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AMSynth: A More Sophisticated DSSI Plugin

Date/Time Permalink: 05/11/13 01:17:00 pm
Category: Multimedia

A couple posts ago, I cooed with joy over discovering Seq24. And last post, I pointed out SFXR (now in twilight development status) for producing simple low-fi sound effects. Now here is an app which is pretty capable at most of what SFXR does, and works as a Seq24 plugin as well.

amsynth is a cool little synthesizer desktop app all by itself. It can also be used, like Hexter, Wsynth, and xsynth, as a DSSI plugin for Seq24 modules - just start a copy of each, and set one (or more) loops to amsynth's output. And it looks cool doing it.

While AMSynth (which I've just decided to capitalize that way because it looks righter) doesn't have a full orchestra of instruments at your disposal like Hexter.so does, it is far easier to customize. To make your own instrument, just select 'new preset' from the preset menu, hit 'Ctrl-R' a few times and audition each result to hear the random sound, and stop when you find a sound close to what you want, then tweak the knobs on it (by clicking with the mouse and dragging up or down) to get it how you want it, then name it with 'rename preset' in the presets menu again, and finally click 'save' right next to the presets dropdown menu. You'll now find your new preset in the menu, and it will reload each time you start AMSynth. So this way you can build up your own personal library of sound effects.

It's also easy to copy / paste and edit presets from the plain text file. Open ".amSynth.presets" in your home directory; there's the list of all available sounds, including the ones you save. Easy to copy and share! You'll also notice that at the bottom, AMSynth seems to save a lot of 'new preset' instances, which you might want to delete here as they don't show up in the menu anyway.

Here's a more complete tutorial on AMSynth, though very outdated and using and older version.

Here's my own preset discovery, which I named 'night frogs' in my preset file:

<preset> <name> night frogs
<parameter> amp_attack 0.101708
<parameter> amp_decay 1.98257
<parameter> amp_sustain 0.28707
<parameter> amp_release 0.930455
<parameter> osc1_waveform 2
<parameter> filter_attack 0.538419
<parameter> filter_decay 1.77124
<parameter> filter_sustain 0.141512
<parameter> filter_release 0.962746
<parameter> filter_resonance 0.149043
<parameter> filter_env_amount 0.957702
<parameter> filter_cutoff 0.51926
<parameter> osc2_detune 0.0872381
<parameter> osc2_waveform 1
<parameter> master_vol 1
<parameter> lfo_freq 5.02726
<parameter> lfo_waveform 2
<parameter> osc2_range 2
<parameter> osc_mix 0.176455
<parameter> freq_mod_amount 0.810294
<parameter> filter_mod_amount 0.595398
<parameter> amp_mod_amount 0.22656
<parameter> osc_mix_mode 0
<parameter> osc1_pulsewidth 0.691587
<parameter> osc2_pulsewidth 0.576662
<parameter> reverb_roomsize 0.433333
<parameter> reverb_damp 0.473445
<parameter> reverb_wet 0.42621
<parameter> reverb_width 0.829504
<parameter> distortion_crunch 0.327175
<parameter> osc2_sync

As seems to be par for the course for FOSS audio engineering software, documentation is minimal to none, the project appears abandoned, and is barely a fuzzy rumor at best. Even the man page is a place-holder. The closest thing to developer-provided docs is in /usr/share/doc/amsynth/README, and that's 80 terse lines of bare clues.

Update: Whoa, nelly, the AMSynth team dropped by the comments to let us know they're live 'n' kicking, and there's going to be a 1.4 release with over 1000 sounds! Also drops this link, with demos you have to check out.

I've also discovered that AMSynth will export directly to .wav file, for just making sound effects and music accents like you would in SFXR. Nifty side feature.

Here's that 'night frogs' preset in action as part of this cruddy little attempt at an ambient noise track:


And while I'm dumping MP3s, here's a couple more I have monkeyed out while playing with Seq24:

Asphalt_Savanna - Supposed to be a hip-hop backing track.
peanut_butter_jam - Yet another self-indulgence of techno blasphemy.

Once again, be advised that I don't know music composition from my arse from my elbow. But if you find these useful, Creative Commons for your next game, video, or whatnot. And once again, I'm doing this not to pursue a career as a musician, but just so that when I need audio for future projects, I don't want to have to live in terror of the RIAA mafia for the rest of my life. Just five minutes of fidgeting produces my own track to do with what I please, and all those scary copyright phantoms just disappear in a puff of smoke. That's a good feeling.

By the by, here's the Wikipedia entry on synthesizers, which has some explanation of the sound audio jargon you wade into using programs like AMSynth. And here's further resources at the Linux musician's Wiki, hurray, they exist!

