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2018 in perspective

It’s arguable, but by now, it’s pretty safe to say that the proverbial year of Linux on the desktop is never happening. But… do we really need it so much? Especially if there an impressive lineup of upcoming libre software releases set for 2018? Let’s see what this year is bringing us.

FreeCAD 0.17

Over the past 1.5 years since v0.16 release, FreeCAD has gained a huge amount of changes: massive updates in the PartDesign and Path workbenches, composite solids now possible in the Part workbench thanks to upgrading to newer OpenCascade kernel, improved BIM workflow for architects, new Spreadsheet workbench for importing Excel data, and new TechDraw workbench for creating technical drawings.

The Arch workbench in particular now features new presets to build precast concrete elements,as well as tools for designing rebars and a plumbing system.

Unfortunately, FreeCAD 0.17 won’t be shipped with any Assembly workbench, as available solutions are still experimental, and the focus seems to have shifted from Assembly2 to Assembly3. There are, however, builds of FreeCAD + Assembly3 on GitHub.

Since last year, FreeCAD also has a GitHub repository that unifies the most interesting workbenches/add-ons. it’s very much worth checking out.

The FreeCAD team recently announced feature freeze and is actively encouraging translators to update localization files, while developers deal with bug reports.

Release notes are still work in progress, and you can learn a lot more about changes in the Arch workbench from Yorik’s blog.

Preliminary builds of FreeCAD 0.17 are available on GitHub as well. If you are interested in providing feedback, this forum thread is for you.

Blender 2.80

Originally proposed to be released “somewhere in 2016”, Blender 2.80 now seems complete enough to land somewhere in 2018.

Real-time PBR in the viewport, asset management, grease pencil improvements, complete overhaul of layers and dependency graph, UI cleanup… Blender 2.80 has the makings of a huge update that will indeed immensily improve the workflow.

The Blender team does an excellent job promoting new features in the upcoming major update. There’s a dedicated page that serves as intermediate release notes for v2.80. Moreover, Ton Roosendaal recently posted a great overview of new stuff expected this year. Do check it out!

Krita 4.0

Two of the major new features in upcoming Krita 4.0, vector graphics and text, were subject of the 2016 campaign on Kickstarter. For vector graphics, here is an overview from Jeremy Bullock, one of the leading OpenToonz contributors:

With text, the idea was to simplify adding speech ballons and suchlike in comics. That’s a somewhat specialized use of the text tool, although adding generic captions works just fine. The team also notes that due to all the troubles with the tax office they had to limit the feature set for 4.0 (at least for the text tool), aiming to enhance it in further updates (better OpenType support, more control over glyphs etc.).

As usual, you should expect many improvements in the painting tools: various user experience improvements, possibility to use brushes larged than 1,000px, better performance by realying on multh-threading. For painting-related changes overview, see this video:

The team also published preliminary released notes well worth reading. Currently, there is a beta of 4.0 available for downloading.

GIMP 2.10

After almost 6 years of work, the GIMP team is finalizing the next big update. The plan is to cut a beta of v2.10 once the amount of critical bugs falls further down: it’s currently stuck at 20, as new bugs get promoted to blockers, while old blockers get fixed. It’s a bit of an uphill battle.

GIMP 2.10

The team initially intended v2.10 to be more or less a GEGL-based upgrade of v2.8 plus high bit depth precision support. Needless to say, the plan hasn’t exactly worked: there will be a lot more than that.

In fact, even now, when only critical bugs are supposed to be worked on, the team cannot resist making improvements that aren’t blocking the release. Just last night, Ell implemented masks for layer groups and updated the PSD plug-in accordingly.

