Archive for January 2010

Me v Wordle

Saturday 16th January 2010

Of all the lame excuses, I’ve been putting off registering for this year’s JISC Dev8D conference because the registration form says they’ll be using Wordle to make badges for everyone, and there’s a space on said form to provide a blog/RSS feed or bunch of text which can be fed into it to summarise our interests.

I’ve got three personal blogs including this one, although the fact that I only frequently update the one about my musical activities under the alias of Quextal, and that until very recently, Source Of Life, to which I have occasionally released potentially-useful but dreadfully hacky Perl programs, had probably been broken for months, says a lot about the current priorities in my life.

Unfortunately, feeding Quextal into Wordfondle fails to give a decent summary of what that site is about. Useful things like the titles of posts, their tags, categories, and the contents of Pages, are all ignored by the analyser, and so the result ends up dominated by the artists who most often feature in the tracklists of my recent mixes. Apart from giving the impression that I’m some kind of music industry plugger / agent / record label boss, it also makes me look like a complete stoner because of my support of one particular artist.

Using ContentedLife (wot you are now reading) instead doesn’t fare much better – I guess it conveys quite well something of my tendancy toward an interest in random disparate topics, yet utterly fails to bring out what I consider to be the most important waymarkers within that randomness.

If I’m to be represented by a disconnected soup of words, I want at least some of those words to be a reasonable reflection of my real interests and character, leaving room for a bit of serendipity of course.

So this got me thinking… how would I “tag” myself? What limited set of keywords would I choose to represent myself to a bunch of complete strangers, if I had the choice? Which I do…

As music is my first and truest love and passion, I’d have to start with some descriptions of my current musical boatfloatery 1: epic evolving psybreaks / electrobreaks / nuskool breaks, chunky progressive psychedelic techno, journeying synthorganic minimal techno, glitchy breakbeat crunk, and miscellaneous interstitial trippy electronica. Of which, psybreaks is my particular speciality. Obviously, trying to describe music using language is an exercise in futility 2 — especially my music — but as far as I know, there’s no MP3 player in these badges, so I have to use these clumsy labels as bait to tempt and seduce those who may enjoy the kaleidoscopic taste sensations of my synaesthetic electronic cocktails

(1 I am so pleased with my invention of the word “boatfloatery” (at the time of writing, not a single other hit for it on Google) that I intend to shoehorn it into a conversation at least once a day from now on, propagating its usage until someone I’ve never met adds it to Urban Dictionary…)

(2 The traditional quote is: “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” Usually attributed to Elvis Costello, but there’s some doubt about that. Anyway, I don’t reckon that’s quite right. I think of it like this: Trying to describe music is like trying to describe sex. It’s perfectly possible to do it, but it rather misses the point…)

I’d want to relate the fact that I’ve been hacking about with Linux, Perl, PHP and MySQL for so long that I’m about ready now to give the whole lot up and try gardening instead.

There’d be (in some cases, necessarily oblique) references to psychedelics and consciousness, healing and mysticism, Now, Spirit, Love, Nature, Gaia, and faeries. Ayahuasca would be explicitly named, for being all of those things while transcending them all.

It would make sense to throw in a selection of ideas that I find fascinating and engaging even though I’m never likely to get even close to fully understanding them, such as quantum physics (and metaphysics), fractals, stochastic resonance, sacred geometry, tectonics, astronomy, biochemistry, psychology, geography, weather, and basically anything that seeks to answer the question “How?” (even though we know that the real answer is it’s all just gnomes).

For the sake of a complete picture, I’d need to reference Eris, the number 23, and The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (furthermore known as The JAMs, also known as The KLF) — no longer the obsession they once were, but still resonant in the formation of my character. And yes, for the same reason, Monochrome would have to be there too… initiator of countless lasting friendships, not to mention an eight year relationship, and the two best kids in the world…

And, although it’s not really anything to do with my character (“you are not your job”, as a wise man once said), I suppose it would be sensible — given that this is a conference, after all — to include a couple of phrases about my present paid employment as a Linux sysadmin and developer, which currently involves a fair bit of hacking around with EPrints and other Perl 3 shenanigans.

3 Gets a repeat appearance to ensure it due prominence over that other scripting language beginning with P. No, not that one, don’t be obtuse. Although, basically, all programming languages whose name starts with that letter are rubbish, except Perl. True fact. It should by now be obvious why I make that exception. I, too, am Pathologically Eclectic…)

My original plan was to post an entry containing just these tags, repeating the ones I consider most helpful in summation of the mess of contradictions that is Me (psybreaks, for example, would have to recur several times). But while this would generate a more accurate badge, it wouldn’t exactly be an interesting read, and it may also cause search engines to believe that I’m attempting to spam their results. The ranking of this site has suffered enough from the demise of its old domain, I don’t want to get it completely blacklisted.

So, the idea now is, to write more entries to explain and expand on many of the terms above.

Hey, it could happen… somewhen…

Meanwhile, here is some music. And one more mention of psybreaks, because there isn’t enough of it in the world (a situation which I’m doing my best to rectify, in case you hadn’t guessed…)


Feeding just this post into Wordmangle (using the single-post feed link) results in a far more apposite summary of my interests than anything I’d hitherto managed. Exactly as I’d hoped. And using an article written about the process to feed into the process appeals to my (and probably every developer’s) aesthetic appreciation of the Meta, the self-referential.

With most of the emboldened words above only having a single instance in the text, many of them are getting left out. Perhaps that’s for the best. It seems to be picking a good subset, and while for example I feel Ayahuasca should be in there, so that it can be found by people who are looking, it oughtn’t be too big: it isn’t always a great idea to shout about such things to all and sundry (been there, done that, learned lessons). So I’m generally happy with the outcome. But it omitted The KLF, and Eris. For some reason, I feel they need to be in there, subverting the whole silly idea from within. So now they are. All hail! Fnord.

Final result of feeding this post into

Review: Edirol UA-25 24-bit 96kHz 2in 2out USB soundcard

Friday 15th January 2010

I’ve become quite a fan of this sound device since I got it about a year ago.

For its price, the sound quality is excellent. It’s fairly packed with features, has a good range of options for input and output connectivity, plus MIDI. And it works flawlessly, out of the box, with Linux — no special setup or drivers required, ALSA knows what it is and how to deal with it in any mode.

The same is true of Mac OS, but only in the basic mode which restricts you to 16-bit 44.1kHz I/O – a driver is required for Advance mode to get up to 24-bit 96kHz support (either in, or out – we’ll come to this under Limitations). This driver can be downloaded free from the Edirol website, and seems to work fine on my new unibody Macbook Pro with OSX 10.6 Snow Leopard, though I haven’t used it extensively on there yet.

I guess it probably works in Windows too, but I wouldn’t know anything about that 🙂

The sound quality (for what I’ve used it for anyway) is very good. It’s stacked with features, and quite versatile… within certain limits.

First we’ll take a quick look at the features packed into this gadget, which is information you could probably find elsewhere but I include for ease of reference, and after that we’ll get to discussing those limitations in more detail.