The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'software'
In 2001, a chap by the name of Aaron Ardiri wrote a port of Lemmings to the PalmOS PDA platform. Now, he has given himself 36 hours to port it to two modern mobile platforms, the iPhone and Palm webOS, with OSX and Windows desktop ports for good measure. Ardiri posted his progress, and interim OSX binaries, to a liveblog here; it seems to be down, but there's a long, scroll-like screenshot of the whole thing here. It's quite interesting, in its descriptions of how coding practices have changed as platforms have become less cramped, and of the process of adapting 2001-vintage PalmOS code to larger (mostly UNIX-based) systems.
Ardiri is considering adding another port to Android; I imagine this would involve some means of translating ancient, low-level C code into Java (or else a C compiler that produces Dalvik bytecode). If he's just dealing in C-based platforms, he could add Nokia's various platforms and (from what I hear) Samsung's new "Bada" OS, though whether there'd be much reason to bother is an open question.
Some news on the computer music front: version 2.0 of the veritable Windows audio patching environment AudioMulch is now out, and it's now available for OSX. It costs US$189, though, so it may not be everyone's cup of tea; however, the objects are higher level than those in other environments like Pd, and there's less fiddling around with oscillators involved before you actually start getting interesting noises.
Meanwhile, I somehow managed to miss the fact that the veritable MDA VST plugins are now open-source. And for some reason, there are precompiled VST binaries for Linux. It turns out that people are using Steinberg's VST plugin standard on Linux (presumably unofficially, though).
(via Create Digital Music)
OpenTape is a open-source (PHP-based) implementation of the late lamented Muxtape, a web app which allowed people to make streamable online mix tapes. Now you too can get taken down by the RIAA.
Colors! is a program which turns a Nintendo DS into a pressure-sensitive drawing tablet/sketchbook. It includes translucency, and can be used to create some rather impressive drawings. There's a gallery here.
Colors! is free, though, being homebrew, requires a homebrew loading cartridge.
(via Boing Boing Gadgets)
Nokia to buy Trolltech, the Norwegian company behind the Qt C++ user interface library (as used in Linux desktop KDE and numerous multi-platform applications including Google Earth and the Last.fm client) and the Qtopia mobile user interface platform. Nokia has pledged to continue the development of Trolltech's software and its commitment to open source, and this step could give it more of a foothold in the Linux mobile phone market. The future for Nokia's own Maemo toolkit (based on Linux and rival user interface library GTK) looks less certain.
Another front has opened in Google's assault on Microsoft's software dominance, with it emerging that Google Maps contains a hidden flight simulator. The flight simulator is activated by pressing Command, Option and A (on a Mac) or Ctrl, Alt and A (on a PC), and gives you the choice of two planes and several runways. Instructions are here. As you can probably imagine, going anywhere other than into the ground when using a keyboard is somewhat tricky.
Tourist Remover is an online photo utility which, when given several photos of a scene, creates a composite photo containing only what appears in all the photos. I.e., if you give it several photos of a busy scene, thanks to the magic of image analysis, it'll give you an eerily empty scene from that point of view.
(via Boing Boing)
Firefox crashed for me three times today. It just crashed twice in succession.
The crashes, apparently, are caused by Firefox allocating more and more memory for web pages, DHTML objects and such, never freeing any and, once memory runs out, dying horribly. Apparently our technological civilisation, which has put men on the moon and mapped the human genome, is incapable of implementing a web browser that does not leak memory like a sieve and spontaneously die from time to time.
I've heard it claimed that Mozilla/Firefox's memory leak is not a bug but a feature; the theory being that it's Nature's own caching mechanism, ensuring that the browser runs more and more efficiently (at least until it exhausts all system memory and dies, that is). Which is a nice piece of sophistry.
Anyway, for those using Firefox, there is a minor salvation in the Tab Mix Plus extension's session management facility, which saves your session and, should your browser crash, offers to restore it for you. Of course, should Firefox happen to die when reloading all the saved pages, it could be a problem, but not to worry: another feature (and definitely not a bug) is that, if that happens, Tab Mix Plus throws out some of the pages (seemingly at random) before the next attempt; thus, you eventually get to a set of pages which will reload without crashing, and all is well with the world. What would we do without such self-regulating mechanisms?
Google have just released a MacOS X version of their amazingily intuitive CAD package SketchUp. This program is rather nifty, and seems to use various human-interface heuristics to disambiguate what the user is trying to do, and consequently making 3D drawing a lot less painstaking than with traditional CAD/modelling programs. It also has some rather nifty rendering modes (such as pencil sketch, or precise-yet-cartoonish-looking textures), and looks good for everything from designing DIY projects to making comics. And it's free.