So v2.10 is arriving later in 2018 with features including, but not limited to:

  • Processing with 16-/32-bit per color channel precision
  • Loading/exporting 16-bit PNG, 16/32-bit TIFF/PSD/EXR, 16/32/64-bit FITS files
  • Color management rewritten as a core feature, with all color widgets now color-managed
  • 10+ new blend modes: Pass-Through, Linear Burn, Vivid Light, Linear Light etc.
  • 80+ GEGL-based filters, with on-canvas preview
  • New and improved transformation, selection, and painting tools
  • Canvas rotation/flipping
  • Initial multi-threaded image processing

So far the community’s response to finalization of 2.10 seems to be mixed. A lot of people feel that the release is too long overdue (and developers readily admit that). Hence the decision to relax the release policy and allow new features in stable branches (when possible). This way, contributions will get to end-users a lot faster.

RawTherapee 5.4 and darktable 2.6

Quite a few free software users are torn between RawTherapee and darktable. Both are very solid digital photography applications with an overlapping feature set, yet different approach to the processing workflow and UI/UX.

Local contrast tool in RawTherapee 5.4

RawTherapee 5.4 is currently expected later this February. The release brings quite a few much welcome updates, some of which are:

  • New tools such as histogram matching, HDR Tone Mapping, and Local Contrast
  • New RCD demosaicing algorithm to minimize various artifacts
  • Out-of-gamut areas visualization
  • Creating and processing Sony Pixel Shift ARQ files
  • Saving 32-bit floating-point TIFF files, clamped to [0-1].
  • Lensfun-based chromatic aberration correction
  • Cleaner UI

But there is lot more going on. In a conversation, RT developer Morgan Hardwood told us:

We have been putting off a major refactoring and unification of the four existing pipelines (main image, thumbnail, etc.) into one. That work will begin now and should make a lot of new cool stuff possible, like on-canvas editing.

Naturally, there are no estimations of release dates beyond v5.4 at this point.

For darktable, it’s hard to predict what’s coming in the next major version. The team traditionally releases a major update around winter holidays time, so we are a mere month into the new development cycle.

There are, however, two new features that might make it to the next big update. The first one is a Filmulate plugin that reuses Filmulator technology to emulate film development.

The other one is a new Retouch tool that performs various operations such as healing on wavelet scales. The team wasn’t originally fond of adding localized edits beyond spot removal to darktable. But they eventually gave in, when Liquify was submitted by a contributor (and it took quite a while to complete the feature). Releasing darktable with even more retouching tools could be… well, fun?

SVG2 to be finalized

In November 2016, we published an interview with Tavmjong Bah, Inkscape’s core team developer responsible for introducing several artists-centered features to upcoming SVG2. During the conversation, he voiced his concerns about the possibility of terminating the working group and moving the specification to W3C’s Web Platform Incubator Community Group (WICG) where its future would be rather uncertain.

The charter wasn’t renewed in January 2017, but the project wasn’t moved to WICG either. A new charter was announced in August with Microsoft’s Bogdan Brinza (Principal PM Manager, Microsoft Edge) at the helm.

The WG was rechartered for the sole purpose of getting SVG2 unstuck and making it reach the Proposed Recommendation status which is scheduled for June 2018. Not quite coincidentally, this is when this WG will be disbanded again.

The Charter page is very specific about the focus of this charter period:

As a primary focus […], the group will concentrate on the stabilisation and interoperability testing of the core SVG2 specification. As part of that testing, features which are in the reference draft of SVG2 and which do not meet the stability and interoperability requirements for a Proposed Recommendation may be moved to separate specification modules, work on which would remain in scope, but at a lower priority.

This is what the working group has been busy with ever since.

FreieFarbe/FreeColour is going DIN

In December 2017, FreieFarbe e.V. announced that their initiative for „Open Colour Communication“ standard was supported by DIN and will become a DIN SPEC (which is the first step towards DIN Norm). It is claimed that DIN intends to turn this into an international standard via ISO later.

The FreieFarbe / FreeColour initiative aims to provide an open alternative to Pantone, HKS, and other proprietary colour systems. They argue that unlike Pantone and some other proprietary manufacturers like RAL, FreiFarbe has an actual color system.

As part of the proposal to DIN, they submitted a prototype of a CIE LCH based color reference (printed by Proof.de), where colors are sorted by their hue, lightness, and chroma values in steps of 10, 5, and 10 respectively (hue would be in steps of 5 in the final version). Which is, in fact, quite similar (if not identical) to the color system of RAL Design.

