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Archive February 2008
Wednesday 27 February 2008
I've been failing to get around to posting this (or something like it) for several days now, and a vocabulary error in a spam subject line has just made it more compelling:
subject: Want an Escape from the Dismal US Reality Market?
While I may not be in the US, I do still want an escape from the US Reality Market, actually. My discomfort with the UK is largely due to it become more US-ish. Australia wasn't doing a lot better. It's getting to the point where there's nowhere left that isn't part of the US Reality Market. Canada seems like the best bet that doesn't require learning a language, but it's so adjacent, and the immigration requirements make it a difficult task for such an uncertain result.

In the shorter term, I'm not enjoying owning a house after all. It's annoying and I feel trapped by it. I moved here because I'd be able to do things I want to do here, like archery, fencing, tai-chi and (added since) bouldering, but by getting a house in the sub-area I can afford, I can't actually do any of those things without either driving, or walking about an hour each way. Which restriction means I don't end up actually doing the things very often at all. The house is spacious, and I essentially end up not using most of it. I use the kitchen and the small bedroom, and the rest is just a waste of heating space and unnecessary distance I have to walk to get a drink.

And in this dismay, the idea occurs to me that a change is in order. A change that reflects this discontent and dismisses it. In which role has been placed the idea of getting a camper-van, and living in it. Fit with solar panels I should be able to get a hundred watts in the daytime even in the UK, and I can easily run everything I need on less than a fifty watt average. Internet access based on the mobile phone networks is finally just about up to the point of being adequate. Any half-decent camper-van has a cooker and fridge that can be run on gas. Showers are available by the simple expedient of going swimming. With a plain enough looking van, randomly selected road-parking ought to be adequate - so long as I don't stay in the same place too long, nobody would complain (or even know). I couldn't so much have people round, but it seems most often I end up going to other people's places anyway so that's hardly important. I don't think my dad would mind if I use his place as an 'official' address and for deliveries. Running costs would probably be less than a house even without mortgage payments - tax is less, no utilities except mobile, heating such a small space could probably be done just with me and my computer.

What aspect have I failed to consider in this tentative plan? [18:55] [19 comments]

Thursday 21 February 2008
I got another crazy drink from the African/Caribbean shop that's between my house and town. Today's crazy drink was some sort of "roots" drink, prominently featuring words such as "strong" and "muscle" on the bottle's blurb. It contained, if I recall correctly, both molasses and malt, in addition to "roots". The resulting flavour was "mmm, this is like sasparilla, but yuck now it tastes like cheap red wine" with an aftertaste of "I have just eaten a tablespoon of black strap molasses". Vile but compelling, like a Pot Noodle. [13:59] [7 comments]

Wednesday 20 February 2008
Today I discovered that there is a market which is nearer to my house than any supermarket, and that, ironically, it is super.

Also, I saw police on horses. Then a couple of minutes later, I saw a huge pile of shit in the middle of the town square. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure if a non-police-person with a dog had left that there, there'd be a hefty fine. Hypocrites. [16:29] [0 comments]

Monday 18 February 2008
Bit of a pointless thing for most readers I imagine, but I'm putting it here for Googlers (and one or two of you people I expect would be interested) to find; I've updated someone else's outdated greasemonkey script for a Kingdom of Loathing (KoL) pulverize helper. The updated script is here. [03:00] [0 comments]

Sunday 10 February 2008
It's so exciting! Finally I can order a pizza delivered via the internet, and get it without cheese. Every time I've felt like delivery pizza for five years, I've poked at the internet and found either no online ordering or online ordering with no "additional instructions" box. Now there is, and it works, and the pizza is even relatively reasonably priced at under £10 for a 16-inch vegetarian. And it was quite nice.

Now that I can, and I've done it once, I'll probably never do it again. [03:12] [1 comment]

Friday 8 February 2008
I went out to buy some printer paper, and on the way home passed a shop I have passed many times. It invariably has a sign outside advertising 25kg of potatoes for about 5 quid - I don't even know if that's a good price, but I'm always a bit tempted to buy them anyway, until I remember how far uphill it is to my house, and I walk past. Today, however, the door was open, so I peered in to see what else was in the shop. It was full of strange wonders, so I went in and purchased some.

One I purchased was a bottle of "MIGHTY MALT", whose ingredients appeared to be an approximation of "beer that didn't get fermented". It turns out unexpectedly that this drink was pretty nice.

Another purchased one is "Jamaican IRISH MOSS (Carageenan) vanilla flavoured drink", a strange can of nominal drink. To give you an idea of how 'drink' it was, it took about twenty minutes to pour into a glass. I suspect it's supposed to be like a protein shake or something, because it was utterly vile in that sort of way.

There were also several sorts of ginger-based cake that I could eat, one of which I bought but have not yet tried, the big bags of spices that I love this sort of shop for (twenty times a supermarket refill's size for close to the same price), a jar of unrefined palm oil which is a horrific glowing orange colour, a tin of some sort of leaves in brine that sounded like it'll taste like chili leaves (which are nice, like peppery spinach), "fufu flour" which I think is plantains, and a huge bag of cassava flour (unless that one's plantains and fufu is cassava). I didn't buy the huge bag because, like the potatoes, 15kg uphill made it less tempting than it would otherwise have been, but really, crazy flours that I've not seen before! Horrible things in tins and jars! I can never resist these temptations.

