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Saturday 23 May 2015
by Wulf
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A Week of Lexophiliac Delight

I have been delighted this week to have had the opportunity to draw on some of the less well-used corners of my vocabulary. I had an email to write that called out for the word obviate and palimpsest came up in conversation yesterday. Better yet, I had the opportunity to learn a new word that was new to me, vexillology.

I picked that word – the study of flags – up from a brilliant TED talk by Roman Mars: Why city flags may be the worst-designed thing you’ve never noticed. Having city flags seems to be less common in the UK than the US but I don’t think many of the examples shown on Wikipedia would pass the design rules he espouses.

What is your favourite word of the week?

Friday 22 May 2015
by Wulf
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Car Share

Creativity thrives within limitations and Peter Kay’s Car Share is a brilliant example of this. John (Peter Kay) and Kayleigh (Sian Gibson) are thrown together for their commute to and from work because of a company directive about car sharing and almost all of the programme consists of their shared journies, mainly a set dashboard camera looking at the two of them side by side with occasional scene-setting shots on what seems to be a ridiculously long drive. I wonder if they deliberately take them down different roads each time as I still haven’t got a sense of the route and it just seems to go on and on!

It seems an incredibly restrictive format, more suited to a short sketch than a whole season, but the two principal actors do a fantastic job. It rises to the highest standards of British TV comedy, taking a prosaic setting, apparently ill-matched characters and yet, along with fantastic humour also drawing out something human and warm from the situation.

I’m very glad that my commute to work is a 15 minute cycle ride but, at the moment, I’m enjoying the weekly opportunity to cop a lift with John and Kayleigh. Highly recommended.

Thursday 21 May 2015
by Wulf
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Deleted Doesn’t Mean Gone

I consider myself a moderately savvy computer user and I’ve known for a long time that deleted — even deleted and emptied from the trash — doesn’t mean that a file is completely gone. It was theoretical knowledge though until earlier this week when, following one of the exercises from the Open University module I am studying at the moment on Digital Forensics, I downloaded and tested PhotoRec, an Open Source file recovery program.

The instructions were to use a small USB stick, copy a file to it and then delete it including emptying the trash. I then followed the step-by-step guide to see what it would find. Note the word small; the programme will create a copy of everything it finds in a location you specify so, for a test, you want to avoid giving it too much to trawl through and in practise you would need a sufficiently large storage area to cope with the expected contents.

Although I think photo recovery was the original intention of the program, as suggested by the name, it can dig up the remnants of a whole range of file types. I found not only the directory of photos I had earlier deleted but a slew of presentations, PDF documents, text files and other things that have had residence on the disk over at least the last few months. I didn’t explore everything to see how far back it could go, and some of the information was clearly partially broken but it was an impressive and rather sobering haul.

This is why you need to be very cautious about putting anything sensitive on a disk without wrapping it up in further levels of encryption. No wonder the course materials took pains to emphasise that it was best to use a disk which has been entirely in your own possession rather than risk invading the privacy of someone else!

Wednesday 20 May 2015
by Wulf
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Logical Engraving

Following on from Sunday’s post about using Logic as a tool for transcribing, I’ve had a chance to test the results at last night’s String Project rehearsal. We gave it a couple of run throughs and it looks like it will fly. That sounds like a pretty quick turnaround for a new song but the speed was predicated on two essential factors. Firstly, it isn’t a massively challenging piece of music. Compared to something like the arrangment we have of Stravinsky’s Tango, it is very simple, repeating twelve bar sequence and, even if you lose your place, it is pretty easy to reorientate yourself on the fly. Secondly, it shows the benefit of working with musicians who can read well; I provided the scores, we read from them and the new piece was assimilated quickly.

