29 Dec

new year, new thought

A nice thing about the christmas holidays is that it really gives you a little time to think. In between the mad rush to visit relatives and spread joy, etc, there are sometimes quiet moments where it is possible to sit and consider the past and future.

I was considering my current circumstances and how stable they are, and decided that they are not adequate to what I really want at this age.

For instance, if I was to lose everything I own, it would take very little to get me back to a stage where I was living similarly to how I am living right now. My total possessions (apart from very minor items) include a few hundred videos, a few hundred CDs, ditto DVDs and books, some clothes and some computers. I rarely use the media anymore, as it’s all in my head, I am not happy with the clothes anyway, and I can easily replace the computers with more powerful models at a few days notice.

So – I made a decision to improve my lot this year. Call it a resolution, if you want. There are very few things that I truly want out of life. The more important ones are:

  • A house that I can call my own.
  • Transport that I can call my own.
  • No bills.

The easiest to do of the above is the first one, even if it is the most expensive. The reason for that is that it is incredibly difficult to live without bills without compromising your state of living, and no car is ever really “owned” (think insurance, tax, fuel costs, etc). A house may be very expensive, but once it is owned, I believe that’s about it.

So, my resolution this year is to try get a mortgage for a house.

A very nice thing about a mortgage is that no matter how much you spend on it, it is not “dead money”. When you pay rent, the money disappears into a black hole, and is never seen again – if you pay, say, 200 euro per week on rent, then that’s 200 per week that you will never see again.

On the other hand, when you pay 200 euro towards a mortgage, that is now 200 euro of solid property that you own. You have not lost the money; you have merely transformed it into a building.

In twenty years, with rent, you will not have accomplished anything. For about the same price per week, though, with a mortgage, you will be a quarter of a million euro (or whatever) richer.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Another nice thing is that you don’t have to stick with the house you buy through mortgage. If, for example, you can only afford an 80,000 euro mortgage, and you buy a house with that, and five years later you can afford a larger house, then you can sell up the percentage of the old house that you own, and transfer that to a new mortgage. Great, isn’t it!?

It’s a definite plan for ourselves. We live in a crummy little cottage which has ill-fitting doors, practically no electrics, a field of mud for a garden, and is two miles of walking from the nearest town. Anything would be better than this, and if we don’t like where we go, we can always get another place in five years.

29 Dec

recovering from a dodgy upgrade

Had a bit of a hair-raiser today. I ran an apt-get update; apt-get upgrade today on my two main home machines (both run Fedora), and got a bit of a thrill when the big one, Monolith, which my GF fiancee uses (may her pointy boots stay far from my shins), refused to boot!

The main difference between before and after the upgrade seems to have been a udev package, which replaces the old dev.

The problem manifested itself by the machine running through the Grub boot, then apparently freezing after a line that read:

Red Hat nash version 3.5.22 starting

After a bit of googling, I found that more information can be gotten by removing the “quiet” and “rhgb” (or something) options from the kernel init string in the Grub startup.

Anyway – to cut a long story short, here’s what was happening:

Between Fedora Core 2 and Fedora Core 3, the system was changed to use a udev instead of dev system to access hardware. Something about new dynamic loading or something. Nope, I don’t know either…

However, the dependencies for the new udev RPM do not mention that you also need to upgrade your kernel at the same time to use the new system (the Fedora Core 2 kernel does not load up the udev module, I guess), and that failing to do so will break your system.


  • Boot from your Fedora boot disc.
  • Load up the rescue image (type linux rescue and hit enter) when you are asked which image to use.
  • Type chroot /mnt/sysimage when booted, to boot into your system.
  • Now, type apt-get install kernel. A list of options will be presented. Choose the one which fits your system best and has the highest version number. I chose kernel-2.6.9-1.681_FC3.
  • Install the new kernel. In my case it was apt-get install kernel#2.6.9-1.681_FC3.
  • Also in my case, the install fsked up, in that it did not create an entry in /boot/grub/grub.conf for the new kernel. So, edit it, and add a new entry. In my case, I added these to the end of the file:
    title Fedora Core 3 (2.6.9-1.681_FC3)
            root (hd0,0)
            kernel /boot/vmlinuz-2.6.9-1.681_FC3 ro root=LABEL=/1 rhgb quiet
            initrd /boot/initrd-2.6.9-1.681_FC3.img
  • Reboot, making sure to remove the boot CD. When the Grub screen comes up, choose the new kernel.
  • That should work fine. If all is well, then edit /boot/grub/grub.conf again, and change the default to the new setup.
18 Dec

dm arpeggios made simple

I was doing my daily practise routine and grumbling about how difficult it was to get the D note to sound cleanly on the third string when using the pinky to bridge two strings at the same time in a Dm arpeggio:

