The Smith's Journal - June 2005

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Plant Field Beans

Somehow I finally found the inspiration to get outside and pull the weeds from my flowerbeds, and then planted out some of the field bean plants I'd been growing in pots indoors while there was still risk of frost. They were starting to take over the kitchen, growing a centimetre per day and sprawling around the place. Since this is the first time this year that I've been seen tending my front 'garden', the startled looks of joy from my neighbours walking past were highly entertaining :-)

Install DeMuDi

No stopping me now! Now that I found out how easy it is to upgrade a Debian Sarge installation to AGNULA DeMuDi, there seemed no real excuse not to try it. So while I was outside planting, computers were slowly downloading packages to transform my music computer.

Wow, what a brilliantly achieving day, at last! I've even managed to catch up with writing and publishing my journal entries for the entire year so far, so you can go back to January and enjoy them now :-) Indeed, my horoscopes had all said that today would be high-powered as Jupiter resumes direct motion. What's next? Debian Sarge releasing? [UPDATE: It came out the following day!] Sure is getting chilly down there... :-]

[UPDATE: the AGNULA DeMuDi project later morphed into 64 Studio.]



WOW! I am enraptured! i've finally got Ardour working on my computer! After spending three four passionate years longing to get it going, having seen it back in 2001 and known that it is the future for me, tonight it all fell into place. I've been up many blind alleys, spent 18 months chasing the idea of buying a Dual Athlon workstation only to realise it would probably not be silent enough nor do all that I needed. But now I have a whole suite of professional audio software running, just waiting for me to finish cabling up my studio (next goal!). I never dreamed it would be quite so easy, but that is thanks to DeMuDi. I managed to surprise myself, never imagining I would get it all running in one evening. Yet my years of knowledge garnered from the entertaining LAD/LAU/Ardour/Agnula mailing lists led me through without much difficulty. Even potential hurdles like downloading non-free firmware for my RME HDSP were a simple matter of grabbing the right packages from the good souls who had trod this path before:

trancefer# uname -a
Linux 2.6.12-2-multimedia-i386
trancefer# apt-get install alsa-tools alsa-firmware-loaders
trancefer# mkdir ~/ALSA/
trancefer# cd ~/ALSA/

Then download alsa-firmware-1.0.9 into ~/ALSA/ from and untar and install it:

trancefer# tar -xvjf alsa-firmware-1.0.9.tar.bz2
trancefer# cd ~/alsa-firmware-1.0.9
trancefer# ./configure
trancefer# make
trancefer# make install
trancefer# hdsploader

...and let the alchemy unfold before your very eyes, before ending with:

trancefer# hdsploader
trancefer# jackd -d alsa --device hw:0 --rate 44100 --size 256 --hwmon

IT WORKS! The red 'Error' LED went off on the Digiface front panel, and that fine comedian jackd started serving sound on the first soundcard (hw:0) at 44.1kHz sampling rate with a buffer size of 256 (which gives 5.8ms of latency) with HardWare MONitoring which the HDSP supports.

Now I can run Ardour, Jamin, Hydrogen, Rosegarden and other jack-enabled audio software. Preliminary experiments saw only 10% CPU usage playing 4 audio tracks with 5.8ms of latency (this is on a Pentium III 700MHz). I'll try more tracks later. I still have to connect the Digiface breakout box to my D/A-A/D convertors and mixer before I can hear any sound - let's hope the Gods of soldering are not far away to assist my cabling...

The following night I took my new baby like a proud father to show our Linux User Group meeting an albeit quiet (silent) demo of music software.

