Uncategorized

“I Am Not As Well-Suited To This As I Had Hoped”

I wrote this in May 2020, and am publishing it in March 2021. I didn’t publish it back then because it felt entirely superfluous, but I was quite interested to find it just now.

Well, this Covid lockdown business is tricky. I’m in a super-privileged position: at home with family I love and who all get along well; job I can do from home; no pressing money worries; not all that sociable; don’t bore easily. But even then I haven’t settled in to it as well as I had expected. Here, partly for the purpose of counting my blessings, I write down some of the good and bad things about the past weeks of lockdown for me. I’ve included as many pointless, trivial things as I can.

I like Not having to think about clothes. I get up and put on jeans and a T-shirt. If I find I’m wrongly dressed for the weather, I can just get changed.

I don’t like Worrying about everyone. The health and sanity of my parents, who would normally live a more social life than I would, but have reasons to be far more fearful. The stressful constraints on my children, particularly the 18-year-old. The low-level unease about everyone I see out and about.

I like Not having to set an alarm clock for 6.30am to get the boys to school.

I don’t like Getting up and going to work… in our bedroom, the only place I could put my desk in, in our two-bedroom flat with two full-time working adults and two school children in it.

I like The sense that the social contract is open to review, even if temporarily. Ideas such as providing free accommodation to the homeless, removing cars from the streets, and turning upside-down the entire hierarchy of perceived merit in the workplace are up for consideration. Maybe the field is open for more radical ideas about energy and work.

I don’t like Remembering why it matters so much that we consider new ideas about energy and work. This thing is a dangerous current that makes it inadvisable to swim from this beach today. Climate change is the coming tsunami.

I like The coffee. Much better coffee here than in the office.

I don’t like Video calling for work. Oh god, the video calling. I’m beginning to feel a little sick whenever I see a video window. I am bad at video. I will sit in a video meeting silently, unable to imagine that anything I have to say is worth unmuting for. I have trouble listening as well. I’m too aware of my own presence, what I look like, whether my microphone is going to make any weird noises if I have to use it, the fact that I’m transmitting from my desk in our bedroom, the hairbrushes visible on the chest of drawers behind me, the sudden unwanted transparency of our formerly private home. It reminds me of being a school child summoned to a teacher’s office for “a chat” about your terrible behaviour, and sitting there thinking about your own awkward presence in the room, nodding, then leaving with no recollection of what anyone said.

I like Knowing that there is always someone at home and never anything significant to go out for. It’s bizarrely liberating to know that I don’t actually need to remember my wallet, phone, or keys when I leave.

I don’t like The landed-gentry relationship I now have to anyone who is actually doing real work. I’m officially working, but I’m just sitting at home typing at a computer. I might as well be padding around in my slippers sipping a brandy. Then if I decide I’m a bit short on something, I put in an order and someone else, someone who is actually working, delivers it to me. I’m in a separate social plane from the real economy, and it’s a little sick. I am essentially useless, but I get to command people as if I mattered. This is not unlike the way it always was, at least since the last time I stopped drawing the dole to start a pointless web-based software job. It’s just made visible.

Uncategorized

Yes, there’s a fourth beta of Sonic Visualiser v3.0 now

Previously I wrote about the third Sonic Visualiser v3.0 beta release:

“This may well be the final beta, so if you’re seeing problems with it, please do report them while there’s still time!”

Well some very kind people did report problems, and so that was not the final beta. A fourth one is now up for download. Here are the download URLs:

Fixes since the third beta

  • Fix a nasty crash in session I/O in the 64-bit Windows build (this is the main reason for the new beta)
  • Provide more log information about audio drivers to the debug log file
  • Fix a very occasional one-sample-too-short error in resampling audio files during load
  • Fix invisible measure tool crosshairs on spectrogram
  • Fix a possible memory leak in the spectrogram

Keep the bug reports coming!

This one really could be the final beta! So please do report any troubles you have with it. Drop me a line, post a comment below this article, or use the SourceForge bug tracker. And thank you!

 

Programs for Music · Uncategorized

Help test the Sonic Visualiser v3.0 beta

A first beta release of Sonic Visualiser v3.0 is now available for download, and we’d love to get your feedback.

Sonic Visualiser v3.0beta1 on Windows

Sonic Visualiser is a free, open-source desktop application for close study and annotation of music audio recordings, developed in the Centre for Digital Music at Queen Mary, University of London. It’s been available for about a decade now, and v3.0 will be one of the most substantial updates it’s ever had. This should be a really good release, but we need to hear about the problems other people have with the beta versions before we can be sure of that.

