Sunday, July 31, 2005

MicroTrack versus MiniDisc

There is a new device on the market that may be just the thing for location recording. The M-Audio MicroTrack is set to compete with other solid-state portable recorders from the likes of Marantz and Fostex. It will also go head-to-head with minidisc recorders (which is what I currently use). Here I will do a feature comparison against the current generation of Hi-MD recorders.

For a list price of US$500 you get a box "about the size and weight of a deck of cards" (actually 187 x 175 x 55 mm and 502g) that can record stereo audio at up to 24-bit 96kHz, storing it to a CompactFlash or microdrive card.

The price of this media is a lot more than similar capacity 1GB minidiscs: $70 versus about $7. However, MD recorders capture uncompressed PCM files at "only" CD quality: 16-bit and 44.1KHz. If you need the extra resolution there's no choice between the two devices. Personally I would like the dynamic range of a 24-bit recording but don't see the value in enhanced sampling rate. You will be able to record about one hour of 24-bit 44.1KHz audio on a 1 GB card.

Like MD units, the MicroTrack has an 1/8" input with 5V plug-in power for electret microphones. But unlike MD, it also has phantom power for use with professional condenser mics. In an apparent space-saving measure the MicroTrack only accepts 1/4" TRS inputs, not standard XLR. This means you will need plug adaptors for your mic cables.

There are separate left and right level controls, signal and peak indicators, and a mic/line switch. The final input is S/PDIF coax for direct digital transfers.

To get files off the unit, it mounts as a normal USB 2.0 mass storage device: no drivers or special software needed. This is yet another advantage over MD. Although most of the disadvantages of Sony's SonicStage software are disappearing over time, it's still cumbersome to use.

For audio output there are dual RCA in addition to the usual 1/8" headphone socket, with a level control.

The power options are flexible. The built-in rechargeable Lithium ion battery has a stated life of 8h (3h when using phantom power). This is similar to a MD with the highest-capacity battery. The unit can also be powered via USB and (thank you!) a standard power supply. This means that as long as you have a power outlet nearby you can record until your media runs out.

When purchased, the MicroTrack comes with a 64MB CompactFlash card (which you will immediately want to replace with something larger), an electret microphone, and power supply.

From the available pictures I like the look of the device, and its ergonomics. It won't win any design awards, but is practical. The controls are much larger than those on my MD recorder, which is great.

In terms of price, the $369 retail on offer if certainly more than a top-end MD.

Some important questions remain:
  • How good are the mic pre-amps?
  • How good is the UI?
  • How stable is the recording?
  • What is the build quality?

These are make-or-break features. Until the unit gets tested in the field no final determination can be made. However, I would have preferred a different feature mix at a lower price point. For example, a 60GB hard drive is actually cheaper than the 1GB CompactFlash needed to make this recorder useful. To have a built-in drive of that capacity would be more than worth the extra weight.

Other opinions are cropping up everywhere. As one would expect they might for a device this exciting.

Supposedly it ships August 5th in Europe, which is only days away. Calculating how many days is left as an exercise for the reader. :-)
Friday, July 29, 2005

Control Tower Sound

control tower sound


escalation 746 presents "Control Tower Sound"

sound art, music, performance

Impact Theatre
18 The Crescent (lower)
O'Connell Street
Limerick, Ireland

2005.08.05: Live performance from 20:00-23:00.
2005.08.06: Interactive sound landscape from 13:00-20:00. If you can, bring a radio!
2005.08.07: Chill-out soundscape from 13:00-20:00.

For "Control Tower Sound" escalation 746 invites you to an unprecedented three days of sonic activities. By turns challenging, relaxing, and engaging, these audio pieces will ask you to think of sound, space, time, and music in new and vital ways. The first two days in particular are designed as experiments, in which various elements will be brought together in the spirit of play, just to see what might happen.

Friday August 5th, from 8-11pm, there will be a live electro-acoustic improvisation. A sophisticated software-based instrument system will be used to process live spoken word, found texts, sound effect elements, and original music. Actual aircraft control tower communications (from Ireland and Canada) will be an integral part of the soundscape. This is a rare live appearance of escalation 746, the first ever in Ireland! And the nature of the piece means that it will never be presented the same way again.

Saturday August 6th, from 1-8pm, you are invited to bring your own FM radio in order to participate in a radio transmission that *you* help create. This piece is designed to explore the materiality of radio, to reverse the traditional roles of that medium, and put the listener in control. Drop in and out through the afternoon to see how the sound environment changes.

Sunday August 7th, from 1-8pm, is given over to a multi-channel ambient landscape, first premiered in June at the Framemaker's Symposium to international acclaim. Chill out and relax to "wave, particle, falling leaves", in which a small sample of a singer is allowed to evolve from one place/space to another, triggering different words and associations. "I could stay in this room, hearing these sounds, forever" said a previous listener.

All three days are completely free, though a donation will be accepted towards costs. Those who donate five euros or more will receive this amount back in a discount off the next escalation 746 limited edition CD, derived from sounds created at this event.

escalation 746 is an association engaged in sonic detraining, aural ingestion, and terminal documents. They have performed over 15 years in contexts such as performance art, radio art, DJing, poetry, and music events. They have two CDs available in limited art editions.

Robin Parmar
+353 (0) 87 286 2678
Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Edinburgh 2: Inflight Entertainment

"This flight travels direct from Shannon to Glasgow. The 737 is equipped with state of the art safety features. Please familiarise yourselves with the emergency information on the back of the chair in front of you. We will now demonstrate them for your convenience."

Only Ed will understand number 2 below.

Warning: Though detournement makes boring flights more interesting, giggling while staring at emergency instructions may elicit undesirable attention from fellow passengers.
Saturday, July 23, 2005

Edinburgh 1: I'm in Berlin

The Beale are an odd bunch of characters with a song "Top Ten" (available for download from their site) containing the refrain "I'm in Berlin, I'm in Berlin". When I went to that city for the first time in my life, some months ago, I took along that track and played it for myself and my friend Chris. It seemed to convey the vivid pogo-jumping joy that I felt upon being in a vibrant city of diverse cultures, incredible architecture, and vivid artistic expression.

Well, now I'm in Edinburgh, and I feel just the same way.

