Older blog entries for forrest (starting at number 59)


I'm getting somewhere with music on Linux. One of my problems was that I apparently didn't have /dev/sequencer defined; a reinstall of ALSA (in the Debian standard make_kpkg modules_image manner) resolved that. I found some soundfonts at http://www.personalcopy.com/, some of which are decompressed for Linux use (most are self-extracting Windows executables). My SoundBlaster Audigy can load soundfonts with sfxload, so I don't need a softsynth.

So, I'm getting somewhere. But there are a lot of bugs in Rosegarden 4, or perhaps it's just the Debian-packaged version. So, I will be doing bug reports soon, if not looking at the code myself, before I can seriously use that tool. But that's ok; all software has bugs, it's just that I can actively participate in fixing these.

My frustration has at least temporarily abated, and I no longer feel any inclination to run out and buy a Mac.

15 Jun 2003 (updated 15 Jun 2003 at 03:25 UTC) »


Ok, I'm just beginning to get the feeling I've heard so many others express, a desire for a computer that "just works". Linux has been satisfactory for me so far because of the limited nature of what I've been doing: using the web, writing plain text, gnucash (good app!) and coding.

Now, I'm trying to set up a working musical composition environment, and I'm up against the wall. I've installed Rosegarden 4, which looks great (especially because it reminds me of the package I used to use on the Amiga, Music X), but I can't get it to make a sound. What I've gathered from perusing the net is that I need to install a "softsynth" -- a program which will read MIDI signals and generate sounds from my soundcard (Soundblaster Audigy), and then I'll need one or more "soundfonts" -- uhh, samples for the different MIDI instruments. Alternatively (but somewhat less desirable), I have a Yamaha TG-55 MIDI sound module sitting right by my computer here, and I could send MIDI output to it.

I don't mind digging around on the web for information, but I still haven't found out how to do this. I guess I'll be digging around hard this weekend, searching and grovelling, burning incense and waving chickens, trying to get my Debian box here to make a musical sound. (Any hints would be greatly appreciated!)

Last week sometime, my wife said "do you think we could get one of those digital camcorders and make movies on our computer?" Now I'm starting to think, damnit, why not just get a Mac OS X box and be done with it? I've heard about iMovie, and I bet I could get the sound stuff to "just work", and many other things. Doing real video editing from a digital camcorder on linux sounds like a pipe dream.

(small) frustration solved

One of the things that has annoyed me about Debian is that the only way I know of to see what packages are installed on my system, dpkg --list, truncates long package names. It's especially annoying when you want to uninstall a package and you can't get the name right. I've surfed the web about this from time to time and found no clue, but today I decided to look at the source code.

I found out that dpkg looks for the environment variable COLUMNS to determine the width of the terminal window, which it divides up proportionally. I have no idea where COLUMNS is supposed to come from; it certainly isn't set by xterm. In my five or so years of using Debian, I've always just had to put up with this annoyance. Now, with export COLUMNS=150 (or whatever) I can finally see the full package names. Yay!

I guess I'll be looking at source code more often, but it's unfortunate that should be required.

Long time, no post. Well, I haven't been doing any more with free software in all that time, either. Something about being married has changed the way I allocate my time.


My wife's parents made one attempt to get visitor's visas before SARS; they were summarily dismissed (damn INS!). Now, no new visas are being issued at all.

It's easier for us to travel to China to visit them, but I'm very worried about SARS. Two of the three times I went to China, I got sick ... the flight is just too long, and I can't sleep on the plane. I don't want to travel there until SARS is really under control, but even though the Chinese government has declared a new policy of admitting reality about the state of SARS, I'm skeptical of everything I hear.

Li really misses her parents, too.

Grad School?

I started to go to Grad School in Computer Science here at the University of Minnesota back in 1991 or so, but I became discouraged and never finished. Worse, my final quarter left me with a couple of Fs because I just bailed. I was just working at kinko's at the time and I couldn't see the connection between school and getting good work, plus I was personally unhappy due to a condition which I suspect might be well-known to some others here: the feeling that no one really understood me; that my only option for "fitting in" was self-effacement and robotic conformity.

