Friday, October 14, 2011

Fall odds and ends

Internet woes
The internet has not been all good to me recently. I often shop online and encourage everyone do so, but when things go bad, it can (apparently) be a pain to get your money back.

My first (and second) internet mishap happened while I was trying to buy an RME Fireface 800 on Ebay. On two separate occasions, after winning the item and paying through PayPal, Ebay removed the listing because they suspected it was fraudulent. I got my money back in full in both cases, but it took a couple weeks for PayPal to go through its formal complaint process. Weeks during which my money was tied up and I couldn't use it to buy a Fireface 800. After going through this twice and suffering through another bad experience (see below), I decided to buy a new interface from a Canadian store. The transaction went smoothly and I had the interface within the week.

Internet woes (Part II)
My internet misfortunes continued as a result of a transaction I initiated in late June when I ordered a mute from an online retailer. This mute has a microphone pickup inside it and I intended to use it in my meta-trombone project, so I was quite keen to get it (and very happy to find a retailer in North-America). But it wasn’t coming. So I contacted the seller in July and again in August. By mid-August I wanted my money back. When I received no reply from the seller, I lodged a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and informed the seller. No reply from the seller.

Early in September, I reviewed the seller’s novel approach to customer service on an internet forum and I informed the seller. The seller promptly went apeshit. Whereas he could’ve taken this opportunity to renew communications with me and apologize for missing my previous correspondence, he called me a liar and publicly insulted me on the forum. Certainly not the professional behaviour one expects from a seller… Regardless, the seller agreed to refund me (less restocking fees). However, the seller also sent an email to the Better Business Bureau impersonating me in which ‘I’ apologized and withdrew my complaint. I won’t actually name the seller (due to repeated threats of legal actions), but I would encourage any reader to contact me before placing any significant order for musical equipment from an online retailer located in the north-eastern United States.

Computer woes
One thing you shouldn’t do with your MacBook Pro is to drop it on the floor. Take my word for it. No need to try it for yourself. This could’ve been much worse, but I got off with cosmetics bruises and a dead hard-drive. This is not too problematic, since I’m rather paranoid about backing-up my data. Up until now, I’ve been using CrashPlan to backup my main drive and while I thought it worked quite well, having spent some time with its restore function has made me yearn for another approach. I’ve since switched to Carbon Copy Cloner and I heartily recommend it for all your OS X backup needs. The best thing about it is that it creates a bootable duplicate of your disk. This means there is no down time and no need to reinstall software (and search everywhere for licence information). Also, it doesn’t put your files in an undecipherable proprietary format that makes it impossible to locate files without using the software in question (that is so 20th century).

Learning stuff
Having successfully demonstrated competency in rudimentary university-level mathematics, I’ve started learning computer programming at l’Université du Québec en Outaouais (in accordance with my previously mentioned epiphany). I’m currently enrolled in the introductory Java programming course, but after going through the Stanford introductory course, this one is a breeze. Feeling inadequately challenged, I also signed-up for a free online course at Stanford in artificial intelligence. I’m one of 180,000 or so students enrolled. That’s nuts.

I’ve also been teaching myself to code in Scheme. Not only because it’s the coolest programming language I’ve ever seen, but mainly because it’s the lingua franca of livecoding (see Impromptu comments below).

To solidify my hold on both mathematics and programming, I’ve been using Java, C++ and Scheme to solve mathematical problems posted on Project Euler. I’ve only solved 19 problems to date and I wish I had more time to spend on these, since it’s great fun, it makes me feel smart and I’m learning stuff. What else can you ask for?

Not much development since I last posted about the meta-trombone, but a lot of conceptual work happening behind the scenes (mostly thinking about effects). I’m now very interested in Impromptu and its novel blend of coding, AudioUnits, OSC and MIDI. I’m not sure exactly how it will be involved in this project, but I know it will be. One thing that Impromptu allows is to rapidly create AU by compiling using its AU wrapper. This would make it possible to create some signal processing wonders of my own and also to implement some of my Bidule patches as compiled code, thus increasing efficiency. Normally, there’s little drawback to using Bidule, but my audio to midi patch is a bit of a drain on the CPU and could be improved by moving it to Impromptu. This livecoding platform also has some interesting video applications that I’m more than willing to explore.

Camera (film)
I purchased an old canon film camera and a couple of lens online and found an old light table locally. I’m amazed at how cheaply this equipment can be had… an equivalent digital setup would’ve meant an investment of several thousands of dollars. For a bit over $200, I have seven lens, an SLR and a light table. Amazing.

My main reason for getting these technological vestiges of a previous century is to further explore a collage technique that I learnt from Collin Zipp when I attended a workshop at Daïmon. During this workshop, I created a little video from cut-up and scratched film negatives. While the video is ok, what struck me was that a lot of the individual frames made stunning images in themselves and I’d like to explore that in the coming months, perhaps using this technique to create a short comic.


  1. Sounds like some action packed interaction with the fine retailers on the internet. I hope the rest of your autumn goes smoother.


  2. You and I will have to talk further about Impromptu, bidule, and other goodies — have been looking/thinking along parallel lines in this regard!

    Loop on!

  3. @Danny: yeah things are already looking up... quite happy I'm so diligent about the backups, I'd be in an entirely different state of mind right now.

    @Dennis: looking forward to it! My motivation behind all this is to be able to use studio musique concrète techniques in live performance (things like cuts/splices, loops, overdubs, change in playback rate). Additionally, I want to control these things with my trombone. I spent years learning to do very precise things with that instrument and I want to be able to reuse those gestures to control effect parameters. I don't want to develop that level of proficiency with a midi controller... it's too long! My ideal is to have the trombone performance used both as musical material and control signal (either simultaneously, or alternatively).

    The challenge is interpreting trombone performance into signals that can be used to change parameters. That's where bidule and impromptu come in...

    However, once the computer knows what I'm doing, it opens up a bunch of possibilities... I can program the computer to react to what I'm doing and this leads me to studying AI and algorithmic compositional strategies. It's all neatly integrated, I guess.