Friday, 31 July 2020

Book: Kraftwerk: Future Music from Germany

Kraftwerk: Future Music from Germany, by Uwe Schütte, 2020, is another 'introductory' book to Kraftwerk. I recall when Pascal Bussy's Man, Machine and Music from 1993 was pretty much the only book on the topic. Now it seems there's nearly an industry making stories out of Kraftwerk and the krautrock phenomenom.


Not that I complain. It does make an interesting read and is still a little known story. Kraftwerk are known for a certain elusiveness, which further separated from the usually rather pushy pop-acts. Therefore the fans are even more hungry for any potential new snippet or insightful interpretation.

The book traces the evolution of Kraftwerk from a local art-scene band to an internationally known electro-act. The book structure is firmly mapped over the album releases, and it's not a long nor a very detailed book. If you read the ANTENNA mailing list actively in the early 2000s, there's probably not much new in this book, despite the 2020 perspective. In some of the details, the book does read like a compendium of the collective insight in that group.

Perhaps following these times, there's more need to re-examine the band's strategy of flirting with fascism, and to discuss racial themes in relation to the band. Despite some early bad international publicity and poorly calculated attempts at playing a game of stereotypes with journalists, it's long established Kraftwerk do not condone nazism. But, despite that, now the somewhat flippant notions of 'ethnic music from Ruhr area', 'industrial folk music' and the band's apparent celebration of western technological values (irony and all) need some re-evaluation too.

However, the way I read the book, the widespread appeal of Kraftwerk's music in different localities seems to testify in favour of a fundamentally anti-nationalist standpoint. Whereas rock/blues was appropriated to be the standard western white (male) music, Kraftwerk could help invent pop music that was a sufficiently blank slate, music for people who 'came from nowhere'.

Between the lines, I'm thinking the author says that Kraftwerk's asexual, 'anti-male' approach kind of rescues Kraftwerk from the sins of rock artists' maledom, despite being something of a boys' club music. The book does not do much to open the sexism of The Model, though. Is it somehow saved by a layer of irony or not, I'm wondering?

Instead the author offhandedly says the Sex Object is an oddity, and, in my opinion, misinterprets the song. It is perhaps time to say The Model is the odd one out in Kraftwerk canon, and the author is already giving tools to decipher the song this way. At least I've felt that Sex Object is now a more a song for our times than The Model.

Interestingly, the author points out the cultural stream of 1970s afro-futurism, which means that in likelihood the electro-influences in hip-hop would have emerged even without Kraftwerk, or the very least it was already a fertile ground for Kraftwerk's 'mothership' to land on.

This is a nice touch in a book that otherwise tends to follow the hype and elevate Kraftwerk as the single most important band of the 20th century. Yet, when enthusing about who Kraftwerk influenced, authors rarely discuss who influenced them. Sadly the book stops short of doing that, giving an impression that Kraftwerk transposed high art ideas of Warhol, Beuys, Gilbert&George and Stockhausen directly into pop music. To balance this out somehow the author points out Kraftwerk were not past 'copy-pasting' sound and melodic elements themselves, but this is more of a detail rather than a major reveal about the origins of Kraftwerk's sound.

It seems to me there is a route from early synthesizer music, such as Wendy Carlos' work made famous through Kubrick's Clockwork Orange. Especially the march, with overlaid vocoder singing works almost as a blueprint for Kraftwerk's Trans Europe Express -era music. I recall Pascal Bussy had this in mind with his earlier book, rightly tracing the emergence of Kraftwerk as a result of the evolution of the synthesizer, making notes of the moog music era and novelty songs en route to Kraftwerk.

I recall fans have sometimes suggested that Kraftwerk brought the funk-like elements for their music from, well, funk. I've not yet found the famous Numbers beat from funk music, but that may be because I'm not an aficionado. Captain Sky might be a starting point here. I believe Kraftwerk were actively mining any new music styles behind the Atlantic ocean, especially after visiting US themselves. Was Kraftwerk simply one more band to take elements from world music, but just being more clever and more tactful about it? Even if the beats might owe something to funk I guess the insistently monotonic and minimalized beat in Numbers is really their invention.

The book repeats the fan-historic and journalistic consensus that Electric Café was a misfire and does not belong to the canon of great Kraftwerk albums. I always disagree. Perhaps I should argue this in more detail some day!

Let's say I really suspect the criticism always came from older Kraftwerk fans, those who started with Autobahn and saw the band further themselves from that sound and conceptual point of origin. But I think for us, the Commodore 64 generation and 1990s techno musicians, it was a very important record, and working backwards towards Autobahn and the older records was always a bit of a challenge.


