Archive for the consulting Category

Beatshifting: playing music in sync and out of phase

Posted in Appsterdam, Caffeine, consulting, Context, livecoding, music, Smalltalk, SqueakJS with tags , , , , , , , on 27 April 2021 by Craig Latta
two Beatshifting timelines

I’ve written a Caffeine app implementation of the Beatshifting algorithm, for collaborative remote music performance that is synchronized and out-of-phase. Beatshifting uses network latency as a rhythmic element, using offsets from beats as timestamps, with a shared metronome and score.

I was inspired to write the Beatshifting app by NINJAM, a similar system that has hosted many hours of joyous sessions. There are a few interesting twists I think I can bring to the technology, through late-binding of audio rendering.

NINJAM also synchronizes distributed streams of rhythmic music. It works by using a server to collect an entire measure of audio from the performers’ timestamped streams, stamps them all with an upcoming measure number, and sends them back to each performer. Each performer’s system plays the collected measures with the start times aligned. In effect, each performer plays along with what everyone else did a measure ago. Each performer must receive audio only by the start of the upcoming measure, rather than fast enough to create the illusion of simultaneity.

Beatshifting gives more control over the session to each performer, and to an audience as well. Each performer can modify not only the local volume levels of the other performers, but also their delays and instruments. Each performer can also change the tempo and time signature of the session. A session can have an audience as well, and each audience member is really a performer who hasn’t played anything yet.

It’s straightforward to have an arbitrary number of participants in a session because Beatshifting takes the form of a web app. Each participant only needs to visit a session link in a web browser, rather than use a special digital audio workstation (DAW) app. By default, Beatshifting uses MIDI event messages instead of audio, using much less bandwidth even with a large group.

To deliver events to each participant’s web browser, Beatshifting uses the Croquet replication service. Croquet is able to replicate and synchronize any JavaScript object in every participant’s web browser, up to 60 times per second. Beatshifting uses this to provide a shared score. Music events like notes and fader movements can be scheduled into the score by any participant, and from code run by the score itself.

One piece of code the score runs broadcasts events indicating that measures have elapsed, so that the web browsers can render metronome clicks. There are three kinds of metronome clicks, for ticks, beats, and measures. For example, with a time signature of 6/8, there are two beats per measure, and three ticks per beat. Each tick is an eighth-note, so each beat is a dotted-quarter note. The sequence of clicks one hears is:

  • measure
  • tick
  • tick
  • beat
  • tick
  • tick

At a tempo of 120 beats per minute, or 240 clicks per 60,000 milliseconds, there are 250 milliseconds between clicks. Each time a web browser receives a measure-elapsed event, it schedules MIDI events for the next measure’s clicks with the local MIDI output interface. Since each web browser knows the starting time of the session in its output MIDI interface’s timescale, it can calculate the timestamps of all ensuing clicks.

When a performer plays a note, their web browser notes the offset in milliseconds between when the note was played and the time of the most recent click. The web browser then publishes an event-scheduling message, to which the score is subscribed. The score then broadcasts a note-played event to all the web browsers. Again, it’s up to each web browser to schedule a corresponding MIDI note with its local MIDI output interface. The local timestamp of that note is chosen to be the same millisecond offset from some future click point. How far in the future that click is can be chosen based on who played the note, or any other element of the event’s data. Each web browser can also choose other parameters for each event, like instrument, volume level, and panning position.

Quantities like tempo are part of the score’s state, and can be changed by any performer or audience member. Croquet ensures that the changed JavaScript variables are synchronized in all the participants’ web browsers.

With so many decisions about how music events are rendered left to each web browser, the mix that each participant hears can be wildly different. The only constants are the millisecond beat offsets of each performer’s notes. I think it’ll be fun to compare recordings of these mixes after the fact, and to make new ones from individual recorded tracks.

There’s no server that any participant needs to set up, and the Croquet service knows nothing of the Beatshifting protocol. This makes it very easy to start and join new sessions.

next steps

The current Beatshifting UI has controls for joining a session, enabling the local scheduling of metronome clicks, and changing the tempo and time signature of a session.

the current Beatshifting UI

If one is using a MIDI output interface connected to a DAW, then one may use the DAW to control instruments, volume, panning, and so on. I’d also like to provide the option of all MIDI event rendering performed by the web browser, and a UI for controlling and recording that. I’ve established the use of the ToneJS audio framework for rendering events, and am now developing the UI.

I led a debut performance of Beatshifting as part of the Netherlands Coding Live concert series, on 23 April 2021.

I’ve written an animated 3D visualization of the Beatshifting algorithm, which can be driven from live session data. This movie is an annotated slow-motion version:

visualizing the Beatshifting algorithm

I’m excited about the creative potential of Beatshifting sessions. Please contact me if you’re interested in playing or coding for this medium!

