Older blog entries for Skud (starting at number 167)

When Alice Met Bob

The night before last, I had a dream that O’Reilly Media were making a Hollywood film — a romantic comedy, to be exact — about public key cryptography. The lead characters were called Alice and Bob, and they met cute by bumping into each other on the street and dropping the USB thumbdrives that had their private keys on them.

I’m suspect you could actually make a good story out of this, albeit a bit of an over-didactic Doctorow/Stephenson-esque one, since you’d have to ram in quite a lot of techno-cultural exposition along the way if you wanted it to make any sense at all.

Syndicated 2012-05-26 00:59:25 from Infotropism

Fresh links for May 18th through May 24th

  • Plan a Trip Through History With ORBIS, a Google Maps for Ancient Rome – How come it took three weeks for me to hear about this mapping hack to help you understand travel routes and expenses in Ancient Rome? Maps, history, digital humanities — what's not to love? I only wish this existed for other time periods. Imagine how useful it would be for people writing historical fiction!
  • Criminal Creativity: Untangling Cover Song Licensing on YouTube – A few interesting things here, including the little-known fact that you need a (nearly impossible to get, if you're an ordinary person) synch license to post a cover song on YouTube, and that ContentID can now identify cover songs, up to and including drunk guys belting out "Bohemian Rhapsody" in the back of police cars.
  • Brodustrial: WWJD? – Via jwz: an industrial music performer discovers he's booked to play alongside some really nasty bigots. Asking, "What Would Jello Biafra Do?" he ends up calling out the racism and sexism of the other bands' lyrics, videos, and album art in a PowerPoint presentation — while opening for them. It's good viewing, but NSFW.
  • bootlegMIC | Open Music Labs – A better mic for your iPhone, inspired by the crappy sound of all the concert videos on YouTube. Sold as a kit, the bootlegMIC is a small electret mic that plugs into your phone's headphone jack. Gain adjustment is done by swapping out resistors til you find one that works for your phone and use case.
  • DJ Rupture’s Sufi Plug Ins – Great post about Western assumptions built into music software such as Ableton, and some plugins that challenge those assumptions.

Syndicated 2012-05-24 11:04:47 from Infotropism

Fresh links for May 16th through May 17th

  • Ravelry API – Wait, what? How did I miss this. Ravelry has an API now, and they've been using it internally since Feb 2012, so it isn't just an unloved add-on. (You probably can't follow the link, which is to the Rav API forum, unless you're a member. But anyone who might be interested in this probably is already, so…)
  • Our real first gay president – Newsweek says Obama's the US's "first gay president", ignoring James Buchanan, who was openly gay in the 19th century. This article has some great context and thoughts on the ideology of progress. "Remembering that James Buchanan was homosexual complexifies our national narrative, to be sure, but it is a complexity that we need."
  • The world’s hottest digital markets: a music map – Interesting… this map is trying to show you digital music services' market share worldwide, but it also lets you see which digital music services are available in which countries.
  • Welcome to Life « Tom Scott – A science fiction story about what you see when you die. Or: the Singularity, ruined by lawyers.
  • The Bombay Royale – Karle Pyar Karle – Check out The Bombay Royale. They're a Melbourne band (including some recent graduates from my school) who play surf/disco/funk/Bollywood fusion, and apparently they've got a gig at the HiFi Bar on Swanston Street this Saturday. I'm planning on going.

Syndicated 2012-05-17 03:06:49 from Infotropism

Knitting as programming

I’ve seen a few people, over the years, compare knitting to programming. It usually goes something like this:

Wow, have you ever looked at a knitting pattern? It looks kind of like source code! Those knitters must be real geeks!

And it’s often accompanied by a snippet of a set of actual knitting instructions that look like incomprehensible gibberish to the uninitiated, but which your grandma could probably read and turn into a jumper or a scarf or an attractive toilet-paper-roll cover (my Nanna actually knitted these!)

In case you haven’t seen this kind of knitting pattern before, here’s an example:

1st Row: P. 3, * k. 1, p. 1, k. 1, p. 3, repeat from * to last 4 sts. (k. 1, p. 1) twice. etc.

