Brian Heywood removes his Santa hat, polishes off the last of the brandy butter, and considers what you might need to do to your PC now the new year is upon us...
Now you've all had enough time to recover from your turn‑of‑the‑year celebrations, it might be a good time to organise your PC's data before the heat of summer is upon us (ooops, wrong planet!).
If you are a hoarder, like me, you'll tend to keep all your old sequencer and sample files stashed on the PC's hard disk. Unfortunately, no matter how big your disk is, you will eventually run out of space. The obvious thing to do is to archive the old data onto floppy disk, so it's easily accessible. I use the Windows Drag and Zip utility from Canyon Software that I mentioned in last month's column (available from Nildram, on 0442 891331) for this chore.
However, this solution does lead to an organisational problem. How can you quickly find the file that you want, should the need arise? I've just started using a package called SmartCat which provides a simple way to organise your floppy disks, allowing you to assign a note (or comment) to both the disk and to individual files on the disks. SmartCat simply maintains a list of the files on a floppy and stores the information in a catalogue held on your PC's hard disk. As SmartCat 'understands' the various compression systems, it can also list out the contents of ZIP, ARC, LHA, and other archives.
Once you've saved your precious data to floppy disk and used SmartCat to log the details of the new archive, you can get the program to print out a label with a description of the contents. SmartCat can handle up to 10 different label formats, with two of them being pre‑set to Avery label types. I personally use a type of Avery label (L12‑50) not directly supported by SmartCat, but it was a simple matter to setup one of the custom types to handle them.
SmartCat is available as shareware from a number of on‑line services (CIX for instance) or from any decent shareware distributor. You can also buy the full package from the authors, Oakley Data Services (0270 759739), for around £40.
Twelve Tone Systems have just released yet another variant of their popular Cakewalk music sequencer for Windows. Designed to appeal to someone just starting to explore the world of computer‑based music, Cakewalk Express can be used with any Windows‑compatible soundcard. One innovation is the ability to 'play' in a performance using the PC's keyboard, thus doing away with the need for an external MIDI instrument. Called the 'Virtual Piano', this feature assigns notes to the bottom two rows of keys on the PC's keyboard, allowing the user to play along with a Cakewalk sequence, or even record a new track 'in sync' with playback.
Like other Cakewalk programs, Express can play back digital audio files and control MCI devices, for instance firing off digital video files (ie. AVI) under the control of the sequencer. Other features include multitrack staff (ie. music notation) and track/measure views, a piano roll editor, and a faders page. The software is available from Et Cetera (0706 228039) and costs around £80.
Et Cetera are also handling a library of sounds in Emu Systems' SoundFont format. These banks can be used with the Creative Labs AWE32 soundcard and consist of a range of instruments, sound effects, vocal clips and ambient sounds. The SoundFont is Emu's attempt to define a 'standard' way of specifying RAM Wavetable data. It has been designed to be scaleable, the actual playback quality being determined by the specification of the playback system.
The first series of sound banks come on 3.5‑inch floppy disks, and include two grand pianos, woodwind, ethnic instruments, a B3 Hammond organ, various rock instruments and 'haunted house' sound effects. Future releases will include sounds based on Emu's Proteus range of instrument sounds, as well as their well‑known keyboard sounds, more sound effects and some ambient beds. For pricing and availability, call Et Cetera (number above).
While we're on the subject of downloadable Wavetable sounds, users of the Gravis UltraSound (GUS) cards may be interested in a new CD‑ROM of GUS patches from Howling Dog Systems. The GUS cards store their instrument sounds on hard disk, downloading the data to the card's RAM as required. Howling Dog have taken advantage of this feature by releasing a CD‑ROM of sound data specifically designed to enhance the sound of the GUS. The CD contains over 40Mb of professionally recorded sample data in the GUS's native PAT format, including both melodic and percussion banks, and analogue synthesizer and drum sounds, as well as new effects and dance loops.
