Pictures from Dubai

December 31st, 2006

Back in Sweden again, and I’ve had a day to watch movies and come back to life. Just in time for New Year’s Eve! Eeeexcellent…

Here’s a very brief summary of my brief visit to Dubai:

  • The trip down there was a complete haze: I hadn’t slept at all, and mixed with free beer on the flight from Stockholm to Frankfurt I ended up having catnaps all the time. Luckily I was rested enough to stay awake on the second part of our trip: the business class flight from Frankfurt to Dubai. This was my first time in business class, and I never want to travel in another way. Flight stewardesses who were attentive and friendly, sparkling wine, lots of leg space, movies and TV series to select from. I almost didn’t want to arrive at our destination.
  • But arrive we did, and what followed was a couple of intense days of 12+ hour work days trying to investigate Problems„¢. Here’s a pic of the broom closet we had to spend some of our time in. Since it’s just the backs of people, I don’t think they’ll mind that I post this pic.

  • At late lunch one day we badgered one of the other guys down there to take us to the Burj al Arab hotel – Dubai’s seven star hotel. The hotel that we unfortunately couldn’t stay in. Basically because it’d cost more than we earn in ten years. Or something like that. Anyway, we got a few nice pictures of the place. Too bad that my camera sucks, and that the lighting wasn’t very advantageous.

I like this picture. It has so much colour:

  • The weather in Dubai wasn’t overly hot, but it was an amazing difference from Sweden’s half-winter. I mean, going from around 0 degrees C to around 20 degrees was incredible. For fun I examined the scales in the first morning and then in the second: in one day I had lost 800 grams; most probably water due to the temperature difference. Oh, and the sea water was warm! Not to mention that the sand was warm and gorgeous and smooth:

  • The architecture was very…flowing. They used curves at every possibility, and most buildings were amazing to look at. Unfortunately there were building sites everywhere as well, and that ruined the view. Here’s one of the few buildings that didn’t have cranes around it: a hotel next to the Burj al Arab:

  • On the last day we decided to call it an early day, and prepared to drink ourselves senseless in some cool pub. You can imagine our surprise when we learned that it was a public holiday of some sorts, and that no alcohol was allowed to be served…anywhere! Panic! What do to?! Luckily my colleague had bought a large bottle of whiskey. To make it last a bit longer we bought some Coke from the minibar and did the ultimate herecy: we mixed whiskey and Coke in order to have a foul-tasting long drink.
  • Of course, semi-drunkards as we are, we ended up downing the bottle and staying up all night. It’s a wonder that we got to the airport in time. Technically, we didn’t though: we were too late to check in, but with some drunken smiles and apologizes we managed to get on anyway. In the last minute before the flight left.
  • If the trip down was a haze, our return was even worse. I guess things didn’t get better for the fact that we spent two hours having drinks in the lounge in Munich on the way. Ah well, we got back at least – and no flight personnel found us too drunk! It’s good to be a polite and stiff Swede sometimes.

Now: time for a wee New Year’s party!

So, I’m in Dubai

December 26th, 2006

Well, actually I’m not. But 5:30 this morning we’re going on a business trip to Dubai. Instead of finding an Internet cafe and a few minutes to spare like I did in London this summer I thought I’d actually post the obligatory travel blog post now already. I love spontaneous trips, but this one was quite rushed: last week was full of discussions concerning whom to send down there, which company should do what, should we send one or two people, if I were to go how the hell should I get a new passport instead of the one I lost in Cyprus, how should I get remote access to my development enviroments, why did the installation of the remote access software corrupt my Windows installation, and so on. It was late December 22nd when I gave up on trying to see whether or not I should go and had a few cold ones instead. A quick trip to Stockholm and further north resulted in a nice Christmas celebration…only interrupted early December 25th.

‘”Yeah, well, I guess we might as well go down there.” That little response made me look up trains to Stockholm and back here. (Here is Linköping. Pearl of Sweden; majestic flower of the North; heart-warming sight for weary travellers. Nah, not really. It’s dull as crap.) The clock is now 4:30 and I have been packing, washing up, had a long bath, watched The Simpsons (hey, I had episodes I hadn’t seen) and doing all kinds of important preparation-y thingies. 4:30? Bloody hell – no use going to sleep!

I’m pretty unusure what to expect from Dubai. I’ve read up a bit on Wikipedia and travel information sites, but it’s still rather vague to me. I didn’t even know that it was part of the United Arab Emirates – I just had an idea that it was somewhere around the Persian Gulf. If there’s something I’ve learned from my casual browsing, it’s that I’d better find some nice gold trinkets or electronics while I’m down there. Good thing that I’ve been planning on getting an iPod Nano anyway. Here’s to wishing that I get some time off for shopping. With my luck they’ll just keep me busy with work.

