Blog in Isolation

There's a radiant darkness upon us

the curious case of the 'More' tag

I am not sure I like this increasing but irritating use of the 'More' or 'Sensitive Content' tag on Mastodon. From a cursory glance, I can't even see how to add it from the Web interface.

I'm not sure whether it's enforced by the Mastodon instance or actively selected by the user. I presume it's the latter. Microblogging to supposed to be short, snappy and spontaneous.

I understand why sensitive media content might merit another key click (to protect the children) but if you're posting about politics, I'd really rather see all the content in one fell swoop and then I would feel free to choose to ignore it.

You really don't need to put introduce your wonderful, world beating, gonna go viral post with tags

#politics #rant

and then take the trouble and waste your time to add a '^L' style teaser

'Show More'

....which when clicked then reveals

I think all lives matter.

...because that is just one line and I have had to waste 0.8 seconds to hit a key to read your banal, trite one liner.

If you truly have a thought provoking rant or have produced a lengthy essay on the current political situation or some new, insightful thoughts on Covid 19, then either write a blog or consider doing a degree in PPE.

That stands for 'Philosophy, Politics and Economics' not 'Personal Protective Equipment' BTW.

Edit: Turns out this is trivial to disable these teasers in the Mastodon Web client simply by setting the preference 'Always show media marked as sensitive'. RTFM.

in praise of MiniDLNA

Five years ago, I purchased a Roberts Digital radio for the kitchen. Mainly to listen to the radio but also this device could play music from Spotify, a USB stick or act as a UPNP client.

As I already had the Plex Media Server set up which had a DLNA option, this looked attractive. The setup worked pretty well apart from one minor glitch.

And, like a dripping water tap, or the endless, harrowing screams of a baby played on a tight loop in an American interrogation facility, any minor technical glitch can't simply be ignored.

The cover art didn't display. I'm not sure why I believed that cover art should be displayed. Maybe it was because it was displayed in other music players or on the glossy Roberts Web site.

I tried everything, well a couple of things, to try to resolve this. I meticulously downloaded cover art for more than 200 albums and uploaded them to the appropriate directory as 'cover.jpg'. Or maybe it had to be 'folder.jpg'. Or 'Folder.jpg'.

No change. Still no cover art. I researched further on the Plex forums and any other DLNA/UPNP site I could access. I think the only solution I discovered was to embed the cover art image in the FLAC file but that was a lot of work, didn't feel right and would bloat the size of the lossless music files needlessly.

No cover art. After a while, I was forced to let it go. The digital radio played my music, the wife was pleased and that was the main thing.

Until yesterday, when I was busy shaving yet another shaggy haired yak and immersing myself deep down in yet another rat-hole that was actually a million miles removed from the original task in hand – to quickly experiment with the i3 tiling window manager.

I wanted to use a dedicated music player for radio and music rather than use a Web browser. Maybe I could even display 'Now playing' on my i3 status bar. VLC could access my music on the Plex Media Server but Rhythmbox (my preferred media player) couldn't. I played around with Music Player Daemon (MPD) and about 57 different GUI and command line MPC clients. While doing so, I noticed that MPD doesn't necessarily need access to local music files as it has a UPNP plugin.

My joy was short-lived as this didn't work. It could see the Plex Media Server (just to get my hopes up) but couldn't stream any music. Just like Rhythmbox. Which started me thinking. Maybe it was the server software not the client. So, I decided to waste a little more time by installing MiniDLNA (now ReadyMedia) which is a simple, lightweight, OpenSource media server on my FreeNAS.

This software was trivial to install on FreeBSD and I had successfully configured it within five minutes. Finally, I was playing music in Rhythmbox using UPNP. Mission accomplished. Pat yourself on the back and finally put the kettle on.

However, when I was in the kitchen, filling up the kettle, I couldn't resist the temptation and tried the Roberts Radio to see if it also recognised the new UPNP server.

Not only did it recognise it, it also manage to rapidly browse my music by Artist, by Album. Probably confirmation bias, but it seemed quicker than Plex.

More importantly, it actually played music – complete with cover art. Golly, I am so happy I have organised a socially distanced dinner party in the garden.

