21 February 2009

Music and Learning

I recently started taking guitar lessons with the patient and wise Luke Westbrook. I’ve probably taken about 8 years of private music lessons, on and off, since I was 12. It’s great to back into it!

My current projects are to (a) transcribe the entirety of Vernon Reid’s tune “Afrerika”, including the guitar solo (I’ve got the tune and the first couple bars of the solo); (b) to try to match some hip new chords to Ornette Coleman’s “Jayne”. (Fsus9, #4 under a G melody? Maybe!); and (c) to learn a chord-melody arragement of “Naima” by Coltrane.

Over the holiday break I took a bass lesson from my friend Al Vorse in Minneapolis, and that was helpful too: a good technique exercise and some tips for walking over changes.

My old friend John was asking why I would take lessons again, after I’ve already taken so many. It’s a reasonable question, because after all you can play lots of good music and have good fun with much less education than I have. Many people do.

But I’m into music for the long haul, and there is always something more to learn. In my case, tons more to learn. My jazz education is pretty incomplete, and there are lots of technique things I’d like to clean up, such as playing everything without a pick.

It’s also important for me to concentrate on something outside of work, because my work is pretty involved and I could easily spend every waking hour doing software security engineering stuff. (Like music, it’s bottomless.) Gotta keep the brain flexible!

Making the Most Out of Simple Gear

After too long a respite, I’ve been playing music with people again lately. Last weekend I jammed with my co-worker Chris, and I brought almost all of my effects pedals. It was a mess! Too many wires, too much complexity, not enough reliability. Part of the problem was that I had them all loose, not mounted on a pedal board, but the rest of the problem was just the sheer number. Like Floyd Rose wang bars, that kind of setup is for people with roadies!

Then today I was jamming with a new group, and I brought only a fuzz box, my tuner, and the venerable Boss PS-2 Pitch Shifter/Delay. Three pedals feels about right. Then this evening I rolled them all up into a proper pedal board. I was thinking, “Perfect... But a chorus pedal would be nice.”

Then I realized that with the pitch shifter, I can get a chorus effect. I put it into manual pitch shift mode, then dial up the fine-tuner knob to unison harmony. Then, extremely carefully, I dial it ever so slightly flat. It’s easy to dial it a hair too far and get a deep warble swim effect (also cool).

For non-music-nerd readers, you’ll likely recognize the chorus effect as the sound Nirvana used in their song “Come As You Are”. I recorded a snippet of it without chorus, and then chorus kicks in halfway through.


Here is another, more complete example (an excerpt from the song “Nouvelle Chanson” by my old band Boshuda), again with chorus off at first and then on:


So now the Pitch Shifter/Delay is really three effects: echo, harmonizer, and a credible chorus. Three is a good number!

02 February 2009

100-year Software: Half-baked musings and some citations

Imagine a computer program which, when run 100 years from now on whatever computers they have in 100 years, produces the same output (given the same input) as that program does today.

Should the data survive, even if new software is required to interpret it? And/or should the software itself survive, still functional? I think it depends on the nature of the application: whether it is productive (Microsoft Word) or performative (a video game). The real hard problems arise when the data format is so complex and/or incompletely specified as to require an essentially performative application (examples: Microsoft Word, web applications).

  • http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/~howard/papers/sfs-longevity.html

    With a vast number of resources being committed to reformatting into digital form, we need to begin considering how we can assure that that digital information will continue to be accessible over a prolonged period of time. In this chapter we will first outline the general problem of information in digital form disappearing. We will then look closely at 5 key factors that pose problems for digital longevity. Finally, we will turn our attention to a series of suggestions that are likely to improve the longevity of digital information, focusing primarily on metadata. Though this chapter was written for the digital imaging community, the observations here will be useful for all communities wishing to assure the longevity of any type of digital information.

    In particular, this tragedy makes me sick:

    Though the advent of electronic storage is fairly new, a substantial amount of information stored in electronic form has deteriorated and disappeared. Archives of videotape and audiotape such as fairly recent interviews designed to capture the last cultural remnants of Navajo tribal elders may not be salvageable (Sanders 1997).

    How can we ever hope that the files we create today will be readable in our information environments 100 years from now?

  • http://constantine-plotnikov.blogspot.com/2007/02/software-system-longevity-paradigms.html

    The basic principle is that we ensure that the data survives, and an application is a transient thing anyway. It could die any time. Upon restart it will be able to work with the data again. Some data could be lost, but this is a known risk that should have been calculated.

  • http://lonesysadmin.net/2008/05/20/java-se-for-business-software-longevity/

    Now that virtual machines are killing the hardware replacement cycle I’m left with only my software lifecycles, which really aren’t all that much better than hardware cycles. If those get longer, and I can guarantee an operating environment for 15 years, the amount of staff time and effort it takes to maintain these operating environments will drop rapidly. I’ll be able to upgrade when it makes more business sense for me, like when I’m replacing an application, or I decide it’s too much work to support 7 different versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Not just when a vendor decides they’re done with an OS.

  • http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/Xplore/login.jsp?url=/iel4/52/15098/00687939.pdf?temp=x

    Software lives longer than most organizations expect — a mean age of 9.4 years for applications of fundamental importance to the organization, according to one study. And it is living longer than before, up from 4.75 years in 1980. Nonetheless, software should live longer yet. Long-living software has many advantages. First, as a software application survives, it works. It benefits the organization that created it and the users that use it, and it pays back its development cost. Second, as a software application survives, it changes continually, functionality being added and modified to meet changing needs. In this continual evolution or maintenance, software fulfills one of its characterizing functions: its modifiability, its capacity for change, its softness. Functions are embodied in software instead of in hardware expressly because they can be changed. Change, and the resources that go into change, are its mission. Finally, as a software application survives, its quality improves. Errors are encountered or found, and removed. An operational profile emerges, and the software is adapted to it. The users who access it and the applications that connect to it explore, exploit, and optimize its capabilities

  • http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=284308.284365&dl=GUIDE&dl=GUIDE&CFID=20195306&CFTOKEN=59168537

  • http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~yelick/cs267-sp04/lectures/08/lect08-mpi-intro.pdf

    Interesting remarks on slide 1.

Acrassicauda: Iraqi metal band

The NYT has this fun article about Iraqi metalheads Acrassicauda:

Vice tried to help resettle the members to Canada and Germany, and kept them afloat with cash — as much as $40,000 paid from Vice’s own coffers, sponsors and donations collected online, according to Suroosh Alvi, a founder of the company and one of the directors of the film.

“We had outed them and endangered their lives,” Mr. Alvi said on the way to the Prudential Center, where a small Vice crew was filming every handshake and wide-eyed glimpse of Metallica’s mountains of equipment. “They were receiving threats from Iraq while they were in Syria.” He added, “We had a responsibility.&rdquo