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LinuxTag 2002 - a report by Frank Neuman

Frank Neumann (Frank.Neumann@st.com), VIONA Development Center STMicroelectronics, Karlstrae 27, 76133 Karlsruhe LAD at the LinuxTag 2002 in Karlsruhe (June 6th-9th, 2002) - A Summary

Not everyone might know, but the LinuxTag in Germany is currently the largest Linux event in Europe, and has been so for a while now.

It started some 7 years ago at the university of Kaiserslautern where some students thought it would be a good idea to give possible new Linux users some guidance in installation of our favourite OS on their PCs or notebooks. Thus, the idea of installation parties was born, and it grew quite well over the next few years. In 1999, the LinuxTag had its last appearance at the university, with about 7000 visitors on 4 days, and it became clear to the organizers that the limits of a university were reached. So, 2000 saw the first LinuxTag fair at a "real" expo area, namely the Messe in Stuttgart. It also took place there in 2001, but for this year (and for the next 4 coming years - contracts have already been signed) the organizers moved the show to Karlsruhe (reason unknown - probably financial).

I have been with the LinuxTag since 1999, helping at the Debian booth then and in 2000. As my interest shifted to Audio matters, I had the idea of bringing together some audio-loving folks for the 2001 LinuxTag, and I found a lot of enthusiasts in the Linux Audio Developers (LAD) mailing list whose home can be found at www.linuxdj.com/audio/lad.

The LinuxTag has always been an interesting mix between commercial companies like SuSE, HP/Compaq, Sun etc, and OpenSource booths where small groups, usually without a lot of budget, can show off their project, attract more users/developers and generally can come together for talking and planning. Their booths, electricity and network are sponsored by the LinuxTag e.V., which makes this event ideal for any free projects.

This was one of the reason for me too to run this "Linux Audio" booth. Of course, it is important to show to people what is already possible nowadays with regards to MIDI, sample editing etc, but getting some programmers to come together at one place also gives them a good chance to talk, exchange problems and ideas, and speed up their development. After all, talking face-to-face is still a LOT faster than communication over E-mail or IRC.

Having collected some experience with our first Audio booth in Stuttgart 2001, the plannings for 2002 were not too difficult. As usual, some information, like, how large our booth would be, only became known very late, but the important stuff was already there; we had:

- some 7 - 10 people willing to help, man the booth, bring their equipment and show applications they know how to use (or even wrote themselves)
- enough hardware to make noise (active speakers, microphone, mixer, keyboards, several PCs with soundcards)
- little name tags for everyone involved
- "Linux Audio Developers" stickers, courtesy of Patrick Shirkey. He had planeed to come to the show himself, but he couldn't; so he just generously donated these 700 stickers to us, and we handed out most of them in 4 days.
- Cool T-Shirts :^)
- (german) flyers detailing the most important facts about what we do and where to find us on the 'net. Thanks go to the german Linux NewMedia Verlag for sponsoring us here.

A great advantage this year was that we could run a common booth for both ALSA developers and LAD participants. The following people took part:

For ALSA: - Dr. Matthias Nagorni, working at SuSE
- Takashi Iwai, also at SuSE, one of the key ALSA developers
- Jaroslav Kysela, the founder and main developer of ALSA
(though only available on Thursday; see below why :-)

For LAD:
- Jrn Nettingsmeier, maintainer of the LAD/LAU/LAA mailing lists and webmaster at linuxdj.com/audio/lad
- Julien-Patrick Claassen, studying at university of Paderborn
- Tobias Ulbricht, a local friend and musician
- Steve Harris, author of the "swh-plugins" for LADSPA
- Peter Hanappe, author of iiwusyth
- Richard Guenther, one of the authors of Glame
- and yours truly, getting the whole mess together somehow.

Two more Glame developers, Alexander Ehlert and Daniel Kobras, wanted to show up but didn't make it; Alexander is currently suffering from a multiple back injury. All the best to you, Maggy!

Jrn, Julien and Steve stayed at my place during the nights, as well as Peter (though only the last night). The others had their own hotel/friends where they spent the (always rather short) nights.

So, let's go through the days in chronological order.

