Monday, August 28, 2006

Building a Better Snowball

The replacement BLUE Snowball microphone got a field trial when I used it to record a friend's violin concert. I'm pleased to say that it worked perfectly. No glitches, and the noise floor seems improved (although I don't have the original to do an A/B comparison).

I have put a followup review on Sweetwater's web site. Although the original malfunctioning device cost me a great deal of time and effort trying to fix the problem (or prove it was the microphone's fault) as I literally changed out every other hardware and software component in the whole setup, I am favorably impressed with BLUE's service. They told me they could not reproduce the problem, but given my litany of woe and the intermittent nature of the problem, replaced the microphone anyway.

I have not tried using it to do a podcast recording yet. I suspect now that I've gotten some experience using Apple's AUDynamicsProcessor plug-in, which does compression and downward expansion, the results will be considerably better.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Lisp Reality Check

"If you're a Lisper, you dealt with all this crap years ago, and now you're committed. If you're not a Lisper, then you're not very likely to become one any time soon. In fact your probability of learning Lisp is decreasing over time, as other languages continue to close the gap in the Lispy areas, and simultaneously increase their lead in non-Lispy areas where Lisp is making little (if any) progress."

From this article by Steve Yegge. It reassures me that I'm not insane whenever I get frustrated attempting to get back from a lovely toy Scheme program I've written, modeling state machines or whatever, back into someplace resembling the real world.

One peeve of mine that he didn't mention: the tendency to pronounce the cobbled-together mess of Emacs, a command-line Lisp, SLIME, and a number of somewhat ad-hoc libraries a perfect, rational, and final solution, because it can be made to work. In other words, if you want to use Lisp, you've also got to swallow the Emacs pill too. Yeah, it's really big, but I did it, the advocates say, and it's been good for me. Get a big glass of water ready. (I feel a rant on the subject of Emacs coming on, but I'll smother it for now).

The followup comments are interesting to read as well, most of them.

An aside: I can't quite disagree or agree with him on CLOS itself, having little to no experience with it; however, Dylan's implementation of objects is CLOS-like, and I really, really like it (and have used it for some non-toy programs).

The Boats of the "Glen Carrig" is Complete

The final audio files for The Boats of the "Glen Carrig" are complete and available. See the Hodgecast blog here.

I've been listening to the whole thing (it is about 7 hours long) and despite some technical glitches, I am quite pleased with the result. I'm considering what kind of recording project to take on next.

Next year the novel will be 100 years old. The story itself, according to the fictional date of its writing, will be 250 years old. I think this requires some sort of special commemoration. How about a banquet of salt pork and shellfish and broken biscuit, flavored with a little vinegar, and accompanied by a sound jorum of rum? For dessert, molasses mixed with a little hot water?

Or maybe some kind of live multimedia program involving artwork, music, and reading excerpts of the novel. It's a pretty vague idea right now, but there it is.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Finishing Up Boats

I have finished recording all 17 chapters of The Boats of the "Glen Carrig". All but two chapters are edited. Tonight I will try to edit the last two chapters and then pick out music and mix the final six. That's a big job, but I'll finish as much of it as I can; if all goes well I'll have the rest of the chapters available by tomorrow midnight!

This project has been fun, but sometimes tedious and frustrating. If I'm going to do another one, I have to figure out how to emphasize the "fun" part and reduce the "tedious and frustrating" part.

The text is difficult to read -- a lot of Hodgson's sentences are so painfully long that it is all I could do just to finish the sentence correctly. His other works aren't nearly as difficult to read aloud. His other works, that is, except The Night Land, which also is written in a difficult style. Giving it nuance in the form of an emotional performance generally took a back seat to just pronouncing the words properly.

