Worm Music

A random stroll through YouTube astonishes again.

Building Chimes

Although we enjoy virtual wind chimes, the real thing is good, too. We recently happened upon a book containing a wealth of information on the design and construction of wind chimes, which we can recommend without reservation. Wind Chimes: Design and Construction, 63 page paperback with audio CD, by Bart Hopkin. We have been a fan of an earlier Hopkin book, Musical Instrument Design, inspiration for several science fair projects in our family, and were pleased to find this latest offering.

book cover

The author discusses several materials for chimes, tuning methods, construction techniques, and related basic music theory and physics. A number of photos of chimes are included, accompanied by sound recordings on the CD.

We are now inspired to build our own chimes, and will report results in later blog entries.

Convert WAV to MP3

I accidentally recorded a few audio files in .WAV file format instead of MP3. Is there an easy way to convert?

If the .WAV file was recorded using MPEG compression, simply rename the file to use an .MP3 file extension, and the file will play in the vast majority of MP3 player programs and MP3 devices.

Why does this work?

MP3 was designed to be a streaming format, and part of that design is to deliver the audio data in sections (called frames) and have a way to synch up to the next frame in case of loss of data, network problems, or starting playback in the middle of a stream. MP3 files often include non-audio data, called tags, at the beginning or end of the file, and player software is already designed to skip over tags to find the beginning of the first frame of audio.

Here is a conceptual schematic of one MP3 file with no tags:

[mp3 frame]
[mp3 frame]
[mp3 frame]

The WAV file format has a few extra bytes at the beginning of the file, but MP3 players will usually ignore bytes at the beginning of a file they don’t understand. Refer to this conceptual schematic of one WAV file:

‘RIFF’ [4 length bytes]
‘ fmt’ [4 length bytes]
‘data’ [4 length bytes]
[mp3 frame]
[mp3 frame]
[mp3 frame]

My WAV file does not use MPEG compression. Now what do I do?

Read rest of tutorial here.

Audio Illusions

We just stumbled across this Wikipedia topic on audio illusions, with links to good examples.

We’ve been pondering how to use one of these in a new product, with no good ideas yet. Any suggestions?

What We Have Read

From my reading journal:

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories
Susanna Clarke

Short stories, set in the world of Norrell and Strange, explore the interface of faerie and Jane Austen’s England. Favorite tale: “John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner”.

Twinkie, Deconstructed
Steve Ettlinger

Each chapter is an ingredient on the Twinkie’s package, exploring origin, how used, and history. We travel deep down a mine in Wyoming for baking soda, New Zealand where milk is converted to dried caseinate, or the Shengji Oilfield on China’s east coast, where benzene is extracted which eventually becomes red dye number 40.

The writer does a tremendous amount of travelling and research for a single book. Photos would be welcome, but perhaps difficult in a highly secretive industry.

Ruth Downie

Recently arrived to Deva in the Brittania colony, Gaius Petrius Ruso holds the post of Medicus in the fort hospital, XX Legion. After noticing young women from the nearby cat-house turning up dead, Ruso is drawn into a mystery no one else wants examined. He must cope with hospital administrator Priscus, his newly acquired slave Tilla, house-mate Valens, madame Merula, and ex-soldier doormen Bassus and Stichus.

First-time novel writer Downie expands beyond known archeology to create an entirely plausible picture of Roman colonial life. Existing histories dating from Roman times concentrate on rulers and nobility; how refreshing to focus on physicians, colony life, slave-holding, and a house of negotiable affection.

The Brass Man
Neal Asher

Mr. Crane is a Golem series twenty-five, stolen from Cybercorp, subverted, mind fractured into multiple pieces, a ruthless killing machine secretly trying to re-assemble his soul. He fascinates Skellor, a human able to harness virulent alien Jain technology. He is pursued by Ian Cormac, agent of the AI-governed Polity, able to grid-link without hardware. He and AI/warship Jack Ketch pursue Skellor to the planet home of Dragon, a rogue intelligence specializing in biological engineering.

A large cast of characters, frequent (and sometimes confusing) flashbacks, adrenaline-charged, thrilling ride.

Custer’s Last Jump
Howard Waldrop and collaborators

Here is a compilation of short stories jointly written by the mad Texan and many others, including Bruce Sterling, George R.R. Martin, and Leigh Kennedy. The intros and extros by Waldrop and the writing partner, giving insight into the partnership process, are worth the read. Stories range from medieval Japan to an AI spaceship to Troy to alternate history Crazy Horse. Especially delectable is “One Horse Town”, parallel tales of Troy and Homer and Schliemann.

Sun of Suns
Karl Schroeder

Virga is a balloon 5 thousand miles in diameter, inhabited by people who have created dwellings which spin in order to create artificial gravity, and communities clustered around small artificial suns. Hayden Griffin’s community Aero was conquered by the slow orbiting nation of Slipstream, and he has sworn revenge on Admiral Chaison Fanning. Fanning’s wife Venera and outborn Aubri are key parts of a mission involving pirate treasure, a dead forest nation, an even worse conquering foe, and a plan to overturn reality. Brilliant world-building.

You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing
John Scalzi

Essays originally appearing on Scalzi’s Whatever blog, frequently opinionated, uniformly entertaining, concerning the craft and business of writing for publication. The writer claims six figure income every year working in his profession, and describes how this is possible. Since mid-list writers get such small advances for genre fiction, here is valuable insight on how a serious writer can make an actual living.

Howard Who?
Howard Waldrop

A collection of short stories published in obscure and extinct speculative literature magazines. The writer often does months of research on out-of-the-way subjects to support the story: the Mauritius dodo, sumo wrestlers, Protocols of Zion. One favorite of this reader is “Dr Untergang des Abendlandesmenchen”, where Bronco Billy and William S. battle a vampire in Europe; the twist at the end is unforgettable.