For my soundtrack this time I brought the Skids album Days in Europa, and listened to it on the flight from Shannon to Glasgow. So now I'm going to do one of those typical traveller blog things, and upload images, write descriptions, and give some advice and recommendations along the way.

But I'm not so stupid as to do much of that until I get back home. I'd rather be down the pub, or walking around the city, or enjoying some Spanish or Thai or Indian or Scottish food. So that's why you won't see too much in the way of posts from me here for another few days.

I'm sure you understand. Or you would if you knew this city. It rocks!

P.S. The photo above is of the new Scottish Parliament Building, which is stunningly beautiful and elegantly designed.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Lusting Necrocorpse and other links

Here's a selection of hand-picked links for your perusal.

Starting with live tarantulas that will guard your password. Though at the same time it will be broadcast for all to hear. Perhaps a case of locking the terrarium door after the spiders have bolted?

The wonderful world of snow crystals.

Remember the days of audio tapes? Well, here's someone who not only remembers, but collects cassette labels.

This is the font used for subtitles in "Look Around You" DVD. If you have never seen this great spoof of educational television programming then you should. Though supposedly the new series was a bit crap the original one was spot on.

One of my favourite buildings now has its own TV special. No, it's got nothing to do with Pink Floyd.

Here's lots of nineteenth century ephemera for you to peruse. You know you want to.

I believe you may wish to hear the song "Entranced By The Northern Impaled Necrowizard's Blasphemous Incantation Amidst The Agonizing Abomination Of The Lusting Necrocorpse". Sure beats the latest Coldplay.
Sunday, July 17, 2005

Time To Wake Up

Do you have difficulty getting out of bed in the morning? I know I do, which is why I get out of bed in the afternoon. But another solution is to get a better alarm clock. Here I present links to five of the craziest alarm clocks you are ever likely to see.

How about one which rolls off the bedside table and runs away to hide somewhere in the room? That's Clocky. It was "designed to reinterpret the common alarm clock into something that is not stressful and obnoxious but playful, meaningful, and a better fit between humans and technology." Cool!

Certainly not kosher, the Wake'n'Bake slow cooks bacon for twenty minutes, to give you that lovely burnt pork smell first thing in the morning. I sure hope there's an automatic off-switch or I can imagine heavy sleepers waking to a house on fire.

For the ultimate in frustration, the puzzle clock requires you to solve a simple four-piece jigsaw before the alarm will turn off. I imagine it gives new meaning to the phrase "I could solve that one in my sleep."

The Zen alarm clock has a chime like a Tibetan bell that slowly decreases in interval. A shame the designers have no sense of aaesthetics (Zen or otherwise). This thing is butt-ugly. And here's the kicker, "All Now & Zen products are designed in Boulder, Colorado, and made in Shen Zhen, China." That's right, the country which invaded and slaughtered Tibetan people now gets to make money off tacky items exploiting their way of spirit.

Inventors must have a hard time waking up, because here's another alarm clock, this time one which elevates further and further out of your reach towards the ceiling. Certainly a design which, er, reaches new heights.

[cough] [cough]
Saturday, July 16, 2005

New Sidebar Links

As you can see, I have recently added a set of links to the sidebar to the right. Any time I find a significant link I'll write an article on it, but sometimes when I find a good general link I'll just stick it over there. These are reference sites or those that have new content periodically, so if you like them you will want to visit them time and time again.

The music links are pop-oriented and have a more left-field approach, except I suppose for All Music, which is just a good reference guide. Their reviews are decent and at least provide an orientation to an artist. But for far more stimulating journalism go somewhere like the ratio which had, for example, this cool discussion of the last Interpol album.

The blog info section include indexes that I have registered with. If you want to search for bogs or check out what is popular at the moment, these are good places to start.
Thursday, July 14, 2005

Blogger Irritations

With Blogger, Google has provided a fine easy-to-use tool for setting up a simple site. But as someone familiar with writing HTML and CSS from scratch, there are some limitations of this environment that are bugging me. If you know of a workaround, please post a comment.

I want the complete date and time of each of my posts to be displayed before each post, but cannot figure out a way to do this. The <$BlogDateHeaderDate$> tag sticks in the date but if there are multiple posts for the same day, repeating dates are automatically suppressed. I can find no way to turn off this behaviour. Removing the tag from the enclosing <BlogDateHeader> tags just turns off the functionality completely.

Under Settings, the Timestamp Format setting does not have many options. For instance it has far fewer than the Comments Timestamp Formats, which is odd. You'd think they'd offer the same flexibility.

Speaking of which, while there are many Comments Timestamp Formats, the ones I would actually like to use are not available. Rather than have exhaustive lists of every different way one could possibly represent a date and time, it makes far more sense to allow us to define our own using some standard notation.

The tag <$BlogItemCreate$>, puts in a "post a comment" link. I can see no way to change the text of this, or the style, though it does obey anchor tag formatting.

Though I have the setting "Show Quick Editing on your Blog?" turned on, I cannot edit my comments. This means that even stupid little typos have to stay where they are. Is it possible to edit comments?
Thursday, July 14, 2005

Inadvertent Art

I believe that this site is a mistake. But if so, it's exactly the type of mistake I enjoy.

I have put a screen-grab here in case it renders better on your browser. Wouldn't want that to happen!
Thursday, July 14, 2005

Weasel-Coloured Lasers

You just know you are going to love a site that explains "Vicious Lily is a robotic assassin made to advance the cause of Impressionism." This is what happens when someone who likes role-playing games actually has an imagination. They start writing wonderful nonsense like:

"They also ate the nose finches, which is why no one has special tiny finches that live in their nose. Not even rich people! Or celebrities!"


"The cool thing about using a weasel-colored laser is that weasels are highly resistant to the energetic impact. If your target is standing in front of a weasel and you want to use a red or blue laser, then you must wait until the target moves. Otherwise you might hurt the weasel. With a weasel-colored laser this is not true. You can fire straight through your target and the weasel will remain unharmed."

OK, just head off now to Hitherby Dragons (great name too). I'll be waiting right here for you to get back.
Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Real Simple Syndication Part Two

In the last article I showed you how to set up My Yahoo for an RSS feed. I chose that as an example because it was not software-specific and everyone can easily access it.