Try it yourself: here's a sentence I recorded last night. Yes, it is once sentence, and I'm certain it isn't the longest in the novel. Try reading it aloud:
Yet, to please the fellow, I put my hand upon the line, which we had made fast in the evening to a large piece of rock, and so, immediately, I discovered that something was pulling upon it, hauling and then slackening, so that it occurred to me that the people in the vessel might be indeed wishful to send us some message, and at that, to make sure, I ran to the nearest fire, and, lighting a tuft of weed, waved it thrice; but there came not any answering signal from those in the ship, and at that I went back to feel at the rope, to assure myself that it had not been the pluck of the wind upon it; but I found that it was something very different from the wind, something that plucked with all the sharpness of a hooked fish, only that it had been a mighty great fish to have given such tugs, and so I knew that some vile thing out in the darkness of the weed was fast to the rope, and at this there came the fear that it might break it, and then a second thought that something might be climbing up to us along the rope, and so I bade the big seaman stand ready with his great cutlass, whilst I ran and waked the bo'sun.
Or, if you like nautical jargon, try reading this paragraph out loud without making a single verbal "typo," and putting all the pauses and moments of emphasis in their proper places:
And so, having gotten in our three jury lower-masts, we hoisted up the foreyard to the main, to act as our mainyard, and did likewise with the topsail-yard to the fore, and after that, we sent up the t'gallant-yard to the mizzen. Thus we had her sparred, all but a bowsprit and jibboom; yet this we managed by making a stumpy, spike bowsprit from one of the smaller spars which they had used to shore up the superstructure, and because we feared that it lacked strength to bear the strain of our fore and aft stays, we took down two hawsers from the fore, passing them in through the hawse-holes and setting them up there. And so we had her rigged, and, after that, we bent such sail as our gear abled us to carry, and in this wise had the hulk ready for sea.
Did you manage it? If you rearranged the words slightly you could easily make tongue-twisters: "sparred a stumpy spike from smaller spars to shore up the superstructure's strength to bear the strain of the stays." In fact, it is hard for me to believe that Hodgson wasn't smiling with glee as he assembled these sentences, thinking "let 'em just try to read that one out loud!"

Besides the difficulty of the text itself, I have been driven to distraction by my equipment and software. The BLUE Snowball was unreliable (although the replacement seems to be OK -- more on that later). The Logitech USB headset is also unreliable. DSP Quattro is somewhat buggy. The particular way I found to mix down the music track with the voice track for each chapter (basically, playing both tracks together live and recording the output) has a tendency to produce dropouts, and has to be done correctly in a single pass, because I'm recording "live" -- if I screw it up, I have to start the mix over. Due to some problem with the plug-ins, I was not able to get the compressor to run at faster than real time, and DSP Quattro doesn't seem to support any kind mix automation (except the playlist mechanism, which has been very helpful for final assembly of the chapters, but which is buggy in its own right).

I would love to produce a second novel -- perhaps either The House on the Borderland or The Ghost Pirates, but before I commit to another big project, I've got to get my recording process reliable, reproducible, and more rewarding to use! Otherwise, I'm producing sub-par work despite my best efforts, and that will just discourage me from actually completing the project.

Anyway, The Boats of the "Glen Carrig" isn't perfect, but despite the technical glitches and my limitations as a reader, it is close to what I had in mind. I am pleased with the results and I hope you are too. The next one will be better!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Creative Misspelling in Spam

One of my spam messages last night contained the Bayesian filter-evading spelling "ejacculatte."

Should I suggest it to Starbucks? I'm thinking the "Ejaccu-Latte" could be a big product for them!

Monday, August 07, 2006

My Review is on Escape Pod!

My review of Philip K. Dick's novel A Scanner Darkly was featured on Escape pod! I'm almost famous!

It's a two-part review; the reviews editor Jonathan Sullivan reviewed the movie.

Again I mention Escape Pod. Go check it out!

Five More Chapters

I have published chapters 7 through 11 of The Boats of the "Glen Carrig." Six more to go! I'm almost two-thirds finished! See the Hodgecast.

There are still occasional glitches in the audio files I recorded using the Logitech USB headset. I've gone ahead and released these episodes even with the occasional glitches in the recording. Trying to re-record and patch in a single word, phrase, or sentence, or even a few sentences, generally sounds worse than just leaving the glitch alone, and it is extremely time-consuming.