The team has just published HLC Colour Atlas: a printed reference (A4, ring binder), a printed documentation in German and English, colour palettes with LAB values in ASE (Adobe), SBZ (SwatchBooker), and other file formats, a PDF master file of the atlas with layers for different output targets, a CxF3 file where color data is stored in spectral values.

The specification should be done by June 2018. Ink formulas might not make it to the spec, in which case FreieFarbe e.V. promises to publish them freely online.

Ardour 6.0

Although projects like LMMS, MusE, and Rosegarden haven’t really gone anywhere and have their following, it does look like Ardour and Qtractor are the dominating digital audio workstations on Linux these days. Both projects have exemplary maintenance and get regular updates, although Ardour’s release pace recently slipped for a good reason.

Ardour 6 alpha

Since mid-2017 or so, Ardour has been undergoing a completely boring procedure called refactoring and internal redesign. Hence Ardour 6, expected later this year, will feature mostly behind-the-scenes changes. Most of the work going into the next version so far is architectural (like proper handling of musical time), with one exception: cue monitoring.

At this point, it’s hard to tell whether it’s going to stay that way by the time v6.0 is finalized (after all, GIMP 2.10 was going to be mostly v2.8+GEGL, and we do know how this ended). That said, further 6.x releases are likely to gain what lead developer Paul Davis cautiously calls “some features to support a more “groove-centric” workflow”.

It’s not exactly a huge surprise that Paul has been interested in making Ardour more suitable for live performances for quite a long time. So we probably should be looking forward to something along the lines of advanced looping and sample stretching. Existing support for both Ableton Push 2 and NI Maschine 2 control surfaces would come in handy then.

So far, Ardour 6 looks like a summer-time release, but it’s too early to tell.

More synths awesomeness

Last year, VCV Rack stormed into the softsynths scene as a free/libre software implementation of Eurorack/modular synths and became one of the most exciting projects in the Linux audio ecosystem.

VCV Rack is designed as a real modular synth, and there’s an increasing amount of all sorts of modules available. And this thing is addictive as hell. We expect VCV Rack to keep rapidly growing this year.

In 2018, we are also likely to see further improvements of Zyn-Fusion, next generation of ZynAddSubFX. Although Mark McCurry only raised half the money he expected through selling binaries of Zyn-Fusion on Gumroad, he doesn’t regret this decision a bit. On the last day of 2017, he released the final bit of source code he wrote for that project, so now anyone can build ZynAddSubFX with new, improved UI from source code.

From now on, the old UI is getting just bugfixes, all new stuff is happening in the new UI. The 3.1.x series is expected to focus on workflow improvements. If you don’t have Zyn-Fusion in your Linux repo, you can have a go at build instructions.

After a spectacular launch around 2016, the free/libre Helm soft synth wasn’t getting many updates in 2017. It might seem that Matt Tytel lost interest in the project, but he was actually rethinking it:

There were a bunch of things I wanted to change in Helm, but they would require ripping out most features. I’m going to fix more Helm bugs in the future, but I will not not add any features. I’m working on a new synth with a new name.

Again, no release dates.

NLEs

Unlike with DAWs, non-linear video editors is where it’s quite impossible to mention one application without hearing “But you forgot [my libre NLE of choice]!”. Indeed, there are just so many of them these days!

Pitivi, Shotcut, Kdenlive, Flowblade, OpenShot… Most of these projects have regular updates. Blender VSE reportedly still doesn’t have a maintainer, but is now being improved by Nathan Lovato et al. via his Power Sequencer add-on. And, of course, we still have three flavours of Cinelerra. Even Lumiera still shows signs of life.

So in 2018, you are in for a treat, whichever non-linear video editor you end up using.

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Book Review: Digital Painting with Krita 2.9

If you are new to digital painting, installing and using Krita is free forever, and the newly published book by Scott Petrovic will get you started in no time.

