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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year 2012

Happy new year folks! I wish one and all a very blessed new year ahead. 


I pray all of you get to move towards your goals and do the things you've always wanted to do. 


God bless you all! 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Round-Robin and the Elevators Scheduling at My Block


Talking about round-robin, I am reminded of the elevators at the block of flats where I live.


I've been frustrated at the elevators before. Sometimes when I call for the elevator, I can tell that 2 of the lifts are in transit (going somewhere, with or without passangers).


Sometimes only 1 out of 3 is in transit.


When I call the lifts, I expect one of the lifts that are parked to be mobilised. Instead, the logic that drives the lifts assignment lets that lift go in the opposite direction, then come to a rest, (either to drop off some passenger or park itself), then wakes itself again, to come to my level. There are many other cases of combination of the lifts doing different things mid-way, and reacted in a very inefficient manner, resulting in my having to wait a huge amount of time before a lift picks me up. Now I realise this has totally got to do with the concept of round-robin (or the lack of) assignment.


This is the same for the elevators at work. There are at least 4 elevators serving the levels of my current workplace. Most of the time I don't need to wait an awful long time to get an elevator, but sometimes they are really inefficient.


Elevators may be using another set of rules to guide the scheduling algorithm to decide upon which lifts to activate for all I know. Maybe I should go and read up a bit of elevator scheduling just to clear my doubts. :)

Definition of Round-Robin & EastWest's Play Engine


In the course of reading the manuals of EastWest virtual instruments plug-ins, I keep coming across the term "round-robin".


What Round-Robin Means


At first it seemed to be a recording technique, or some kind of microphone set-up. I searched google.com for "round-robin mic techniques", and found nothing. Closest results relevant to audio processing was a a "round-robin" setting in protools configuration that allows Protools to be configured to read/write audio data from an array of hard-disks to ensure stability of glitch-less recording. 


After I watched the videos from Youtube (from the previous blog entry), they used the term to describe the way samples are triggered.




Here's what I found on Answers.com:
http://www.answers.com/topic/round-robin


and from wikipedia.org
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Round-robin


The original meaning is to describe the signing of a petition in a way that signatures are passed around in a circle to make it impossible to know was which signature belongs to whom.


In sports terms, it is the matching of every contestant against every other contestant.


In programming terms, it is the simplest scheduling algorithm that for every time a resource is needed for a task, the round-robin algorithm selects which supplier to pull a certain resource from, out of a list of resource suppliers. This ensures that every resource provider is used the same number of times over a given period. This means that if there are 4 resource providers, each will be taxed equally over a period of time.


As I am re-phrasing this definition, I am imagining 4 missile barrels triggered by software, controlling which barrel to fire each time. If there is a need to continuously fire off 50 missiles, we could use the round-robin method to assign which barrel to fire each missile off.


An extreme case of imbalanced load assignment would be to fire all 50 rounds from tube 1. That would leave the other 3 tubes totally idle. Therefore an example of round-robin style assignment would be to fire off tubes in the sequence of tube numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, etc... There could be a more complex assignment based on random values, like 1, 4, 2, 3, 2, 4, 1, 3, etc... It could even be based on rules. If each tube takes a slightly different time to reload, our algorithm would have to query which tube is available and loaded, then assign that tube to be the next to fire.


The aim is to balance the load on each of the resource provider. Therefore at the end of a fixed duration, the number of times each resource (or tube) is being used, would be about the same. (This duration could be at the end of the hour, or at the end of 50 rounds of firing, or at the end of a day, etc).


I think the sports and programming terminology for round-robin is quite similar. It ensures every request (or sportsman) is matched with every other resource (or opponents, in sports) in the same number of times of events that calls for the resource (or matches, in sports).


So how does that apply to the virtual instrument plugin situation?


Round Robin in EastWest's "Play" Engine


It seems that EastWest is employing this round robin kind of task-versus-resource assignment to allocate which samples to trigger when you issue a MIDI note event (ie, when you hit a key on the MIDI controller). 



This is one of the EastWest videos showing the Fab Four virtual instruments library and its instruments in great detail. This is part 2 of 3.


Watch the video at 2mins 27secs, when round-robin is mentioned. It is used to trigger the samples from alternate takes of the same note to play, when you repeatedly play on the same note on the virtual instrument.


At 1min 09secs, the hi-hats from the drumkit when played, will automatically trigger off left- and right-handed sampled hi-hat hits to play when you play that midi note repeatedly.


That is one of the many supported features of the EastWest play engine. Its really simple and intuitive, but yet it has all the features you'll ever need from a virtual instrument.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

UK / USA Keyboards!

