonder how strong this lens actually is. In case you are wondering, here's how you figure that out.

The APS-C sensor is 23.6 x 15.7mm in size. The portion of the book's spine visible here, measured vertically, is 9mm. Thus this shot has achieved greater than 1:1 magnification, since the object has been enlarged to greater than life-size. That amount can be calculated as 15.7/9, or 1.75x.

The magnification achieved with an add-on macro lens will differ with the focal length used. Thus it is meaningless to say the adapter itself has a particular magnification. Instead, the constant property one needs to refer to is the optical power. We calculate this starting with the following magnification formula. Here f is the focal length in mm, p the power in dioptres, and m the magnification factor:
m = (p * f) / 1000

Stating this in terms of p:
p = (1000 * m) / f

Substituting in our numbers:
p = (1000 * 1.75) / 77 = 22.7

For comparison we can look at two respected Raynox macro adapters. These are well-corrected 3-element achromats. The Raynox DCR-150 provides 4.8 dioptres while the DCR-250 is 8 dioptre. So we see that the Bower macro adapter is three times more powerful yet!

This is not an advantage to most shooters. Depth of field is incredibly thin at such high power -- now wonder I had difficulty focusing! Worse yet, working distance decreases with power. Indeed, I found the book had to be incredibly close to the front of the lens. Besides the physical difficulty of positioning the camera practically touching the subject, illumination becomes a problem. In such cases one would be well advised to use a ring flash. But if we are going to all that expense and bother, certainly we would also be using a proper macro lens?

I thought it might be fun to put the macro adapter on same lens I used last time, the Vivitar Series I 28mm f/1.9. Here's what I came up with, shooting one of my usual subjects, a statuette of Bastt, which measures 13.5cm high. This first photo is unprocessed, shot at 1/30s and f/16 (the smallest aperture available on the lens) with a on-camera flash providing light by bouncing off the ceiling. I measured the distance of subject to image plane as 14.5cm.

The Face Of Bastt [unprocessed]

Wow, yeah, I'm liking this look! So I processed the image by touching up some marks, cropping it square, adjusting exposure, removing noise and finally toning it monochrome... all subtle but important steps to get from the crude beginnings to a deliverable image. Here is the result.

The Face Of Bastt

In conclusion, next time I need an insanely powerful macro adapter I'll reach for the Bower. It may not be practical, but it can certainly be a useful artistic tool.
Thursday, November 04, 2010

Junky Fish-Eye Adapter On Trial

Thinking I might have use for a funky video effects lens, I decided to get a cheap wide-angle adapter. This gadget screws on the front of your existing lens, using the filter mount. To facilitate this it comes with a 49 and 58mm adapter rings. Presumably if you need different sizes you can use step-down thread adapters. Many of my lenses are happy with 49mm. But since it doesn't make much sense going wide based on anything but a wide-angle, I used instead the Vivitar Series I 28mm f/1.9, a legendary piece of glass in M42 mount. It has a 58mm filter thread, so I was sorted.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Vivitar 28mm Lens Bestiary Updated

Vivitar K01 frontFor some time I have been keeper of the Great Vivitar Bestiary, a listing of every variant of 28mm lens Vivitar made to fit Pentax cameras. This includes TX mount, M42, K and KA. (It's of use to fans of Nikon etc. as well, since lenses exist to fit other brands.) Now I can announce that this site has been updated with new variants, images of each lens and a full database of information, albeit with lots of gaps for you to help fill in.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cuisle Poetry Festival Now On

Ed O'Dwyer at his reading for CuisleFans of poetry will be busy the next few days in Limerick as the Cuisle International Poetry Festival kicks off once again. The first event was a lunch-time reading (complete with lunch) at the Hunt Museum, by Limerick poet Ed O'Dwyer. He has had poems published widely and was selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions series this year. I believe "up and coming" is the phrase used!
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Blogger "Related Posts" Code

In a previous post I noted that there is no easy way to write conditional code based on which categories a post belongs to. In Blogger a category is called a "label". In this site I use labels to denote which section an article belongs to. So for me "category", "label" and "section" are the same thing. (Just saying, in case my terminology gets confusing!)

This is an issue because before now, if you were reading a specific post on this site, you would have no indication of what section that article belonged to. I wish to not only make this obvious, but also present other page code based on the current section. I found the hints of a solution from an article on WebUpd8. As a step towards integration, I decided to implement their method of listing Related Posts. This article will present my optimisations to their code.
Monday, October 11, 2010

New Subscription Options And Other Changes

I have made a few changes to the site once again. As mentioned in my last post, I corrected a template error that had two sets of social networking buttons appear on each post. I have also ditched the subscription buttons in the sidebar, replacing them with simple links that give you a new option.

If you are viewing the entire blog ("all" option on the menu) then you have the option to subscribe to "all posts" or "all comments". But if you are viewing one of the section pages, you also have the choice to subscribe to just the posts in that section. This means that if you visit the Theatre of Noise only to read about photography, you can limit your subscription to photography posts. Of course, this means that you will miss things like this very announcement you are currently reading, so maybe also subscribe to the entire site and give it a lower priority in your reading schedule.
Monday, October 11, 2010

Simple Tips For Editing Blogger Code

Blogger sometimes has a mind of its own. If you visited here recently you may have noticed that there were two sets of social networking buttons below each post. That is because the default Blogger set were showing up alongside the custom set I had inserted -- even though I had told Blogger not to display their own. Nothing I could do in the Page Elements screen seemed to effect this, so instead I deleted the offending code directly in the Edit HTML section. I'll now offer you some simple tips for making this editing process safer and easier.
Saturday, October 02, 2010

Bastt

Bastt with shadow
Bastt is a protector figure. She stays with me and looks out for my well-being, but only so long as I don't ask any special favours. It is important to never ask, but instead simply be open. Be a good receiver. This is also true in electromagnetism and communications theory.

Of course this is not really Bastt but merely one of her totems, a replica of a larger statue in the British Museum. I can feel her tracking me always from that immense building off Russell Square. This might make some nervous but to me it is reassuring.

I broke her ear but don't remember how. Bastt sucked the memory out of my head. It's better this way.

Though I leave this totem at home she has bound one of my fingers with a silver band, a ring of the sun, so that we might never be parted.

grasp
Monday, September 27, 2010

Seminar On Sound Installation Wednesday

lights times twoThis Wednesday, 29 September, I will be conducting a seminar at the University of Limerick, based on my last major sound installation. If you are interested, drop by the Computer Science Building Auditorium (room CSG01) at 3pm. This is presented by the Centre for Computational Musicology and Computer Music (CCMCM), which is just in the process of being re-branded the Digital Media and Arts Research Centre (DMARC). Entry is free.