Wednesday, June 5th Pre-expo time; building up the booth.

I came to the expo with a car full of high-tech and unloaded my stuff together with Tobias (who was so kind to lend us his 19" monitor for the expo; thanks, Tobias). Soon we met Takashi and Matthias, and the talking could begin. I had to interrupt the cabling of my own stuff to get Jrn, Julien and Steve from the train station. By 7 P.M. everybody had arrived at the expo in good shape, and we could (mostly) finalize the booth. Lots of thanks must go to Till Kampetter of LinuxPrinting who produced 4 high-quality A2 color prints of the LAD logo, the ALSA logo and two schematics for ALSA and JACK that Jrn had prepared (see spunk.dnsalias.org/download/LinuxTag for the Dia sources of his schematics). Those printouts really made the booth a lot more colorful than it would have been otherwise.

At this time we also met Jaroslav Kysela and his wife Petra. They had married just a few days before, and both seemed very happy about it (oh, and they are expecting "version 2" later this year :-). They did not have a real honeymoon, but they had planned to give a party for some of their friends at their home in Czech that coming weekend, so they could only stay with us one day.

Later that evening we eventually got hungry, so we raided a local italian restaurant and enjoyed our pizza/pasta/whatever. Jrn annotated here that you can discover an interesting equation:
Hot pizza + discussing dc-offsets in duty-cycled sine waves = cold pizza

In fact, it is a very satisfying and interesting observation that once some nerds that have never seen each other before (just exchanged mail) meet in person, it will only take them a few seconds (or at most minutes) to start talking tech (and then go on like this for hours, unless you stop them :-).

Around midnight we said good-bye to each other, drove to my place, talked a little longer while enjoying some Weizen beer (hope you liked it, Steve :-) and finally slept a few hours.

Thursday, June 6th
The show begins, and a weak social event

First day of the show. We arranged our flyers and stickers, powered up everything..wait. Jrn's machine had just undergone some kernel change, and of course the new kernel didn't want to boot. So he had to spend some 2 hours on getting it to boot up correctly.

My PC ran fine, and a first "soundcheck" (mpg123 THX_bway.mp3 :-) woke up the booths around us nicely. Yes, those Tannoy Reveal active speakers were really worth the money.

Steve brought a webcam with him which was connected rather quickly, and he and Jrn managed to link this into the LAD pages so folks "outside" who were unable to attend the show could see what we were doing. There are now two "high-speed" .mpgs that Steve produced from the individual frames; see www.linuxdj.com/audio/lad/eventslt2002.php3 . There you'll also find some pictures I have made with my digital camera, commented by Jrn, as well as the T-shirt image.

One of the most impressive things (from my point of view) was Julien's handling of his PC. He is almost completely blind (he can spot colored areas from very small distances, but that's about it), but with his braille device connected to the serial port of his PC, he could work on the console pretty much as fast as anyone else. When he arrived with his PC, he didn't have a monitor - of course, why should he. However, I thought it would be a good idea to bring an old 14" from my flat and connect it up so visitors can see what he is doing. So we did, and the results were a lot of astonished views. Fascinating, as Spock would put it.

Jaroslav and Takashi spent most of this day by sitting down in front of their Notebooks and discussing current ALSA matters. None of us dared to disturb them, and I think it was of great value for them to talk some issues in high-speed (compared to traditional E-mail).

The day was ended with the traditional "Social Event", an after-show party with some talks, buffet, free drinks and more. At least, that's what we were used to from the last years.

This year's Social Event (called "LinuxNacht") took place at the "Zentrum fr Kunst und Medienkultur" (Center for Arts and media culture, ZKM), and this gave reason for high expectations. However, personally I found it to be a quite disappointing show:

- Entrance fee was 20 Euro; more than last year
- Only soft drinks (apple juice, water, orange juice) were free; anything else had to be bought.
- A live band was supposed to play, but didn't - I heard some talk about "missing gear". Hm.
- The buffet was very simple and small - two types of quiche, spring rolls and some bread with toppings, that's all.
- The museum has an exhibition that we were allowed to visit with our party entrance ticket. However, noone told us it closes at 11 P.M., so when we had eaten and drunk and went up to that museum around 10:45, we were chased out again ten minutes later. Sigh :-\.