Of course, we won't be eating anything – just sitting around the table gazing at the unadorned beauty of the Roberts Stream 93i and taking turns to choose a song.

Roberts-Radio.jpg

rendezvous with strange man in mask

I anxiously coaxed my wife out of the door to her work trying not to raise her suspicions. My stomach was fluttering as I had an important early morning meeting.

To fully prepare, first, I chose my mask. I had two options; a flesh coloured creation that resembled a one bosom bra or a more sinister black model. I tried the pale pink mask but as it, err, masked my nose, mouth and chin, it made me resemble a burns victim who had endured time consuming and expensive reconstructive surgery which had either failed or was still ongoing.

The black one was much better; when I looked in the mirror I saw Kendo Nagasaki. I felt strong. I felt powerful.

The door-bell chimed. I opened it and was greeted by a middle aged, balding man wearing a pale blue mask and surgical gloves carrying a toolbox.

'Good morning. it's John isn't it ? I know I shouldn't really but would you like a cup of tea from a sterilised mug ?'

'No – thanks. I'd rather just get straight down to business'.

Ah now that what's I was hoping for; firm, dominant and to the point.

'Do most people watch or just leave you to it ?'

'Not bothered. You can watch as long as you're eight feet away ?'

John got down on all fours and got on the job straightaway. There was a lot of puffing and panting.

'Christ – this is a tight fit. Dunno how the last fella managed to fit it in this small gap'.

I said nothing. There was no answer to that.

'Bloody hell, if you had another 2 inches on your red hot pipe, that'd help'.

Slightly rude and I was supposed to be the dominatrix here. After all, I am Kendo Nagasaki clad in the black mask.

More puffing and panting.

'Ere, can you pass me that vaseline ? I may as well lubricate this joint while I'd down here'.

'Here you go. I thought you looked like a doctor in the blue face mask but I didn't think you'd have time to treat my arthritic knee'.

'I must say – your waste outlet is pretty good considering but your cold water pipe has a kink in it'.

Was I paying £60 call-out and £30 per hour to be insulted like this ?

More puffing and expletives

'Ere – pass us a tea towel, will you ? There's something dripping out the end of your pipe'.

'Ooh – sorry about that. Here you go'.

'Nah – it's OK. I've had a lot worse spilled on me in my line of work. Sort of an occupational hazard'.

'Oh – I see'.

There was a strange vibration. Initially, I assumed the batteries in John's sex toy, that he'd surreptitiously taken out of his toolbox, needed replacing.

'Ere – pass me that wrench, will you ? Your front extendable leg needs adjusting slightly'.

Weird as I don't actually have a prosthetic limb. Anywhere.

'Right – that's done. Now, have you got a small load you'd like to give me ?'

Another insult about the size of my manhood. I don't understand it. This chap had excellent reviews on the Web site.

'Do you want me to flush your U-bend while I'm down 'ere ?'

Hmm – colonic irrigation was never mentioned at any point. Would this be extra ?

There's a stilted silence while we stare at each other, waiting for my small load to finish.

We looked at each other in an embarrassed silence. I place £60 on the table which John silently picked up. He grabbed his toolbox and went to leave.

'OK. Thanks for coming so promptly, John'.

'No problem. If you or the missus ever need anything doing again, just give us a ring'.

Although she didn't know it yet, the wife had a new washing machine.

There's nothing worse than yet another lockdown Netflix list.

Sons Of Anarchy

Heard about this series from Linux Outlaws many years ago. Jax Teller is a very handsome man. I am convinced he is the bastard son of Kurt Cobain and Brad Pitt.

A decent series about biker gangs in California that inevitably features gratuitous violence and goes through peaks and troughs (the season when they went to Ireland was very weak).

Tiger King

A slow burner. Almost gave up on it after one episode but this turned out to be worth the hype. A truly bizarre story.

The Innocence Files

Recommended by rpcutts. A sobering reminder of man's inhumanity to man. Prosecutors who steadfastly refuse to admit defeat in the face of scientific DNA evidence. Innocent men locked up for years (sometimes on Death Row) and yet emerge with unbelievable grace and humility.