A typical knitting pattern from the 1940s. This one is Sun-glo pattern #2616, "Country Club", a sporty cabled sweater in two colours, in case you were wondering.

There was even a post a little while ago entitled Knitters and coders: separated at birth? that talked about knitting patterns as code, and worked through some examples using regular expressions. It was a good post, but I don’t think it went far enough, so I want to riff on it a bit.

Here’s the thing. Let’s say you have a pattern that says:

row 10: k2 p3 *(c6f p6) rpt from * 8 times c6f p3 k2

(Or as the aforementioned article would put it would put it, (c6f p6){9}.)

You read those instructions and do what they say, producing a row of knitting that incorporates a number of cable twists against a purl background.

Is what you’re doing programming? Of course not! It’s the reverse of programming: you’re reading a series of low-level instructions and doing what they say. It would be more accurate to say you’re an interpreter, or possibly a compiler, since it’ll usually save you time and trouble to read a pattern right through before you begin. (Ask me how I know. Ugh.) You might even be called a human computer.

But let’s be clear: even though what you’re doing when you read a pattern is a complex technical skill, and involves code, it’s not programming.

Despite that, I very firmly believe that knitting is like programming. I just think that the common analogy drawn — of printed knitting patterns as source code — is not a very good one for describing the intellectual process of knitting as it is practiced by the current generation of geeky crafters.

To explain this I’m going to have to take a detour, so please bear with me. What follows is based on conversations I had years ago with my friend Rose White, aka @yarnivore, who studies hacker culture and presented at CCC (a hacker conference in Germany) on the subject of guerilla knitting. Watch Rose’s guerilla knitting talk on Youtube. I’m going to proceed to paraphrase Rose for the next few paragraphs here, so credit goes to her, and all blame for any errors to me.

In her presentation, Rose talks about knitting patterns as intellectual property through history. When knitting was first developed in the middle ages, it was a secret skill known only to the members of exclusive knitting guilds, who didn’t share it with anyone else. However, as Rose points out, knitting is easy to reverse engineer, so it didn’t take long for non-guild people to figure it out and start doing it. As one of the great knitters once wrote:

“Really, all you need to become a good knitter are wool, needles, hands, and slightly below-average intelligence. Of course, superior intelligence, such as yours and mine, is an advantage.” — Elizabeth Zimmerman

And so, from about the 16th or 17th century onward, you start to see more people knitting for themselves and their families, or as a cottage industry. Throughout this period, a number of traditional knitting styles and patterns were developed, but the fundamental thing about them was that, for the most part, they were the sort of patterns you could pass from person to person without writing them down.

Take a sock as an example. The simplest sock is a tube of fabric knitted until it’s long enough, then closed up at one end. Of course, it’ll fit better if you find a way to make it bend at an angle around the heel, and there are a number of techniques you can use for that. Ribbing at the cuff will help it stay up better. If you want a long, shapely sock you can add more stitches around the calf and reduce them at the ankle. You’ll save yourself some discomfort and possible blisters if you find a way to graft the toe end instead of sewing a lumpy seam. And of course you’ll probably want to embellish your sock according to the local fashion: perhaps a fancy coloured band around the top, or twisted cables down the side, a repeating texture all over.

This is just the icing on the cake, though: socks are all just tubes, when you get down to it. Fundamentally, there’s nothing about knitting a sock that needs a pattern; for hundreds of years, all anyone needed was a “slightly below-average intelligence”, an already-knitted one to look at every so often for reference, and perhaps a few pointers from someone who’d done it before. Gloves, jumpers, and other knitted garments are much the same. For the most part they’re just a series of tubes. Ba-dum-tish!

Fast forward to that point in the industrial revolution when most textile production has become mass production, most working class people are pulling long hours in factories and mills, and it’s cheaper to just buy a pair of socks than to knit your own. At this point, knitting becomes a bit of a luxury activity, and you start to see this in the proliferation of Victorian-era knitting books for ladies, specialising in delicate items like lace doilies and silk purses. No longer were people knitting practical items based on traditional patterns you could figure out with “below-average intelligence”; it became hip to show off your accomplishments by knitting increasingly complex and fiddly items, the patterns for which you could find in the finest publications for the discerning gentlewoman.