The reasons I’m personally very excited about this book go beyond the actual content in question. Some of them have to do with the author’s persona, and others — with how this book looks in the general context of manuals on free software for creative professionals.

Lately I’ve been noticing a lot of excitement about Linux being a success, because it’s on your phones/tablets and on the servers that run your favorite websites and services. But talk to a publisher about writing a book on a major, but niche free application, and you typically get red lights unless it’s PostgreSQL or LibreOffice or some other highly visible project.

This has led Scott Petrovic, a designer, developer, and artist from St. Louis, USA, to start his own little publishing company, Louvus Media. It would otherwise be impossible for him to publish a book on Krita — increasingly popular free software for digital painting. Scott ended up single-handedly layouting and typesetting both printable and MOBI/EPUB versions of the book.

One more thing that needs to be told about the author is that he’s pretty much part of the development team in the Krita project. Here’s a quick rundown of Scott’s contributions to date:

  • designed Krita’s new website;
  • implemented saving tools settings between sessions;
  • did most of the UI for the new transform tools;
  • improved brush editor UI in 2.9.x;
  • fixed various bugs.

Scott is also the reason why Krita is now featuring in the ImagineFX magazine since early this year.

Being that much involved with the project tends to make a huge impact on the accuracy of the content. There was simply no single inaccurate statement in the book that I could detect.

books pages 1

Typically publishers hire technical editors to make this possible. Scott got half of the Krita team to become his technical editors, and he’s giving back by promoting the software through the book and sharing a slice of whatever income it will bring with Krita Foundation.

In his own words:

I do believe there is a need for this type of material. Something that will make a big impact on Krita’s future and how the graphics community sees it. I hope it will help people see how great open source software can be.

That said, given the author’s background, the book is surprisingly not technical.  Don’t expect to find blending mode equations or explanations of app’s internals. Even the chapter on installation is rather quick and non-verbose (and rightfully so).

Instead Scott focused on teaching actual skills. Nearly every feature is explained by how you can apply the concept in a practical manner.

Another major pro is that Scott used (with permission) other artists’ artworks to illustrate the book, along with his own illustrations which are very nicely done.

book pages 2

If you’ve read books on free software for designers and photographers before, you know that typically illustrations are from the ‘meh’ department at best. Making a book on software for artists look like it’s actually done for artists is how things are supposed to go. But given how real life works, this book makes a major, if belated step forward. Oh well.

For the reference, here’s the contents of the book, chapter by chapter:

  1. User interface
  2. Painting Fundamentals
  3. Layers
  4. Selections and Transforms
  5. Drawing Aids
  6. Adjustments, Filters, and Effects
  7. Brush Editor Overview
  8. Brush Engines
  9. Working with Color
  10. Vector Tools

As you can see, the book covers some tools that are often considered generic, like filters and effects. However, Scott puts these tools into the digital painting context, so you need not worry about it.

Conclusions

In a nutshell, ‘Digital Painting with Krita 2.9’ by Scott Petrovic is your go-to book to get cracking with Krita. It explains both basics and advanced features in a way that gets you to actually try, understand, and actively use them.

You probably won’t treat the book as a complete reference to Krita’s features, but that’s OK. Once you know your way around the software, you can happily live off tutorials by David Revoy et al. and find out more nitty gritty details from conversations with other users online, as well as from online reference that’s getting a lot of attention lately.

So far it’s the first and the only book in English on Krita (there are two more in Japanese), and as far as first things go, this one is pretty amazing.

One last thing that has to be said is that Scott welcomes translations of his book. Should you decide to work on one, you can freely discuss it with him. You can get in contact with him by visiting the chat room on IRC (scottyp) or sending him a message on the forum (scottpetrovic).

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The future of Audacity, interview with the team

It seems, these days every other major free/libre media production tool is undergoing dramatic changes that promise richer feature set, better usability, and, generally, more power to users. Audacity is one of them.

Originally developed by Dominic Mazzoni, Audacity has been with us for the past 16 years. By now, there’s probably a whole generation of people doing things with sound and using Audacity as the go-to application for simple recording, editing, and mixing audio, as well as for completely uncommon projects such as making 3D jewelry out of waveforms.

