More on ALSA

The last couple of days have been mostly used in Perl coding on customer jobs but I managed to get some free time last night to play with ALSA some more. I had previously gotten all the internal functionality of ALSA + Sound Blaster Live! working great so currently I’m trying to get the external MIDI port working. After a few hours of tweaking the configuration and searching newsgroups and mailing lists for the obscure, undocumented secrets of how to install ALSA properly, I finally got MIDI out working reliably. MIDI in is another story. The first attempt to use the MIDI in port causes the requesting program to segfault. Any further attempts to use the port result in dead processes that cannot be killed except by a reboot. The ALSA driver itself seems to die as well and cannot be stopped or restarted without a reboot. It’s likely a bug in either the SB Live! driver or ALSA. I’ve noticed with interal or external MIDI port usage that the ALSA drivers will occasionally die for no apparent reason but they can usually be fixed just by stopping and restarting ALSA.

ALSA and Other Linux Audio Items

An entire week with no news updates! I think that’s the longest I’ve gone in nearly a year. I’ll try to do better. Last week was slow in terms of news anyhow. Lots of Perl coding, haggling over business deals, and the occasional break to watch the latest satellite photos of Antartica’s ice shelf breaking up (check it out if you’ve never seen an iceberg the size of Deleware).

I did take some time this weekend to upgrade the sound system on my box at home. I picked up a Sound Blaster Live! card as it appeared to be one of the few with driver support for all the cool stuff like wavetables, synth, and sequencers. A download and a few builds later, I had the ALSA 0.5.6 drivers working. It took a bit patience but I eventually got the sequencer and MIDI stuff working adequately too. (I didn’t realize for the longest time that MIDI wouldn’t work until you download a soundfont file with the MIDI instrument sounds to the wavetable, duh…) So, the next step was downloading all the Linux music stuff I could find. The best one-stop list of all Linux/Unix sound and music software is Dave Phillips’ Sound & MIDI Software for Linux site. I spent a good part of a day downloading, compiling, and trying various music software. What I discovered was that about 50% of it is total crap, 25% will be really cool someday when the development progresses a little more, and what remains is almost usable. One thing that I found particularly annoying was that none of the programs I tried had any reasonably easy way to enter musical data directly. Several programs indicated they’d be supporting MIDI capture in future versions, however.

My recommendation for stuff that looks almost useful at the moment is the Beast/BSE package for sound generation, the Melys MIDI sequencer, and Denemo (a LilyPond front-end) for notation.

Random News Updates

You can always tell when things are getting busy at NCC because the frequency of my news updates drops. We’ve got two big projects that may be starting in the next couple of weeks and I’ve been madly going through my todo list trying to get all the small things done while I’ve still got time.

Erin solved her long-standing connectivity problems finally. Since she moved to McKinney, she’s been unable to find a good connection to the net. The phone lines are so bad she wasn’t able use a modem reliably. DSL isn’t available. I talked her into trying ISDN, but it turned out she had constant line problems just like with the POTS line. She had tried two different ISPs with the ISDN setup and still no luck. Finally, this friday, she was able to get a cable modem. And it works! It’s fast and, so far, hasn’t had any downtime.

Randy did something friday that he’s been talking about for nearly a year – he bought a digital camera. It’s a Casio QV-3000Plus. It’s got an imager with 2048 x 1536 resolution and includes a 340mb IBM micro-drive for storage. It came with Windows software for the USB interface. I’ll have to check on Linux USB drivers. I’ve seen a few other digital camera drivers mentioned on the USB list lately. Pretty cool but I’m sticking with my analog Canon T90 for now. I’d be tempted by some of the professional digital cameras if the prices weren’t so high. The new Fuji S1 is the closest I’ve seen yet. At $4000, it’s still more than I want to spend but it’s less than a third the cost of previous hi-end digital cameras and the 3040 x 2016 imager is getting into the range where it could compete with analog for a lot of stuff.

Bruce Springsteen at Reunion Arena in Dallas

Paul and I went to the Springsteen show last night. I wasn’t sure if I was going or not until the last minute as it’s been sort of an off-and-on thing. Steven promised to get me tickets and backstage passes but logistical problems threatened to interfere. Anyway, it was the first time I’ve ever done the backstage thing and it wasn’t at all like I’d expected. But, up until now, my complete knowledge of what goes on backstage came from Spinal Tap and Wayne’s World, so I guess it’s not too surprising that real life is different. The pass itself was a yellow, triangular sticker with the initials of the band member who provided it (“SV” in my case). Once you get it, you then have to find a security person who knows where “backstage” is. The show was at Reunion Arena in Dallas, so it would be more accurate to call it “beneathstage” or “crampedstorageclosetnowherenearstage”.

Once you get there, you find yourself in a room full of the local rich and famous; all of them standing around hoping to see one or more of the band members (and probably wondering how a computer geek like me got down there!). The band members are all off hiding behind a big black curtain and their assistants will occasionally come out and call a small group of hopeful visitors in for the “meet-and-greet”. Eventually Holly, Steven’s assistant, saw me and waved us back there. I introduced Paul to Steven and congratulated him on the SAG award he got last night for The Sopranos. Paul got his autograph (as well as an autograph from a well-known local sports figure in the waiting area – sorry, being a geek, I don’t follow that stuff! Somebody from the Dallas Cowboys I think).

The show itself wasn’t as interesting, primarily because of the unbelievably bad acoustics of Reunion Arena. Apparently, the only way to get the audio loud enough to carry is to turn it up way beyond the point where it’s totally distorted. Every concert I’ve heard there sounds the same – doesn’t really matter who’s playing. If you’ve ever stood behind a 747 jet engine while swinging a sack of angry weasels around your head, you’ll be familiar with the fine sound of a Reunion Arena concert. The band was fun to watch though and put on a good show. And they kept going forever; more than three hours.

I finally got out to the parking lot about 11:45 and after waiting another half hour for the traffic leaving the stadium, I went home and got some sleep. Today has mostly been spent fighting with a Windows NT print server problem (yuck) and ticking off items on my todo list. Tomorrow it’s back to perl coding.

DPRG Regional Fire-Fighting Robot Contest

Sunday we dragged the mower and weed-whacking equipment out of the garage and spent the day trying to make our front and back yard look acceptable again.

With all the stuff going on this weekend, I didn’t get to make it out to the DPRG-sponsored regional fire fighting contest at the Science Place. Fortunately, Robert Jordon took some photos of the event and posted the results on the DPRG mailing list. One of these days I need to get back to work on my ‘bot, who has been lying dormant under the workbench for over a year.

If I get time today, I’m going to take a look at the mod_virgule code and see if I can’t put together a patch to give it a little more flexibility in user name support.

Mission to Mars

I’m waiting for the new version of ALSA to compile. There are some updates to the sonicvibes code, so maybe I’ll finally be able to get it working. Susan and I went to see Mission to Mars tonight. It was very derivative. It was part 2001, part Apollo 13, and part Contact, with a little Close Encounters thrown in as well. Virtually nothing original in it at all and it was very predictable. And did I mention it was slow moving and full of glaring technical errors? Oh well, they managed to get one thing right at least – it’s one of the few space movies in the last 10 years where people don’t explode when they when they take off their space helmet. And, I have to say, it’s the best Brian De Palma movie I’ve ever seen. Best to wait for it to show up on TV, it won’t be long (it actually wouldn’t have been half bad as a made-for-TV movie).