I hope the organizers will learn from this and make things better next year.

Notwithstanding this weak show, we still enjoyed our stay there. Our team congratulated Jaroslav and Petra on their wedding by giving them two bottles of fine italian wine (hope you like it, Jaroslav&Petra!), and they returned the favour by spending a "Jgermeister" (german traditional herb-flavoured liqueur) for all of us - though some had a hard time swallowing theirs :-).

Friday, June 7th
Weekend crowd and "the session"

Today it was Julien's machine that caused some problems. He and Jrn checked it out, found some obviously defunct RAM module and had to re-install SuSE on that machine - fortunately not too much data was lost.

Friday was a lot more crowded than Thursday (which was supposed to be the "business day"). We started to feel that talking and demo'ing for 8 hours solid can give you a sore throat.

A black guy came up to me and asked about ways to use a sequencer to play a drum pattern at different speeds in order to learn it (playing very slowly at first, then increasing speed to the "original" speed as you make progress. I wanted to show him how to do this with the "MasterTrack" feature in MusE, but at that time my PC was occupied by others, so I had to ask him to come back a little later. He didn't, unfortunately - because if he had come back, I would have *loved* to take some samples from his voice. He had a ridiculously low voice and this black accent that makes you shiver, even if he was just saying things like "Yea, I'm playin da drums - wi' ma band'. It just sounded *terrific*. Damn, why couldn't he come back later? :-)

On my machine I mostly showed MusE with LADSPA plugins, Smurf and Audacity. I discovered that the "Canyon Delay" is really great for such shows. Take a simple (even stereo) .wav file, feed it into the MusE mixer, plug in a Canyon Delay with very short delay times (around 30 - 50 ms), and voila, the stereo effect of the sound is much broader. This worked for both audio tracks and normal MIDI files played through the iiwu softsynth of MusE. There are a few more effects that were great for demoing - the Freeverb, the Multiband-EQ, the Decimator and more. It was quite easy to attract a couple of people by just starting a song and playing with those plugins. Yummy!

When the show ended on Friday, there was no party or event planned afterwards, so we just stayed at our booth to play around with things we had no time for during the day.

I believe it was Julien who started a fascinating experience by asking if we could do some live effects with the microphone. He got this cute rubber penguin from the HP folks that squeaks when you squeeze it, and he wanted to find out what it sounds like when enriched by some effects. So Matthias set up a LADSPA chain on Jrn's machine, audio was routed through my mixer, and we made some interesting noises with the penguin, a shaker and some voices. Then I let a very simple Hi-Hat pattern run through MusE, looping endlessly, and with the right Canyon Delay settings this evolved into a rhythmic figure (a triplet, "ts-ts-ts ts-ts-ts" and so on) that served as basis for something I'd like to call "unintentional jam session". I played some bass notes on the keyboard, some folks experimented with the microphone, Matthias added "music" through his ALSA Modular Synth (http://www.suse.de/~mana/) and discovered that the touchpad of his notebook can be misused just nicely as a ribbon controller. This reminds me of the fact that I soon want to purchase a Doepfer PocketDialer MIDI controller device (16 endless knobs, delivering either absolute or "delta" data, see www.doepfer.de, no they don't pay me for this) similar to what Matthias had taken with him. Being able to realtime-control ams with such a device should be BigFun. Matthias clearly showed that the "MIDI Learn" function of ams is in place and can be used right now. E.g. we were able to control some filter values in realtime with the pitch wheel/bender of my Roland D-50 keyboard. Very promising stuff here!

We toyed around with this setup for something like 30 or 40 minutes, and I believe everyone enjoyed it. Every once in a while some resynchronization between us was required (quote Jrn: "Frank, could we agree on a '1', please?"), but taking into account that we never before had the chance to play together, it worked out quite well. It wasn't really music, but at least it had some "artistic touch" :-). Don't dare to ask for recordings of this session - there is none, which is probably a Good Thing(tm). We all believed it would only have the right effect when you are part of it.

