There’s a Monty Python sketch about a man who says the letter “B” instead of the letter “C” (‘the letter C?’ ‘yes the letter B!’. The solution is for him to say the letter “K” (‘what a silly bunt’). All the time I’m toying with Kubuntu this sketch comes to mind. I may of course be straying back into my annoyance of the naming of everything Linux. (kedit, konqueror, etc)

As I write this I’ve installed the latest version of Kubuntu on my main machine which has an AMD graphics card and two 4k screens. It’s a little bit of a faff to get scaling right. I’m not a great fan of using a global scaling factor since it just seems to use up screen real estate as if I’m using a 1440 or 1080 screen, but some judicious font changing (which was quite easy) means my aged eyes can read what’s on the screen. A nice trick to get a bottom panel on both screens (a quick Google) ends up with a better result than Windows (IMHO).

I’ve also been sidetracked by a hosting change, so I think I’m going to aim for the next LTS base as a full cutover (i.e. Mid April next year). What “full cutover” means is I guess changing the default boot of my PC to Kubuntu. I’m lucky enough to have both the time and resources not to rush this – for example a standalone SSD for the Kubuntu install – and so far sharing a data drive between Linux and Windows hasn’t caused either to barf. It’ll also give me a chance to try a version upgrade experience before committing.

Another host

Don’t worry, this is not science fiction and I haven’t transferred my consciousness into another body. It’s just that the time has come to start moving my small number of websites to another hosting provider, which means the usual pain of making sure everything transfers along with the sites themselves.

My own recent history with tsoHost has been (happily) uneventful, despite the other problems reported elsewhere – outages, poor support experience and so on. Not unusually I didn’t sign up with tsoHost directly, but with a predecessor which was acquired – 5quidhost. They did honour the pricing deal, which was good, but there has been very little apparent innovation in the interim. In particular I wanted to move to SSL support for the sites that I run to avoid them being blacklist, but tsoHost has steadfastly refused to implement it for their cpanel-based customers without a significant increase in charges. So it seemed like it was time to think about a change.

It turns out that some of the original 5quidhost founders have fetched up at Stablepoint, so I thought I give them a look. They do have included SSL, but more to the point it was a good opportunity for me to split out the sites I author (it’s only really 2 currently, with one for my partner) into separate environments rather than having them sub’d off the base domain. So far I’ve only moved my personal domain – bassoongb.net – but this seems to have gone pretty well. I’ve taken the monthly subscription for now just to make sure it all works before committing for the other sites for a longer period.

The move has been pretty straightforward. SSL worked out of the box. Even the mail move proved uneventful, mainly because I have used POP3 so really had no mail to move server-to-server. While I do like the benefits of IMAP, I’ve been quite disciplined in my POP usage, and tend to only send a lot of mail from one place. I guess it’s also because when I started this internet lark POP was all that was available – I’m a dinosaur really.

Naturally it’s also turned into an opportunity to “freshen up” the website…

The Hunt for Red October

No, not really the old Sean Connery/Alec Baldwin subsea adventure, but the search for a Linux distribution that could possibly replace Windoze as my day to day workstation platform. I’m not planning on the exhaustive evaluation of, say, the “top 20” Linux distros, but I have been weeding the criteria down.

(1) I don’t really want to be delving into the weeds of the operating system. For example I don’t ideally want to be compiling my own binaries. I do have a technical background, and I want to be able to see more than Windoze shows me, but I do have a life. I expect this will discount Arch-based distros and others that need a lot of customisation.

(2) Speaking of customisation, I’d like the desktop to be reasonably familiar but I’m not averse to doing SOME work to get to what I want. After all, I’ve tinkered with the desktop in Windows for years already. However, I’m not in the mood to install tons of extensions. As you might guess this is tending me away from Gnome-centric distros. I started with plain Ubuntu (20.04 LTS) for example, then moved on to Ubuntu Mate, which I preferred, but would still require quite a lot of messing. I’ve never used a Mac in anger, so simple things like windows close buttons on the left have me reeling. I also have large screens, so having what amounts to a split task bar (yes, I know they’re called “panels”) isn’t working for me.

(3) It probably goes without saying, but there are some applications that I’ve come to depend on, some of which don’t have direct Linux equivalents. I also have some that DO have direct counterpoints, and it would be nice to find those already in the distro. So I liked the look of KDE Neon, but it is relatively light on pre-installed apps. The slightly less bleeding edge Kubuntu does come with more pre-installed, and Firefox, Thunderbird and Libreoffice are on my list. It’s become my favourite so far. I’m sure there will be more discussion of this later.

(4) I’d love to find some new features and functions, or simply some improved methods. For example my current backup and synchronisation tools leave something to be desired. I’m also very optimistic about KDE Connect for combining my mobile phone with the desktop – very easy to set up in the first place (compared with the Microsoft “equivalent”).