Also from Google: a new beta of Google Earth, now with a Linux version. (For some reason, though, the view window is all black on this machine, even though it does have OpenGL.)
It looks like the Rockbox open-source MP3 player firmware is starting to get noticed. After a few years of hobbyist hackers independently shoehorning it into running on various players, often in spite of the manufacturers, one player manufacturer, SanDisk, is reported to be negotiating officially porting it to their hardware and supporting it. Which could be very good news, especially if they contribute their port back to the project, ensuring that it can keep up to date with developments.
Unfortunately, being the product of a flash memory manufacturer, the SanDisk players are all flash-based, and peak at 6Gb (though do have SD-card slots, so you can add an extra gigabyte or so if needed). Now if someone made a 40-60Gb hard-disk-based player that ran Rockbox by design, I'd be interested.
The Mozilla Foundation has posted the winners of a Firefox extension contest. Interestingly, three of the winners (Reveal, Showcase and FoXpose) are implementations of an Apple Exposé-style thumbnail view, only for browser tabs and windows.
Google Local, formerly known as Google Maps, is now available for mobile phones. There are Java applets which will run on a variety of phones and allow you to scroll and zoom around the Google Maps map. For some reason, you can't zoom in to street level, at least for the UK. Also, being able to bookmark locations would be good. Other than that, it's pretty nifty, and could end up giving PDA-based static map software like Tube a run for its money.
Open-source messaging client Gaim is about to get a raft of new features, bringing it into the 21st century. Main Gaim developer Sean Egan has been hired by Google, and part of his job is integrating Google Talk (and thus voice functionality) into Gaim; as part of this, the gaim-vv branch will be merged back into Gaim proper, also giving video/webcam support. Other changes in Gaim 2.0, expected in two months' time or so, will include less broken file transfers and a bunch of new IM protocols, one of which will be "Apple's Bonjour" (by which they presumably mean serverless chat with people on a nearby network).
Instant messaging on Linux is about to get somewhat less sucky (though, with any luck, they'll leave out the full-screen Flash spamming capability MSN is getting). And, with any luck, the changes will end up in Gaim-based clients for other platforms, such as Adium for OSX.
ReBirth, the 303/808/909 emulator/music production tool/toy of the late 1990s, is now free (as in beer). Propellerheads have put ISO images of it, as well as demo songs and mods (i.e., skin/sample packs), up for downloading. The software itself is unmodified; it apparently doesn't work with OSX, it still checks for the CD every time it starts (a useless exercise in "copy protection" when the CD is a burnable image), and even shows the old EULA which prohibits use on multiple machines (though the web site tells you that the new download license overrides that).
What would be cool would be if Propellerheads released the source code. They wouldn't lose any competitive advantage by doing so, and would stand to gain good will, while hackers with more time on their hands than Propellerheads would be able to update it (from getting it to run on OSX to porting it to new platforms, from Linux to hacked PSPs). And, of course, getting rid of the pointless CD check on startup.
Incidentally, the ISO image for the PC version isn't a pure ISO9660 image but has a large quantity of 0s at the start. If burning it with cdrecord (i.e., under Linux), you will need to first strip the nulls off with something like:
dd if=rebirth_pc_installation.iso of=rebirth.iso bs=4096 skip=75
There have since been more 303 emulators; there's a commercial VST/AU plugin here which is said to be good. And then there's Muon's Tau, a free-as-in-beer 303-esque softsynth. In the open-source world, there is a rather rudimentary open-source attempt at 303 emulation, written by Your Humble Narrator a few years ago, here (it runs on Linux and uses Curses).
Today is the 10th anniversary of the Opera web browser, which is said to be the best browser. As such, they're having a virtual party; other than competitions, games and MP3s of music by Opera developers, they're giving away free registration codes, for one day only. I.e., if you go to the page now and enter an email address, you can register a copy of Opera for free and never be bothered by ads, all without spending US$39 for the privilege.
Update: And here is a properly AJAX version of TiddlyWiki, which uses a PHP back-end to store entries.
For the best part of a decade, the application for anyone who wanted to make their own fonts (PostScript or TrueType) was Fontographer. Then, sometime in 1997, Macromedia (who had recently acquired it) abandoned it. They kept selling it, but no new development took place, and advances in font technology (such as, say, Unicode and OpenType) passed it by. Even worse, the last version turned out to not work at all under MacOS X, presumably due to the programmers having used some sort of undocumented shortcut that the Classic environment couldn't handle.
