Comprehensive Uncle TechTip Simulator

Around 1988–1991 there was a weekly computer magazine in the UK called New Computer Express. This period coincided roughly with the time I was a freelance writer in the same field.

For childish reasons now lost to time, a group of us freelancers had a major hate-on for  NCE’s advice columnist. Writing under the name Uncle TechTip, this columnist seemed to answer most questions with something like “Hmm, I don’t know anything about _____. Maybe a reader can help?” Almost without fail, he’d have readers write in answers for next week’s issue.

Not realizing that Uncle TT’s economy of response was a sly precursor to crowdsourcing websites, the neophyte journo brigade were incensed by his lack of knowledge. One of us wrote an Uncle TechTip Simulator in BASIC, which I recreate from memory for your enjoyment:

10 CLS
15 PRINT " *** Uncle TechTip Simulator ***"
25 INPUT "What is your question for Uncle TechTip";a$
35 PRINT "Uncle TechTip's Answer: "
45 PRINT "Hmm, I don't know anything about"
50 PRINT " ";a$;" ..."
55 PRINT "Maybe a reader can help?"

Road Trip Playlist – for the way home, 2015

  1. In The Bleak Midwinter — Kith & Kin
  2. Jed’s Other Poem (Beautiful Ground) — Jason Lytle
  3. The Ballad of Mr. Steak — Kishi Bashi
  4. Baby, We’d Be Rich (Cuss Version) — Old Man Luedecke
  5. Arms I Know So Well — Emma Ruth Rundle
  6. One Nation Under A Brolly — Trixie’s Big Red Motorbike
  7. Guantanamera — Holly Near, Arlo Guthrie, Ronnie Gilbert, Pete Seeger
  8. Takeshi and Elijah — The Music Tapes
  9. Gone Beyond — Akron/Family
  10. Green, Green Rocky Road — Dave Van Ronk
  11. Same Old Man — Holy Modal Rounders
  12. One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21 (Album Version) — The Flaming Lips
  13. Oh God, Where Are You Now? (In Pickeral Lake? Pigeon? Marquette? Mackinaw?) — Sufjan Stevens
  14. Thumbtacks and Glue — Woodpigeon
  15. Long John — Holy Modal Rounders
  16. The First Day of Winter — Ivy Mairi
  17. Baby Bluejay — Poopy Lungstuffing
  18. A Pickle and Two Pearl Onions — The Golden Motors
  19. Delicate Cycle — The Uncluded
  20. Tongues — Ty Segall & White Fence
  21. Plastic Jesus — The Flaming Lips
  22. Highwire — Tall Tall Trees
  23. Roo-Buh-Doo-Buh-Doo — The Statesmen
  24. Nitrous Gas — Frightened Rabbit
  25. John Hardy — Silver Apples
  26. Water Fountain — Tune-Yards
  27. The Ghost in You — Robyn Hitchcock
  28. Since Yesterday — Strawberry Switchblade
  29. When the Levee Breaks — Memphis Minnie
  30. Un — Y Niwl
  31. I Wear Black — Ty Segall & Mikal Cronin
  32. Never Let Me Go — Basia Bulat
  33. Stop Error — John K. Samson
  34. Desiree — The Left Banke
  35. friend — bo en
  36. Forked Deer — Sheesham and Lotus
  37. Send Them Kids to War — The Burns Unit
  38. Shanzhai (For Shanzhai Biennial) [feat. Helen Feng] — Fatima Al Qadiri
  39. 8 bit Blues (Chicago to LA to NY) — Kid Koala
  40. Biscuit Roller — Peter Laughner
  41. Walking on the Moon — The Police
  42. aisatsana — Aphex Twin

Going Nowhere Fast

Damn, this is a fine album. Credited as “Stampfel & Weber — The Original Holy Modal Rounders”, it’s a 1981 Rounder release that’ll probably never see the light as a digital release. And that’s a crying shame.