What I find most valuable in the book is the way it connects Kraftwerk's themes and concepts with locally german cultural and political events, such as the debate on nuclear power and the terrorist scare of 1970s-1980s. This nicely ties with the central idea that Kraftwerk was a project of building a new European and German identity into the void after World War II. But I think Pascal Bussy already suggested as much.

There could have been more discussion on musical connections, because as I already opined Kraftwerk did not simply filter high-art and political-societal concepts into music in an isolated bubble. Saying Trans Europe Express contradicted punk in late 1970s, does not say much because a whole futurist-disco theme existed in parallel to punk. Is Kraftwerk to thank for that too, or did Kraftwerk derive from it?

It is also a sobering to point out that although the band was known early on in Germany, it was not particularly revered there during the time when they were already internationally famous.

All in all, a very entertaining and inspiring read. Still I cannot help but point out some tiny mistakes and what I felt were omissions.

No, Afrika Bambaataa did not sample Numbers or Trans Europe Express for Planet Rock. Many journalists and writers tend to get the story somehow wrong. The beat was recreated on a drum machine, and a TEE-like melody was overlaid on it, creating a kind of a mash-up without actually doing a mash-up. I guess that because of the way music copyright worked a that time, only the melody from TEE became a point of contention and later pressings of Planet Rock credited the songwriters.

The computer on cover of Computer World has been identified and it is a terminal rather than a 'computer'. Interesting detail here is that supposedly the band had this particular item, and it was used for working on speech synthesis.

Schütte bluntly says that first home computers arrived after the album Computer World (1981), stating that the Commodore 64 from 1982 was the first 'true home computer'. No, Apple II was available from 1977. Commodore's PET (1977) models likewise predate the album. Atari 400/800 were also from 1979. Even in Europe, Sinclair ZX80 hit the shelves in 1980.

It is true the home computer 'fad' properly hit Europe only later and in a sense Kraftwerk had hit on a fashionable concept early on, possibly by having a whiff of what was already happening in the US.

Digressing a bit, I've never felt the rather excellent album was particularly 'prophetic' (an adjective often associated with it). I'd say it was observative about things that were already going on. Computers had permeated trade, banking and logistics already at that point. This would be especially true of highly industrialized centres in the USA, Japan and Germany. It's just that computers had not yet entered home life to the extent we now know.

So, to me it would be better to say that with Computer World, Kraftwerk managed to identify the concepts that had real staying power.

Yes, Rebecca Allen (not 'Allan') set up the computer graphics for Electric Café album and the video Musique Non Stop. But it was not a new invention, it was basically re-use of the techniques that had been used for the film Futureworld (1976), and partly showcased in Allen's earlier contribution to the Adventures in Success music video project from 1983. The technique dates back to early 1970s and research into computer graphics at the University of Utah. Of course, stylistically and artistically the bold Kraftwerk rendition is the most impressive. But purely from a technical viewpoint it was hardly state-of-the-art anymore.

When it comes to The Mix, to me it seems an omission not to say that the album could be considered Kraftwerk's idea of a 'live' album, in that the songs now resembled what they sounded in concerts.

Despite mentioning the new concerts, the author does not mention Kraftwerk gave album-themed concerts, and generally being more flexible as to what songs to include in a concert. This meant a sudden influx of revamped songs that were never before played live. To me this is the most significant, last step in the Kraftwerk archival process, and perhaps not so much the 3-D visuals and sound.

I don't get what the author has against Daft Punk.

Monday, 13 July 2020

Fleamarket pedal


5 Euro foot pedals from a flea market. At first I thought it might be a sewing machine pedal, but seeing as it is pretty heavy and has two pedals so I don't know.

I had no fitting DIN connector and the cable smelled so strongly of old house, I got rid of the cable altogether.

Opening the box was not obvious. I had to tear off the soft rubber bottom to reach the screw that holds the pedal axle in place. (The tiny hole in the axle of the loose pedal at the top image).

These machine screws were mightily stuck and I may have contributed to bending them, when trying to "open" the axle from the end.


Inside there was a tiny surprise: There were more parts than I would have expected. What does the cog do?

First I thought there was some complex system for softening the punch for the microswitches. Which it probably kind of does too...


But the pedals are not both on-off switches. The left one has a mechanical flip-flop latch that keeps the switch "pressed". Were there no microswitches with this functionality?



The left pedal then controls whether the right pedal presses go through at all.


