Holiday Cheer, Holiday Uncheer - Part 1

The December holidays always hold some interesting surprises for me, and this year's season was no exception. However, in this context "interesting" can mean either "utterly engaging fascination" or "coma-inducing exasperation". This holiday season I got plenty of both.


The Cheerful

The good news is that many new releases and updates were announced this month on the various Linux audio-related mail lists. The following paragraphs present a brief account of some of the more notable releases.

Ardour has been updated to version 2.7.1 and a feature freeze has been put in effect for the 2.x releases. The way is being prepared for Ardour3, though of course that version is already available for the bravest of the brave (i.e. it's in SVN sources). By the way, on my Ubuntu 8.10 system Ardour3's dependencies are now happy with SYSLIBS=0 and I can build the program as advised by the developers. Pending approval from the devs, I hope to present a sneak-peek of Ardour3 Real Soon Now.

JACK has received some love recently. First we saw the long-awaited updated from 0.109.2 (an admitted bad release) to 0.115.0, and more recently version 0.116.1 has been offered to the public. Alas, my installation of Csound 5.10 (also recently updated) is unhappy with the new JACK, so I've reverted to 0.115.6. I'm preparing a bug report, hopefully I'll be able to upgrade soon.

Rui Nuno Capela has been busy. His Qtractor DAW is now at version 0.3.0 (the Fluffy Doll release, Figure 1), and his indispensable QJackCtl has been elevated to 0.3.4. Rui's work has always been impressive, and it just gets better all the time.

Figure 1: Qtractor

Developer Chris Cannam has been busy too, releasing new versions of Sonic Visualiser and Sonic Annotator. Both of those program depend on the capabilities of the Vamp audio analysis plugins, so it's small surprise that the Vamp SDK has been updated to release version 2.0. Somehow Chris also found time for a maintenance release of the dssi-vst bridge software, it should compile cleanly now on 64-bit machines.

Josep Andreu has provided Linux audio producers with a variety of useful well-designed tools, including the midirgui MIDI router that's been in hard use for years here at Studio Dave. Recently Josep has involved himself in the Rakarrack project (see my Rakarrack review for more information about the program), and as a spin-off from that project he has created his HOLAP suite of audio plugins in the LADSPA format. The set currently includes chorus, reverb, wah, and other effects derived from Paul Nasca's awesome ZynAddSubFX software synthesizer. Josep also found time to transform his Horgand music accompaniment program into a DSSI plugin.


LAC 2009

Though not a software release, I include the announcement of the next Linux Audio Conference as an item for the cheerful category. LAC 2009 will be held at La Casa della Musica in Parma, Italy, from April 16 through April 19 2009. Alas, air-fare from the United States is already currently prohibitive, so I'm likely to miss this conference again. However, the home-bound among us can still enjoy the fun via live audio/video feeds and the published proceedings. It's hard to overstate the importance of this conference, and I urge all interested readers to attend it if possible (admission is free).


Un-Fun With Windows XP

I'm a 100% Linux guy, but my Significant Other (a.k.a. Ivy) hasn't made the progression yet. Her computer is a Dell Inspiron 6000, a nice piece of hardware running Windows XP Professional. A few days ago the Dell started to behave weirdly, crashing at start-up with an error report stating the following cryptic message :

    Stop: c00021a {Fatal System Error}
    The Windows logon process system process terminated unexpectedly with a status of 0xc0000005 (0x00000000 0x00000000). 
    The system has been shut down. 

The problem is well-documented on the Web, and a little Googling yielded some possible solutions. I booted with F8 to access the advanced Windows boot menu, ran the "last stable configuration" option, and promptly arrived back at the BSOD with the same error. Okay, back to Google, where I found that my next step involved a "repair installation" that simply re-installs the default system as it shipped with the machine. The process requires the original system discs (which we have), but before doing anything else I was determined to back up Ivy's data before I attempted the repair. Alas, the computer would not boot into Windows at all, so it was Linux to the rescue. I ran Ubuntu 8.10 from a live CD, installed the openssh-server, and logged into the Dell from one of my desktop systems. I used gFTP to transfer her files to my machines, then I employed k3b to burn the data to back-up discs. With Ivy's data safely stored I proceeded with the repair installation.

The Dell system disc worked slowly but perfectly. After about an hour I was in the final stages of the repair when a new problem arrived. A dialog box appeared that asked for a disc containing the DocumentViewer software. We have no such disc, so I clicked on the Cancel button and set off an unending stream of error messages regarding a .NET problem. Those messages literally blocked everything: I could not kill the process in any way short of power-cycling, and no other programs could run until the error was resolved. So, back to Google I went, where once again I discovered that my tribulation was a well-known Windows installation annoyance. Following a suggestion I disabled everything in the Start-up Programs queue, rebooted the machine, and finally reached a working XP desktop. The repair worked "as advertised", none of Ivy's data was lost (though of course her start-up programs weren't autoloaded), and I hoped that the machine's problems were resolved.

