Category Archives: Languages

part three..

And to complete the trilogy here another bit of fractal fun (in case your PC is not equipped with a fast enough graphics accelerator you can find a video recording here:


the beauty of numbers..

I just did a little revival of my old WebGL fractal stuff. The two below screens use the latest version of my Commodore C64 emulator to play two fitting music creations by Markus Klein.



and now to something completely different..

I have some older automated lawn sprinkler installed in my garden. So when the respective controller started to misbehave my first reflex was to try and repair it.. but not having any real clue about electronics, this proved to be somewhat difficult, and with the limited functionality that the commercial product had offered in the first place, I reckoned that it wasn’t worth the effort anyway.

But being tired of performing the same manual irrigation round every one or two days during summer – not to mention the vegetable garden – I thought that it might be a fun little project to design a replacement tailored to my needs, while learning a thing or two about simple electronics.

irrigation project

What I wanted was a system that would not just stupidly irrigate based on some predetermined schedule, but a system flexible enough to adapt based on actual irrigation needs. Also I wanted to be able to collect (on my PC) all weather/irrigation related data so that I will be able to verify that the system actually has the desired effect. It should then be possible to interact with the system without having to rewire the garden. Obviously the system should continue to function (and not lose sensor data) while my PC is switched off.

Side note: As a general principle I am trying not to rely on WiFi at all, but the place where the irrigation is supposed to happen is also actually out of regular WiFi range (unless I were to use additional repeaters). I would have liked to use some powerline based approach but rejected that idee (for now) due to the added costs and engineering complexities. I am not interested in mobile phone based approaches either: First of all the whole point of this exercise is “automation”, i.e. I want to prepare for those moments where I am NOT at home (e.g. when I am on vacation) and where I do not have adequate information regarding which of my plants might be in need of irrigation. Having a phone (or web based) “remote control” for me therefore seems to be but a rather useless gadget. Finally I don’t want to pay for a respective phone contract (that I otherwise do not need) just to irrigate my garden.

This being my first baby-steps in the realm of DIY hardware, I wanted to use something as inexpensive as possible – so that it would not hurt financially regardless of how many electronics components I might fry due to my noobish ignorance.. I therefore decided to base my experiment on some cheap chineese Arduinos. These things cost about a Euro each such that the single most expensive component for all of my devices finally proved to be the plastic case used to package them..

I ended up building three types of devices:
1) soil/air sensors: Equipped with a simple 433MHz transmitter these devices periodically broadcast their measurements, and various power saving techniques make sure that they’ll get through the season on their rechargable 9V battery.

2) RainMaker controller: This controls the irrigation valves (based on configuration and sensor data) and it also buffers and relays (to the PC) the data that comes from the sensors. It uses a somewhat more powerful transceiver for two-way communication with the PC.

3) USB interface: Simple device that is connected to the PC’s USB port. It allows the PC to communicate with the RainMaker device(s) in the field – or any other device that is based on my respective custom communication protocol.

When ordering the parts in small quantities from AliExpress the material costs for the different devices are: 10-12$ per sensor (depending on features), 12$ for the USB interface, 45$ for the RainMaker and another 45$ for the irrigation valves (6-way) assembly.

For the PC side I setup a simple DB to store sensor/irrigation data and I wrote a simple Java GUI used to visualize that data, and to interact with available devices in the field.


So far I successfully completed the dry-testing, and it will be time to test the devices in the field.. where it remains to be seen what additional insights will come of that.

Lessons learnt so far..

  • With a bit of help from an electronics savy coach (thank you Markus! 🙂 ) doing a bit of DIY hardware can be a fun experience – even for electronics beginners.
  • As soon as a MickeyMouse project gets just a tiny bit “bigger” you may quickly run into the limitations of the inexpensive/smaller Arduino’s hardware (e.g. you want to use a receiver and an additional transceiver, a LCD, a RealtimeClock, some Relais and an EEPROM and you may run out of I/O pins; and even when you circumnavigate that issue (e.g. using I2C and some PISO shift register) you might find that your program – with all the required libs – just barely fits into the available 32k FLASH ROM). Except for very simple devices, optimizing your stuff for size seems to be a part of the Arduino deal. I had last encountered these kind of problems on the C64 some 30 years ago 🙂
  • What people seem to call an IDE in the Arduino world can be rather frustrating for anyone who is used to work with a real IDE (aka IDEA IntelliJ, etc). Calling it “AlmostNotepad” would be a more fitting description. Certainly you don’t want to make programming errors in that kind of environment.. ever 😉
  • Actually there is a friendly / supportive Arduino community that may considerably help you on your learning curve.

vu meters?