Using the pedal

I had some visions about using the pedal as a second fire button on C64, or controlling my own programs through Arduino serial. Or a weird chess clock.

But, first, the pedal could be used in something that actually needs a pedal.

Enter the Alesis Samplepad Pro, another recent cheap acquisition. It's an electric drum kit that can be played with drumsticks.

There's not much pro about it, as it has a widely known crosstalk problem between the pads. But fortunately by adjusting the individual pad sensitivy values the problem can be practically removed.

My approach so far has been to make Kick, Snare and Hi-Hat more sensitive (6) and concentrate on using them. The rest of the pads can have level 2 sensitivity.

Now if the kick drum could be delivered with pedal, I could remove that pad from the equation altogether.


The Samplepad Pro has a pedal option for kick drum and hihat, and I could connect the pedal microswitch easily to this connector. I soldered in some cables, of course missing the right connections at first, but finally it worked.

Here I've used the 'trigger' option. Possibly the 'switch' allows a velocity control through a resistor.

Well, honestly I can't play at all, but already could see it would make more sense to have a pedal together with the pads. It's a bit dificult to generate proper patterns by using drumsticks alone, even though the geniuses in Youtube can do that too. Then again using both feet and hands is another level of motoric articulation and it doesn't come too easily either.

Well, the ergonomics of the situation now weigh much more heavily than when just using drumsticks. It's also blindingly obvious the pedal is not really suitable for a musical instrument. Ok, so I had to remove the rubber footing that would have kept it better in position, but I doubt if it would help that much.

No wonder the add-on pedals easily cost as much as the second-hand Samplepad.

Trigging the kick was not as accurate as I would have expected. If I make a steady rhythm it will pick all microswitch clicks accurately. But if I click it in really rapidly, only the first goes through. I'm wondering if this is a problem (or intentional design) with the Samplepad input detection, or with the microswitch itself.

So, a nice junk find that at least motivated me to do something more material after a long while.

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Some more Linux/Proton games

About a year ago, I had a look at Proton on Steam for running Windows games on Linux.

Here's a small bunch of games I have since then played on Linux using the Proton/wine setup in Steam.

The results show not everything is totally perfect, it seems the larger the game the larger potential there is for some glitchiness.

Mind you some games could be improved by adjusting settings, these are more like out-of-the-box experiences.

A larger problem for the Linux player these days is the increasing amount of different game stores and solutions for running these games. Not everything is available on Steam. For instance, to play Firewatch I had to use Lutris, so I'm not discussing it here.


(I have reduced the screenshot sizes for this blog)


Inside

For some reason I avoided this for a long time. The game's a real little treat, comparable to Limbo (if not better in some ways) and works quite perfectly.

Ok this is exactly the kind of screenshot that helped me avoid the game. It's much more interesting than this.

Arma 3

There's apparently some limitations to on-line features, but I could play the solo missions.

If I recall correctly it did work rather well.

Every vehicle is quite meticulously modelled from outside and inside.
Although I had some positive memories from Arma 2 back in Windows Vista days, I just couldn't really now become enthused about this somewhat militaristic and involved playfield.

There is interesting stuff like drone reconnaissance, but the missions are of the "perform exactly correctly, or fail" variety, rather than a dynamic simulation, which is not that satisfying.

Some of the cutscenes are almost hilarious in their military matter-of-factness

Dirt Rally

I'm not too enthusiastic about car games but rally games have tended to be more bearable.

Dirt Rally works well, the loading times were surprisingly long but this likely has nothing to do with Proton.

The famous Paskuri.
It's about playable with a keyboard but this kind of game might really need a controller.

It does look quite authentic.

Virginia

This is a heavily Twin Peaks-inspired story game. It's bit like the aforementioned Firewatch but with even less to do for the player. Just click on things and walk the character to correct position to find the things to click.

The beginning is promising but then it starts to get wearisome, as the gameplay never really expands. Then it just ends.

The unhappy family.
Almnost needless to say, the technically quite simple game works perfectly in Proton.

Where's the coffee?

NieR: Automata

Not as huge as a Final Fantasy game, but it's still quite intense. Although at heart an RPG, the game fuses elements from shootemups, platform games, brawlers, often shifting the genre multiple times a minute when going gets hectic.

The technical strain is not massive, but the visuals are well thought out
I encountered spurious crashes at first, but apparently these were a result of undervolting I had done earlier to my computer. After removing undervolting it became one of the stablest games.

You can attach different chips for different features, bit like magic accessories in an RPG. What makes it different is that even the basic game functions, such as hp counters, map, damage counters are "chips" and could theoretically be removed in order to make space for something else.

