Friday, April 28, 2006

Linux Xara Xtreme: Almost there!

I watch with anticipation how Open Source version of this vector drawing program comes along and starts resembling something useful. Note that Xara Xtreme is not being developed for Linux from scratch - it's being ported from originally closed source commercial project. That means the features keep appearing very quickly.

While testing today's build, I noticed that "Save" now works. That means I can start trying out various more complicated tutorials. It looks very, very promising. Give it a try: Just download and unzip the short archive anywhere and run the only binary you find in it.

Of course, don't forget that it's currently beta, maybe even less than that. Many features are not yet implemented/ported but it's surprisingly stable.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Big in Japan

Please visit to see random bits of stuff that gets shown on Japan TV. Note that you could basically sit in the hotel all the time and be never bored of extraordinary things you see there. Banzai.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Monday, April 17, 2006

Bunny Mandala

Mandala is supposedly "any plan, chart, or geometric pattern which represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically". Usually circular. Of course, on Easter, Mandala can also be made out of bunnies!

Blue-Red-White Easter

During the Easter, it's Czech custom to boil and paint eggs. Are they supposed to be Jesus' eggs? I have no idea.

Thus, we painted Albert in national colors (with harmless hair dye).


Thursday, April 13, 2006

Real Linux Review

Here is an interesting review of Linux. You see, this is not a review of any specific Linux desktop or applications. This is a review of what Linux kernel can do in comparison with Windows kernel. I needed this.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Dirt Cheap Music Studio

One of the reasons I was bought the new laptop was my longing for miniature music studio, indepent of my main computer. It is now done and here are some pointer how to create dirt-cheap (but legal) digital music studio. It's definitely not a professional or even semi-professional setup, but for a guy who liked to "compose music" using assembler instructions, this is pure heaven.

Dirt Cheap Music Studio

First of all, the saddest news: I am afraid that Linux is still not ready for creating music. Please note that I wrote creating music, not mixing music. If you want to record and mix audio generated by your instruments or other audio sources (and apply some effects to it), you can probably be content with Ardour or other Linux software. I wrote "probably" because I want to use my computer to generate music, i.e. I need sequencer, synths, MIDI input, automation...

Ther are Linux projects that aim to do this, specifically LMMS. However, they still have very long way to go before they will be as good in comparison to FL Studio and Cubase as Gimp is in comparison to Photoshop.

That means you need Windows and you have to buy some audio software (remember, we are talking about legal audio setup). (Of course there are also Mac audio applications but that's uncharted territory for me, sorry.) FL Studio costs between $100 and $300 (which includes lifetime upgrades), depending on which plugins you want to use. I tried many different audio applications and I still prefer FL Studio. This is probably because I was first a programmer and then a musician and I think the automation and parametric stuff that FL Studio offers for creating and manipulating sound is unmatched. - If you understand what you are doing, which is not easy for everyone. You absolutely have to read the documentation and look at how some demos are done.

(There is also free Buzz music system, which is usable for some minimalistic Kraftwerk/MODtracker stuff but cannot be compared to FL Studio.)

Note that FL Studio also includes lots of effects, harddisk recording, sample editor, tracker, piano roll, lots of ways to create drum loops and nice multichannel mixer. You don't need to buy any other software! It's all quite daunting but you can download the free demo version which contains all existing plugins so that you can decide which of them you want to buy. (The demo is fully functional and includes several tutorial and demo songs but doesn't allow you to save your work.)

Fl Studio uses only 100% software synthesis which brings us to rather important point: If you only want to create stereo sound (and not 5.1, for example) It doesn't matter what soundcard you have at all, as long as it is capable of outputting 16-bit stereo samples at at least 44.1 kHz, which is true for 99% of all audio cards manufactured in the last 10 years. What matters is the processor speed and (to a smaller extent) RAM size. If you have twice as fast processor, you can play twice as much voices or use twice as much effects. RAM is good if you use long samples. I cannot give you exact numbers for your needs but I can get very wild (meaning dozens of voices and effects in realtime) with 1,7 GHz Pentium and 512 MB of RAM (but of course different instruments and different effects eat up different amount of your processor cycles).

Then you need some headphones to plug into audio output jack of your PC and you can start composing. This is enough for me. If this is not enough for you, you have to invest in speakers, which might in turn mean that you have to buy better soundcard with gold-plated connectors, which might in turn mean that you have to get yourself a better room with better acoustic, etc... etc... Unless I'm going pro, I'll stick with the headphones, thank you very much.

