a train passes in the rain: medford.

The last time I used my neato binaural microphones was 2006, and that makes me feel guilty. Every so often I find them in a drawer and think, “I should really use these sometime.” During the last huge thunderstorm I tried to use them, but by the time I figured out how to record audio on linux (yeah, I know) the storm was basically over. Tonight it’s raining again and my recording system works. And since we live next to the train, I made sure to check the schedule first to make sure a train would pass while I was recording. Now you, too, can pretend you live in Medford next to the tracks.

This recording should be listened to with headphones. That way you’ll get the full 3D-sound effect.

(ps, I don’t know who makes this little audio playback applet, but it’s great. I stole it from another web page, but if anyone knows whose this is, let me know.)

How to Install Final Cut Studio 3

  1. July, 2009: Find out through twitter that Apple released a new version of Final Cut Studio with the softest launch ever, a tiny box in the lower left of the homepage.
  2. Read over the “What’s New” page, and see that, actually, there are lots of decent bugfixes and even some new features!
  3. Wait until some other sucker gets a copy.
  4. Keep waiting as they discover new bugs, problems, and technical headaches introduced by Apple’s “What, me worry?” backwards- and standards-compatibility policy.
  5. Pour over Stu’s inevitable updated post on Final Cut / Quicktime gamma issues. Understand nothing.
  6. Read over John’s inevitable post on the new version of Color, and how it’s still worse for color correction than using a highlighting marker on the monitor.
  7. Read Avid editor bloggers dissing FCP, feel better about not using it yet.
  8. December, 2009: A point release is made that actually works. Purchase it and install on cloned version of hard drive you call “FCS3(?) QUARANTINE”.
  9. Gingerly boot cloned drive and launch FCP.
  10. Oooh new splash screen.
  11. Spend a few minutes reconnecting all your media. Ah well, you’d be suspicious if nothing was offline.
  12. What’d’ya know, not so bad.
  13. Announce to your clients that you support the new version of Final Cut.
  14. Tell them no, not version 6, there’s a new one after that. … It’s been out for, like, 6 months now. … I know you’ve been editing for 2 years, I don’t upgrade in the middle of a project either … No, I can’t online your cut made on version 5 on Panther!
  15. Wait for projects cut on the new version to work through their edit schedule.
  16. Finally switch over to the cloned “Quarantine” drive as your new default boot drive.
  17. July, 2010: do your first online in Final Cut 7 — discover some stupid missing feature or bug.
  18. Sign inevitable petitions to Apple. Geez, when is the new Final Cut coming out??

DJing on the cheap

One thing I’d always wanted to try was DJing, because hey, doesn’t everyone? It’s like being a musician but without all that hard work, skill, and practice. I’d never really pursued the interest, though, because being a DJ, even as a hobbiest, had always been an extremely expensive proposition. Good turntables cost 600$ each, a mixer is another $100 or more, and there’s all the vinyl I’d need to buy. I know myself well enough that I didn’t want to risk dropping close to a grand on a hobby that, in all probability, I’d lose interest in after a month.

In recent years, laptop DJing has gotten more popular, but I still didn’t want to spend 500$ on the software and more on the mp3 music. I could have acquired these by bittorrent or whatever, but I don’t like stealing software and also hate rebooting into windows. Ideally I wanted an open source program that would run on linux, but most of the options I found sucked. My dream of being a superstar DJ appeared forever out of reach.

Then one lazy day of clicking around the internet I discovered Mixxx, an open-source DJing application. Amazingly, it doesn’t suck. After some experimentation, it became clear Mixxx not only didn’t suck, but was actually pretty good. Around the same time, I’d also discovered the wide world of netlabel music. There are artists all over the world who are more than happy to share their tracks for free on the internet. Because I’m not stealing the music, it’s easy to preview tracks and download the ones I like. I quickly built up a catalog of a few hundred decent tracks. I was very close to actually being able to mix music! Visions of neon-haired techno girls danced in my head.

So I have software, I have music, and I haven’t spent any money yet! The Mixxx developers recommend the Hercules DJ MP3 as a good cheap controller, so I snagged one off ebay for 70$. I also have a small older version of this M-Audio MIDI keyboard which I got used for 60$ or so ((I got this when I was playing around with freewheeling, until I realized I don’t play the keyboard)). Lastly, I have an M-Audio Sonica Theater for simultaneous main mix output and headphone preview output ((I also got this from ebay, used. There’s a lot of decent hardware out there that doesn’t really go bad)).

