Monthly Archives: February 2009

Usability testers needed

27 February 2009

A repost here from the Resolver Systems news blog:

We’re looking for experienced spreadsheet developers to spend a day with us in our London office, building Resolver One spreadsheets, as a way of usability-testing our software. We’re paying £200/day for this, so it’s perhaps something of most interest to current business school students.

Does this sound like something for you, or for someone you know? Drop us a line!

Praying that this isn’t a hoax…

19 February 2009

In Variety:

Will Clark is set to direct “Pride and Predator,” which veers from the traditional period costume drama when an alien crash lands and begins to butcher the mannered protags, who suddenly have more than marriage and inheritance to worry about.


13 February 2009

One of our customers had been asking about how to call XMLRPC servers from Resolver One. It doesn’t work in version 1.3, and he was having problems getting it to work in 1.4. The problem turned out to be simple and fixable, and unlikely to affect other people, so I’m proud to present a really simple XMLRPC/Resolver One example that you can use as a starting point: a Python script that creates a server exposing an is_even function (which tells you if a number is even or not), and a Resolver One spreadsheet that uses it. There are only two lines of code in the spreadsheet, which is pretty cool :-)

Good music composition software

5 February 2009

All that talk of music yesterday left me searching for a decent composition package, so I asked for recommendations on Twitter.

What I want is something that allows me to enter music on a stave, write and view multiple parts at once, playback with MIDI, and record as an audio file when I’m done.

Last time I looked at this, years ago, I used Cakewalk, which back then did what I wanted apart from being able to easily export to audio. Perhaps it’s worth looking at again, though I must admit I don’t remember the software with any real fondness. (To really date this — my solution to the audio problem was to output from the sound card to a MiniDisc — remember them? — and then re-sample and record to MP3 from the disk.)

Back on Twitter, Orestis suggested Sibelius (warning: irritating noisy Flash site), which does everything I want and more… but costs almost £600. They have a “student” version which does everything bar the audio recording but is affordable. It’s certainly got a good reputation, so probably worth giving a go, anyway.

njr suggested Lilypond, but that looks more like a way of printing scores from its own markup (though I may have the wrong end of the stick there). [Update: apparently it has a TeX-like input format, but prints scores and generates MIDI files from it. That sounds well worth investigating.]

Konrad suggested Noteflight, which I’ve only had a quick glance at — superficially it looks pretty interesting, and I’ll post more once I’ve had a look at it.

Definitely more research to be done. In the meantime, I’ll occupy myself with my piano roll spreadsheet, which can play back a tune using the .NET Console.Beep function :-)

Copyright and Composers; or, did Intellectual Property kill the English Baroque?

4 February 2009

Last weekend, my fiancée and I went to see Fretwork at the Wigmore Hall. The programme was a mixture of 17th-century English music and more modern pieces, and in the interval we got to talking about what went wrong with English — indeed, British — “art” music, and why it all-but disappeared for almost 150 years, from 1750 to the 20th century. It’s an interesting story, and not entirely unrelated to this blog’s normal software industry-related posts.

Let’s start with quick synopsis of the history of European music around the time in question: in the early 1600s, there was a burst of creativity, starting in Italy with the likes of Monteverdi but sweeping across all of Europe. This time is called the Baroque period, and it’s generally regarded as as having ended in 1750.

Italy dominated Baroque music with famous composers like Vivaldi and Corelli, but there was a strong French Baroque style, set by the likes of (Italian-born) Lully, Delalande and Couperin, and there was an English Baroque whose star was undoubtedly Purcell, but who was followed by (German-born) Handel. (As far as I can tell, there’s no movement known as the “Germanic Baroque” per se — but then, with the all-eclipsing J.S. Bach as their composer of the period, perhaps the German and Austrian states didn’t need a style.)

Anyway — what you can see here is that during the Baroque period a number of nations all had active composers, recognised Europe-wide. But then things changed. To take England as an example: Handel is the last well-known “English” composer of the eighteenth century. Music experts will, no doubt, be able to mention several interesting lesser-known names — but to the generally-interested amateur, English music stops with Handel and then kicks off again in late Victorian times, with Elgar.

What’s even more interesting is that — with a few exceptions — the theme of classical (strictly speaking, Classical then Romantic) music from 1750 to 1900 seems to be that composers from the various states that were later to become Germany and Austria dominate. Name a famous 19th-century composer — chances are you’ll come up with Beethoven, or Brahms, or Schumann, or Wagner.

What happened? Tempting though it might be to say that the German culture is inherently better at music — Bach again — that’s hard to believe, especially when you consider the words “German rock” ;-)

So with all that on my mind, I was fascinated to read the following today on the Ludwig van Mises Institute’s blog:

Thus does chapter eight of Against Intellectual Monopoly discuss all the existing literature that makes the case–on purpose or inadvertently–against patents. It is packed with empirical detail, but in particular I’m intrigued at their review of the history of musical composition in England Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries.

They find that the countries with no copyright legislation (German territories in particular) had more composer per capita than countries like England. And in England in particular, the 1750 law had the effect of bringing the entire composition industry to a grinding halt. And later, when copyright was imposed on Italy and France, it led to a diminution of composer effort.

This demonstration is intriguing beyond most music historians can possibly imagine. It solves a long-running mystery as how it came to be that the most musically educated population in the world, one with a massive history of compositional genius, would suddenly fail to participate in the progress that defined the age of Mozart and Beethoven.

If true, this is fascinating. In 1750, England introduced copyright over music. And the composers disappeared. Over time, France and Italy introduced copyright — and did themselves in too. Only the Germans, who were too busy being invaded by Napoleon, and then forging their own nation, were able to avoid this. Perhaps by 1900 things were stable enough for them to cripple themselves with copyright laws and give other countries a chance to catch up…

It’s a great story. I’ve no idea if it’s true. What do you think?

[Update] Hello to visitors from Techdirt; if you’re interested in music as well as technology, you might like to take a look at my music blog, The Baroque Project.