   1  4  1  4  4  1  1  1     4  1  1  1  4  4  1  4
|| ---------------------10- | 13-10------------------- ||
|| ------------------10---- | ------10---------------- ||
|| ---------------10------- | ---------10------------- ||
|| ------------12---------- | ------------12---------- ||
|| ------8--12------------- | ---------------12-8----- ||
|| 5--10------------------- | ---------------------10- ||

So, here’s an easier way that doesn’t use so much bridging:

   1  1  4  1  1  4  1  1     4  1  1  4  1  1  4  1
|| ---------------------10- | 13-10------------------- ||
|| ------------------10---- | ------10---------------- ||
|| ------------7--10------- | ---------10-7----------- ||
|| ---------7-------------- | ---------------7-------- ||
|| ---5--8----------------- | ------------------8--5-- ||
|| 5----------------------- | ------------------------ ||

Note the pattern “1 1 4” in the left fingers. It may seem kind of strange moving from the 10th fret using the pinky to another 10th fret using the index, but I find this to be a very simple way of doing this arpeggio. I also use a similar shift for other arpeggios – it allows you to use a simple pattern of the left hand and simple slide the hand around the fretboard as needed.

16 Dec

UL-collapse Bookmarklet

I only noticed this today, but Nathan Young wrote a handy bookmarklet based on one of my scripts. It allows you to easily collapse very large UL trees into a handy, navigable tree.

For instance, take this page. It looks a little messy. It’s readable, but messy. Now, right-click on this link, and add it as a bookmark. Now, go back to the site map, and click on the bookmark – easier to navigate!

Thanks, Nathan – very nice bookmarklet.

12 Dec

are omniscience and consciousness compatible?

This may be rubbish, so if you’re not into “what if” scenarios, then go somewhere else.

I was thinking of the difference between these two sentences:

I could never grow tired of watching that.

If I’ve seen that once, I’ve seen it a thousand times.

Naturally, my mind started ticking, and I started pushing the above to extremes. It’s obvious from experience that everything gets a little boring after time, even things you are currently interested in. Eventually, you lose interest in these things, as there is nothing new to be learned from them.

For example, I’m a fan of Nine Inch Nails, and have been since their 1988 (IIRC) album Pretty Hate Machine. However, I don’t enjoy listening to the album as much now as I used to – after 16 years of listening, the novelty is wearing thin. If you take that to extremes, in fifty years, I will only listen to it one every few years, and in a thousand years, I’d probably be satisfied with just the memory of it.

Anyway – what I’m getting at is that all things eventually fade into boredom – be it after one experience of it, or a thousand.

Now, consider what happens if you are omniscient, or you have an enormously long lifespan and a perfect memory. Everything you, or anyone else does will have consequences that you can predict from past experiences. There will be no novelty in anything, as you will have experienced everything, or will already know what will happen as a consequence of every action that is taken.

So – I was considering that scenario, and how it might affect a conscious person. I came to the conclusion that any conscious person, after being subjected to perfect memory for a long time, or omniscience for any time at all, will lose sense of “self” – as every action and reaction will be totally predictable, there will be no sense of free will, and so the person will become a mere actor in a dream-like drama. A serious consequence of this is that the person will not have the power to consciously make a decision. This person will always know which path to take in all eventualities, so there will be no thought involved – just memory.

What this means to the average human is not much, at the moment, but in the future, when long lives are commonplace, and memories are much improved, it may become a problem.

I predict that a solution that will become very popular in those days will be total-submersion games, where the person loses all memory of “reality”, and lives a life from beginning to end in a virtul reality. This is ominous, really, as there is no real way to prove that this is not already taking place at this moment – how can you tell that you are just who you think you are, and that once you die, you will not awake into a “higher” reality with memories of another life? It’s an interesting thought… Obviously, this is similar to that described by the Matrix films, but that doesn’t make it any less possible.

This idea also would allow for the cuckoo ideas such as regression (imperfect removal of previous memories), after-life experiences (waking up and deciding to continue the “game” just a bit more), rebirth (obvious), and even more outlandish ideas such as angels (“messengers” from reality) and aliens (who says you have to play a human?).

Ignoring the above paragraph, consider what it might also mean for religion – if an omniscient being cannot make conscious decisions, then it is impossible for the following two statements to be true at the same time:

  • God created the universe.
  • God is omniscient.

Of course, I’m biased, in that I don’t believe in an ultimate creator of the universe, but I think it’s interesting to play thought games where everything is at least possible, even if improbable.

Then again, it does support the idea that the universe was created by an unconscious being – ie: itself…

Feel free to laugh now.

08 Dec

Jareth's progress

The little tyke is about 15 months old now, and starting to become a menace to society.