However, like other high-profile free software, the project appears to be torn between an insane amount of feature requests. Some of them have already been addressed with two latest releases that introduced support real-time FX preview for LADSPA/VST/AU plugins, support for LV2 plugins, and basic spectral editing.

Modern Spacer Black VST plugin running in Audacity with real time preview

Modern Spacer Black VST plugin running in Audacity with real time preview

But there are far more requests: contemporary user interface, non-destructive effects and automation, better support for various plugin APIs, complete MIDI workflow etc. So LGW sat down with the team to talk about development priorities and the outlook for the future of the project.

Q: You recently released v2.1.0 with major changes such as real-time preview for effects and spectral selection/editing. Congratulations! Now that it’s out, what’s the next thing to occupy your time?

James Crook: I expect us to be putting more developer time into quality, but in a smarter way:

  • Tests with each of our recently automated build-on-commits that go beyond pass/fail and monitor performance and our memory/CPU headroom.
  • Low overhead ‘countdown’ logging so we can log anything we think might help. I intend this to help us track down some glitches that should not happen.
  • Enhancements to scripting to automatically collect/update all the screenshots for the manual.

The screenshot script is for documentation, but of course will be giving Audacity quite a good workout too.

Q: There’s still a major gap in crossplatform free/libre software when it comes to an easy-to-use digital audio workstation like Apple’s GarageBand. Various existing projects are either inactive (Jokosher), Linux and JACK-only (Qtractor, MusE, Rosegarden, NON-*), EDM-oriented (LMMS), or just commonly considered too complicated for beginners (Ardour). Do you see Audacity filling that void for “bedroom musicians”?

James Crook: Audacity has, in my view, become too hard to use. We need a much simpler mode for it that at the same time does not ‘sandbox’ you away from the more advanced features. That’s a big GUI design challenge rather than just a programming challenge.

I think Julian Dorn and Leon Schlechtriem have some very good thoughts on that with their dedicated recording mode:

Q: MIDI features in Audacity are still basic, and proposed musical time in the timeline hasn’t been implemented yet either. Is it about project vision not involving MIDI much, some sort of technical limitations, or the lack of contributors?

James Crook: What gets developed depends on people’s interests and time, and MIDI is unfinished indeed. Yes, we are all pulling in slightly different directions. As a group, improving real-time is much higher priority for us than MIDI. But we do want MIDI, for reasons beyond using it for composing.

Both MIDI and RT will benefit from pluggable track types, and that is where there is more activity.

Q: About that activity. What are the most exciting features in the works lately?

James Crook: Last year we did Audacity Unconference in Preston, where we demoed radically transformed user interface, converting hand claps to notes (MIDI and wave), a minimally editable score track (musical notation), the RT preview that is now in 2.1.0, an RT effects dock, and automation curves. Not all demos we make will make it into production, but there is exciting stuff in the works.

Q: Adding real-time effects dock and automation would involve a major rewrite of the audio engine (not to mention redesigning the UI), something like what Joshua Haberman started years ago with the Mezzo project, right?

James Crook: I can only partly agree. The FX dock demo was based on what is now 2.1.0 code, so the 2.1.0 audio path supports it. Leland has put down a lot of the foundations for full real-time by spring boarding from cross platform work by GStreamer.

The automation curves were demoed on new audio code with micro-fades that rejoins Audacity at PortAudio. We are making changes in mainstream Audacity audio path based on experience with it. One of those changes will be in 2.1.1.

For both these demos GUI is currently the real barrier to that feature being ready. There will also be work to get the built in effects real-time, as each one will need to be visited.

Joshua’s Mezzo initiative was very focused on the audio engine. We do need a much cleaner API between the audio engine and the GUI — and that is where Mezzo was heading. We also need other structural changes even more. If we don’t think these things through carefully and prototype, then we are writing ‘the same code’ over and over in the GUI in slightly different disguises.

Much of the Audacity specific code that we still have to write for these features is GUI code. The demo code helps us work out what structural changes to make both in GUI and audio API.