For the next few chapters I will try doing two complete takes of each paragraph, in the hopes that I can get at least one of the recordings glitch-free. That will slow down the initial recording, but I'm hoping that I can finish out this project without any major changes in process. For the next project I can then consider switching back to the BLUE Snowball microphone, or some other microphone. Maybe then I will be able to focus more on the glitches in my performance, rather than constantly working around limitations in the hardware.

Basically, although I'm not completely happy with the audio quality, I've had to decide whether I'm going to compromise my perfectionist standards and finish the project in a reasonable time horizon, or obsess over the glitches and push the completion date out indefinitely. I don't want to turn this enjoyable hobby into something punishing, or I'll never finish it because I'll start to dread working on it.

We're also facing some big changes when the new baby is born, and it is quite likely that if I don't get it done now, I won't get back to it for months, which could easily turn into abandoning the project altogether, as my focus moves on to something else.

If you are a perfectionist yourself, my apologies, but here it is anyway!

Followup on DSP Quattro

Well, I never received any reply from the DSP Quattro folks for the bug reports I sent them, so I'm not going to bother to send more bugs as I discover them.

There are more bugs. I'll mention two in specific: when working with a Playlist, DSP Quattro does not detect unsaved changes when you close a playlist, and so you can accidentally lose data by either forgetting to explicitly save the playlist, or opening a second one, which results in closing the first one. Also, although you can specify a fade at the end of the last file in your playlist, DSP Quattro apparently does not save this information, so upon re-opening the playlist, the final fade type and duration are always lost.

This lack of responsiveness means I specifically _do not recommend_ DSP Quattro; in fact, I "un-recommend" it. It's a great program, and all programs have bugs, but I would not advocate that anyone pay $150 for an audio-editing program that is not actively supported by its developers.

Red Hot Chili Peppers (or, Raising Children)

Let's consider the following scenario: you've brought home some very tasty Chinese food for dinner. Let's say the dish is Szechuan fish fillet from San Fu restaurant in Ann Arbor, just to pick a random example. This dish contains small hot chiles. You only have to eat these once to know that you may not want to do it again; they give a nice heat to the sauce, but if you chew them up, the result is painful. (Maybe you like this sort of thing; I used to be able to eat extremely hot food, the kind that resulted in a flushed face, heavy breathing, and sweat dripping from my nose, food that burned you twice, but I can't do it anymore, unless I want to have to spend the night sitting up in a chair eating Tums and hoping for the heartburn to subside).

So, let's imagine you are sharing this dish with your children. If you were giving it to a two-year-old, you would probably pick out some tidbits of fish and vegetable, go light on the spicy sauce, give her some rice to eat with it, and make _sure_ you avoid giving her any of the hot chiles. (Maybe your two-year-old doesn't like hot food; ours seems to be quite happy with it, even if it makes her cheeks turn pink, probably because pretty much since she was first able to eat solid food, she's eaten mainly smaller, cut-up portions of what we eat. She will even stop and puff out her cheeks and say "Wow!" and then eagerly reach for another bite).

But you definitely take out those chiles, for the baby. You do this because you aren't cruel; the two-year-old isn't fully ready to learn exactly what effect each part of the dish will have on her mouth. Her skill with a fork is still a bit limited, although she's making great progress; she can't pick apart the dish herself, and you don't want her to accidentally develop a fear of the food you're feeding her. You want her to trust you. You can't _explain_ it to her, at least, not yet.

But if you were sharing the dish with a twelve-year-old, how would you do it? I don't think you would pick the dish apart; you would, most likely, just tell the child "Here! Try this. It's delicious. But don't eat those little hot chiles."

What happens next, it seems to me, will depend on, and possibly reveal, quite a bit about your child's temperament. Some children might just say "OK," and carefully avoid the peppers... although perhaps not carefully _enough_.

But ours certainly would never do that. His first inclination is to tedious debate. "Because they're extremely hot," I say. "How hot?" he says. "Painfully hot," I say. "How painful?" he says. What remains to be said at this point? "They rate somewhere around 50,000 to 100,000" on the Scoville scale," I could say. I've warned him; I've lived up to the reputation for trustworthiness I try to maintain with my child; I haven't lied to him; I didn't try to surprise him. But how could I possibly convey what 50,000 Scoville units _means_?

