30 September, 2005


Thank crunchy

It's Friday, and my last day as an RA at Coventry University. It feels very strange.
We're making films with the new Creative students, which is a good way to spend my last day.
On Monday I return as a lecturer.

27 September, 2005


Slat without ClanLib, KDE without clothes

I got around to removing the ClanLib dependency in slat last night.

It really needed doing for a lot of reasons, but mainly because it was silly requiring a games library to run it, especially when it used a version much later than that supplied with most distros.

I'm a KDE user, so I very nearly went for an interface in KDE/Qt, but finally decided on plain X with imlib, for the widest compatibility.

Eugh! It's horrible dealing with GUI stuff at such a low level. I felt dirty looking under KDE's skirts.

Anyway, so far everything is going OK. I have a beta version (0.4b) for people to try, just to make sure this works in other places before I go any further.

One thing that's really annoying me is the behaviour of Imlib_paste_image. It seems to go very very strange for a while when it's first called. It does return, but doesn't necessarily do anything. And it messes with the timing of everything else. This part is commented out (on line 174 of theremin.cpp), so there's no extra cursor to show the rotating point right now.

Anyone that feels like it, please have a look. I'm a bit stumped. Just uncomment the line and see what happens.

26 September, 2005


Opportunity Knocks

Today, in between trains at Birmingham New Street, I called in at the over-priced WHSmith's.

When my turn finally came to hand over money, I stepped up and reached for my wallet. I was using my card, because I only had a five pound note in cash, but as I pulled out my wallet, the five pound note fluttered free and landed just by my feet.

There was quite a queue, so instead of picking up the fiver first, I handed over my card to the woman behind the counter. As I was doing this, a guy came and stood right next to me.

He started inspecting the very limited range of confectionery that is placed by the till.

The woman behind the counter wanted to see another example of my signature (like I can do two the same!), so I was standing there for longer than normal.

All this time, the guy next to me is desperately trying to get his hands on the fiver from under his foot.

He tried dropping something next to it and bending down tutting at his own clumsiness.

He tried inspecting the bottom of his tracksuit leg.

Unfortunately for him, every time he tried to shuffle his foot, or put his hand near it, I made sure to be looking right at him.

Once my transaction was complete, all of the items were bagged up and the counter woman and I had been through the very British ping pong of thank yous, I decided he wasn't going to take the opportunity I'd been giving him to do the right thing.

I asked him to move his foot because my five pound note was under it. When he did, he pretended (badly) to be surprised, dropped the paper back on the stand and walked straight off.

I don't know how people have the guts to do something like that. Even though it was pretty obvious that I was watching his foot all through the pantomime, he still didn't take the chances I was giving him to go from opportunistic thief to good-natured passer-by.

The only reason I even noticed any of this was because I saw the five pound note fall to the floor, felt it leave my hand and watched it land. I'm not usually the kind of person that notices what's happening around them, so how many times have I lost money to people like this?

23 September, 2005


Slat 0.3

Slat now has a comamndline option for setting the window size, linear spacing between notes and dark lines for flats.

I made these changes over the weekend, but I've been so busy lately that I forgot to upload the new version.


Problems fixed, offices cleaned

Sub-domain disappearance

My blog sub-domain disappeared recently, so my blog has been out of sight for an unknown number of days.

Obviously it's fixed now, thanks to the people at Hosting Direct. In all the time I've been a customer, I think this is the first problem I've had, and it was solved very quickly. If you're looking for hosting, give them a try.

Clean office

Steph finally forced me to clean my home office.

A few hours and 5 black bags full of rubbish later, it looks sparkly clean. The drifts of paper have been moved, the junk has been thrown away, cables have been tidied, draws have been sorted and bookshelves have been re-stacked. I hardly recognise it.

I was so proud of it, I've taken the trouble to stitch together a photo taken from inside the room. Click to enlarge.

Now compare that with my office at work. It's big and bright, which is nice. Before this one, though, I spent a few years in an office would be considered too depressing for a prison cell. Dark green walls, bars on the window and no daylight.

16 September, 2005


Static Jacket

This Reuters article made me chuckle. The poor guy started setting fire to carpets and melting plastic because he wore a nylon jacket over a woollen jumper.

I think the fire service shouldn't have taken his jacket from him. Imagine if Spiderman had been arrested when he first discovered his powers. All this Aussie needed was some training and he could have become Sydney's very own super hero. I can just imagine him foiling a robbery, grabbing the bad guys, rubbing them on his jumper and sticking them to the walls to wait for the police.

I also like the quote from senior lecture in electrical engineering David Godson. Apparently, lightning is caused by clouds rubbing together. Perhaps it only happens between nylon clouds and wool clouds.


Lawrence Lessig, damn him

An article in Lawrence Lessig's blog has made me aware of yet another repository of Free audio.

Opsound seems a little more professional - or, rather, it gives you a way to dispose of some money. For a good cause, of course.

Maybe we're getting to the stage where we can have an Open Music Chart.

15 September, 2005


In the post

In the post this morning, along with some stuff for Pippin, I had another invitation to get into debt from a credit card company.

The leaflet had pictures of people smiling, paragraphs telling me not to miss those bargains just because I couldn't afford them and lots of positive words picked out in bold.

All perfectly normal, but then I noticed the interest rate.

Bloody Nora!

Looking on the net, it seems that the company responsible tries to target people with bad credit ratings. I don't mind that they assumed that I would - I live near Dudley in the heart of the Black Country - but I really don't like the way they try to squeeze money out of people vulnerable to this kind of thing. I won't name names, just in case the company don't like being noticed while they try to shaft the poor and the financially ignorant.