Just a little experiment for how to synchronize visualization of additional data streams with the the playback of WebAudio music: The music samples are generated on the fly using a ScriptProcessor emulating some legacy AtariST. In addition to the stereo output the respective ScriptProcessor also generates three streams containing “playback volume” for the AtariST’s internal soundchip voices:


just for fun a more psychedelic WebGL based rendering of the same data (the WebGL here combines an orbit trap fractal with an inverse distortion, and the “music volume” is used to parameterize the rendering):



unaligned “packed structs”…

are certainly not a good idea if a program is supposed to be portable. Unfortunately that is exactly what ZXTune is using to parse the different binary music files.

“One of the rules of packed structs is that you have to access them directly through the packed struct type. In other words, you can’t, in general, take the address of a packed field and then access the field through that pointer, because the pointer type won’t reflect the packed attribute.” (sunfishcode)

Unfortunately ZXTune used boost::array instances within the various packed structs.. Problem: when methods are invoked on boost::array (or std::array, etc). The ‘this’ argument to the boost::array functions may be misaligned, but the boost::array functions themselves don’t know this.

On CPUs which don’t mind unaligned memory access you may get away within without realizing that there is a problem.. and in this case it was my attempt to cross-compile the program using Emscripten that revealed the issue. Not wanting to rewrite too much of the foreign code I opted for a quickfix: replacing the boost::array with a built-in array fixed the immediate problem…

Naturally a clean implementation should better refrain from depending on unaligned memory access at all… not all the CPUs are as forgiving as Emscripten.

(click on the below image for a live demo).


AdLibido – the wonders of early PC music ;-)

It was back “in the old days” and I remember my relief when some day I found out that all PCs were not necessarily mute: Thanks to some “walking frame” called “AdLib” they could actually make sounds… and a bit later things became pretty neat with the rise of Sound Blaster…

AdPlug plays sound data, originally created for the AdLib (OPL2) and Sound Blaster (Dual OPL2/OPL3) audio boards, directly from its original format on top of an emulator.

My latest bit of Xmas tinkering is a HTML5/WebAudio version of AdPlug (Thanks to Simon Peter and the other authors of AdPlug.). For a live demo click on the below image..

HTML5/WebAudio version of AdPlug

after all those years..

To complete the set of chipmusic emulators, here my WebAudio version of SC68 – an AtariST  music emulator (that plays files like *.sc68 or *.sndh).

SC68Eventough I had done some programming on the MegaST 4 back in the 90ies, I have to admit that at the time I had not realized that the machine had anything resembling a sound chip. Those were the days of 68k assembler, DSP machine code and GFA-Basic.. and we were just doing a Paintbox software for the “CHILI” framegrabber and realtime video-effects extension card… 🙂

But it seems the ST not only did have a MIDI interface but also a built-in sound chip…

Thanks to Photon Storm for sponsoring this little project.

68000, Paula & Co.

screenYet another bit of home computer music nostalgia. This time it is the Commodore Amiga that is emulated using UADE. The original Unix Amiga Delitracker Emulator is based on a two process design where the core Amiga emulator engine and the music player’s frontend are separate processes that communicate via IPC. Using a regular Amiga emulator then may be tricky because depending on the song it expects to synchonously load additional data files. Obviously this is on a collision course with the concepts available for an HTML5/JavaScript page.

Bringing this one to the web therefore required some redesign of the original UADE code base. Once that had been done Emscripten again did a splendid job translating the C code into JavaScript and linking it to the manually written JavaScript callbacks (see live demo here).