Well, in time that all changed, and my disposition is quite good. My wife wants me to go back to grad school now. She has a grand plan in which I could have my Master's by the time she gets her undergraduate degree, and then we could move somewhere warmer and closer to my family in Georgia (without being too close). Although we have yet to see it, she's enamoured of the idea of going to the Research Triangle Park area ... which sounds to me like it could be a good thing. I wasn't going to go back to school because I thought it would be hard to pick up the pieces from where I left off. But my wife is really encouraging me, and my current situation at work -- although I think the particular issue I'm facing may be temporary -- is pushing me in the direction of needing something more.

Monkey Coding

I recently got involved with another development group at work, who are working on the "new system" which is running in parallel to, and may replace, the "old system" which I have been maintaining for years. The "new system" folks have never talked with the "old system" folks, and that's just weird. I've got a few minor tasks in their latest rev of the "new system" and I saw that it was haphazardly put together and could never do everything the "old system" does.

I made some comments about what they would absolutely have to do if they were ever to match the functionality of the old system, and that was labeled an "interesting academic digression" and told that I was coming in late on their release schedule where we just have to make what they have work.

So now I am making things work around this bad design, "monkey coding" I call it because not too much thinking is allowed at this point, knowing full well that the code I'm writing now will be thrown away soon ... or worse, I may be called on to maintain it.

Kind of makes one look at their options again ...

(Sorry for the long post, it's just been such a long time since the last one, I had to catch up.)

This essay by Senator Byrd of West Virginia is really striking in its clarity, and speaks for me completely.

I wonder if Byrd will run for President? I'd vote for him.

Congratulations, raph, on your arrest.

Hey folks.

I found something which really upset me, and I wanted to rant about it, but as it has nothing to do with free software, this wouldn't be the appropriate place.

Instead, I decided to post my first K5 diary entry. Take a look.

I feel like I must have been living under a rock or something. It was just this past Friday I discovered the Daypop Top 40. Wow! So this is the meta-level of blogging, the emergent form.

When I get the technical details worked out, I'm sure I will join the fray.

I worry though ... I only have so much time for this sort of intellectual discussion, and my perfectionism (uhh ... combined with lack of skill, no doubt) makes writing a slow process for me. If I express my anti-war sentiments (e.g. by linking to articles like this and expressing my agreement), will I be able to respond to the criticism of pro-war bloggers? If I don't respond because I'm busy with paperwork or something, will my silence be taken as an admission of defeat? Will I get sucked into a black hole of reading and responding when I should be writing code, or trying to make music, or studying Chinese, or any of the dozens of other things that should make up my life?

This is especially a problem for me, because I have to read over every word I write, like, four times or so. It's a painfully slow process for me to express myself in written words. Everything must be perfect.

16 Feb 2003 (updated 16 Feb 2003 at 02:27 UTC) »
zhaoway: That Paul Graham article is very interesting, and came close to describing my own high school experience. But how does it relate to the Chinese experience? It's my impression that the Chinese actually learn stuff in high school, while us 'merkins are doing whatever we can to fight off the boredom induced by classes dumbed-down to the stupidest student's level (and then some). I lost at least a decade (and probably two) of fruitful inquiry to wearing away the extreme apathy which was absolutely essential to my survival of high school.


The author still hasn't responded to me: I'm going to snarf the entire site with wget in case it disappears. Pretty much everything about this code I have yet to get up to speed on:

  • automake and libtool
  • lex and yacc
  • C++
  • OpenGL
Those are all things I should probably learn about, though, so I think it's a very good task for me to pursue.

Are there any free tools out there to analyze C++ code, like, print out a class heirarchy diagram or something? There's next to zero developer documentation for the code, so anything like that would be a great help.

