Get off my lawn.

Friday, March 16, 2007


Some days, I think I would like to chronicle the idiocy that happens where I work. Trouble is, I can only type 90 words per minute, which is not nearly fast enough.

Monday, March 12, 2007

1 hour forward, 10 years back

This weekend, the time changed. It was a bit unusual because the switch happened earlier in the year than it normally does. Not a big deal in most places; My computers at home switched to the new time without any action being taken on my part.

My computer at work was a different story.

I work for a giant multi-national company with 50,000 employees. This company has billions of dollars and lots of resources at its disposal, so setting the time on a computer is a doddle, a trivial task, for this powerhouse paragon of corporate plentitude. Here's the list of simple steps I performed in order to set the time on my computer:

  1. Notice that my computer's time was wrong.

  2. Adjust it forward.

  3. Notice, 10 minutes later, that it had been adjusted back.

  4. Repeat step 2.

  5. Repeat step 3.

  6. Call the company support line.

  7. Listen to the announcement about an excessively high number of incoming support calls.

  8. Leave a message.

  9. Wait 10 minutes.

  10. Receive an e-mail containing an executable attachment, telling me to:

    1. Save the attachment to my desktop.

    2. Close Lotus Notes.

    3. Execute the attachment from my desktop, and follow the prompts.

    4. Reboot.

  11. Perform the above steps, encounter an error message about another installer running, preventing this one from running.
  12. Reply to the support e-mail, telling them about the error message. While I'm typing, a popup window appears and
    tells me that my computer will reboot in 57 minutes.

  13. Send the e-mail.

  14. Re-try the installation, thinking it will work the second time. It does.

  15. Reboot.

  16. Wait.

  17. Enjoy my newly-corrected time.

I've never heard of having to install software and reboot so I can set the time on my computer, but I am only a small part of this big organization. So what do I know?

Honestly, as far as tasks performed within this organization are concerned, this one was relatively easy. At least I didn't have to go to a meeting and make a business case for setting my clock, or assign the time I spent screwing around with it to a task in the company time-tracking software.

Monday, March 05, 2007


I've been thinking about writing an article about Ardour for awhile, and even gave it a try a couple of times. Every time, it ends up being a long drawn-out article talking about crossfades, tracks, and a bunch of other stuff.

Ardour, for those of you who don't know, is an open-source DAW (digital audio workstation) written for POSIX-compliant computers. It's used by people to do multitrack recording on a computer.

The "big dog" DAW is ProTools, the software used by big-name artists to record whole albums. It's pretty cool. It's also pretty expensive. ProTools LE, the lightweight version aimed at home recordists, is $249, which is less than I thought it was. Then there are the plugins, which all cost a fair amount of money, and the recording hardware itself, which consists of A/D converters, mixers, and other stuff, and the computer. Then, there's the cost of an operating system to run the computer on. There's Mac OS X, and Windows, both of which cost a fair amount. And what you end up
with is recording software that's intentionally limited in function and scope, with the idea that you'll eventually outgrow it and fork over the multiple thousands of dollars required to get the full version.

I use Linux, and I'm not crazy about having another computer just to record audio on, or about spending multiple thousands of dollars to do it. So I tried Ardour a few years ago, and found it useable, even though it was somewhat unstable, lacking in features, and had a butt-ugly user interface. I was still able to get work done though. Given how demanding and complex the multitrack recording process is, I thought it was pretty impressive that I could use something free to do it.

Around the first of the year, I tried ardour2, the new version, currently in beta. I had about 2 albums worth of recording to do, and thought I'd at least give it a try.

It's much improved over the earlier version. The shortcut keys work, the UI looks fantastic, and it's generally more stable than the older version. I'm using it on Ubundu Edgy, and there are about 400 LADSPA plugins available to use as well. The overall package (Ubuntu, Ardour, associated stuff) is fantastic. It's like a Mac-based ProTools system, only nicer-looking (if you like Ubuntu's brown color scheme, that is).

Early on, I had some trouble with the version I downloaded. I could start it, create a project, and save it. But then when I started it and tried to load the project back in, Ardour would crash. It was also failing to send MIDI MTC/MMC to my outboard gear, which made it pretty useless.

Just for the heck of it, I went onto the ardour site, and posted something about this in the forums. I didn't get an immediate response, but the next day, when I downloaded the latest snapshot of the source code and built it again, both problems were fixed. Try that with something made by Microsoft or IBM!

Here's where my previous attempts at writing about Ardour started to get all wordy and long-winded. They each went into a long rave about how cool ardour is; How you can drag a part of a track onto another part, and ardour crossfades it automatically, how you can record tons of tracks and put effects on them, automate your mixes, and bunches of other boring stuff.

The fact is, if none of that stuff interests you, it's not going to interest you no matter how well I talk about it (and trust me, it's not going to be that good). If you're into that sort of thing, you can just go to the Ardour site and download it yourself and see.

Kathy Sierra, a blogger I've mentioned before, talks at length about making products that users get passionate about. "Helping users kick ass" is how she puts it. The idea is that if you build something good and useful enough, with enough power, grace, and style, people who use it will get really excited and tell everyone else about it.

In my opinion, Ardour is that kind of software, or at least has a lot of potential to be. There are times when I'm listening to something I've recorded, and I go "wow, that is cool" and think about how fun it was to make it. Ardour is responsible for a large percentage of that fun, to be honest. It would probably be as fun if I was using ProTools to do it, but paying for ProTools/plugins and dealing with license keys and other annoyances certainly wouldn't have been.

Not only that, but I bet Ardour gives you more flexibility, and better support. What would I do if I bought ProTools and it started crapping out? Call them, talk to a front-line support technician, "prove" that I was having the problem, go through the routine of running virus scans and formatting my C: drive, etc., and probably end up where I started. It would have been maddening. With Ardour, I apparently only need to make casual mention of it on a website, and it gets fixed within 24 hours. (Not trying to take anything away from DigiDesign's support staff, I bet they're pretty

Paul Davis is the author of Ardour. He does it on his own time, and lets people have the software for free. If you wonder how a guy builds something this sophisticated and still manages to feed his kids, well, here's how: He lives on donations. I think he had some sort of deal going with a company to finance Ardour's development for awhile, but that fell through. So now, he's taking donations through his site. I donated some money a while back, and it was probably enough to buy his whole family a meal at Taco Bell. I'm thinking about making more regular donations, and I hope others do the same. It would do away with the notion that I'm getting ProTools-level DAW action for "free", but it would still be a great deal.