Films I’ve watched recently

2017 is going to be a year of watching films, largely because of the wonders of Cineworld Unlimited membership, but also because I watched far too few films in 2016. The following are the ones I watched in the first month of membership:

Rogue One

I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy this. I’m a huge Star Wars fan, but I didn’t know how much I wanted something that was set in the same universe but didn’t contain any of my favourite characters. As it turns out I think it’s my fourth favorite film in the franchise (after Empire Strikes Back, A New Hope and The Force Awakens), and I’ve already added the DVD to my wish list as I’d quite like to watch it again when I’m not dying from some sort of chest infection.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

I saw this straight after Rogue One (about 10 minutes after in fact), but it was enjoyable enough and entertained me without making me think too much. At the time that was a welcome distraction, but I suspect I’ll never watch it again until I binge watch the whole series at some undefined point in the future.

Passengers

This is a film that seems to divide opinions. Personally I liked it, and I thought it provoked some interesting moral discussions. There are things I would have changed, but the basic premise is an interesting one, and I’m not sure most of the negativity I’ve heard about it is justified (which I can’t really expand on without major spoilers).

Assassin’s Creed

I’m really not sure about this. It was ok, but probably the only example this month of something that I’m glad I didn’t really pay to see (two films a month covers membership). I also thought it was far too loud, and I found my dislike of loud noise getting in the way of my enjoyment of the film.

La La Land

I usually don’t like musicals, or films that feature a romance between the two main characters as a major plot. Passengers cured me of the second one, but La La Land pretty much dealt the killer blow on both. I love this film, and I can not only relate to both main characters, but I actually liked the music quite a lot as well. Probably the best film I’ve seen this month, and something I will definitely come back to.

Lion

“Based on a true story” explains a lot of what puzzled me about this film, and I’m sure that if it wasn’t based on a true story then a lot of things might have happened differently. That said, I really enjoyed it and while it was nothing like the trailer, it was a pleasant enough way to spend a Sunday afternoon and certainly managed to provoke a genuinely emotional reaction at times.


That’s more films than I watched in the whole of the year before (certainly at the cinema), and I’ve already got quite a long list for the next 11 months.

Building the Debian Handbook

What follows is instructions for creating a local HTML copy of the Debian Administrator’s Handbook (which is a very useful source of information for anyone working with any Debian derivative including Ubuntu and Raspian). All work related to this project was done on a Raspberry Pi Zero running Raspian, so I suspect it will work on anything running any Debian derivative (although Ubuntu 16.04 is the only other system I’ve tested this on so far).

Open up a terminal, and issue the following commands to get hold of the source code:

sudo apt install git
sudo git clone
git://anonscm.debian.org/debian-handbook/debian-handbook.git

Install the packages required for building:

sudo apt install publican publican-debian

Build the html files:

cd debian-handbook/
sudo ./build/build-html

It might take a while to build, especially on the sort of hardware I’ve been using. This might be the point to make a cup of tea.

Copy the HTML files into the root of your web server:

sudo cp -R publish/en-US/Debian/8/html/debian-handbook/ /var/www/html/

At this point you should be able to browse to the home page of the directory by navigating to the hostname or IP address of your web server.

2017 plans

It’s 2017. It’s been 2017 for a while, but as I was ill for most of the Christmas holidays, today is the first time I’ve really thought about the fact that it’s a new year, and that I’m back at work tomorrow.

I don’t really make resolutions, but I think I may be kicking off some new projects in 2017.

Towards the end of December we bought year-long Cineworld unlimited cards, which means we need to see two films per month (at least), or something like 22 or 23 over the year. We have seen three so far (in three days). Seeing films as they come out gives me something new to blog about, so I’ll likely be writing about some of them, especially if I feel I’ve got something to add that I’ve not read elsewhere.

I started using my iPad more (and my computer less) a couple of months ago, and I’m finding that to be sufficiently liberating that I might want to blog about it. I feel slightly less enthusiastic about the Surface Pro 4 I use for work now, but I may also find that there are Windows 10/Surface Pro specific things I want to blog about as well.

I plan on buying a lot less music this year, and using Spotify for pretty much everything to do with discovering and playing new music. I have my existing collection available on all my devices anyway, but this year I want Spotify to be the default way I consume music (unless it’s vinyl of course). I don’t plan on buying much more than what I get with my Rough Trade subscription (11 records, plus whatever freebies I get), although I will be putting things I really like on my wish list around birthday and Christmas time (so June and December). My hope is that I’ll spend a lot less on music, and will also get to spend more time with things I do buy. As a. result of this I won’t be posting monthly lists of things I’ve listened to, but might start writing about specific things in more depth. Today I bought a new perspex box that will fit around 20 records in it, and that should be all my music-related storage needs sorted for this year (which is just as well as I’m running out of space).

I didn’t do a great deal of socialising for most of 2016, for a variety of reasons. I don’t really have a plan to fix this, although starting a new job a month ago has already shaken things up a little in that respect and it’s quite possible that it will sort itself out organically. If nothing else, I’m going to be going to the cinema a lot more this year, which is a step in the right direction.