I will discuss the process of creating a site-specific sound installation from initial conception through final product, using as example "The Lights In Room 7", commissioned by curator Elizabeth Hatz (Sweden) for this year's OPEN/INVITED e v+ a 2010 MATTERS exhibition. Practical, technical and theoretical concerns will be addressed, depending on the specific interests of those present.
Friday, September 24, 2010

Programming Blog Now Incorporated

real or fake?My once-separate programming blog, diagrammes modernes has now been folded into this site, as part of the Major Site Reboot. I welcome anyone who has joined us from that website. I took the time to replace each post with a link to the appropriate article here, all 65 of them.

diagrammes modernes was a bit of an orphan site for me. Traffic was low, mostly because my posting was sporadic. The Theatre of Noise already displays schizoid tendencies, so why not add another personality? If you are only interested in development posts, you can access them using the /dev category. And soon there will be separate feeds per category, further streamlining your experience.

In order to make room for that new category I have folded Politics (which included economics) into Media, which has now become something of a catch-all category for arts, culture and so on. Maybe I will rename it.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Castle Fragments

coiledI have never had much luck shooting castles. The ramparts, balustrades and courtyards always seem much more impressive in person. The spaces, so full of the traces of past lives, are difficult to represent in a photo. At least, not without resorting to certain clichés: unusual angles and strange perspectives.

Castle Fragments is the name of my latest set on Flickr, which I shot in King John's Castle here in Limerick, a space I am familiar with almost to the point of boredom. How not to be boring? For me, one way is to concentrate my vision on the small details, the overlooked, what might otherwise be banal.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Major Site Reboot

Dodo at Natural History Museum, LondonIf you are reading this on my website you have no doubt noticed something new at Theatre of Noise. If instead you are reading this through a news reader, head on over to check out the new look! Things were getting stale and I was getting bored. I also had a number of new goals for the site that only a redesign could accomplish. Read on and I'll let you know what I was thinking. Of course I value your input, so comment with any pros and cons. (Things might be a little unstable for about 24 hours as I tweak.)
Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pentax K-5 Pre-Announcement



We are right on the verge of new cameras from Nikon (D7000), Canon (EOS 60D) and Olympus (E5), all of which slot into the APS-C sensor "enthusiast" category. Which is to say that they are good enough to take any picture you want, if you have the skill to use them to their utmost. Same as the last generation of cameras, then.

Will A New Camera Make Me A Better Photographer? That's the title of a different post, one which I haven't written yet. But in this article I want to briefly consider what we can expect in the latest Pentax flagship body, the K-5. It's to be officially announced within 24 hours, but thanks to the leak of the German language spec sheet (on a Dutch site) the information has gone viral. I mention the fictitious article title just so you might keep it all in perspective!
Thursday, September 16, 2010

Revisiting the Sony PCM-M10 versus Olympus LS-10 / LS-11 Discussion

Sony PCM-M10 and Olympus LS-10One of my most popular recent articles is my comparison of two handy portable digital audio recorders. Both the Sony PCM-M10 and the Olympus LS-11 (previous model LS-10) offer the possibility of superior recording quality and flexibility in a unit that fits in a coat pocket and can be carried in one hand. There are many similar units by other manufacturers on the market, but these have the best overall mix of features, ergonomics and sound. Try as I might, I still own both of them -- I just cannot decide which is the ultimate tool. Neither can my readers, a fact which has generated a good amount of conversation around the previous article, both on the web and in private emails.

In this post I will address some of those concerns and articulate my thoughts in a different way.
Sunday, September 12, 2010

Photo of David Toop Published in The Wire

Wire online David Toop articleA photo of David Toop I took this summer has been used to illustrate an article in the online version of The Wire: Adventures In Modern Music. I am sure you will recognise David Toop as one of the foremost authors on contemporary music, not to mention his own significant achievements as a performer and composer. He often writes for this magazine himself.

The photo illustrates an excerpt of Toop reading from his new book, Sinister Resonance: The Mediumship Of The Listener, published by Continuum. Go to The Wire page to hear this for yourself.
Friday, September 10, 2010

New Pentax DA 35mm AL Lens

smc PENTAX DA 35mm F2.4 AL (silver)Pentax is known for its quality prime lenses, second to none and comparable with Zeiss, Leica and Voigtlander. But one thing they have not produced are inexpensive primes for those with less money to spend. That has all changed with the introduction of the SMC Pentax-DA L 35mm F2.4 AL. Is this just a reaction to the Nikon and Sony 35mm primes? Is this too big a compromise for Pentax to make? Is it too little too late?

Read on for my initial analysis, though much will have to wait until an actual lens can be used and tested.
Thursday, September 09, 2010

Pentax K-r Viewpoint

Pentax K-r in goldIn my last article I introduced the K-r, the new "mid-line" body in the Pentax line. Here I'll share my opinions, noting that I had no access to a sample copy. Is this the new Pentax golden boy (as pictured)? Or will it's image tarnish like silver?

Silver or gold, this camera seems like a decent replacement for the K-x, with improvements in some of the areas we might want and others we might instead merely expect. The larger LCD will look lovely and feel less cramped than the smaller predecessor. I would have liked to see an articulated screen, however. This is not just a toy feature, but a good and useful tool for video and macro work especially, but also street shooting and so on.
Thursday, September 09, 2010

Pentax K-r Due In October

K-r in silver (perspective)Pentax has a newly announced camera due on the market in October. The K-r is designed to fit above the entry-level K-x and below the flagship K-7. A new improved model at the top of the range will be announced later. Here I will give a quick overview of the new camera.

The first thing most people will notice is that, like a previous model, the K-r is available in a multitude of colours... at least if you live in Japan. There are 12 body and 10 grip colours, plus the new standard prime lens also comes coloured to your individual preference. So that's 1440 possibilities, many of which would be garish beyond belief! I note with interest that the design site allows you to choose the silver metal FA43 Limited as one of your lenses. Hence my version illustrated here! (As usual, click on all photos to get larger versions in Flickr.)
Sunday, August 29, 2010

Post Number 405: The Envelope Please

A couple of weeks ago I hit post 400 and rambled on about this milestone. Since then there's been another five posts and some slight changes. I have upped the number of posts on the home page to 20 and changed the sidebar so that "This Page's Posts" does just that... links to the posts wherever they might appear on the current page. I had a large backlog of links to add to each of the category pages, but I am now all caught up. Finally, I added a Food category and got rid of two older ones that no-one (including me) seemed to care about.