Well, now I'm going to show you the best way to look at your RSS feeds. Given all of the Aggregators out there, that might seem to be quite a statement. But this is best because it is simple, integrates with your browser, and is simple. OK, maybe I said simple twice. :-)

First, if you are not using Firefox as your browser you should be. Get it, install it, and thrill to a new browsing experience. Tabbed windows are just part of the joy.

Also cool is how the browser can be customised to an amazing extent through third-party applications called extensions. Though they are separate tools, integration with your browser is seemless.

So do this: under the Tools menu choose Extensions and then the link Get More Extensions. All this does is take you to a particular web page. Search for Sage. Or to skip all that just use this link.

Download/install Sage and restart Firefox. Under your Tools menu there will now be an option for Sage. Select this and a panel will open up with some default RSS feeds. You can delete these, add more, and change some options from the rather obvious menu.

It is easy to add a new feed. For example, when you surf to my blog a cute little orange icon will show up in the lower-right corner of the Firefox status bar. Click this and you can add the feed address directly to your Favourites menu (aka bookmarks). But better yet, the first option is "Sage Feeds" and sure enough choosing this adds my RSS feed to the Sage panel. All with one click!

Some sites may not automatically activate this Live Bookmark feature. In those cases just snag the RSS feed URL as usual from the orange RSS or XML icon on the site and manually create a new bookmark.

If you want off-line reading of RSS feeds there are many apps, one of the most highly regarded being RSS Bandit.

But simple is good, easy is good, and integration is good. Sage scores on all these points.
Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Terrestrial Variations [a poem]

Well, it says in the header that you can expect some poetry, so I guess now is the time.

Over on this side of the pond there is a curious phrase used in the television listings. I liked it so much it became the title. The rest should be clear. :-)

Terrestrial Variations

And there came like a bolt of perfect blue from the sky.

Like a voice of four-thousand angels all singing in harmony.

Like the aching rush of magnetic foil on the teeth.

Like a tornado of leaves and dirt abrading the skin, as homes are carried away forever into the wind.

Like the greedy burrowing of worms through the flesh of a corpse.

Like the waterfall crush of four tons of river on gellied bones.

Like the flash of atomic radiation igniting the skin.

Like the last three seconds of awareness before the skidding car hits the concrete embankment.

Like the final candle snuffed in the mausoleum, oxygen gone, last brick cementing you inside.

With all of this perfection and symphony the voice said:

"Coming up next on BBC 1: The End Of The World."

"Or, on BBC 2: a look at today's football highlights."
Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Laptop Envy

Lately I was at a symposium attended by mostly artists. As is usual in that kind of a surrounding I bumped into lots of people toting nice shiny Apple laptops. I couldn't help looking on a little enviously. This made me think about differences between computer platforms for the first time in years.

Now in reality I would not buy an Apple. The reasons are mostly practical and come down to tools. Much of the software I use works only on a Win32 platform. There's lots of quirky little sound generators, effects, sequencers, and assorted doodads that have no equivalents on the Mac. They help make the audio work I produce distinctive.

So hold on, I guess it's not a matter of practicality after all, it's a matter of philosophy. The Mac is designed around the idea that there is only one good way to do things. Mac designers say "We will make it simple for you and then you can just forget about work and have fun." They know best. That's why in most application categories there are only one or two apps on the Mac that everyone uses. On Windows there'd be about six. Or sometimes sixty.

(This is changing all the time, but it's the "classic" scenario I suppose. Also, I am aware that there are some cool audio apps on the Mac that are not available on Windows and that this doesn't even get into LINUX. To top it all, I'd really like to talk about open source apps, but that is another article as well. For now I think the basic point is still valid.)

Now that's just not the way I think at all. I don't want things to be simple, I want them to be complex. And I don't want everything to be fun either -- I like work! This is not to say that I want apps with butt-ugly impossible-to-figure-out interfaces, but I don't want them all exactly the same either. One interface does not suit all applications, and one metaphor does not suit every domain.

Not only that but I want lots of choice. Because often the market-leading app is not the one I like. Sometimes it got to be market-leading by being in the niche first, or being flashiest, or because advertisers lied about features, or because there was some cool Superbowl ad which I never saw but heard repeated as a meme for about three months as I looked about curiously, into the trees and behind the garbage bins, wondering How do I work this? and Where is that large automobile?

Er, so where was I? Yeah, PowerBooks look cool but I want a cool-looking Windows computer instead. I am not sure why only Apple can hire designers that know anything, but apparently it's true. Just like I don't want all my software looking the same I don't want all my hardware looking the same either.

But unfortunately, and incomprehensibly, it does.

It's for practical reasons and reasons of looks that I own a Shuttle. That's a small form-factor (SFF) computer about as big as a toaster. Or at least the kind of toaster that families in the suburbs have, which is to say, a pretty frickin' big toaster.

And no, to answer your next question, the Shuttle does not make toast, though some parts of it get hot enough that they could likely be adapted to that function. There's a mod for you gamer boys and girls!

I bought the motherboard and case from a manufacturer somewhere in the wilderness of the Toronto megalopolis almost exactly two years ago. I picked a video card, a gig of RAM, a hard drive, added a second drive from my then-current system, put in a DVD burner and bingo: a compact computer.

To accompany it is a 17" LCD monitor, the best I have ever seen, from Samsung. To be specific it's a SyncMaster 172B and it is sweet. (It's also defunct. These guys come up with new models like new models wear clothes.)

Not only does the LCD look wonderful, but it has built-in speakers (crap, of course, but ok for testing), a headphone output, and the screen can fold flat against its base. This means it goes into a nice flat-pack box and is easy to transport. Because you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack, and you may find yourself in another part of the world, and you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife, and you may ask yourself, "well, how did I get here?"

Er, sorry, I keep channelling David Byrne.

Added to the setup is a flexible keyboard that can fold inside the Shuttle case, an external modem (because for some odd reason the Shuttle does not have one built in), and a touchpad. So, two boxes and I have my entire computer setup including my audio card which I won't describe right now (another article). That was my carry-on luggage from Toronto to Shannon airport when I moved countries.

