Blog in Isolation

There's a radiant darkness upon us

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

Day 13

After detailed analysis by medical professionals, data scientists and epidemiologists, we are delighted to announce that blog traffic to 'Blog In Isolation' finally looks to have peaked on Wednesday April 29 with 15 million unique visitors.

Blog-Stats.png

Yesterday's number, by comparison, was just 4 million. However, bear in mind this doesn't include people who with pre-existing health conditions who have experienced pain and discomfort using an RSS Reader.

Hopefully, if this promising trend is sustained, the blog can be re-opened up to Facebook and WhatsApp audiences on Sunday 10 May.

#100DaysToOffload

Day 12

Instead of moaning about trivial marital disputes over cheque books, it's time to celebrate some good news !

David celebrates a new arrival. As in a new baby not an Amazon delivery.

Dvd-Baby.png

Richard celebrates a significant anniversary during these unprecedented times with freshly brewed coffee, craft beers and cake.

Cutts-Birthday.jpg

I have known David and Richard for many years, back from identi.ca days. They remain two of very few people (from social media circles) I have actually met in real-life. They are both just as entertaining, intelligent, amusing and interesting company as you would expect.

Plus, they both stand their rounds. Unlike me.

Luke wins 'Best Dad Of The Year' by single-handedly constructing an astroturf pitch in his garden so his lad can perfect his footy skills during lockdown.

Luke-Wembley.jpg

Sully celebrates some fantastic news ! Coincidentally, May 12 will mark eight years since I received similar news ('Tumour excised. Slim margins').

Sully-Good-News.png

Welcome to the 'Survivor's Lounge', Sully !

#100DaysToOffload

Day 11

After six weeks of lockdown, I finally lost it and had a blazing row with the missus over a trivial issue.

'Have you got a cheque book handy ?'

'No.'

'What – you don't have a cheque book ?'

'I have a cheque book somewhere but I haven't used it in years so it isn't handy, no'

'Hmm OK. Well, I can't find mine and I need to write a cheque for the man from the allotment'.

'I'll have a look later'.

We eat dinner. Time passes.

'Any more thoughts about your cheque book ?'

'Any more thoughts ? Well, not really, no'.

'I really would like to post the cheque to Richard tonight'

'Why ? When is he next going to the allotment ?'

'Next Wednesday'

'So why does he need a cheque tonight ?

'Well I think it's just polite to give him the money upfront.'

'OK. OK. I'll go and look now.'

I go upstairs and fail to locate a legacy cheque book.

'Sorry, no. It's not where I thought it was'.

'Hmm – OK but Richard has asked for £26.76 via a cheque'

'OK – so where's your cheque book ? Have you looked in your in-tray ?'

'Yes – nothing in there'.

'Can't Richard receive a bank transfer ? We just need an account and sort code'.

'No – he was insistent on a cheque'.

'Christ – OK. This is like dripping water tap torture. Does he really need it now ?'

I go to my in-tray, rifle through assorted bills, papers, letters and finally uncover a cheque book clad in a black Midland bank plastic wallet.

'Here, here is a cheque. Hurrah ! We can finally placate Richard and the allotment committee. For Christ's sake'.

'Well there's no need to be so aggressive about it. I just asked for a cheque. What's wrong with you ?'

Wife writes a cheque. Thankfully she doesn't ask me for a pen. She then leaves the house to hand deliver the cheque for the princely sum of £26.76 to Richard from the allotment for goods and services unknown.

We then sit in an awkward silence for 3 hours watching four episodes of the Norwegian drama – 'Twin'.

The wife then gets her in-tray out as part of her ongoing, endless, unceasing de-cluttering, tidying and domestic goddess initiative (in a vain effort to replace social interaction and gossiping over coffee with her friends).

'Oh look. Here is a brand new cheque book I have never used. I never knew this was here'.

#100DaysToOffload

Day 10

I work in IT and am vaguely technical. I use Linux and vaguely know how to program in C, Python, PL/SQL and install, configure and tune a variety of databases.

However, apart from the odd gratuitous post detailing my Linux desktop setup, I generally don't post technical content and never have done.

I am slightly conflicted and feel guilty about this as I feel that I have learned so much from other people's blog posts and, increasingly, videos that I should really try to reciprocate and offer something back to the community.