With all of that, my setup was complete:

Laptop, sonica multichannel sound card, midi keyboard (for effects), and Hercules DJ MP3
Laptop, sonica multichannel sound card, midi keyboard (for effects), and Hercules DJ MP3

Total cost: ~$150

I got some practice spinning tunes, and quickly discovered all sorts of annoying problems with Mixxx and my setup. The default mixxx theme, for instance, is ugly and doesn’t use screen-space well. I downloaded a cool-looking theme called “Trancer”, but then I wasn’t happy with that so I did what any linux user would do — hacked it and made my own version:

My custom Mixxx theme, which fits nicely on my 1280x800 screen
My custom Mixxx theme, which fits nicely on my 1280x800 screen

I also wanted to have more control over filters and effects, so I set up a JACK pipeline so I could use my MIDI keyboard to select and tweak effects outside of Mixxx itself. I use the jack-rack program to handle the effects, although I had to hack that too. So when I’m mixing, this is what my desktop looks like:

Mixxx on the right, a couple jack-racks on the left, and a little midi notifier at the top left
Mixxx on the right, a couple jack-racks on the left, and a little midi notifier at the top left

And while I was playing some music, I discovered some aspects of the Mixxx music library that I didn’t like. Like, I needed some way of knowing which tracks I’d already played so I wouldn’t accidentally play them again. Also, the search bar also didn’t allow for multiple search terms. So I hacked away at the mixxx source code. Now the search box works right and I know if I’ve played a track as well as how many times I’ve ever played it.

But what type of open-source advocate would I be if I kept this all to myself? So, I present:
Mixxx Trancer theme (DJO remix)
Mixxx 1.7 (DJO remix diff)
jack-rack 1.4.7 (DJO remix diff)

The most important patch is the one for mixxx itself. The library is really hobbled without it.

After all this hacking, I finally have a setup that works well. I’m sure a European jet-set lifestyle is not far behind, but although I’ve been mixing for like, close to two months now, I’m still not a superstar DJ. But I did record one session that I consider post-worthy. I call it, “Mixxx session 090710.” Future mix postings will have a full tracklist, but due to a mistake, this one doesn’t. Enjoy!

Mixxx Session 090710 on archive.org (88 Meg, 1 hour)

Ben Folds, The Symphony, and Getting Punched in the Face

Char and I went to see Ben Folds at the opening of the Boston Pops season. It was fun, except for the part where some guy in the second balcony started punching some other guy in the face.

I’m not making this up!

Some guy whose post I found on technorati:

so i’m sitting here in the center on second balcony and to the left of me on the same level in the middle of the sound someone screams and everyone looks over there and it looked like someone was about to fall over the edge or something. then i kept watching and the guy goes up a couple rows and looks like hes talking to this other guy and then all of a sudden punches him. and then proceeds to keep punching him. the people around there try to restrain him and stuff, but it was really intense. and people were kind of screaming, so it even stopped the music for a couple minutes as they got it under control. but seriously who fights at a freaking boston pops concert. anyway.

That’s pretty much the way I remember it, although I missed the part where someone was about to fall off the balcony. I heard a woman’s voice cry out, and I couldn’t figure out where it came from. I thought maybe someone had too much to drink. And then I saw a commotion way over on the left side, and sure enough some guy just starts punching someone else in the face.

In the movies, when things like that happen, there is always the horrified “oh!” of gentle-men and -women in the audience. Funny enough, it actually happens in real life too! People were still mumbling to each other after the orchestra started up again.

Other than that, the concert was excellent. The hall sounded beautiful, and Ben Folds rocked the house. It was quite a meeting of two very different audiences — the regular Pops crowd, and a lot of Ben Folds fans. (Note: the altercation appeared to be between regular-pops-crowd-types, not rowdy young ben-folds-types.)

A night to remember!

Update: the em-ess-em picks up on the story

Update with picture!

This looks like it’s getting a decent amount of play, so you can probably take it from here and search google news for more info.

Grand Canyon Vacation

This year I went again to NAB, the annual convention for tv, film, and radio. Since Las Vegas is warm and sunny, Char thought it’d be fun to come along and take some vacation time while I checked out the show floor.