Q: But you don’t talk about these work-in-progress projects much, do you?

James Crook: It would be very irresponsible to get end-users’ hopes up based on these early demos. There is though more happening, more new activity, than you see in the main git repo.

Like the current MIDI code, and like Mezzo, there is no guarantee work in progress will ever make it into released code, or that if it does that it will be any time soon.

Q: Speaking of the user interface, Audacity is both praised and criticised for its UI, its branding etc. The team used to be somewhat wary of radical UI changes. Later you added and then, apparently, removed the ability to make skins (or, rather, color themes) for Audacity. Finally, since last year or so, you’ve been posting UI and logo proposals from users on your Google+ page and collecting input. Is there a change of heart? Are we going to see redesigned user interface and updated branding?

Steve Daulton: I’m very keen to promote engagement and contributions for Audacity beyond coding. Developing a major project such as Audacity requires many types of skills and contributions, and is not limited to computer programmers (though as a software project, high quality code is obviously important). Writers, graphic artists, musicians, translators, VO artists, accessibility specialists… All may make valuable contributions.

UI proposal by Lucas Romero Di Benedetto

UI proposal by Lucas Romero Di Benedetto

Vaughan Johnson: Additionally, in 2014, we worked with Intel on prototyping a touch version of Audacity. I’m trying to get back to that project, now that we released Audacity 2.1.

Audacity with touch interface, picture courtesy by Intel

Audacity with touch interface, picture courtesy by Intel

Q: Since its inception, Audacity has been developed in a somewhat generic fashion, which is why it got adopted by a great variety of users. It got Nyquist scripting early on to simplify writing new features, and there have been at least half a dozen of friendly forks (mostly by team members like Vaughan) to customize it for various purposes. Would you say that Audacity today is truly modular and extensible, or do you see ways to improve the state of affairs? How?

James Crook: No. Audacity modularity is minimal as yet. We only have the basics. We are making slow progress though. As mentioned before, we are working on pluggable track types so that we have more modularity in the GUI.

I view Nyquist in Audacity as ‘a secret weapon’ that few people really know about, analogous to having Elisp in Emacs. My impression is that no one is using it to its potential in Audacity. The more involved work using Nyquist seem to be in the standalone version of it. New features like SAL land there first.

Nyquist isn’t as integral and central to operation of Audacity as Elisp is to Emacs. As yet, Nyquist in Audacity has knowledge only of the audio and not of the GUI. To extend Nyquist properly we need to tell it about the GUI and to be able to plug new GUI elements in.

Q: One of annoyances users have with Audacity is its overly long Effect menu — whenever too many plugins are installed and discovered. Years ago effects taxonomy was introduced to make it possible choosing FX based on category they belong to (reverbs, compressors etc.). It was later removed for technical reasons. Today, Audacity still separates internal effects from pluggable ones and breaks external ones into numbered submenus. Do you envision a way forward with this?

James Crook: Yes, we have already done some preliminary design work on that.

Q: Stats at OpenHub give an (admittedly, questionable) impression that the team is getting smaller in terms of code contributions, and there’s a huge difference in activity even between TOP5 committers. Would you say you are growing or shrinking as a developers team?

Steve Daulton: Take a large bucket of salt. The stats on OpenHub were frozen for nearly 4 months and the last time I looked the stats were over a month out of date. I don’t mean to criticise OpenHub, I think they do a great job overall, I’m just pointing out that such stats are not at all reliable for fine grained analysis.

Vaughan Johnson: Yes, OpenHub looks only at code contributions. E.g. Leland always does a lot of commits, sort of “agile”-style, so he gets a very high commit count. I’m okay with that measure, but I think it’s not always representative of actual overall contribution. Line count has also been shown to be a very questionable measure, for many years.

Audacity team is actually growing, e.g., we just added Paul Licameli and encouraged him to add code by giving him commit privileges. James has committed Paul’s contributions prior to us giving Paul commit privileges, so it looks like James is contributing those, but they’re actually Paul’s. James has made his own contributions, too, recently — I’m just saying it’s a misperception that Audacity team is shrinking.