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Continuing Desktop Sound Explorations: SFXR

Date/Time Permalink: 05/07/13 03:05:17 pm
Category: Multimedia

SFXR was once one of the coolest little sound toys out there. It generates retro 8-bit sound effects - at random, with a bunch of sliders and buttons to play with. If you're familiar with my last post exploring MIDI music production (and the techno-flavored files I was producing) you'll see where this is going: Adding old-skool lo-fi sound effects to music tracks, quite probably using Audacity to monkey around with them.

Except SFXR doesn't seem to be up to speed with modern desktops. Pepperidge Farm remembers when you could just install a Debian package. No longer!

The original developer offers a round of package options - there's a .deb package (won't install, only for AMD64s), a source code tarball (which won't compile unless you have GTK+2.0, which has gone the way of the dinosaur), and a Windows executable - which sometimes works and sometimes crashes along with a side order of Cream of Stack Puke.

With sound apps, I'm right in the cargo cult. Sacrifice goat, please volcano god, don't ask questions.

But there's solutions out there. If you're purist, I discovered this GitHub project which is making SFXR into a DSSI type... thingie. Smarter people than I can go figure that out. If you're stark raving mad, there's bfxr, a port which requires Adobe Air (retch! gag! choke!). If you don't care and you just want sound effect generation already (my category), here's an online app version of that!

Configuration of the perfect water drop sound effect:

And here's the drop:


And here's a little gallery of other sound effects I've managed to squeeze out of SFXR over the years, which I'm giving away as Creative Commons door prizes:

The idea here is that you can import them into Audacity and tinker with them there, use them for sound effects in your next video game or animation, or... use them as a preset for DSSI synth plug-ins? Maybe I'll figure that out next.

Oh, by the way, I'm starting a new category here at the ol' home blog for multimedia, because it's about time I dug into this little-documented area of desktop Linux.

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Discovering Seq24 and Going Temporarily Crazy With It For 72 Hours

Date/Time Permalink: 05/02/13 05:47:24 pm
Category: Reviews

Long about trying to get audio to record with video, I wandered into Linux desktop audio toys, and one of them has stuck to me like glue.

This post will, eventually, be about composing original MIDI music on the Linux desktop using the funnest, easiest toy for this purpose. However, we've got three disclaimers to get out of the way first:

Disclaimer #1 Setting up audio-studio software on your desktop will be the most frustrating, aggravating, hair-pulling experience of your life. No, really, even programming or designing 3D animated graphics or grokking Middle Eastern politics pales in comparison to setting up audio-studio software on a desktop. Don't look for logical reasons for anything. Just accept that random crashes, horrible default settings, blatantly anti-user behavior, invisible documentation, and gremlins are now a part of your life if you want to compose audio on the desktop. Take it for granted that every audio program is designed with maximum sadism in mind. Just flash back to your Windows days and reboot compulsively.

Disclaimer #2 Audio work by its nature is complicated beyond mere mortal comprehension. Sound engineers speak in sound-engineer-ese, and - not being subjected to the same egalitarian pressure that computer geeks are - have not the slightest interest in breaking down the jargon for common people. They love plugging things into other things, for the sake of plugging things in. Check the stage floor at your next concert; the entire surface is carpeted in thick black cables, a safety hazard that would be intolerable in your server room. Show a sound engineer a stove, and their first reaction will be "Why have the knobs, oven, ranges, and clock all together in one handy unit when you could split all those up into separate boxes and connect them all with cables?" This mentality extends to sound engineering software - there are no sound engineering programs. There are families of sound engineering programs, and they all have to run together like a litter of kittens.

Disclaimer #3 I'm going to present here audio files which I, myself, have created. I have no musical talent. I have no musical training. I have only a smidgen of musical knowledge, and that all comes from writing about music all these years at places like Lyric Interpretations. Bottom line, listen to the MP3 files at risk to what sanity you have left after attempting to run sound engineering software.


OK, I do recommend Linux Mint for the distro to use here, since Mint at least puts you ahead by installing lots of those annoying codecs so you don't have to hunt them all down yourself. A close second is Dyne:bolic, which is a sound-studio Linux live Cd in-a-box with everything set up. Second, if you're going to install Seq24, you'll need at least all this for support or extras:

  • Hydrogen
  • Xsynth
  • Audacity
  • Timidity
  • Rosegarden
  • Ubuntu Studio Audio Plugins
  • ...plus all their dependencies, which Synaptic will handle.

Like I say, you don't just install one thing. You shovel piles of crap onto your hard drive and pray that the Angry Audio Gods will be appeased at your offering. (Note: There's no such thing as a non-angry audio god.)