I think these are some reasons that I stubbornly refuse do so.

1) Whatever the subject, whatever the technology, someone, somewhere at sometime has already posted about that subject. In addition, they have done so to such a very high standard, producing excellent content that I could never hope to match.

This is a very lazy attitude and a convenient excuse which is easy to adopt. However, there will always be something that you know that other people would be interested to learn about. Normally, it doesn't really matter whether other folk have already covered the same subject matter a hundred times as you will always have a different viewpoint and maybe express it in a different way which will be valuable to others.

For example, I read whitepapers, subscribe to blogs and watch videos about Oracle APEX and although, seemingly they may cover the same functional area, I normally manage to glean some useful information from each and every one. Most of the core technical content might be repeated but almost always, the author has a little extra to add – something I hadn't previously thought of and is new and relevant to me.

2) I constantly worry about the quality of the content. I also worry that I would post incorrect or misleading information. I work for Oracle Corporation. I don't particularly want people pointing out glaring deficiencies or errors in my blog posts that is then circulated to a wider audience ('Christ – this clown actually works for Oracle and he doesn't even understand Materialised Views') – and worse, potentially back to colleagues

Again, this is a rather lazy attitude, the obvious solution to which would be check and double check your content so it is accurate, correct and beyond reproach. But that would take time and effort.

3) I am innately very lazy. Some technical subjects can be usefully described in a text only format on a blog but Oracle APEX is a Web based application framework so obviously screenshots (or even video format) would be preferable to fully describe the subject matter.

Clearly, posting an set of screenshots is possible but the logistics of recording a video complete with audio fills me with dread and again, would be time consuming.

Posting useful, accurate content on technical subjects would require some commitment and take time. My manager would probably rather I concentrate on my day job rather than post a series of introductory posts aimed at aspiring Python programmers.

Also, when I finish work, I tend to turn the computer off. It's not really my idea of fun to sit down in front of my screen for another two hours writing about how to configure Web Source Modules in APEX.

#100DaysToOffload

Day 9

'Nice weekend, Barry ?'

'Yeah, very busy though, Dave. Very busy'

'What did you get up to ?'

'Saturday morning, Sandra and me went down Tesco. Bloody great queue as normal. Full of idiots with nothing better to do. It was 25 minutes before we even got into the store'.

'What did you go for ?'

'Nothing much. Just laughing at people asking staff for that fancy wholemeal, gluten-free flour when there's bread on the shelves. Plus we had to get jelly and a cake for Harry's birthday'.

'Oh I didn't realise his birthday was this weekend'

'Nah, nah – not till August but Sandra's worried that stuff may sell out when lockdown is lifted'.

'Anyway, driving back, we noticed a ruddy great queue at that Drive-Thru Costa...'

'Yeah – it's complete madness isn't it. People are...'

'So Sandra immediately screamed at me to pull over and get in lane. We queued for 25 minutes but I'll tell you, that iced mocha tasted like the finest champagne'.

'Sounds like you've been busy'

'Yeah – after lunch, Sandra read on Facebook that B+Q was open so we had to drive down there. Another bloody queue. 25 minutes waiting in the car park. Where do all these people come from ?'

'What were you getting – plants, paint ?'

'Nah. Sandra wants one of them fancy pergola things putting up so we were looking at trellis. You're not gonna believe this though, Dave. They only had white left. No American Redwood or pine so we're gonna have to go back next week. What's wrong with people ? Is trellis really an essential purchase – is it fuck ?!'.

'Oh that's a shame. I guess you took it easy on Sunday'.

'Sunday. Well on Sunday, Sandra wakes me up and tells me the Community WhatsApp group claims the tip is open between 9 and 1pm. Guess what, Dave – another bloody long queue of cars queuing back to the retail park. Have people got nothing better to do on a Sunday morning ? I mean – seriously !'

'So you must have had a lot of garden rubbish ?'

'Nah, not really. Just the old microwave we replaced at Christmas. Still, the weather wasn't brilliant so we thought it might be a nice day out'.

'You've certainly have been busy'

'Yeah – I know. To be honest Dave, it's be a bloody relief when this is all over and I can go back to stretching out on the couch, watching NetFlix'.

