sketchbook: step-sequenced mindless techno crazyness

I was browsing Youtube the other day, and got sick of all the guys with Evolvers having all the fun with their step-sequencers and such, so I thought I’d give something similar a go on my Blofeld. I set up a basic repeating sequence of notes on the PC, set up a basic patch on the Blofeld, and then tweaked away, bringing in different elements and playing with various parameters.

The interesting thing is that this is all one voice, and just one note at a time. The lead sound uses the first two oscillators, and the lower bass sound uses the third, and the noise source powers the drums. Because the Blofeld has two filters per voice, I was able to run the noise through its own filter and adjust it separately, producing bass, hi-hat, and weird spacey sounds.

20090729: 4 minutes 47 seconds

mac os x on kvm

While I no longer have a Mac, I still need one from time-to-time for development and testing purposes at work. My old MacBook Pro is still there, and runs just fine in that role, but for a laugh I thought if it would be possible to run Mac OS X in a virtual machine on my new laptop using KVM, the open-source virtualisation system built in to the Linux kernel. The answer, surprisingly, was yes:

For the installation, I used iDeneb, a bootable Mac OS X installer DVD that’s pre-patched and ready to boot on most PCs. The only trick to getting it working on KVM seems to be to use an alternative kernel — the Voodoo 9.5.0 kernel worked for me — and to find a virtual network card that both KVM and OS X support. In fact, I haven’t quite figured that last one out yet, but I’m giving it another go right now.

The only real problem is the performance — it’s terrible! Dock bounces aren’t scientific measure of how long it takes to start applications, but when you get to double-digits starting, you know you’re in trouble. Even if I do get the networking issues sorted, I doubt it’ll be usable for anything serious.

apollo fever

The world is going Apollo-mad with the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, the first manned mission to land on the moon, and there’s no better way to celebrate than with some fresh images of those pioneering missions. Last month, NASA launched the Lunar Reconnassance Orbiter, or LRO, which will map the moon in greater detail than ever before. It’s the first lunar mapping mission with the resolution needed to photograph the equipment left behind by the Apollo missions, and just a few days ago, that’s exactly what it did.

This shot of the Apollo 14 landing site is definitely the best of the lot so far — you can see not just the base of the Lunar Module, but also the science payload set up a short distance away, and the path the astronauts walked to deliver it:

There are more images on the LRO website. The best news is that LRO still isn’t in its final mapping orbit, so it should be sending back even better photos of these historic sites in the future.

mirror’s edge

No-one’s ever quite cracked the magic formula for the perfect first-person platformer, but Mirror’s Edge takes a good stab at it. Like the survival horror/action game Dead Space, which came out around the same time last year, Mirror’s Edge is an example of the new, non-sequel titles we’ve been told to expect from the reformed EA.

It’s set in a brilliant, white, clean world under totalitarian rule, and the player takes the role of Faith, a messenger (or “runner”) who represents one of the last communication channels not monitored by the state. That sets you up for spending a lot of time running and jumping, navigating rooftops and buildings as quickly and smoothly as possible. There’s combat in this game, but you’ll rarely find yourself carrying a weapon, and when you do, your agility is limited, so it’s often better (or required) to duck and run rather than taking down enemies by force.

When it all comes together, Mirror’s Edge is just fantastic. Faith is extremely agile, and the world is often set up so that you can, with practice, cruise through it at quite a pace, leaping and wall-running over gaps, and ducking and vaulting to avoid obstacles. The game has no UI to speak of — just an almost-imperceptible dot in the middle of the screen that you can focus on to avoid motion-sickness — and Faith’s arms and legs are often in view, so you get a great sense of being in her shoes. When you get in to the rhythm of things, it’s an amazing experience, and there are some clever aids to help you, such as “runner vision”, which highlights potential paths.

Unfortunately, it often degrades in to a frustrating experience. Whether it’s due to problems with the combat, or the sometimes hit-or-miss navigation of the environment, the result is the same: having to replay some sections of the game until you find, or just manage the execute, the proper path through.

Apparently Mirror’s Edge didn’t sell terribly well, so it’s unclear whether or not EA has plans to produce a sequel. I’d really like to see one, though — there’s some real promise in there, and with a bit more time polishing the mechanics and level design, it could just be a great first-person platformer.

congrats to SpaceX!

I’m fascinated by private spaceflight — it’s amazing to see private companies develop technologies and complete feats that were once the domain of governments with enormous budgets — and today saw another milestone. SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 1 rocket for the first time in September last year after three failed attempts, and today it repeated that feat with a paying customer, launching the RazakSAT satellite for the Malaysian government.