Fear The Walking Dead

My wife's choice. Eerily, I knew what was coming. Catastrophic event. Zombie apocalypse. Society breaks down.

A group of people find a settlement, encounter zombies on the march, spear zombies with sharp implement, find another settlement, zombies on the march, spear zombies with sharp implement, find another settlement. Rinse and repeat.

One of the most enjoyable elements was Alicia. This actress was just stunning. I don't know if the distance between her eyes, nose, ears, cheekbones and chin all match the perfect ratio but she was strangely compelling.

After Life

It's Ricky Gervais. If you've seen 'Derek', you've seen 'After Life'. Why, he even uses the same actors so you get that comforting sense of familiarity.

Take Us Home

I'm a sucker for football documentaries. I've watched the City one which revealed Pep Guardiola to be a rather intense manager. I hugely enjoyed the Sunderland one with the idiotic, pretentious, self-important marketing manager. This series felt more like a 'David Brent' spinoff than a true David Brent spinoff. And now we move onto the Leeds one. Only two episodes in but, disappointingly, there's little insight into the coaching methods of Marco Biesla.

remembering Ian Curtis

Today is the 18 May 2020 and marks the 40th anniversary of when Ian Curtis took his own life so I was pleased to see that Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris are remembering the event – 'Moving through Silence'

I grew up in South Manchester and it's hard to describe how important music and football were during my formative years.

I never saw Joy Division play live but some of my schoolmates did ('He did this weird dance'). However, I have visited Curtis' memorial in Macclesfield cemetery.

I've read all the books, avidly watched all the documentaries, seen all the films ('Control') and watched all the YouTube interviews about Joy Division. It's clear Ian Curtis was no angel and he was suffering from a horrible illness and maybe didn't get the best treatment.

The constant, endless bitching between Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook is rather tedious and unsavoury but there's no doubt that, 40 years on, the lyrics of Ian Curtis and his deep baritone on 'Unknown Pleasures' inspired many, many bands and remains quite haunting.

small changes, big improvement

Sometimes, I spend a lot of time on technical tasks that are of seemingly questionable benefit or limited practical use.

For example, I remember converting the format of my 977 blog posts between markup languages and migrating the content to esoteric blogging platforms (more then once). I also wasted an unbelievable amount of time meticulously editing the meta data (YAML front-matter) and writing scripts simply to preserve Disqus comments after a change to the permalink structure.

All for a personal blog that no-one read but me.

Obviously, I choose to spend time on these tasks because I'm technically minded and like a challenge. There's also a stubborn desire to see something through to the bitter end rather than give up half way through. Also, they're fun little tasks that aren't work related.

However, I don't necessarily see this was wasted time. I often say to my son (who is starting out on a career in IT) that 'knowledge is never wasted'. This has been borne out for him as, when he was interviewing last summer, he was often set technical challenges (coding exercises) as part of the screening process.

Having subsequently secured a permanent role, he remarked last week: 'I solved a tricky problem at work today using Python code from that horse racing simulation'.

Anyway, I have made progress on organising my work. I was aware of the Projectile package for Emacs which is very popular. Originally, I didn't think it would be that useful for me as I don't produce code and work in Git all day.

However, after just two days, Projectile has already proved to be immensely useful for me and the way I work. You can easily create a project which can simply be a collection of notes, source code, PDF's, videos etc. Projectile then allows you to switch between projects and all file and buffer operations (open, latest, search, kill) are narrowed to the context of that project.

That sounds like a trivial, simple change but this has proved unbelievably useful for me as the list of files is automatically shrunk to what you are actually interested in. I was staggered how this simple change had such an impact.

My main problem was (and remains) muscle memory and trying to learn the new, modified key bindings for the Projectile variants of the basic Emacs and dired style commands I have used for years.

Each project I am currently working on is now a Projectile project and so is my orgmode directory which is also very useful.

I then did something I should have done years ago and moved all my orgmode notes from their respective project directories to my dedicated directory in '~/orgmode'. This is much more logical and allows me to use the 'deft' package to search content in all my orgmode files as well as the searching functionality provided by Projectile.