#100DaysToOffload

Day 8

Saturday 2 May

Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed.

#100DaysToOffload

Day 7

Friday 1 May

Inspired by Luke's post about his love of books, here's the current collection of books on my bedroom dresser.

I also like books but my reading is mainly limited to the time in bed before going to sleep. This is a rather atypical list as I normally read lightweight, disposable thrillers (Michael Connelly, Clare Mackintosh etc).

1) Humble Pi – Matt Parker

An interesting book about how maths causes glitches in real-life scenarios such as the wobbly Westminster bridge in London.

2) Unreliable Memoirs – Clive James

I purchased this after the great journalist, author and TV documentary maker's sad demise in November 2019. A beautifully written and humorous autobiography describing his early life in Australia.

3) Parsnips Buttered – Joe Lycett

My son bought me this book for Christmas. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. A modern day story of a man's quest to fight back against large corporations and the niggles and irritations in his daily life.

4) The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It's Broken

Written by an anonymous English barrister describing the deficiencies and pitfalls of the UK legal system. I found the history of the legal system and the real-life anecdotes quite interesting but, after a while, I found the author's message and content slightly repetitive and I struggled to finish it.

5) The Definitive Book of Body Language

A Xmas present to myself on a subject that always interested me. Turns out I was already loosely aware of most of the content. Trump's forceful, prolonged handshake is an attempt to impose himself and intimidate others – who knew ?

6) Gotta Get Theroux This – Louis Theroux

A fairly standard, uninspiring autobiography (clue was in the title) aimed at the Christmas market. I like Theroux's thought provoking TV documentaries and was particularly interested in his now infamous programs featuring Jimmy Savile. However, if you're interested in somebody, you normally have already watched TV interviews and read articles about them, so it's hard to produce new, compelling content for a book.

For example, I was already aware how Theroux has wrestled and constantly questioned himself over whether he was hoodwinked by Savile, a subject which he covers in some depth in the book.

7) Step by Step – Simon Reeve

My current night time reading matter and the most enjoyable book I've read in ages. Again, I like Simon Reeve's easy going manner, his ability to gel with strangers and his mix of interesting travel destinations coupled with other historic, political or human interest perspectives.

I was aware Simon Reeve didn't have a conventional academic background prior to becoming a TV journalist but he was born in a rough area in Acton, West London. He had a rather colourful life as a boy, bunking off school, shoplifting, gang fights and eventually setting up a small business in sourcing knives and replica weapons for his peers.

He left school with few qualifications and started out as a post-room boy at The Times newspaper. His ambition and cheerful, 'happy to help' disposition found him assisting experienced journalists on investigative stories and he eventually ended up as deputy news editor and wrote a book about Osama Bin Laden (pre 9/11) before landing his break with the BBC.

I found it an entertaining and fascinating read.

8) The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin – Masha Green

Next in line is this biography of Vladimir Putin which was a present from the wife following our trip to Russia in the summer of 2019.

#100DaysToOffload

Day 6

Thursday 30 April

Please don't think I have a lovely working environment where I work remotely and I have an immaculate, tidy, uncluttered desk with an immaculate, tidy, uncluttered desktop.

I have several irritations that are all very minor (given the current climate) but are irritating nevertheless.

Periodically, I am tempted to re-install Arch cleanly from scratch to see whether that would resolve some of these issues but that would take me a while (an Arch install is fairly straightforward but I do need to encrypt the disk) and this might potentially leave me back in exactly the same situation. Also I'd have to dig out my annotated notes from last time and where did I put those ?

1) Writing this post in Markdown mode in Emacs doesn't automatically wrap text so I have to manually format it using M-q. That should be easy to research and trivial to fix but I never seem to get round to it.

'Those who forget the past are condemned to relive it' – George Santayana

2) During boot, my computer fleetingly reports highlighted in red text

    'Failed to start VirtualBox linux module'

This is also irritating and I have wasted a lot of time trying to resolve and eliminate this message to no avail. I have uninstalled and re-installed VirtualBox, using the Oracle distributed version and the AUR version. However, VirtualBox works perfectly OK and as I use it so frequently, I just try to ignore it and avert my gaze during boot.