Anyway, now Fontlab has acquired Fontographer from
Macromedia Adobe (who have no font editing tools of their own on offer and no intention to change this; which is rather surprising from the inventors of PostScript), to integrate into their font-editing product. It'll take the mid-range niche, between basic font editing program TypeTool and the high-end FontLab package.
The killer application for PalmOS handhelds could well be Bhajis Loops. It's a multi-track sample-based audio sequencer, somewhere between module trackers and Ableton Live, which runs entirely on ARM-based PalmOS handhelds (i.e., Zire and Tungsten units). You get multiple channels of audio, effects plug-ins, filters and envelopes, as well as a library of sounds (including Roland TR-x0x drum samples, SID waveforms, and a General MIDI library that sounds considerably less crap than the Steinberg Universal Sound Module VSTi; not that that's hard to do, mind you, but it does fit in an order of magnitude less space as well). Not only that, but if your handheld has an internal microphone, you can sample sounds around you and incorporate them into your compositions. The fact that you can do this sort of thing on a pocket-sized personal organiser is, in itself, somewhat mind-blowing.
I bought and registered a copy a few weeks ago, and have been spending my commutes working on music. Here is my first attempt at a track made using Bhajis Loops. Most of this track was composed on the Tube, and some of the sounds (including vocal fragments and the snare sound towards the end) were sampled whilst travelling.
Anyway, if you have a recent Palm, check it out. It's well doovy.
The Commodore 64 music software industry is alive and well; at least as much so as the GameBoy and Nintendo Famicom music software industries, anyway. Some intrepid hackers have created new music software for the Commodore 64; Prophet 64 is available in 3 flavours: standard, TB (which behaves like a Roland TB-303, or as much as one as the SID chip will do), and TR (which behaves like a TR-909, only with Rob Hubbard-style drum samples, as heard in much video-game music). Prophet 64 is free software, and will run happily on a 64 emulator, though with a real 64 it can be controlled with game paddles and synced to MIDI devices (with a simple add-on interface). To facilitate getting it onto a 64, it's available as a disk image, or as a WAV file to record to cassette for loading. (via MusicThing)
A preview of what to expect in Qt 4; the new Qt toolkit will have better multiplatform support, a new paint engine and text engine (with proper font kerning), a neater API (with nifty container classes, Java-like iterators, and a more property-based API that's easier to bind to other languages), and will produce smaller, faster, more efficient code. TrollTech are positioning it to compete with Sun's Java as a multiplatform widget set.
(I hope the thing about easier bindings makes it easier to interface it with Python; I mean, PyQt works reasonably well, except when it fails to compile, as was the case on a Solaris system I was working on. After attempting to recompile everything, including Python and Qt, but still failing to get it working, I gave up and rewrote the project in Java.)
Quake as interactive fiction, using the Infocom Z-machine engine and Quake data files. Insane.
Also via bOING bOING, a table of software license fees in terms of earning power, for various countries. Did you know that it takes the average Burundian more than five and a half years to earn enough to buy a copy of Windows XP and MS Office, whereas it takes the average Luxembourgian less than a week, and the average American slightly longer than that?
The NYTimes has a piece on Vocaloid, the new singing voice-synthesis program that could automate the last part of music performance still done by humans. Vocaloid is interesting because voices are stored as interchangeable "fonts" of vast numbers of samples and articulation data. The first fonts coming out (from British samplemongers Zero-G) are a pair of soul-singer voices, Leon and Lola:
In the case of Leon and Lola, session singers were hired to record what Mr. Stratton calls "generic soul-singing voices." The decision to start with soul was purely a marketing calculation: Mr. Stratton figured that the most common use of Vocaloid, at least in its early stages, would be to serve as background singers. With a soulful sound, the company could target a commercial market that ranges from Justin Timberlake to Jay-Z.
(Bugger soul singers, I say, just give me Liz Fraser. Or Ian Curtis. A generic French-accented female voice could also be useful for all the post-Stereolab acts.)
The process, of course, could be exploited for mischief, as described below. Though doing so would require a vast amount of raw data, work and expertise to prepare the voice font, something beyond the reach of casual pranksters.
What's to stop dilettantes from creating their own fonts? Could it be long before falsified but entirely convincing clips of Britney Spears begging for Justin's forgiveness circulate on the Web to say nothing of George Bush conspiring with Tony Blair about weapons of mass destruction?