Now that is portable but not super-portable. So if I find myself in another part of the world, and if I find myself... Er, no, what I mean is that now that I'm starting to DJ and do location sound work I want something smaller still. And that brings us back to the beginning of this increasingly long article and the subject of laptop envy.

And also it's a place to tie in a comparison I recently posted on KvR. Someone mentioned how Apple laptops are way more expensive that PC laptops. I doubted this enough to do some research. I looked up two laptop configurations in pound sterling, since it's hard to get good info in euro that is valid across countries. These numbers will seem high because prices are insane in the UK. But they are all relatively insane to the same extent, if you get me.

Here's a PowerBook configuration, direct from the Apple store. I'm sure I could trim some cost by buying elsewhere but this is in the ballpark.

PowerBook G4
PowerPC G4 1.5GHz
15.2" display at 1280x854
80 GB Ultra ATA/100
8x DVD writer
ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 with 64MB
firewire 800 / modem / 2xUSB / gig ethernet
802.11g / Bluetooth (3-Mbps version 2.0)
backlit keyboard
Mac OS X Tiger

Note very carefully that many PowerBooks do not have a PCMCIA slot, aka PC-Card. This one does. It's particularly good in the area of connectivity features though it has only 2 USB ports. The DVD writer is fast. I won't talk about battery life since it's all so hard to figure out how exaggerated the manufacturer's claims are.

And here's a cool Intel-based laptop with decent styling, though not as neat as the PowerBook. I don't think Samsung sell this stuff in North America, which means you guys over the sea are missing out.

Samsung P40 HZM 750
Pentium M 1.86 GHz
15" display at 1400x1050
512 MB RAM
80 GB UDMA 5400 rpm
4x DVD writer
ATI Radeon X600 with 128MB
firewire / modem / 4xUSB / ethernet
802.11b/g / Bluetooth
fingerprint reader / card reader
Windows XP Pro
2.7 kg

I'm not sure who thought a fingerprint reader was a cool idea, but at least it's something different. The higher resolution screen is nice and the video card has more memory.

So what do they cost?

It may surprise some that the price in pound sterling came to 1480 versus 1410. That's pretty much a dead heat to me, though the Mac comes with a lot more usable apps out of the box. How you read the other feature differences is up to you.

And what about the relative performance? Some claim that the G4 is half the speed of the particular Pentium chip on display, but I haven't seen anything to convince. Please let me know in the comments if there is some good data out there.

I think the wisest answer to the question of performance is: who knows. You'd have to get some app you care about running some process that's meaningful to you. Do this on both computers and see how they work. Raw processing speed is meaningless in this day and age. There are just too many other hardware factors like bus architecture, bandwidth, memory speed and size, graphics utilisation, and so on.

Not to mention that the most important factor is the actual experience of working in front of a computer. And that is hard to quantify.

But I think it's reasonable to say that any statement about grossly overpriced Apple computers seems more a matter of belief than fact.

Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.

Oh yeah, the lyrics are from "Once In A Lifetime" by Talking Heads, but you knew that already.
Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Why Is Samplitude Not Better Known?

I seem to be writing a lot about Samplitude at the moment. But if it's so great, why has almost no-one heard of it?

1. Likely the most important reason is that it has never had good promotion or distribution. The current distributor seems keen on changing this, but I don't really see a difference. This is a chicken-and-egg problem for many companies. They cannot afford a big promotions budget so they never sell the product to get their next budget... and so on. Samplitude has relied on word-of-mouth.

2. It is expensive when you look at the list price. Of course there are ways around this. I got lucky and found a copy of a older version very cheap in Toronto. But even if you don't bargain hunt, the "SAM for rent" programme allows purchase for between 20 and 40 euro a month. That's an attractive scheme for most people.

3. It has some interface oddities that one has to learn. This is the very fact that makes the application more powerful once you do learn them.

4. There are sometimes too many different ways to accomplish the same task, and lots of options to configure. A good example is all of the mouse modes. You only need two of them, but the rest are there for backwards compatibility, cluttering up the interface.

5. MIDI support has only recently been decent. This really killed the product for many people who looked at it over the years. In version 6, for example, the MIDI was in no way up to snuff with Cakewalk, Cubase, Logic, etc. What made it worse was that there was an attitude from customer support suggesting Samplitude was an audio product not a MIDI product. So it seemed like it would never be able to compete in this arena. Considering how easy it is to implement MIDI features (compared to good audio features) this was a mistake, IMO. It especially seems so now that MIDI support is good-to-excellent. (Or so they tell me; I need to upgrade.)

6. Being a German product there is a language barrier that extended to the interface (a tiny bit) and the manual (a lot). Samplitude deserves better documentation. In a small way I'm trying to remedy that on this site.

This article was extended from a posting on KvR.
Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Lobster Remix

I suppose I should say something about the phrase "lobster remix" in this site's header. It is something to do with the colour red and something to do with a fascination with creatures which look like a typical fifties science-fiction bug-eyed monster. It's also something to do with the following links which I hope you will find tasty with a bit of butter sauce and a dash of pepper.

But first, a disclaimer. I know lobsters are not red until they are cooked. This is because all of the other pigments in their shells change chemically, but not the red. This makes red something special: more persistent, more durable. Maybe that's why I chose it for this site.

The first place I lived when my parents brought our family to Canada was Halifax. We could go down to the pier and buy lobster directly from the tanks. You can still do that some places, but not in the city.

An idea of how long ago that was can be determined from the fact that these were huge tasty creatures, and not the little scrawny things you see today. While there is a minimum size constraint in effect for lobster fishers (as you can read if you carefully follow these links), this is still too small for my liking. So I have refused lobster, not liking to eat the babies of any species. And for a creature that can live to well over one-hundred years, a little one pound monster is certainly still youthful.

Now this is a problem, because lobster is likely the tastiest food on the planet. I am of course not talking about the spiny lobster, which is nowhere near as nice. I'm referring to the typical rock lobster of song and legend, found along the north-eastern coast of USA and Canada.

To dispel another myth, with fresh good-sized lobster the addition of melted butter is completely redundant. The butter really only helps make small or stale lobster taste like it should in the first place.

I once ate seven lobster in a sitting, and only stopped because the all-you-can-eat fundraiser ran out. In fact, I had somewhat more than seven because squeamish eaters will leave the head and body. The fact that they ate only the claws and tail meant that I had a whole table of people passing me the other parts to finish off.