The new sounds can be copied across to your hard disk or can be used straight from the CD. The UltraSound's Bank Management mechanism means that you can replace individual instrument sounds or completely customise the way your card sounds. Since the sounds are all controlled via MIDI, you can take full advantage of the multitimbral facilities of the UltraSound. The CD‑ROM also contains demo versions of Howling Dog's other MIDI applications, such as their excellent guitar‑based sequencer PowerChords. At £99, the CD‑ROM isn't particularly cheap, but when you consider the extra software supplied, it's really quite a good deal. To find out about availability contact Koch Media on 0252 714340.
If you use a modem with your PC, you can now log on to a service provided by BBC Engineering that allows you to synchronise your PC's date and time with an accurate time source. All PC's from the introduction of the AT (or 286‑based) PC have been provided with a real‑time clock, (sometimes known as the CMOS clock), so you don't have to enter the date and time when you turn on your PC. The computer reads the CMOS clock when you power up, and another clock (the BIOS clock) keeps track of the time by counting in 55mS interrupts. Unfortunately, both the CMOS and BIOS clocks are notoriously inaccurate, and can gain or lose up to 10 seconds a day.
To take advantage of the new BBC service, you need to have a program called BBCTIME which will use your modem to dial into the BBC computer and synchronise both the PC's CMOS and BIOS clocks to the BBC's accurate clock. Your modem needs to be Hayes‑compatible for the program to work. The number dialled is a BT premium rate call (which pays for the service), but as the call duration is usually less than a minute, it should only cost around 20p to ensure that your clock is set accurately. The time program is available on CIX — or you can contact Tony Moore of BBC Project Management Services on 071 765 5527 (or email firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
Keen‑eyed readers will have noticed that the MIDI In circuit depicted in Figure 1 in December 1994's PC Notes won't work if wired up as shown. The orientation of the diagram is a little peculiar, and the wire shown connected to pin 2 of the IC1should in fact be connected to pin 3 of the IC1 (see revised diagram). Apologies to all those who spent the festive period covered in solder screaming "why doesn't it work??!!" at a useless pile of components...
As last month's column went to press, I downloaded a new version of McAfee Associates SCAN program, the old version of which I mentioned in last month's PC Notes. As the law of Sod would have it, the new version (2.11) has different command line parameters from those I gave last month. Listed below are the changes you need to make to the command lines described in last month's column.
Was: SCAN /A /NOMEM /MANY A: SCAN /M /CHKHI C:\ SCAN /M /CHKHI /A /ADL
Becomes: SCAN /ALL /NOMEM /MANY A: SCAN C:\ SCAN /ALL /NOMEM /ADL
Also, it's worth mentioning that the UK agent of McAfee Associates is IPE Corporation Ltd (formerly International Data Security) who can be found at 10 Alfred Place, London WC1E 7EB. The man to talk to is Oliver Mills, on 071 436 2244 (Fax 071 916 1004, BBS 071 580 4800).
One of the easiest ways of accessing the Internet is to use the World Wide Web (WWW), a hypertext‑style interface with a very 'graphical' feel to it. To get the best out of the WWW, you need to have a Web browser which is directly connected to the internet. I use Navigator (a public domain Windows application from the Netscape Communications Corporation) and connect to the Net using the Trumpet Windsock (ie. Windows Socket) via Demon Internet services. To the user, the Web appears as a page of information with embedded graphics, and buttons for downloading files or sending email. You navigate the Web by clicking on 'hot links' which will move you to another page (which is often on a completely different computer).
Bands have started using the Web to create what are essentially on‑line calling cards or brochures of their material. For instance the band 'Tortus' (who also have a tape in the SOS Reader's Tape Exchange) have a page which describes the band, what they do, who they are and information about their current release 'Sprung'. This method of promotion has some interesting implications, since it can provide snippets or sound bytes, so Web 'browsers' can get a feel for the type of music. Bands can even provide video clips of themselves in action, if they want to.
If you do have access to the net, you can visit the Tortus page by pointing your Web browsing software at the URL;
I will be writing more about the web in future columns; watch this space...