The major market will be celebrity voices, undoubtedly priced beyond the reach of mere mortals, and giving Fortune 500 corporations that touch of class that comes with having Frank Sinatra sing the company song:
Licensing Elvis for Vocaloid would be a different matter, though, says Gary Hovey, vice-president of entertainment for Elvis Presley Enterprises. "If someone came to us and said, `We want Elvis to sing this new song,' we'd have a lot to contemplate," he said. "We tried to retain the integrity of his original song with the remixes. Now you're talking about a whole new vocal performance of a song he never sang or knew? How do we know he'd want to sing it?" "Believe me, that would go all the way to Lisa," he added, referring to Elvis's daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, who owns Elvis's estate.
Once a full palette of vocal fonts is available (or once Yamaha allows users to create their own), the possibilities become mind-boggling: a chorus of Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra; Marilyn Manson singing show tunes and Barbra Streisand covering Iron Maiden. And how long before a band takes the stage with no human at the mike, but boasting an amazing voice, regardless?
The article then points out that, with this in place, the entire process of song production could be automated. Lyrics could be pieced together from a database of stock phrases or using a narrative engine (though, then again, given how songs can succeed without the lyrics making sense (look at any 90s Eurodance hit), that may not be necessary); instruments can be synthesised (this includes guitars; I have in my collection a program named Virtual Guitarist which does just that, passably if inflexibly in places, though certainly well enough for pop songs), and the mixing can be automated. Finally, the hit quality of the finished product can be mathematically assessed using the Hit Song Science algorithm, and a genetic algorithm used to evolve the catchiest song. All stages of the process (from instrumentation/lyrical content to final scoring) could be tweaked using market research ("Electroclash is out, booty bass is coming back ironically, chip tunes are the dog's bollocks, and 90s grunge retro is due any day now"). And then we may all end up living in a Greg Egan story.
In 2003, we have 2GHz Pentium boxes, which we use to surf the web and check our email. This means that we have all that left-over CPU power to emulate vintage machinery, like arcade machines and old computers and analogue synths, and analogue televisions
Yes, analogue televisions. The latest release of jwz's big boffo compedium of doovy display hacks, aka xscreensaver, has code that emulates the circuitry of a NTSC television; originally, this was intended for an Apple II emulator, including the blue/orange fringes of letters. Gradually this evolved into a general-purpose TV emulator, one which can add authentic ghosting, snow, colour distortion and other television artefacts to the JPEGs on your desktop. Which is pretty nifty, in a somewhat perverted kind of way.
As computers get faster, emulators get more and more fine-grained, and evolve from emulating the high-level behaviours of the machines to emulating their implementation, down to the electrical characteristics of the circuits. How long until we see, for example, TB-303 emulators which simulate the cheap, loose-tolerance components used in the original 303s, or analogue synth emulators that come realistically untuned as they "warm up", neatly getting rid of that unsexy digital precision?
This looks potentially interesting: the Zero Install System, an experimental alternative to packaging systems for Linux. Instead of installing software, users run the software from the website on which it is hosted; the Zero Install System downloads and caches the binaries and libraries as they are needed. Additionally, it runs without root privilege.
The Dashboard project looks quite interesting. It's a bit vague (the only documentation is a developer's diary, with screenshots) but it appears to involve applications (terminal windows, mail programs, IM clients) sending XML-based "cluepackets" to each other, looking up information related to the subject at hand and then sending it to a "dashboard" sidebar for display; i.e., if a friend's ID appears in GAIM, a cluepacket is sent off to various agents, which match it against their address book card, and the dashboard shows their message logs and the RSS feed of their blog. It's a GNOME thing; not sure whether it's integrated into the GNU Network Object Model (whatever that is) or whether non-GNOME applications can play as well. It's good to see open-source developers trying something novel rather than just chasing taillights and trying to implement a GPLed equivalent of your favourite Microsoft/Adobe/Electronic Arts title, only five years later. (via Oblomovka)
Mozilla 1.4 is out. And they've finally fixed it so you can disappear the Print/Search buttons that clutter the interface. Though now it freezes when you change virtual desktops, or at random intervals. Time to get familiar with Konqueror, I think.
Good news; a Trolltech developer now has KDE building on MacOS X; this is presumably without an X Window server. Which means that you soon will be able to wait ages for your KDE apps to load up and/or do things whilst looking at the lickable native OSX interface. (via Richard)
Uh-oh; Microsoft has bought VirtualPC, the PC emulation software for MacOS, extending their grip yet again.
Google buys Pyra Labs, the company who brought blogging to the masses with Blogger (that's the web-based blogging tool everybody used before Movable Type) and free ad-supported hosting service BlogSpot (that's sort of the GeoCities of blogs).