Besides, I and others have been putting in a lot of work that doesn’t register on OpenHub — website files/updates, builds, releases etc. — things that OpenHub ignores.

Q: Is there a particular line of work on Audacity that you need help with the most? Something that, once completed, would move the project light years ahead?

James Crook: People should do what they personally care about. That’s where they will make the most difference. I love the ways that Audacity is already being used in education. Vi Hart did a lovely video explaining overtones using Audacity.

The maths in audio programming ranges from straightforward (amplify is just multiplication) to the diabolically subtle. The hard maths is the biggest most difficult barrier to more developers writing audio code. It’s worth tackling head on.

This is the right time to build the FLOSS audio developer community and bring more people in. Done right the hard maths can be understandable and satisfying. Likewise the programming that follows from it.

So I am repurposing convoluted content from Wikipedia and mining existing code, working with others to comb out the tangled explanations, trying to make a new really beautiful and wide on ramp for audio programming from the very earliest stages on.

I’d love more help. There’s challenges of all kinds in it. It’s not to put just Audacity light years ahead.

Q: What do you see as the most challenging tasks for the project in the foreseeable future — feature-wise, organization-wise etc.?

Steve Daulton: Difficult to put a finger on any one thing as there is so much going on, and different areas require different priorities.

For the documentation crew the major challenge is to continue to provide high quality documentation for a project that is progressing at a rate of knots.

For the user support team it is to provide high quality support for an ever increasing user base. It is the continuing “challenge” that drew me to Audacity (and no doubt the same for other contributors) — we don’t choose to do things, because they are easy, but because they pose a challenge and personal satisfaction when we are able to rise to those challenges.

James Crook: I think, keeping the project fun is the number one challenge for us. We are all volunteers. As code gets bigger, it is harder for an individual to have a big visible impact. That could tend to make it less fun.

A bigger mature project can make development, particularly the “fixing other people’s bugs” more like work than a hobby. We are doing pretty well at fun and impact. AU14 was fun. Both Leland’s and Paul’s changes in 2.1.0 have big visible impact.

We’re working on ways to make the code smaller, less work to bug fix, and related things to keep the project fun.

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Some Fun

It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these…
Animals in Africa get drunk by eating ripe Marula fruit
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50tlF3kGbT4
Alcoholic Vervet Monkeys! – Weird Nature – BBC animals
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSm7BcQHWXk
Mourinho on Setanta – Gangsta Sven
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhJZenzG6jI
ATM Theft Backfires as Explosion Knocks Down Robber
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-30633723
Some articles…
Some quotes…
  •  “Two friends are talking: “Say, buddy, could you loan me 100 Euros?” “Well, you know I only have 60 on me.” “Ok, give me what you’ve got and you’ll only owe me 40.”  http://io9.com/5770759/science-explains-why-humor-turns-women-on
  • A young teacher is interviewing for a position. He is asked: “Can you give me three reasons why you wanted to be a teacher?” The interviewee promptly answers: “December, June, and July. http://io9.com/5770759/science-explains-why-humor-turns-women-on 
  • “An attacker could simply download the My Satis application and use it to cause the toilet to repeatedly flush, raising the water usage and therefore utility cost to its owner,” it says in its report. “Attackers could [also] cause the unit to unexpectedly open/close the lid, activate bidet or air-dry functions, causing discomfort or distress to [the] user.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23575249

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MOD Duo, Linux-based multieffect pedal, gets crowdfunded

The MOD team has raised $82,781 instead of the requested $65,000 at Kickstarter and is planning to deliver their new Linux-based multieffect pedal to musicians around June 2015.

Essentially, MOD Duo is an ARM-based specialized computer with an audio interface that runs Linux and is controled via web interface from your laptop, tablet, or phone. All effects are written using free/libre LV2 API and can be freely connected like nodes in a graph which alone makes MOD unique.

The project started in 2008 with an idea to create a truly customizable multieffect pedal that could be upgraded.