And then, in the 20th century, something truly awful happened. You see, the yarn companies realised that if they started publishing patterns themselves, they could use them to sell more yarn. But they didn’t want people using just any yarn. The idea was that you’d buy, say, a Patons pattern and then buy the Patons yarn to knit it with. To make sure that consumers were locked into the Patons brand, they’d make sure that the patterns were obfuscated so you wouldn’t be able to figure out how to substitute another company’s yarn.

This is fundamentally bullshit, and it’s amazing that they ever got away with it, but by this stage people had lost touch with a lot of the traditional methods, and so they didn’t have much choice. Just so the non-knitters understand how diabolical this is, let’s pause for a moment to talk a bit more about how knitting works. If you already knit and know about gauge and yarn substitution, you can skip down to below the next image.

Knitting is basically formed by repeating a single stitch (the knit stitch), which loops a length of yarn through itself in such a way as to form a stretchy fabric. To create a piece of knitting, you “cast on” a certain number of stitches, then knit, either back and forth, or round and round in circles. Each stitch looks like a “V” on one side and a sort of nubbly or wavy effect on the other side. If you want to see this, take a close look at your socks, which probably have Vs on the outside, nubbles on the inside, and alternating Vs/nubbles in the rib around the top. (A “purl” stitch is just a backwards knit stitch, with the V and nubbly sides reversed.)

Depending on the thickness of your yarn and needles, your stitches might be tight or loose. Big needles give looser stitches, and small needles give tighter ones with the same yarn. The measurement of this tightness or looseness — how many little V shapes you have per unit of distance — is called gauge or sometimes tension. For instance, worsted weight yarn on 4.5mm needles normally knits up at a gauge of 5 stitches per 2.5cm/1″, while finer yarn knit on smaller needles will have more stitches in the same distance.

As long as you know the gauge of your project and the yardage it requires, it’s fairly simple to substitute one yarn for another. However, 20th century yarn companies didn’t want you to know this, and they went out of their way to make sure you were locked in to their proprietary system.

Warning -- Use the wool specified, otherwise success of garment cannot be guaranteed. 3 skeins "Sunbeam" or "Wilga" blanket wool, shade No. 2101... etc.

So, this is the system that created knitting patterns like the one I linked at the top of this article, where yarn companies write the patterns and knitters interpret the code and execute it, without much input into the process, not even a choice of what yarn to use.

If being an instruction-executing machine doesn’t sound too appealling to you, you’ll be pleased to hear that there is an alternative. Modern knitters, especially those online, are increasingly returning to traditional techniques, making their own patterns, and adapting existing patterns to their own needs. One of the great leaders in this trend was the late, great Elizabeth Zimmermann, quoted above. EZ, as she is known, helped popularise, or perhaps re-popularise, traditional forms of knitwear in the United States, and along the way taught knitters to throw off the shackles of mid 20th century commercial knitting patterns and think for themselves again.

One of EZ’s best known patterns is for a sweater knitted to what she calls the Elizabeth Percentage System, or EPS. It’s so simple that almost anyone can understand it, and I often use it as an example when explaining the technical side of knitting to non-knitting geeks. It goes something like this:

  • Knit a gauge swatch and measure how many stitches per inch you have. Now measure your torso around your widest point, or your favourite existing sweater. Multiply the number of stitches by the number of inches. This is your key number (K).
  • Using a circular needle, cast on K stitches. This will be the hem around the bottom of your sweater. Knit until you get to the armpits (measure yourself or a favourite sweater to figure out how far that is).
  • For each sleeve, cast on 20% of K, then increase gently (2 stitches every 6 rows should about do it) til you get to 33% of K, then knit straight until your sleeves are long enough.
  • Join the sleeves to the body, and knit the yoke area (i.e. upper chest and back), decreasing — in one of several possible ways, all of which can be derived arithmetically — until you get to 40% of K, which is the neck opening, and cast off.

Of course, you can elaborate in various ways: ribbing at hem, cuffs and collar; textured stitches across part or all of the garment; coloured designs in the yoke area; leave a gap at the front and knit back and forth to make a cardigan. The options are endless, but the fundamental design is the same.