Naiad progress 2019-12-02: online team services

Posted in Caffeine, consulting, Context, livecoding, Naiad, Smalltalk, Spoon, SqueakJS with tags , , , , , , on 2 December 2019 by Craig Latta
Naiad keeps livecoders informed of their teammates activity, and remembers all history.

topology established

Naiad is Caffeine‘s live module system. The goal is to support live versioning of classes and methods as they are edited, from connected teams of developers using Smalltalk or JavaScript IDEs from web browsers and native apps. Naiad keeps each developer informed of events meaningful to their teams and work. It’s comparable to a mashup of GitHub and Slack, and will interoperate with them as well.

The current Naiad prototype uses a relay network of NodeJS servers, each with Caffeine running in a Web Worker thread, and each serving a set of Caffeine-based client IDEs, in web browsers and native apps. The workers keep track of class and method versions, system checkpoints, and teams, using the relays to broadcast events to clients. Clients can request various services of the workers, like joining teams and making checkpoints from object memory snapshots.

These two clients are connected to the same relay server. The client on the left created a new team, by sending a message to the relay’s worker. The worker created the team, and told the relay to notify all of its peers (clients and relays). For now, clients respond by inspecting the new team.

I’ve just made the first system checkpoint, and broadcast the first team event (the creation of a team). Eventually, Naiad will support events for several services, including team chatting and screen-sharing, history management, and application deployment. I’m still eager to hear what events and services you think you would want in a livecoding notification system; please let me know! I expect the first public release of this work to be part of the second 2019 solstice release, on 22 December.

Caffeine updated for Pharo 7

Posted in Caffeine, consulting, Context, livecoding, Smalltalk, SqueakJS with tags , , , , , , on 29 September 2019 by Craig Latta
Pharo 7 running on the SqueakJS virtual machine in Chrome, debugged by Squeak in a DevTools panel

I’ve updated Caffeine to run Pharo 7; please try it out! There was one virtual machine bug (primitivePerformWithArguments wasn’t manipulating the stack correctly), and I had to turn off a few Pharo features (like libGit support, which uses LibC, something I haven’t faked in the virtual machine yet).

Many thanks to the Pharo hackers in the RMOD team at INRIA Lille, for hosting me at their sprint on Friday, 27 September 2019. It was great hanging out and coding with you all. We’ll get that Pharo Apple Watch screenshot soon. :)

Exploring the Netflix player with the Caffeine Chrome extension

Posted in Caffeine, consulting, Context, livecoding, music, Smalltalk, SqueakJS with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 22 September 2019 by Craig Latta
debugging Better Call Saul with Caffeine

With the latest version of the Caffeine Chrome extension, you can run Caffeine in a Chrome DevTools panel, with access to all the Chrome debugging APIs. I’ve been using it to explore the Netflix video player, for an app I’m writing that enables the viewer to edit narratives by rearranging scenes.

From a quick look at the DOM element tree for the player, it’s apparent that it’s a React app. By following a reference chain from a user interface element (like the skip-forward button), through the bound “this” object of its click-event listener, I found the internal React properties for all the player’s UI elements, and all the player functions they use (for example, for seeking forward in a video).

With those functions in hand, I made a Netflix player class in Smalltalk, which can manipulate the Netflix player React app interactively from Smalltalk code. Other objects I made representing show elements (like scenes, episodes, seasons, and series) can use my player to compile analytic information about shows, and present them in different ways. For example, you could watch an episode of Better Call Saul consisting only of scenes that include a certain character, or that take place at a certain location, or with flashbacks placed in chronological order. This is for a webapp I’m writing called Arc.

I’m eager to see what else you explore using the Caffeine extension in the DevTools!

Caffeine Chrome extension updated

Posted in Caffeine, consulting, Context, livecoding, music, Smalltalk, SqueakJS with tags , , , , , , on 18 September 2019 by Craig Latta
Caffeine running as a Chrome DevTools panel, debugging the Croquet Studios site, with Hydra graphics in the background.

I’ve updated the Caffeine Chrome extension in the Chrome Web Store. This version, 77.1, makes the entire Caffeine user interface available as a Chrome DevTools panel, and can access all of the Chrome APIs. With Hydra graphics support included, it’s the most convenient and geeky way to access Caffeine, perfect for your next Algorave. :)

a Web UIs update

Posted in Caffeine, consulting, Context, livecoding, Naiad, Smalltalk, Spoon, SqueakJS with tags , , , , , , on 12 September 2019 by Craig Latta
livecoded Vue versions of the Smalltalk devtools

I’ve created working Vue versions of the traditional Smalltalk workspace and classes browser, livecoded in the web browser from the full Squeak IDE. These use the vue-draggable-resizable component as the basis of a window system, for dragging and resizing, and the vue-menu component for pop-up context menus. Third-party Vue components are loaded live from the network using http-vue-loader, avoiding all offline build steps (e.g., with webpack). Each Smalltalk devtool UI is expressed as a Vue “single-file component” and loaded live.

