I keep thinking about writing something here, but the problem is once I get started, that's a whole evening gone, waffling.
In particular, I've been thinking about books a lot. So here are some book-related nuggets. It all goes a bit Victor Meldrew by the end, I warn you now.
I recently read Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep alongside Alastair Reynolds' House of Suns. Both are galaxy-spanning space opera, both full of artificial intelligences, alien races, and dogfights in space. Both highly entertaining. But Vinge's book was written about 20 years before Reynolds', and it's pretty obvious Reynolds is a big fan of Vinge. Not to the point of copying, but the plotlines of both share similarities (humans caught up in a battle involving AI systems/races which have reached god-like power). And Vinge is a much, much better writer: his characters are more sympathetic, his scenery more memorable, his aliens more interesting, and his narrative pace tighter and more dramatic. So if you want some space opera, I'd go for Vinge first, and Reynolds second.
I might read Jack Vance soon, as a brief look at one of his books (The Star King) suggests Vinge was inspired by his work (e.g. both use the term The Beyond to refer to the far reaches of the galaxy)...
I visited Hay on Wye with my family for a couple of days last week. We've made this an annual pilgrimage, as we all love going there so much. I found a lot of good books; in particular, Richard Booth's bookshop was a fantastic source of unusual sf: see the town shop catalogue and castle bookshop catalogue for a fraction of the stock.
I ended up buying:
Each book cost me £2 to £2.50: cheaper than Amazon marketplace, but not as cheap as I would have liked. I think I'm lucky because sf books are still in a bit of a ghetto; other types of paperback seem a bit overpriced (a symptom of the tourist popularity of the place). I love going there, but my best finds are still when I get hold of an unusual 1960s/1970s paperback for 30p in a small charity shop.
My tactic when visiting is to make a list of specific books to look for: we have about 3-4 hours browsing time, and there are just too many books to look at all of them. On this occasion, I was aiming to find a few "classics" (Moore, Varley, Pangborn, Shaw), interesting books by authors I've recently discovered (Vernor Vinge, Michael Bishop), and books by authors I always look out for (Malzberg - often tricky to find, as I'm not sure all his books made it to publication in Europe). I had a list of about 50 authors/books, but passed up on a few I found because the book wasn't in particularly good condition, or it didn't look so good in the flesh, or were too expensive.
Madeleine chose 17 books (we had to limit her to 1 or 2 per shop, as she kept gathering piles of half a dozen or more - children's books are reasonably priced, though the Children's Bookshop is a rip-off with common paperbacks at £3); Joel got 4 picture books (he mainly wanted to walk around the shops, rather than look at books); and Nicola got about 5 (her favourite shop there is Murder and Mayhem).
Anyhow, now I've got so many great books to read, I don't know where to start.
Bookmooch is a great little site: basically you list books you want to give away, and books you'd like to acquire. Each time you give a book away, you get points; each time you acquire a book, you spend points (so no money changes hands). You get 3 points for sending abroad, 1 point for sending to your own country; asking for a book from your own country costs 1 point; asking for a book internationally costs 2 points. I've exchanged quite a few books on there. But a few recent experiences have soured it for me:
All in all, while it worked out well for a while and I got some good books out of it, I'd actually rather spend £3 on Amazon to get the books I want, rather than go through the hassle of using bookmooch. Shame. I'll leave my wishlist on there, but I'm not going to put anything in my inventory for the time being.
I'm almost exclusively working on the Clutter cookbook at the moment, and I keep meaning to write about what it's like to spend your time writing. I'm not sure what's driving this need to explain myself. I think it's partly because I feel a bit unproductive at times, despite working pretty hard, and I feel like I need to understand why.
Perhaps if I explain the pattern of my work week. It goes something like this:
git rebase -i) to make the development history less convoluted.
It's the blockages which frustrate and shame me. I wish they didn't happen (they are pretty depressing too), but I think they might actually be an essential part of the "creative process". The miracle of copy-editing makes up for it :).
I released this track a couple of weeks ago, but no one has listened to it yet at http://spilltwins.bandcamp.com/. Given that I think it's my best track, I'm going to put it here (last time I did this, quite a few people did listen to the track). Otherwise all my artistic endeavours will go to waste...
There's also this one, which was slightly less successful, but has its moments:
I resist upgrading my work machine as much as possible, as whenever I do, everything I rely on stops working properly. A few notes on my particular pains this time round as I upgraded to Fedora Core (FC) 13:
sudo, so I uncommented this line in
%wheel ALL=(ALL) ALL
usermod -G wheel -a ell
sudo rpm -ivh http://download1.rpmfusion.org/free/fedora/rpmfusion-free-release-stable.noarch.rpm
sudo yum install gstreamer-plugins-bad gstreamer-ffmpeg gstreamer-plugins-ugly -y
sudo yum install java-1.6.0-openjdk-plugin
sudo yum install wget git
So what's improved in FC13? Erm...