How did I get the scores though? For the rehearsal, we used sheets which I generated directly from the Logic tracks. They weren’t particularly beautiful but they were quick and they worked. Going forward though I’ve discovered an improvement to the work flow. It turns out that Logic X lets me export a score in MusicXML format and I can import that into Frescobaldi, the tool I’m using to provide a GUI for lilypond. It needs a bit of work to knock it into shape (less would have been required if I hadn’t already tried to improve the score in Logic’s score editor with textual notes and so forth) but is quicker than manually reinputting the whole piece.

I’ve still got a bit more work to do on the sheets but next week my bandmates should have engraved scores that are both accurate and pretty. Given that I’ve now got an effective workflow for both writing and writing out music, I probably should get round to thinking about doing some original compositions again too.

Tuesday 19 May 2015
by Wulf
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Deflating Start

Yesterday morning wasn’t the best of starts back to work after a week away. Not only was it raining but my rear tyre seemed quite soft. Not only was it in need of a bit more air but, when I started pumping there was an ominous hissing and the tyre deflated completely. Oh, and did I mention that it was raining heavily?

I ended up driving to work and coming home mid-afternoon so that I’d have time to pop to the shops if my attempts to repair it ran into a lack of essential resources. It turned out that the rubber had perished round the point where the valve joins the inner tube so I decided a repair would be living on borrowed time; the tube already had a previous repair and the valve join is put under pressure when pumping up by hand. Fortunately I had a spare so I was able to replace it (and I need to remember to get a new spare!).

The hardest part turned out to be getting the back wheel off. It is a long time since I last had to attend to it and the bolts were pretty tight. In the end, brute force and persistence won through (although spraying some oil on the bolt and letting it work in may also have helped). This morning, everything looks okay. Time to give it the ride to work test and find out if it really measures up!

Monday 18 May 2015
by Wulf
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The Singing Guru by Kamla Kapur

Book cover

The Singing Guru

Round about the time that Europe was plunging into the Reformation, Guru Nanak (1469-1539) was igniting Sikhism in India. Kamla Kapur retells tales about Nanak’s life and works in The Singing Guru, which I got as part of the LibraryThing early reviewer programme, and has the aim of bringing increased understanding of him and his faith to a wider audience.

It succeeds to some extent but the author expresses herself with a pronounced Indian accent although in perfectly good English, hinting at nuances from a culture I don’t share. As much as it opens up new stories to me, it tells of faraway times in a faraway land, leaving me aware of how little information I have to understand them in a wider context.
That is more my fault than Kapur’s but from my anglocentric perspective, I think I needed shorter stories as I felt I hardly managed to digest them at all. I think this will be a book to return to in the future; it wasn’t quite such an easy way into grasping the singing guru as I had hoped.

Sunday 17 May 2015
by Wulf
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Logical Transcribing

May has been a month of blues – first the Tory victory in the UK General Election and then the death of elder statesman of the blues guitar, BB King. I suggested that The String Project might like to add a BB King cover to the set for the next gig or two (we won’t be marking the election results!) and so now I’ve got the job of producing some parts for Tuesday’s rehearsal.

Since I’ve recently installed Logic, Apple’s professional digital audio workstation software, I decided to see how it worked for the purpose of transcribing and the answer seems to be very well indeed. Firstly, I was able to import the audio track and use the BPM meter to figure out the approximate tempo. It turns out that the tempo is rather fluid, around rather than dead on 87 BPM but that isn’t a problem – I’ve been able to produce a beat mapping track and tell Logic exactly where each bar starts and it accomplishes mapping the ebb and flow of tempo to bar markers meaning everything lines up.

Now I’m working on filling in some of the lines. As well as being able cycle round sections, I can fill in parts using software instruments, listening back to ensure that pitches and rhythms fit. As well as providing an extra check, that produces a scored line which I can then work up for the instruments that need it (probably viola and one of the violins, which will be filling in the horn parts from the original).

Time to get back to work. When can you hear the results, if it comes together well enough at the rehearsal to push forward on? Bristol, at Cafe Kino on Friday 29 May will be your first opportunity and then we’ve got one or two things lining up round Oxford during June.