I previously posted seven reasons why this site exists, so here I'll complete that tally with reason number one.
Sunday, August 29, 2010

Myths And Fundamentals Of Indian Food Part 2

mustard seed and garam masala Continuing on from my last article, a general ramble about Indian cuisine, this post will cover some fundamentals ingredients you will need to make your own Indian dishes at home.

First, there is no such thing as a "curry", properly speaking, and neither is there any such thing as "curry powder". If you see a mixture advertised under that name, avoid it entirely. It is probably mostly stale turmeric. Curry is a leaf that gives flavour in combination with other spices. But for the sake of convenience we do indeed call a dish that has a certain mix of spices and a rich gravy a "curry". Even I do that, realising the simplification I am making. No-one is going to get called on orthodoxy here!
Monday, August 23, 2010

Advantages of a Full-Frame Camera

photographyLast September I wrote the article Thinking Outside The Frame: Sensor Sizes Explained. In this post I want to discuss more specifically the advantages of full-frame (FF) over APS-C cameras. The four photographic reasons to choose FF are lower noise, narrower depth of field, wider lens coverage and less diffraction. I will discuss each of these in turn, keeping the discussion pitched at the beginner.
Monday, August 16, 2010

ASUS X5EAE / K51AE Performance Tests

This is the last of three articles concerning the ASUS X5EAE laptop; the first was a general review, the second covered software configuration. Here I will provide some tentative performance and battery tests. As mentioned previously, this laptop reports to Windows as the ASUS K51AE, so perhaps that model is fundamentally the same.
Saturday, August 14, 2010

ASUS X5EAE / K51AE Configuration: Bloatware Hell

ASUS X5EAE desktop beforeIn my last article I recommended the ASUS X5EAE laptop based on its features, build and aesthetics. In this post I will discuss the experience of removing all the extra unwanted applications and getting the system ship-shape and usable. This might benefit those with other computers as well, especially if you are new to this game. In particular I will present my list of valuable software (every product free of charge) I ensure is always on a computer.

Turning on the computer for the first time initiated the Windows configuration process. Unlike earlier OS versions, your super-long product code has already been entered by the manufacturer, so all that is required is a user name, password and machine name. After this I was prompted for Windows to grab updates and allowed it to get only those deemed "important" (for now). It found two security fixes. Once this was done, some sort of annoying introductory ASUS video played, which at least had the benefit of waking me up. I will spare you a shot of the menu but above you can see the initial desktop, clutter and all.
Friday, August 13, 2010

ASUS X5EAE Laptop Review

ASUS X5EAE: openI was recently looking for a "starter" laptop for my daughter, with a budget of 500 euros. Sticking with a standard 15.6" monitor form factor, you can get a lot of bang for your buck in this commodity market. I short-listed models from Lenovo, Acer, HP and Dell, but ended up going for an ASUS model that it almost undocumented on the web. So here is the Internet's first published review of the ASUS X5EAE-SX047V.

(Click through the pictures to get to a Flickr set with larger versions. You may want to keep that page open in a second tab for ease of reference.)
Thursday, August 12, 2010

Post Number 400: Some Sort of a Milestone

post400Five years ago I retired my previous Theatre of Noise website and started this blog. I am not sure if I thought then that I would reach my four-hundredth article. Maybe I did. But to write 80 posts per year? Likely I did not anticipate that.

To be clear, that figure does not include various book-keeping entries (for example, the category pages), the pages on my many websites, the 66 posts at diagrammes modernes (a blog I spun off from this one, though it is rather moribund these days), nor those on temporary "project" blogs. And of course it cannot incorporate the over 6000 posts I have made in the last two years on the photography forums I frequent. Nor the thousands more on newsgroups and Yahoo Groups and other areas dedicated to specific topics of interest, ranging from audio recording to gaming to music and film. I also do not include MySpace and FaceBook and other social networking sites, some of which I was once quite active on.

So why do I do all this web stuff? At this juncture I figured a pause for self-reflection was in order. So I waited until three a.m. (the best time for introspection), put the last good Wire album on the headphones, poured myself a glass of decent red wine, and started thinking. In not too much time I had eight reasons. Here are the first seven; I'll leave the last one for next time.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Myths And Fundamentals Of Indian Food

masala dosaIndian food is popular the world over. Certainly it's one of the best-prepared options here in Ireland, just about the only thing worth going out for. Perhaps due to this popularity, there is a great deal of misinformation surrounding this cuisine. Here I will cover some general points, but must first declare that, though I am half-Indian, I have never been to that country. All my knowledge comes second-hand -- a pretty close second-hand in some cases, but still.
Friday, August 06, 2010

My First Foodie Post

varuval masalaI don't think I've ever shared a recipe on this blog, due to some strange oversight. I love cooking, especially healthy, spicy food. For years I was vegetarian and love good hearty dishes that would fit that diet, though now I am happy as a meat-eater. I have never been one for excess additives, sugar, dairy or baking -- I generally skip dessert entirely.

In future posts I will present recipes and food lore for your enjoyment, based on what my family and I enjoy. Recipes won't be too formal and won't be too complicated. But they will be tasty!
Monday, July 19, 2010

Reaktor 5.5 UI Critique

As I mentioned recently Reaktor 5.5 has been issued in a beta version for current owners. This is largely a refresh of the design, but there are also some improvements under the hood. In this article I will critique the interface and its usability issues. My goal is to help drive Reaktor development towards creating the ultimate tool for audio synthesis and processing.

While some bit-heads may be more interested in new modules, macros and processing features (such as an FFT engine, MIDI piano roll, etc.) I agree with Native Instruments that what is first and foremost required is to improve the interface of the product. Working in Reaktor for many hours at a time, one realises the inefficiencies. Version 5.5 seems an attempt at making the product look prettier -- which is not a bad thing. But more important is to make Reaktor easier to learn and use. I believe what we see so far is only a small step along the way to usability heaven.
Sunday, July 18, 2010

Mystery Recording For World Listening Day

remnantsToday, 18 July, is the birthday of the Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer, who was pivotal in expanding our understanding of the soundscape in all its forms. As such, today is World Listening Day, in honour of which I present for you one simple sound from my daily life. I've added this to a new album on last.fm. Go directly to Remnants and have a listen! Can you tell what it is? (Answers in the comments.)

Since Schafer published his book Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World a new awareness of sound ecology has developed. Today there are many individuals and organisations around the world dedicated to the "simple" act of listening, among them the World Soundscape Project and the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology. Thousands of sound artists and phonographers, like myself, work to encourage active listening in a world dominated by the visual.
Friday, July 16, 2010

New Reaktor in Free Beta

Reaktor 5.5Rarely am I as happy to see a software release as the new Reaktor 5.5 Beta version. Reaktor is a complete modular synthesis and audio processing workstation and has been the mainstay of my work for some time. Released in April 2005, Reaktor 5 has become rather long in the tooth. Now, anyone who owns that current version is entitled to become a beta tester for 5.5. Not only that, this version will be a free update once it is out of testing.