If you run on Linux, chances are (like, 99.9%) you already have PulseAudio crammed up your hinder whether you like it or not. This is bad news, because music synthesizer software requires Jack Audio (at least all of it that I've seen), and Jack and Pulse installed on the same system is like having two wildcats and a bee stuffed in your underwear. Whenever either of these two territorial bears sense the other running, they will crash your computer trying to fight with each other. So if a program that used to work suddenly freezes, it's because it depends on Pulse and you were just running something that required Jack, which caused them to slash each other's throats in the background and now sound is mute and your mouse pointer stopped moving, no matter what program you use.

Two YouTube video tutorials that will get you addicted to Seq24 too: part one here and part two here.

As you can see from that masterful demo, first you need to have the jack-dssi-host program running 'hexter.so' (which shows up in my menu as "hexter"), because it has the instruments. (What, did you think the same program where you're pressing buttons to make sound should also be the one making the sounds??? Are you kidding?) Then you'll need Hydrogen, just for the drums (You thought synthesized instruments and drums would be in the same program??? Are you CRAZY?). And every time you add a new instrument, you have to start a new instance of jack-dssi-host running hexter.so.

Oh, and saving the file won't work the same way you think it will. See, every one of those little boxes you create in Seq24 won't make any noise without that hexter menu telling it what instrument's voice to use. That data is not saved in MIDI, the only format Seq24 knows. Here's my solution:

How else do you save your song? Well, in an ideal world, you'd just be able to fire up one of the 3000 Linux desktop recorders and "roll a tape" on your song. Nope! Wrong! See, desktop recorders can't handle MIDI playing over Jack, so they won't record anything. You can't start something with Pulseaudio at the same time or it will crash Jack's sound. What do? Here's my solution:

Yes, there's good reasons to have multiple computers in the house. I'm astounded that this worked, even though the MP3s I recorded did have some background noise from computer fans and such, which you'll only notice if you blast them, which you won't because they suck. Anyway, that's what you'd want Audacity for, to trim whitespace off the beginning and end of the recordings (I didn't with mine. Who would care?) and tweak the noise and whatnot.

Finally, some dippy little MIDI songs in MP3 format composed in Seq24. I'm releasing them Creative Commons to the public (oh hell, steal 'em if you want 'em), mostly because I can't stand to own them anymore myself. But they do show off the range of capabilities of Seq24, beyond the mere toy you'd at first expect it to be.

Around WFMU's Beware of the Blog, they call this "Outsider Music." I've blogged about outsider musicians many times before covering Ubuweb's 365 Days Project on the aforementioned LyricInterpretations.com; now I am proud to join their ranks!

On the whole, Seq24 is dangerously, mercilessly addicting. It is by far the easiest program for the novice to pick up, and presents the kind of interface that I love: It makes perfect sense for its purpose, while driving usability experts to hang themselves.

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Game of the Day: SuperTuxKart

Date/Time Permalink: 04/27/13 04:00:34 pm
Category: Linux Gaming

Every now and then in Linux gaming, it pays off to pick up an old favorite and see how it's come along. Last time I visited SuperTuxKart, it was a dinky thing with about four tracks, no powerups, and disgusting "burp" sound effects. Maybe it was 2004?

You won't believe how far SuperTuxKart has come now! New tracks, better art, better sound, more playable characters, a challenge system, bells and whistles. It feels like a professionally produced commercial game now.

And here (it's about time I did this on my blog!) is a video play-through:

This was also my first time recording desktop video (using ffmpeg command lines) and editing it (using the incredible OpenShot video editor, so easy your cat can learn it). So, no sound. Haven't figured the right magic spell for that yet. I will be blogging more about desktop video production and editing later, gimme time, I gotta job ya know.

Anyway, SuperTuxKart, a top-notch achievement in Linux gaming!

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Further Exploration In Linux Desktop Graphics Beyond Gimp

Date/Time Permalink: 04/21/13 04:43:03 pm
Category: Reviews

Since my last time seeking graphic editing applications that don't stink of Gimp, there's probably a few readers asking "Why didn't Pete mention $Obvious_Choice, was it not good enough?"

Well, yeah, unfortunately I ran into a lot of dead ends. It's like the zombie apocalypse is over and the zombies won out there. Say what you will about the state of desktop computing, Linux computing, FOSS, or graphic design, but graphic design on the Linux desktop is just about DEAD!

Cinepaint - DEAD

Cinepaint's blog hasn't been updated since 2009. Another developer wandered off. There doesn't appear to be a Cinepaint package on the Debian platform, and the Fedora platform has the old package which installs, but cannot work - it can't even open an image file. Rumors abound of somebody or other taking over the project. Cinepaint forums suggest switching to Gimp. Tricorder readings show no signs of life.

