If the ancient Krell had guitar solos, they’d sound like this

Susan and I saw Devo perform last night at the Fair Park bandshell in Dallas. It was the first time Devo had played Dallas in 16 years. They only play a few shows a year due to their TV and movie soundtrack work. The Psychadelic Furs (Pretty in Pink and one or two other 80s hits) opened for Devo. An even more obscure, one hit wonder band called When in Rome opened for the Psychadelic Furs. The first band started at 8pm and Devo didn’t actually start until about 10:45pm. But they were worth the wait. We got the pre-show briefing from General Boy on the big video screen and then the band marched out in their classic yellow hazmat suits and red energy domes. Quite a few of the audience members were wearing the cheap plastic knockoff energy domes. I’m proud to say I have a real energy dome from the 1980s. (but you don’t wear a priceless antique like that to a live show!)

Unlike a lot of 80s bands who look tired and old compared to how they looked when they were new, Devo still has it. They play with as much energy as modern punk bands, and they put on a show second to none. The audio clarity was suprisingly good for a live show. A few songs in, about midway through Uncontrollable Urge, Mothersbaugh starting rippping off his own and then the other’s hazmat suits, revealing black T-shirts more appropriate to the 100+ degree Texas weather. He hurled their energy domes into the audience. In fact, they seemed to be hurling Devo debris into the audience throughout most of the show. Energy domes, torn pieces of hazmat suits, guitar picks, Devo action figures, hundreds of little bouncy balls of some sort. They played for about two hours and most of the material was from their first two albums; the late 70s, pre-Whip It, pre-new wave stuff with the raw punk-like sound. They played a few songs from Freedom of Choice including, of course, Whip It, which many people identify with the band. They opened with That’s Good, the only song they played from one of the later synth-heavy albums.

Several of the songs had evolved (devolved?) over the years from the sound on the original recording. Some of the guitar solos were spectacular in that they sounded completely unlike guitar solos one usually hears. True to Devo style, they sounded completely unlike sounds one is accustomed to hearing come from guitars at all. If you’ve never heard Devo, there are still a few live shows left on this year’s tour. Some years they only play one or two live events so if you get the chance, take it.

Coyotes in Irving, TX

Wow, has it been two months since I posted anything? Time flies when you’re busy.

Yesterday Susan and I were driving out to Home Depot to buy a new lawn mower when we spotted a Coyote wandering along near Highway 161 (in Irving, TX). I had a camera with me but it didn’t have a long enough lens to get a good shot. We pulled over but the Coyote saw us and started trotted off toward the treeline. I managed to get a fuzzy photo before it vanished. That’s the first time I’ve seen one in town. Pretty cool

Coyote in Irving, TX

Last night we attended the DSO‘s performance of Ives’ 4th Symphony. That’s one weird piece of music and the first time we’d ever heard it performed live. It requires a second conductor at times as some groups of instruments are playing in a completely different time signature than the rest of the orchestra. It took huge assortment of instruments and a full choir to pull it off. A synthesizer substituted for a particularly hard-to-find type of piano. The optional Theramin was not used (or perhaps the synth or the organ filled in for it too?) We gave it a standing ovation. Nobody else did. Well, I did see other person stand, so I guess three of us gave it standing ovation. Everyone else just applauded minimally while looking a bit confused.

Deep Ellum Arts Festival 2005

I spent most of the day Sunday wandering around the Deep Ellum Arts Festival looking at paintings and sculptures by regional artists. Since our office is now in the Deep Ellum area of Dallas, the Arts Festival was within walking distance. I took a few fuzzy photos of the arts festival with my little JB1 camera. Susan was suffering from allergies and stayed home. I thought I’d be on my own but I ran into some friends.

Standing in front of the stage listening to a live band, I recognized a dog which turns up at the RBNO sometimes. Sure enough, attached to the other end of the dog’s leash was Bill James, a fellow robot builder. He was there with a couple of friends. One of them, Sarah, is a drummer. She was interested in the band that was currently playing, called Cherry Blossom Clinic. By coincidence, the new drummer for CBC is April Samuels, a fellow website designer who I know from a past consulting job. So after the set ended, I managed to get April and Sarah introduced.

The band members had a photographer with them and spent some time after they got off stage shooting the usual sort of eccentric band photos in a nearby parking lot. This was the first time I’d met the other folks in the band, who turned out to be an interesting collection of people. I only became aware of CBC after April joined the band and this was actually my first time to hear them play. If you haven’t heard CBC, imagine a sort of insane Mr. Rogers playing guitar; add vocals, another guitar, bass, and drums. They have the energy of an early 1980’s garage-punk band combined with music that’s a compositional mix the 1960’s and today. I liked the music enough to buy their most recent CD, Orange (a new one is on the way I’m told). You can listen to a couple of mp3s on their website.

In the end I stayed out in the sun a little too long but it was a beautiful day and well worth a little sunburn.

Gecko to music conversion using 3 bit tuples

I was driving home from work recently after a particularly stressful day when some random synapses fired in my brain (or perhaps just burned out from stress) and an idea formed.

Standard diatonic musical scales have eight notes, a power of 2 that can be represented by a 3 bits. We’re used to thinking of our data primarily in terms of 8 bit bytes. But any file on your computer is just a stream of bits and could be processed in 3 bit chunks rather than 8 bit chunks. So, I thought, that means every file on my hard disk is potentially a piece of music.