Apple surprise everyone with their MacWorld announcements. No video-enabled iPods (though if you want that sort of thing, you can buy an Archos Jukebox; I hear they're pretty doovy), but we get two new Bluetooth-enabled PowerBooks (including a 17" model), revamped software tools, and a Safari, a new web browser (Apple's second; remember Cyberdog, which they killed after MS persuaded them to become an IE shop?). The interesting thing about Safari is that it's based on the open-source Konqueror HTML engine used in KDE, bypassing the favourite Mozilla; Apple have promised to be good citizens and contribute all their enhancements back to Konqueror, which should help it as well,
Apple have shaken off the not-invented-here mentality that dogged the Macintosh for a long time, and now are keen to borrow and share technologies. For example, the iPod is mostly based on off-the-shelf components, including a third-party embedded OS, and there is a lot of open-source software under the hood in MacOS X (i.e., large swathes of FreeBSD, CUPS, Perl and Python), and now KHTML is in Safari. Probably a good choice; it'll save Apple diverting resources to reinventing the wheel, all for the very minor cost of sharing innovations in this area with the open-source world.
Nifty MacOS X program of the day: iTerm, a better replacement for Terminal, featuring Mozilla-style tabs. (via bOING bOING)
Psyco, a just-in-time compiler for Python. Unlike most JIT compilers, it's a specializing compiler, meaning that it makes several versions of each function, optimised for different data sets. The author claims it can accelerate Python algorithmic code to C-like levels of speed, obviating the need to write C modules. (via NtK)
"Girl" is a very odd name for an audio synthesis program, but the description sounds pretty doovy. Basically it's a modular sample-based synthesizer/mixer of sorts, which can apparently work standalone or as a VST plug-in, and can be controlled in realtime using the keyboard or 2D 'plane controllers'; which brings to mind all sorts of glitchy loop-based laptop mayhem. The demo MP3s on the site also sound quite promising, in a What Is Music? sort of way. Though whether it's worth the A$200 or so it'd cost to register it remains to be determined.
Software for reading Canon RAW image files under UNIX, and converting them to PNM files.
Today I went to a talk on a rather interesting piece of software named Circle. This is a new, experimental peer-to-peer communication system with no central servers or points of control whatsoever, organised along the lines of a distributed hashtable. It was designed by a PhD student at Monash University (where the (centralised) Goofey messaging system originated a decade earlier). The Circle client, which is written in Python, includes instant messaging, a decentralised news service based on trust metrics and file sharing/searching using the distributed hash table; it seems pretty interesting.
Abandonware news: Desqview/X released into the public domain (though without sources). I recall that it looked pretty impressive; it could run remote X11 applications and multitask DOS/Windows apps, all in a tiny amount of RAM. Not sure how useful it is these days, though. Anyway, there's a mirror here, and a Slashdot discussion here.
Penguinheads, take note: Borland's Kylix development environment for Linux is now available for free , but only for developing GPLed software. Which is a nice gesture on Borland's part, giving something back to the free software community and all. (you probably saw this on Slashdot already)
Doovy! there's now an open source outline font editor for Linux/UNIX. Given that Fontographer has not been in development since 1996, perhaps open-source tools are the way to go. (ta, Toby!)
An interesting interview with Jim Gettys, architect of the X Window System, where he puts paid to the myth of X bloat.
Most of the perception of bloat is caused by how Linux reports memory. An X server maps the display card into its address space, and on current graphics cards this can easily be 8, 16, 32 or even 64 megabytes of address space (for the frame buffer and registers of the display). Naive people look at "ps" or "top" and draw the wrong conclusion.
Another possibly useful piece of software: JSynthLib, a GPLed synth patch librarian written in Java; believed to run under Windows, MacOS and Linux. It has support for a number of synths, though the Roland JP-8000 isn't one of them (yet). It also has an interesting-looking "cross-breeding" function.
Mozilla 0.6 is out; it's basically bug-for-bug identical to Netscape 6.0, except less bloated, not quite as sluggish and without the advertisements in the menus. (via Slashdot)
Good news on the emulation front; Plex86, which aims to become a free VMWare-like virtual-PC program for Linux, now boots Linux normally. Granted, Linux on Linux is not particularly impressive from a practical point of view, but it's a step to running Windows on Linux, not sacrificing having a real OS on the machine. Meanwhile, Windows emulator WINE allegedly runs Word/Excel 2000 on Linux. No Internet Exploiter though.
Interesting software du jour: Mac-on-Linux, which allows you to run MacOS in a window on top of Linux/PPC (a bit like SheepShaver, only this one is GPLed). I should probably have a look at it at some stage (if I decide to play with Linux/PPC once I get more disk space on my Mac); though I probably wouldn't end up using it much (I suspect Cubase VST probably wouldn't run on it as efficiently as on MacOS alone).