Understanding Ubuntu?

I’m doing some repair work on Spouse’s mom’s computer.  The sick toaster arrived on Thursday along with its disappointed users.  It had a “virus” according to the folk at the computer shop who wanted to charge her big bucks for fixing it.

I doubted very much whether this was the case and – at my request – the afflicted machine was presented for my inspection prior to the authorization of any such repairs.  I have my doubts about these repair shop chaps;  the primary hard drive wasn’t even connected to the mother board when I opened up the case of the machine.  A couple of quick connections later, I at least had the hard drive responding.  I now suspect that the master boot record, a file Windows needs to get started, has been damaged one way or another when the computer was being used.  I am hoping to attempt a repair.  There’s nothing wrong with the hard drive itself – I’m actually typing this post on the machine in question.   I downloaded an image for the Debian installation of (Linux) Ubuntu 9.04 and installed it on this machine earlier this evening.  (For those who don’t know, Linux is a totally free open-source operating system;  the advantage of the Ubuntu 9.04 version, as I understand it [easy there, Linux guys, I’m new to this] is that it can easily co-exist with previously installed Windows operating system, a neat little trick.)  My hope was to install this version of Linux and examine the contents of the hard drive (I don’t have the Windows backup disc right now, and the machine as presented was failing to boot into anything, so I needed an operating system that would grant me access to the hard drive.)  A couple of quick mouse clicks later, la voila, Firefox is up and running and I am typing this here post.

Wish me luck.  At the moment, I’m having some trouble getting Linux to grant me access to that portion of the hard drive partition that contains the Windows stuff;  I can see it (and the files it contains) in the Linux equivalent of Windows Explorer, but I can’t seem to manipulate data over there (can’t write files, can’t delete them either).  For now, it’s too late to continue the investigation.  But tomorrow is another day.

Like “Brewster’s Millions”, But Less Plausible…

This is how I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that print journalism must be anachronistic, irrelevant and doomed:  I have been asked to write a piece on the Leafs for publication in an actual hold-it-in-your-hand, you-could-drop-that-thing-and-bruise-a-toe book.   And get this:  I am told that I will be getting paid to do this thing.  From this latter fact, I conclude that the publishers of this tome are almost certainly lunatic immigrant millionaires with a tenuous-to-non-existent grasp on the English language.  Believing that they are allergic to money,  I suspect they have resolved to rid themselves of the cursed lucre in the most pro-social way possible;  by contributing to the publication of a well-respected and important medical journal filled with scholarly research.  I just pray someone has a camera when these well-meaning but misguided philanthropists are presented with the finished product – I foresee an instant and compelling portrait of blinking uncomprehension and, quite possibly, some feces throwing.

I can’t give out a lot of details at the moment, mostly because I don’t want you to steal this gig from me, but rest assured I will be pimping the book like a madman once it has been brought into existence.   As much as you are now staring at the screen, cursing the rotten luck that leaves you bereft of detail, I can promise you that you will someday remember fondly the happy times before this godforsaken book was mentioned by me in every sentence.

I’ll bet you can’t wait to be that unhappy.  In the meantime, I am busy trying to figure out how the hell I am going to manage to get everything done that I will need to:  for example, not only do I now have to find the time to research and write the piece, if I am going to be a writer I also have to make sure that I spend the correct amount of time bellyaching about how making the deadline is going to be a bitch and so on.  I guess this post is a pretty good start on that.  I must be a quick learner.

All kidding aside, I do have some degree of concern about taking on yet another project:  at present, for those of you keeping track, I am (theoretically) in the middle of:

And those are just the projects I’ve blogged about!  I also have it in my mind to convert some old VHS video to digital (I spent a large part of last Saturday wondering why I haven’t yet converted my copy of Leafs/Kings Game 7 in ’93 to an iPod-friendly format so that I can watch it whenever I feel the urge.   This, as much as it may be a cry for help,  is not a lie.)   There are also three or four crates of old vinyl LPs that are practically begging for my attention, so much of my (formerly?) beloved music desperate to enter the 21st century at last.