Then it was obvious that I needed to merge and consolidate this large, random and unwieldy collection of orgmode files. For now, I have decided to use the following:-

  • projects.org (currently, active work projects)
  • project_archive.org (completed projects, mainly read only)
  • project_tasks.org

Again, this was hardly any work but offered a significant improvement and somehow just felt right – that I was using Emacs and orgmode more logically, closer to the way it was intended. Like everyone else.

I realised that previously, I was bending the tools to fit my mindset of 'Projects must have a dedicated directory and all information and data on a project must reside in that directory'.

Another useful orgmode package, org-projectile, forced me to rethink this and addressed another of my key requirements perfectly.

I often want to be able to record tasks against a project. Often, I would be working on project A and get an email or phone call requiring me to quickly record a ToDo item for project B.

Previously, I would labouriously navigate to the directory for project B, open up the 'notes.org' file and append the ToDo item at the end. This had several issues; ToDo's scattered in multiple files, scattered in multiple places. Lots of context switching, lots of wasted time. It was impossible to have a coherent, unified list of outstanding tasks. Even worse, the important tasks were duplicated or promoted to Thunderbird.

[ Reading this back, I'm almost embarrassed and ashamed to document how ineffectively I used to work but at least I now understand why promotion keeps passing me by. ]

The org-projectile package is blissfully simple and allows you to create a orgmode task for a given project. You simply create a task and org-projectile prompts you for the project (from Projectile's list of projects) and the orgmode ToDo is added to a file in my 'orgmode' directory which now contains all the tasks for all the projects.

orgmode already has support for creating agendas and unified ToDo's from multiple orgmode files so there isn't necessarily a need to separate personal reminders from work related tasks.

Two Emacs packages, just an hour to install and configure, longer to learn and master perhaps but already very satisfying and relatively, simple, quick changes which have improved my productivity significantly.

think of the grandchildren

'Mum, mum. Please calm...'

'You don't understand. I just want to be able to see the grandchildren. I just want to hug them, to hold them, to cuddle them'.

'Yes, Mum. I realise that but this won't...'

'Is it too much to ask to sit out on the patio, drawing and colouring with them ? Is it too much to want to spoil them with toys and treats ? Like any proud Grandma ?'

'Yes, Mum. I know it's a difficult time but...'

'That's all we're asking. It's tearing us up inside. We're cooped up here and they are down there – poor little things. They need to see their Nana and Grandad. They need to know they are loved'.

'Yes, Mum but with the lockdown slowly being lifted...'

'Why can I invite a cleaner into my house (not that I have a cleaner, no-one cleans as well as me) or meet Rita in the park (not that I'd want to mind, she hasn't called me once since this all started) and yet I can't see the two people in the world who mean the most to me. It just isn't fair'.

'Yes, Mum but in the next few weeks...'

'I had bought some them lovely Easter eggs, I'd bought presents for little Alice's birthday and baked a cake. We left them untouched in the vain hope but Dad finally gave in and ate the mini-eggs one afternoon. This pain is unbearable'.

'Yes, Mum but please remember, as soon as this is over...'

'And then there's your Dad, he's a broken man. This is really dragging him down. He never talks. He just sits around all day staring into space like a zombie. All he wants to do is take little Harry fishing. He wants to be a grandfather again. Just for one day. Your Dad did National Service and this is the thanks he gets from this Government. He just wants to take him fishing. He's got maggots in the fridge ready. They were next to the mini-eggs. He loves his fishing...'

'Yes, Mum but there are other grandparents in...'

'Don't talk to me about other grandparents. I saw a car pull up at Rita's house last Wednesday at 11:17 and two little kiddies happily ran up to her door. Who were they then – her landscape gardeners, her cleaners ?'

'Yes, Mum but remember...'

'Stop telling me 'Yes, Mum' and just get in your car and drive up here here right now with my lovely grandchildren !'

'But, Mum. Please remember that David hasn't even got a girlfriend and Emma is quite happy with her partner and her job at the moment.'

'What ? What did you say ?'

'Mum, you haven't got any grandchildren'.

bringing order to chaos – maybe

Frustratingly, I can't locate it now but I recently saw a post on Mastodon from someone who had great difficulty creating a new file in his 'Documents' folder.