And we only had to wait five years!
Thursday, July 15, 2010

"Suite for Limerick" Performed in Brighton

If you are in Brighton this weekend (16-18 July) you have a chance to hear my visual score being performed as part of the Soundwaves Festival, three days of "cutting-edge new-music, sound-art, and participatory experiences that will intrigue and inspire!" "Suite for Limerick (Lines in the Sky)" is in six movements for an arbitrary number of performers. The score is derived from photos I took of aerial wires above the streets and alleys of Limerick. I have omitted any written instructions to the players, since I believe it is easy enough to find ways of interpreting the shapes, colours and intersections of same.
Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Perspective Distortion, Sensor Size And Portraiture

I cannot recall how many photography forum postings I have read entitled "which lens should I use for portraits?" Here I will clear up some of the terminology and misconceptions that arise, especially those due to the use of digital cameras for this task.

The first thing I'll get out of the way is that any lens can be used for a portrait. It all depends on what you want to show: head crop, head and shoulders, full body, group portrait, environmental portrait (where you show the person in context), quirky perspective, etc. But for the rest of the article I'll limit discussion to classic head and shoulder portraiture, where you want to flatter your subject without excessive need for post-processing. The most important concept to understand here is perspective distortion.
Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Susannah Kelly's Blog

My wife, Susannah, is becoming more active on her blog, so I thought I'd point you in her direction. She's a singer and songwriter primarily, but has also been successful as an actor and dipped into performance art, poetry, visual art and dance. (It's obvious why I love her!)

She's going to use her site to write about some of her collaborative music projects. Her last post refers to the music composition site CC Mixter, where she has already had her voice used in three remixes. I am sure this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Subscribe to the RSS feed and keep up to date with her song-writing and music as it progresses.

Addendum: Oops, it looks like she has taken down the site.
Thursday, July 01, 2010

"Twelve Minutes on Catherine Street" online from Portugal

site viewI am pleased to announce that my piece "Twelve Minutes on Catherine Street" is being broadcast on the net as part of RadiaLx, an international radio art festival based in Lisboa, Portugal. Activities will be taking place 1-3 July at various locations across the city, including the Lumiar Cité gallery and the gardens of the Goethe-Institut.

RadiaLx will be broadcasting three days of radio art on Rádio Zero, available at 99.0MHz in Lisbon and also streamed worldwide over their website. According to the press release, this "comprises site-specific projects, streams from all over the world and live shows, as well as broadcasts of the most contemporary and inventive radio art works."
Friday, June 25, 2010

Sound Environment for OPENED3:SPATIAL

Z in lightA week from tomorrow, Saturday 3 July from 2-4pm, I will be creating a sound environment for a choreography by Edd Schouten, to take place at the lovely Daghdha Space, St. John's Church, John's Square, Limerick, Ireland. Edd has worked with over a dozen performers on his investigation into spatial engagement. This is a perfect fit for my own recent sound works.

I have been busy creating custom software instruments that will allow me to dynamically augment the sound environment of this space, one I know so well from previous performances and installations. I will experiment with two modalities: simple sine tones and phonography (field recordings). These will be organised vertically (simultaneously), horizontally (sequentially) and spatially using a system of six speakers.
Thursday, June 24, 2010

Choosing An SD Card

There are so many SD cards on the market, and their prices vary so wildly, that it is often difficult to know which to buy. This is not helped by a labelling scheme that generates more confusion that clarity. In this article I will simplify this state of affairs and recommend cards for digital photography.

I don't need to tell you that you need to entrust your photos to a good quality SD card. It used to be that I might recommend slower cards as being sufficient for your digital camera, reserving more expensive higher speed cards for multi-channel digital recorders and the like. But today most DSLRs have burst mode shooting that might suffer in throughput if inferior cards are used. If you find that your camera takes a long time to process a bunch of images, your SD card might be the problem. (Though such performance is also a factor of the internal processor, the memory pipeline and how much buffer memory is internally allocated to this function.)
Thursday, June 24, 2010

Computer Frozen at Windows Resume Loader?

windows resume loaderServes me right for bragging. A friend asked me yesterday how my new computer was getting on, the one I blogged about extensively in a four-part series starting here. I said "fine -- never had a problem" and then returned home to disaster. My power button is set to restore Windows 7 from hibernation, a great feature that pops up the OS in a second or two. Except that this time all I got was a faint grey screen. Had my monitor failed? Was it a loose VGA cable? Had my boot drive gone south? Was it a virus? No, in fact it was none of the above. Read on to figure out the solution and how you can recover from the cryptic screen posted above.
Tuesday, June 01, 2010

See You In London

I'm going to be in London and vicinity for a week. If you happen to see me wandering the streets with a dazed expression on my face, that's because I just finished four submissions in two days (one remix, one new radiophonic piece, one conference paper and one other I don't even remember). Then I will be down in Kerry at a literary festival for two days before hopping a flight over to old Blighty. (I hear that's what the cool people call it.)

If you're interested in meeting, I will be delivering a paper Wednesday 9 June at the conference Interactivity and the Audio Arts, held by the Department of Music and Audio at the University of Kent campus in Medway. That's not too far out of London.
Saturday, May 29, 2010

"Realm of Circulation" today in London

Realm of CirculationThis is rather last-minute, but if you happen to be in London, England and have any interest in the audio arts, you should be heading to the SoundFjord Open Day. They have a Sonic Art Jukebox playing works from many intriguing artists, and these include my "Realm of Circulation". Today only! Saturday 29 May, noon until 5pm.

If you cannot be in London, you can hear this track on the album Outbursts, which contains electroacoustic work realised in 2009. It is released for free download on last.fm.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I'm Out Recording... Doors

locked and boltedSound recordists, phonographers and film effects folk will be interested to follow Tim Prebble's Music of Sound blog. He's a film sound designer and "supervising sound editor" working out of Wellington, New Zealand. He's got lots of interests and ideas you'll want to keep track of. Plus a few ways of making life easier for any of us who need the right sound... now!