It packs a lot of tracks into one album. All of them fun, with the off-kilterness that happens so magically when these two play together.
Side 1:

  1. You’ve got the right String Baby, but the wrong Yo-yo — as briefly featured on Laugh-In.
  2. My Name is Morgan but it ain’t J. P. —Steve Weber really has that parlour fingerpicking style nailed down.
  3. Goin’ to Memphis — Cash, murdered. Outstanding skreeky fiddle from Peter.
  4. Goin’ to Memphis (reprise) —a little bit of caterwauling that was too good to throw out
  5. Jeanine’s Dream —this is a lovely take on La Danseuse, with words by Antonia. I know that Peter’s been obsessed with this tune for decades.
  6. When the Iceworms nest again —supposedly traditionally Canadian.
  7. If You’ll be my Girl —dropped from their 1965(ish) album because it was original, this shows that S&W write some beautiful bubblegum pop.
  8. Aeko
  9. Lovin’ Mad Tom —Shakespeare via Antonia. Centuries old, still haunting us.

Side 2:

  1. Sea of Love — Steve’s voice is great for this sappy love song.
  2. Come to the Mardi Gras —as usual, Peter finds an old tune and makes it crazed.
  3. Philadelphia Lawyer —a Woody Guthrie tune played almost straight.
  4. Are You from Dixie? —even if I were, I’d deny it if faced with someone proclaiming it as dementedly as this.
  5. Smokey Joe’s Café —a slurfy, sloppy cover.
  6. Goodbye to Booze —This, along with Coldest Woman, was one of the two tracks from this album on I Make A Wish For A Potato, which got me into this whole Holy Modal Rounder mess in the first place.
  7. Junker’s Blues —an unapologetic heroin user’s song.
  8. Red Rooster —play this to clear the house. It sets the demented level up against the stops.
  9. Coldest Woman —a daft little island tune with nicely swung guitar by Steve.
  10. Dance in Slow Motion —another sweet song with Peter singing.
  11. Unnamed Rag —The only words on this Weber tune are “Unnamed Rag” (if you don’t count the stalwart “vo-dee-oh-dee”-ing from Peter) because he hadn’t thought of a name for it.

It must be about time for a fifth duo album from S&W; there was 15 years between this and HMR2, and Too Much Fun came 19 years after. I guess since there’s only been 14 years since that last album, I’m being a bit premature …

A bit too much Randy Bachman

Richard “Friendly Rich” Marsella noted that CBC Radio’s Vinyl Tap with Randy Bachman features a lot of music by … Randy Bachman. If you’ve got your own radio show “to play [your] favourite songs and tell stories from [your] life on the road and in the studio“, you might want to be a bunch heavier on your influences than your own actual work. It doesn’t seem that way with Randy Bachman, though.

In the 49 unique editions of Vinyl Tap broadcast in the last year, 27 of them feature his own music and/or performances. So in addition to his CBC pay for the show, he’s getting royalties, too. Rich puts it a little better, if a lot more invective filled:

Bring back quality broadcasting from people behind the scenes who are hard-working and informed…not merely has-been rock stars with egos larger than Winnipeg.

Given that Mr. Bachman constantly plays his own music on this show, receives royalties for the theme song, and might also be receiving ACTRA payments for incessantly wanking on his guitar between songs, CBC should consider whether or not this is a conflict of interest, as a public broadcaster.

Richard’s started a petition: Let’s petition to remove Randy’s Vinyl Tap from the CBC: No more BTO on the CBC! I’ve signed it, and I hope you’ll consider signing it too.

I ran some stats on the show’s playlists (thanks, CBC!), and Richard sure has a point. Here’s a list of all the shows from the last year, showing just the first Bachman-item on the show:

