1st March 2016

ICT – Software Reviews

These reviews are mostly taken verbatim from The Ringing World, and are therefore not necessarily based on the latest versions of the software described. Please check the Software Catalogue for the latest version, prices and contact details.

Bells and BellRinging

Author: Anne Parmenter

The program is designed to give non ringers a broad introduction to bells and how they are rung. Having said that, I suspect it could tell many ringers some things they didn’t know. My first reaction was that it was a resource to he used in schools, and indeed Anne tells me it was written for primary children as a supplement to tower visits. However, it could also be used to good effect as a ‘walk up’ information point at public events (open days, church fairs, etc). It is interactive with a good balance of text and pictures. The software runs on any Acorn computer with RISC-OS (ie anything made in the last ten years or so, all of which are software compatible). Installation is easy from the two discs provided. The opening page is adorned with lots of ‘Christmas card’ bells. Intriguingly, the software detects the resolution of your screen and adjusts accordingly to make best use of the available space.

The main index offers information about: how change ringing began, how bells are made, where you find bells, how bells are hung, how bells are rung, when they are rung, change ringing and who rings the bells. For each of these, there are a few pages of information (24 pages in all) containing a mixture of text, photographs, diagrams. At appropriate points you can click to hear, and in some cases see, what happens. The story starts with the early history of bells (Christian monks with handbells) before showing bell founding, bells and fittings for full circle ringing, with diagrams and photographs of the real thing. It then illustrates the niceties of raising and lowering, hand and back stroke before explaining the basics of change ringing (all illustrated with appropriate sound clips).

The final page carries the punch line. The answer to ‘who rings the bells?’ ends with an invitation to try it.

When I first wrote this review, I criticised a few details, but before sending it off, I had a speedy reply from Anne telling me that she had acted on most of my comments and produced an improved version. What a pity all developers of software are not so responsive.

Even so, some shortcomings to the trained ringing eye do not detract from the main purpose of the software, which is to interest and inform non ringers about ringing.

It is nice to see more ringing software for Acorn RISC-OS machines. For schools this complements the wide range of excellent educational material available. Individuals wishing to put on a display at an event (even those who have followed the PC herd) should be able to obtain the use of one.

John Harrison

Please note: Following the author’s death in 2006 this program is now downloadable from http://fortran.orpheusweb.co.uk/Bells/software/ in versions for RISC-OS or PC systems.

EXCALIBUR – v3

As normal in the computing world, nothing stands still for long! Edward Lupton’s Excalibur Bellringing and Composition Proving Program has now been completely re-written using Visual Basic – meaning that it is now Windows compatible. This removes one of my main reservations regarding the original program. Version 2’s DOS look and feel (and the unfamiliarity of this to those that have started using computers in the relatively recent and Windows dominated past) has been updated and the menu system, including on-line help, used in Version 3 will look fairly familiar to most users.

Whilst this is the most obvious improvement to mention there are others of note. Perhaps at first thought only useful in 3 towers to date and some rather clever handbell ringers is that fact that you can now prove above the Maximus stage, up to 30-in. However some may well be interested in the largely theoretical aspects of ringing. You can also now prove peals up to 40320 changes – should be enough for almost everyone I would have thought!

More useful to the average ringer will be the ability to use the program to print out the “blue line” of a method/composition in various formats. There are also improved general printing capabilities, e.g. to print out the composition in “standard” format and also one call per printed line in the “Single @ Home” format – this is useful when looking at exactly why a composition had not worked in the way you might have expected. Those that have bought “Windows only” printers will especially appreciate the changes.

There are also a number of improvements over V2 that make it easier to enter compositions into the program and this is again good to see. In particular blocks of calls are handled better and it is now much quicker to place a method into a spliced composition or to prove a “non-standard” method. The improved library system means that it is much easier to specify the method(s) you intend to use in your composition via “point and click”. The program also handles much more easily compositions of Stedman and Grandsire, these methods not following the conventions of most other methods in their layout of compositions.