Recently, he’s started taking steps, but usually, he plops down and speeds along on all fours. Correction: he “canters” along – similar to how a show horse canters; head held high, arms bouncing high into the air, sudden movements. When he wants to get somewhere quickly, though, he puts the head down and turns into a small train.

He still hasn’t bothered talking. I know he is capable of the sounds, but the nearest he comes to anything yet is “Mammmm…” screamed out when Bronwyn leaves the room.

He can now climb. Two or three times a day, he climbs up next to Bronwyn when she’s sitting on her couch knitting. He also has his own armchair, which he manages to climb into. As the adage says, though; “what goes up must come down” – he has fallen sometimes after his climbs. The thought of him falling backwards onto his head from a height is heart-stopping, so I’m thankful that we live in a cottage, and not a two-storey building, but he still manages to roll off the couch, railroad off the bed, fall off his armchair.

Technology-wise, he keeps bashing my keyboard, and grabbing Bronwyn’s mouse. We let him do what he wants to the TV and video, so sometimes we come across him standing in front of it watching Bear In The Big Blue House (he knows how to work the video player). Disturbingly, he woke me up on Sunday by blaring football from the box…

In general, he’s very healthy and inquisitive, and very intelligent. …Of course, I am his dad, so I may be biased!

07 Dec

guitar practice

As some people might know, I’m a bit of a guitarist. I’d not practiced in a very long time, though, so it was painful to recently pick up the guitar and hear how my playing had degraded.

In the last few weeks, though, I’ve practiced at least a half hour every day and can hear myself improving – and can also measure it.

One reason I found it so easy to stop using the guitar over the last few years is that, whenever I picked it up, I would not know what to play. I would find myself playing the same stuff over and over. Satriani’s Tears In The Rain, Albeniz Isaac’s Leyenda, and Francisco Tarrega’s Recuardos De La Alhambra being some favourites.

Much as I like those tunes, I’m really a speed guitarist at heart. I like to work at tunes such as Steve Vai’s Eugene’s Trick Bag (good tab, by the way!), Cacophony’s Speed Metal Symphony and Yngwie Malmsteen’s Black Star.

Those songs (search for the MIDI files) are incredibly difficult to play. You need to be a very dedicated practicer.

Fortunately, I’ve found a practice method that seems to work for me.

Instead of aimlessly plucking away with no particular goal in mind, or launching into the deep end of a fast lick, I break down tunes I want to learn into very short segments – usually only one or two bars in length. Then, write them into a MIDI sequencer (I use Rosegarden, but you could use Cakewalk or Cubase if you’re not using Linux), and start practicing.

Now, here is the important part. No matter how well you think you know something, always start practicing it very slowly. I write my practice segments in semi-quavers, with a 90 bpm, which is fairly simple to play, even with the trickiest tunes. Once you’ve written the segment, copy it and paste it about 15-20 times, until it’s a minute or two in length. Make sure to quantise the notes afterwards so the notation isn’t all screwed up!

Once you have a list of practice segments, write them into a spreadsheet. For example, here are five I am working on at the moment:

  • A Major scale
  • String-skipping exercise (Total Guitar magazine 130, page 10)
  • A Minor arpeggio
  • E7 Arpeggio
  • A Harmonic Minor arpeggio

Once you have the list, it is time to go through them one by one.

Look at the first riff. Play the riff once. Is it comfortable? Could you use a different fingering easier? The E7 Arpeggio mentioned above, for instance, is the second arpeggio in Steve Vai’s “Eugene’s Trick Bag”. There are a few different ways of playing that. I found a comfortable one after trying out a few variations, and that has helped me immensely.

Hit “play” on your sequencer. Let the first copy of the practice riff play through without you copying it. This will set it into your mind. Now, play along with the rest, being very careful to pick the notes cleanly, and fret the notes so they ring clearly.

If you think you played it very easily and clearly, then select all the bars, and increase the tempo by one beat. For instance, increase it from 90 to 91. Then, play it once again.

If you made any mistakes or think it was a bit muffled, then leave the speed as it is, but play it through once more, trying to keep it clear.

If you found it bloody impossible to play, then reduce it by one beat (90 to 89, for example), and try to play it again. Don’t worry about it – it will get to a speed that you can play eventually.

Once you’ve finished with the first riff, carry on to the second, then the third, etc. With the five exercises above, for example, I’m usually finished a run through them after about twenty minutes.

Make sure to note the bpm that you end up with for each riff. Place these numbers in a column of your spreadsheet next to the exercise’s name. You can use these numbers to track how well you are progressing day by day.

Don’t over-practice. It should be sufficient to go through the above exercise’s once per day. Speed will come gradually, and it will be very comfortable and effortless when it does.