Broadcast Song Performer Album/Concert Randy Bachman credit
2011/03/04 Takin’ Care Of Business Bachman-Turner Overdrive Best Of Bachman-Turner Overdrive Live Composer
2011/03/26 When Friends Fall Out Guess Who American Woman Composer
2011/04/09 Undun Kurt Elling Nightmoves Composer
2011/04/23 We Gotta Change Playlist For The Planet Composer
2011/04/30 Repo Man Repo Man Composer
2011/05/07 I’m Happy Just To Dance With You Bachman Cummings Jukebox Guitar
2011/05/14 Who Do You Love Bachman Cummings Jukebox Guitar
2011/06/04 Laughing Guess Who: Anthology Composer
2011/06/25 Undun Kurt Elling Nightmoves Composer
2011/07/01 Raise A Little Hell Trooper Hot Shots Producer
2011/07/09 Takin Care Of Business Randy’s Vinyl Tap – Guitarology 101 Composer
2011/07/16 Blue Collar Bachman-Turner Overdrive Anthology Producer
2011/10/01 Closing Time Closing Time Composer
2011/10/08 Lenny’s Warmup And Improvisation Of Autumn Leaves Lenny Breau Cabin Fever Producer
2011/10/15 Suite Theam Composer, Performer
2011/10/22 No Time Guess Who American Woman Composer
2011/11/12 Undun Kurt Elling Nightmoves Composer
2011/11/19 Shotgun Rider Bachman-Turner Overdrive Freeways Producer
2011/11/26 Blue Sky Day Lindsay Ell Consider This Composer
2011/12/03 Day Off Michael Carey Composer
2011/12/17 Geh Zoag Ma Doch Die Ding Spider Murphy Gang Geh Zoag Ma Doch Die Ding Composer
2011/12/23 Takin’ Care Of Christmas Takin’ Care Of Christmas Composer
2011/12/30 You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet Bachman-Turner Overdrive Anthology Composer
2012/01/21 Any Road Randy Bachman Any Road Composer
2012/02/11 Walk Bachman Cummings Jukebox Guitar
2012/02/18 Who Do You Love Bachman Cummings Jukebox Guitar

Of course, when anyone mentions BTO, I can’t help but think of

… which is a whole heaping helping of morissettian irony unto itself. The whole Smashie and Nicey thing was supposedly a factor in Matthew Bannister’s decision to fire the ageing and irrelevant DJs from BBC Radio 1 in the 1990s. I wouldn’t dream of making any inference from that …

Generational loss in MP3 re-encoding

Okay, name this tune:

madplay / lame – 1000 iterations

(You’ll have to scroll about half way in before anything starts)

Didn’t get it? Try this:

madplay 24-bit / lame – 1000 iterations

(Again, you’ll have to scroll about half way in before anything starts)

Missed that one? Okay then, how about:

lame / lame – 1000 iterations

(no need to scroll here.)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s a clip from Adele‘s Someone Like You. Sure, you can’t make out the words too well in the last one, but at least they don’t sound like some dire paen to Cthulhu, like the first two do.

All of the above samples are the same source file re-encoded 1000 times. I’d heard that there was some loss to encoding MP3s, but thought that if you kept about the same bitrate, there wouldn’t be too much loss. I wanted to test out my theory, so I took:

  • LAME — a quality mp3 encoder (that can also decode to WAV)
  • madplay — a decent mp3 decoder that uses fixed point for speed
  • a shell script (see below) that encodes an MP3 1000 times, feeding the output of the last run as the input of the next.
  • a sample clip; in this case, ganked from 21: Adele: Music using Audio Hijack Pro.

The original sample looks pretty clean; it’s not the highest quality, but it’s clear:

The first thing that strikes about the multiply-reencoded file is that it’s much longer:

This is because LAME adds padding to the beginning and end of each song. All this padding adds up over 1000 runs.

I’d used madplay extensively before, so I knew it worked reliably. First, I tried it using an intermediate sample size of 16 bits (same as the source) and no dithering. Just after 100 runs, Ms Adkins’ plaintive voice becomes hard to understand:
madplay / lame – 100 iterations

I’d turned dithering off in the first test, as I thought it would overcome the signal. As the signal was pretty much gone, I didn’t think I had much to lose, so I tried it at madplay’s full capability of 24 bit internal processing. Again, 100 runs was where things started to go really sideways:
madplay 24-bit / lame – 100 iterations

LAME can also decode MP3s, and remarkably, the lyrics remained discernable after 1000 interations (so go and see the third sample up top). Sure, it sounds scratchy, but the piano sounds like a piano and not like some underwater harp. LAME is clearly able to recognize its own input, and decode it accordingly. madplay, on the other hand, just treats an MP3 as a generic MP3, hence the over-compression and extra silences.

