The Null Device


One of the things I enjoy doing is creating electronic music, for which I use a Macintosh laptop, some music software and various plugins. For the past few years, the software which I used has been Apple's Logic Express, to which I switched from Cubase VST when moving from MacOS 9 to OSX. As Logic didn't come with a drum machine program back then, I found myself buying Linplug's RMIV drum machine, which I have over the years used extensively.

RMIV is an excellent and comprehensive drum machine, which contains both analogue-style drum synthesisers and sample playing capabilities, as well as filters and effects. However, it has one downside; when you import sounds into it, it has the annoying tendency of saving those in its own proprietary format (rather than using a standard format such as, say, AIFF or WAV, both of which are good enough for other software including Apple's own samplers).

Recently I have started using Ableton Live, and have found it very impressive. While Live will happily load all my AudioUnit plugins, it also contains its own drum sample player, Drum Rack, which integrates more tightly with it. Drum Rack allows you to drag your favourite samples to various pads and play them. The hitch is that the samples must be in a standard format; if most of your drum samples are in RMIV's .D4T format, then you have a problem. Guess where most of my samples were?

Anyway, not being one to give up easily, I took it upon myself to examine the D4T format, and come up with a way of converting my samples to an open format. Luckily, I had some samples sitting around in both formats; after examining them with hexdump(1) and a Python interpreter, I soon determined that D4T is a fairly simple format, consisting of a short header and the samples in 32-bit float format.

The header turned out to be a bit more work; there were what looked like magic numbers in it, as well as some values roughly proportional to the file size, though bizarrely unrelated to actual sizes. After creating a few oddly-sized AIFF files, importing them into RMIV and examining the imported versions, I determined that RMIV's format used a bizarre way of encoding integers: it would encode them in binary-coded centimal. Which is to say, as a series of bytes, each containing a value from 1 to 99, representing a pair of decimal digits. Why they settled on this peculiar and inefficient encoding, I can only guess; it seems too feeble to be an attempt to thwart reverse engineering.

Anyway, the point of this anecdote is that I have now written a Python script which converts from RMIV's .D4T sample files to AIFF files. (One could change it fairly trivially to make WAV files, though that's left as an exercise to the reader.) The script, named "dermiv", is here.

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The peculiar and long-established British pastime of trainspotting is in steep decline, having fallen victim to some combination of post-9/11 terrorism paranoia, risk-aversion ("it's health and safety gone mad, I tell you!"), neo-Blairite obsession with image and coolness, and really boring trains:

Austin Mitchell, a Labour MP and keen amateur photographer, sees another irony: “We are all photographed dozens of times every day on CCTV, so while the Government can photograph us, we can't photograph anything else.” According to Mitchell, who was recently stopped from taking pictures at Leeds station: “Photography is a public right and that should be made absolutely clear.” He has put down an early-day motion about the matter.
But in recent years the club reports have made agonising reading. One new member might have joined, but two will have died and one resigned. A few weeks ago, members received a special letter: “The executive committee has doubts about the continued validity of the club...” A meeting will be held in October to decide the club's future. Mike Burgess, its honorary secretary, says: “There's this faint hope that someone will come along with a plan - new blood, you know.”
Britain is not making trainspotters any more, just as it is not making enough engineers to maintain our main lines. Trainusership may be at its highest since the Second World War, but this is largely because of commuting into London. Fewer than half the children who visit the National Railway Museum in York have ever been on a train, let alone spotted any. Let's get this nasty, tyrannical little word out of the way, and acknowledge that trainspotting is not “cool” and that you call somebody one at your peril.

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If one US Department of Homeland Security official has his way, airline boarding passes could be replaced with GPS-enabled wristbands containing remotely activated electric shock devices, which could be used not only to keep track of passengers but also to incapacitate any passengers found to be of a terroristic bent, allowing the rest of us to feel safer.

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Corporate coffee chain Starbucks isn't doing too well; they've had to close 600 stores in the US, in less than favourable circumstances. (Favourable circumstances for Starbucks being closing the 2nd and 3rd stores they opened on a block and ran at a loss after the last independent café nearby went out of business.) Unsurprisingly, some coffee fans are over the moon:

New York Web designer Zachary Thacher, who favors Greenwich Village's cafes, said he avoids Starbucks. "They've commoditized cafe culture, which is why I don't go," he said.
The company that began as innovative is now known for consistency and convenience, [another commentator] said. "To me, that's a huge step down," she said. "You've built your franchise on people who are coming in because they know exactly what they want."
Starbucks still has their defenders, mostly on the grounds that they're convenient and consistent.

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