Now, people will possibly point out that EZ’s EPS pattern is copyright, but there’s a lot of bullshit about copyright in the knitting community, so let’s be clear right now: ideas cannot be copyrighted, though the expression of them (the specific words EZ wrote in her books and newsletters) can be. The idea of EZ’s EPS sweater is simple, based on traditional techniques, easy to reverse-engineer, and in fact could be done by anyone with “below-average intelligence” as she herself points out. There’s nothing tricky about it, it’s just simple craft.

But taking this simple kind of design and elaborating on it is where knitting really becomes like programming. When I knit a sweater this way, I’m not executing instructions written by someone else. I’m creating my own code, designing and implementing my own project from the ground up.

I start out by considering my requirements: What sort of garment do I want: pullover, cardigan, long coat? What design elements do I want to incorporate: pockets, a hood, shaping to make it more fitted at the waist, a warm shawl collar, those awesome thumb-holes in the sleeves that let you pull them down and wear them as fingerless mittens? What materials and tools do I have at my disposal? Can I take the opportunity to try out a new technique or refine my skills?

I prototype my design by knitting a swatch or something small like a hat, using the same stitches and yarn as I’m thinking of using for my finished project. From this, I figure out my gauge, and using one of the many tools available I can calculate the yardage I’ll need, without ever relying on a yarn company to tell me how much of their product I ought to buy. Modern yarn sellers list the yardage of their yarn on the label, or failing that, websites like Ravelry have all the information I could need.

To implement my design, I draw on a variety of design patterns — yeah, knitting’s had them far longer than OO programming has — that I’ve learned through classic books like EZ’s or Barbara Walker’s, and through blogs like TechKnitting: short row shaping for better fit, twisted rib for extra stretch in the cuffs and collar, underarm grafting to make a seamless join, endless options for buttonholes, cast-off techniques for all occasions. Some knitting techniques even follow agile principles, like EZ’s “thumb trick” for mittens or her “afterthought pockets”, which are inserted when and where needed without requiring Big Design Up Front.

When it comes to this kind of knitting, an experienced knitter is one who takes a modular approach, mixing and matching existing patterns and individual techniques, to build a finished product. It’s someone who can look at a pattern and figure out how to knit it in a different yarn, a different gauge, and a different size, without breaking a sweat over the calculations. It’s someone who geeks out on the knot topology, the 3D spatial reasoning, and the materials science of it all… and knows how to put them to practical use. It’s the difference between being a code monkey and being an engineer.

So when we talking about how “knitting is like programming”, let’s take a minute to go beyond reading and executing code and think about how much further knitters’ technical skills really extend.

Epilogue: Since I suspect a bunch of geeky knitters will read this, I’m going to lay out my current technical challenge and see if anyone has any thoughts.

I’m knitting a triangular shawl beginning at one of the tips, started by casting on 3st and increasing at the start of every second row. It has integral i-cord borders, which I’m doing by yf, sl 3 at the end of each row, then on the next row I k3 then continue as usual.

On the straight side of the shawl this makes a nice border, firm but stretchy. But on the diagonal side (i.e. the side with the increases) the i-cord, which after all only has half as many rows as there are in the main part of the knitting, is stretched really tight. I’m worried that it’s going to limit my ability to block the shawl as vigorously as I’d like to.

My current best idea is that every second time I do the i-cord on the tightly-stretched diagonal side, I insert an extra row. That is, I would go yf sl3 at the end of the previous row, turn, k3, slip them back on the original needle, then knit the three stitches again and continue. I figure this gives me 3 i-cord rows for every 2 I had previously, which is not far from the sqrt(2):1 ratio of the side lengths. Anyone done this before?

Syndicated 2012-05-16 13:22:36 from Infotropism

Open thread / Ask me anything

When I posted the comment policy the other day, it mentioned that comments on any given post close after a certain time, and if you want to leave a comment elsewhere you should do so on the most recent open thread. So, here is one for that purpose.

I’ll also make it an “ask me anything” thread, in the tradition of the AMA forum on Reddit. If you’ve got questions about sound engineering, Melbourne, leaving tech, or whatever else, bring ‘em on.