I had planned on writing a final paragraph here, where I mentioned how we’ll be greeted by unhappy Arabs out for blood. This would have branched off into a rant about how it’d be hard to do some coding with my hands chopped off, and all other kinds of stereotypicial almost-racist non-politically correct comments. While this is something I have no trouble writing, it felt instinctively wrong. It sounds too much like what a narrow-minded American would say. (Here’s a quick test for you: Are you American? Did you get annoyed by the previous sentence? Read it again and read “narrow-minded” as a qualifier; not as a generalization. If you did get annoyed, chances are reasonably high that you fit in with the narrow-minded group, though.)

Countries 2006: (Sweden) England, Cyprus, Dubai. Not great, but not bad. A decent year all in all I suppose.

Search Terms for This Blog

December 20th, 2006

I’ve seen posts like this at almost every blog I’ve encountered, so I have to do it as well: list a bunch of search terms that people have entered to find this blog. I’ve always found it highly amusing when I see others’ lists; I can just hope that you (yes, you the reader! I’m adressing you personally to make this post seem more friendly and directed at you) get a little smile from my own wee list.

Okay, I’ll start with mentioning that there are a lot of boring search terms like Ayn Rand, St Paul’s, media PC case and BlitzMax crack. That’s just not funny at all. I went for the truly weird ones, rather. Since I don’t know how to make WordPress do an inverted list I’ll just have to present the top ten in a normal order; please imagine that it’s a reversed top ten. Or preferably read it from the bottom!

  1. “Comma Games”
    There’s just something inherently hilarious about the thought of a game about a comma – I can just imagine this little platform game with Colin the Comma. I don’t know why. I may have a comma fetish. Or maybe this search was somehow related to rations. (Ah-hah! I hope you’ve played Angband.)
  2. “Thing Stuff Linguistics”
    Again, this may be my weird sense of humour, but I really like this phrasing. “Like, stuff and, like, this linguistic theory and stuff?” Alternatively it might be an attempt at finding information about the use of the words stuff and thing, and how they’re multi-facetted tools in modern English. Or maybe not.
  3. “Cynical Diagrams”
    “Yes, sir, I thought I’d spice things up today for the board meeting. What? Why did I include that diagram showing my personal view of sales predictions for next year? Well, I just count on no-one buying the product. Screw marketing – we all know that they don’t know half of what we know that they don’t know.”
  4. “Fucschia”
    What the hell? I knew that that fucschia garden pic would come back to haunt me. I can’t even spell fucschia without looking it up.
  5. “Gay Comics”
    Why is this in the fifth place? Oh, come on… The word gay is always fun! It rhymes with yay!
  6. “SONNEts Asshole”
    Someone’s really really frustrated at his Shakespeare homework, methinks…
  7. “Sonnets on Septeber 11th”
    Okay, this is just weird. I wrote a song called The Ballad of the Twin Towers, but even I don’t write sonnets about topics like this. Note the misspelling; tragically enough, with all the dubious spellchecking on the net, one can probably find all kinds of stuff even if one misspells words.
  8. “Alexander Dokumentov”
    I think Mr. Dokumentov himself has left a comment in an old post of mine! So I guess that it really isn’t a pseudonym at all. Oh well, I still giggle when I think of my little footnote there: (seriously, that has to be a pseudonym! “I am Alexander Dokumentov – guru of manuals and specifications! Bow before me!”)
  9. “Game Cracking Tutorials”
    Whaaat? Okay, sure. I mentioned both cracks and tutorials in a post, but oughtn’t there be millions of pages showing up before mine?
  10. “Use Cynical in a Sentence”
    I like this. Some middle-school kid has gotten an assignment and looks it up on the net. What does he find? My site. Poor bastard.

Custom Songs in Singstar

December 18th, 2006

I’m noting that my posts’ word count is getting lower and lower lately; if this continues I’ll be writing yet another blog mentioning what TV shows I watched and what the cat ate for dinner last night. Except of course that I’d have to get a cat in that case. Or a flying squirrel. Click that link – seriously, click it. I love flying squirrels. The ones I’ve seen for sale here are grey and black, though.

Either way, I hope that my lack of verbosity lately is mostly due to the fact that

  1. I’m busy and
  2. For some inexplicable reason I find lots and lots of little tidbits to comment on, that don’t seem to combine easily into a single post.

My rant today is on custom songs in Singstar. No, I’m afraid that I haven’t uncovered a neat trick to do the aforementioned; I’m just going to rant about the possibility. First of all: in order to have a Singstar-like program that allows you to load up your favourite song and then automatically determines the singing line from that, you need to exctract the vocals from the song.