So now I'm sort of in shock, returning to discover a whole new world of Computer Music for the first time in ten years; this is where my musical adventures began twenty years ago, and now I also have the luxury of multitrack recording and editing that I always dreamed of. What strikes me most about all this is the sheer intelligence of how all this links up. Compared to the old proprietary ways, the field has evolved. There is much to learn, and even more to record. It may be some time before I report back to this Journal... :-)


Ian Bell talks about Elite at LUGRadio Live

Leaving the cocoon of My Studio following a tip-off from a friend, I headed to Wolverhampton for the LUGRadio Live event at Molineux Stadium. I arrived in time to catch the end of Mark Shuttleworth's talk, which included some insightful comments about the collaborative tools that have revolutionised global co-operation between developers. He parodied a bunch of lawyers fussing over a Word document attachment flying around an intranet, all trying to fathom out who had changed what and which was the latest version, their legalese rendered unworkable by broken tools. He contrasted this with a global team of Free Software programmers who get the job done efficiently, despite working on data-structures that are vastly more complex, originally using just diff, patch and email, which later evolved into CVS as used today.

My reason for going, however, was a talk given by Ian Bell, co-author of the seminal computer game Elite for the BBC Micro :-) It was good to be in a room with people who had, like me, all spent their youth in darkened rooms hurtling between planets with Thargoids and police Vipers on their case. Some guy behind me was commenting to friends on how hard it was to dock your spacecraft with the space station, and that he couldn't play without a Docking Computer. The eleet amongst us merely sat knowingly silent, lest we should blow our cover and be arrested for firearms/narcotics-trafficking, piracy, wilful shooting of space stations/escape pods, etc. There is probably still a large bounty on my head...

Alas I could think of no questions to ask, although I should have followed up one (frequently asked) question:

Q: Were there really any Generation Ships in Elite?
A: Not in the original versions; they were mentioned in the manual, dreamed up by Rob Holdstock who wrote the novella about the game, to add a sense of mystery. [Someone shouted 'You mean vapourware?' ;-] Some programmers may have included them in later conversions to other platforms, either intentionally or as bugs to do with scaling.

My follow up should have been:

Q: How many of us here spent more than one evening looking for them? Oh, how I searched for those Space Dredgers... ;-)

Another question was about developing the game, solely using the primitive BBC BASIC interpreter's Assembler to generate the machine code; ironically the hardest task was not the memory restrictions (10K screen memory, 22K program), but actually getting the source code to fit on the storage medium (one 100K floppy disk) so that it could even be compiled! This involved ridiculous shortening of variable names to single characters to save space, resulting in bugs that took days to find. He then talked briefly about the impossibility nowadays of a small, independent team of programmers writing a successful game, since the industry has become like Hollywood, with mega-budgets for the eye-candy and 3D graphics.

He also mentioned the feud between him and David Braben, co-developer of Elite. Alas, I fear that there will never be a game released to equal Elite until this rift in the SpaceTime Continuum is sealed and the karma is resolved. Despite many Elite spin-offs and new versions of the Elite concept (none of which I have yet played but some look very nice works in progress), the dream-game that my friends and I longed for once computer technology got sufficiently advanced remains a dream as far as I know; X2 The Threat looks pretty close, although the spaceships look a bit evil and over-complex for my liking - what a pity it is non-free. We (and probably thousands of others) envisaged complete universes rendered in the virtual space, with total freedom to explore them, fly down onto planets FlightGear-style, wander about and meet the inhabitants, seek out new life, new civilisations, to boldly go... The future life we were promised as children of The Space Age has not materialised - I wanna be an intergalactic trader... 8-] The best thing about Elite on the Beeb, besides its wonderfully responsive (although unrealistic) physics, is that it allowed the player to choose what to do. There was no pre-arranged plot or storyline - it was your choice where to go, what roles to take and decisions to make. Along the way, things happened such as Thargoid and pirate attacks, secret missions, etc., yet the player chose their own destiny.

[UPDATE: I must have had my eyes closed, and somehow missed Oolite, which is a free Linux version. OK, now I really need an Open GL graphics card...! :-]

While I was at the show, I bought two O'Reilly books: Learning the bash Shell and Classic Shell Scripting, and a Tux tie, some Debian T-shirts, mugs, and case badges; sadly there were no Debian CD sets on sale, just DVDs. I was too tired to stay much longer, and so returned to my Cobra Mark III and jumped into hyperspace back to Ensoreus.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Licence © The right to copy is left with the user copyleft Malcolm Smith 2005-06-05 - last updated 2006-08-16 - links verified 2006-08-16