Dream Machine

Solved the base-level headaches I was having yesterday. Huge sigh of relief. I now have a free IDE called Eclipse running a C++ compiler and a bunch of open-source graphic widgets called Qt.

So why on Earth would I want to get serious about learning computer programming? Glad you asked.

I’ve written several computer-based interactive stories. I find it a fascinating medium … but there’s no money in it. Software of this type is, with very few exceptions, downloadable for free. Since I’d like to have a little money coming in, it’s very natural to wonder how I might be able to sell an interactive novel, either direct to customers or to a real publisher.

The tools for actually writing the stories (namely Inform 7 and TADS 3) are amazingly sophisticated and powerful. But they don’t create free-standing software. They create a story file that has to be loaded into and run within a program called an interpreter (‘terp’ for short). And the appearance and features of the available interpreters have lagged far behind the story development software. Read more

Autodidact Woes

I like learning stuff. Give me a book on the evolution of language, or on textual criticism of the Bible, or on Haydn’s keyboard style, and I can curl up under a lamp and be happy until bedtime. (And retain some of what I read, too.) But right now I’m being utterly defeated by computer science.

I’m a hobbyist programmer. I’ve written several text-based games, so I’m comfortable writing code, compiling it, fixing bugs, and so on. Ten years ago I even taught myself the basics of C++ and the basics of Windows programming, mainly just for fun. I used to know what a bitblt is, and a DIB.

Some recent discussions on rec.arts.int-fiction have led me to feel that I might like to get more serious about programming, specifically in order to figure out whether I might be able to write a more powerful, more flexible interpreter for running text games (my own and other people’s). I have some pretty specific ideas about what I’d like to see in an interpreter.

Better I should have picked up a brick and smacked myself in the head a few times.

Someone suggested I might want to look at a graphics programming package called Qt. Read more

IF, the Mac, and Multimedia

Now that Mike Roberts is updating TADS 3 to support audio fade-ins and fade-outs, I’ve revived a long-standing desire to write an interactive novel with my own music as underscore. Just one teensy problem, though: No one has yet written an HTML-savvy TADS interpreter that runs under OS X.

So if I go to all the extra trouble, Mac users will never be able to experience it. They’ll get a text-only version.

HyperTADS, by Iain Merrick and Andrew Pontious, is an OS 9 app. Read more

The Money Will Follow. (Or Not.)

I’ve just started re-reading a self-help book I bought 20 years ago, Marsha Sinetar’s Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow. It’s short and easy to read, and has wonderful supportive things to say on every page. All the same, her central thesis seems just a bit naive to me. Maybe I’m just wearing my cranky pants today. Not sure.

I love doing what I love, and because I have a natural interest in having a roof over my head, I’d certainly like the money to follow. So I’m going to keep reading. But it seems to me her thesis rests on a few unstated and problematical assumptions.

Read more

Ghost in the CPU, Part 2

After wasting a couple more hours on assorted computer maintenance activities, I still have clicks and pops in the ASIO audio output.

Being a little suspicious of the Yamaha mLAN bus, which is my usual audio I/O device, I hooked up an M-Audio Fast Track Pro USB and yanked the mLAN drivers entirely out of the system. I don’t hear quite as many clicks now, but they’re still there. Ergo, it’s not mLAN, it’s the CPU. Some background process is stepping in and hogging the CPU from time to time, causing audio buffer underruns.

I had a look through the long list of background processes in Task Manager, and disabled a few of them. God only knows how you’re supposed to do this — you can stop them from Task Manager, but I’m sure they’ll start up again the next time the OS boots. So I located the .exe files and renamed their parent folders with a _BULLSHIT. After a restart, I’m still hearing clicks and pops.

This is not supposed to happen in a modern computer unless you’re running tons of audio. Specifically, it’s not supposed to happen when the DAW’s CPU meter is at or below 40%. There should be plenty of CPU overhead available to handle momentary needs. But there isn’t.

I can probably reduce the number of clicks per minute by increasing the ASIO buffer size. That adds directly to the latency: MIDI-in to audio-out time becomes an issue if you’re playing a softsynth using a hardware interface.

I think I’ll just go play the piano instead.

Ghost in the CPU

My computer is spitting up. It’s a 2GHz Core 2 Duo laptop with 2GB of RAM, manufactured by MusicXPC. I know they optimized it for music production before it left the factory, but that was a year ago. Stuff happens.

I’ve been hearing occasional clicks and pops in the audio output. Read more

The Internet Changes the Rules

Late Friday afternoon a rumor surfaced in the music magazine community that Remix is shutting its doors. Whether or not this particular factoid turns out to be true, it’s been pretty obvious all year that the music magazines are not doing well. The issues are getting skinny.

This happens primarily because advertising dollars are drying up. But another factor is at work too.

The whole basis of nonfiction publishing, be it books or magazines, is that information is a scarce and valuable commodity. Money is to be made by gathering information, packaging it up nicely, and selling it to people.

The Internet changes that picture rather drastically. All of a sudden, information is cheap and plentiful. Read more

In Formation

I’ve been musing about possibly teaching interactive fiction (writing it) to a group of kids at the local library. Seems like it might be a lot of fun! So I’ve been learning Inform 7, which is the obvious top choice as a language for them to learn.

I’ve wondered about including adults in the class too, but after last night I’m not so sure. Read more

Play It Again

I love playing music. And I have lots of ways to do it. Too many, really.

I can play the piano if I like. (I have a very nice six-foot grand in my living room. I keep it well tuned and regulated.) I can compose my own music and record it into my computer using a fantastic array of music software. And of course I play the cello every day.

But the day is not long enough to do everything I might want to do, so I have to pick and choose.

My head is telling me that composing and recording my own music is a more noble, worthwhile activity than playing the piano. Read more

Able Was I Ere I Saw Ableton

For complex reasons, I’ve decided to try switching to Ableton Live 7 as my primary sequencer. It’s a wonderful program in many respects … but I’m hoping that maybe in version 8 they’ll finally get MIDI right. Live started out as an audio looping tool (an area where it excels) and didn’t even add a conventional horizontal track recording setup until version 2 or 3. In the MIDI sequencing area they’re playing catch-up with programs that have had 20 years to work out various tricky issues.

Like what happens when you stop playback, for instance. Read more