Some folks from other booths who also still were at the expo heard our experiments, came closer, took a look, shook their heads or made a photo and wandered off again, but we didn't really care. We just got carried away :-).

Later on, we had our usual pizza/pasta and again lots of talk, followed by once more too little sleep. Things started running smoothly.

Saturday, June 8th
More crowd, and barbecue

Saturday probably was the most crowded day. Here's where the kiddies had time for a visit, and the average age of our booth visitors dropped a lot.

Two more helpers arrived today: Richard "Richi" Guenther from Tbingen and Peter Hanappe from Paris. I had met Richi last year,so I knew he would be able to demo Glame just fine and take some load off of us others whose throat starting getting really sore by now :-).

Peter has developed "iiwusynth", a Timidity-like program that takes a soundfont (.sf2) file and can be triggered through MIDI to play notes as if it were a real MIDI device. Incorporation of iiwusynth into MusE is possible in two ways:

1) Werner Schweer, the author of MusE, had taken an older version of iiwusynth and has integrated it into the MusE Softsynth structure. This one lets you change the soundfont on-the-fly.
2) Running iiwusynth standalone will give you an ALSA out-port than is visible in MusE as a MIDI port and can be played like an external MIDI device or the wavetable synthesizer on-board of most Soundblaster cards.

iiwusynth is another piece of software to keep an eye on; seems like it already has quite a lot more to offer, like Chorus and Reverb effects, and is still growing (I admit I only know very little about Timidity, so forgive any errors I make here).

One experiment I did this day was to use Glame to create a choir out of myself. The idea is simple: Sing a "C2" note into the microphone for about, say, 10 seconds and record that into a .wav, repeat with "E2", "G2" and finally "C3". The single samples sound horrible (of course - I cannot sing), but then you add them up into one sample which is already..not bad. Now add in Freeverb with a large room size setting and a bit of damping, and voila - there's your gregorian chant (almost). I think some visitors were quite impressed, at least I was :-).

We also had an interesting visitor from another booth, Rene Rebe, one of the authors of the "GSMP" sample editor project (drocklinux.dyndns.org/gsmp). He showed what his program can do (which looks quite impressive already) and it was found that there is a certain overlap between GSMP and Glame. He talked to Richard Guenther for a while, but I am not sure if they have agreed on some kind of cooperation.

Saturday ended with a large Barbecue organized by the local Karlsruhe Linux User Group (KaLUG, www.karlsruhe.linux.de). Initially their plan was to invite all of their helpers to this party (around 50 - 70 people), but then they decided to also invite booth personal from the open projects. They handed out sheets of paper to all booths to have us write down names and numbers, and they found the sum to be around 210 geeks. However, pretty much noone expected the dimensions of the whole thing in the end - there were about 400 people attending the barbecue! KaLUG folks worked all day to get salad, sausages, steaks and drinks ready, and they did a great job. Of course the "BarbeQueue" ;-) was rather long for a while, but eventually everyone got something to chew on, and after all the chatting was more important anyway.

Some folks from the university (where the Barbecue took place) had an old 16mm film projector and showed some rather old germany educational movies, like "How a computer works" (from ~ 1980), "How sausages are made" (enjoy your steak!), "Dangers with chainsaws" (without blood - boo! :-), and a very funny comic strip about sex education. Great entertainment, even for those who didn't understand/speak german. This evening I also saw the first real celebrity, easy to recognize by his red hat: Alan Cox.

Saturday ended around 2 A.M. for us. "Yawn". Questions? :)

Sunday, June 9th
Shutdown and good-bye

The last day also was the day where me and my guests (Jrn, Steve, Julien, Peter) arrived at the fair as late as never before. While on Thursday we were in around 8:30 (half an hour before the expo began), it took us some 20 minutes longer on Friday; on Saturday we were there around 9:30, and on Sunday we didn't show up before 10:00 A.M. :-) However, most visitors had similar plans, so there was not really much going on yet when we arrived.