One of these is his latest project: a sound effects library consisting of no less than 1000 doors, all recorded in many aspects (creaks, knocks, keys, opening & closing, etc.) in high quality 24-bit 96Khz stereo. How is one person doing all this? Well, he isn't. Rather, Tim is crowd-sourcing the library by getting 100 recordists to gather ten doors each. And yes, I am one of the busy door artists!
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Last Chance to Hear "The Lights In Room 7"

lights

The international exhibit "EV+A 2010: Matters" is closing this Sunday, so you have only a couple of days left in which to hear my sound installation. Visit George's Quay, Limerick daily until 4pm. It is hard to believe it's been ten weeks!

This Friday 21 May at 7pm the EV+A Catalogue is being launched at the Thomas Street Centre. See me there.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Work Scheduled For Dragonfly Festival, Sweden

wave, particle, falling leavesI am very pleased to announce that my piece "wave, particle, falling leaves" will be played at The Dragonfly Multi-Arts Festival at Ekehagens Forntidsby, Åsarp near Gothenburg, Sweden. This festival, organised by The Hollow Egg, will take place 20-22 August in a bronze-age settlement and open-air museum. I doubt I can afford to attend but would love to hear this four-channel composition for voice issuing from between the trees! Maybe those who attend can tell me what it was like.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010

First National Shot

tango in the streetsYesterday (Monday) the Irish Examiner published one photo to sum up the Catherine Street Cultural Festival, which went on for three days here in Limerick, Ireland.... and it was mine! I beat out several pro photographers despite the fact I was only shooting casually and with no eye on journalistic appeal.

Of course I got lucky. But it's still a nice ego boost. The shot pictures Louise Campbell and Neville Gawley of Limerick Tango, giving a demo on the streets.
Friday, May 07, 2010

Sound Installation On Catherine St.

The Catherine Street Culture Dig (CAT DIG) is a project of the SpiritStore collective, as part of ev+a 2010. The event is taking place over this weekend, 7-9 May, all along Catherine Street in Limerick. Vendors and residents co-host events including music, dance, performance art, printing, video, puppetry... pretty well anything! Grab the full programme from their website, but be prepared for the unexpected.

I am on the roster as creating "an anecdotal soundscape of Catherine Street, a process which would start with collecting sounds in situ and end with a finished composition for playback." While that may very well happen, I will also be installing a site-specific audio augmentation for a particular location on the street. You will get to hear this throughout the day Saturday (10am-5pm) all going well!
Monday, April 26, 2010

Sony PCM-M10 versus Olympus LS-10 / LS-11

LS-10 and PCM-M10 - top viewThis review will compare the merits of the Sony PCM-M10 against the Olympus LS-10 and LS-11 portable audio recorders. All three are excellent units that will suit those who want a hand-held recorder with the convenience of built-in mics and very good pre-amps.

If you never plan on using external mics, there are cheaper options. If you require phantom power for professional microphones, there are larger and more expensive units. For details of these options see my previous articles, starting here. But otherwise it is these three models I have chosen to investigate further, on the basis of my previous evaluation.
Saturday, April 17, 2010

Art Defined. Finally. In Four Words.

I get so tired of all of these endless "Is this art?" discussions that saturate certain milieu, like those little pollen things you get in Spring. They float through the air and tickle your skin. You brush one away, but another takes its place. They are irritating and apparently made of nothing at all. Just like most discussions about art. "Art is expressing feeling." "Art is anything you call art." Yuck!

So here I present a definition I came up with myself. By that I mean that after decades of interacting with the world and those in it, after thousands of books read and hundreds of art projects initiated, I have now, all by myself (irony alert) found a suitable definition.
Thursday, April 08, 2010

Video Game Slaughter of the Innocents

Perhaps you have not yet seen this extremely disturbing video of an Apache Gunship targeting and killing civilians in New Baghdad, Iraq in 2007. It was provided by WikiLeaks from a whistle blower who obviously has a more developed conscience than the military officials who have denied responsibility for this slaughter for three years, all the time claiming that they were justified because their forces were under attack.

Not only was the helicopter not under attack but shouldered cameras were mistaken for AK-47s and a telephoto lens for an RPG... even though they look little alike through the high-powered camera on the chopper. In the last sequence a family driving by in a van happens to stop to help a wounded man. They were themselves targeted in a clear case of pre-meditated murder.

WARNING: This is quite horrible to watch.



The photographers killed here were members of Reuters staff, doing a dangerous job in impossible situations. Ironically these Iraqi journalists have, with this video, delivered to the world more powerful images than they might ever have taken in life. Meanwhile the pilot and gunners are playing a video game complete with whoops of joy and expressions of accomplishment and enjoyment ("cool!").
Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pyglet: Audio Support

music technology articleI promised I would cover audio support in Pyglet, even though, when all is said and done, there is little to say. Support is quite rudimentary, though what is there works well. I was able to write a simple application on Windows 7, test it on LINUX and then install it for OS X without any bugs, code changes or even configuration issues. That is cross-platform programming as it should be. (Though I would accept the need for config changes to address hardware-specific issues.)

Audio and video playback is handled by the same package, pyglet.media, which automatically detects the media type and acts appropriately. As I mentioned in Pyglet: Helpful Tips, you will want to install the "optional" AVbin to support anything other than plain uncompressed formats.

Though you might want to refer to the API docs for all the details, I'll explain here how to set up sound playback. In brief, you use a Source instance to decode an audio file and then queue this on a Player for playback. By default this decoding is done on-the-fly as a StreamingSource. If you want a sound to be decoded in advance, you can designate it as a StaticSource. This is useful for short sound effects and the like. There's not much you can do with a source except read its duration.

A Player can be used to play, pause and restart a sound. You can get the current playback point and seek to a position in the source. There is support for pitch shifting and attenuation, but I did not try these. There is no time stretching, however, and even basic filtering or EQ is outside the realm of what this simple library is designed to do. I would like to see these features, as well as the ability to cross-fade sources, as this would provide commonly needed functionality.

Here is the basic code I used:

import pyglet

wavfile = 'some/path/to/file.wav'
sound = pyglet.media.load(wavfile)

core = pyglet.media.Player()
core.queue(sound)
core.play()


There is only one event provided for responding to audio, on_eos(), which triggers when the player has reached the end of the current source. It would be great to be able to set up triggers at other times (so one could have advanced notice of the approaching end of a file) and on other events (for example, pausing).

This library for sufficient for my simple case, but I would have to look at something more complete for more than the rudiments... a search that still continues!
Sunday, March 28, 2010

Interactivity As Entropic Prison

sound resonatorsound resonator

In this article I will move from specific observations relating to my sound installation "The Lights In Room 7" to generally applicable philosophical points regarding the interactive utopia many technophiles promote. I will over-simplify and pontificate, for what else is a blog for? [This version revised from initial publication.]

