Saturday, June 29, 2013

Type non-English characters easily on Linux or any X-windows system!

The following works extremely well and does not break anything for typical users of English-language keyboards.

You have to edit the ~/.Xmodmap (traditional name, any  file name is okay) then do this in your init (.bashrc or .profile):
xmodmap ~/.Xmodmap

You are telling the xmodmap program to load custom keystrokes for this login session.

Below  is the edit to get a Compose key that enables most Unicode characters such as the í in my name or the the â in the French château.  I once broke the â in a Digital Equipment product, and you hear from the French, immédiatement if you do that!  To get that â, you hold down a special key call Compose, (like a shift key) type the a, which does not show immediately, and follow it with the ^ key.  This works for any vowel. Other sequences are similarly obvious. Just try it until it works for you.
Type Compose-i' to get the í in my name.

keycode 133 =  Multi_key

That's the entire content of my .Xmodmap.  It turns the Windows key into the Compose key.  Works for just about any well-behaved program, LibreOffice, browsers, etc.

This is a universal (any X-windows system) solution.

I find this super useful because it gets you French and Spanish, German, and most European languages  with no fooling around.  Asian and Aramaic languages are harder to do and having a dedicated keyboard would be the best thing.  Experts in a language might be able to manage with an English keyboard, but not me.

See this page for a readable, if simplistic, tutorial:
I just found that via Google.

The official technical docs make this look really hard.  It's not hard!

Thanks to Aron Insinga, who inspired me to write the first draft of this.  Anyone: please correct me if I'm wrong about some detail or failed to explain something well enough.

I once had all 14 Digital Equipment Co. keyboards in my office there.

Anyone: Please correct me if I got something work or failed to explain something well enough.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

More skeuomorphism in the music software world.

This guy is a design genius with the artistic clout to make it happen.  Seriously he does UIs for hardware and software.  It's insane that this is free.  It's going to be my main platform for making music.  I was already in the process of moving off of EnergyXT (abandonware), but this skin makes Reaper like having a wonderful huge mixer to work with.

Okay, so why am I endlessly posting about skeumorphic interfaces when I am a noted objector to them?  I object when the metaphor doesn't work well enough or when the implementation is harder to use than a simple UI using the platform-native widgets.

What you get here in this mixer skin is a number of what Don Norman calls affordances--the way a polished metal panel on a door affords (suggests) pushing.  Here the controls are so very 'tactile' that the sliders afford sliding, the knobs, turning and the buttons being pushed.

Here the 3D element provides an excellent set of contrasts in the differing kinds of knobs, along with the physical beauty.  The artist is fully conversant with traditional mixing boards and is using that set of controls and layout.  It's not slavish, though, it takes advantage of things like tooltips and and pop-up menus.  It's not a replica of any specific vintage console, but it speaks to my heart.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A piece of outstanding skeuomorphic art: XTrim from 

Functional Art

It's an audio processing plugin made to look like a vacuum-tube era studio device.  You need a music or audio processing program as a host for this VST format plugin.

XTrim works very well and retains all of its skeumorphism as it does.  Rotate the knobs and the specular highlights (bright spots) stay in place as the knob rotates very, very precisely, meaning hundreds of images were made for each knob.  Despite the incredible skeumorphism it provides extremely precise adjustments.

Narrowing and Panning

One piece of its functionality that I use is the stereo field narrowing and panning.  Many physical and virtual synthesizers produce exaggerated stereo (which sounds good in the music store, or in a demo) which becomes difficult in a mix.  Imagine several different instruments, each with its own idea of the stereo field.  You can't meaningfully move them to toward the left or right.  You can merge to mono, and then pan, but the phase shifts that create the stereo field then become phase cancelations that greatly alter the tone and behavior. What you need, and what this tool does, is to narrow the stereo field of each instrument to taste and then be able to move the instrument to where you want it.  After I saw this thing, I had to have it, just looking at the images, but it is extremely useful just for this one of its features.  This is just one (two, really) of its features.  I could implement these  features now that I understand the idea, using several different plugins with different user interfaces and different ways of storing settings.  I certainly won't do that when Sknote offers this lovely piece of work for $19.99.  If I want to, I can use one on each instrument in a mix.

Copy Protection that can't get in your way

The copy protection is only a small overlay of the purchaser's name at the bottom, which is a nice, classy touch.

One possible improvement

What do I think could be improved?  The labels are deliberately fairly low contrast against the background. The graduations around the knobs are fine, but at the standard fixed size of the GUI, the labels are hard to read, and made harder by the acronyms.  I think the labels need to be a bit brighter.  The acronyms are standard ones and should be kept for space reasons as on the original devices.

The company

Quinto Sardo of Sknote answers email quickly and provides excellent customer service.