Xpaint - a toy

It's a great little drop-in replacement for MS-Paint, that's it.

kolourpaint - a toy

KDE's kool koloring program provides a kompact komposition to be redundant with Xpaint. Again, not good for much more but klowning around.

MyPaint - Promising, but more for true digital painting again.

MyPaint seems to be a perfect program for users who want a lightweight version of Krita. There really doesn't seem to be too much else going on here. I've tried it and it is nice - very basic, but nice.

Google Picasa - DEAD

"Picasa is not currently available for your operating system" - That's what Linux users will see. In fact, Picasa, the desktop application, is being phased out altogether for every platform except as an app for Google+ photo sharing. (Because plain old uploading and displaying a file, once such a basic operation that even 4chan users could do it, is now rocket science that has to be broken down into 500 expensive parts.) Picasa is heading for the Great Google Graveyard of discontinued apps.

Speaking of Google... Sketchup - Awesome, but for 3D architectural drafting.

Remember Sketchup? You can still download and use the freebie version of Google Sketchup 8 from that link, and my suggestion is to get it now from that link while you can. Sketchup has been sold to Trimble, but is still in transition. Trimble seems to have no idea what to do with it. In any case, Google quit making Sketchup back in 2010 at version 8 - bound for the Great Google Graveyard. But the Windows version runs fantastically on my Linux Mint 14 Nadia install of Wine - far, far better than when I reviewed it in '08. Even if you hate it and have no hope for it, you'll want a copy to torrent to your buddies five years down the line when it becomes abandonware.

Obligatory building doodle I just cranked out while writing this, imported from screenshot into Inkscape (Sketchup still can't save a PNG right, don't even try) and edited some:

Speaking of 3D, I might as well update one last program you used to hear about all the time here. POVRay - I'm still vowing one day to rebuild a frontend modeler to POVRay, but in the meantime there is one other soul who still holds out stubborn hope for the POVRay renaissance, this guy with a German site (in English) has updated it this very month, and he has a half-step for a POVRay front-end - a menu of pastable object code hosted in HTML.

Wings3D is also another program I've been trying to nurse along as a replacement 3D modeler. It's actually pretty good, but runs only on my Fedora because my Debian base systems complain about Erlang (Wings' extension language) all fouled up. It's also starting to look like a project in its last gasps.

That's extra sad, because Blender has gone the way of Gimp - insane. I loaded up the latest version of Blender, and discovered - for the thousandth version now - that every single menu, button, command, keyboard shortcut, and function has been rearranged pointlessly AGAIN!!!!!, meaning I would have to sit down AGAIN!!!!! and devote solid, monastic concentration to learning AGAIN!!!!! a completely new Blender interface for a month before I could produce anything with it. This has been going on nonstop for a decade now. Forget it, I have better things to do with my time than waste it with silly games by the sour trolls of the Gimp and Blender teams. Can't WAIT for those two projects to choke off. So sad any other projects have to go.

What else do we have? Inkscape, glorious, perfect, holy Inkscape doing it right, doing it with a mighty righteous rightness that shames the sour trolls by contrast and inspires the weak and struggling by its example.

And what is this Cthulhu curse on Linux desktop graphics editing? Why are they mostly all dying or turning to shit? I'll say one thing - I hope the Bolsheviks are happy. They wanted a world without skills, tools, or engineers, and they're getting one. But at least nobody has to feel excluded by "elitists" any more!

Better we should all starve to death than for any man to think too highly of himself for baking a loaf of bread, right?

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Two Alternatives To Gimp On The Linux Desktop

Date/Time Permalink: 04/19/13 03:52:23 pm
Category: Reviews

Since I'm tired of trying to get work done with the Gimp development team constantly pissing on the very idea of "utility," I've been investigating some Gimp alternatives. While it's going to be painful doing without the Gimp, there's other FOSS graphics applications that don't get nearly the attention they deserve. If we gave them some exposure, perhaps they would get some support and introduce those few remaining crucial features that will put them over the bar as Gimp replacements.

If you're associated with any of these projects and know of some more resources for any of them, I (and other readers) welcome your input in the comments section.


Pinta is a lightweight, simple image editor that's more of an xpaint on steroids than a full-featured image editor. It's a FOSS clone of the popular Paint.NET. That fact should make an obvious downside apparent: It uses Mono and to write extensions for it, you need Visual Studio.

For those of you still reading, I did get it to make a simple photo edit:

As should be painfully obvious even from this example, there's no smear tool, no magic-wand select, and no color select - three tools crucial to photo editing. But in a pinch, if you have nothing else, you can make do with Pinta. It is fast and easy, you'll learn it in no time. I found this review of Pinta on a fellow Linux blogger's site - I'm not having any problems with it crashing, but perhaps either they've fixed some issues since the review was posted, or my Fedora 17 just likes Mono better than Ubuntu does.