Everyone and their sister knows that extracting vocals from a song is no easy feat, and many claim that it’s an unsolvable problem. Once the sounds have been mixed there’s nothing intricate about the sounds that separates vocals in a specific frequency from an instrument playing in the same frequency. Or is there? Humans are very capable of determining what is vocals and what is an instrument, so maybe the answer doesn’t lie in spectrum analysis, but in speech recognition instead. If the speech can be recognized, it might be possible to identify qualities specific to that voice – enough to separate the sounds from the rest of the mix.

Another, simpler, way is to assume that vocals are centered in the mix. Then it’s (basically) a matter of examining the left and right channel to see what parts are the same. Et voi­la – vocal extraction in a much easier fashion. There’s even a DSP plugin for Winamp to do this. The downside is that the results are pretty much…crap. A minor separation can be heard, yes, but we’re definitely not talking about vocal extraction.

But but but, and this is a big butt, this method doesn’t work very well on MP3s due to the encoding, so a better result might be accomplished on better-quality recordings. And hey – what about CDs! Wouldn’t that be an excellent thing for Singstar? To load up your CD in-game and have it process the song you wish to destroy with your screechings? Yes, it would. But I really don’t know how good the vocal extraction would be even on CD sound; and besides that, it wouldn’t work at all for mixes that use stereo panning on the vocals. Not to mention what Sony might have to say about unprotected CDs.

Okay, so now I’ve mentioned all the problems. Time to be a little bit positive. If a combination of speech recognition and stereo vocal extraction could be used to make the vocals more prominent – note that I don’t talk about extracting the vocals totally - then a spectrum analysis could determine the prominent notes. And if the vocals are made more prominent, wouldn’t they be what the analysis uses for determining the notes? And if the song can be divided into suitably discrete parts, couldn’t this technique be used to determine the most probable notes that the singing line ought to consist of? There are methods for determining the BPM, so dividing the song into suitable discrete parts oughtn’t be a major problem.

To quote Young Frankenstein: It… Could… Work!

But of course I don’t know if it’s possible or not, or if the notes would just become muddled averages. It’s an interesting idea nonetheless. If it’s possible, the Singstar research team really should look into stuff like this. It would make things infinitely easier than UltraStar’s non-user-friendly system. (UltraStar: open source PC software that imitates Singstar but allows you to define your own songs. If you have a MIDI file and/or a lot of time and patience.)

Oh, and while I’m on the topic of complaining about the lack of Singstar features I have two other things to mention:

  1. There really really really ought to be a way to allow variations. If a person sings something that fits rhytmically and melodically, it ought to give extra credit. Likewise, if the person decides to spice things up by singing a line that isn’t exactly what is defined but works in the current key, it should be fine.
  2. I can’t remember the second thing, but I’m sure it was important.

Current best score: Always on My Mind ~9200 on Easy; ~6200 on Hard. I need to practice more.

Tröjan! Chasing the Storm

December 17th, 2006

I tend to post rants about useless and unnecessary blog posts, and still I do these things myself. Links to supposedly cool stuff, small comments that no one else finds interesting and so on. I think that I’m aware of this though. If there’s one thing I hate it’s when people claim that you must be perfect yourself in order to complain about others’ behaviours. Screw that. It’s small-minded schoolboy behaviour – a weak defense against valid criticism that one isn’t prepared to recognize. Oh, and look! It seems that one of my very first blog posts was on this topic! Good God, I’m starting to repeat myself already.

Either way, I found something vaguely interesting that I thought fit to post. Let me start at the beginning. I was reading a Something Awful article which – for some reason – made me look up Italian ice cream on Wikipedia. This led me to read up on the origins of the banana split and other stuff, and about the history of ice cream in general. This, in turn, led me to ice cream brands, and Häagen-Dazs in particular. There I noted that the name is an example of foreign branding; it’s just a made-up name intended to look cool. (Ah-hah. Pun intended.) Another typical form of foreign branding is the heavy metal umlaut.

Still with me? See why I don’t get stuff done – I read too much useless crap on the net.

Now for an interlude. Years and years ago I heard an amusing anecdote about an American band called Troja who decided to print t-shirts for their tour. This was all fine and well…until they got to Sweden. The t-shirts were inexplicably sold out. Why?! All they had done was add a cool umlaut to the o in their name.

The Swedes who are reading this are grinning by now, but I’ll delay the punchline for a little while nonetheless.

Through Wikipedia I finally found a reference to the actual incident; the anecdote is finally verified. The band was in fact called Trojan, and this incident was a cause of their album Chasing the Storm. Oh yes. The album cover shows their uber-cool name: Tröjan.

Okay, here’s the punchline for the non-Swedes: in Swedish tröjan means the shirt. I would definitely have bought that t-shirt!