You are wearing the masks wrong

Mirror's Edge

A rather influential game, as most later third person action games (Tomb Raider) employ similar movement logic as this parkour-fest. Played this only a little but it seemed to work ok.

I needed to change the in-game resolution settings as it did not correctly guess the screen resolution.

Here I had not yet changed the resolution...

Just Cause 3

I believe this was something that until recently would not have worked because of Digital Rights Management issues. (Funnily enough the antagonists in the game are called DRM for Di Ravello Militia)

The High Ground makes it all easier
A rather nice open world game in the GTA mould, but with more emphasis on super-heroics and destruction. Maybe a touch of Midwinter here, although without the strategy/recruit elements.

After launching, the window minimizes itself, after which I had to bring it into view again. Using shift+tab I brought the focus to Steam, after which the keyboard becomes responsive.

The rebels favor strangely uniform visuals for styling their cars
During game, there's also a danger of pressing a key combination that minimizes the window again, or brings something else to focus. After this happens the keys rarely work 100% again and I had to relaunch the game.

I encountered some graphic glitches, which might or might not be result of Proton, but nothing that would distract my gameplay.

It also did crash very occasionally, perhaps 2-3 times in 20 hours (edit:30 hours) of playtime.



Thursday, 25 June 2020

Surviv.io

I've become slightly addicted to a browser game that's essentially something that "kids these days" play, the mighty surviv.io. Although I'm probably 1-2 years late to it.

It's a clever 2D take on the popular battle royale online multiplayer genre, but better still it really reminds me of old games like Rambo, Cannon Fodder and Airborne Ranger a bit.

Squad mode.
My first experiences were just die, die, and die some more.

Then I watched a few videos, read a bit about weapon and item qualities, spectated the other players and went back to the game. And died some more. But at least I kind of knew why.


Some notes

Many players rush for the underground bunkers and other major buildings, as these have guaranteed weapon caches. Better players are often there and without experience you'll get killed instantly and it may be a bit difficult to enjoy.

When you are inserted to the map, the clock may show something between 30 seconds to about 1:15. This gives an indication how long some players may already have been on the map. In the worst case others may have had a minute of looting time before you!

If you have a lot of time, you can check the map ('g' key) for the nearest interesting building (clubhouse, bunkers etc) as you might reach there first.

Even knowing this, to get the feel of the game it may be better to lurk around a bit at first, find out what the items (health, pills, weapons, grenades) do, what can be found from the crates and furniture and so on.

A typical 50v50 map. The battle often focuses on the central bridge. A bunch is looting the greenhouse southwest to the center, with two squadmates. The circle marks the approaching red zone.
It's important to understand soon that using pills/cola adds to your adrenaline. If it's more than 50% you get a speed boost. This explains why some enemies run circles around you, they have the aggro and you don't. Adrenaline is also a slow-healer.

It's possible to survive in the red area in the beginning, and if you have some adrenaline the healing effect is stronger than the damage! Later the effect gets more intense and the pills can't compensate for the burn.

So if I find enough adrenaline at the beginning, I can lurk at the red area and collect all the junk that's been abandoned. This is also a way to learn a bit more about the environment without someone pestering you all the time. It's not totally empty, though.

Lurking's fine for learning the ropes, but it seems it's not possible to win without becoming a hardened battle master! There's no reason to shy away from battles and difficult locations. Fights are often about a complex exchange of timing lateral motion and shooting, weapon switches and special items.


Armor and items

You can get some kind of armor and weapons very quickly, but if you only have crap armor, crap helmet, crap weapon, crap visibility then you won't have a place at the end game.

Only much later I learned the helmet has a different logic to the armor, which simply tends to sink damage. There are apparently such things as 'critical hits' and the helmet sort of protects from those.

It's a good idea to learn to quickly identify enemy armor. White-ish border is the t-shirt, grey is level-2 vest and black is the top-notch (nearly) bullet-proof vest. Some cloth colors make these difficult to see.

Visibility 1=beginning, then 2, 4 and 8. 15 does exist. The higher, the more rare obviously. You can manipulate the situation a bit by hanging inside or underground, as the visibility tends to be low there.

8x view, 50v50 mode. The bridge is often the centerpiece of the battle.
Visibility range in itself is again not that useful, if your weapon has no stopping power from distance. You may just end up revealing your position from further away!

A "sniper" weapon coupled with 8-range can be a deadly combination, whereas those guns are rather difficult to handle at close quarters. Some sight problems may arise from the 8-view, maybe someone jumps out of the nearest bush and you can't see the threat!