Syndicated 2012-05-16 02:41:17 from Infotropism

Fresh links for May 14th through May 15th

  • Mitt Romney, Bully In Chief? – s.e. smith brings a solid analysis of Mitt Romney's school "pranks" (read: homophobic bullying) and what it could mean for his possible presidency.
  • Chumbawamba – The Diggers’ Song – YouTube – Who knew that Chumbawumba had recorded an album of songs of political rebellion from 1381-1914? Not me for sure. This is their rendition of "The Digger's Song", a 17th century song by the same group that Billy Bragg sings about in "The World Turned Upside Down".
  • MOTU 4pre – Really nice looking 4-channel mixer/analog-digital converter from MOTU. I've got the Ultralite Mk2, but if this had been around when I was shopping, I would have bought it for sure. The two "Hi-Z" inputs so you can plug in an instrument without a DI look particularly handy.
  • What’s behind the rise of Golden Dawn in Greece? – A good overview of what's going on with Greece and the neo-Nazi party "Golden Dawn", who won a surprising number of seats in the country's recent election.
  • Mapping hacks for the 17th-18th centuries – Say you're an early modern historian with a bunch of data about 18th century Paris. How do you display it using modern mapping tools, given that old streets may have changed or disappeared?

Syndicated 2012-05-15 03:13:55 from Infotropism

Huh! OSM on iOS

Somehow I missed this back in March (see also: not being very functional online lately), but it seems like Apple is ditching Google Maps in favour of OpenStreetMap. They’ve already started using it in iPhoto and word is it’ll replace GMaps throughout iOS in the not-too-distant future. Official announcement, more commentary and analysis from searchenginewatch.

This is great, because it saves me from trying to figure out how to do it myself. I’ve tried a couple of OSM apps for iOS but haven’t found a particularly good one. They tend to be slow, ugly, and of course not integrated with other apps. So, I’m looking forward to seeing what Apple delivers.

I’ve been trying to get away from using too many Google apps since they showed their true colours last year. Opting out of the Google monoculture only to buy into an Apple one wouldn’t seem like a win, except that the underlying data is open licensed, which makes a big difference as far as I’m concerned. In some ways this reminds me of a project I worked on at Monash University, lo these many years ago, where the policy was, “use whatever proprietary crapware you want, as long as it supports open standards.” At the time we used it to choose Netscape SuiteSpot (pause to laugh — but it supported POP, LDAP, iCalendar and the like) over Microsoft Exchange.

Like the open standards that underpin the Internet, OSM’s open license means a variety of apps and platforms can be built on it, and users can choose between them. And, with any luck, corporations like Apple will contribute back (with money or staff or just a vague aura of legitimacy) bring OSM the same sort of respectability that Linux and other open technologies have gained over the last decade or so.

So anyway, once I can cut over to OSM on my phone, the most important Google apps I have remaining are mail and docs. With regard to mail, does anyone have an alternative which is:

  1. as searchable as GMail is, or nearly so, and
  2. has decent keyboard shortcuts?

I rely heavily on those features, and would find them pretty hard to live without. I’ve tried IMAP with Thunderbird and Mail.app in the past, and am not particularly happy with them, so let’s assume those are off the table for now. I’m actually almost tempted to go back to a command-line based solution, perhaps offlineimap and mutt with some heavy indexing.

Syndicated 2012-05-14 18:00:37 from Infotropism

My mostly-mobile Internet workflow

One of the biggest changes to my Internet use over the last year is that I no longer spend all day in the office sitting in front of a computer. It used to be that if something interesting caught my attention, I’d open it in a browser tab and in the next slow patch — perhaps over lunch, or during that long dark teatime of the soul that happens around 4:30pm when you’re watching the clock, or the far more pleasant beer-time of the soul that happens when you stay at the office after everyone’s gone and actually get some productive stuff done — somewhere in one of those times, if I felt the urge, I could easily whack out a blog post if I felt the urge.