When enough of the Smalltalk devtools are available in this format, I can provide an initial Squeak object memory snapshot without the UI process and its supporting code, and without the relatively large bitmaps for the Display, drop-shadows, and fonts. This snapshot will be about two megabytes, down from the 35-megabyte original. (I also unloaded lots of other code in The Big Shakeout, including Etoys and Monticello). This will greatly improve Caffeine’s initial-page-load and snapshot times.

I’m also eager to develop other apps, like a proper GUI for the Chrome devtools, a better web browser tabs manager, and several end-user apps. Caffeine is becoming an interesting platform!

The Big Shake-Out

Posted in Appsterdam, Caffeine, consulting, Context, livecoding, Naiad, Smalltalk, Spoon, SqueakJS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 25 March 2019 by Craig Latta

Golden Retriever shaking off water

Some of those methods were there for a very long time!

I have adapted the minimization technique from the Naiad module system to Caffeine, my integration of OpenSmalltalk with the Web and Node platforms. Now, from a client Squeak, Pharo, or Cuis system in a web browser, I can make an EditHistory connection to a history server Smalltalk system, remove via garbage collection every method not run since the client was started, and imprint needed methods from the server as the client continues to run.

This is a garbage collection technique that I had previously called “Dissolve”, but I think the details are easier to explain with a different metaphor: “shaking” loose and removing everything which isn’t attached to the system through usage. This is a form of dynamic dead code elimination. The technique has two phases: “fusing” methods that must not be removed, and “shaking” loose all the others, removing them. This has a cascading effect, as the literals of removed methods without additional references are also removed, and further objects without references are removed as well.

After unfused methods and their associated objects are removed, the subsystems that provided them are effectively unloaded. For the system to use that functionality again, the methods must be reloaded. This is possible using the Naiad module system. By connecting a client system to a history server before shaking, the client can reload missing methods from the server as they are needed. For example, if the Morphic UI subsystem is shaken away, and the user then attempts to use the UI, the parts of Morphic needed by the user’s interactions are reloaded as needed.

This technology is useful for delineating subsystems that were created without regard to modularity, and creating deployable modules for them. It’s also useful for creating minimal systems suited to a specific purpose. You can fuse all the methods run by the unit tests for an app, and shake away all the others, while retaining the ability to debug and extend the system.

how it works

Whether a method is fused or not is part of the state of the virtual machine running the system, and is reset when the virtual machine starts. On system resumption, no method is fused. Each method can be told to fuse itself manually, through a primitive interface. Otherwise, methods are fused by the virtual machine as they are run. A class called Shaker knows which methods in a typical system are essential for operation. A Shaker instance can ensure those methods are fused, then shake the system.

Shaking itself invokes a variant of the normal OpenSmalltalk garbage collector. It replaces each unfused method with a special method which, when run, knows how to install the original method from a connected history server. In effect, all unfused methods are replaced by a single method.

Reinstallation of a method uses Naiad behavior history metadata, obtained by remote messaging with a history server, to reconstruct the method and put it in the proper method dictionary. The process creates any necessary prerequisites, such as classes and shared pools. No compiler is needed, because methods are constructed from previously-generated instructions; source code is merely an optional annotation.

the benefits of livecoding all the way down

I developed the virtual machine support for this feature with Bert Freudenberg‘s SqueakJS virtual machine, making heavy use of the JavaScript debugger in a web browser. I was struck by how much faster this sort of work is with a completely livecoded environment, rather than the C-based environment in which we usually develop the virtual machine. It’s similar to the power of Squeak’s virtual machine simulator. The tools, living in JavaScript, aren’t as powerful as Smalltalk-based ones, but they operate on the final Squeak virtual machine, rather than a simulation that runs much more slowly. Rebuilding the virtual machine amounts to reloading the web page in which it runs, and takes a few seconds, rather than the ordeal of a C-based build.

Much of the work here involved trial and error. How does Shaker know which methods are essential for system operation? I found out directly, by seeing where the system broke after being shaken. One can deduce some of the answer; for example, it’s obvious that the methods used by method contexts of current processes should be fused. Most of the essential methods yet to run, however, are not obvious. It was only because I had an interactive virtual machine development environment that it was feasible to restart the system and modify the virtual machine as many times as I needed (many, many times!), in a reasonable timeframe. Being able to tweak the virtual machine in real time from Smalltalk was also indispensable for debugging and feature development.