It's safe to say that skilled players will have top tier everything at the end game, and if you don't, then there's little chance. They do the math and rush you with superior weapons, confident that you can't damage them enough in the altercation. With luck you can get to #2 through having avoided everything, but it won't help you win.

Note that there are also cheaters, hackers, aimbots and whatnot. (As of today something may have been done to this) It's unclear to me if mobile players and mouse-players are mixed in the same game. I guess touch screen versions must involve some kind of aim assist. Don't be too sad if you get killed by someone playing by different rules.


Weapons

One novelty of surviv.io is that although the game is very simplified and even abstract, the weapons are (comparatively) realistic. There's a bunch of weapons with different characteristics for damage, spread, range, magazine size, loading speed, post-firing slowdown etc.

I'm not going into detail about which gun does which damage, there are wikis and websites for that. In the beginning I tried to figure out which was the "best" weapon, but as I've learned a bit more, most of them seem to have their place in some situation. This also adds some nuance to the game.

AK-47 sounds good but isn't really that amazing. I would prefer M416 over it. The shotguns are OK-ish too. I've begun to like a combination of M416 and the M220 shotgun that delivers 2 shots in quick succession. These are also quite often available.

As I already said, the end-game is not very forgiving. There you need better weapons, even if the M220 serves well as a 2nd weapon. What others have left lying around is often a good guide as to what's crap.

A MAC-10 or a double-wielded G81C can be useful at the very start. Although not powerful, these spraying weapons are attractive for the beginner as the aiming is not so difficult. Slow shotguns and sniper rifles are more potent but are also a bit hard to use.

There have been tricks switching weapons to diminish the delays, slowdowns and loading speeds, but I'm not yet that intensely involved. Also sometimes the developers discourage these tricks by altering the rules a bit. In any case it makes sense to be able to switch quickly between weapons in the heat of the battle.

Grenades can be a game-changer, but they are often easy to avoid too. Throw them at the last moment before they explode and you have yourselves a bazooka, but it's difficult to do in a chaotic situation (i.e. every real fight)

One of the underground bunkers.
More often grenades are used to create a suppression zone between you and the enemy so you can escape or get time to heal. In squad games this can be quite important. Smoke grenades have more subtle uses. You might follow up a smoke grenade with an explosive, but it's often a bit too obvious.

Mines were recently added, and initially I felt the game doesn't need another semi-random way to die! But they do appear to add dynamics to situations.

As I said, fists might even deal more damage than some of the weaker guns. The melee fights are a bit random but sometimes a desperate fist assault can be better than fleeing under gunfire. Note that claws, knuckles and knives are simply cosmetic skins, even though the latter show as items.


Other game modes

After I found Squad games more enjoyable than the Solo mode, I rarely play anything else. This is partly because victory doesn't become so important.

50v50 games are sometimes available, and these can be a good learning experience as you don't meet the enemy too soon. It's more easy to get into the logic of looting and finding weapons and items. Also, the chaotic battle situations are amusing in themselves.

The Russian police never sleeps!
There's also the squad variant on a cobalt grey "spiky" landscape, with "character classes". This can also be useful for learning. Here the Cast Ironskin class generates its own ammunition, so you don't have to figure out which ammo fits which gun (something that caused trouble in the very beginning). Otherwise I'm not a big fan of that mode.

Random squads are not often very effective. Bickering members steal whatever items they can see. For some, snatching the item from a crate you looted is a game into itself. Most care little if some squad members still miss weapons, but more experienced players tend to be more helpful.

...and some wander off without much thought about team coherence. There are also those who find enjoyment in playing "solo" in the squad mode, or try to establish teams in the actual Solo game, or somehow disturb the 50v50. Well, whatever.

Chaos at the bridge in 50v50. The red zone is approaching...

Communication

I played a solid amount of games before even looking at how to produce emojis and to communicate with teammates. The emoji wheel is activated by holding and releasing the right mousebutton, whereas the latter comes up by holding key 'c' and doing the same. The set of emojis can be adjusted in the loadout.

At start I thought that a game with no chat or verbal communication would have no insults or much negativity in it. How naive I was! A barrage of 'poop' and 'crying with laughter' emojis after you've been brutally overcome, DOES have a kind of effect.

The little text there is, is in the player names. There are the occasional squadmates with a "hilarious" name in the vein of "nazis are ok" or "jewkiller", which I feel the need to discourage somehow. As squadmates can't damage each other it can only suffice not to help them. These may have been censored lately.