I was up late playing with the Perl pack and unpack functions and eventually cranked out a simple byte to note converter that will take any arbitrary file as input and produces MIDI note data as output. After re-attaching a somewhat disused Yamaha keyboard to my Linux box, I picked a file to test the program with. I started small with a 1478 byte plain text file that contained a Backus Naur diagram of the Ring Tone Text Transfer Language. The result, while a bit odd, could be described as music of sorts. With seeming success at hand, I looked for more interesting data.

Next, I took a 24Kb JPEG photo of Nimon, one of our Geckos, and converted it. The resulting music had a Danny Elfman-like urgency to it and was a bit of an improvement over the RTTTL composition. However, the MIDI file was 500Kb and creating it consumed nearly all available memory on my box. It was at this point that I realized the MIDI::Simple module that I’d grabbed from CPAN wasn’t really designed for stream use or for large volumes of data. For some reason it wants to hold the entire collection of notes in memory before writing the output.

More interesting though, was that the real Nimon seemed to take an interest in the music created from her image. She came out from under the hollow log she usually sleeps under and stood on top of it holding her head up in the air as if listening. Who knows what a Gecko hears – maybe she was just feeling the vibrations from the sounds and thought an insect was around that needed eating.

No data is lost in the conversion and it should be trivial to convert the MIDI file back into the the original data. In fact, since the music uses only one timbre and is not polyphonic, it shouldn’t be too hard to convert from the music itself back to the original data. It’s not an efficient data transfer medium, however. Music usually plays at around 96 or so beats per minute, each beat is just 3 bits of the original data. So a 24Kb JPEG becomes an 11 hour musical work!

Despite the inefficiency of music as a data storage or transfer mechanism, tradition says that when a new way of encoding data is found, one has to encode the decss.c file. I present decss.mid, an illegal circumvention device in C Major, Opus 3.

Sousa, Meat Paddles, and Clones

I’d better catch up on news before I start falling too far behind. For the 4th this year, Susan and I went to a an event up in Frisco. It was held at the Hall Office Park near the Texas Sculpture Garden. We saw the best fireworks we’ve seen in quite a few years. Prior to the fireworks we wandered around and marvelled at the size of the event – 20,000 people or something like that. And we listened to a short set of music played by Three Dog Night, an old 70’s era rock band hired for the event. A couple of the tunes sounded vaguely familiar but it wasn’t exactly Sousa-quality 4th of July music. Based on the last few years experience, the best music is to be heard at the Irving event held in Williams Square – where an actual orchestra plays Sousa marches the way God intended.

Meanwhile, mod_virgule development has started up again now that Gary is back on the job. My patch to make Raph’s new diary rating stuff configurable and fix a segfault caused by the new locking code made it into the latest release. More importantly, Gary has completed enough of the merges to completely eliminate one of the mod_virgule forks. Advogato and Badvogato can run off the same code now. We’ve still got some work to do before I’ll be able to get robots.net running on the main code base but hopefully that’s not too far away.

We also saw a couple of movies over the weekend. The Bourne Identity was fairly interesting. The only weird thing was the sound effect used during the fights. Rather than using traditional meat-paddles to get a realist fist into flesh sound, they came up with what sound like someone whacking a piece of plywood with a hammer. So every time there’s a fist-fight, it sounds like the characters are hollow and made of wood. I guess somebody thought it sounded cool. Probably the same people who add those totally unrealistic gunfire noises to movies.

Men in Black II was next on the list. The reviews are pretty much dead on. It’s fairly entertaining but not nearly as good as the first one. They only had about a 30 minute story and somehow managed to pad it out to 90 minutes. And annoyingly, almost all the good stuff was shown in the trailers and ads so there are really no surprises when you see the movie. The Peter Graves cameo was inventive though.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it previously but we’ve now seen Attack of the Clones at both a traditional film theater and one of the new digital theaters. Bits of it looked better all-digital but other bits, like close-ups of the few live actors, looked better after film transfer. I’d like to see a real film at both to get a better comparison. ATOC is 99% computer animation so it’s kind of hard to judge how badly the lower resolution of the digital theaters is going to affect the quality of movies that are shot on film. As for ATOC itself, I wrote a lengthy review and then deleted it. Too many reviews and nobody really cares anyway I think. Basically it’s another Star Wars sequel. Like the rest of them, they don’t live up to the original and like episode 1 most of it has that animated look that makes you feel like you’re watching a cartoon rather than a real movie.

Buying Camera Gear From eBay vs Camera Shows

Busy day. Spent the morning mowing and edging the yard. We had lunch in Grapevine on the way out to a camera show sponsored by one of our clients. There was some interesting stuff to see at the camera show including non-photography items like two light sabers and an old Star Trek type one phaser. For buying and selling lenses, though, I think I’ll stick with eBay. Better prices are part of it but another part is the trust-metric-like feedback system on eBay. I’d much rather buy a lens from someone with hundreds of positive feedback certs on eBay than from a total stranger at a camera show.

From the camera show we drove by the office briefly to look for an Ovenbird that made an appearance friday. No sign of it today, of course, since I had a camera with me. Then we drove over to the Cottonwood Arts Festival in Richardson. Lots of amazing art and craft items (and a few not so amazing things). There are a dozen or so “art” festivals in the DFW area each year but most of them have very little that one could really call art. The Cottonwood Art Festival is the one to go to if you want art. The Deep Ellum Arts Festival has a few interesting things and a lot of music. Most of the others can be skipped.

After a we got tired of wandering around looking at the art, we stopped to get some barbeque and consider further plans for the evening. We had Dallas Symphony tickets but, upon closer inspection, tonights performance turned out to be another blasted piano concerto (have I mentioned that I am not fond of piano concerti?). We decided to skip the symphony this week.