This experiment once again confirmed my ealier observations that the debugger support built into today’s web browsers is utterly useless (but for the most trivial scenarios). So this not only was a travel back in time with regard to home computer music but also with regard to the modern developement tools that I had gotten used to: bye bye IDE – welcome back debug/trace output.

some real JavaScript IDE – anyone?

Debugging JavaScript can really be so much fun.. first there are Firefox’s “developer tools”. These are so slow that they bring back memories of the early Eclipse Java IDE: By the time the bloody tool shows the breakpoint you have long forgotten what you wanted to look for in the first place. From there it is then a steep downhill trip: When stepping through a function in the debugger the focus will suddenly disappear and the only way to reanimate the tool is to actually remove the previous breakpoint.. LOL it’s version 31 and Firefox still has no usable developer tools.
For all those thinking ‘ahhh but Chrome is so much better’ – think again: While it is true that Chrome’s developer tools are real quick there is a catch. Or as a colleague once said: “if the result does not have to be correct my code can be real quick!”. Here is an example of a situation that you may encounter while debugging in Chrome (this is actual – non tampered with – debugger output):


The debugger here has just stepped over a line of code that sets some variable to 0. On the very next line the debugger tells you that this very variable is NOT 0.. Another fun Chrome surprise is when you find that Chrome’s garbage collector will actually trash ‘event handler’ functions that are still in use – unless you separately anchor them to some dedicated variable. 

I am so glad that I never make any mistakes as a matter of principle 🙂 So my latest bit of music playback programming could not be stopped by foul developer tools:

And what was this experiment about? xmp is a module player that plays over 90 mainstream and obscure module formats from Amiga, Atari, Acorn, Apple IIgs and PC, including Protracker (MOD), Scream Tracker 3 (S3M), Fast Tracker II (XM) and Impulse Tracker (IT) files. This functionality is now available on my little web page (click on the image above) 🙂


(You’ll find the source code here:

Fractal Flames

I just completed my latest experiment 🙂 It is a revamped Web version of Orion Sky Lawlor’s “GPU-Accelerated Rendering of Unbounded Nonlinear Iterated Function System Fixed Points” (see here).
For good measure I have added a bit of music interaction 🙂 I suggest you have a look at the live demo here (Chrome recommended). A Youtube recording can be found here.

The music I selected above is by Dexter Britain and licensed under a Creative Commons license. (see

Programming background information:

  • Starting from Dr. Lawlors opengl/C++/Windows program the main step was to get rid of any opengl legacy fixed pipeline rendering and replace it with a programmable pipeline WEBGL equivalent. Then some WEBGL limitations still had to be dealt with, e.g. adding missing WEBGL shader functions, replacement of unsupported for-loops in shaders or unsupported texture modes, etc. Luckily this process proved easier than expected. The resulting WEBGL/JavaScipt program works quite fluidly in Chome (on my GXT460). Firefox’s WEBGL implementation also works for the most part – but it occasionally it crashes for no good reason and it is rather slow in compiling the shaders.
  • Some surprise obstacles came with the attempt to implement the music playback and hook it up WebAudio’s AnalizerNode infrastructure: The first attempt to use some XMLHttpRequest based loading with AudioContext.decodeAudioData() processing proved a total failure, because Firefox’s implementation (versions 31 -33) just fails to decode the (supposedly “invalid”) mp3 data. Also it became obvious that the upfront decoding of the complete mp3 file (in Chrome) adds an unacceptable delay to the music startup. Interestingly playback of the same mp3 file works flawlessly in Chrome as well as in Firefox when using the HTMLAudioElement. So that’s what I am using now. Unfortunately that API is not implemented consistently in the different browsers and particularily the event handling in Firefox leaves a lot to be desired. But even Chrome fails to properly “loop” a song but instead goes into some corrupt state at the end of some (especially longer) songs. Once again browser specific tinkering is called for…
  • The page uses multiple AnaylzerNodes with low-/band- and high-pass filters to detect certain music patterns that are then reflected in the graphics. Unfortunately Firefox again proved a difficult customer: Connecting FilterNodes to the HTMLAudioElement here sporadically leads to corrupted music playback. Also the Firefox FilterNodes produce completely different results than the Chrome ones.