I've been using UK keyboards for the majority of the year, when I was in London. While I was there, I bought a Dell laptop. Naturally the keyboard is a UK one. The last time I was in London for a year, 2007, I also got used to the UK keyboard.

Now I'm still using the UK lay-out keyboard at home on my laptop, so I am really comfortable with it. 

When I came back to work, at dneg Singapore, I was given a US keyboard. I found myself hitting the wrong keys time and again. 

Strangely in Singapore, we all adopt the USA keyboard. I suspect its the case because UK keyboard has a pound sign (£) assigned to shift-3 on the alphabetical keys. Since Singapore uses the dollar ($), having the "£" is just wasting that key it's assigned to.

I never thought I would do this, but I have just written to Tech to get my keyboard changed to one with a UK layout. heh heh ;)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Limescale in The Kettle?

Since coming back to Dneg's Singapore office, I've started making my own coffee, just like in London. I guess its a good habit I've picked up because it forces me to stand up, walk around and maybe talk to people in the pantry. Also, it would save me some money buying drinks from the food court downstairs.

I was with Janson at the pantry today and I was checking on the water in the electric kettle. Everything was so familiar, similar to how I made coffee in Dneg London, that when I opened up the lid of the kettle to check how much water was inside, I expected to see lime-scale coating the inside of the kettle. :)

It's a small thing but this is the first time I am aware of myself remembering London. After all, I did spend the last 6 months of my life there. I do still think of the colleagues over there and when I watch the work done by the London office I am naturally reminded of the time spent there.

Before this, I was quite surprised why I was not reminded of London in any way. I did not think about it much, and I did not remember dreaming about it. I don't dislike the place at all. That is why I am puzzled why I don't find myself thinking of London.

Come to think of it, I was actually watching the company's demo reel for one of the upcoming films before I went into the pantry. That could be the reason for me expecting to see lime-scale along the inner walls of the kettle.

The New Circle Line, and My Way Home

I was working late last night. When I went home it was already 10.20pm.

The opening of One North MRT station has provided many of us tremendous convenience in terms of travelling to and from work.

This is due to the fact that one of the exits of the One North MRT station links directly to the basement of Fusionopolis. That's the building where Dneg Singapore lives, and that's where I work.

Before the opening of the One North Station, I used to take the North East Line from Farrer Park Station to Outram Park Station. From there I change to the East-West Line and take the train to Buona Vista Station, where I'll have to exit, cross the road and then take a bus to Fusionopolis. The bus comes once every 12-15 minutes. This was a huge inconvenience for people working here.

Amazingly, the operation of One North MRT station has opened up 3 routes by which I can now go to work by.

Out of the 3 routes, I have unknowingly favoured one route over the others. A few days ago my wife discovered a route I have never considered before. That aroused my curiosity, made me want to find out which route is the shortest and which one the longest.

As I was going into the station last night I made an effort to download the SMRT network map find out just how many stations each of the routes needed to take me to my destination.

Here are the routes,  in descending order of numbers-of-stations:
Route 3: from Farrer Park station take the North-East line to Serangoon Station (4 stops), switch to the Circle Line and travel via Bishan and Holland Village stations to One-North Station (9 stops). Total of 13 stops. This is the route I tend to take without thinking.

Route 2: from the Farrer Park Station take the North-East Line to Harbourfront Station (the last station on the line). (That's 6 stops). From there change lines to the Circle Line and then travel via Labrador Park and Kent Ridge Stations to One North Station (6 more stops). Its a total of 12 stops.

Route 1: from Farrer Park Station take the North East Line to Outram Park Station (5 stops), get onto the East-West Line, travel via Tiong Bahru Station to Buona Vista Station (5 more stops), then switch lines again to the Circle Line, and finally take the Circle Line to One North Station (1 stop). This winning route totals 11 stops. However it is also the route with the most number of line-changes.

It is interesting to note that the  difference between the number of stations is only 1 station from one option to the next. I believe that route 3 with the most number of stops also has the longest distance between the stops. I feel the Labrador Park and Kent Ridge part of the journey from Route 2 also has longer distances between the Circle Line Stations.

Therefore, Route 1 which has the least number of stations would also probably have the shortest distance between stations overall. I will have to measure the distances with Google Maps when I have more time.

As I am writing this, I am on the way to work. Without realising it I've just found myself on Route 3 with the most number of stops, approaching Woodleigh Station. The other shorter routes involve going in the opposite direction down to Outram Park and Harbourfront Stations, so its too late to go back now. Oh well... ;)

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Xbox360 HDMI Mystery

OK. So I checked the HDMI cable at the back of my Xbox 360 and guess what? It was not fully plugged into the port! So it WAS my mistake. Hm. It was working perfectly before the updated the OS. 