I say this not to impress with my gustatorial stamina, or my strength of will in my subsequent abstinance, but rather to make this one simple fact clear: I love lobster.

One of my favourite meals in my life was shared with friend Nadir Ansari in Bar Harbor, Maine, sometime in the mid-eighties while travelling to see two of our friends get married. We enjoyed the food so much that staff gathered to watch us eat. We were asked, more than once, if this was the first time we had had lobster, and I kept explaining that no, I had lived on the east coast and was no stranger to a claw cracker and meat pick.

The Chinese also know how to cook lobster, and I have had some fine variations in Toronto. Personally I like the ginger and onion variant, but the sticky BBQ one is good too. I'm not so keen on black bean with lobster. By all means though please avoid the horrid "Shrimp In Lobster Sauce" which is actually a sauce of ground pork and egg. I still have nightmares about that one!

Parenthetically (as if this article is not divergent enough) the Chinese character for lobster may come in handy when surveying menus for something worth eating. But generally it's better to just point at the tank and gesture wildly.

OK, now on to the links.

"Most developers do polysilicon micromachining," says Nicol McGruer. Well, I'm not at all sure if I've ever done any polysilicon micromachining, but I can imagine his attitudes stem from long hours spent developing a robotic lobster. [link dead]

Over at another robotics site there is an animation of lobsters actually moving. I'm not sure what this is supposed to prove, except that lobsters can avoid large inanimate objects on the sea bed. As if we didn't know that!

This furry chirping lobster was the first of its kind to be captured. Well, in fact it was the second, but someone ate the first. I wish I was joking.

Always check that the handgun is empty before giving it to a lobster. That's because, "eating lobsters and other sea animals is like playing Russian roulette" according to this hysterical (in both senses of the word) site.

A company with the unusual name of Stump Preacher have a lobster guitar. But I think maybe they have gone out of business, judging by their dead web site. Hmmm... imagine developing a product like that and then finding that there is no market for it. They must have been dumbfounded.

Here's some strange talk of "spousal units" in an everyday account of lobster fishing. This is one of those few times I will actually link to another blog. Because most blogs are so crap and whiney aren't they? (That last sentence is a great example of a blog being crap and whiny. [Yeah, but that last sentence there gets you off the hook for being so self-referential. {Not to mention referring to yourself in the third person. That's good for points too. /*Ok, you'd better unwind this stack before someone mistakes you for a Lisp programmer.*/}]) Done! Whew! That was close!

Illiterate lobsters have been a plague on society for years, so I'm glad that this fine organisation is empowering them with a Lobster Literacy Program.

Virgin Mobile have a cell phone called the LOBSTER 485 which I include only because the site colours are so... crustacean. [link dead]

Lobsters mate for life? Er, no, actually. Instead they might bite off all their lovers' legs, dominate each other for sexual favours, and sulk in the corner. Not so different from us, then.

One reason lobsters likely gave up on monogomy was that, with a lifespan extending past one hundred years, it would be all too boring. Did you know that the largest lobster ever was a Canadian beast at 20kg? But this USA lobster FAQ claims a USA lobster as the largest. Well, they would, wouldn't they? Someone should tell them that 37.4 pounds is less than 20.14kg.

Finally, in case you are not following every link here diligently, I should point out that there is a very strange reference in the B-52's song "Rock Lobster" which resonates for me. So here it is:

Here comes a stingray
There goes a manta-ray
In walked a jelly fish
There goes a dog-fish
Chased by a cat-fish
In flew a sea robin
Watch out for that piranha
There goes a narwhal
Here comes a bikini whale!

"Sea robin"? What the heck is that?
Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Samplitude Resources


Samplitude is one of the most powerful tools for multitrack audio processing. Despite this it's difficult to find any useful information about it on the web. That's one of the reasons I'm pulling together all of the links I know into this page. It's much easier than trawling Google.

Official Sites

At the official Magix Samplitude site they are now offering version 8.2. They have a support forum but it's only for registered users of their latest product. As a user of a previous version this is closed to me, and others in my position. That sux.

They do have a newcomer forum which is mostly about comparing Samplitude to other products and other pre-sales info.

Magix has a different site for their consumer-level products. One of the hidden gems of the audio world is "MAGIX music studio 2005 deLuxe", which contains much of the power of Samplitude in a cheap product. I have seen versions for $50 on Canadian store shelves. In the UK it goes for 50 pounds sterling. There is no better deal in music recording than that! The name of this product changes all the time. But don't confuse it with "MAGIX music maker 2005 deLuxe" which is a different beast.

Still, it likely makes more sense to stick with Samplitude and get it on the rental pogramme.


There are three other forums, but none are exactly full of riveting info.

US distributor Synthax has a forum that deals mostly with their own issues.

Audioforums have a forum dedicated to Samplitude. I won't link to it directly here because such links keep going stale. Find it from their main page.

An old independent forum that never really got going.


Electronic Musician reviews from 2004 and 2002.

Sound On Sound had a look in 2003. In my opinion this is one of the best magazines out there covering the audio recording field.

Version 8 is given a cursory look at Windowatch.

Prorec had a look in 1998.

Here's one from 1999.

Sonic State reviewed Magix Music Studio 7.0
Monday, July 11, 2005

Spamming The Blogosphere Or Poetry?

Exactly what the heck is up with sites that say stuff like:
Your extensive searching for equity home loan mortgage vs is finally over. After spending numerous weeks dedicated to researching the subject and buying products, we've set this site up to show you our results and to keep you informed of the very latest developments in equity home loan mortgage vs. Sometimes it's not painfully time consuming to find just what you're looking for. So we're glad you found us, and I'm sure that you'll find this site and those we link to very useful and informative.
They appear to be selling something, but have nowhere where you can buy anything. They appear to be spamming the blogosphere but just for the sake of spamming. Or maybe the authors really like the look of the same phrase over and over? Hell, I know I do, but at least I try a little harder to turn it into a poem.

Here's the example I used above, and another one.
Monday, July 11, 2005

Samplitude FAQ

Samplitude is a most incredible multitrack audio editor. It is not as widely adopted as ProTools, nor as popular as Cakewalk, Nuendo, or Cubase. However, it is the best, which counts for something. So here is a FAQ for those wresting with its complexities.