I've felt that shooting at squadmates can be used to indicate disapproval, even if no damage can be done. After shooting at one "nazi" he got confused and began emoting he's French or Russian or whatever. Yes, there are nationality emojis, which are sometimes brought up in 50v50 as a some kind of hopeful appeal to "true allegiance" when death is nearing.

I also felt the "?" emoji would be useful for play situations, but turns out many just interpret it to mean "what is your nationality?"

The nickname "girl killer" and variants, is a grey area, is that someone who kills girls or a girl who does the killing?

Choosing emoji set in the loadout.
I felt surprised that a lot of the crowd were progressive and conscious enough to declare the "rainbow" emoji. Soon it dawned on me that when correctly timed, the rainbow emoji simply equals the on-line gaming classic "you are gay".

Add to this that it can be invoked in an implied and plausibly deniable way. Should this be worrying? Did the devs think this through?

Or, did I, after reading too little into it, read too much into it? Someone gets killed: that's a rainbow moment. You die: one final rainbow towards your assailants. Some are seen to actually collaborate: a rainbow. Some are found in healing activities in the bushes: rainbow again. Oh look, there are some flowers, that's definitely rainbow time.

It's a bit weird if players are assumed to be of particular gender (the visuals aren't particularly gendered) to make this effective as some kind of insult. So there might be a layer of irony here, too.


Ironies of Surviv.io
  • Try a weapon and find yourself at the losing end of every fight. Then take note how anyone else is able to pulverize you easily with the same weapon, no matter how "crap" it seemed.
  • Conversely, see how economically the enemies wipe you out with a "difficult" weapon like the SPAS-12, try it yourself and you never either hit anyone or deal enough damage.
  • The more seemingly amazing weapon or equipment you find in the first 30 seconds, the more likely it's all going to go to hell in the first minute. Find the most sad weapons and equipment and you'll be bound to survive to  the endgame, just to get killed (because of the crappy equipment).
  • Good players always retreat at the right moment, they sneak out of range and view to heal themselves. You try it and get shot in the back.

Sunday, 31 May 2020

recordmydesktop script

I've used recordmydesktop for grabbing the few desktop videos I need.

It's useful to record a specific window. This requires knowing the window ID beforehand, acquired by using xwininfo.

Remembering and executing this phase is sometimes a bit annoying, so I tried to shorten the process a bit by using the following script. I guess a front-end exists somewhere, though.

After running it, xwininfo is indeed launched but the info is directed through grep to a temporary file. I click on the window I want to record, the output is parsed so that the window ID is passed onto recordmydesktop.

It could be bit more elegant but what do I care.


#!/bin/bash
echo Click on Window
echo WILL RECORD INSTANTLY
echo using fps 30
xwininfo -display :0 | grep "id:" > temp.txt
more temp.txt | grep -Eo '0x[0-9]+' > temp2.txt
fname=$(<temp2.txt)
echo $fname
rm temp.txt
rm temp2.txt
recordmydesktop --windowid=$fname --fps 30


I noted that on occasions at least Chromium browser window refuses to work (unrelated to script I think). Recordmydesktop had trouble with the acquired window ID. First I thought it might have to do with detached tabs, but not really. Sooo... maybe just run another instance of it and try again or something.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Horizontal and vertical dual setup on Linux Mint

I have never really been a two-screens guy, unless you count the inevitable retro computer monitor next to the modern PC.

Partly because there's never ever enough desk space to do that, partly because I've felt that having my eyes wander between two wide screens is too un-ergonomic, and so on and on.

On a whim I noted I could at least save some desk space by having the other screen as vertical. This would also reduce the horizontal eye and head movement.

Reading news sites or Facebook it might be a better layout, as many websites are now designed with a vertical screen in mind.

But it's still more of an excuse to get the second monitor fit.

To me it makes sense to have a vnc window to another computer on this second monitor. No, really, although it does sound a bit silly.

I've occasionally tried running two computers on two monitor side by side, and found that to be more confusing than the vnc. I have more than two computers and so the keyboard/mouse sharing options could get complicated. Plus the other computers might not be stacked physically close to the screen.

So, I could get used to this.

Connecting two screens and changing their orientation is not at all difficult in Linux Mint/Mate. Some challenges arise from trying to do specific things.


The primary monitor is connected with DVI, whereas the other is on a Displayport->VGA adapter. (I don't have a displayport-equipped monitor) The primary monitor is 1920 x 1200 and the secondary as 1680 x 1050 (1050 x 1680)

It may not be obvious that by moving the pink and cyan rectangles changes the way the mouse pointer crosses over to the other screen.