So really, if you’re going to re-encode music, it matters more what you use to decode your MP3s. If you can use the same tool for both, all the better.

All Day Long In Bliss

Call me a twee-hugger, but I love Trixie’s Big Red Motorbike. They sound like a brother and sister making up silly sweet songs and recording them on a shoebox tape recorder — which is (pretty much) what they were. Siblings Mark and Melanie Litten, along with some occasional help on backing vocals and saxophone, caught the ear of John Peel, and for a while they were the soundtrack of everyone’s anorak life.

Mark recently scraped together everything of TBRM and so Lobby Lud Records lives again on Bandcamp. There’s not much else out there, except the John Peel Session. This is good.

Richard Harvey – A New Way of Seeing

A New Way of Seeing was created by Richard Harvey for ICL for the launch of a new series of computers in 1979. Since it was only released to ICL dealers and their clients, it’s not widely known. This is a shame, as it’s a delicious slice of electro-prog.

So here it is: A New Way of Seeing – Richard Harvey (mp3).

Quality’s not great, ‘cos the audio’s ganked from this YouTube video. Seeing as ICL is long gone, this is probably the best we’ll have to live with.

mildly impressed by shazam (and soundhound)

I’m a late adopter of Shazam, which is a semi-magic music recognition service. I just gave it a ten song shuffle from my collection.

Shazam matched:

  • LLL — Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter
  • Puppet Master — Marissa Nadler
  • He Woke Me Up Again — Sufjan Stevens
  • At The Bottom Of Everything — Bright Eyes
  • Derelict — Beck

Shazam found no match for:

Shazam was completely wrong about:

So: 50% hit rate, 50% miss — and one false positive. Adequate.

Karl recommended I try SoundHound. It matched:

  • LLL — Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter
  • He Woke Me Up Again — Sufjan Stevens
  • Religious Songs — Withered Hand
  • Caney Fork River — Old Man Luedecke
  • At The Bottom Of Everything — Bright Eyes
  • Derelict — Beck

Soundhound didn’t match:

  • Puppet Master — Marissa Nadler
  • Reuben — Rafe Stefanini
  • Appetite — Mount Eerie
  • Setting Forth — Flashman

So it knew about Withered Hand and Old Man Luedecke, but didn’t know about Marissa. About the same; maybe slightly better.

MetaFilter 2012-1 Music Swap

It’s music swap time on MetaFilter. Here’s what I chose:

  • Mobius Smurf — Nichol Robertson
  • Unyoked Oxen Turn — Alasdair Roberts
  • Is She Fiona — The Gerbils
  • The Sloth — Flanders and Swann
  • Morphine — Clifton Hicks
  • Please Be Kind (demo) — Colleen and Paul
  • Running on Fumes — King Creosote & Jon Hopkins
  • Alcoholic Blues — Sheesham and Lotus
  • Four Horses — Ken Reaume
  • Hypernuit — Bertrand Belin
  • Ran So Hard The Sun Went Down — Otis Taylor
  • Freeing Song by Reindeer — The Music Tapes
  • Wrapped In Grey — XTC
  • Tengo La Voz — Bostich
  • Singing to the Earth (to thank Her for You) — Apollo Sunshine
  • Flop Eared Mule — Holy Modal Rounders
  • The Speed of Things — Robyn Hitchcock
  • Olivia — BGM
  • Yawns — Frightened Rabbit
  • No Cigarettes — Withered Hand
  • Ficelles — Ingrid St-Pierre

It’s here on Spotify: MeFi Swap 2012-1.

pity the lobster requirement

It appears that my musical choice has this effect on people, as this just happened on a collaborative jukebox I’m aware of:

  • (07:50) The Lobster Requirement has left
  • (07:49) Playing Freeing Song for Reindeer by The Music Tapes from Music Tapes for Clouds & Tornadoes
  • (07:49) Finished playing French Toast Man by Fred Lane & Ron ‘Pate’s Debonairs from From The One That Cut You & Car Radio Jerome
  • (07:48) The Lobster Requirement has joined
  • Oh well.