Ah, vain hope: After about an hour of use the machine crashed with a new error message, this time reporting a disk error. Since then Ivy has run the machine a few times with no crashes, but it seems now that the disk drive is in need of attention. I plan on wiping the drive with a low-level format, then I'll re-install XP fully from the Dell system disc (i.e. I won't do a repair install). Short of replacing the drive I don't know what else might work to eliminate the system instabilities.

On the Annoyance Scale this process scored a solid 8 out of 10, thanks primarily to the DocumentViewer hang-up. At no point did the messages indicate exactly what disc was needed, and the endless loop of .NET errors was awesomely exasperating. I tried to run the Windows Clean Install utility, but it wouldn't start. The program simply issued its own error message to tell me that another process had to be closed before the utility could start. Of course, the blocking process was what I wanted to get rid of, so the Clean Install utility wasn't much help in this situation.

In the end we've opted for keeping a close eye on the machine's performance. The disk error is disturbing, but a complete reformat/reinstall procedure might fix things (barring physical damage to the disk). Meanwhile I plan to add more memory to the Inspiron (it arrived with only 512 MB), perhaps more RAM will mitigate the machine rather sluggish performance.

Update: Just before finishing this article I decided to do a complete reinstallation of XP on Ivy's machine. The process was uncomplicated and completed without incident. However, once the installation was done I discovered the unlovely fact that Dell's backup disc didn't include the necessary drivers for network connection, sound, or enhanced video. Once again it was Ubuntu to the rescue. I downloaded the needed drivers to my notebook, copied them to a flash drive, plugged it into Ivy's laptop, and installed the drivers from the flash thumb. After the appropriate voodoo and mystic invocations Ivy has a connected machine again.

Okay, so much for Ivy's problems with her computer. At the same time as I worked on her machine a friend called with a different problem on his XP system. His audio sequencer seemed unable to record in discrete multitrack/multichannel mode, even though he uses an M-Audio Delta 66 digital audio system. Fortunately this problem was easily resolved by switching the program's default sound driver to ASIO. A simple enough solution, but the problem baffled my friend for days. Again, at no point did the program advise him that the default driver was unable to perform as requested, so I gave the problem a middling 5 on the Annoyance Scale.


Tune In Next Week

Next up, more software update reports, the continuation of my epic struggle to make friends with Ubuntu 8.10, and a comparison of the un-fun I've had recently with Windows XP and Ubuntu.

______________________

Similis sum folio de quo ludunt venti.

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Disk recovery

Richard2's picture

I'd strongly recommend that you check the XP Event Viewer for any errors relating to the hard disk (probably too late now you've re-formatted) - often you will get a few disk errors before the disk fails, and sometimes the disk failure is catastrophic, i.e. everything is lost with almost no warning.

I have used SpinRite, and it's invaluable if used carefully (don't let it convert bad sectors into good ones, that's always a bad idea unless in middle of a critical file). GNU ddrescue (gddrescue not the similarly named ddrescue!) is great for copying a single file or whole partition - it will retry as much as possible to get every single good sector off the disk, putting zeroes in place of the bad sectors.

And of course backups are really critical particularly if you have digital photos. I use a partition imaging tool for Windows every night to a home server, and an online backup tool for the data to ensure it's off-site.

Data recovery is really a complex area where it's very easy to do the wrong thing and make things worse, and commercial data recovery services are too expensive for most home users.

Sorry, and thanks

c2's picture

I do a lot of repairing friends' & family's Windows machines, and I sympathize with you. One thing you might try is running chkdsk (yes, of DOS fame; it does pretty much the same thing in Windows). The best way to do it is to boot from a Windows CD into the so-called Recovery Console, which gives you a DOS-prompt-like environment. You can also run it from a BartPE disk (a sort of "live-CD" of XP). Run it repeatedly until it finds no errors.

I second the recommendation of SpinRite; it is amazing disk-restoration software (in the real sense of that word, not the 2009-substitute-for-a-real-vocabulary sense) and is still surprisingly relevant today as it was 15 years ago.

Anyway, ignore the ingrates who chastise you for talking a bit about your "alternate-OS" (ha) woes, and thanks for the articles on Linux audio. I've played with Lilypond a bit, and now that I have a stable, functional Arch Linux desktop going, I'm eager to dive deeper into music making on this machine once I get time.

Input translators?

David Lane's picture

Dave,

Could you attack the subject of input translators in DAWs? (If such a thing exists...). For example, I have a Zoom H2 that I use for recording this, that and the other thing, and it generates a .WAV file which I can yank off the SD card and move around, but I am having trouble finding a DAW that will import the WAV directly. Most make me replay it, which introduces some degradation into the signal - sometimes fatal (especially on soft recordings).

Thanks!

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack

strange

Dave Phillips's picture

Hi David,

The WAV format is universally supported by modern DAWs, you ought to be able to simply import/drop any WAV into a track. IIRC all Linux DAWs can directly load WAVs into tracks. I do it routinely with Ardour when I use drum and bass loops. Or am I not understanding your question correctly ?

