I had heard so much about this record over the years but never got the chance to listen to it until today. I’ll definitely be listening to it again.
2018 has been a strange year in so many ways. I always said that I would try and buy less music this year, and instead spend more time with the music I did buy. This has very much happened, but there is also very little on this list that wasn’t chosen by someone else (either as part of the Rough Trade club, or as a birthday/Christmas gift). That said, I love all of these records, and I think they represent an accurate summary of my journey through 2018.
- Shame – Songs of Praise
- Nils Frahm – All Melody
- Belle & Sebastian – How to Solve our Human Problems
- The Shacks – Haze
- Daniel Blumberg – Minus
- LUMP – LUMP
- Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth
- Father John Misty – God’s Favourite Customer
- Here Lies Man – You Will Know Nothing
- Bodega – Endless Scroll
- Melody’s Echo Chamber – Bon Voyage
- She Makes War – Brace for Impact
- IDLES – Joy as an Act of Resistance.
- Adrianne Lenker – abyskiss
- Paul Smith – Diagrams
- John Grant – Love is Magic
- Smashing Pumpkins – Shiny and Oh So Bright (volume 1)
- Audiobooks – Now! (in a minute)
- Labaich – The Sound of Music
- AMOR – Sinking into a Miracle
It’s National Album day today, and I’ve spent the day listening to a few old and new favourites (with a short break to walk the dog once the rain stopped). This is what I ended up listening to:
- The Cure – Faith (1981)
- Father John Misty – God’s Favourite Customer (2018)
- British Sea Power – Do You Like Rock Music? (2008)
- Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band – Adios Senor Pussycat (2017)
- The Wedding Present – George Best 30 (2017)
- The Auteurs – After Murder Park (1996)
- Hope Sandoval – Until the Hunter (2016)
- Adrianne Lenker – Abysskiss (2018)
- IDLES – Joy as an Act of Resistance (2018)
- The National – Sleep Well Beast (2017)
- She Makes War – Brace for Impact (2018)
- Felt – The Pictorial Jackson Review (1988)
- The House of Love – The House of Love (1988)
- Belle & Sebastian – If You’re Feeling Sinister (1996)
- Pixies – Doolittle (1988)
I’ve been to a couple of very enjoyable concerts this year (Belle & Sebastian and She Makes War) and I’d very much like to go to more now the nights are drawing in and spending evenings outside is less appealing. I thought it was worth listing things I was interested in, just in case I know anyone who might want to come along.
All of these are in Birmingham, and I in no way intend to go to all of them (but some would be nice).
- Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks – The Asylum. Monday, 22 Oct 2018
- She Makes War – Hare & Hounds. Wednesday, 31 Oct 2018
- Here Lies Man – The Hare And Hounds. Sunday, 04 Nov 2018
- Paul Smith – Mama Roux’s. Tuesday, 27 Nov 2018
- Shame – O2 Institute. Wednesday, 28 Nov 2018
- Molly Burch – The Hare And Hounds. Monday, 03 Dec 2018
- Mercury Rev Plays Deserter’s Songs – The Glee Club. Monday, 10 Dec 2018
I’ve used various ad-blockers over the years, and while they have all largely worked, they have also started to slow my browser down (especially on older computers). I read about Pi-hole a few times, but didn’t get around to actually installing it until this week. Now I have installed it I’m wishing I hadn’t waited, because not only does it lead to a largely ad-free browsing experience, but it also makes my older and slower computers noticeably faster.
Pi-hole should work on any Debian or Red Hat derived Linux distribution, but I went for the obvious solution of putting it on one of my always-on Raspberry Pis (which also runs WordPress and a command-line IRC client). To install just type
curl -sSL https://install.pi-hole.net | bash in a terminal, and then visit the /admin URL of the machine it’s installed on to view the admin console.
Configuring machines to use it is just a case of defining a custom DNS server (how to do that varies between each OS, but was trivial on Ubuntu and ChromeOS – I’ve not tried anything else yet). Just add the IP address of the Pi as a DNS server, and it will block anything on the block list, and then forward everything else on to be dealt with as normal. If you want to do this for everything on your network then there are various options detailed here that range from configuring one machine to routing everything through Pi-hole.