But I am a happy man. Saved me the trouble of having it replaced! Yippee! 

What is RROD

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RROD


RROD stands for the Red Ring of Death. It is 4 LEDs arranged in a ring. The console will use different combination of flashing LEDs to indicated the nature of the different problems.


I did a bit of reading up and it says 4 lights indicate an AV connection problem. Either the AV port is faulty or the graphics card. 
http://forum.teamxbox.com/showthread.php?t=472553


I'll go give that a try and see if it works. At least there's hope. hahah.

RROD's Got Me Again!

This is the second time I'm getting this!


I got this error after applying an update. Upon restarting, the Red Ring reared it's head.


This set is actually a replacement for my first set with the Red Ring of Death. First replacement was within 3 yrs pf purchase so it was free.

I highly suspect it's already past the warranty for RROD errors.


That's what you get for being away from home and not touching your console for 6 months!


I've got too many xbox 360 games to switch to a PS3 now.


Oh well I'll contact Microsoft and see how much I've got to pay to get a replacement.


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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sonivox Vocalizer


Was browsing through my mailbox today and I saw... Discount from Sonivox for thanksgiving! 25% off all Sonivox purchases!


So being unsuspecting and curious, I went over to take a look again at their products... Then I remembered that Vocalizer was their product. I came across this the time I bought Native Instruments Komplete 8. I was quite amazed by the technology and the limitless possibility this product can have.

It is not merely a vocoder (even though it functions superbly as a vocoder). It is a synthesis engine that takes waveform as input. It can take anything from instruments tracks, a percussive beat and human voices. With that as an input, and relatively simple and easy-to-understand controls, Vocalizer can output unlimited variations of the sound, bringing up harmonics (primaries and secondaries), morphing it into something totally wild (if you so wish it). Every control can be automated and assigned to midi controllers.

Listen to the demo here (or go to the Vocalizer product page). There are also quite a few videos from the product page. They are hosted by YouTube.com so I am embedding them here:



  

Monday, November 21, 2011

Paris Syndrome

This image is from http://theironnews.com/the-romantic-eiffel-tower, who reserves all rights to this photo.
Day 3, I ran into numerous people that behave rudely towards my wife and I. Two of them are waitresses who served us, and those young girls who "harassed" me from the previous blog. There were also people that aggressively shove and push us in the Metro. Of course I can't tell if the people at the Metro are French or not. They can very well be tourists themselves. But many of them were speaking French.

It was all a bit of a culture shock this time round, and I am reminded of the Paris Syndrome. I first heard it from a French colleague in the dneg London office told me about it.

Wikipedia defines the Paris Syndrome here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_syndrome

It is a psychological disorder experienced by people who are shocked by how Paris is so different from how they perceive it to be in their mind. They cannot come to terms with reality, and it translates into anxiety, stress, accelerated heartbeat, dizziness, sweating, hallucination and such. Many of the symptoms and signs that are associated with the psychological disorder disappear after the subjects leave the country and return to their own countries.

Wikipedia says that Paris is idealised in the Japan culture and romanticised in their advertising. 

I don't know about you, but from where I grew up in Singapore, I do associate high-fashion and rich art history with Paris. I perceive Parisians to be cultured people because of their rich culture and history. I have also watched quite a few Japanese Anime series where I can see strong influence of French culture (or the Japanese version of the French culture) on the art and the settings of the characters in the animated series. 

It was a shock to me, those cases where people were rude. I can only imagine how much more it would affect the people who are affected by the Paris Syndrome.

From Wikipedia I also found out that there are other places that have similar effect on visitors: Jerusalem, Stendhal and Canada

Friday, November 18, 2011

Paris Again - The Arrival

So I am here in Paris again, for the third time. First time was 2008 with Christina (she was still my girlfriend back then, and now she's my wife). Second time was with my mom in 2008. This time its 3 years later, in 2011. 


I left London to end my 5 months working visa in dneg. I am here on holiday with my wife, and we'll be here for a week. After that I will return to London to catch a flight back to Singapore on the same day.


This is the first time I am booking any hotel stay for 7 days at a stretch - my longest hotel stay in a country so far. I booked the hotel as a package with the train, through the Eurostar website. 
The night before, Christina and I had a rough time packing all our stuff. My suitcase was smaller than hers, but I had 5 months worth of stuff to squeeze into it. She was already finding it hard to press all her stuff into her suitcase. In the end we could just barely squeeze our suitcases close.


