Generally, Sunday was a rather calm day. Maybe a good deal of visitors were distracted by the entrance fee - something I'd call an unfortunate idea from the organizers. Weeks before the expo started, you could surf to the LinuxTag homepage (www.linuxtag.org) and get your free ticket (actually, you just filled out a form, and a .pdf file was sent to you that you print out and show at the entrance). Many people did not know about this, and I know of some friends how wanted to visit me but decided not to do so since it would have cost them 10 Euro. I wonder what the LinuxTag e.V. people do next year...

Another nice experiment I discovered in MusE this day was to put a couple of Multiband-EQ plugins into several of the "Group" channel strips of the audio mixer, then arrange them so that one would do bass/treble enhancement (like the "Loudness" button on your stereo), another one would only let a small mid band pass through (cheapo radio effect), and so on. Then by simply redirecting the output of the first strip (WAV file playing or iiwusynth) onto one of these groups, I could change the equalizer. Of course this is no solution for the problem of still missing loadable/storable preset settings for LADSPA plugins, but it demonstrated nicely what is possible.

There was one more interesting visit by a girl who actually already uses MusE and seems to be quite happy with it. I asked her if she is also subscribed to the MusE mailing list, to which she responded - "No, why? It works ok for me." This clearly told me that the MIDI only part of MusE (which she is mostly using) seems to be quite stable by now. Good to hear. She a had lot to tell about the way she does music, and I encouraged her to share some of her songs so we can grow the collection of "Music Made with Linux" (oh, and a central point to collect such MP3s/oggs might be a good idea - anyone?)

She also pointed me to a soundfont she is using a lot. While I did most of my tests with the classic 2MB GM/GS soundfont that comes with your average SoundBlaster card, she discovered that the "Fluid" soundfont by Frank Wen (www.jazzybee.com/fluid) is a lot better. Unfortunately the archive available there requires a Windows program (sfArk) to unpack; but I left an unpacked version (148 MB) at Steve Harris' site, inanna.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~swh/fluid-unpacked . I have some problems with this one, but others already reported success.

Before the expo ended (4 P.M.), Steve had to leave us to catch the train to Frankfurt. Unfortunately we spent a little too much time on saying good-bye, so he missed his tram to the train station by a few seconds. Ok, we took my car, and ignoring some speed limits (hey - it's cool driving around the city center at 70km/h :-), I got him to the station in time. Later I heard he also caught his flight from Frankfurt to Southhampton just in time. Whew ':-).

Something similar happened two hours later when Jrn and Julien had to catch their train. They also got back home in good shape with all of their (pretty heavy) equipment.

As usual, those events always end too quickly. People start shutting down machines, unplugging cables, and within 1 hour most items were removed from the booth. It always gives me a melancholic feeling, but we'll come back! :-)

Resume

Overall, the expo was lots of fun for me, and I believe a great success for our audio booth. We will most probably repeat/continue this thing next year, maybe even better prepared than this year, maybe even with some kind of "live act" (I got an offer from a local friend who was very excited about what we did - he suggested he might lend us some gear to do a real life performance, though probably not right in the expo hall, but in some well-isolated room nearby :-).

The nicest quote I heard during the whole expo was on Thursday when someone who had been watching me for a while do things with MusE finally understood and then spoke, aloud, "Oh - that is _Linux_!" (he must have thought it's Windows running Cubase for a while :-).

People left with a lot of motivation to start/restart programming projects, and the results should show up in the next couple of months. As for myself, I also feel a lot more motivated to work on some of my toy projects, but first the heat around here in south Germany (currently up to 41 degrees Celsius) has to go away :-).

However, there is also room for a different kind of event - a programmer's meeting. I used to hold some of these back in the mid-90s when I was starting with Linux on my 68030-based Amiga. The idea is to collect some 15 - 30 people at once place, have them bring their hardware/gear, and sit together for a long weekend to do presentation, discussion, problem solving, programming and (optionally) consume some alcoholic beverages. These meetings were always very fruitful, and while an expo like LinuxTag is great for attracting new users, it leaves little time for experimentation, development or even in-depth talking. A programmer's meeting would be much better suited for this, and plans have begun how we could realize this.

Anyway, thanks for reading, and to all audio developers in the Linux world: Keep up the good work, you have all done a terrific job so far!

"Canyon Delay rulez!"

Frank

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