This struck me as very amusing but I think the point he was trying to express was that his 'Documents' directory is a disorganised, unstructured, cluttered mess of files so he is incredibly reluctant and can barely bring himself to compound the issue further by typing 'vi linux-notes.txt' while in the 'Documents' directory.

I have a similar issue. I use Emacs and orgmode – primarily for note taking. Well it's sort of a bastard combination of notes and a journal – but not a proper orgmode journal. Maybe it should be. Come to think of it, every notes file contains a 'ToDo' section but not a proper orgmode list of ToDo items. Maybe it should. Sue me.

To clarify a little, when I'm working on a technical project, I am almost always required to produce some project documentation later on. Typically, this might be an installation guide or a handover document for a client. Obviously, this needs to be a polished, structured, coherent document that is technically accurate.

Clearly, it is very difficult to create such a document after the fact when the memory is hazy and the precise, important details are almost forgotten. As an input to that formal document, and for my own benefit, I tend to keep notes as I go along. If I encounter a problem, I write it down together with the error codes and the various avenues I explored and the final resolution. Often, my notes include links to articles or technical blogs describing the same or similar issues. Occasionally, you won't be surprised to know the notes may even contain an outburst or a mini-rant.

Bug first noted and ack'ed in September 2017. Still fecking present in May 2020. God help us.

Currently, I create a new directory for each project I work on. For the ACME project, I will work in the '$HOME/work/acme' directory. Often there will be additional sub-directories 'apex', 'scripts', 'documents' etc.

My notes file for each project used to be named 'notes.org' but this was sub-optimal as I would then have multiple 'notes.org' files in the Emacs buffer list and 'Recent Files' list so it was hard to distinguish them.

To address this, I then prefixed the filenames thus; 'customer-notes.org'. This worked a little better as typing 'acme' offered the correct completion almost immediately.

However, this isn't ideal either as sometimes I am hunting for the details of an APEX issue that I encountered last year for that customer but was it 'ACME' or was it 'Vodafone' or was it 'ABC Corp' ?

I suspect the orgmode experts would say the solution to this is a single, larger orgmode file ('work.org') containing all the projects I have worked on which is searchable and only the currently active customer is expanded and all the others are hidden.

Funnily enough, years ago, I did experiment with the 'Single large text file' idea and I have also used TiddlyWiki when I needed to share notes between a laptop and a desktop machine and later DokuWiki when, for some reason,I thought my notes, jottings and ill-considered rants should be available on the Internet.

Using a single orgmode file for work is attractive but that file would obviously have to reside in the '~/orgmode' directory whereas when I am taking notes and want to open source code, M-x find-file works neatly as I am already in the context of the project directory. If I move my notes to the orgmode directory, I sense more context switching, more typing and more work.

Maybe I could investigate the Emacs projectile package to see if that would help resolve this minor issue. That would represent an ideal opportunity for more procrastination.

keeping a sense of perspective

Wife: 'Jane told me yesterday she just found it all quite overwhelming last week and just sat down and had a little cry'.

Me: 'There's nothing wrong with that. I've think we've all had wobbly moments. I certainly know I have.'

Wife: 'Have you ?'

Me: 'Yeah, it was a couple of weeks ago now. I heard yet another radio interview with a lady who'd lost her Mum, she couldn't visit her in hospital and now her Dad is left grieving on his own. Just very upsetting. I was in pieces for 10 minutes'.

Wife: 'Yes, those stories are so sad'

Me: 'Was it something similar that set Jane off ?'

Wife: 'Well no – she was wondering when she might next get to the theatre'.

Day 14

10pm Thursday – congregate in the street to look at a 'Flour Moon'. This is handy as flour is in short supply.

10am Friday – congregate in the street to watch a fly-past. Didn't see anything so returned inside.

11am Friday – given special dispensation not to congregate in the street to observe a two minute silence.

3pm Friday – congregate in the street for a toast. Have a chat with the neighbours (again).

9am – Saturday – wife drags me into town to take a variety of cryptic photos of local sights and place of interest in preparation for a quiz.

4pm – Saturday – Zoom family call

6.30 pm Saturday – Wife online Pilates class

#100DaysToOffload