When I reached Paris, walking out of the train station, the first group of people I encountered was a group of girls loosely scattered across the arrival area of the station, collecting donations for poor and homeless children. They were teenagers from about 12 to 17 years old. Christina and myself were quite lost and we had our hands full, so we had to turn them down. We ran into 3 of the girls, all asking for the same thing. They all ask if we spoke English. 


The first girl showed me a list of people names on a piece of printed donation list, and tried to explain to me about the objective of the fund-raising. I got past by apologising and saying we were in a rush. Second girl came as we went down the escalator to the basement. There was a group of them at the end of that escalator. 


This girl asked if I spoke English, then showed me her donation list and asked me to sign without saying anything about money. I felt she was persistent and misleading me into thinking it's simply a petition by signing my name. However, when I took a closer glance at her paper I saw the column stating the amount donated. I said sorry with a declining smile and waved my hand "no". She physically tried to stop my by using her hand to push against mine in the middle of my waving action to stop my advancing forward. It was more of a gesture than a really obstructive force to keep me from going, but I felt it was far too aggressive for fund-raising.


The third girl was with the second girl. She approached us only after about 6 steps away from the other girl. She said "Hello" to me. I waved my hand with an apologetic smile. She looked indignant, like she was offended, like "I only wanted to say Hello". Then she repeated her "Hello", like 2 times, each time louder and more pissed off than before. I kept saying sorry and smiling but waving "no" to her. On the third time I said a firm "hello" in a matching loudness with her, with a smile while looking directly at her. I was trying to show that I was not ignoring her, but I was also not going to make a donation just because she was trying to intimidate me. She jabbed me in the upper arm with the non-writing tip of her pen and said "hello" again, with the loud and offensive tone. That was just when I got far enough for her not to be able to reach me any more. Her jab was not injuring but the force was firm, and I could feel it for about 8 seconds after.


I was quite surprised by the whole incident. Why were children who were so aggressive allowed to raise funds at Gare Du Nord, a major railway station in Paris? Were they taught to be so aggressive in their manner of approach? It would seriously affect tourists' impression of Paris and its people right? I was seriously doubting if there was a non-profit organisation behind the girls asking for donations. I also doubt they would just let me go if I told them I've already made a donation to another one of their peers earlier on. 


After we exited the station, a man tried to approach Christina asking if she spoke English. She said "no". He asked "Can I hug you?", she said "no" again then she ignored him. He continued to ask if he could help her. She continued to ignore him and he left after a while.


We finally found the official taxi stand, with a long queue. When we joined the queue we were greeted by an old lady asking for English Pounds to spare. I was wondering why she was specifically asking for pounds? If she was really in need, why is she selective about what people give her?


This was a totally different experience from my last 2 trips. We were left alone most of the time, and I do not recall any encounters with the locals that even approaches the intensity in persistence like what I had just encountered. It is just 3 years since, and I felt it is really different from how it used to be.


I know the state of the economy in Europe is quite bad, and I am wondering if all this is the result that is affecting society.


The taxi ride and booking in to the hotel was pretty un-eventful. The hotel is L'Empire, which was just behind the Louvre and just a street away from the Metro station called Louvre Rivoli. The hotel room was really nicer than I expected. It was clean, nicely furnished and had very friendly and professional staff. 
That's looking in from the front entrance
Our room. All the rooms are named after Napolean's generals.
















The whole Eurostar package included 2 return train tickets from London to Paris and a hotel for 7 days. All in all it cost me £1,360. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

FL Studio Merchandising Design Contest: Won 2nd Prize!

What a big surprise! I opened up my email and I saw a receipt from Image-Line software, makers of FL Studio. 

I went into the contest forum thread, and I found that I won the 2nd prize!

First prize by AndrAKondrA had 167 votes, winning 25% of all the votes:
This image is from the forum where there was a button to click to vote ;)


2nd prize was my entry, scoring a 148 votes, winning 22% if all votes:
This image is from the forum where there was a button to click to vote ;)

The entry by gamecat666. It won 3rd prize with 111 votes, bagging 17% of all votes:

Winning the 2nd prize in this contest means I would receive 300 IL Virtual Cash. 1st prize wins 500 IL Virtual Cash and 3rd prize wins 100 IL Virtual Cash.

There were comments on the voting page that 3D renders are more eye catching on computer displays and more likely to attract voter's attention. However the concept and layout/composition may not be the best in the context of a t-shirt design or a mug. My piece was used as an example, because my cables were "cut-off" by the boundary of my rendered frame, thereby making it not the best candidtate, design-wise.