There's really nothing to be done for it; the child has to eat one. The result won't be any permanent damage; as it turns out, it was one of the few times my son has ever told me "you were right!" But unless the child is willing to take it on faith, there's really only one way to teach that lesson. And he learned something; he doesn't _regret_ having decided for himself that he wanted to find out just how hot "painfully hot" is. And it is almost guaranteed that the lesson will be learned. He will now apply just the degree of caution that he feels is appropriate, based on his own risk aversion level.

I bring up this whole thing because it has seemed to me that I'm hearing more and more about parents who would somehow attempt to forbid the child from eating the chiles, or maybe even just try to avoid the issue by never bringing home Szechuan food. I can't imagine doing that. I would forbid him from eating cyanide; I'd restrain him from sticking a fork in his eye. But spicy food was (and still is, when my stomach can handle it) one of my great joys in life. Am I seriously supposed to tell my child he can't have that joy because he might fry his tongue a little bit?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Blessed Rain

It's been raining on and off for most of the day... and cooling down, thanks be to God!

Last night I went out and bought a Vornado fan, and made a mixture of water and boric acid powder with a drop of dish soap, and used it to shampoo and then spot-lift the carpet where the air conditioner had leaked all over it for the third time. Then I set up the fan to dry it. The idea is that the boric acid will inhibit further mold growth, and the fan will get it dried faster. I hope it works. The boric acid, packaged as roach killer, was festooned with warnings, but I think it will be less toxic to our family than unchecked mold growing in the carpeting. At least, I hope that's true.

Not only does the A/C unit still leak, but after they got done with it the last time, its cool air output dropped off to almost nothing. They told us a new unit is on order, but I'll believe it when I see it.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

It Wasn't the Post Office

We had thought that the P.O. lost a couple of our Netflix films. It turns out that they were in the van. I'm not sure if it was Isaac's fault or my fault. Embarassing, but they got their movies back. Side note: there is an option on the Netflix site to say "umm, the movies seem to be lost," but no option to say "whoops, I'm a moron, they aren't lost after all, sorry." I tried.

The Hottest Day of the Year

It is Tuesday 01 August 2006, and Weather Underground sez: 92 degrees F, with 59% humidity, giving a heat index ("feels like") 104. It looks like we tied, but did not break, the record. The predicted high today was 97. It looks like yesterday's high of 96 broke a record that has stood since 1955.

Tell everyone that yesterday was the hottest day of the year. Maybe if it catches on, it will become true, and it won't get any hotter in August!

I wound up out driving around today during the hottest part of the day, running some errands. I'm just finishing up a 32-ounce bottle of Gatorade, on top of a big bottle of water. I left the A/C off, which was not that bad except when we were stuck unmoving at a light. Which, come to think of it, was most of the time that the errands took.

There's a warm front with its big, sweaty rear end right on top of Ann Arbor, and I dearly hope it will get bored and move on soon! Grace is miserably hot, starting her 7th month of this pregnancy. I can tolerate it a bit better than she can, but I'm certainly not pleased with it, exactly!

Everybody's talking about the weather, but nobody's doing something about it! Here's what to do: spread the following meme: cooling your car will make it hotter outside, which will heat up your house. Cooling your house will make it harder to cool your car. Cooling them both will heat up Greenland. In other words, your A/C is killing cute, adorable baby polar bears and penguins, you bastard.

Actually, we had to turn off the A/C upstairs because the unit dribbled water all over the floor for the third time. (Thanks, Ann Arbor Woods, for ruining a number of my books). Maintenance came out again today and supposedly cleaned out the water and fixed it, although I'll believe it when I see it. Allegedly we have a new unit on order; it will probably arrive just in time for the first frost.

The rug has been soaked three times now, and it is starting to smell moldy. So I slept without A/C. Not that the rug is going to have a chance to dry out, exactly. Grace slept downstairs on the couch. I got to soak in a very damp bed on a very damp pillow. Eww. At least a very damp baby girl kept me company, until she got lonely for her mom and wandered downstairs. Then it was just Sticky Paul and his amazing Adhesive Bedclothes (they're Moisture-iffic!), until I gave up trying to sleep and got up.