Anyway, no doubt some of my time tippy-tapping away at my article will take away somewhat from the time I have available to examine my navel here for your benefit;  you must be devastated, I can tell.  I have to say, though, that over the last week or so, I’ve enjoyed spending a few minutes in front of the blank screen with the cursor blinking and a hundred poopy jokes wanting to be written.  I guess I’m having fun writing, and I’ve pushed back a little bit at the multi-armed time-eating monster that my job has recently become.  I have been forcing myself to make just a little bit of time to sit here and flap my virtual gums at you, and it has made me feel a bit better, so I am going to try (see the list of projects above) to keep it up.

Seriously, stop laughing at me.

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Note:  The Spitfires lost to Brampton last night 4-2.  I recorded the game via Freecorder, loaded it on to my iPod then carefully avoided hearing about the score;  I listened to the game after I went to bed at around 11:30.  About two hours later, I was bummed out – and sleepy.   Anyway, Dad and I won’t be seeing the Spits claim the Championship Trophy tomorrow night in Brampton;  I just hope I haven’t jinxed them too badly.  We want another W!

The Domino Effect: Blender Revisited

A quick post today;  I was back to work for the first time in three glorious weeks, and I have to admit that it only took about two hours of the chaos inherent in office life to get me pining nostalgically for my morning cup of tea in the living room with the cat purring contentedly on the back of the chair behind me.  I will be calling it an early night tonight and trying not to get too exhausted in my first week back.

You may recall that some time back, I mentioned that I was fooling around with a package of 3d modelling software called Blender.   Part of my last vacation hurrah on Saturday and Sunday was to spend some quality time in front of the monitor fiddling about with this little package of digital wonders.  I was greatly assisted in getting back up to speed by a terrific series of tutorials posted on YouTube by super3boy.

The video below is a brief animation I rendered after completing super3boy’s 19th blender tutorial, on the subject of domino physics.   The animation shows a series of “dominoes” set up on a plane;  the first domino falls over and knocks over the next one in sequence, causing a tower of dominoes to crash to the ground.  It was remarkable how simple this was to create.  All it took was some very basic modelling – creating and scaling a mesh cube, really – then copying the “domino” several times and placing it on the plane.   Blender takes care of the rest;  the physics of the virtual world are already coded in the software and all the (ahem) visual artist need do is designate the appropriate objects as “actors” in the scene to be animated.  A brief key sequence starts the “game engine”, which is the piece of software that calculates the physical outcome of the scene you’ve created (in this case, tumbling dominoes) and – last but not least, a command to render the scene into the desired video format.   It took only about five to ten minutes of my interaction with the computer to do this;  the rest was taken care of by the software.  I am flabbergasted.  Blender is also capable of adding textures, lighting and shading effects to all of the objects (none of which are evident in the scene below, as I didn’t take the time to apply these effects), which is to say it’s capable of making the animation look a hell of a lot more realistic than the sequence below.   Right now, I’m just astounded by the ease with which this sequence was created.

I am looking very much forward to using Blender more extensively in some video projects I have germinating in the recesses of my mind.  I am especially anxious to explore the video compositing capabilities of the package, and to combine 3d effects created and rendered in Blender with actual video footage captured from live action cameras.

Project Squawk Begins

My work as a recordist on Saturday evening and Sunday morning (part of the Founders’ Day festivities) has inspired me to attempt to learn a little more about the voodoo magic that can be accomplished in a home stuido with one of these little fellas.   KORG D16 Digital Recording StudioOne of my co-workers is married to a fellow who also likes to mess around a wee bit from time to time with bleeps, blorps and squawks. A few years ago, when I was still a footloose and fancy-free bachelor with nothing better to spend my hard-earned dough on, he sold me one of these second hand.  I had quite a bit of fun fooling about with it;  I demo’ed one or two songs I had written that were to be recorded by the band (back in the days when it seemed like my bandmates were still interested in that sort of thing), and I did another couple of little parody songs (à la Weird Al) in honour of certain special occasions at work(a mentor’s fiftieth birthday, a colleague leaving for a new and better job, etc.).  I have now purchased the KORG D16 (pictured at right) from the same fellow;  I gather from the emails we’ve traded back and forth on the subject that he just hasn’t been using the equipment in the last year or two.

You may recall that I am the Reigning Monarch of Project Commencement;  finding myself with a new piece of equipment and an insufficient number of distractions (this blog, computers, digital photography, doing stunts on yard machinery*), I have resolved to learn how to become more technically proficient at engineering, mixing and producing audio recordings.