Also, with regards to designing for the print-medium in mind, some people also commented that photo-realistic renders, even they look attractive, would not be so suitable for mugs and t-shirts, if the designers had actually had experience doing designs for t-shirts.

The moderator commented that the designs could be used in posters for example, and they might work with us to request for modification to make the designs more suited to their purposes.

I absolutely agree with the fact that 3D spoils the market, in a way. The glossy finish and realistic shading do have the effect of covering up a weaker concept. Any piece of deisng with a nice 3D render is a design with a good execution. It would carry an average design through to become above-average. 

Only people who're trained in design can tell if a design is strong or not. It means that with their strong foundation, they will always have an edge over 3D software users who do not have fundamental knowledge in image composition, lighting principles and colour theory. That is why I believe being a 3D (CG/VFX) aritst, one should also be very aware of those foundation in art and aesthetics.

Thank you for your support, voters!

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Bought an Expresso Coffee Machine!

YC spotted a good coffee maker that was selling at www.amazon.co.uk. It was the Delonghi EC152 Pump Espresso Coffee Machine, selling at only £59.95. Due to the fact that my wife HAS to drink a cup of coffee in the morning, I thought this could be a good thing to have. Therefore I asked my wife over instant messenger, and she said "ok let's buy it!"

An expresso maker in Singapore would cost about SG$300 at least.

So I've placed the order. With the date of my departure being barely more than a week away, I hope Amazon makes a timely delivery.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Submitted Entries for Image-Line Merchandise Design Contest

I've finally finished it! Submitted what I've worked on for the last weeks. If you read my blog entry just a few posts back in my Patrick's VFX blog or the Journey into Music blog, I submitted 2 ideas for merchandise: a coin bank and a candy jar

While I was still working on it more than a week ago, YC happened to see it and commented that they weren't so attractive. As in, he probably would not want to get one if he saw it at an online shop.

On Friday evening I purchased FL Studio and I told YC about it. YC saw it that the prize for the competition was the sole motivating factor for my purchase of the software, so that I could start posting entries at the forum. 

Since last week, YC was already telling me to try and come up with something else. So last Sunday, I began to build the model of a headphone. Initially I had no idea at all what I was going to do. I had a vague idea that I was going to do the Fruity Loops logo again, on the headphones or something. I also thought of using the fruit as the source that the headphones were plugged into.



On Wednesday I submitted the coin bank and candy bar entry. On that night, YC tried to help me brainstorm for design ideas. I think he was itching to stretch his creative brain muscles. We came up with strange things, from lava lamps to trees bearing the fruity logo as fruits. 


So all the way to the weekend I continued to model and develop the model. I had some problem trying to model the mesh. I had 1 that is bump mapped, and I had 1 with circular holes and another with hexigonal holes cut into planes.
On Saturday night, I went without sleep for the full night trying to light, texture and develop the look for the single shot I am rendering. 
Some technical details pertaining to CG and 3D which described my process of modelling and rendering the image are included in the similarly named post on my VFX blog here: http://patrickvfx.blogspot.com/2011/10/submitted-entries-for-fl-studio.html.


That was 30 Oct morning, London time. Contest ends 30 Oct. I was not very sure which time zone, so I finished it by Sunday 9am, my local London time.




After submitting it, I decided to run the rendered image through an Android app by Autodesk called Pixlr-o-matic. Its available from the Apple App Store too. Here are the amazing results and variations.








Many of  them are useable and
totally changes the feel of the image right? I was quite amazed at what mobile apps can do these days. So after I got these variations out, I quickly logged on and submitted a few more just to show the potential of the render.


I got a reply that said "damn kids throwing their 3D around these days". I think it was meant as a joke :). Another person replied "I want one of those, would you actually make them and how much can I buy them for?". Thats a great compliment to my work! 

The design contest was primarily a DESIGN contest. Probably the most important factor for judges  to consider would be the element of design. So I am prepared that the people evaluating the entries would throw my image out the door (including the fruity coin bank and candy jar). 

My very lousy connection at home prevented me from replying them.


After my last 2 entries (coint bank and candy jar) that had links to a video clips of animated turn table, 3D entries in the forum started to include turntable video links. Copycats! Hah! ;)


There are not activities in the forum, so we'll just wait for the results and see.


I had an idea of smoke coming out from the logo and cable, but I did not have time to do it. I think I'll continue to work on it and maybe post a post-contest entry in the forum, just to show how I meant it to be. I've just got to be disciplined enough to carry it through.