A lot of the power is down to the "object-oriented" editing, in which each track may contain many sound objects, each one of which can be seperately effected. As a trained audio engineer I also appreciate the high audio quality this software provides. Tracks mixed in it just sound better, and I'm not the only one to think so.

The product sells for about a grand (dollars or euro, depending on where you are). I was lucky to find an older version in Toronto for a fraction of this. Still, I am thinking of upgrading to the most recent release. The company has an interesting software rental plan that distributes the price out in monthly amounts, which is pretty cool.

In any case, some time ago I put together a FAQ, mostly for my own benefit. Samplitude has a plethora of options but sometimes the documentation is inadequate.

Some of these items may be out of date based on a newer software version. I would be grateful of corrections or additions. I truly hope this will help the community.

Q: How do I move a track up and down in the VIP window?

Hold the shift key and click on the track number. The pointer turns into a hand so you can slide the track up or down in position.

Q: What is the safest way to clean up a VIP by removing all unused files?

Use "File -- Save complete VIP in..." and check the option to save only used samples. You can then audition this VIP to ensure it contains all the parts you need, and delete the original folder.

Q: When right-clicking on a track you can Minimize Track, Maximize Track, or Minimize None. But how do I put that track back to the normal size from a Maximized or Minimized state.

Currently you cannot.

Q: How can I select the complete VIP as a range?

Tap A.

Q: How can I quickly get to the beginning or end of the VIP?

Use the Home and End keys.

Q: How can I select between two markers?

Click on the first marker; shift-click on the second marker.

Q: How can I flip a range to the right or left of the cursor position?

Use Shift + Ctrl + Cursor keys.

Q: How can I easily copy an object?

Hold down Ctrl while clicking on the object. You can immediately drag the copy to a new location.

Q: How can I prevent accidental changes to objects?

"Object -- Lock Objects" allows you to define what locking means. You can quickly lock an object by clicking on the key icon on its waveform.

Q: How can I quickly divide an object into two objects?

Position the cursor where you want to divide the object and tap the T key, which is the same as the menu option "Object -- Split Objects". If a range is selected within the object, the object is separated on the range borders, resulting in three objects. If the Auto Crossfade mode is active, a smooth crossfade will be created at the separation points.

Q: How can I save zoom levels or window setups?

There are four Zoom buttons in the lower left-hand corner of the VIP. Use Shift + Click to store a zoom level and Click to recall one.

Likewise the Setup buttons can be used to save and restore complete window configuration sets. This includes the scroll position of the window and the Mute/Solo track assignments.

Q: In the Mixer how can I return a knob to its default or neutral setting?

Double-click to toggle between the altered and default settings.

Q: In the Mixer how can I incrementally change a knobs settings?

Click on the left or right outer limits of the knob.

Q: How can I normalize an object?

With the object selected, tap N.

Q: How can I normalize the output level to 0 dB?

Play back a selection and click "Normalization" on the Master bus section in the Mixer.

Q: How can I mix an entire song to a WAV or MP3?

Click "Mixdown" in the Master bus section of the Mixer.

Q: How can I mix an entire song in real time?

Click "Output to File On" in the Master bus section of the Mixer. As you play back the VIP it will be recorded with all realtime actions tracked as you hear them.

Q: In the Mixer how can I access the options on a control?

Right-Click the control.

Q: How can I perform a long processing action while still working on something else?

The truly cool thing is that you can have more than one copy of Samplitude running at a time! However, ensure that you first disable "Check Space key for playback stop also in background" in "Program Settings -- Program" options. Otherwise the space key will affect all instances.

Q: How can I easily change the Recording/Playback options?

Right-Click the record control in the Transport Window, or tap R from the VIP.

Q: How can I stop playback at the current cursor position?

Playback can be started and stopped with the Spacebar, but this returns the play cursor to the original position. Use 0 from the numeric keypad to stop at the current playback position.

Q: How can I route the output of a track to a submix or AUX bus above it?

You cannot but this is not a practical limitation. Submix or AUX buses must be below all tracks that are routing to them.

Q: How can I record on more than one track at a time?

Be sure that each track has a different record device selected, than toggle them all on to Rec.

Q: I have extra blank space after my objects. How do I delete this area?

Select the excess range across all tracks, then delete with ripple, which is performed using Ctrl + Del.

Q: How do I prevent zooming out past the range of my song?

Choose "Lock VIP size against ZoomOut" in "View Options".

Q: How do I rename an existing wave in a VIP?

Select the object, right click, and choose "Wave Editing" (or select this from the menu). Then, choose "File -- Rename Project" and choose a new name.

Q: How do I lock CD track markers to objects?

Switch on "Link Objects All Tracks" from the toolbar. This is also called "Time Link All Tracks".

Q: How do I edit a song against a tempo, snapping an object to this time?

Choose "View -- Snap and Grid Setup". Type in the required BPM and choose "Bar Snap On". Ensure "View -- Snap To Grid" and "View -- Show Grid" are on.

Switch mouse modes to "Pitch Shift/Time Stretch" mode. Select the object and use the handles to stretch to the left or right.

Q: How can I determine the tempo of a VIP?

Select the range and choose "View -- Snap and Grid Setup". In The selected range is beats enter the correct number of beats. Click on "Get BPM From Range".

Q: How do I correct the tuning on a part of an object?

Switch mouse modes to "Pitch Shift/Time Stretch" mode. Select the object, paint a range around the bad notes, and hit T to cut this into its own object. Loop playback the part and then adjust up and down by ear using the object handle.

Q: How do I save multiple takes while recording, and choose between them afterwards?

I have had difficulty getting this to work, but here goes...

1. Select your PunchIn and Punch Out points
2. Select a range that encompasses both these points
3. Use Punch in Record.

When you are done, the VIP will display the last take. Right click the object and choose Take Manager to see all takes, with the red "O" being the current. Choose Statistic to open a new VIP of all takes so you can easily choose between them.

Q: How do I move an object, along with all following objects, without changing the spaces between them.

Hold the K key while you select an object. Then you can move it to the right and all objects on its right and the markers will follow.

Q: How do I replace a wave file being used in a VIP?