These days, I mostly check Twitter on my phone, and just reading links that get posted there turns out to be a bit fraught, let alone actually doing anything with them. All too often, when I click on a Twitter link, I wind up on a page that’s been “helpfully” (please visualise my sarcastic airquotes) “optimised” for mobile users, which means I have to click through a suggestion that I install their special app (no thanks!) before winding up on a dumbed-down version of the site’s front page. Any link to the actual article I wanted to read in the first place is, of course, absent.

Assuming I can get to the article, what I can do with it is more limited, too. My Twitter client of choice includes a cut-down browser which is great for quickly checking out ephemeral links, but opening in “real” Safari requires a couple of clicks. (You can do it by default, but that is overkill for most links, so I choose not to.) Once in Safari… well, a mobile browser is no place to get real work done. Nevertheless, I spent a chunk of yesterday trying to bash my newly-mobile-centric Internet workflow into shape, and since I’m rather proud of it, I thought I’d post it here.

The key parts are:

  • Pinboard — a bookmarking service which I started using as replacement for Delicious, and which has the feel that Delicious did back in the good old days, before anyone invented the term “folksonomy”.
  • Instapaper — one of several “read later” apps (the main other contenders are Pocket and Readability); one of the features that endears it is that it integrates well with Pinboard and with other apps I use.
  • WordPress — this blog runs on it, and I’ve got a bunch of handy plugins installed (and wow, sometime when I wasn’t looking, WordPress plugins got really useful).
  • ifttt — “If this, then that”, a glue application that connects various online services based on triggers.

Bookmarklets everywhere

So, I’ve now set myself up with these three bookmarklets everywhere, including on my mobile devices:

  • Pinboard bookmark
  • Read later (Instapaper)
  • Press This (i.e. Create a blog post here)

Installing bookmarklets on mobile browsers is a bit fiddly. Instapaper has a setup wizard that takes you through the steps, but most other bookmarklets don’t. Luckily, as you may have seen in a recent link post, there’s this bookmarklet viewer which makes it easy to grab the Javascript for any bookmarklet and add it as a bookmark on your iPhone or iPad (and probably on other mobile devices, though I’m not quite sure how their bookmarking works).

Read later with Instapaper

I use Instapaper for things I want to read later (obviously). I can add webpages to Instapaper via the bookmarklet, via the Instapaper link that’s native to my Twitter client, via the integration with Longreads (whose app I’ve recently installed), or, through the magic of ifttt, by bookmarking something on Pinboard and tagging it “instapaper”. (You’d think that Pinboard’s “read later” checkbox would do this, but it doesn’t; the Pinboard/Instapaper integration, from Pinboard’s point of view, consists only of automatically adding items from an Instapaper folder to your bookmarks. Anyone got any other insight on this?)

Instapaper, of course, has apps for my phone and tablet, as well as the website when I’m at my computer. I always have something interesting to read. The question is what I do with it after that.

Recommending interesting links

From my experiences over at GF I’ve found that most links I want to do something with come down to either “this is interesting, and I want to point it out to people” or “this is fascinating and/or enraging and I want to respond in detail”. So, I have workflows for both of those.

For the first category, I bookmark them on Pinboard and tag them “rec” (short for “recommended”). Through ifttt, these get posted immediately on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. But on WordPress, I’m using the Postalicious plugin, which supports Pinboard and lets you collate a number of links into one post. I post this under the user “autoposter” and in the category “Autoposted”, which makes it easy for people who don’t want to see them to skip them through clever RSS feed selection or whatever other filtering means appeal to them. (I use this myself later, as you’ll see.)

Writing about the really good stuff

For something that’s fascinating or enraging enough that it deserves its own blog post, I’ve got a “Press This” bookmarklet in all my browsers, including the mobile ones. While it doesn’t actually do much — just opens WordPress’s posting interface with a little bit of pre-filled text — the fact that it saves me several clicks and some copy-pasting (especially tedious on mobile) is enough, I hope, to get me at least starting a rough draft or placeholder for things I mean to write about.

Normally I’d write on my laptop, not on my mobile devices, because of the keyboard crappiness. I learnt to touch type for a reason, dammit! But I’ve got the iOS WordPress app installed (it’s really slick, by the way) and once I’ve saved a placeholder draft via Press This, I can open it in the app and write, if I am so inclined. (Whether I will or not remains to be seen, but I can see it being workable for short posts at least.)