I did encounter some hiccups in the way the icons are arranged on the primary screen. When trying to match the screen positions with the physical reality, some icons went over the top of the desktop and would not "arrange" correctly either.



Drawing with a Wacom tablet on screen 2

Using GIMP window in one screen and tools in another, is not something that works well for me. The mouse pointer transitions between monitors are not ideal and shifting my focus is even less so.

But, drawing on a vertical format on a single screen might make sense in Krita or Mypaint.

Generally I've found my cheap-end Wacom tablet to behave well in Linux.

The first instinct of the tablet device is to map the entirety of the display range to the tablet. Just like if you take a screenshot it will mosaic both screens. This makes sense if you thing the tablet as a substitute for a mouse, but it's not good for drawing.

xrandr can tell the names of the screens (or the ports?) such as DVI-D-0 and DP-2 in my case.

xsetwacom --list devices will tell the names of the tablet devices:

Wacom Intuos S 2 Pen stylus      id: 12 type: STYLUS    
Wacom Intuos S 2 Pad pad        id: 13 type: PAD  

But, instead of using the screen names from xrandr, I found that using HEAD-0 and HEAD-1 work instead. (I've understood this is due to Nvidia drivers. Just in case the above works better I've included the info).

xsetwacom set "Wacom Intuos S 2 Pen stylus" MapToOutput HEAD-1

What still remains is that the scaling is all wrong because the tablet is horizontal and the screen is vertical!

xsetwacom set "Wacom Intuos S 2 Pen stylus" rotate ccw

This rotates the orientation counter-clockwise. "none" and "half" are also possible values. Obviously the physical tablet will have to be rotated too.

After removing the window toolbars it's quite nice to draw on Krita vertically.


After these settings, everything works as I'd expect: the mouse still works across both monitor boundaries, whereas the Wacom tablet is limited to that one screen with Krita.

There is a discrepancy between the color and intensity and gamma of the two monitors, which can be annoying in some situations but I may even need that in some visual tasks, looking at how a graphic might show in different environments.


Launching applications

I recall this has always been a bit off-putting with the Mint Mate dual monitor set up. The thing is, programs don't launch in the correct monitor in a logical way.

Part of the confusion may be that it is all treated as a single display after all.

Some programs, like Krita and GIMP, remember the previous configuration, which is great.

I don't expect to play Steam games etc. in this vertical monitor so that can be forgotten. I already recall this required some fiddling and is partly to blame for my negativism towards two-monitor setups.
Half-Life 2:Lost Coast behaves rather nicely, but the mouse is mapped wrong

But there's really no need to force games, or films, to play on that vertical monitor.

I created a panel to the second monitor with application launchers. This might help with obvious ones such as the terminal window.

Even this information I had to dig up somewhere: The new panel can be only created on a monitor with an existing panel. Drag the new panel to the correct monitor with ALT pressed down.

Using compiz and and changing compizconfig settings does not help, although some of the options sound like they might address this issue.

Looking around, this launching problem seems like a fairly persistent issue with Mint.

I could make this somewhat kludgy script, make a launcher icon run it and technically have my application run on the other monitor:

#!/bin/bash
x64 &
sleep 2; wmctrl -r "VICE: C64 emulator" -e 0,1920,0,1200,1500

But it's not especially ideal either, here the "sleep" period is used so that wmctrl can catch hold of the window.

Should I want to run Vice full screen then it will again switch to the primary monitor. Ok, if I add the -fullscreen argument to x64, the script will miraculously run it full screen on the other monitor, but the pointer will be confined to that screen. Vice seems to do that in any case, so that's the end of that really.

It does not matter to me if Vice runs full screen on a wrong shaped monitor, I'm simply using this as an example of the kind of problems that may arise from this setup if you insist on getting something to run on the 2nd screen.

Going through a lot of software and finding out they don't behave in the best possible way gives a negative feeling, even if I wouldn't really even use those apps on the second screen.

So, the "wrong" monitor launch is not an enormously big deal, more like an annoyance that comes from testing multiple apps. 

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

1541 Ultimate II




Finally I got the Ultimate cartridge for the C64.

Not the II+ mind you, but a second hand version of the II, with the tape emulation add-on and the Ethernet-USB dongle thrown in.

The adapter has the label "NO:usb 2.0 LAN JP208 MADE IN CHINA" and that's all I know of the brand and make of it. It's good to have an already proven solution included.