Also, Lunix drivers suck. Two possible drivers to pick from for my wireless card; the default one works for about 5 minutes then dies and requires a full reboot, the other option, after being a pain in the arse to install, also doesn't work at all. Working solution - installing the Windows driver inside ndiswrapper so Lunix can understand it. Apparently the drivers that don't work have been works in progress for about three years. [22:42] [3 comments]
A post for programmers who are being frustrated with bad documentation - Google didn't help me, but once it indexes this it might help someone else. In programming audio in the latest DirectX "hey it's Monday again, let's make everything work another new totally different way" upgrade to audio functionality, there is a function
About which the documentation says "The value of pitch may be between XACTPITCH_MIN (-1200) and XACTPITCH_MAX (1200), which is approximately one semitone."

Now the astute amongst you might realise that already this is annoying and ambiguous - what is approximately one semitone? The distance between -1200 and 1200, which is 2400, or a distance of 1200? Also, what the hell, when you're changing pitch by playing the sample at a different frequency you can easily go up and down by a whole octave by doubling or halving the frequency, why are you limiting me to a semitone? Well, thankfully, the answer to "which of these" is "no, it is neither of those things that could possibly be meant by that sentence."

Instead, a pitch of 1200 is approximately one octave above 0, and each 100 pitch is a semitone. So you can in fact go up and down by an octave, like you should be able to (though really there's no reason for it to disallow going two octaves if you want to, even though it'd sound crap) as well as pitching to nearby notes easily. It's a bit strange to have SetPitch operating on a linear scale like this since the change of frequency is an exponential scale, which conversion must presumably be going on behind the scenes in a manner that would be entirely unnecessary for my purposes since I could precalculate the desired frequencies, but oh well, at least it works and does what I need it to do.

Another malfunctioning function is
which "returns S_OK if successful, otherwise an error code." Except no it doesn't - if you use IXACTWaveBank::Play to start a sound, and then call Stop on the output IXACTWave pointer immediately afterwards, it returns S_OK but the wave does not in fact stop, which is horrible if the wave was set to loop indefinitely. However, you can call Destroy on the output wave object which will reliably stop it. I have no idea what's going on behind the scenes there, or whether one needs to call Destroy on every output wave pointer out of a wavebank.Play call to avoid memory leaks, because the documentation is fucking awful. Hooray.

In other good design news, installing Linux Ubuntu, the "user-friendly" desktop Linux. Step 1: graphical installer. Very posh and Windows-like. Here's a dialog box, fill it in. Here's another one to select your timezone. Oh you don't want to be able to click 'next' do you? Well good luck with that, Mr "only 800x600 screen" (or less, as, say, on an Eee machine), because that button is way off the bottom of the screen where you can't get it unless you know some arcane key-mouse combinations to work around it. This has been a known and potentially-easily-fixed issue for about two years. Oh Lunix nerds, you are so good at user interfaces.

And further on the audio front, is there really no preexisting function to make a segment of a wave file loop smoothly? It's getting to the point that I'm considering writing my own command-line wave file editor to perform the following operations:
  1. Find the zero-crossings in the same direction nearest to the given boundaries. (Existing software does this one.)
  2. Find the volume 'cone' in the selection and normalise it to a volume 'cylinder'.
  3. Also normalise into the same volume cylinder a small section out of the wave before the selected block, into a spare area.
  4. Cross-fade the spare block onto the end of the target block.
  5. Set loop point markers in the wav file at the ends of the target block. (One of the two pieces of software I tried can do this step.)
Hopefully this way I can make instrument notes where I can control the duration and volume of the note and it doesn't sound like a midi file. [16:42] [0 comments]

Friday 1 February 2008
Like DNA but bored of the same old quaternary structures? Irked that the only things you can spell are GATTACA, ACT, TACT, CAT, GAG, TAG, TAT, AT and TA? Science to the rescue! Add M and S to your genetic codes! Spell real 5-letter words such as MAGMA and AMASS! Experience the confusion that results from trying to decide which of "hexal", "hexernary", "sexernary" or "sexal" should be used to describe the new base!

But it's a New Scientist article so they probably really just made alphabet soup or something and it got all hyped up. [16:31] [2 comments]

Thursday 31 January 2008
Things that have been amusing me recently:

An alternate ending for a recent xkcd comic.

A video of Tom Cruise blathering about Scientology, with superimposed user comments, largely consisting of crude drawings of penises.

Crispin Glover singing a song 'Ben' that I don't think was originally about rats, and Clowny Clown Clown.

Sweeney Todd being more a Johnny Depp movie than a Tim Burton movie, which is to say I quite enjoyed it. Helena Bonham Carter was also excellent. Neither spectacular singers, but both very good actors for the roles. The inevitable Burtonisation (whee, I can fly a camera!) only irked me two or three times, and not too much, and when he's not aggressively wasting my time I do appreciate his flair for black-and-white-and-red photography. [03:54] [6 comments]