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A change is gonna come

Filed under: General — Thomas @ 10:55 pm

2006-5-14
10:55 pm

So, Kristien was offered a job at (what used to be) Belgium’s biggest radio station before she left to China, and after some to-ing and fro-ing it was decided that the offer was too good to pass up. As a radio presenter jobs are scarce, and helping a big station back on its feet is every presenter’s dream. It’s all gone pretty quickly since then. She started last week.
The day before we left for Belgium to get her set up, we decided we had some things to celebrate and went out to Comerc 24.

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It’s a restaurant owned by one of the helper chefs of El Bulli. El Bulli is a world-famous restaurant where you have to book more than a year in advance and the kitchen is more chemistry than cooking. Comerc 24 is still expensive (we paid over 160 euro for the two of us), but slightly less experimental as well. We got a nice range of around 15 tapas, of whic the truffle-serrano-cheese bikini was probably one of the best, and the codfish foam probably the weirdest.

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Part of the move involved moving Kristien’s studio to Belgium. Kristien’s studio consists of a PC running Linux, a Hammerfall 9652 card (which has 16 digital channels – well, actually 18), a VoiceMaster Pro for the sound processing, and a great voice microphone. The machine here has software RAID, so I took out one of the two IDE drives, and made sure that the other drive was online on the home server so I could log in later and take a peek at the config of the machine in case I messed something up somewhere. We put all the equipment in our luggage before going out for dinner, so we could just go to bed after dinner and get up at 6 in the morning to get our plane.

Sadly, when we got back from dinner, the home server had locked up. On further investigation, the machine had crashed and its hard drive had died. Have I mentioned before I have terrible luck with hard drives ? Well, since I was already planning to upgrade from FC3 to FC5 on that machine, I might as well just do it now. I had a bunch of spare sub-60GB drives lying around, and after the usual fiddling of getting a CDROM drive installed in that machine (this BIOS actually refuses to boot if a CD-ROM is a lonely slave on the IDE connector !), it was installing again.

I had stored most of the config of that machine in subversion using a great hack of a tool I wrote (more on that later), so it wasn’t completely painful to restore the server back to a working condition – but it was still 4 at night when I turned in. Needless to say, I was wasted when I woke up two hours later to get a cab to the airport. We got to Kristien’s new apartment (she’s moving in for a couple of months with a friend of her until she knows what’s happening next) and started looking at the room to put the studio in. We went out in search for a table and a chair, passing by 50 (I kid you not) furniture stores in one street, but all of them were antique or Thailand import or whatever, so no useful and affordable tables.

The next day was spent installing the machine and fiddling with the sound card and connections. The problem with digital audio is that everything has to work all at once before you actually get anything out of the system. With analog, you can connect stuff, try stuff, and listen to what the problem is, and figure out from hearing the problem how to fix it (noise, levels, …) Digital is too expensive for a normal person to actually have lots of equipment lying around for (like other sources or input plugs), let alone testing equipment. And if everything’s connected but there’s no clock driving, you still don’t get anything.

My particular problem was much more insidious. I had spent a good four hours fighting with ALSA and the mixer and JACK and so on to reproduce the same settings as I had at home, but not being able to get a single sound into the machine. In the end, I rebooted to start from scratch, and suddenly recording worked. I went through each of the mixer settings step by step again, noting their effect one by one – the Robert Pirsig approach – until I noticed that one toggle (innocently labeled “Channel Passthrough” or somesuch) actually made the card unable to record anything ! Yes, toggling it on and off made the card useless until I rmmod’d the kernel module. So that was the cause for my four hours of fruitless twiddling.

Seriously. It’s a toggle. flipping it twice should act as if it was never flipped at all. But I guess in the quantum-mechanic world of alsa, anything’s possible.

We found a decent chair and table the next day in a store in Gent, and we went back to Brussels with the chair and table under our arm on the train. In those four days of stressing to get the studio finished, we luckily also crammed in some time to go to a friend’s surprise birthday party and a live karaoke evening in Gent, but that was it. Everything else was hard work.

But hey, Kristien’s voice studio now works again, and sounds good, and runs on all Free Software. And Conrad, I even got her to use sweep this time !

Meanwhile, Kristien will be on-air tomorrow for the first time in a while, replacing someone else who went on a holiday to … Barcelona ! I’ll have to cut tomorrow’s meeting short to be able to listen in. You go girl !

And the good thing is, since Kristien took a 60% job, and has to mainly do replacements for people going on holidays, that means she will have regular weeks off, which she can spend back home here.  Funny how things all work out on their own.

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