This article started from a need to clarify a point I made in the initial announcement of this piece. I wrote then that "those who come to the room will hear sounds that differ for each visit". But in doing so did not wish to imply, as some have assumed, that the piece is interactive in any way. Visitors will hear different sounds only because there is so much sound to hear, and because I do not expect anyone to stay for the entire duration.
Friday, March 26, 2010

Quiet Club photo published

The Quiet Club
This photo of the Quiet Club was published in the last issue of The Wire, to accompany their track listing on the cover CD. Buy the magazine to get lots of intriguing music and see a microscopically small version of this image!

Apparently the photos are so small the magazine did not see fit to credit me. Likewise, the selection from The Quiet Club is so abbreviated that it scarcely hints at what their work is really like.
Friday, March 12, 2010

"The Lights In Room 7" for EV+A 2010

lights

Now I can reveal what I have been busy with these last few weeks.

As part of the international exhibit "EV+A 2010: Matters", curator Elizabeth Hatz of Sweden commissioned me to produce a sound art installation. The location is the old art college building on George's Quay, Limerick, a space once used for the fashion and sculpture departments.

The exhibition opens today, Friday 12 March at 7pm with a ceremony at LSAD Gallery, Limerick School of Art & Design, Clare Street. It runs for 10 weeks, until Sunday 23 May, at many venues across Limerick. These include The Hunt Museum, Limerick County Hall, Thomond Park Stadium and the Absolute Hotel. A total of 58 artists are included. For more details visit the ev+a website.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Running Python Scripts on Mac OS X

[Warning! This is complete newbie information!]

One of the things I found difficult when first using Python on a Mac was simply getting my scripts to run as programmes, with a simple double-click. The nub of the problem is that one must run a script using the python interpreter, like so:
python script.py

This is easy enough to do in a command window, terminal window, at the shell prompt etc. (The terminology is different depending on the operating system, but the reality is the same.)

On Windows I would write a one-line batch file containing the command above. This could be then be treated in all ways like a self-contained application. Simple.

I had difficulty making anything like this work on Mac OS X until I did the following three things:

1. Make the script executable:
chmod a+x

2. Ensure the first line in the script is a "shebang line", telling it where to find the interpreter:
#!/usr/bin/env python

Er, hold on, that looks correct for LINUX but not the Mac. Anyway, be sure to put in the proper path!

3. Associate the script file with PythonLauncher. One does this by right-clicking (option-click) the script, selecting "open with", and then finding this programme.

In my case I had difficulties because the first PythonLauncher to be available in the menu was actually for an older Python version. It is quite common on the Mac and LINUX for there to be multiple versions of Python. This is because the operating systems come with one installed, and it is often best to leave that in situ so that any system tools that need it can still use it properly. But one inevitably wants to upgrade to the latest greatest version. The solution is to install this in parallel.

I had my script running with Python 2.3 when it needed 2.6. I got no error or indeed any feedback that something was wrong. This took me a while to figure out!

I had a second big problem, but that will wait for my next article.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Open Letter To Ken Rockwell

Hey Ken:

In your "review" of the Pentax 645D you come across as a right old sour-puss who can't even get his facts straight. So I'm writing you this open letter in an attempt to penetrate your smug armour.

Several times you mention the "small" sensor as a problem, apparently not aware that the 645D has a similar crop to the other digital 645 bodies out there, 80% as large as film 645.

So why is Pentax worse?
Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Pentax 645 Digital No Myth - It's Here!

Some of you scoffed when I wrote that the Pentax 645 Digital was On The Horizon, not being able to read the signs that denoted the difference between project development and product release. But those folk can be forgiven their scepticism, as it has certainly been a long road for those waiting for a medium format digital camera from Pentax. Now it is here, I can only image what the ripples are going to be like in the little pond of photographers that need and care about MF.

Units are due on the Japanese market in May, at a price that converts to US$9400. Depending on if and when the camera comes to Europe and North America, that could be a breakthrough price. After all, this is a 40MP (7264 x 5440) camera with a 44x33mm sensor, significantly larger than full-frame. (This spec different from that in my prediction article.)

Just to compare, the Mamiya DM40 and Hasselblad H4D-40 are both twice that price.
Monday, March 08, 2010

Pyglet: Helpful Tips

In my last article I introduced Pyglet, a small and elegant cross-platform library that implements OpenGL, 2D sprites and a complete windowing interface in minimal Python code. In this article I will outline a few issues I had setting up the library. I hope that in this way I will save others time and headache.

These issues came about due to the fact I am running a 64-bit version of Windows 7. It seems that many programmes are still not ready for 64-bit operating systems, and if they are it can still be quite confusing getting and installing the correct versions.

To start with, the Pyglet download page makes available a Windows installer in MSI format. This failed to find my Python installation. Apparently this is a common issue; the solutions I found online involved copying registry entries from one place to another. Unfortunately the specific entries mentioned were not to be found on my system, so I abandoned this approach.

A simpler solution was to grab the source distribution and run "python setup.py install" to do all the work.

This appeared to do the trick, but the example applications I tried failed with various errors. Then I resorted to the test suite (very nice that one is included) and this could not even create a window. Houston, we have a problem!

From the support group I determined that Pyglet supports 64-bit Windows but does not support 64-bit Python. You need to have 32-bit Python running on 64-bit Windows to use Pyglet. With the correct version of Python 2.6.4 installed, everything went fine. It sure would be nice if somewhere, in the install docs or FAQ or on the download page, this was mentioned.

My second issue had to do with the declaration on the homepage that Pyglet has "No external dependencies or installation requirements". We have just seen that the last part of this is not true, but neither is the first part, in any real sense. A couple sentences later we find out that "pyglet can optionally use AVbin to play back audio formats such as MP3, OGG/Vorbis and WMA, and video formats such as DivX, MPEG-2, H.264, WMV and Xvid".

What is going on here is a matter of expectation. Other Python graphics toolkits have one or more external dependencies that require installing or compiling third-party libraries. Sometimes this can be quite an involved process. Further, these dependent libraries are not always free or open source. So long as one is using only uncompressed media, Pyglet is free from these dependencies. So, relative to other windowing libraries, this is in fact a Pyglet advantage.

However, to do any real work one will soon need to support some of the common compressed file formats and codecs that AVbin gives access to. (It does so by wrapping the extensive FFmpeg library.)

The AVbin site has one download for Windows, a file named "avbin-win32-5.zip". Hmmm.... does this mean it will not work on 64-bit Windows? I thought I'd give it a try. The ZIP contains only a readme and a DLL file. The former says to place the latter in your "\windows\system32" folder. I did this but applications that require AVbin still failed to work.