Best,

dp

Similis sum folio de quo ludunt venti.

self-indulgent

Harry LeBlanc's picture

I normally love your columns on the linux audio scene, but I must confess I'm annoyed to read about your girlfriend's computer problems in this column. They were neither linux nor audio, so why are they in this column? I'm sure you were annoyed, but what did I ever do to you to make you want to annoy me too?

ouch.

Dave Phillips's picture

Sorry, Harry. The next part focuses on my ordeals with Ubuntu, audio and otherwise, and includes some more news about Linux audio apps.

Best,

dp

Similis sum folio de quo ludunt venti.

WinXP

Anonymous's picture

Hi. I just had the experience of helping a friend with his computer which had WinXP Pro installed. The machine would reboot sometimes after a few minutes to a half hour after startup. Then it got where it would only boot in safe mode. Some of the errors he got made me think maybe it was a hardware problem. However, I decided to try a re-install of XP as the first step. I had already read far too many horror stories about trying to repair a corrupted Windows installation, as well as haveing some bad experiences with repairing Windows myself, so that was never considered.

A telling fact was that he could boot from a sidux Live CD and had no problems. So I booted from his WinXP Pro CD, and deleted the one partition on his drive, and proceded to format the drive with the FAT32 option, and install XP, and the drivers for his motherboard and hardware.. Everything went well except that when a disk was placed in his DVD-RW drive, Windows thought it was in his DVD combo (reads DVDs and CDs only, no write functions) drive, and vice versa. After some searching on the bet, and trying a couple of ideas that didn't work, I disconnected the reader drive, deleted the partition again and started over.

With only the DVD-RW drive connected, everything worked as it should. When I connected the reader drive, both drives worked peoperly. His computer was NOT connected to the internet yet. First I disabled the Windows uppdates and firewall, and installed Avast antivirus and Adaware. We both have high speed internet, and our routers have firewalls which are enabled, so a software firewall was redundant. Next thing was to connect to the internet to download some free software. Openoffice 3, Firefox, Thunderbird etc... He had a few older games (RTC Wolfenstein etc) that he wanted installed too, so I did that.

His system now works like it did whe we built it. He is happy, and I am reminded yet again what a pain Windows installs are compared to Linux. Sidux is my Linux distro of choice, closely followed by Mepis. Having tried Kubuntu (I don't like Gnome), I have to say that I am not impressed. It lacks several important tools that I use fairly often, it seems to always have at least a few serious bugs in every release. Plus I like that if I keep my system uograded, I never need to install the latest release of sidux, as I already have it via the upgrades.

Sidux has some excellent tools and scripts that make using it much easier. And the suppoet is great!

TTYL

drive repair

grunch's picture

I second the use of SpinRite. No connections other than a very satisfied customer (in spite of being proprietary).

-grunch

disk errors? replace disk!

Nathan Myers's picture

The half-life of a laptop drive is something like 18 months, up from 12 months a few years ago. Considering how disruptive a failed drive is, it makes sense to just replace it at the first sign of trouble, or after 18 months, whichever comes first. Time spent repairing a Windows installation, when the problem might actually be a failing disk, is time wasted.

A couple things

theillien's picture

One: Never, under any circumstances, assume that a Windows repair installation will solve your problems. More often than not it will introduce other problems. The only repair worth attempting is a full re-install.

Two: Is there an upcoming LJ issue in which you people get off Ubuntu's nuts? No, it wasn't "Ubuntu to the rescue", it was Linux. I'm getting fed up with "This is how it is done in Ubuntu. Other distributions might have slightly different methods but we won't bother to explain them to you since we're too busy gagging on Ubuntu." This is Linux Journal, not Ubuntu Journal.

disk errors

Gath's picture

Try SpinRite from http://www.grc.com/sr/spinrite.htm to fix your disk drive problems.

Check the memory too, not just disk

Sergey's picture

You may want to run memtest on this Dell in addition to a disk check.

Thank you for a nice article!

Linux User helping XP Friends and Family

Stu's picture

Everytime I read your articles on Linux Audio it gets the biggest "WOW" factor in my mind. I don't really use the software much myself (yet) but knowing there are such cool (open source) solutions our there is awesome.

As for your XP IT support efforts, your examples sounded very familiar. When I made the switch to Linux about 8 months ago I thought to myself, "Hey, now I can plead ignorance when random friends/family have problems on their XP machines (invariably due to their careless internet use, or the bad design of the underlying OS)...I can just tell them I don't use XP, so I don't know!". Luckily my wife made the switch with me.

I've since changed my tune to be a much more willing IT support friend/family member, and Linux has come in very handy a number of times with dealing with XP issues, but ultimately my value on many problems is limited to my understanding of XP. Now I'm starting to get Vista support requests and there are some things I haven't got a clue about (especially when I can't see the desktop myself).

I wish I could set them up with the "StuBuntu" distro disc that installs on their machine, gives me a user with sudo privelages, sets up ddclient/dynamic dns, and gives them some sort of "Support Ticket" dialog they can enter into for help. I'd gladly support all requests in that case....

... anyway... just blabbing somewhat on topic here.

Stu

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