Three Reptiles and a Gato

The weather has improved a bit here in TX. Now that the spring rains seem to have stopped, Susan and I have been able to resume our habitual late-night walks. The neighborhood wildlife count for last nights walk: three reptiles. A sleeping green anole in a tree, a mediterranean gecko out for a nocturnal snack, and a small rough earth snake that had been lying on the sidewalk to catch the last of the evening heat and must have gone to sleep. We woke it up and it slithered away into the grass.

Meanwhile, online, Advogato was host to a lengthy debate that started out being about what sort of community certification metrics were best and ended up being a flame war about politically correct labels for the certification levels. I posted my two cents on the certiciation issue. The end result? It looks like Advogato will stick with the existing certification system for now. And I got two more certifications – one Journeyor and one apprentice – apparently from people who read my article. Duff, one of the users who gave me a cert posted his reasons in his diary. This was kind of cool as it’s the first time I’ve actually known what motivated someone to certify me. (thanks duff!). My own certification system is that I only give certifications to people I know well (there aren’t any on advogato yet), people who have a well known reputation (like alan or miquel), and people who certify me, if there is enough information on their advogato page to make an educated guess at their level (like flaggz or kelly).

I noticed that ALSA 0.5.7 is out today. This should have the MIDI patches as well as a few other bug fixes. It will probably be late next week before I get a chance to try it out.

Degas to PIcasso, Followed by Evelyn Glennie

Time for a weekend update. Saturday Susan and I headed off to see the Degas to Picasso: Painters, Sculptors, and the Camera exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art but we never made it. About half way there I noticed the temperature gauge on my car pegged on the hot side. I knew the radiator was on the way out so this wasn’t totally unexpected. The car is more than 8 years old now and begining to need a fair amout of service. Still, I’d like to keep it going for a full 10 years (or at least for one more year so my next car can be next millennium’s model – I’d hate to buy one this year and be stuck with a vehicle from the last millennium). Anyway, I did a U-turn and headed for the nearest Acura dealer which was only a mile or so away. We managed to pull into the service bay just before closing time. They checked it out while we picked up a loaner car. The final verdict is pretty bad. I’d been putting off some other maintenance stuff that really has to be done. All told, it needs a new radiator, timing belt, and water pump, one of the cooling fans has to be replaced, one engine mount is shot, the master cylinder has to be replaced, and assorted other minor things. Yuck.

By the time we finished at the service center it was too late to make it to the exhibit (maybe next weekend). We had DSO tickets for that evening however, so the day wasn’t a total loss. The soloist was Evelyn Glennie, the first (and only?) full-time solo percussionist in the world. She brought a set of percussion instruments that rivaled the setups Neil Peart used during the big Rush shows of the 1980’s. The piece being performed was James MacMillan’s Veni, Veni, Emmanuel. She is an amazing performer to watch and at times the entire orchestra seemed insuffucient to balance her performance in volume or intensity. Her instruments were spread out all over the stage and she had to constantly run from place to place to get to the right instrument in time to play it. If you ever get a chance to see her play live, I highly recommend it.

Sunday was much more uneventful. I spent a lot of the day playing with those pesky ALSA drivers. But it wasn’t until this afternoon that made any progress on them. I got some email today from Steve Ratcliffe with a patch that fixed the problem. After patching the driver and recompiling, I finally have MIDI in and out working correctly. Woohoo! Now I can do something more interesting than recompile drivers all day.

One last bit of good news today. My copy of Havoc’s book,
GTK+/Gnome Application Development arrived. I’m looking forward to getting up to speed on GTK and Gnome stuff. Perl is a lot of fun but it will be nice to work on some C/C++ programming again.

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.

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).