Pyglet has a Google Group to provide support. It averages about 150 messages a month. It is easy to get spoiled by groups that provide six answers within 3 hours; this is not one of those, so patience is required. My first query was answered in 12 hours, so I dashed off another request for information. This time it took 24 hours before I was told I would need to put the DLL in my "WOW64" folder. I found the similarly named "\windows\SysWOW64" folder. I put the DLL there and it worked perfectly.

The lesson to be learned is that if you want a 32-bit DLL to work in Windows 7 64-bit then put the file in SysWOW64.

There are two things that should be improved here. First, the zip file should be named in a way that makes it clear that it will in fact work on win64. Second, the readme needs more complete installation instructions.

Getting back to Pyglet itself, it would be marvellous if the correct version of the DLL could be included with the installation, saving a step and making the programme truly self-contained. (Actually, this is in fact the case for the full installer version, but not the manual process I needed to use.)

Better yet would be if AVbin could be dynamically linked as a Python library (a PYD file). This would have the distinct advantage of being loadable from elsewhere in the file system. No mucking about with Windows folders would be necessary and it would then be easier to distribute finished applications to clients.

Does someone want to create a PYD from AVbin? I have no idea what that entails. But it would be a real boon!

(I think that one disadvantage is that PYD files are specific to Python versions. This creates a maintenance issue.)
Sunday, March 07, 2010

Pyglet: A Python Gaming Library.

In a previous article I noted the difficulty in finding a complete, well-documented and active audio library for Python. That was two and a half years ago, but the situation does not seem to have improved. Many of the libraries are moribund or have no developer community. Hardcore coders can piece together what to do from doc strings embedded in the libraries themselves, but the rest of us are left waiting.

One of the anonymous comments on that article mentioned Pyglet. In this series of articles I will provide an overview of that library with a special look at its audio facilities. I will highlight any limitations I have come across in the short time I have been working with it. My viewpoint is that of the casual programmer who wants to pick up a tool and get work done. I do not code every day or for its own sake, but to get real tasks accomplished efficiently in the real world. That is one of the reasons I love Python; even after a year away all the syntax comes readily back to mind. My goal is to find tools that are equally efficient.

You can tell a lot about a tool from its website. The Pyglet site provides detailed API documentation and a handy walk-through guide. Sample applications come with the install. This makes it a lot easier to get started than with many other small tools. (As far as I can tell, Pyglet is the work of a single developer.) However, the FAQ is minimal and many "before sales" questions are not answered, especially those concerning scope and limitations. I find this common enough for developer tools, though it is frustrating. Why would I choose Pyglet over other tools? When would I not want to use it? These are the questions a website should answer simply.

I will say from the beginning that Pyglet has only minimal audio facilities. There is nothing in the way of signal processing, audio effects or algorithmic composition. But as a quick way to play back existing audio in a nice interface, it might be just the ticket.

But now, on to the library!

Pyglet is a game development library for Python that supports Windows, Mac OS X and LINUX. In this day and age I treat those as a minimum target. As a test I will be developing a simple app on Windows 7 64-bit for testing on LINUX and distribution on a Mac mini. This is not an arbitrary test; these are the real-world requirements of the programme, dictated by the availability of computers at my disposal.

Pyglet includes a windowing interface library along with keyboard and mouse detection. Text output can be formatted using a subset of HTML (which does not support CSS, however) or Pyglet-specific markup (about which I could find little). You can even work with fonts and glyphs at a primitive level if you need to design your own.

Images can be read from files or file-like objects, so you can easily store your programme resources in an archive, for instance. In fact the module "image.atlas" provides special support for image bins. A full image or some part thereof can be displayed and transformed within a particular view-port or projection. Images have full sprite control (position, scale and rotation). The demo applications include a convincing clone of the classic Asteroids game.

Pyglet is notable for supporting a complete OpenGL and GLU functionality set, including basic graphics primitives. I am certainly in no position to verify this claim but it seems that anyone familiar with OpenGL can get right to work.

A clock module provides not only scheduled events at specific time slices, but can calculate or limit the frame rate of your application.

Some time has been spent solving common application development problems. For example the "resource" module handles locating data files relative to the application root. Everyone coding in Python ends up writing something similar, but it's good to see the application framework support it.

Without further ado, here is the canonical Hello World programme, taken from the examples provided.

import pyglet

window = pyglet.window.Window()
label = pyglet.text.Label('Hello, world',
    font_name='Times New Roman',
    font_size=36,
    x=window.width//2, y=window.height//2,
    anchor_x='center', anchor_y='center')

@window.event
def on_draw():
  window.clear()
  label.draw()

pyglet.app.run()

We first define a window instance and a label instance. The "@window.event" decorator provides an easy way to modify the class methods, in this case the "on_draw" event. The "app" module hides the application event loop in a single line of code.

And that is all! I don't think I have ever seen a simpler windowing application framework.

This should whet your appetite for what seems to be an uncommonly useful little library. In the second article I will look at some of the configuration "gotchas" I referred to above.
Thursday, March 04, 2010

just stopping in to dust the shelves

Don't forget I am still very active over on Theatre of Noise, even if this site has been moribund for a year. I'd like to tell you I've been spending my time researching Quantum Computing, but the truth is even more fantastic... I've been taking photographs and composing music.

I also took a year to get my Masters. This in fact did involve a significant amount of programming but I was too busy getting grades to write here.

Maybe later.
Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Cirque de Céramique

lighting grid

I don't always have the time to get out to all the openings I'd like. But sometimes I'm really glad I do. Case in point: This week's show of works from third and fourth year students at the Limerick School of Art & Design. Cirque de Céramique features finished works and ideas in progress. The results cover the widest range of techniques and forms, from more-or-less traditional pottery to decorative items and even wearable art.

You only have until Friday 5 March to get out and see this exceptional show. There's a catalogue to purchase so you need not be content with my snapshots.
Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Chanting Out The Pantheon

Paul Henderson.

There. I just divided my readership into two groups. Those who know what that name means and those who don't. It's like a talisman, a divining rod for determining who is Canadian.

There's something about Canada and hockey that cannot fail to stir the spirit, to inspire, to unleash all manner of poetic clichés. It's hard to express unless you've been at a Junior A game in a small town somewhere in the back of beyond, unless you've seen children barely old enough to walk being urged across the ice in skates, unless you've been in a crowd when the home team wins a big game. Yes, sport is the opiate of the masses, fuelling disagreeable tribal urges and distracting money and attention from more important issues. But still: Canada. Hockey. Beer. Life. Inextricably bound, one to another.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Windows 7... For Dummies

So I want to see my bandwidth or current internet access rate or anything to do with my connectivity. There's this icon in my status area. I hover over it and it says "Network / Internet access". That's two separate lines. Apparently this information is so important and detailed that it simply deserves two separate lines.