Launching a satellite doesn’t sound too impressive, but it’s quite an achievement when you consider that SpaceX has been able to develop an all-new liquid-fueled launch vehicle from scratch within just a few years. In the last 30 years, only three new liquid-fueled rocket engines have been designed within the US, and two of them are on the Falcon 1; the other is on Boeing’s military-funded Delta IV. Other recent US rockets, like the (also military-funded) Atlas V, are based on Russian engines.

Falcon 1 is just a starting point for SpaceX — the real deal is the Falcon 9, which can deliver 25-times more weight in to orbit than the Falcon 1. It’s due for its first test flight later this year, followed by further test flights and eventual cargo deliveries to the International Space Station using SpaceX’s Falcon spacecraft. Perhaps Falcon 9 will suffer initial failures, as the Falcon 1 did, but I’d love to see it succeed, and given that Falcon 9 is based almost entirely on technology that’s now been tested on Falcon 1, SpaceX may just pull it off.

an interesting post about michael jackson

I haven’t talked much about Michael Jackson since his death (well, beyond rehashing some age-old jokes), but I spotted something interesting the other day — a post on the Vintage Synth Explorer forums by Bill Wolfer, a session musician who worked on the Thriller sessions. You can read the whole post here, but here’s an excerpt:

So, the artistic freedom in this case was always Michael’s. We were just there to get the sound out of his head and onto tape. It wasn’t easy for him, because he didn’t play an instrument. He could just sing the parts, and try to describe the sound he wanted. But he was always patient, and we worked as though we had all the time in the world.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the post is the fact that it was made back in December 2007, so it’s not tainted by the selective memory that people seem to get the moment someone dies. Whatever he might have become since then, he was once one hell of an artist.

sketchbook: Bassy McBass and His Bass-Bumping All-Bass Big Bass Band (Extra Bass Mix)

As if to prove that my PC is running just fine, here’s a new sketch, which is a super-powerful bass line. It’s your usual detuned sawtooth affair, but it occurred to me today that panning one oscillator to the left, and the other to the right, would create a strong stereo effect, and indeed it does! There’s a third sawtooth an octave lower in the middle for good measure, and some tube distortion to give it more bite.

20090707: 53 seconds

pc crisis averted, for now

Yet another post about my PC situation, this time with some good news. I found 2GB of spare DDR RAM, which thankfully seems to work just fine, and with that installed my old TV box has been transformed in to a perfectly workable desktop box. More importantly, it’s also a perfectly workable studio box. It’s an Athlon 64 3200+, so it’s single core isn’t too far behind one of the two cores in my old Core 2 Duo desktop box.

JACK is running very nicely at the same latency settings I had on the Core 2 Duo, and I had no trouble running the Blofeld through a pile of effects in JACK Rack, or firing up Ardour and running a song with a bunch of tracks, and a bigger bunch of effects plugins. The CPU usage is obviously higher than it was before, but I still have plenty of headroom for more tracks and effects.

I still want to upgrade, obviously, but I’m happy enough with my stop-gap solution that I can hold off for now. Intel has new mainstream chips coming in September, and even if I don’t early-adopt one of those, I’ll likely get a better deal on a Phenom II or Core 2 Quad solution then.

pc dramas

So… everything went exactly according to plan yesterday with my hard drive juggling: the data copy finished up on Saturday morning, the system booted from the new drives after some boot loader fiddling, and the arrays rebuilt in to full redundant mode once I added the two 500GB drives from the old array.

There was just one snag — I had to sacrifice my desktop PC.

Everything was going perfectly until I took the new 1TB drives, brimming with data, and placed them in to the TV box. It was a nice system about five years ago, but neither of the SATA controllers on the motherboard would detect those shiny new drives, despite putting jumpers in place to switch the drives in to SATA 1.5 Gbit/s compatibility mode. With no other option at hand, I swapped the TV box for my desktop box and got everything working there instead.

It’s actually quite nice having that box in the lounge, now — it’s super-quiet, and it has no trouble playing HD streams. I’ve put the old TV box back together as a desktop for now, but with just 512MB of RAM it doesn’t have the grunt to run my usual selection of music apps.

One option to solve this would be to shuffle things back around and throw a PCI SATA card in the TV box to get those drives working, but in the long run, and with the crazy-cheap prices on basic components these days, it’s probably better to build either a new TV box, or a new desktop.

hard drive progress

Things are going well with my hard drive shuffling so far — the new drives are in my desktop box and tested, I’ve created and formatted the new arrays, and I’m now copying the data across. Over my 100Mbit network it’s probably going to take until Saturday morning for everything to finish copying, but that’s no big deal, since there’s no need to take the TV box offline while I copy the data from it. Thanks to rsync, I can do another quick copy run once this bulk copy is finished to pull across any files that have changed since I started the first copy.

Unless something goes horribly wrong, I should be all-but-done by Saturday afternoon.