The WordPress app is also great for comment moderation and other admin tasks, and since I really want to encourage commenting/discussion here going forward, this is going to be pretty handy for staying on top of things.

Pushing blog posts out

I’ve recently realised that I really ought to make a bit more of an effort with Facebook since most people outside the tech industry don’t use Twitter, but I don’t like it, and I certainly don’t want it to be a central point in my online life or the primary host for my updates/writing. So, my plan is to push out updates to Facebook when I post here on my blog, and I’ll also post links on Twitter and Tumblr at the same time. I do all this via ifttt. (I previously used Twitterfeed, but it’s far more limited, so I’ve shut that down and standardised on ifttt for now.)

ifttt supports triggers from WordPress (either wordpress.com, or self-hosted if you use version 3-point-mumble or above) and also from RSS feeds. However, the WordPress triggers are limited to “any new post” or “any new post with tag or category”. If you want more flexibility, WordPress’s wide selection of RSS feeds can be handy. For instance, I’m using my author RSS feed to catch everything that I personally write here and post it to various places. This skips things posted by “autoposter” which generally aren’t content original to this blog and which I don’t want to propagate from here (I’d rather propagate them from their original source). Of course, I could have done this using the “Everything Else” category, which currently includes all non-autoposted material; either would be fine, really, except that I can foresee myself messing with categories in future and breaking stuff by accident.


The other important bit of workflow’s going to be actually doing it. My schedule’s full of classes, lately, and they’re pretty mind-numbing. Apart from that, I spend a lot of time at gigs and in the studio. I’ve taken up bike commuting again, so I don’t have much time on public transport. None of this is particularly good for engaging with the Interwebs. I’m hoping, though, that all this stuff I’ve set up will help me snatch moments for it in between other things, rather than feeling that I can’t possibly do anything now I’m not sitting at a desk for eight or more hours a day.

Syndicated 2012-05-14 01:30:45 from Infotropism

A whole lotta hoot, and just a little bit of nanny

I’ve recently had the misfortune of having had to sit through a series of classes on Western Music History that managed to make just about every form of music prior to 1900 seem deathly dull, irrelevant, and inaccessible. It amazes me how they can do this. I mean, it’s not hard to find some truly amazing stuff even within the confines of “Western Art Music”, and present it in a way that’s engaging. So why don’t they? Do they not know? Are they just teaching it out of a sense of obligation? Did they sit through dull music history classes back in the day and figure that we have to suck it up just like they did?

The Medieval period. What we learnt in class: there was Gregorian chant, which was basically monophonic vocals without much rhythm or melody to speak of, and then mumble mumble something happened and there was polyphony, SURPRISE! RENAISSANCE!

Yeah right. As if that’s all that was going on musically in the middle ages. We’re talking about an era that gave you St Vitus’ Dance, an uncontrollable urge to dance all over the place as if possessed by the devil. You think they did that to Gregorian chant? Of course not.

Here’s Corvus Corax with a little something to show you how it’s done:

Yeah, those dudes have a lightshow and moshpit. Their interpretive choices for this Saltarello (a 13th century number, if I recall correctly) are, ahem, somewhat non-standard, but no more ridiculous than the early music ensembles that play medieval dance tunes as if they were lullabies and dirges. No self-respecting medieval musician would’ve been able to earn his or her living unless they could get the village green jumping.

Corvus Corax use a range of medieval instruments including medieval-style bagpipes, ear-shattering shawms (clocked at 98dB!), and of course a buttload of percussion. But if you really want to appreciate the full ridiculous awesomeness of medieval instruments, you need to check out some of these Youtube videos:

  • The krumhorn, which is what you’d get if you crossed a kazoo with an old-fashioned walking stick turned upside down.
  • The hurdy-gurdy, which would be the medieval answer to the keytar, except you have to wind a handle to play it.
  • The portative organ, which is basically the bastard child of a pipe organ and bellows, giving you a kind of early accordion. There are quite a few home-made portative organs on the tubes — looks like they’re a great hacker project.

Syndicated 2012-05-13 18:50:26 from Infotropism

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