That's about it. (My main reason for upgrading is so I can more easily build other people's software, rather than for application upgrades.)
There would probably be more if I wasn't so old fashioned about the applications I use...
I've finally released an album: One Million Corners, recorded by me under the name Spill Twins. It's on the Earthrid net label, and available either as a CD or as free mp3 downloads. (I'm going to put lossless versions on bandcamp this week.)
There is an Internet Archive page for the album.
And here's the embedded player from the Bandcamp page:
NB the content is Creative Commons by-nc-sa licensed. In the unlikely event anyone fancies remixing it, they're also welcome to the original sound/project files.
I've been writing more music recently, and am really enjoying it. Part of the reason for this was some interest from a local radio DJ, Kevin Busby, who produces Phantom Circuit, a great radio programme with eclectic tastes. Kevin's been a fantastic proponent of my music (he's played a few on his show). Having this external verification that it's not completely terrible has urged me on (though I would carry on without an audience, as I have been doing for the last 20 years).
The second reason was the discovery of LMMS, a free multi-track audio sequencer tool for Linux, which supports (some) VST instruments (I've actually just found a list of VSTs known to work, which I'll explore next week). I've switched entirely to that environment now, and think my music is improving. On top of that, I also bought Music Theory for Dummies. Despite its good reviews, I don't think it's a particularly great book; but it has helped me learn about scales, chords, and chord sequences, which I vaguely understood but never really applied. I feel like understanding form better, and principles of composition, gives me a better feel for what "sounds right", as well as giving me starting points for writing new stuff.
So, to the point, I just finished Umpet Steak Ripple as Spill Twins (my current musical incarnation). Here it is:
I published it on Bandcamp which was introduced to me by Iain - as an aside, there seem to be a lot of musicians among the people I work with). It's a free download, or you can listen on the site, or embed it elsewhere (like I did above). Bandcamp seems much better suited to releasing music than http://last.fm/, which is what I was using previously: for whatever reason, tracks on last.fm seemed to keep disappearing or turning into limited 30 second previews, even if they were free downloads. Bandcamp allows you to upload proper, lossless recordings (I used a wav file), while making it available in standard formats like mp3; you can also sell stuff through it (not just give it way).
I really like this track. It feels like the kind of music I should be making, and sounds novel when I listen to it: by which I mean, I can't quite fathom it and personally find it interesting to listen to. Although very short (1m 37s), it took ages to put together. Finding just the right notes (I even wrote down the chords) and sounds (I had probably 10 different attempts at the bass sound) and the right tempo etc. took me probably 6 hours. FYI, the voice is sampled from Carnival of Souls (which you can watch in its entirety online); the drum sounds are generated using one of the built-in LMMS instruments which (I think) emulates a Gameboy sound chip.
I've still got a lot to learn about music (just ordered another book about composition; P.S. if anyone knows of a music composition evening class in Birmingham UK, please let me know). But it's currently one of the things I can lose hours to without realising, and which I love doing. So expect more soon. (And I haven't forgotten about my mathis project, either.)
I'm 40 this year (not yet, I hasten to add). Yes, I know it's no big deal it's a round number, that's just human preference for powers of 10. Anyway, it does seem like some kind of milestone in my life, for whatever reasons. And as I have a generally introspective mind, and a good dose of self-absorption, and this is my blog, I'm going to write a few notes about it.
Not sure what got me started down this path, but yesterday I dug out a load of old school books, note books, board game designs, roleplaying game campaign books, poetry, short stories - it's all still out there in the garage. But what struck me, rather than "where did all my dreams go? what am I doing with my life?", the usual things accompanying the average mid-life crisis, I found myself thinking "actually, I'm pretty much the same person I was when I was 12; I haven't really changed much; I still believe the same things". I mentioned this to Nicola (my wife) and she said something like "that's one thing you always are: consistent, stable, level-headed". Though she made it sound better than that: I'm paraphrasing.
So, where is my evidence for this. Cue quotations from old school books etc.:
"There is not anybody that I would really like to be, but if I had to be someone else, I think it would be Arthur C. Clarke...I would not like to be him because of the mysteries he has investigated but because of his great output of short stories and books..." (June 22nd 1982; still love science fiction, would love to be a great SF writer, but realise that probably that's not my calling)
"There are three things I would change in the world if I became, as it were, a 'supreme dictator'. 1. Banning of vivisection: all animals should be treated as part of life, and if they are destroyed or harmed we would be affecting our future lives... 2. Freedom of speech: I would give everybody in the world the freedom to speak how they wish... 3. Nuclear war: I would try to stop the production of nuclear weapons." (December 15th c. 1983; basically I was a hippie then and I still am; I think that's quite forward thinking for someone living in a provincial backwater in the early 1980s - probably my mum's influence)
There's really no point going on about achievements since then etc.; you can read my about page to find out what I've done with myself all this time. I don't think I'll ever "do enough" to say I've finished.
More important, though, are things which have meant a lot to me over the past few months. These are the kind of things we're living for:
While digging around, I also found this rather excellent (and very 1980s and corny, obviously around the time of Close Encounters) birthday card from my family; inside it says "HOPE YOUR BIRTHDAY IS OUT OF THIS WORLD!" There's also some of my mum's handwriting: "To Elliot, lots of love Mum, Dad, Dean & Chloë" (she always put the umlaut on Chloe). Finding some of her writing, that made me a bit sad (she died a few years ago of cancer). Here's the picture, anyway:
(Looking at this now, the sentimental part of me suddenly finds this picture quite fitting as a visual metaphor for what it's like to grow up...)
No earth-shattering revelation to come to, no character progression. But perhaps that is my point. What's important is knowing who you are, and doing things which make you (and those around you) feel good.
Occasionally you need to mirror a website (or a directory inside one). If you've only got HTTP access, there are tools like httrack which are pretty good (albeit pretty ugly) at doing this. However, as far as I can tell, you can't use httrack on a password-protected website.
curl can probably do this too, and supports authentication, but it wasn't obvious.
So I ended up using wget, as it supports mirroring and credentials. But the issue here is that wget plays nice and respects robots.txt; which can actually prevent you mirroring a site you own. And nothing in the man page explains how to ignore robots.txt.
Eventually, I came up with this incantation, which works for me (access to password-protected site, full mirror, ignoring robots.txt):
wget -e robots=off --wait 1 -x --user=xxx --password=xxx -m -k http://domain.to.mirror/
Don't use it carelessly on someone else's website, as they might get angry...
I noticed this Zombie Haiku book yesterday: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1600610706
Which reminded me of this zombie haiku I wrote when I was about 12 (27 years ago - ouch):
A noxious zombie
eats a mouldy, worm-filled leg
in a rancid cave.
Which isn't very good (though vivid enough for me to remember and obviously ahead of its time); and not strictly haiku (it has no "kireji", or its closest equivalent in English, i.e. "a dignified ending, concluding the verse with a heightened sense of closure" - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kireji). So I rewrote it while in the bath last night (probably too much information there...):
An ashen zombie
gnaws a muddy, worm-filled leg:
tears run over bones.
Hopefully, this will enable you to see how much I've progressed as an artist.
Update: After having written this, I read this surprisingly relevant blog entry about how we see our artwork when we're young (by way of Rotating Corpse), how our perceptions of it change, and even how art comes to have value.
A few years ago, I wrote a Rails (1.0.0) application for Nicola (my wife), to help her with her PhD research. It ran on her Linux laptop, happily, for those few years.
However, once the new laptop has arrived, I knew I'd have to migrate the application from Linux to Windows; I also wanted to avoid having to update the application for a newer version of Rails. How painful could it be? Fairly.
First I needed an old MySQL server (in case the API has changed), 5.0.15 to be precise. It is practically impossible to find archived downloads on the MySQL website, but I got there eventually.
Next I needed to get an old Ruby (1.8.4) for Windows. Again, virtually impossible to find old versions of Ruby with an installer. When I first did this, there was a Ruby 1.8.4 One-Click Installer for Windows, which seems to have disappeared. I finally tracked it down to some website run off some bloke's back somewhere out East.
Then, I needed Rails 1.0.0. For whatever reason, the Ruby I installed couldn't get Rails off the official gems repository (probably because the gem repo format changed). So I installed rails 1.0.0 on a different machine, created a new Rails project, then froze the 1.0.0 gems into it; then copied the frozen gems over to my app on the new machine. Phew.
Finally, I'd used RedCloth in the app. However, after a couple of attempts, I decided it was easier to rip it out than try to install it on Windows. So I did some surgery.
Add to that the fact that Nicola had forgotten her password (Firefox had been saving it), so I had to manually edit the db to add one; plus no decent text editor on Windows 7; plus MySQL not removing its service properly when I installed the wrong version then uninstalled it (
sc delete MySQL removes errant services, by the way); plus Windows 7 making it difficult to get an administrator command prompt; etc. etc..
So overall a frustrating experience, but I did finally get there.
(On top of that, I also migrated several thousand POP-ped emails from Thunderbird 2 on Linux to Thunderbird 3 on Windows: I thought there would be an import wizard which would know what to do, but I saw no sign of it. And moved all her data over and installed OpenOffice. Entertainment all round.)
Once I've got over my trauma, I will provide links to where to find ancient versions of apps and libraries. Perhaps I should be an archaeologist.