Diary Ratings

I think I would prefer a simple killfile system to the diary interest metric. There's only one diary I really care to ignore (has he disappeared? ... no matter) and I'm glad I have a way to filter it out. Then, I see at the bottom of my recent entries page something like "3 diary entries suppressed". Then I have to go back and scan through the entries to see who was filtered out and figure out whether I want to keep them. The entries which fall off aren't incredibly exciting, but leave open the possibility that the poster may say something interesting in the future, so then I have to rate them. I've been uniformly pulling these diaries up to "4", mostly because I don't want to think about ratings too much. That's a lot of extra work just to relegate one troll to well-deserved obscurity.

zhaoway: Google Groups is fine from here. Is that the Great Firewall in action?


I got no response from the author when I wrote him before. I fixed the compilation problems: One was solved by emulating the effects of this bison patch; and then there was another dinky tweak.

There are still runtime problems (most importantly, no sound) but I've got "the itch" now, and this progam will work on my computer.

I wrote the author a second time with my positive results and indicated my interest in continuing to work on it. I hope I will get a response this time.

I mean, just looking at the web page ... sooooooo much work went into that project, but then, in mid-2000, everything stopped, and there's no real clue as to why. All that effort shouldn't go to waste.

Advogato Proposal

UTF-8 should be the charset for advogato, so we can use it in our diaries and articles. Zenmeyang?

xing nian hao

I hope the Year of the Sheep will bring us all prosperity. In this crowd, I'm sure it will, because our free software wealth will increase and never decrease.

sound synthesis

Back when I was in high school, my friend Harry played a sustained piano chord at the end of an improvisation which, as it slowly decayed, gave way to an incredibly rich tapestry of beat frequencies. When I tried much later to reproduce this sort of sound, I realized that it must have been a unique artifact of the imperfect tuning of that particular piano -- I was never able to coax a well-tuned instrument to weave such a complex fabric.

The memory that fateful chord planted a seed in my mind which grew into the idea that an entire composition could be made of changing timbres; beat frequencies syncopated through clever synthesis techniques could effectively be rhythm and melody.

I've finally gotten around to following up on this a bit, and I'm looking at various sound synthesis packages. I had played with it a little before in CSound but I ended up writing perl to generate the complex .orc files I wanted to experiment with. It was just too clunky; not the right tool for my job.

So, I've been poking around the Linux Sound Pages looking at other synthesis packages to see if I can find anything more suited to my purposes.

I was quite impressed with the sound samples and web page for Tao but the latest version is labled 1.0-beta-30Apr2000 and sadly won't compile on my Debian "sid" box. I'm guessing this is due to some differences in g++ 3.x, but it errors out on a .yy file.

I wrote the author to see if he was still active with it, but have yet to receive a response. I guess the next thing to do is to make it work and send him a patch.

There are some other programs I'm looking at, but I've blathered on enough already.

If anyone has a suggestion about a sound synthesis program I should investigate, I'd be interested to hear it.

art thang

I have been working on an "art intro" page for www.abstractfactory.org, and put a preliminary version up at http://www.abstractfactory.org/arttest/.

Please imagine that all the "clever saying #n" statements are actually filled with text, along the lines of the bastardization of the famous George Clinton quote you see on the opening page.

I hope it works on Macs -- I've got no clue.

advogato sociology

It's funny that our resident troll rating everyone who ever reacted to his political rantings down to "1". I always thought that the intent of trolling was to provoke such responses. Oh well, I guess he actually inhabits a different advogatan planet than the rest of us. That's just as well.

I do wish we could stop our insane president from starting this ill-concieved war, though.


Will Ghostscript ever work on VMS again?

Ghostscript has been a big proof of open source at my place of employment. There are still a lot of people who think that if they pay thousands of dollars for a software solution, it must be better -- but Ghostscript has been used in production for years there, and that's proof that open source works. Colors had been less than optimal -- a constant source of complaints from gs detractors -- until -dUseCIEColor was introduced in 7.x. I thought things were great for a while, then I discovered an eps which crashed when that switch was used. The problem has been fixed in the latest 8.x, but somewhere along the way VMS support got broken. I kind of stuck my neck out advocating our use of gs; now I've got to fix this one way or another before the "I told you so"s start coming from the other camp.

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