I might of course do none of these things and do something else instead, but I thought it was worth a statement of intent at the start of the year.

New Music – December 2016

In December I seem to have split my time between starting a new job and being ill. Neither of these are conducive to discovering new music. I did manage to stumble upon a few things though.

Childish Gambino – “Awaken My Love”
J. Cole – 4 Your Eyez Only
Run the Jewels – Run The Jewels 3
Brian Eno – Reflection
Nine Inch Nails – Not the Actual Event

This will be my last monthly roundup for a while. I’ve not quite finalised what my blogging in 2017 will look like, although I expect it will involve albums of the month, a lot more writing about films I’ve seen, and perhaps more about using an iPad for the vast majority of my online life.

Albums of the year 2016

As always, I’ve listened to a lot of new music this year. It’s been my second year of collecting vinyl, and my second (and last) year of blogging about my monthly discoveries (2017 is likely to be a little too busy to commit to that for another year). This year I’ve split my choices into three categories – my top 10 albums by how many times I’ve played them, my top 10 vinyl purchases, and a selection of other things I’ve listened to this year that I really like.

Top 10 from Last.fm

I’ve used last.fm to track my listening habits for the past 10 years. Whilst it doesn’t track anything I listen to on vinyl (or in fact CD), it does cover everything I’ve listened to on my computer, my phone and my iPad, on a variety of different music players. The following albums are my top 10 based on that criteria, although it should be noted that I also own the Unloved album on vinyl so there is a chance I’ve actually listened to it more than anything else this year.

She Makes War – Direction of Travel
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Shearwater – Jet Plane and Oxbow
Unloved – Guilty of Love
Tortoise – The Catastrophist
PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project
Frightened Rabbit – Painting of a Panic Attack
Jesu & Sun Kil Moon – Jesu/Sun Kil Moon
Yorkston/Thorne/Khan – Everything Sacred
The Wedding Present – Going Going

What strikes me about this list is that there are a lot of familiar names there, and I’ve listened to (and written about) most of these artists a lot in the past. The two new names on this list are She Wakes War (my favourite record of the year, and one that reminds me a lot of Trouble Will Find Me by The National in both subject matter and my general emotional response to it) and Unloved (one of several “supergroup” records in my list this year, and one that I keep coming back to).

10 more that I’ve played a lot on vinyl

I started collecting vinyl again two years ago, and these are the ten records from 2016 that I keep coming back to (along with the Unloved album which I’ve already mentioned). It’s interesting to note that only one of these (Black Mountain’s IV) is a double album, and I’m now fairly sure that having something spread across more than one record does limit how much I listen to it.

Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
Minor Victories – Minor Victories
Angel Olsen – My Woman
Black Mountain – IV
Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve – The Soft Bounce
Pixies – Head Carrier
Wild Beasts – Boy King
D.D Dumbo – Utopia Defeated
RM Hubbert – Telling The Trees
The Magnetic North – Prospect of Skelmersdale

This list probably owes a lot to the fact that I get sent one record a month by Rough Trade, and definitely features more newer artists, and debut records. I loved the idea of Minor Victories before I even heard the record (and hearing it didn’t change that), and I really didn’t expect another good Iggy Pop record (and certainly not one that good). There isn’t really a filler track on any of these, and all come highly recommended.

My favourite records of the year (that I’ve not already mentioned)

This is very much the best of the rest, and also a few things I’ve not played that often, but would still say are my favourite records of the year.

Brian Eno – The Ship
BadBadNotGood – IV
Conor Oberst – Ruminations
Bon Ivor – 22, A Million
Charlie Hilton – Palana
Moby and the Void Pacific Choir – These Systems Are Failing
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos
Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
Banks – The Alter
Melanie De Biasio – Blackened Cities
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Okkervil River – Away
James Blake – The Colour in Anything
Steve Mason – Meet the Humans
Knifeworld – Bottled out of Eden
Blixa Bargeld & Teho Teardo – Nerissimo
Shirley Collins – Lodestar
Cate Le Bon – Crab Day
Riley Walker – Golden Sings That Have Been Sung
Childish Gambino – “Awaken My Love”
Anderson .Paak – Malibu
Anohni – Hopelessness
DJ Shadow – The Mountain Will Fall
Wire – Nocturnal Koreans

This last list is much more diverse, with a lot of rap and R’n’B, a little jazz, and a fair few things that defy classification. I think it’s a fair representation of my listening habits over the last year though.

New Music – November 2016

I have discovered lots of interesting music in November, including the long lost Sea Nymphs album that was recorded in 1991 but only released this year (and which can be bought from the Cardiacs store). There was also a surprising electronic Lambchop record and an equally surprisingly angry Moby record.

The Sea Nymphs – On The Dry Land
Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions – Until The Hunter
Sleaford Mods – TCR
Marie Davidson – Adieux Au Dancefloor
Lambchop – Flotus
Moby and the Void Pacific Choir – These Systems Are Failing
The Sweet Release of Death – The Sweet Release of Death.
Emily Reo – Spell 10″

New job, new biographies

I start a new job on Thursday. I’ll still be working for the University, but for a different department and on a different project. I’m currently at home using up the holiday I carried over from last year, and I’ve set aside today to update all publicly available biographies and blurbs to reflect this change, and also to try and ensure that Linkedin and Facebook represent my updated professional and personal networks.