There's also an add-in manager, ready in place for perhaps some needed features to be born in the future. There's already a stack of filters installed through this system (blur, edge, renders, blah blah) but I couldn't seem to get any of them to make any visible changes?


Krita is a beautiful program packed with features. Part of the Calligra office suite, it's more for the serious graphics artist than photo-editing type work. But when it comes to a digital artist's easel, does it ever blow away the drawing tools in Gimp! It does things with brushes that shouldn't be natural. Tablets are made to use with Krita (and bless Linux Mint Nadia 14 for being plug-and-play for my Wacom Bamboo!). The interface is very well thought-out. You'll spend hours just playing with all the toys.

And now, the downsides: It crashed quite a bit on my set-up, and being a KDE program, this did not surprise me. Save early and save often. It's also starving for documentation, and again being a KDE program, this did not surprise me. And it has a steep learning curve after you get past the basics. This led to a merry challenge between groveling through the forums, trying out experiments, fumbling around trying to undo stuff, and recovering from crashes.

There's some very slick videos out there by established Krita artists on YouTube. So they may take time to watch, but could prove valuable for picking up tricks. I'd love to write some tutorials for it myself, but as always, it is impossible for me to share knowledge that I myself do not possess. So I'll have to play with it and see if it grows on me.

Til next time, kiddies, and remember: The first job of any tool is to get out of your way and let you USE it! Just say no to Gimp.

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Why Does the Gimp Development Team Hate Gimp?

Date/Time Permalink: 04/10/13 09:02:26 am
Category: Reviews

Try this: Do a Google search for these three words, in separate quotes just like I have here:

"gimp" "developers" "morons"

376,000 results, says Google. Anybody would wonder at the way the word "morons" is being bandied about with such gay abandon in Gimp's general proximity and wonder if the project had gone awry. Anybody with sense, that is.

Gimp was perfect at 1.0. Since then, every release of Gimp has seen things get more and more broken. Quite deliberately. But now, if you've fired up Gimp 2.8 lately, you have the most audacious insult to users yet: You cannot save the image you're working on.

No, I'm not kidding. Try editing something and hitting "Ctrl-S." Now it comes up with a dialog insisting that you save an ".xcf" and ONLY an .xcf. You have to export the file to its own original format. You know, just in case you're going to do anything off-the-rails crazy like actually USE THE IMAGE in some other context besides editing it in Gimp. Check out the convoluted Mexican Hat Dance that now constitutes the process of merely saving an image file.

Many have complained about this. Just for a few cases, Bring back normal save, and Bring back normal handling of other file formats, and HATE the new save vs. export behavior, and this complaint on Twitter, and this complaint on Google+ and this long-time user. ... I could go on all day. Pick an insult, any insult, and search for it in conjunction with "Gimp." It's somebody complaining about the save behavior.

How are the handlers... handling it? The response from the Gimp development team has been "go to Hell!" full stop. No, seriously:

From this link:

"Do you think you could ever get used to the idea that there's more
than one way to teach people safety?"

Well, Alexandre Prokoudine, you arrogant asshole, it's not your place to teach anybody anything. We had an image editor before you came to the project, and we want an image editor, and we're going to get an image editor whether you like it or not.

Or this priceless response:

"This might be the most stupid garbage that has ever been written on this
list, but anyway...

I tried to make it clear once before but for the hard of hearing: the
save/export stuff is going to stay, it will not become optional, and it
will not go away.

If this doesn't please you, nobody forces you to use GIMP."

Uh, yes, Michael Natterer, you arrogant asshole, we are, indeed, being forced to use Gimp. I am forced, by common sense and decency, to use Free and Open Source Software while I am also forced, by necessity, to earn a living. I was doing both of these things for years using Gimp before I ever heard of you. Go take your politics elsewhere and leave MY Gimp alone; nobody's forcing YOU to come sabotage our toolbox.

Or from this link:

"A lot of people over at GIMPUSERS.com want the old save and "export" mechanism back. The conclusion to draw from that is that they are not part of the user group we are targeting. We are not trying to make GIMP into an excellent JPEG touchup application, we are making GIMP into a high-end photo manipulation application where most of the work is done in XCF."

Well, Martin Nordholts, you arrogant asshole, I AM a professional graphics artist, I do it for a living, I have blogged and educated and advocated so extensively within the original Gimp community for so many years that my name is recognized everywhere I go in the computer graphics community - and I'm telling you you're stark, raving mad.