Firmware upgrade

I didn't really buy the cartridge for the Ethernet functions, but I was curious enough to want it to work. It happened the u1541 firmware was 2.6 and needed upgrading before this would work well. In any case it must be a good idea to update the firmware.

At this moment I realized the Ultimate cartridge, despite being highly rated and professional-looking hardware, has a rather scattered and a bit confusing documentation. Well, it's quite common for any of these hobbyist add-ons. As I got this second hand the docs may have been lacking.

So, an upgrade 2.6 version to 3.07beta needs an update.bin file in the root folder of the SD card (Usb stick is not enough). When booting, the update will run.

Afterwards, I could upgrade using u2u files. (I guess u2p files are for the plus) When I had my 3.4c version going, I could finally see the IP address on screen.


Remote control and file transfers

Now it's possible to telnet to that IP from another computer, using port 23.

PuTTy is fine, but correct settings are needed for display and cursor keys and backspace.

Initially arrow keys or function keys did not work without pressing Control at the same time. Changing PuTTy keyboard settings to VT100+ helped. "Initial state of cursor keys" is "normal".

Local echo and local line editing are both "force off". Backspace is set to "Control-H"

Also, the font did not display correctly despite changing it from UTF-8 to ISO-8859-1:


I fiddled with various settings, but apparently I needed to untick the box that says "override with UTF-8 if locale says so".

After this it started working properly:

The telnet connection is quite impressive and it's nice to have the remote for viewing files in quick succession. The software inside the cartridge does not care what state the C64 is in, so the menu can be operated all the time the power is on.

ftp is also possible, but any attempts to integrate it to caja (the Linux mint file browser) were not especially successful. I could see the folder but file transfers failed. The same with filezilla, a file manager, which seemed so convoluted I wouldn't probably use it even if I found the correct settings.

Instead, I got it to work using command line ftp to the IP address. First use 'binary' to set all further file transfers to binary, otherwise files will be sent with incorrect file lengths. (despite the system saying its switching to binary for the files.)

'ls' gives the remote folder contents. 'cd SD' is likely the first move, to get to the root folder of the drive. Then 'put' puts a file on the local current folder to the current remote folder, and 'get' does the reverse. 'bye' exits the ftp command line.



Apparently the telnet and ftp functions don't mesh together, so you can't upload a file using ftp while "in" with telnet.

Edit: Apparently they could work together, but it's just that messing back and forth multiple times with either ftp or telnet tends to lock the cartridge. A script that sends a file on ftp and launches it via telnet, may work one or two times. This could be related to a bug/oversight in the cartridge.


Some fooling around

One of the main functions of u1541 is the utility cartridge collection. For the purposes of using the cart for running files and general compatibility, the Retro Replay cartridge seems to be the standard.


But there are others, such as Final Cartridge III and my old friend Action Replay VI.

For fun, I did a code snippet on the monitor. (Invoked by MON).


Well, the monitor is in the Retro Replay version of the cart too.

AVI was the original environment where I learned the first steps of assembler in the early 1990s.

For a long time these were the last steps too, because I didn't understand how to structure these programs at all.

Now I see that it would be possible to write long programs using the monitor, giving enough room for subroutines and using a meticulous paper documentation/mapping.

There is another interesting cart, the Turbo Action ROM by Soundemon/Dekadence. This contains Turbo Assembler:


So the same code snippet can be written this way. The source can be assembled by pressing arrow left (the "esc" key, not the cursor key) followed by 3.

After assembling the source, the cart can be reset, and after activating the Tasm again the source is still in place. (If it's not overwritten I guess).

Perhaps this would have been helpful back in the day. However I must say that it would be really painful to write long sources with this one and writing code directly in machine code monitor might even have some advantages compared to an assembler. There were of course various techniques for splitting the code, and in the end it might require the kind of forethought and paper mapping as with the monitor.


Overall

The core functions of the cart are supreme and I probably won't look too much back at SD2IEC and IRQHack.

Yet, it seems the cart is trying to be a bit too many things, yet some obvious things are missing (if I'm not wrong). Effort has been put into areas that are not that interesting to me, like printing or some weird audio extensions.

For example, from what I've read and experienced, the cartridge does not seem to allow straight-up transfer+execution of the transferred file. You have to manually launch the ftp-transferred file from the menu. This doesn't sound a lot, but it's an unnecessary step and a more direct result would been better for building and executing code.

This is something the IRQhack could do (although again in a limited way) and I don't see a reason why the Ultimate would not if the software was put into place. Maybe I am wrong and the function is there somewhere.