Cory Doctorow

Collection of short stories, characteristically heavy in DRM, cyber tech, and almost-upon-us tech themes. Several riffs on famous SF stories, including “Anda’s Game” and “I Row-Boat”. Most compelling is perhaps “After the Siege”, a trifle wordy but a strong ending.

Clara Lives

Foremost theremin performer Clara Rockmore passed from this sphere nine years ago today. These videos capture her unique style:

The Swan


Song of Grusia



Hebrew Melody

Revenge of License

In a previous post we discussed abusive click-wrap software license terms. Here is one attempt to fight back, adding the following notice when one purchases a program:

READ CAREFULLY. By accepting this payment you agree, on behalf of your employer, to release me from all obligations and waivers arising from any and all NON-NEGOTIATED agreements, licenses, terms-of-service, shrinkwrap, clickwrap, browsewrap, confidentiality, non-disclosure, non-compete and acceptable use policies (”BOGUS AGREEMENTS”) that I have entered into with your employer, its partners, licensors, agents and assigns, in perpetuity, without prejudice to my ongoing rights and privileges. You further represent that you have the authority to release me from any BOGUS AGREEMENTS on behalf of your employer.

So far, our company has never received one of these notices when a customer purchases. Wonder what would happen if we did?

Example USB FM Tuner Design

For persons interested in designing and constructing their own computer-controlled radio tuner, or those just curious about design issues, check out this college design project report, with more documents here.

A License to Nil

Plenty of others have griped about unreasonable software licenses, but vendors are slow to reform. We recently needed to review the licenses of some key software packages we use, as we move to a new computer and new operating system, to make sure we are licensed to install on the new machine, or need to transfer licenses, or need to de-install first from the old machine, or purchase another copy of the program.

Here are some favorite clauses we encountered. First, let’s get this out of the way:


To protect the guilty, we will not identify software vendors, but you can try guessing if you wish. At least one of these is a pretty major software title considered essential by a number of small businesses.

If you later decide that you do not want to receive future Communications electronically, write to us at XXXX. Clearly state your desire to withdraw consent of electronic communication. If you withdraw your consent to receive Communications electronically, we may terminate your use of the Software and Third Party Services.

Let me try to understand: If I object to being contacted by e-mail or other electronic communication (Is telephone electronics?) you threaten to terminate my software license without warning and without a refund? Doesn’t sound like a very good deal to me.

For details about XXX’s privacy policies, please refer to the XXXX Privacy Statement contained either in the Software, at XXX, or the privacy policy link on the XXXwebsite relating to the Software product you purchased. You agree to be bound by the applicable XXX privacy policy, as it may be amended from time to time in accordance with its terms.

Oh, we know you are too busy to check our privacy policy very often for changes. We just modified the policy to permit us to publish your personal information to the web, and you gave us permission. Too bad you didn’t check.

XXX shall have the right to change or add to the terms of its Agreement at any time (provided that it is not XXX’s intent that such change substantially affect the license rights granted to you in Section 1 and for which consideration was paid by you), and to change, delete, discontinue, or impose conditions on any feature or aspect of the Software or Services (including internet based services, pricing, technical support options, and other product-related policies) upon notice by any means XXX determines in its discretion to be reasonable, including sending you an email notification or posting information concerning any such change, addition, deletion, discontinuance or conditions in the Software or on any XXX sponsored web site, including XXX.

And perhaps next week we will disable the file-save feature. This won’t affect the license rights in Section 1. We’ll bury the notice in the forum section of our web site. In a couple of weeks we might disable file-open feature.

INDEMNITY. This Software, Application and the Services (as defined above) are intended for use only with properly licensed media, content, and content creation tools. It is your responsibility to ascertain whether any copyright, patent or other licenses are necessary and to obtain any such licenses to serve and/or create, compress or download such media and content. You agree to record, play back and download only those materials for which you have the necessary patent, copyright and other permissions, licenses, and/or clearances. You agree to hold harmless, indemnify and defend XXX and XXXX, and each of their respective officers, directors and employees, from and against any losses, damages, fines and expenses (including attorneys’ fees and costs) arising out of or relating to any claims that you have (i) viewed, downloaded, encoded, compressed, copied or transmitted any materials (other than materials provided by XX or XXX) in connection with the Software or Application in violation of another party’s rights or in violation of any law, or (ii) violated any terms of these license agreements.

Our product may have violated some company’s software patent, but we’re not worried because you just agreed to indemnify us against claims.

What About Us?

How can Sagebrush improve our own software license?

Update the wording. Perhaps our license doesn’t have too many objectionable phrases, but we could revise for simple language and clarity, not to mention brevity. If you have suggestions for changes, or have an example of a really clear license, let us know. The main point we want to get across is that you can install our program on more than one machine, as long as it is actually running in computer memory on only one machine at a time, for each software license purchased.

Improve the display. Microsoft’s installer displays the license with topic headings in bold font, in a standard topic order, rather easy to scan.


Include in help file. We include the software license in the installer, so you could go back and refer to it at any time by running the install and then cancelling after the license screen. Better, though, is to include as a topic in the the HtmlHelp file. We did that for a while on some software titles, but ran into problems where the license was updated one place but not in another.

Display on web site. Customers should get the chance to glimpse the license restrictions, if they desire, before even evaluating the program. We haven’t done this yet for reasons of synchronization issues (as in help file) and inertia, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea.

What We Pod

Every week, time-shifted with software, place-shifted with shuffle:

And listen in real-time with radio headphones:

What other shows should we try?