Except that nobody gets this crazy or stupid, so we have to assume that you are, in fact, deliberately sabotaging Gimp. One of the cornerstone tools of the FOSS desktop that's stood for 18 years as a necessary utility. What you are doing is stealing that from US. No, the answer isn't "if you don't like it, fork it". How about we nuke your house, and if you don't like it, you can build it again? You obviously have a lot of time and resources on your hands to spare, after all.

Open any file in any other program and save it. Open a text file in a text editor and edit it and save it. What does it do? Open an SVG file in Inkscape and edit it and save it. What does it do? Open an HTML file in Bluefish and edit it and save it. What does it do? Use any other program also aimed at "high-end photo development" (whatever that is supposed to mean) and open a file and edit it and save it. What does it do?

The Gimp development team's troll logic would have us believe that every other program, proprietary or FOSS, from the dawn of computing to the present day on every platform is doing the wrong thing, while they - and they alone - have Teh Won Twue Vision!!! and will save the ignorant masses from themselves. To the point where they'll tell the whole website gimpusers.com (Alexa traffic rank 183,406) to go straight to hell, every last one of them.

My fellow FOSS citizens: When will we oust these dictators? How much more obvious and blatant does the criminal hijacking of Gimp have to get?

Episode IV: A New Hope While I am leading the effort to issue an official patch to change Gimp back to sanity, I have looked around and have deemed Krita and Pinta The New Gimp. We will be discovering their wonderfulness together later. I still want Gimp patched anyway, just to SPITE the bastards!

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Game of the Day: Lucid Life

Date/Time Permalink: 04/09/13 03:59:53 pm
Category: Linux Gaming

a Conway's game of Life simulator

If you're ever such a pointy-headed Linux geek that somebody tells you to "get a life," this is probably what they mean. LucidLife appears to have no home page or active maintainer - the home page link from the help dialog goes to this charming 404 page. I guess you'd better hunt in your package manager...

Anyway, LucidLife, derived from GTKLife, comes with its own installed documentation, so you're not completely stranded. It's a GUI universe for playing Conway's Game of Life, the abstract artificial life simulator to end all abstract artificial life simulators. It takes the "LGF" format, which is a plain text format. For example, here is the whole file for the 'acorn' pattern:

#GLF 1.0
#D Acorn
#D The most vigorously growing 7-cell "methuselah" pattern.
#D See also Basics/Rabbits.
x = -3, y = -1, width = 7, height = 3

So it's script-able, although this format might take some deductive parsing to figure out.

The program also has a standard set of features: two pattern libraries, ability to zoom, adjust speed, step forward, copy-paste-and move blocks of cells, and of course doodle around with a pencil to create your own busy smoke. The whole thing takes about five seconds to learn; it's so easy, it makes an excellent kid's toy!

Conway's Life has a massive history in hackerdom, of course. If this is your first time encountering it, prepare to get sucked into many hours of fascinated fiddling. Some starting places include the Life Wiki and the Life Lexicon.

And if somebody knows the eventual fate of this project or its maintainers, feel free to enlighten all of us in the comments.

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Why I Am Perfectly Justified In Being A "Grammar Nazi"

Date/Time Permalink: 04/06/13 10:05:50 am
Category: Geek Culture

punctuation list

For many years, when online and encountering sloppy spelling, grammar, and punctuation, I resisted the urge to stick up for proper language usage online. "Don't be such a nag!", I'd say to myself. "What if English isn't their first language?", I'd reason. "Not everybody can handle dyslexia, ADHD, Asperger's, etc.", I'd excuse. "It's not that big a deal.", I'd shrug.

On and on we go, year after year, using the Internet, a medium that relies exclusively upon text, while heedless of the simple methods of expressing ourselves with that text. First, we tried to helpfully guide those who struggled along. Then, when the inevitable, damning label of "Grammar Nazi" was hung around our necks, we backed off, puzzled, but not in the mood to be the world's white knight today. But now, the tide has turned all the way around. The straight-A students are now the "bad guys" and the drop-outs the "good guys."

Now we have... I guess I have to coin it myself... "Laziness Nazis"! People who attack you for using correct language! "Oh, you stuck-up snob! You elitist! Who do you think you're trying to impress, with your showing off? You must really think highly of yourself using a semicolon there!"


I even complacently tolerated this, as well. For far too long, I recently realized.

Here's one page to give an example - I assure you, I only limit myself to one example to save space. This example is a perfect snapshot of the spirit of the times. Dangerous Minds proposes a new CAPTCHA system to screen out those who cannot distinguish between similar elementary words like (there / their / they're), (were / we're / where), and (lose / loose). And you can ironically dance through the comments and pluck up the flames like wildflowers a-bloom. The mob reacts: How... how DARE they!