1. Close the VIP.
2. Delete the WAV and all related files (eg: hdp, h0).
3. Replace with your new wave file.
4. Open this WAV in Samplitude to create new supplementary files
5. Close this VIP.
6. Open your original VIP.

Q: How do I get Samplitude to recognise my VST plugins?

A VST adapter comes with Samplitude and is also available as a separate download on their web site. Running this app from your start menu will find all VSTs and make them available in Samplitude. Remember to redo this after installing a new VST.

A simpler way for specific plugins is to simply drag the correct DLL file into an open Samplitude window.

Q: How do I prevent reverb tails from being cut off after the end of an object?

Under "Program Settings -- Program options" there is a setting "Maximum Reverb time for Objects without fadeouts". Make sure this is long enough.

This article was first posted on the web sometime before April 2003. It is presented here as part of my Retro series.
Sunday, July 10, 2005

Really Simple Syndication For Beginners

If you want to keep track of lots of different blogs and news feeds, then RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is for you. You can see that RSS has come to this blog by inspecting the shiny little RSS icon in the sidebar on the right. Here's how to use it to keep track of your blogs.

Simply put, RSS is just a version of this blog in a standard XML file format. Because it's a standard, you can read diagrammes modernes and thousands of other blogs and news sites together in an RSS Reader (aka an Aggregator or News Reader). This can be either an online application or software for your desktop.

All of these require that you get an address from the source in question. In many cases you can do this directly from the RSS icon. In the Firefox browser right-click and choose "Copy Link Location" to snag this URL to your clipboard. (If you are not using Firefox then likely you should be.)

An aside: most sites have an orange icon reading "XML" for this sort of link. Since XML is just a file format and has nothing to do with the idea of syndication, I have chosen to use "RSS" even if this is a little non-standard. People's fascination with XML befuddles me. No-one ever got this het up over tab-delimited files!

Back to the topic at hand. As an example, I will show you how to set up My Yahoo to read my RSS feed. First, you'll need an account with Yahoo, which is a simple process many people have already accomplished. In fact, if for some reason you are still stuck on Hotmail then you will want to move over to the much more powerful Yahoo Mail.

Go to your "My Yahoo" page and look for an "Add content" link. It'll look something like the following (although here I've already signed up to my own site, so you can see how the articles will be listed).

Click "Add Content"

Now you get a screen with a small link I've pointed to here. Click "Add RSS by URL".

Now you can type in the URL as noted, and click the "Add" button. This will take you to a preview screen where you again have to click "Add" to get the feed on your "My Yahoo" page.

That is all. New articles will automatically stream to your Yahoo page and you will never miss anything I write.

And you know that makes me happy!
Sunday, July 10, 2005

DomainKeys Vs. The Spam Monster

In March 2004 Yahoo proposed a new email verification system called DomainKeys. Like any other standard, adoption is the key.

This uses public/private key pairs to sign the message, ensuring that the mail is from who it claims to be and has not been tampered with en route. They begain implementation last November, and though I don't know how widespread the adoption is, I am starting to see messages in Yahoo Mail that are marked with statements like "DomainKeys has confirmed that this message was sent by".

The primary motivation of such schemes is to stop phishing attacks. But it also works against spammers. Even though DomainKeys only identifies who is sending the mail (not why) any spammer who authenticates is only making themselves easier to block.

So far so good!

Here's the Yahoo explanation and the code library.
Sunday, July 10, 2005

Proposal For An Anti-Spam System That Works

This article was first posted on the web in June 2003.

It is obvious that most current anti-spam mechanisms fall woefully short of doing a good job. Simplistic mechanisms are based on whitelists (addresses you want to receive from), blacklists (those you want to block), and string detection (find bad strings in subject or body). Methods do not in themselves work effectively.

It is impossible to recognise all of the spam and even worse, valid emails (sometimes amusingly called "ham") may be blocked. This is the phenomenon of "false positives".

There are two main areas of development on the anti-spam front. The first uses Bayesian Filtering, which is a more intelligent probabilistic method of determining spam from content strings. PopF and SpamBayes implement this concept in Python. They are both designed as POP3 and SMTP proxies. This allows client-side as well as server-side installation, so that as many people as possible can use the services. On the other hand, tools that require server access do not encourage widespread adoption.

While I think Bayesian Filtering is a step forward, I am not sold on this technique, because the spam blocker will always be playing catch-up with the spam sender, as they get more and more clever about how they contact you. This method will not stop apparently benign messages that can still cause Denial of Service through time wasted reading and deleting apparently innocuous mail.

A more robust method uses an authorisation protocol. Simply: I cannot send an email to you unless I have permission. I must get authorised as a valid sender. This thwarts spammers since they almost never use valid return email addresses. Even if they do, they will not take the time to manually send an authorisation email. Their entire business model is based on sending out millions of messages quickly and freely, in an entirely automated fashion. Any manual intervention kills their profit margin.

Some have objected that this is too much work to simply to send a message, that it puts too much onus on the valid mail sender. But this form of authorisation is the same as what happens when I try to sign up for a mailing list, or a web site. I get back an email telling me how to complete authorisation for that resource. I only need to go through this process once, then I'm recognised and in the clear. Widespread adoption requires only that people think of email exchanges in the same way.

Besides, as we shall see, if I am already known to the recipient I can be pre-authorised and will never even know that they have such an anti-spam mechanism in place.

Before I realised that others had thought of this method as well, I designed a procedure as a first step towards implementing software.

Process 1: when I send a message...
  • recipient is automatically added to whitelist
Process 2: through an interface I can manually...
  • edit whitelist or blacklist by individual, by domain, or list
  • configure whether blocked messages should be quarantined or discarded
  • check quarantined messages, delete them, or forward them to my POP box
  • edit questionaire
  • change questionaire responses required for authorisation
Process 3: a daemon running periodically...
  • checks each pending item in the database, and if too much time has elapsed without a response, adds the sender to the blacklist
Process 4: when a message is received...
  • process it using the following pseudocode:
is sender on blacklist:
kill message
is sender same as user:
is checksum present:
send message on to recipient
trash message
is checksum in subject:
decode checksum based on sender
check ID against database
if ok:
send message on to recipient
report back error to sender
is sender on whitelist:
send message on to recipient
does mail look like mailing list, bounce, or auto-response:
trash message
generate checksum based on sender & unique incident ID
store database entry with message, keyed by ID
add checksum to subject
send message back to sender with questionaire in body

TMDA is a robust server-side system, written in Python, that implements this authorisation method, with a number of enhancements. But it works only on UNIX and is far from easy for a novice to understand. Also, being server-side, only those people with access to their own server (or with a willing ISP) can implement it. Certainly there are good reasons for such software to be active on the server, the primary one being that authorisation requests can then be returned instantly after getting an email. If the software was implemented as a POP proxy, these replies would be sent only when you check your mail. This sort of delay makes the system cumbersome and less likely to be used.