The admin page will tell you how much blocking is going on. With me it was about 1% of all traffic, and it will even tell you which domains it is blocking so you can whitelist anything you actually want to see (not all ads are bad). I don’t really notice a performance increase on my main computer, but older and slower computers definitely seem snappier, and can maintain about twice as many open tabs before they start to slow down, which is a bonus feature that I wasn’t really expecting.
Last year I wrote down a list of things I wanted to achieve and then evaluated how well I had done. This year I wrote a similar list but failed to publish it. 8 months later I’ve just found the list, and I’m amused to find that I’ve done fairly well, and even exceeded my own expectations in at least one area (I said I’d start cycling, but didn’t predict that it would become such a large part of my life).
It turns out that travelling less, spending more time exploring Birmingham, trying new places to eat, and swapping time spent in front of a computer for outdoor activities were all (at least subconsciously) planned. Now I just need to go to more concerts and spend more time with my non-Birmingham friends and then the list is largely complete.
I’ve been experimenting with Chromebooks for a few weeks now to try and come up with a low-power low-cost no-maintenance setup. There are a lot of very good blog posts covering the basics already, but I thought it was at least worth documenting how I got Ubuntu installed on my older Chromebook (which is a bit of a frankenstein that goes against the general ethos of not upgrading or otherwise tinkering with the hardware). This is probably best not attempted on anything with less than 32Gb of storage, and 4Gb of RAM is probably a good idea as well.
Enable developer mode
To enable developer mode, press
refresh and hold down the power key. When the scary message appears then press
Ctrl+d and wait for the (fairly long) process to complete. This will unlock the full bash shell, and give you enough control over the Chromebook to set up a chroot.
Crouton is the script that is used to install Ubuntu in a chroot. Download it from here and ensure it’s in your downloads folder. Then press
Ctrl+Alt+t to open the chrosh terminal, and type
shell at the command prompt. This will get you full shell access to the Chromebook.
To install Ubuntu (at time of writing 16.04) then issue the following command:
sudo sh ~/Downloads/crouton -e -t xfce
This will take a while, but when it’s done then issue the following command to start Ubuntu:
To toggle between ChromeOS and Ubuntu use
Ctrl+Alt+Shift+Forward. Performance is actually not bad, and productivity is only an
apt install firefox away.
Other useful commands
The following commands could be useful (all issued within the ChromeOS shell):
See a list of possible distributions to install:
sh ~/Downloads/crouton -r list
Back up a chroot:
sudo edit-chroot -b name
sudo edit-chroot -r name
Delete a chroot:
sudo delete-chroot name
I’ve just cycled 500 miles to raise money for Good Hope hospital in Birmingham. I did it over a few weeks, interspersed with all the other things I usually do, which made it a lot more feasible than trying to do it over a weekend (which I also think would have killed me). 500 miles might not seem like a lot, but I had only been cycling for just over a month when I started (after 10+ years without a bike), and I knew that I would likely have to do most of that distance as part of commutes, hospital visits, shopping trips, and other scenarios that would require me to carry a lot of luggage.
The first few days were very hard. I did a lot of road cycling and quickly remembered why I had stopped cycling in the first place. I then talked to other people who cycled in Birmingham and found a couple of canal routes I wasn’t aware of. I also explored the bit of north Birmingham between Good Hope hospital and my house and found a few miles of parks that meant I could avoid the nightmare that is Sutton town centre during rush hour. This made things easier, and I did the first bit of my challenge in and around Sutton and other parts of north Birmingham, with the occasional canal adventure in the south.
I also started cycling home from work some days. It’s a 9 mile ride (8 miles of which is canal towpaths), and I initially thought it might be too far to do every day. Towards the end I did do it every day, and also cycled to work the same way a couple of days a week. Most of my last 200 miles was done this way, and I’ve found it a much more pleasant experience than cycling on the roads.
I did manage a few trips where I got to cycle for pleasure, rather than to move between two places I had to be. I’ve been to Sandwell Valley Country Park, done some of the Rea Valley route, and done a 25 mile exploration of the Grand Union Canal in blistering sunshine. I certainly plan on doing more of that sort of cycling in the near future.
When I started cycling I was carrying everything in a rucksack (largely because the first bike I used didn’t have any other storage). I’ve since switched to panniers for most trips, which reduces the strain on my back significantly, although does add width that can be a problem in some tunnels. It means I can carry a lot now though, and a weekly shop is now very much a possibility (including wine, jars of curry sauce, and other heavy/bulky things). I’m also still refining what I carry with me on a daily basis, although I have found a use for most of the tools in my bag (especially puncture repair tools), and there is probably not much I would want to discard at this point.