It might seem strange at first, but the program now takes longer to prove a peal than before. The reason for this is largely, I suspect, that you are given much more information that is of use at the end of the proving process, e.g. a list of where the CRUs appear, the ability to print the blue line, etc. Proving Pitstow’s 5088 on my 300Mhz Celeron computer takes 30 seconds – or about 0.3% of the time it takes to ring it! Are you really in that much of a hurry? A Quarter Peal is much quicker, 4/5 seconds. Also, to be fair, it should be noted that starting the proofing process is quicker than before – now just one click on the bell icon – and therefore a lot of the “extra” time taken is actually reclaimed.

The size of the program has obviously increased – it now occupies 2 floppies instead of 1 it previously came on! The size of the program certainly precludes any need to distribute it on CD-ROM.

As I said last time – READ THE MANUAL! There is a comprehensive printed manual provided and it is important that you spend a while familiarising yourself with the program and thereby avoiding unnecessary complications. For instance calls must be in lower case – S is Superlative and not a single.

Should you buy it? New users will find this program relatively easy to use after a period of familiarisation. It may even help make a composer out of you! Users of previous versions may well have found that they are now content with what the program did at that time, but should remember that there are a number of useful additions, not least the blue line printing facility, and that the overall abilities of the program have been enhanced. Overall I feel able to recommend the program as one worth serious consideration. The cost is £19.95 including post and packaging and this represents good value for money. Details from Edward Lupton, 55 Ophelia Drive, Heathcote, Warwick, CV34 6XJ
http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~lupton/excalib.htm

Mike Chester

Learn the Line v1.2

Adrian Rye is a “returning ringer” who has quickly become a very welcome addition to my own home tower of Allesley. He has put his mind and computer skills into thinking of a way to help ringers learn methods and has come up with the program ‘Learn the Line’.

This is one of those simple and obvious ideas that it takes someone else to think of! It is like the game Minesweeper that has kept many of us entertained since Windows 3.1! Using the mouse or arrow keys you move down the path of the method that the bell should follow with the aim of getting to the end of a course without any mistakes. Those you make are counted. The program shows how the position of your bell relates to the line of the treble.

The program is a 408K download from his website (this is a ZIP file that expands to just over 1Mb when installed) that currently uses a selection of 13 doubles and 16 minor methods. This will be expanded if there is demand. There are two levels of difficulty, the easy one helps you learn the line by giving you clues as to where to go, the harder one tests that you know where to go without any clues.

“Learn the Line” is “nagware” in that the evaluation version is free for 30 days after which a £10 registration fee should be paid for further use. (Registered users will be entitled to future updates for free). Adrian is keen to receive feedback and will attempt to incorporate suggestions into future versions of the program.

So what have you to lose except a few pennies on a phone call? Give the program a try and if you find it is not for you just delete it from your computer.

Evaluation copies are available from www.squidsoftware.co.uk

RingingMaster

There is an enormous range of ringing programs available so do we really need another one? My advice, had Stephen Lake asked before writing Ringing Master, would have been “No”. Fortunately he didn’t ask me and has gone on to produce an excellent program.

The main thing that strikes you about Ringing Master is its ease of use. With Ringing Master finding most functions is very obvious to someone with a modicum of experience with Windows based software.

Installing Ringing Master is easy. I have by today’s standards lowly specified PII 300MHz PC running Windows 95, and it coped. While I probably wouldn’t recommend using a 486 with 16Mb of RAM Ringing Master will run on any PC capable of running Windows 95 & upwards.

Once installed clicking on the Ringing Master icon will start the program. A wizard takes you through selecting a method or methods and then you are into the program proper. The default layout is good and uncluttered with a large window with two tabs labelled Touch and Blue Line. Initially you are in the ‘Touch’ screen and if we take ‘Bob Major’ as an example the Columns will be labelled ‘W V F B I M H’. If you use Stedman then you will have conventionally numbered positions, higher or lower stages will have places added or removed. A note for Stedman conductors, you can aggregate the calling positions into pairs S H Q L if desired.