Get it here

Update – 17th Jan: These are not the latest links any more: there is now a second beta! See here for details.

The first beta can be downloaded from the Sound Software code site:

There will be Linux binaries as well, but I’m still working on packaging for those. Watch this space. (Update: there is now an Ubuntu package linked above. I’d like to be making more options available, not least because I don’t actually use Ubuntu myself, but this is a start.)

Note that the beta pops up a dialog each time you run it to remind you that it’s a beta. Sorry about that, I know it might be annoying.

What’s changed

Here’s the list of changes since the last release.

Besides some new features and a lot of bug fixes, there are a few interesting internal changes:

  • Everything to do with sample indexing now uses 64-bit offsets, and it’s possible to load very long audio files that wouldn’t have worked in the previous release
  • Audio analysis plugins are now run with process separation so a misbehaving plugin should no longer be able to crash the host
  • It’s now possible to record audio as well as play it, and to select the record and playback devices in the preferences
  • The user interface now adapts fully to hi-dpi (“retina”) displays on all three platforms
  • For the first time the Windows version is natively 64-bit (if your Windows installation is, and almost all Windows installations are nowadays) — while still being able to use any 32-bit Vamp plugins you have installed

I’m quite excited about this release, so now I need to hear all your deflating reports about the things that aren’t working!

What we particularly need feedback on

  • Problems installing or running the application at all!
  • Problems running plugins that worked with a previous version
  • Problems playing or recording audio, glitches, error dialogs with complaints about audio drivers
  • Any crashes or other error dialogs
  • Any unexpectedly slow performance while showing analyses or running plugins

Note for Linux users

I mentioned above that I’m still working on packaging for Linux. That process also includes overhauling the INSTALL-file instructions, which are not quite up-to-date. If you look at the series of commands carried out in the Docker script at deploy/linux/docker/Dockerfile.ubuntu64 in the source tree, you’ll get an idea of what needs to be done to compile as things stand.

How to report problems

Use the venerable SourceForge bug tracker, or for quick reports you could just post a comment below, send me an email, tweet at me, etc.

For any problems that arise when using a specific file (audio or annotation), it’s massively helpful if you can attach an example file that exhibits the problem. In general, listing any steps to take to reproduce a bug (even if it seems to you that the bug must be so obvious that nobody could ever have missed it) is very useful indeed.

If you run into something and you’re not sure whether it’s a bug or you’re just being stupid, please do report it anyway. A program that makes you feel stupid is already wrong on some level, though I’m all too aware that Sonic Visualiser can do that sometimes because it is a bit overcomplicated in places.

Things we haven’t done yet

We had hoped to devise an easier way to obtain and install plugins in time for this release, and recent survey feedback suggested this would be a very welcome thing for many prospective users. Sadly we haven’t been able to do anything in that area yet, but I hope we may be able to soon.

Good Things · Uncategorized

Why I will be voting “in” this Thursday

Although the public debate about this week’s EU referendum in the UK has become absurdly bitter on both sides, I have had some constructive talks about the subject with people around me, even where we have disagreed. There is, or was, a reasonable debate to be had and it’s a pity we haven’t seen a sensible national discussion about it.

In the spirit of trying to be positive: here are five reasons why I would like the UK to remain in the EU, without talking about the personalities or made-up economic projections coming from the campaigns on either side.

1. The EU has a useful role in the UK in terms of long-term oversight

This country has no written constitution and has an effectively two-party parliamentary system in which each new government starts by setting out to undo whatever its predecessor did. Institutions like the European Court of Human Rights give us both longer-term continuity and a moderating influence across the various ideologies of the European states. They’re a good thing.

I might feel differently on this if I thought the Leave campaign were keen to make up for exit with better constitutional protections in the UK. Unfortunately the impression I get is the opposite.

(I think this argument holds even for lower-level things like food labelling and sourcing regulations. After all, those are also the regulations that mean a Cornish pasty is a pasty from Cornwall wherever you buy it in the EU, not just a meat pie from a factory in Denmark with Cornish Pasty printed on the pack.)

2. Our position within the EU is a great one

We have full membership of the EU without the tricky bit (the Euro) and with a membership rebate that we could never negotiate again. It’s the best of both worlds already. Any country in the world would envy that.

