Saturday, January 17, 2009

Beauty more than skin deep: Guitare, etc.

One of the reasons I refuse to go back to Windoze is my experience with a few special programs---programs that were written by programmers to "scratch an itch," and made available for "anonymous" ftp or download, somewhere "out there," for use by others should the need or wish arise. This restores or sustains my beliefs concerning the nature of man, and sustains my hope and happiness in the present. I cannot imagine why windoze "weenies" don't get this. How misguided is that scene.... One can only admire the prowess of others who have that ability; but perhaps in some other ways I can make my prowess (such as it may be) available to others. Reminds me of the questions people used to ask about the "learning curve" of GNU/Linux, or of LaTeX, or Emacs: the bottom line was, though, that for one willing or able to put in the time to learn, the rainbow gradually became visible. Many of us never went back. Many of the others don't understand why that may be: a friend pointed out to me the other day that Windoze no longer crashes dozens of times a day, as it did when I bailed and started using Linux at the command line, Pre-Linux 1.0. He still missed the point.

This weekend I have had reason to get back in touch with an old friend---the program "guitare."
guitare had installed several years before on one of my GNU/Linux boxes as a command line program, and proved extremely interesting, with capabilities unmatched by any other program I have seen (especially the two in bold face below):
  • name a chord when the fret numbers of all strings are input
  • alter the tuning, and do the same in any arbitrary tuning
  • serve as a chord chart
  • do much the same for scales
Two years ago, I had sent an email message to Pascal Obry, the developer of the amazing ADA program from yesteryear, "guitare" and the GUI version "tkguitare", explaining how I had not been able to install the program on my more recent machines. I had given up and let it all slide, I don't remember why. Perhaps I had final exams to write, or got involved in another project. I don't remember.

Recently, I have been fiddling around with the most amazing guitar, a gift from my long lost cousin, Mike for my 60th Birthday: a Little Martin. What a tone, and with precision I have never known in dozens of guitars I have played in my lifetime. What an eye opener (ear opener)! I randomly retuned the strings the other week, in preparation for a restringing: I often do this as I usually do not like to work the strings too much, for fear of deadening them. (Although I now realize that not washing my hands must have an even more devastating effect).

On my new random tuning, that my friend Ken says is "drop D" tuning, I have improvised some chords and songs. I don't want to lose them, as I usually do, because the notebooks have a habit of getting lost or forgotten.

Guitare
immediately came to mind. It's terrific to be able to tune the program to my unknown tuning, and explore the chords: guitare tells me the canonical name of each chord.

How amazing the exponential development of the Internet as a builder of capacity, as a library, as a source: I did a gmail search and found the old email of Pascal, and contacted him, asking is I could at least find a way to install guitare as a command line utility. Nothing else I have found even comes close! How bizaare is that? Many GUI guitar-oriented programs have appeared recently, in keeping with the movement towards a more user-friendly GNU/Linux desktop; but none of these programs even come close to Pascal's languising program.

I sent email to Pascal:

I'm not sure how to proceed, but what about a version with console only access?

That program is FANTASTIC. I play in all kinds of odd tunings, and using your program I can take my tablatures and find the chord names, adapted to my tuning. And I don't really need tcl or tk, maybe, for that. I don't know of anything else that comes close. (Sometimes the word "beautiful" doesn't refer to superficial appearances, but to a good heart: this program has a good heart!)
Within 24 hours of contacting Pascal about my inability to install his program on my new Ubuntu boxes, he emailed me that he has prepared a new version, v.8, now already available on the guitar web page, as source, GNU/Linux executables, and Windows XP executables, for both guitare and tkguitare. He calls this "Postcardware" and asked that, if I can get it working, to send a postcard.

Installing them on a 32 bit laptop was immediately successful. I had to install the following packages: tcl tcl8.4 tcl-dev tcl8.4-dev tk tk8.4 tk-dev tk8.4-dev . To be sure, maybe I didn't need to install them all, but I had done so in trying to compile earlier.

Tkguitare worked flawlessly. As I wrote to Pascal:

You have won your postcard. But one little thing is still bugging me. The program tkguitare ran fantastically, and dazzled, on a 32 bit Ubuntu laptop--perfect for me, because it's easy to set up when I'm playing the guitar. However, on my 64 bit magnum box, also Intrepid Ibex, like the laptop, it complains with the following:

teitoi@hardware:~$ tkguitare
tkguitare: error while loading shared libraries: libtcl8.4.so.0: cannot open shared object file: No such file or directory
teitoi@hardware:~$

One suspects that this is because I'm on a 64 bit box? I made double sure that all libraries (tk, tcl, tk-dev, tcl-dev) were installed. guitare, console mode, works fine. What a relief!

Still, I have to say, in this case you have proven that a thing that has a beautiful heart can also be beautiful in appearance. And that beauty adds a good deal of functionality and useability.


So I still had a problem on the 64 bit box. After sending Pascal an email asking whether he knows a fix, I continued to try several options: I tried to compile, but failed again; I looked all over the repos for 32 bit libraries for tcl. Finally, I found a message mentioning a program called "getlibs" that finds libraries for 32 bit binaries on a 64 bit Ubuntu system. Having nothing to lose, I installed it, after a google search. Here's a link to the Ubuntu Forums discussion:

http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=474790

Within 5 minutes tkguitare was working on my 64 bit box. WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


By the way, Tab-n-Fret is a package that long ago enabled me to link a graphical GUI of a fretboard (xfretboard) to emacs, and use it or a non-gui method to input tabulature in text mode in Emacs. Perhaps this will be my next project. For the nonce, however, another program, etktab, is available on the Ubuntu repos, and is built from the Tab-n-fret, and tabulature mode and xfretboard from that package.

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