I want to thank Bert again for his work on SqueakJS. Also, many thanks to Dan Ingalls and the rest of the Lively team for creating the environment in which SqueakJS was originally built.

release schedule

I’m preparing Shaker for the next seasonal release of Caffeine, on the first 2019 solstice, 21 June 2019. I’ll make the virtual machine changes available for all OpenSmalltalk host platforms, in addition to the Web and Node platforms that Caffeine uses via the SqueakJS virtual machine. There may be alpha and beta releases before then.

If this technology sounds interesting to you, please let me know. I’m interested in use cases for testing. Thanks!

livecoding VueJS with Caffeine

Posted in Appsterdam, Caffeine, consulting, Context, Smalltalk, Spoon, SqueakJS with tags , , , , , , , on 30 August 2018 by Craig Latta

Vue component

Livecoding Vue.js with Caffeine: using a self-contained third-party Vue component compiled live from the web, no offline build step.

a tour of Caffeine

Posted in Appsterdam, consulting, Context, Smalltalk, Spoon, SqueakJS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 27 August 2018 by Craig Latta

https://player.vimeo.com/video/286872152

Here’s a tour of the slides from a Caffeine talk I’m going to give at ESUG 2018. I hope to see you there!

Livecoding other tabs with the Chrome Remote Debugging Protocol

Posted in Appsterdam, consulting, Context, Smalltalk, SqueakJS with tags , , , , , , , on 24 July 2017 by Craig Latta

Chrome Debugging Protocol

We’ve seen how to use Caffeine to livecode the webpage in which we’re running. With its support for the Chrome Remote Debugging Protocol (CRDP), we can also use it to livecode every other page loaded in the web browser.

Some Help From the Inside

To make this work, we need to coordinate with the Chrome runtime engine. For CRDP, there are two ways of doing this. One is to communicate using a WebSocket connection; I wrote about this last year. This is useful when the CRDP client and target pages are running in two different web browsers (possibly on two different machines), but with the downside of starting the target web browser in a special way (so that it starts a conventional webserver).

The other way, possible when both the CRDP client and target pages are in the same web browser, is to use a Chrome extension. The extension can communicate with the client page over an internal port object, created by the chrome.runtime API, and expose the CRDP APIs. The web browser need not be started in a special way, it just needs to have the extension installed. I’ve published a Caffeine Helper extension, available on the Chrome Web Store. Once installed, the extension coordinates communication between Caffeine and the CRDP.

Attaching to a Tab

In Caffeine, we create a connection to the extension by creating an instance of CaffeineExtension:

CaffeineExtension new inspect

As far as Chrome is concerned, Caffeine is now a debugger, just like the built-in DevTools. (In fact, the DevTools do what they do by using the very same CRDP APIs; they’re just another JavaScript application, like Caffeine is.) Let’s open a webpage in another tab, for us to manipulate. The Google homepage makes for a familiar example. We can attach to it, from the inspector we just opened, by evaluating:

self attachToTabWithTitle: 'Google'

Changing Feelings

Now let’s change something on the page. We’ll change the text of the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button. We can get a reference to it with:

tabs onlyOne find: 'Feeling'

When we attached to the tab, the tabs instance variable of our CaffeineExtension object got an instance of ChromeTab added to it. ChromeTabs provide a unified message interface to all the CRDP APIs, also known as domains. The DOM domain has a search function, which we can use to find the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button. The CaffeineExtension>>find: method which uses that function answers a collection of search results objects. Each search result object is a proxy for a JavaScript DOM object in the Google page, an instance of the ChromeRemoteObject class.

In the picture above, you can see an inspector on a ChromeRemoteObject corresponding to the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button, an HTMLInputElement DOM object. Like the JSObjectProxies we use to communicate with JavaScript objects in our own page, ChromeRemoteObjects support normal Smalltalk messaging, making the JavaScript DOM objects in our attached page seem like local Smalltalk objects. We only need to know which messages to send. In this case, we send the messages of HTMLInputElement.

As with the JavaScript objects of our own page, instead of having to look up external documentation for messages, we can use subclasses of JSObject to document them. In this case, we can use an instance of the JSObject subclass HTMLInputElement. Its proxy instance variable will be our ChromeRemoteObject instead of a JSObjectProxy.

For the first message to our remote HTMLInputElement, we’ll change the button label text, by changing the element’s value property:

self at: #value put: 'I''m Feeling Happy'

The Potential for Dynamic Web Development

The change we made happens immediately, just as if we had done it from the Chrome DevTools console. We’re taking advantage of JavaScript’s inherent livecoding nature, from an environment which can be much more comfortable and powerful than DevTools. The form of web applications need not be static files, although that’s a convenient intermediate form for webservers to deliver. With generalized messaging connectivity to the DOM of every page in a web browser, and with other web browsers, we have a far more powerful editing medium. Web applications are dynamic media when people are using them, and they can be that way when we develop them, too.

What shall we do next?

 

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