3. Leaving won’t give us more independence

I understand the argument that a state should strive to be self-determining as far as possible. I just don’t think that leaving the EU would have a happy outcome in that respect.

It wouldn’t change anything about who runs this country or how they run it, and it wouldn’t send a message that anybody would be equipped to act on. Our government would continue to have the same pro-business pro-international-collaboration outlook, for good or bad. We would almost certainly end up leaning more than ever on the USA, a country we would no longer have much to offer in return, while scrabbling around for other partnerships and making poorer deals with other European states.

4. Immigration is a red herring, but freedom of movement is a good thing

Immigration is clearly a subject that people feel viscerally about. But the sort of mass migration being exploited for this argument, of refugees from Syria for example, has nothing to do with the subject we’re supposed to be deciding on — we already turn those people away (Calais, remember?). I obviously have views about that (who doesn’t) but it makes no sense for it to be a pivotal subject for this referendum.

What is relevant is freedom of movement for workers within the EU. I think this is a good thing, partly because it’s how we can have world-leading research labs like (ahem) the one I work in, and partly because it cuts both ways — Britons can and do move abroad as well (permanently or temporarily) and this openness is a great part of providing opportunities and prospects for future generations.

People of my age or older may remember the 80s TV series Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, a comedy about British builders working in Germany. A central prop of that programme was that there was something ramshackle about their arrangement and that they were at the mercy of exploitative employers and tax rules as migrant workers. We’ve become unused to thinking of British migrant workers as being exploited in this way.

I know that there is also a narrative about other EU citizens coming to the UK simply to claim benefits. The great majority of people who move here do so either to work or to study, or because they are married to British citizens. Many British citizens draw benefits abroad as well. The overall balance of numbers doesn’t in any way reflect the anxiety people have about it. That anxiety is serious, but it isn’t something that this referendum can properly address with either outcome.

The question of what would happen to EU workers who are already in the UK, if we left, seems like such a massive quagmire that I don’t want to think about it. I don’t think it could be very harmonious.

5. I’d like to see positivity prevail

There’s something very British about willingly engaging in an endeavour (after a referendum!) and then whingeing about it constantly for the next 40 years.

The tone from British media and politicians for decades now has been mostly about how onerous the EU is and “what can it do for us?”, very seldom about the power it gives us or what we can do together with the other countries within it. This negative guff is forced on us by media barons who genuinely have no reason to give a damn about us in the first place, and it ends up setting a very miserable tone. Let’s resist!

 

Uncategorized

Console games and local multiplayer

We just got a Playstation 4, and have been a bit disappointed by the lack of good local multiplayer support in the games we’ve tried so far. I reckon every console game should support local multiplayer if it can: after all that’s the main thing that makes a console different from a PC.

(To be honest it pains me even having to write “local” multiplayer. I think of it as just multiplayer. The idea that players could exist elsewhere on the internet is flying in the face of nature.)

We got two games bundled with our PS4, Overwatch and Ratchet & Clank, both of which are neat games but neither of which supports local multiplayer at all. In both cases this is naively a bit of a letdown. Overwatch is a team game, exactly the sort of thing you want to play while sitting around with your friends (but you can’t! sorry), and Ratchet & Clank is a game with two protagonists that you might hope to be able to control independently in the style of the Lego adventures (but oops! sorry again).

It’s possible we just made a bad choice of bundled games, as there were other options. I don’t think any of the others were any better, but it’s not easy to tell from reading around, because summaries of the games online often don’t talk about this. (Does Uncharted 4 have local multiplayer? Does the PS4 version of DOOM? Though that’d be a bit wrong, DOOM is supposed to be played alone, jumpy and sweating and with the lights off.)

We’re on the lookout for possibilities. I’m sure there must be plenty; they’re just perhaps not the most promoted titles, maybe because their prime audience is not game journalists. So far we have Rocket League and the evergreen FIFA, both of which are pretty nice. I’m fairly clueless about the Playstation landscape, having a general affinity for Nintendo. Let me know if you have any more suggestions.

 

Code · Uncategorized

F♯ has possibilities

A couple of months ago, Microsoft announced that they were buying a company called Xamarin, co-founded by the admirable Miguel “you can now flame me, I am full of love” de Icaza. (No sarcasm — I think Miguel is terrific, and the delightfully positive email linked above really stuck with me; if only I could have that attitude more often.)