Over the time I got tired of buying new equipment every time I wanted to do something new.

Gianfranco Ceccolini, MOD founder

The project got its first share of Internet’s attention last year thanks to participation at Linux Audio Conference 2013. We’ve seen both praise for using Linux and relying on the open LV2 API, and scepsis regarding industrial design, the choice for Intel Atom for MOD Quadra (the first model in the series), and the price which was around $1K.

Given the price, MOD Quadra did look a bit pale in comparison to Line6’s AMPLIFi FX100 (which received its own share of mixed reviews). But it was about to change, and it did.

Inside and outside

Earlier this year Gianfranco Ceccolini mentioned in a private conversation that they were planning to launch a Kickstarter campaign and move the production to the USA to get rid of the “cost of Brazil” where the company was originally located. The expected price of MOD Duo was estimated to drop to $400 which was still a lot, but already bearable.

They actually did more than that: the cheapest option among Kickstarter perks, the early bird release, was available for $299 during the campaign. But the hardware changed as well.

Instead of Intel Atom N2800 1.8GHz with 2GB RAM and 8GB, MOD Duo got Dual Core ARM A7 1.0GHz, 1GB RAM, and 4GB Flash Storage. And even though the campaign was done $1.5K short of reaching the $85K stretch goal to put 8GB memory inside, the team made a decision to do it anyway. Also, Duo is getting differential balanced outputs thanks to supporter who pushed the campaign through the $75K stretch goal and onward.

The current audio interface is 24/48, and it has 104dB dynamic range. The interface is USB class compliant, and there’s an RJ-45 for additional controllers.

Speaking of which, you can hook up to 8 different peripheral units (expression pedals, footswitches, Arduino Shields) to the same MOD. This will come in handy, since Duo only has 2 controls and 2 LEDs on board.

Cost and hardware weren’t the only thing that changed though. Switching to ARM meant making sure all audio effects worked well on another platform. And yes, the switch did affect performance.

According to Gianfranco Ceccolini, it’s difficult to compare Intel and Atom here, but the team did see performance boosts in case of pitch shifters and distortions. Once measurable example is CAPS Cabinet IV which went form 125% CPU load to 8%. Some plugins still run better on Intel though.

The software

Since we last covered MOD in May 2013, the team made quite a progress towards delivering more and better plugins. They also made quite a few upstream contributions, most notably for the Guitarix project (they are also donating part of the Kickstarter money to LV2 plugins’ developers).

Here’s a video that features a simple processing chain made of LV2 versions of two (originally, LADSPA) TAP and CAPS plugins, ArtyFX‘s Roomy reverb, and MOD’s own gain plugin.

There is some progress on both note/pitch detection and looping which were lacking for MOD Quadra last year. For the looper, the team reused Sooperlooper which they ported to LV2, admittedly, in a simplified form (interestingly, Guitarix recently released an update which features their own looper additionally available as an LV2 plugin).

The note-to-midi plugin that could be useful to turn MOD pedals into guitar synthesizers is currently in alpha shape, makes a lot of CPU use and doesn’t yet “read” chords. But the idea the developers have been toying with is to put a small DSP inside the hardware, connected directly to the input, and thus implement the note detection directly on hardware.

Finally, they recently rolled out the social service where MOD users can share presets. It’s part of the original concept. It’s not exactly a new thing: Fender has been doing it with their FUSE software for a few years already, and, of course, there’s Line6 recent enterprise.

What’s different is that you see what presets are made of, and the preset can have a Vimeo video attached. It’s still missing votes and sorting though.

In conclusion

MOD is a very interesting project to watch. They are open source guys through and through: they release both original and modified code on GitHub, and they aim to financially support developers whose code they reuse.

But they also care about the sound, they understand the zeitgeist and the drive towards social interaction, and, which is still incredible for free/libre projects, they can produce promo videos worth watching, and they don’t try to save a few bucks at the cost of web design.

At that, MOD combines all the good things one associates with free/libre software, and sensible business approach. It looks like the project might very well have a rather interesting future.

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