So, being a trusting sort, I click on it.

Now it says "Currently connected to: / Network / Internet access". That's three lines. There's also a pretty picture of a house, like something a Sim would live in. I'm not sure if this represents the network or the internet access. Is it provided to help the illiterate? If so, shouldn't it be slightly more representative of the problem at hand?
Saturday, February 20, 2010

iPad -- iWhat Were They iThinking?

So, do you want an expensive single-tasking device with no camera, no phone, no DVD player, no standard ports, no app compatibility with your computer, on a closed platform, in a terrible form factor for typing, with a backlit lo-res screen not optimised for reading? If so, I hear Apple have just the gadget for you.

About the only thing this looks good for is being an over-large remote control for other gadgets and applications. For example, it could be used to control your music software, with virtual faders and knobs, like a cheaper Lemur. But even then the inconvenience of the form factor means you are likely to get RSI pretty quickly. (Being a long-time sufferer, I never joke about RSI.)
Friday, February 12, 2010

Poems of Love, Death and Nasal Surgery

pub window

I was pleased with my poetry reading this week, more so than usual. Maybe because it's been some time since I did a sustained reading, maybe because it had a sort of homecoming feeling, with friends and strangers all out to hear what they might at the regular Wednesday night session at the White House.

I once could be found at this venue every week. In those days I wrote daily and having a regular opportunity to test out developing work was a great boon. There is nothing more inspiring than hearing other people's work -- those pieces you love and wish to emulate and those you can't stomach and wish to see replaced with something better, dashed out on the back of a coaster or in a notebook brought along for the purpose.
Thursday, February 11, 2010

Quiet Computer Build: Putting It All Together

Finally, I present the last part in my series of building a quiet computer for audio work and general-purpose computing. Since this consists of 39 photos in sequence, I have decided the best way to do this it to simply send you over to my Flickr site, where I have a dedicated photo set on the subject. The photos are in order from top-left to bottom-right. Once you load the first page you can click through them in sequence using the Set browser, or even load the whole thing as a slide-show if you wish.

If you're just joining me, please refer to the first three articles in the series: Introduction, Components Overview and Component Picks.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Robin Parmar, Live Poetry, Wednesday 10 February, White House Pub

Every Wednesday night for some years now, the White House Pub in downtown Limerick has hosted a poetry session. For a good amount of that time I was a regular reader in the open mic part of the evening. In 2005 I was on the Irish team for the Hammer & Tongue International Slam Competition in Oxford. I then had the pleasure of being an invited guest to the Brighton Poetry & Book Festival. Along the way I was joint-editor for Microphone On, the poetry anthology that launched Revival Press and the current renaissance of poetry in Limerick.

Now, for the first time, I will be the featured poet on Wednesday night at the White House. Join me February 10th at 9pm for a selection of favourite works old and new. You'll laugh; you'll cry; you'll want more beer! (Plus complementary finger food.)

Though I no longer work on verse several hours each day -- a practice I carried out for a couple of years -- I have kept a hand in with occasional public readings. I have also combined my love of electroacoustics with poetry by creating soundscapes for readings of Beckett and a book launch for Mark Whelan.

Eventually I'll get my act together and release a book of my own, but so far I've had too many other activities demanding my time. (I write this here as a big reminder to self.)
Sunday, February 07, 2010

Small Site Update

I doubt you've noticed, but I've tweaked the blog a bit. Besides a bolder and perhaps easier-to-read typeface in the main articles, I've had a go at cleaning the sidebar. Nothing major, mind you, just some additional text to explain the Paypal donate button and Oblique Strategies a tad. Plus I've put in a link to my main site, since this was inexplicably missing. And yes, the copyright was a few years out of date as well!

Other than that, I've updated the links area. Previously I had all sorts of links divided by topic, but the truth is it's been some time since I've bothered visiting most of these. And if I don't use them, there's no reason to expect you to. Besides, this isn't the sort of a site to have a big blogroll or anything of the sort.

What I'm left with is a small assortment of links that maybe don't need to be here at all, but I'll keep them for the time being. About half of them are great places to find lost music.

This article is mainly a place holder so you can comment and make further recommendations, should you wish. Otherwise I'll just say a big "thank you" to all my readers and especially to any of you who take the time to comment, whether in agreement or disagreement. I didn't expect to get to 370 articles (over 400 if you consider diagrammes moderne, my rather comatose programming blog spin-off).

Despite FaceBook and other social networking sites, newsgroups, Flickr, web forums and so on, I still find a lot of info that is best conveyed using this vehicle.

Some day I would like to amalgamate all my sites under one roof, but until I have the time to code the mother of all content management systems, I think I'll leave things as they are.
Sunday, February 07, 2010

Quiet Computer Build: Component Picks

In the first part of this series I set out the requirements for building a quiet high-performance audio PC that would also be great for graphics, games and other day-to-day tasks. In the previous article I described the nine components we need to assemble before we can start building.

Today I will choose which makes and models to use. This is not to say there aren't other fine choices. A lot depends on price and availability. Plus you may have some specific requirements or favourite brands. And finally, time doesn't stand still. If you read this six months hence some of the details will be dated. In fact that's the main reason I split this article off from the previous general discussion.
Friday, February 05, 2010

Quiet Computer Build: Components Overview

"Building a computer" is an inflated term. All one does in actuality is assemble a computer using off-the-shelf components that fit together in a predetermined way. It's like Lego except not nearly so much fun. Even vendors such as Dell do nothing more than this, though they have the buying power to brand the cases.

It's not something you need a degree for, not something that requires extensive training. But it is so easy to get lost in the flood of information out there. Think of this article as an executive level summary. It'll save you time and bother if you don't have the head for spending weeks searching every web crevice for advice.

[This article went long, so I have divided it into two. The three-part series just became four!]
Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Quiet Computer Build: Introduction

booting upI have desperately needed a new computer for some years. My current beast, a small system in a Shuttle case, is now woefully underpowered. It's a Pentium 4 running at 2.4GHz with 1GB of RAM. That was pretty good seven years ago but sucks now. The power supply (PSU) whines like a banshee and I am sure will explode any day. So it was long past time to do something positive about my work environment.

To save money and gain deeper understanding of the technology I decided to build a computer myself, a step I had never previously taken. And so I embarked into the wild world of system builders, overclockers and extreme performance, a world where nothing is good if it is affordable or over three weeks old.

In this article I will outline my methodology. In the second I will present my system choices. And in the third and final article I'll take you step by step through the build, illustrated with over three dozen photos.