I’ve completed 500 miles, but I’m not stopping there. The challenge continues until September, so I’m going to keep on cycling and see how far I get (I’m hoping for at least 700 miles). I’ll be tracking my progress on the website, and am still very much interested in further sponsorship.
I’ve been maintaining an up to date list of what hardware and software I use since I discovered Uses This a few years ago. It usually lives as a page on this blog, but as I’ve rewritten 95% of it today then I think it deserves to be a blog post.
The hardware I use
Work – Surface Pro 4, with a Targus dock, two generic monitors and a Microsoft keyboard and mouse.
Home – A setup that looks superficially the same as work, but is older, has more cables, and has an excellent solar powered keyboard that is far superior to the Microsoft one I use at work. It also replaces the Surface Pro with a proper laptop, and adds a server with lots of memory that runs my (internal) WordPress sites and contains a backup of all my music. I also have a variety of small laptops and Raspberry Pis that fulfill various server and media functions, and a Synology NAS for backups. I’m trying to phase out a lot of my older computers and only use newer machines with SSDs and lots of memory, but it’s hard to let go sometimes.
Work from home – As home, but with an additional VM that allows me to connect to a remote desktop. Sometimes I’ll plug the Surface in, but that is only required for certain types of work and it’s far from my default setup now.
Travel – Chromebook, Raspberry Pi Zero, iPad (sometimes), Kindle and phone. Sometimes I’ll travel with my laptop, but that is rare. I also carry bootable USB versions of Ubuntu and Tails everywhere I go (even places I don’t take a computer). Increasingly my travel hardware also includes a bike and related tools.
The software I use
At work I’m running Windows 10. It’s ok, but I would like to be able to live without it.
At home (and whilst travelling) It’s a mix of Ubuntu, iOS, LibreElec ChromeOS and Raspbian (although I also have computers running Windows 10 and Mac OS that are rarely switched on now). Some of this is the legacy of spending the first half of 2018 trying to live with each main desktop OS for at least a month, which I must get round to writing up properly soon.
I use Firefox, Chrome and Safari on a daily basis, although Firefox has always been my main browser.
Other software I use that I feel is somewhat noteworthy includes:
WordPress – All my blogs run on WordPress, including several that are only available on my home network (including an extensive knowledge base containing all IT related things I learn). I currently maintain a WordPress multisite installation and several stand alone sites.
Evernote – I use this on every device I own (largely the web version now though), mostly to take notes in meetings and training sessions, and then to revise/reflect later. A lot of my notes are now photographs of whiteboards and other hand drawn scribbles, which Evernote handles very well.
Atom – A text editor that handles Markdown well, and can preview and export to PDF. I also use Pandoc to convert to PDF, HTML and/or .docx if required (I try not to use office software until the point I have to share what I’m working on with someone else).
Trello – I use this for my to do list, and it’s a good way to visualise the planning and execution of any task based work.
Dropbox – Cloud storage and syncing software to ensure I can access everything everywhere. I also use the text editor on the Dropbox mobile app to edit on the move.
IFTTT and Buffer – To automate as much as possible. Between them they handle a lot of the seemingly clever things in my digital life, and explain why I seem to be able to post to social media sites at times when I appear to be elsewhere.
Virtualbox – Because no-one needs as many physical computers as I had before virtualisation was a thing.
My dream setup
Maybe I’m already living the dream, but the one thing I’d really like is to go back to doing everything on one computer (ideally running Ubuntu). That was possible 10 years ago, and I’m sad that it doesn’t seem possible today. I also yearn to live the life of a nomad, with just a bike, a change of clothes, and a tiny laptop to my name.
The NHS have helped us a lot over the last few weeks. Without the NHS we would probably have remortgaged our house by now (or tried to), and we have met lots of skilled, dedicated, and above all nice people.
They are struggling though. From old computers, to inefficient processes, to an IT system that doesn’t seem to be fully joined up, there is so much that is crying out for more funding, more fixing, and a little love.
That’s why I’m cycling 500 miles and asking for £500 in sponsorship I generally hate asking for things, but it turns out when it’s not for me then I don’t mind. I in no way believe that doing this will change lives (apart from perhaps mine), but it’s one of those small things that might at least contribute to something bigger, and should at least give something back.