But that one liner error message nags away, silently, quietly, insidiously like a dripping water tap used by the military during prolonged interrogations.

3) I use a transparent proxy utility (written by a clever Oracle colleague) that handles networking seamlessly when I connect and disconnect from the corporate VPN. I have used this utility for years. A few weeks ago, it suddenly stopped working. I started to try to track it down and it involved routing tables, IP tables and 'resolv.conf'. My eyes glazed over.

I experimented with the command-line OpenConnect VPN client and that worked perfectly in conjunction with the transparent proxy utility so it would appear to be an issue with the Gnome Network Manager VPN (also OpenConnect) software. Coincidentally, I noticed this was upgraded this morning so it might be worth wasting more time and testing again.

4) I use Tasks in Thunderbird rather than ToDo lists in orgmode. That irritates me.

5) The automatic Gnome screen saver does not work for me. Again it used to but stopped working. All the settings are correctly configured.

#100DaysToOffload

Day 5

Wednesday 29 April

I use a Lenovo Thinkcentre M900 desktop computer that runs Arch Linux for work. This PC is a few years old now and has i7-6700@3.40GHz CPU (4 cores) and 16GB of memory which is adequate for my purposes.

I used to distro hop (Fedora, Linux Mint, Debian, Ubuntu, Solus) quite regularly but haven't done so for a while as Arch meets all my needs (rolling distribution) with almost modern, up-to-date versions of every software package I would ever need.

People may be surprised that Oracle Corporation allow the use of Linux but they do and it's officially supported (as long as you install corporate packages). However, I'm in a small minority but a lot of the hard core, experienced database engineers use Linux but the vast majority of my colleagues use Windows and MacBooks are also popular.

I have used the Gnome desktop for many years as I like the UI design and the minimal look and feel. I don't use workspaces and explicitly disable that feature. My environment is fairly vanilla with the following Gnome extensions:

  • OpenWeather
  • Dash to Dock
  • Internet Radio
  • Places Status Indicator

The following applications are available from the Dock which is placed at the bottom of my screen.

1) Firefox

I'm not particularly anti-Google and I previously used Chrome until it span my CPU at 100% playing videos so I switched to Firefox and haven't had a reason to switch back.

Like Gnome, my Firefox is fairly unadorned with extensions but I do use the uBlock Origin, Privacy Badger, Feedbro (RSS reader) and OpenGNOME extensions.

Another extension that has saved my bacon on a few occasions (and I highly recommend) is 'Form History Control' which preserves text after you inadvertently hit 'Back' or are forced to refresh a page (presenting a blank form, losing 24 minutes precious typing).

2) Thunderbird

I really dislike Outlook and the proprietary lock-in. Have you ever tried migrating data out of Outlook ?. Thankfully, my enlightened employer lets me choose any IMAP capable email client.

3) Emacs

I use vi and Emacs almost interchangeably. I use Emacs for my own writing, coding and note taking (orgmode) but often I'm working on remote environments for customers where Emacs isn't available.

At one time, I used mu4e and then Gnus to handle all email completely within Emacs but the Thunderbird/Lightning calendar integration won me over. For now.

4) Terminal

Mainly for running top and yay to update Arch. I do most file access and manipulation using dired in Emacs.

5) VirtualBox

I use VM's quite regularly for development and testing and have access to more powerful database servers for performance and stress testing using larger data volumes.

Unfortunately, I still am compelled to use a Windows VM – solely to accommodate colleagues who still (in 2020) somehow manage to contrive to produce complex Excel spreadsheets, Powerpoint presentations and Word documents that don't render properly in LibreOffice.

6) SQL Developer

Standard Oracle GUI tool which also provides access to other databases (PostgreSQL, MySQL, SQL Server) and products (APEX, ORDS, OEM) and a data modeller tool.

7) Zoom

Previously, we used Cisco WebEx. Thankfully, last summer, we switched to Zoom. I know all about the security and privacy issues. However, as Zoom provides and maintains a native Linux client, they're beyond reproach in my book.

8) Remmina

A useful, integrated desktop client providing SSH, RDP, VNC connections to remote computers.

Obligatory screen shot.

Gnome-Desktop-20200430.png

#100DaysToOffload