This makes it very easy for you to specify your first touch. Clicking on the tab labelled “Blue Line” you will see your touch written out, or a plain course if no calls have been specified. Actually, if all you want is a blue line then you can “preview” methods from the built in library using “method explorer”, another innovative feature. Other windows display status information such as touch length, how many calls etc., and any false rows will be highlighted in the blue line display. The screen layout is easy to customise to your own preferences.

Once your blue line looks the way you would like it, either with a red treble & blue 2nd place bell, or in lurid pink & bright green, you can print it out. Here we come to a problem with Ringing Master, the printing is not yet as good as it could be. The default printing is too small. However, Stephen assures me that this will be fixed by the time this review appears. Another small gripe is that while you can save your styles, so once you have settled on a colour scheme and layout for your method you can save it as a “Style” you can’t specify “last working bell”. This has lead to me specifying styles called Minor, Triples Major etc in order to draw the last working bell in. These faults are presentation problems rather than huge program errors and don’t detract from the enjoyable experience of using the program.

Switching to the touch window you can customise all the colours just as for the blue line window but confusingly these are not part of your style, these are default program settings, one for all touches.

By default the touch is specified using course notation, but you can switch to lead based notation, e.g. p,p,b,p,b,p. Unfortunately Ringing Master does not convert between these types, but neither does any other similar program to my knowledge. Stephen aiming to supply this function in the future.

From a technical point of view the program is excellent, several threads are employed to allow the software to “Proof Check” in the background, the key to its speed. The sound processing is also on a separate thread and WAV files, (from Worcester Cathedral), for each bell are played & mixed superbly. You can easily add your own WAV files and be “ringing” in your home tower! The display updates on another thread, therefore the program will work well on today’s multi-tasking environments. There is so much else to mention to try and do justice to this program. Even if you are not interested in composing and touch proving I would recommend this program for its blue line drawing capabilities alone, the “method explorer” is easy to use and allows you to view the library of methods in a tree like structure grouped by type.

Other innovative features are the excellent musical analysis, of “all the work” in spliced touches and the speed of the program. I remember typing in my first little touch of Bob Minor and then looking for a “Prove” button, only to find the touch was already proved for me, in 0.01sec as I recall. As Ringing Master proves the touch “on the fly” invariably by the time you have finished entering your touch Ringing Master has proved it and highlighted any false rows. The learning curve for this program is not too steep and I soon found myself experimenting with the more complex features it offers.

Although, as with all software, there are some minor faults, these are very trivial and unquestionably this is the best ringing program I have seen for the PC. Although its main remit was as a touch prover, a job that it does superbly well not to mention blindingly fast, it is also an excellent blue line printing program. I think that the only real gap of any sort is that it doesn’t have the support Abel has for interactive touch calling and external sensors. I know that is a contrived criticism because Ringing Master was not written with the same aims in mind as Abel. Accepting this point Ringing Master does those parts of the program that overlap with Abel more efficiently, and with an intuitive interface.

In comparison with Excalibur V3 Ringing Master wins hands down. Anything you can do with Excalibur you can do faster and more easily with Ringing Master. Where Excalibur may take a few seconds to prove a composition, Ringing Master will take a few tenths of a second, it really is at least 10 times faster!

Is it worth the Money at £40? Definitely! If you have Abel or Excalibur on your PC and use them should you replace them with Ringing Master? For Excalibur definitely, and for Abel unless you are using its external sensors or its interactive ringing capabilities then replace it with Ringing Master.

A Web download is £40 via http://ringingmaster.dyn-o-saur.com/ringingmaster/
A CD-ROM by post £42.50, cheques made payable to J Lake, to Ringing Master, 2, Red Lodge Drive, Bilton, Rugby CV22 7TT, UK. Email address (email)

Simon Head

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