As I understand it, Xamarin makes

  1. the Mono runtime, a portable third-party implementation of Microsoft’s .NET runtime for the C# and F# programming languages
  2. the eponymous Xamarin frameworks, which can be used with .NET to develop mobile apps for iOS and Android
  3. plugins for the Visual Studio IDE on Windows and the MonoDevelop IDE on OS/X to support mobile platform builds using Xamarin (the MonoDevelop-plus-plugins combo is known as Xamarin Studio).

Then a couple of days ago, the newly-acquired Xamarin declared

  1. that the Mono runtime was switching from LGPL/GPL licenses to MIT, allowing no-cost use in commercial applications
  2. that Microsoft were providing a patent promise (which I have not closely read) to remove concerns for commercial users of Mono
  3. that the Xamarin frameworks for iOS and Android, and the IDE plugins, were now free (of cost)
  4. that at some future point the Xamarin frameworks would be open sourced

I’m trying to unpick exactly what this could mean to me.

According to this discussion on Hacker News, the IDE plugins are remaining proprietary (which appears to mean that no IDE on Linux will be supported, since the IDE plugins are not currently available for Linux) but that “the Xamarin runtime and all the commandline tools you need to build apps” will be open sourced.

What this means

as I understand it,

  • Developers working on proprietary .NET applications will be able to build and release versions for other platforms than Windows, using Mono, at no extra cost
  • Developers working on open source .NET applications will be able to publish the ensemble with Mono under the MIT license if desired and will (apparently) be free of patent concerns
  • Developers will be able to make both proprietary and open source .NET applications for iOS and Android at no cost using Windows and OS/X
  • There is a possibility of being able to do builds of the above using Linux as well once the SDK is open, though probably without an IDE

Unrelatedly, there are separate projects afoot to provide native code and to-Javascript compilers for .NET bytecode.

What I’m interested in

I do a range of programming including a mixture of signal-processing and UI work, and am interested in exploring comprehensible, straightforward functional languages in the ML family (I wrote a little post about that here). Unlike many audio developers I have relatively limited demands on real-time response, but everything I write really wants to be cross-platform, because I’ve got specialised users on pretty every common platform and I have limited time and funding. (I understand that cross-platform apps are often inferior to single-platform apps, but they’re better than no apps.)

Xamarin doesn’t quite meet my expectations because it’s not really a cross-platform framework in the manner of Qt (which I use) or JUCE (which is widely used by others in my field). Instead of providing a common “widget set” across all platforms, Xamarin provides a separate thin interface to the native UI logic for each platform. It’s hard to judge how much more work this is, without knowing where the abstraction boundaries lie, but it may be a more relevant and sensible distinction on mobile platforms (where the differences are often in interaction and layout) than desktops (where the differences are mostly about how large numbers of individual widgets look).

An ideal combination of language and framework for me goes something like

  • strongly-typed, mostly functional, mostly immutable data structures
  • efficient unboxed support for floating-point vector types, including SIMD support
  • simple syntax (SML is nice)
  • low-cost foreign-function interface for C integration
  • high-level approach to multithreading
  • can work with gross UI layout in HTML5 (possibly DOM-update reactive UI style?)
  • good libraries for e.g. audio file I/O, signal processing, matrix algebra
  • can develop on Linux and deploy to all of Linux, Windows, OS/X, iOS, Android
  • free (or cheap, for proprietary apps) and open source (for open source apps)
  • has indenting Emacs mode

Where F# appears to score

F#, Microsoft’s ML-derived functional language for the .NET CLR, hits several of these. It has the typing, mostly-functional style, syntax, FFI, multithreading, libraries, deployment and licensing, and potentially the development platform (if the open source Xamarin framework should lead to the ability to build mobile apps directly from Linux).

I’m not sure about floating-point and vectors or about reusable HTML-style UI. I’d like to make the time to do another comparison of some ML-family languages, focusing on DSP-style float activity and on threading. I’ve done a bit of related work in Standard ML, which I could use as a basis for comparison.

Unless and until I get to do that, I’d love to hear any thoughts about F# as a general-purpose DSP-and-UI language, for a developer whose home platform is Linux.

My impression from the feedback on my earlier post was that the F# community is both enthusiastic and polite, and I notice that F# is the third most-loved language in the StackOverflow’s 2016 survey. Imagine a language that is useful no matter what platform you’re targeting, and whose developers love it. I can hope.