At the center of the "only elitists use correct grammar / spelling" movement is this attitude that "knowledge of language does not equal intelligence". And then I wonder... doesn't it?

That's when I had this epiphany.

Because typing the correct word does not cost anything. Leaving out a superfluous apostrophe doesn't require expending extra effort. Remembering a rule of sentence structure does not place a great burden upon people - there are parrots out there with a vocabulary of thousands of words, there are gorillas who learn sign language to communicate with their handlers in a semantically logical fashion. Even dogs I have owned understood the difference between "Where did your ball go?" and "We're going to the vet." And for Heaven's sake, unlike the parrots, gorillas, and dogs, we have built-in spell-checkers at our disposal.

Using correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation does not cost anything. Using correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation requires only mental effort. A person who cannot be bothered to expend the mental effort required to distinguish between two elementary-school words is also someone who cannot be bothered to expend the mental effort required to reason soundly... use logic... read carefully... think critically... have intellectual curiosity... take pleasure in solving problems... seek things out inspired by pure curiosity. Someone who is careless and sloppy in such a simple matter as typing out a few keystrokes - while using a medium that depends entirely upon typing the correct keystrokes in order to use it effectively - and gets belligerently defensive and insulting hostile when other people try to help them use this medium more effectively, is someone with a lazy brain that does not like to do work.

And that, my friends, I am so regretful to report, is an idiot.

Email, commenting, and texting are not constitutionally-protected rights, you know.

Now let's hear all the excuses the intellectually lazy use:

What if English isn't your first language? Then you have undertaken to learn a second language - so LEARN it! I have, in fact, been fluent in Spanish, having been born and raised in Southern California (I am no longer fluent in Spanish because I've lived up north for ten years now, so I'm out of practice). When I was rubbing elbows with Spanish-speakers, I tried to pay attention and get it right. When I made a mistake and was corrected, without fail, I was grateful every single time and thanked them for the lesson. And now that I am too rusty in Spanish to use it effectively, I stay out of Spanish forums. If I undertake Spanish again, I will ensure that I am at least back up to speed when I do so. And if a native speaker corrects my grammar, I express gratitude for the free lesson. In fact, I've never met the ESL (English-second-language) speaker who was hostile at being corrected - it's always the English-native "Laziness Nazis" who use the old ESL defense.

But is English too hard a language? Yes, I know, English has its little quirks: "Why do we park in a driveway and drive in a parkway?" and all that. That's because English is derived from West Germanic, Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, and French. It is not consistent in its rules because it draws from many languages with different rules, and we even import more words from other languages with impunity.

But so what, do you think English is hard? Oh my goodness, try some other languages. Try Spanish, which has the concept of grammatical gender, so that 'taco' is male but 'quesadilla' is female, and then the rest of the words in the sentence have to agree with the gender of the subject. Try Japanese, which has the concept of honorifics, suffixes attached to the end of any word referring to people, which change depending upon the relationship between speaker and "speakee"; thus your brother George is 'George-san' to you, but your father calls him 'George-kun'. Try Thai, which has the concept of phonemic tones, so that five words which are spelled and pronounced identically have radically different meanings depending on the tone of voice you use; the syllable 'na' on a rising note means 'thick', but on a falling note means 'face'. And try Chinese , which uses 600 pictograms just to get started with a baby-level vocabulary!

What, you feel taxed because you have to keep "they're" and "their" straight? Oh my God, when is the telethon? I want to contribute all I can.

What if you have dyslexia, ADHD, and Asperger's? Yes, I know someone who has all three. You do, now, too. In fact, you're reading something written by him right now! And I chose not to go through life with a brass band in front of me declaring my handicaps like a flag that people have to salute. All I have to do, you see, is care about overcoming my own natural disadvantages, and then I overcame them. Because I am a human being, with a spine and a brain and a heart, and I would rather live standing on my two feet than hide behind a diagnosis, like a coward. Which is why I have never mentioned it before and will never mention it again. For the same reason, I also don't bring up that I was raised in poverty, had to miss a lot of school to support my family, was raised in a broken home, could not afford college, was forced to self-educate, or dozens of other excuses I could use.

What excuse is it now? Did you have a poor education? Well, if you are in such a bad way that you fail kindergarten literacy, then what are you doing online at 2AM arguing about which Marvel superhero deserves to have the film with the biggest budget this summer? You have to hurry to your tutoring appointment - you have no time for idle chit-chat! And by the way, how do you manage to hold down a job, procure a place to live, or even find your way around town? Who gave you a laptop? How did you find this website?