You can theoretically control FL Studio using only computer keyboard and mouse. Although this is hardcore and oldskool, believe me that you'll enjoy composing much more if you have some sort of MIDI controller. If you want to create electronic music and "mix and tweak" rather than "compose", you can buy very cheap MIDI controller (I prefer this one but there are many different). Note that it doesn't have to output any sound and that it should have native USB connector (so that you can connect it directly to PC and don't have to buy separate MIDI->USB converter). If you want to compose melodies and try out your ideas on something that resembles the real piano, you can use large MIDI keyboard, maybe in conjunction with the smaller MIDI controller. The smaller one can be used for tweaking various parameters using the knobs and for transport control (starting/stopping/rewinding). Note that all of this is handled by FL Studio! Your keyboards only need to output MIDI data when you push the keys and turn the knobs.

If you want to create crazy electronic sounds, you can use the default free FL studio synths, buy some more or you can use many freely available VST plugins which are supported by FL Studio.

If you want to create something that resembles real live instruments, the most efficient solution is to buy "SoundFont Player" plugin. You can then find surprisingly good orchestral and vocal SoundFont files on the Internet for free. Alternatively, you can create your own.

The last important factor is sound latency. Under the default circumstances, there is a slight delay before the sound starts after you press the key on the keyboard. It's only a fraction of second but it's uncomfortable when you record live performance. The simplest solution is called Asio4Free (although there are other similar drivers, tailored for specific soundcards). After a little bit of experimenting with this free driver and FL Studio output setting, I lowered the latency to under 1/100 of second which cannot be noticed by human ears.

If you want to create MP3 to give to your friends, you are done and you don't need anything else (except, maybe, talent, but that's not strictly necessary). If you want to use this setup for something more professional (CD mastering, film soundtrack), it can also be done. When you finish your composition, export the audio parts, one by one, to separate WAV files and give them to the guy who will handle the sound mix. Warning! You must not tell him that you did all of this using FL Studio and that you don't have any speakers at home!!! Just tell him that you are not good at 5.1 mixing and you trust his excellent skills...

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Tom Cruise's Secret Gay Lover

First of all, a little background: "VyVoleni" is Czech reality TV show in the similar vein as "The Big Brother". It is broadcast on TV Prima. One of the contestants on the show is Petr Krejczy (a.k.a. "Pity"). I don't watch the show very often so I am not quite sure about his sexual orientation but it's no secret he is not exactly straight.

During the recent broadcast, Pity told everyone in the house (and hundreds of thousands of TV viewers) that he had sex with Tom Cruise. To quote him:
"When touring the USA with our travesty show, we ended in small Los Angeles cabaret with almost no audience. After the show ended, I went to the bar where I saw really attractive man. At first, it didn't occur to me he's famous. Only after while did I recognize he is Tom Cruise. We talked for a while and then went to the hotel. I don't have to tell you what happened. In the bed, he is excellent lover and also very romantic. We made beautiful and tender love."
There you have it.

I hope that English-speaking readers of this blog spread the word about this article. I cannot wait for Krejczy, TV Prima and The Czech Republic being sued by The Church of Scientology!

9/11 Conspiracy: Very Loose Change

Here is a documentary about supposed government conspiracy surrounding the 9/11 terrorist attack, called "Loose Change".

Let me stress that I think this documentary is utter crap and the conclusions presented in it are laughable. However, I watched it because it shows many shots of the 9/11 events (planes hitting the buildings, buildings collapsing) I never saw before. Do you know of some online repository where I can watch for example the archived news footage from 9/11? There must be dozens and dozens of hours of it. I looked for it and didn't find anything substantial.

Invaluable help for translators

When translating movies, you get specialized "Continuity/Spotting Lists" which contain all the dialogue with detailed explanations about meaning of every sentence so that you can translate the movie without problems.

For example, you learn how to spell "Islington":

And you get to know what it means when somebody in the UK gets paid "200 grand":

(Both examples are from "V for Vendetta".)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Me and You and Everyone We Know

I don't care vey much about "arthouse movies" but occassionally, there comes one of them that does not bore me to death.

Case in point: "Me and You and Everyone We Know", opening in the Czech Republic tomorrow. It's funny, it's clever, it keeps you guessing but it has some sort of logic (although severely twisted). And it introduces us to brand new internet emoticon: