The problem with *inux

I’ve finally started semi-seriously testing out whether a move to a non-Windows operating system will work out for me. I’m trying out various flavours on my old PC to see whether I can replicate my normal usage, in other words whether I can run enough of my regular applications and find alternatives for others. I’m also immersing myself to some extent in the culture by listening to a number of podcasts for at least a year or two of back-issues. One is the fairly mainstream Ubuntu podcast, the other so far is the rather more eclectic Late Night Linux.

I’ll comment in the future about my own findings, but for now I just wanted to make the obvious remark about THE MAIN PROBLEM. Which is of course the plethora of variants of the basic desktop(s) which causes decision paralysis. While I get that choice can be a wonderful thing, we’ve definitely wandered into Schwartz’s Paradox, where more most definitely is less. I could speculate as to WHY there are so many variants, I could even rail at the extraordinary amount of duplicated work, but suffice it to say that having in excess of 250 “active”¹ versions of basically the same operating system is a recipe for confusion, patchy adoption and ultimately irrelevance.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve started with two Ubuntu variants, Ubuntu desktop itself (LTS version 20-04), and Ubuntu MATE2 version 21-04. Both are competent desktop environments, neither has crashed on me yet, but I wouldn’t expect them to on a ten year old Intel-based PC with no esoteric hardware. My slightly newer main machine has an AMD graphics card and a reasonably new processor along with NVMe storage and other bits, so we’ll be looking forward to that!

1. according, at least, to Distrowatch

2. and don’t get me started on the male gamer-nerd naming tendencies

Brave New World

Since the last post I’ve barely played at all. Not just through lack of people to play with, but more relevantly because I lost a crown on one of my front maxillary central incisors. With all the virus-inspired chaos going on, and the fact that it wasn’t really an “emergency” I didn’t get it fixed for a few months, but the fix turned out to be only temporary (the crown post had snapped in two). So now I’m half way through the brave new world of implant surgery, and will not be playing for ANOTHER few months. I could probably attempt playing on the temporary teeth by now, but I want to give the implants the maximum time possible to heal properly so that they really do become a “permanent” solution. And since there’s very little group playing going on this is as good a time as any.

It’s rather taken the impetus off my transcribing too, though I had started on the Brass Quartets by Ramsöe which look like they’ll fit really nicely on a wind quartet (no french horn), and I’ll get back to them eventually. It coincided with another Brave New World, which was attempting to use MuseScore in a semi-serious way as opposed to my usual Sibelius poison. This has been mixed in results. Actually inputting notes was straightforward, but getting the page layout correct was very non-intuitive, and drove me slightly batty. Oh, and the fact that the program crashes at start-up every other time. I’ve also gone for my first new PC in 10 years, and have still not bitten the bullet and escape from Windows. Sibelius is one of the main reasons for that, so I’ve either got see whether I can get it working under Wine, or else convert wholesale to MuseScore. Expect some reports eventually. Meantime, I’ve published the first two Ramsoe transcriptions here and here

Talking to nobody

I’ve recently started listening to a couple of podcast streams which have been both entertaining and informative. It’s yet another manifestation of social media to go along with Twitter, Instagram, YouTube etc etc. I’ve always preferred the written side and not video or voice. It seems to me at least that 5 minutes of video information can be absorbed in less than a minute of text, and rewinding back an forth to find the bit you need later is much harder than finding the right page in the book.

However, I think I’m rapidly becoming a minority. I prefer the long lasting to the ephemeral nature of modern social media. So here in this blog I’m literally* talking to nobody. The stats say so.

* a favourite modern word.

Where is the music?

As I write this, nearly every form of collective music-making has fallen victim to the ongoing health crisis that is engulfing the world. Of course the mere thought of blowing one’s germs over the other members of the orchestra and the audience is only the most obvious first thought! As we hunker down, perhaps this is an opportunity to practise that piece that you’ve always been promising to get under your fingers, or composing that music that has been dying to get out for years.

For me, it’s Barber’s “Summer Music” that has never QUITE made it to the top of the list to spend time on, and in the hope that I will be going on a chamber music course in August, that’ll be my first option. I’ve also got a number of wind quintets in score-only form that I could transcribe and extract some parts for (out of copyright, natch), so there’s something to occupy me musically. In fact I’ve started transcribing the quintet by Erwin Landvai, a set of theme and variations. As always once I start it quickly consumes me, and my rarely exercised Sibelius skills mean it’s a bit of a slow process…

STOP PRESS: Have been invited to perform at a concert in September too, so time to brush up for that as well!

Another day, another voice over music

I think I’m becoming sensitised to background music. One of my favourite YouTubers, the Gosforth Handyman, has suddenly started using music in the background while he’s talking! Since he’s from Gosforth I usually need to be listening carefully to make sure I understand what he’s saying (yes, I’m a sissy Southerner), and the music just adds another challenge. Grrrr.

And oh, I discover that there are companies who deliberately SELL background music for voice overs. Needless to say I won’t give links to them here, but a simple Google search (I used “voice over background music”) will find them. Double GRRRR!

Cider Time

It’s a time of year when some-time beer brewers think about turning other things into alcohol. Personally I’m not a great fan of putting fruits into beer, for me it’s all about the malt and hops. I am, however, partial to the occasional cider, and I particularly like my cider to taste of apples (I know, how strange, Kopparberg are definitely not aiming at me). Mass-produced cider tends to be homogenised beyond taste to produce the cheapest possible alcohol content, although the recent “cloudy” versions have added some more interesting flavours.

So, producing home-made cider is definitely on the agenda, and this year we’ve been lucky enough to procure enough apples* and have invested in a scratter and a press, and roughly 30 litres of cider has been the result. The first effort was a mix of some Ben’s Reds and other local (unknown) apples, which seems to have produced a pleasant apply dry cider which we’re trying to leave for a few months to mature. Since we know the taste you can guess that we’ve tried a bottle of the dozen or so we made – and of course shared a few with the apple donators! Our second, larger effort was again from Ben’s Reds, all the way from Cornwall, plus a decent quantity of Bramleys from a tree across the road. It’s in the second racking stage waiting for me to get around to bottling it, so I can’t report a taste test yet.

Yes, you’re supposed to use mixtures of sweet and sharp apples and specific varieties are grown for cider, but when the raw material is effectively free apart from the time to pick it, it’s hard not to. It’s certainly simpler than beer brewing, at least at the basic level, although a little more physical effort if you’re scratting and pressing by hand!

* Thanks to the tree owners who generously offered their trees for picking

Not So Background Music

It may be something to do with my age, but one thing guaranteed to have me wound up is spoken content with background music.

Just WHY?

If you really want someone to listen to what you’re saying, why distract them with music? As a part-time musician it’s particularly annoying because I can’t concentrate on the music either, because some is speaking over it. (And do you remember those radio DJ’s who used to talk over the interesting instrumental introductions…?)

If you are trying to get your message across in a podcast, for example, PLEASE don’t put background music through the whole piece – I’m talking to you, I had to unsubscribe since I couldn’t get the message with the incessant BACKGROUND MUSIC.

I know we have to give musicians and composers living, but put the music in the section breaks or the introduction and play-out NOT during the actual talking. Sheesh

Maybe I have some time now – hah!

After a break of a smidgen over two years, I’ve reached a point where I may have some more time, and could possibly start putting some thoughts down again. I’ve retired from the “day job” at IBM, and am starting to fill the yawning chasm(!) of time with other things – mostly at this stage spending some more time on what I used to do outside of work anyway. Bassoon playing is top of that list, and I’ve already relaxed into playing during the day more regularly – I’d hesitate to call it practise – and responding to the periodic notes from Tom Hardy’s London bassoon list requesting fillers-in and deps. The last couple of weeks has seen rehearsals for Beethoven 9th Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Dvorak’s “The Golden Spinning Wheel” and the 7th Symphony of Prokofiev in addition to my regular playing at the Bushey Symphony Orchestra.

I’m also planning the next two or three brews in my re-found brewing hobby, I expect there’ll be more of that to come. I’m using an automated machine to produce the fermentable wort from the base grains and hops – frowned on by some, again I’ll talk about that later too. So far I’m happy to say I haven’t brewed anything I couldn’t drink (that’s 10 batches of “all-grain” beer as well as some kits to get me started), and some have actually been rather good (IMHO, of course).

On the photography side, it looks like I’ll be starting a little project close to home, as part of the Gravestone Photographic Resource, which looks like a worthwhile endeavour. We’re just checking whether our local churchyard has already been documented elsewhere before spending hours poring over the stones and getting images of them for posterity.

Finally, for now, a slightly longer term project as part of my UK Amateur Orchestras website. One of the features of the site is a mapping of the amateur ensembles listed on the site, which is currently built using Google Fusion Tables. Google have announced the “turn down” (i.e. termination) of this feature for later in the year, so I have to work on an alternative. I’ve mostly avoided the more complex mapping API in Google up to now, so I’m looking for alternatives. Since all of the entries have data for location (both UK postcode and lat/long) I’m hoping this won’t be too onerous, but I’m contemplating that a bit of coding might be necessary. Which brings us back to the SOFTWARE! I have no excuses left now to learn a rather more web-facing language than my trusty REXX, which carried me through 35 years of work. Python seems to be the least onerous alternative, so time to get learning…

First signs of salvation

So my search for offline web design tools mentioned before went down a number of blind alleyways. I re-acquainted myself with a number of tools that I’d used in the past, which don’t seem to have moved on from the past. They mostly failed in a number of ways – unable to import existing pages seems to be one of the real Achilles’ heal for many of them.

Then I discovered a class of tools called “prototyping tools”. These were much more like it. Again none of them do all that I’d like in a way that I’d like, in fact a lot of them are in alpha or beta state with some functions missing. However, they do enable very rapid building of pages while leaving them free to tweak. Also, there are a lot of them based on the Bootstrap framework which ticked a very big box for me.

So where I am at the moment is trying out Pingendo for an extended period, and so far it does most of what I need. Imports existing pages – check. Quick to add sections and see what the result is – check. Easy to copy and paste from one page to another – check. A little flakiness on occasions – check 🙂 (mostly exhibited as not being able to save a page, it tries to save it as a css file rather than html). Definitely a good start, and I have a feeling that if the Bootstrap 4 supporting version works well I’ll be using it to update the various pages I manage. Yes there are lots of other prototyping tools, and I’m sure I’ll try them too at some point…

B***** to WordPress

Well, that was a relatively short-lived project (see “Drinking the Kool Aid” below). I converted my personal website to WordPress run on my own hosting provider. I even started hosting a friend’s site (for the estimable Swakeleys Home Guard Club ) using the same mechanism. It wasn’t long before I discovered one of the challenges of self-hosting WordPress. All of those scripts are quite vulnerable unless you really keep your eye on the ball with updates and only using really trusted plugins.

I didn’t and I couldn’t. And within weeks both sites were tampered with, and effectively brought down. Backing up and restoring proved to be ineffective too, and in the end I ran out of time to fix it and reverted to (mainly) static sites. I feel bad since I did in fact lose data in my zeal to try and fix it, and in the end it was mostly my fault. But I would consider myself reasonably savvie, (30+ years in enterprise IT), and the number of moving parts meant keeping it under control proved daunting. I’m sure it can be done, and should I try again then I’ll take a bit more time to understand the potential risks. I can also appreciate the business model of Weebly, Wiz, GoDaddy and all of the others, to make this truly “simple”.

In the meantime, back to hand-coding the pages, albeit with some help from Bootstrap, with my fingers burned, but fortunately no serious economic consequences.

Anyone know of a good – STANDALONE – web page editing tool, without too high a learning curve?