I’m more or less resigned to using Wine for a few apps, but if anyone can find a straightforward way of importing 25 years of financial transactions into an alternative tool to Quicken2000 I’ll be all ears. I’ve tried many of the Opensource alternatives, and I think I’m just too old to attempt Gnucash 🙂

Finding the attackers

Possibly a slight over the top description of what I found while doing some housekeeping on my main orchestras website. I keep track of the statistics of visitors to Amateurorchestras.org, on a monthly basis I download them to a spreadsheet and draw a couple of graphs to convince myself that I’m doing something.

Whilst doing this I wandered down to some of the more abstruse statistics that are kept for my site, specifically the “required but not found” URLs section (i.e. all the ones that generate a 404 response code). This is helpful to see if anyone has any links pointing to the site that are out of date, or in this case spots an incorrect reference I had on the site itself. While doing this it’s interesting to see what ELSE people are looking for on the site.

The vast majority that aren’t simple mistakes are actually links that would exist were my site to be powered by WordPress. I imply this to mean that they belong to “people” looking for vulnerabilities. This seems to reinforce my earlier experiences trying to run my own hosted WordPress site – it’s simply quite difficult because nefarious actors are ALWAYS probing. Interesting.

Finally learning a new language

Having promised myself that I’d pick a new skill during the period of passivity occasioned by the pandemic, I eventually started a concerted effort to get a new programming language under my belt. Like a lot of people my age I started life with BASIC, in my case via a batch service when I was at school followed by typing programs in labriously on an Amstrad CPC-464 and hoping they were saved by the tape machine afterwards. I carried on with BASIC on an RM 380Z while at college – principally to produce fixture tables for our hockey team.

Once I moved into the world of work I picked up FORTRAN for my first job as a trainee actuary – principally used in the valuation of pension funds using a sophisticated underlying suite originally running on a Pr1me mainframe, subsequently replaced by an IBM 4341 and a rapid conversion to VS/Fortran under VM/CMS. At that point I changed jobs and REXX became my lingua franca and has remained so for the 35-plus subsequent years. Yes, I’m not really a programmer, just a dabbler. REXX has probably encouraged a certain laissez-faire attitude. It has no form of data typing (actually it’s dynamic), very freeform syntax, and not very many native instructions. It’s original purpose was a scripting language for IBM’s VM operating system, and for the purposes I’ve used it, it’s been more than adequate. My main use currently is to produce the (static) web pages that represent my list of amateur orchestras in the UK.

Consequently picking another language to learn has exposed my somewhat homespun approach until now. I’ve decided not to stray too far from what I know, and take on Python. I’ve started out by following the edX course “Computing in Python”, and it’s been an education! I did think of simply trying to understand how to replicate my REXX efforts into Python, but decided that it would make more sense to understand properly how Python works. Next week I’ll be looking at “Data Structures”…

The brewing cycle – another battle with choice

It seems that the battle with choice is a recurring theme for me. When it comes to my home brewing I have a similar battle. WHAT should I brew this time? Even without some of the currently trendy home brewing accoutrements (pressure fermentation, anyone? Oxygen-free transfer?), the range of beers available to the homebrewer is great. In a slightly smug way I’d say that none of the all-grain brews I’ve done have been undrinkable, and some I’ve been very sad to finish the last bottle.

In fact I’ve moved to smaller batches typically around 10 litres instead of nearly 20. There were two principal reasons, firstly simply trying to consume up to 40 bottles of the SAME beer became a bit “challenging” during the period when we were self-isolating. Secondly my brewing machine routinely overflowed during the boil phase and while this wasn’t a particular problem, it did mean I had to pay more attention during the brewing process.

The reduction to smaller batches has given the opportunity to try a few more different styles and recipes. This has meant the paralysis of choice while I try to decide just what I’d fancy. I’ve also turned out to be poor at planning sufficiently far ahead to have seasonally-appropriate beers to hand. Trying to remember to brew something lighter in March or April for consumption in June and July should be simple, but for some reason I struggle. Part of the reason for this is that from time to time we are seduced by offers from our favourite commercial brewers and suddenly we have a stock of delicious other beers that need drinking and my plans to produce some batches of my own take a back seat.

I’ve also been trying to do a brewing/bottling combo day (bottling a previous brew while the next brewing is being processed by my brilliant Brewie machine). This has felt like a very efficient use of time, though it does mean I get into a cycle where I produce more beer than I’m drinking and I have to break that cycle! I’ve been considering my beer choices in batches of three lately, using a combination of “using up” to use whatever ingredients I have “lying around”, spotting interesting beers in YouTube videos I watch, responding to friends’ requests, and even repeating previous recipes that I’ve particularly enjoyed. The next three in the pipe are looking like a porter to use up some smoked malt (“Smoke On The Porter”), a Dark Mild (my first foray into brown malt), and a clone of Leffe Blonde (friend’s preference).


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!