The first tentative (and admittedly very decidedly non-technical) step towards that goal was taken last evening;  I waded in to the storage area of our house (a small storage locker sized room behind the garage that permits us to store our accumulated curiosities and whatsits in a non-subterranean manner, unlike those of you with basements) and began searching for my DigiTech Studio Quad 4, a multi-effects processor that offers some cool fully programmable tools and effects like compression, reverb, a rotary speaker simulator and others.  Three hours – and a very large pile of discarded packing material – later, I managed to excavate the storage unit to the point where this particular relic could be recovered (as thrilling as this process sounds, I do not believe I will be anxious to add “storage unit archaeology” to the list of things at which I am a dilettante).

What a surprise I got when I opened up the little box into which I had secreted this most useful little gizmo.  Sitting there on top of it was a piece of equipment that I had forgotten I purchased – a Behringer MDX 1400 Compressor (pictured below with the DigiTech Studio Quad 4).   I had to sit and think for a second about how and when I acquired this thing.  digitech and behringer After a few minutes’ careful reflection, I recalled that the very weekend of my first real “date” with Spouse, I had been hanging out at Long & McQuade in Burlington;  I had, the very Saturday of our first date, purchased a companion to the Apex 460 Large Diaphragm Condensor Microphone I already owned.  All the better to record a stereo mix in  a spaced pair configuration.  While heading to the counter to plop the cash down for the second Apex 460, I passed a stack of the MDX 1400’s:  Messrs. Long & McQuade were having a sale.  The MDX 1400 was (and still is, unless its undergone a radical transformation while in storage) a stereo compressor – i.e. it is capable of processing two separate signals at once, typically one from a left channel microphone and one from the right.  As I was imminently about to become the owner of a matched pair of recording microphones, and the device needed to further enhance and beautify the signals they would be sending down the signal chain was sitting right there in front of me at a reduced price, I recall the spatial, economic and technical symmetry of it all being a little too much to resist.     I may have blacked out for a moment;  perhaps it was non-insane automatism, I don’t know.  All I can tell you is that, despite the fact that 460 #2 had very clearly taken my little studio well over its prepared budget for equipment capital expenditures in that fiscal quarter, I ended up standing at the cash checkout with a box containing the device tucked comfortingly beneath one arm, while the other arm extended a hand bearing a credit card groaning under excess strain.

A few minutes later, I was standing outside in the Saturday afternoon sun waiting for a taxi.  I was warm and somewhat euphoric from the spasm of gear acquisition.  The telephone rang and it was Spouse, inviting me to a barbecue at her place, an event which marked the beginning of our courtship.   The 460’s and the MDX 1400 did get unpackaged, set up and taken for a trial run or two – once or twice over the next couple of weeks.  They mostly stood idle, though, while Spouse and I negotiated the beginning of our path together.  When I moved in with her, they were packed into boxes and stored in the basement, as our little house in the City was far too compact to accomodate any home recording projects, as these have a habit of generating a considerable mass of wires, cables and cords, the various ends of which are distributed with entropic inevitability towards walls (and their power receptacles), cabinets and desks (on which effects, recorders and control gizmos stand flashing with input and output ports waiting for precious signal path) and a metallic forest of instruments, microphones and their stands.

Some months and years have passed now, and Spouse and I are happily settled together.  I always knew that I would come back to recording music;  that’s one of the reasons we were determined to end up in a rural area (all the more difficult to annoy neighbours in the course of the creative process).  It is time to set up this gear (in Mission Control at least initially) and see – or perhaps more properly, hear – what can be done with it.

I am going to attempt to incorporate two of my interests in this way:  as I explore the technical issues and experiment with the gear, I am going to attempt to document my results here.  I find that I learn things better when I am forced to sit down and concretize my thoughts about such things;  by summarizing and describing my efforts, I hope to reinforce the technical knowledge I gain.

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* attentive readers will note that I did NOT mention either my “lawn mower video” or the account of July’s fishing shenanigans, both of which are still in the mysterious project queue of my mind and both of which would quite obviously qualify as Part of the Kingdom of Inchoate Projects;  each of these undertakings bears some thematic relation to the more generalized list of  “Time Sucking Things I Piffle About At”, so I thought I’d try to keep the list – and the sentence – somewhat shorter.  You know, quibbling about such things might itself qualify as a time-wasting obsession – maybe you attentive readers share a bloodline with the Monarch.