For this trip I did not bring my Thinkpad, opting instead to bring just my olpc. Although Char complained about the spacebar (fixed in b3, Char!) and its slowness (also fixed, Char!), it performed phenomenally. It easily picked up all the access points I needed and connected to them quickly. The web activity also handled any accesspoint payment sites perfectly. On one occasion when our cheap(er) hotel didn’t have free wifi, I was able to connect to the Best Western two buildings over and use theirs instead. It must have been 1000 feet away and still the signal was strong. Bravo olpc!

After I filled my brain with details about Final Cut Pro upgrades, digital asset management software, and other expensive new stuff, Char and I drove out to Arizona to go camping at the Grand Canyon.

Camping was cold, but we were prepared for it. The next morning we woke up and saw some very tame deer strolling through the campground

We had a whole day to spend at the canyon, so we donned our boots (Char bought hers a few days before) and took a hike. Interestingly, by default the Park Service does not provide very accurate maps which discourages morons like us from making up our own routes and getting in over our heads. Instead they offer a few basic trails with regular checkpoints to keep it nice and easy. I’m glad we talked to the park service lady, she recommended a very good hike.

It is big

The Grand Canyon is incomprehensively big. There’s just no reference to get any sense of scale, and because the opposite wall is 10 miles away you can’t see any other angle of it because you can’t get any paralax. It’s just huge and unmoving.

It was also eerily quiet. Char and I were trying to figure out what we expected to be hearing other than the grandiose symphonies and echoing eagle calls heard in gift shop videos. Although the day before had gusts up to 50mph there was very little wind when we were there, and because there are so few trees (it’s mostly shrubbery!) there was no rustling of leaves. There were also hardly any songbirds twittering away. Most of the birds were gigantic crows that wanted to eat our food.

Other people help provide scale

The trail we hiked was also used by mule trains which, according to my ear, nose, and throat doctor, carry supplies down to Phantom Ranch in the canyon. The men leading the mules were totally cool and legit. Real cowboys. Or I guess muleboys?

Mule Train

Char likes mules

Note the smoke

As you can see in the above photo, there was some smoke drifting out of the depths of the canyon that didn’t look right. Someone on the trail asked one of the cowboys what he thought it was, and he chalked it up to the park service “doin’ a controlled burn, and they lost control of it.” I am not doing the accent justice here. Try to imagine what Dubya wishes he sounded like when he clears brush.

Char makes a friend

Critter surveys the scenery

Char prepares to crush an enemy

I ponder bigness

Our descent ended when we could finally see the river for the first time near the omniously-named Skeleton Point.

Yes that is the river down there

I got there too

After eating our lunch, we started on the way back. There are not many pictures from the way back, not only because it was the same view, but because hiking back up 1800 feet is hard work! As we neared the top, though, another hiker pointed out a few condors hangin’ out on the rocks

The one on the right is labelled “99”

There was another one further away

As we got back, we realized if we camped again that night we would not have a chance to shower again for the whole trip. This would mean we’d have to drive back to Las Vegas smelly, see Bill Maher perform at the Hard Rock the next night smelly, stay up all night and wait for our flight smelly, and then fly home smelly. Also, it was supposed to be 22 degrees that night. It was only 30-35 the previous night, and that was cold enough, so we bailed and got a hotel. It was the right thing to do, especially since we were only out 18$ for the campsite. A shower and a good night’s sleep were greatly appreciated by all.

The next day we visited the Hoover Dam, but those pictures will have to wait until tomorrow.

mouse-over jokes

A few webcomics have bonus jokes in the title attribute of the image tag, meaning you don’t see the joke unless you hold the mouse over the image. These easter eggs necessitate new and glorious extensions just to make them work properly. Often the bonus joke isn’t all that great, but oh man, sometimes it’s funnier than the original punchline.

After discovering this trick in a webcomic I’ve been reading, I have to go back through the entire archives of a comic strip reading all the new jokes. Downside, or bonus?

Moment in the Sun

Chris Blizzard let me know a while back that Red Hat Magazine was coming to the olpc offices to shoot some promotional video, and that they might want to interview me. So I dropped on by after work and gave them some good bites.

They’ve posted the edited video, which is a pretty nice peek into the place where the magic happens. It’s not my best on-camera appearence ever, but luckily they cut away from me pretty quickly 🙂

Me appearing in the olpc video