You say you didn't have the time to spell it out the long way when you texted me? Well, what are you, an EMT? What are you doing while you text - driving a fire engine on the way to a four-alarmer? Yes, I know, I have a smartphone too, and my fingers are as fat as Grecian columns and the buttons are as tiny as fleas. I still text in complete sentences. And if I'm too busy to do that, then I'm too busy to text at all.

You say "mistakes happen"? Yes, they do! In an essay of this length with nobody to edit it (or publish it, for that matter) but me, I'm sure that I've made a few mistakes. I will try to catch and correct all that I can. I will save a draft and re-read it. When others catch mistakes, I will acknowledge them and correct the error (and have a sense of humor enough to laugh at the irony, given the subject). The difference between the occasional typo and lazy thinking is painfully, painfully obvious. ERRORS are random; LAZY is a habit. Pro-intelligence people admit to error; anti-intelligence people attack the one who pointed it out.

Oh, wait, maybe you'll catch me on some really arcane Strunk-and-White-type style rule. English, you say, has so many rules, nobody could be expected to memorize them all. Oh, please! We're not talking about dangling participles or split infinitives or ending a sentence on a preposition here - we're talking about the difference between 'there', 'their', and 'they're' - an adverb, a pronoun, and a contraction for a pronoun and a verb - words that most any three-year-old child knows.

You say that I am "exclusionist" for wanting to limit my online company to good writers? Why yes, yes I am. This is the "social" web, after all, and I see no problems with applying the same standards to virtual socializing on the Internet that I deploy, sans controversy, in the real-life socializing that takes place in my living room. So from now on, I will also ask all rude, violent, and irresponsible people to stay off my website as well. In fact, as soon as webcams are standard, I intend to be exclusionist to the point that, just as I would when answering the door, I give prospective visitors the once-over through the peephole and refuse them entry if I don't like the way they look.

And now I have an unpleasant task to do. I really, really like British performer Stephen Fry, have been following his work for quite some time, and have just plain looked up to him in the past.

But now, I have to pound sand in his rat-hole.

I have to do this because of this video, linked to and cited more and more every day as a "take that" to us "Grammar Nazis".

I'm afraid that I don't much care for Stephen Fry anymore.

In this little vlog, he does the very un-British (but very, very American) act of taking "Grammar Nazis" to task who, for example, protest the sign in the grocery store that says "Ten items or less" when it should (allegedly) say "Ten items or fewer".

OK, Stephen, I'll play your little game, because I have an appetite for straw men today.

In defense of the offending sign-painter, Fry has the audacity to cite Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare (basically, it amounts to "they didn't use perfect English, either"), and then looks down his noses at us "pedants" for not appreciating the rhythm, music, art, spirit, and joy of language as a dynamic, alive, and vibrant thing.

Gee, golly. We're sorry. No, actually on second thought, we're not the least sorry, Stephen Fry! You write like slugs on opium bugger, you have no more command of English than a USA beauty-pageant contestant, and you're only a British David Hasslehoff pandering to your real fan-base overseas because you're a loser in your own home country. And to put a fine point on how out-of-touch you are and perhaps always have been, you start off getting it wrong regarding whom is calling whom 'elitist'. It's the Laziness Nazis calling the Grammar Nazis 'elitist'; it wouldn't make any sense for it to be the other way around, now bloody would it?

That was the ad hominem appetizer. Now for the main course of reasoned arguments:

One does not have to violate the rules of spelling, grammar, and punctuation in order to produce a beautiful work of language any more than engineers must violate the laws of physics to pull off a perfect rocket launch. When Oscar Wilde or William Shakespeare misplace a comma or noun a verb, they have a license to do so by virtue of being historic and world-famous authors. Historic and world-famous authors do not get to be historic and world-famous authors by being ignorant of the rules, but by having mastered the rules, to a degree such that they know when they can augment them to serve the higher purpose of their own, more inspired writing.

Not that sign-painter. No historic and world-famous author, he. And he knew it. When the store hired him to paint a sign for the express check-out lane, he wasn't trying to wring the most succulent morsel of poetry from the dry bone of commercial store display work. No, he was getting paid bottom dollar to crank out the sloppiest, but still acceptable, possible wording and head for the pub while the paint dried.

And for such a simple task to which he was appointed, he was too incompetent even at that. For the correct phrase would not have been "12 items or less" nor even "12 items or fewer", but "12 item limit", a solution which is unambiguous, irrefutably correct, and takes less space and less time to boot.

But that sign painter, anonymous forever, did not think of it. And do you know why? Because he could not be bothered to expend the mental effort. Because he had a lazy brain that does not like to do work. Because he was a "Laziness Nazi", and people like Stephen Fry are making a living appealing to the Populist masses by telling them that their sloth is justified.

And that, my friends, I am so regretful to report, is an idiot.

proof-reading provided by Cutty Sark

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