Music made with Linux

In the spirit of Open Source development, we now have another list of Linux-made music, thanks to Hans Fugal.

The other one, RadIO, is still going.

Why do we need two? We don't, really. But it's nice. You might prefer one rather than the other. One might turn out to be used more than the other. The point is, you have a choice. And that's a Good Thing.

Now we just need someone to write something to aggregate the two lists :)

14 September, 2005


Cats in Sinks

So, you think you're unique? A snowflake? Think you're the only one who has an passion for cats in sinks? Think again. Thanks to Google's adSense, it also has adverts. Just in case you want to get into the exciting world of bringing cats and sinks together, but don't have a cat. Or a sink.

12 September, 2005


Science, options and spooky noises


I've just been reading this "bad science" article from the Guardian.

It gave me the giggles, so I thought I'd share.


Writing code to handle command-line options just isn't fun. Sure, there's getopt, but it only alleviates part of the boredom and annoyance - long options are a pain, as are default values, and what about writing the --help output?

Thankfully, Gnu also have another way to deal with options: Gengetopt. This is a great program. It takes a simple file containing your options as input and outputs source files for including in your project. You can specify defaults, short and long alternatives, types, sections and it even takes care of the help dialog.

I've been using it in my theremin project.

Spooky noises

My theremin has been improved and renamed. Never being one to call a spade a spade, especially when it's a shovel, I've decided not to call my theremin "theremin".

Slat (Sounds Like A Theremin) 0.2.1 now contains:

  • 100% less crackles
  • Perfectly smooth pitch changes
  • Tremolo/vibrato - the virtual mouse pointer circles around the actual one with adjustable rate, x and y scales.
  • A roughly 20% less evil Makefile
  • A more theremin-like sound

Have a listen.

Go to the slat page for details and downloads.

09 September, 2005


Music from sleeplessness

Sometimes I just can't sleep.

I lie in the dark trying to shut down, but it doesn't happen. I try to relax, but I end up estimating the total wall area of the room and the area taken up by the furniture, and then working out one as a percentage of the other, to a few decimal places. I can't help it.

So I get up, sit in front of my computer and start messing around with cheesetracker. Usually this just results in horrible noise, but sometimes I end up with something I like.

Last night produced "Yet another" [ogg|mp3]. I might have been listening to to much Wagon Christ. Or eaten too much cheese.

Have a listen. It starts out with a metallic drum'n'bass beat over distorted piano, but quickly changes to something else entirely.

06 September, 2005



I've just uploaded the first release of my software theremin.

At the moment, it's just called "theremin". When I can think of anything better, it will be renamed.

It's quite basic at the moment, but it works. See the theremin page for details, download and a quickly-made example.


Pippin update

I've been reading a lot about chinchillas, and it seems that we've been going about it all wrong.

Steph and I started stroking Pippin as soon as she got home. We also pick her up, play with her, let her run around in the hall, have her running over our hands and legs and generally having lots of fun.

According to most of the material on-line, we should have started slower. Chinchillas are timid and won't want to play or be petted and will run off until you've gone through the weeks-long process of getting to know them.

I'm glad we didn't read that until after we've had so much fun.

Pippin isn't in the slightest bit frightened of us. She quite happily sits on your hand if you put it near her. We sweep her cage around her, and she follows all the way, playing with the brush. She likes her tummy tickled with it, too. She's so confident that she'll come and stand on things as you move them around, just for the fun of it.

Last night, she had her first out-of-the-cage playtime, in the hall. She loved it. She wasn't too keen on being carried, but didn't sulk about it once she was out. She quite liked jumping on us and tugging our clothes. Steph was sitting cross-legged on the floor, which Pippin liked because it meant she could jump on her lap and tunnel down and out by her feet.

Here she is trying to take my mobile from me.

05 September, 2005


Conference rating system

I've developed a simple rating system for conferences. Thinking it would be nice to know about what the experience of a particular conference is likely to be like based on previous meetings, I intend to keep a record for other conference-goers. Hopefully, others will do the same.
Feel free to send me your ratings.


A quick overview of the system before I give you the ratings for the last two conferences I attended.
There are five items in each rating, each given a score between zero and five, inclusive.

  1. Food. Possibly the most important. Includes coffee, tea and snacks. Does not include meals bought in restaurants.

  2. Bed. The bed itself and, to a lesser degree, the bedroom. I realise that this will change when conferences move venues, but it at least gives an indication of the kind of accommodation that the conference organisers are likely to provide.

  3. Entertainment. Was there anything fun to do after each day? Bonus points for organised trips.

  4. Location. Middle of nowhere? Middle of Las Vegas?

  5. Other. How good was the free bag? Also less important items, such as quality of papers, organisation, etc.
The mean of these ratings is the overall score.
And now for the first two ratings.

MIUA 2005, University of Bristol

Too close to town for a bus, too far to be easy to run to during a boring session. The room was basic, but had a great view (see photos).

Entertainment (1)

ICAPR 05, University of Bath

Bath is a lovely city, and very pleasing on the eye. Which is probably why they put the University out of view. They make use of concrete with a wood pattern pressed into it, which is more depressing than plain old concrete, somehow. I did like the Uni, but most of it wasn't particularly pretty.
Quite a way from town, but very easy to get there by bus. Nice room, but a horrible squeaky bed. I tried turning over very slowly in the night to stop the squeaking, but all it did was cause the bed to give out a long painful scream.
Coaches were organised to take us to the Roman baths, which was fun. Great free bag, but my pen didn't work.

Entertainment (3)

04 September, 2005



This is Pippin.

Pippin is a Chinchilla (Chinchilla laniger). She's only been with us for 24 hours.


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