As part of this I’ve updated the about me section of this blog, plus the pages I maintain on what I’m currently working on and what hardware and software I’m using. I suspect all of these will see further revision once I’ve started, but they are at least more accurate than they were.

Using an iPad as a primary computer

There’s been a lot of talk on the internet over the last couple of weeks from people who were planning on buying a new Macbook Pro who have instead decided to move most (or all) of their workflow over to some sort of tablet (usually an iPad Pro). While I’m not quite there yet, I do find myself using my computer less and my iPad more, and I thought it was worth exploring exactly what it is that would stop me making this sort of switch.

As far as I can work out, the things I still need a computer for are downloading and managing music, ripping/converting CDs/DVDs, converting markdown into .docx (and possibly some other formats, although I have solutions for html and pdf now), and web development/Wordpress work.

Of these, the first one requires macOS/Windows because of the integration with iTunes (and only because of that). I don’t want to stop using my iPhone/iPad though, and I buy new music very regularly, and want to be able to listen to it on the move.

The second one can be done on any computer that can be connected to a USB CD drive (which I already own), will run handbrake and that has enough storage space. I probably wouldn’t try this on a Raspberry Pi, but anything else would work.

The third one I can do on anything that can run Pandoc, so any computer that can handle the first two tasks will handle the third.

The fourth one I can do on any Mac/Linux computer. I already have a Linux solution working, and could even use a Raspberry Pi at a push (I’ve already set up a basic environment on a Pi II).

That’s actually not a lot. All my writing, blogging and social media works fine (in some cases better) on my iPad, and Microsoft Office also works well (and integrates nicely with both Sharepoint and Dropbox).

Right now my two most utilised computers are the iPad and the Pi that I use for watching TV shows. Nothing else comes close, and my desktop computers only really get any sort of serious use during weekends/holidays. Maybe there is more milage in this than I thought.

Back to the 80s

Yesterday appeared to be 1980s day. I created a playlist the day before called rediscoveries and listened to it for most of the day (with a brief break to listen to Hope Sandoval’s new record on vinyl). I can’t remember the last time I listened to Tears for Fears, OMD, Ultravox, Japan, Simple Minds, Furniture and The Associates, but it’s the sort of music that takes me back to childhood the moment I hear it. Other things from this era have stuck with me in the years that followed, but there is quite a lot about the 1980s that I very much left in the 1980s, as I left home, moved to a new city, and reinvented myself in the way people do when they go to University. Maybe in a few years time I’ll be ready to revisit the 1990s through a filter of nostalgia, but for now I’m content with enjoying music that sounded dated 20 years ago but that now sounds surprisingly contemporary.

Getting up and running with a CHIP

Tonight I finally received two CHIP boards (sort of a cross between a Raspberry Pi and a Pi Zero). I’d kickstarted these about a year ago and totally forgotten about it, so it was a nice surprise. Whenever I get my hands on something like this the first challenge is to power it up, boot an operating system, and see what it will do.

What follows is one way to get one of these devices powered up, connected to a wifi network, and with access to a graphical desktop. These instructions will work on macOS and Linux, for Windows there may be a need to consult the manual to get the relevant type of terminal access.

The only thing you’ll need (apart from the CHIP itself) is a microUSB cable. As an avid Raspberry Pi enthusiast I have quite a few of these lying about so there was no additional expense. Plug the small end of the cable into the relevant slot on the CHIP and the other end into a spare USB port on your computer. You’ll then need to see what device name your computer has assigned your CHIP by issuing the following command in a terminal window:

ls /dev/tty*

Find the output that looks something like /dev/tty.usbmodemFD1223 and make a note of it. Then issue the following command (replacing my device name with whatever yours is):

screen /dev/tty.usbmodemFD1223 115200

At that point you should get a login prompt. Log in as user chip with password chip (yes, I know). At that point you should find yourself logged into a fairly minimal Debian installation.

As yet there is no network, but as the CHIP has wifi then we can set this up fairly easily. In the logged in terminal session enter the following:

sudo nmcli device wifi connect '(your wifi network name/SSID)' password '(your wifi password)' ifname wlan0

The output should be something like:

Connection with UUID 'e9e45ce8-9961-4116-a7eb-d526e60af3ee' created and activated on device 'wlan0'

At this point you should have a network connection. Test it by doing some software updates:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade

When you’re done (it might take a while) install xrdp to allow you to initiate remote desktop connections to the CHIP:

sudo apt-get install xrdp

Once that is done, create a new RDP connection using your client of choice. Find out the IP address using ifconfig or just use the name chip.local, enter the username and password, and you should see a graphical desktop with an application menu and a fair few applications.

I’ve also had some success plugging an ethernet adaptor into the CHIP’s USB port and connecting via ssh, but on most occasions the device powered down before I could do anything useful with it. This is the same setup I use with my Raspberry Pi Zero, so I know it theoretically works, but I need to investigate how much power the adaptor is drawing as it looks like the device is struggling to power it.