However, I still believe there is a case for a client-side implementation, especially given the popularity of persistent broadband connections to the Internet. A client proxy could periodically (every 15 minutes) contact the ISP and get new messages, processing all authorisation requests. This would not place an unreasonable burden on any of the resources of the system: the client, the server's POP, or the sender's patience. Better yet, such an application could actually be used by the vast majority of people who do not have control over their server's email setup.

To summarise, what is required is an anti-spam tool that:
  • implements an authorisation process like that outlined here
  • works across all major platforms
  • works as a client-side proxy
  • is open source
  • is preferably written in Python

Friday, July 08, 2005

What illuminates the night?

Alpha 5: What is the privilege of the dead?

Johnson: To die no more.

Alpha 5: Do you know what illuminates the night?

Johnson: Poetry.

Alpha 5: What is your religion?

Johnson: I believe in the inspirations of conscience.

Alpha 5: Do you make any distinction between the mystery of the laws of knowledge and the laws of love?

Johnson: In my opinion, there is no mystery of love.

From Alphaville, une ├ętrange aventure de Lemmy Caution, 1965, written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard with texts from Capital of Pain by Paul Eluard.
Friday, July 08, 2005

Why "theatre of noise"?

Besides being the name of my longstanding (and now defunct) website, this blog is named after a quote from the 1971 SF film THX-1138.

"The theatre of noise is proof of our potential" someone is heard to say amidst the electronic clattering and multitracked voices which constitute the incredible sound montage by Walter Murch.

Recently issued on DVD, this film has unfortunately been "revised" by director George Lucas, in order to include flashy new visual effects which break the claustrophobic monochrome tone of the original. Maybe someone out there will take the beautiful DVD transfer, edit out all the new bits, and give us the film as we should have it.

Anyway, if you have any interest whatsoever in audio you need to hear this film. I once played the kinoscape (my name for the audio track of a film, not to be confused with the soundtrack) as an episode of my radio programme Missing 15 Minutes. The audio stands on its own, and when you consider that no digital effects were available at the time, it is even more astounding.

Murch is much-respected in the film industry. You can read about him in many places, one of the best being this article at The Transom Review. He also does special commentary sections on the DVD, which I recommend despite the fact that Lucas has done his best to revise history for the worst.
Friday, July 08, 2005

Why Am I Here?

I am here on this blog because I never get around to updating my own website. In fact, it is two years stale. I am not even going to give you a link because I am that embarrassed.

Blogs are good; blogs are fun. Wikis too. They embody the connectedness of information that I have been intrigued with for longer even than the web has been in existence. (With two friends in 1993 I wrote The Electronic Labyrinth, a study which has been used as a text in universities and other teaching centres around the world.)

What is different now is that current tools make it easy for anyone to publish, and new economic models make it cheap, or indeed free.

Free and easy within an egalitarian structure: that seems to fit with my philosophy. If you think the same way, and you want to read something more than the usual whining and whinging, then I imagine you will like it here at the Theatre of Noise.
Friday, July 08, 2005


I have been programming since the days of punch cards and have used Fortran, Pascal, C, xBASE, Perl and other forms of nastiness. About five years ago my good friend Paul introduced me to Python. At first I was sceptical. What could this language do that others could not?

Well that was missing the point. Quite simply, Python can do just about everything, and does it simpler and with less grief than any other language I've seen. It does not have bizarre line-noise syntax like Perl, is not crippled and made for only one domain like PHP, does not require micromanagement of memory like C, and takes much less typing to accomplish a goal than Java.

Python is free and works on any platform. Libraries are robust. Goggle, Blogger, and Yahoo are among the "big boys" who use it. The developer community is incredible.

In short, if you are programming, you should be using Python.

Start at the home page and download a version for your system. Go to the DevCentre and the online Cookbook for useful resources.

Two of the best online tutorials are Dive Into Python (defunct) and How to Think Like a Computer Scientist.

If you prefer printed documentation, there is no better starting point than Learning Python. For helpful recipes and an intellectually charged deep exploration of this language, do buy the Python Cookbook. It is far more extensive and coherent than the online version. And I say that not because I have a few contributions!

Do this and you will thank me as much as I thank Paul.
Friday, July 08, 2005

Terrorism and the MediaState

There are terrible events in the world. There will always be terrible events in the world. Freedom means the freedom to do wrong. Without evil there can not be any good.

The Media wants sensation, because that is their food. They create sensation from the day-to-day, from events that might otherwise never come to our notice. And the easiest sensation to stimulate in us, the most primal, is fear. So we are kept in a heightened state of fear, panic, and even hatred.

The State wishes for enemies so it can build borders, without which the State is readily revealed as a pointless entity of control. Intangible evil must be made real as concrete foes, so that policies can be enacted to take away the freedoms of individuals, to stigmatise certain "others", and to increase the percentage of our resources which go to activities like "security". All of these are themselves tools of this self-same evil.

Today we live in a MediaState, a State which is not concerned with action but rather the image of action: "we must be seen to do...", "it is important that give the sign that...". This is not to say that actions do not occur, only that their appearance is more important. Said another way, it is the mediation of the actions that comes to us as "fact". This MediaState has evolved from the goal of fear-production shared by its two component institutions.

The MediaState and terrorists work hand-in-hand; one cannot exist without the other. They are both to be condemned for their oppressive uses of power.

"Terrorism is a lesser evil than the police state capable of ending it."
-- Jean Baudrillard, Fatal Strategies: Crystal Revenge
Friday, July 01, 2005

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