Desert Island Discs

didA colleague recently asked for suggestions for music which got me thinking that everyone should at least have a rough idea of what to play were they ever to be invited onto Roy Plomley’s Desert Island Discs. Now, it’s a vanity to even momentarily entertain the idea that one is of sufficient public interest to be invited onto this great British Radio programme, but that didn’t stop me preparing my list. Here it is.

The rules

The rules of being cast away on the imaginary island might seem a little anachronistic in this digital age but they boil down to these: you’re allowed 8 discs – tracks, in the modern vernacular – and the means to play them, presumably mechanical as there is no source of power for electronic devices. Concessions are that you can take with you a holy or philosophical book, the complete works of Shakespeare and one other book, plus one luxury item, provided that it doesn’t aid your escape from the island.

First two discs

The first disc sent me back to Letchworth, where I grew up in a house full of music. My mother sang all her life until age overtook her vocal cords. She still has the same passion for music, particularly Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto number 2, which would often play as I took my weekly bath on a Sunday evening. Mum is and always was a girl who liked fun, however, and was as likely to be found lost in a boogie-woogie – her favourite being Down the road a piece. My first two discs reflect my mother’s influence, therefore: the first, a classical masterpiece rendered by Isao Tomita electronically to great effect, especially from about 5 min 30 sec, where the effect of percussion leading in a sweeping chorus still moves me as much now as when I first heard it 35 years ago.

1. Tomita: Pavane (Ravel) from the album Daphnis & Chloe 1979

The second of my desert island discs is possibly the best blues track I ever heard. I played this as a teenager, over and over again, and have never tired of hearing it. From Fleetwood Mac’s early years, it was the B side to Albatross, another instrumental that showed the expressive power of the electric guitar in the hands of a master – in this case, Peter Green, and on my second disc, Danny Kirwan. Catch the contrast between the blue notes and the happy middle eight.

2. Jigsaw Puzzle Blues – Fleetwood Mac

The guitar is an instrument I have been playing for almost fifty years. I’m still pretty mediocre, despite a period as a professional bass player.

Guitars, voices and songs

I wondered if I might take a guitar with me to the island. In the interests of not driving myself crazy with frustration and rage at my own inability to play as well as I’d like, it will be better that I don’t. Instead, a track featuring one of my favourite guitarists of all time, Ritchie Blackmore. The band Deep Purple produced the most incredible quality music, not least due to the influence of Jon Lord. In my time as a bass player, I owned a Rickenbacker that was supposed to have belonged to Roger Glover of the same band. The vocalist Ian Gillan is most closely associated with Deep Purple, but for me, the greatest voice for Blackmore’s guitar belonged to David Coverdale. Here they both are, doing what they both do best.

3. Soldier of Fortune – Deep Purple (Stormbringer)

My work took me around the world, where I would often be working shifts in the air-conditioned sterility of the computer room, waiting for code to compile and link. In the splendid isolation of those places, I often listened to cassette tapes through headphones, loud. One artist that accompanied me in that place during an extended trip to Seattle was Joni Mitchell, whose album Blue was played end to end, stopping only half way through to turn the tape around. My island disc from that album features the delicious sound of the Appalachian Dulcimer.

4. A Case of You – Joni Mitchell

Songs of significance

I have never hung on to my career at all costs, preferring to recognise that a point has been reached where further progress is impossible, further contribution wasted and that a new path beckons. These points have often featured significant songs or music and the next track is an example. I used it as the introduction to a corporate presentation shortly before I left the corporation.

5. That’s what I’ll do – Robert Cray

In a similar way, I found the music of Omar Faruk Tekbilek to be significant, drawn as I was at the time to Islam. As Muhammad Bilal, I spent a number of years with that faith and as part of that community, the Ummah. The imam at my local mosque had a beautiful singing voice and would often lead the singing of a naat, a poem in praise of the Prophet. One in particular, I still sometimes catch myself singing the chorus of: Mustafa Jaan-e-Rehmat Pe Laakhon Salaam.

“Islam” means “peace” and I found a peace here that I hadn’t experienced before, in the prayer and the respect for all, men and women, “sons of Abraham”, for nature, for knowledge and science. It breaks my heart to see how the great religion that Islam is, can be so sullied by the actions of lunatics, dead cultural habits and the ignorant. Here, the music and lyrics of Omar Faruk Tekbilek are evocative of a place of peace for the Muslim, particularly the spiritual Sufi, a garden.

6. Manhem – Omar Faruk Tekbilek

Growing up

I have now spent a significant part of my adult life in Scotland. I consider it to be my home, with all of its strange cultures and heritages, most of which are imports. The pipes, originating as they did in Egypt, are perhaps iconic for Scottish culture and there is nothing so stirring as hearing the massed pipes and drums of a decent rendering of Highland Cathedral. The tune is, of course, written by a couple of Germans, which I think is funny. I don’t want any of that on the island. What I will have is a single track by Matt Rach, a young French guitarist whose talent I am insanely jealous of and whose music, whether covers or his own material, is quite exceptionally, furiously, good. This one will do: it’s his cover of the theme from Rosemary’s Baby.

7. Rosemary’s Baby Theme – Matt Rach

Immortality

My final track seems to the perfect synthesis of the music I have loved the most, crossing cultural, religious and national boundaries in a way that digs deep into my psyche. I can do nothing when I hear this but close my eyes and listen to it. It was written by the cellist Joceyln Pook for Akram Khan’s DESH, a full-length contemporary dance solo. I have never seen the dance. I like to think that this unresolved rift in the balance of harmony in my life makes me immortal.

8. Ave Maria (DESH): Jocelyn Pook

The book

I am free of God now but recognise the value of values and the power of prayer. There is no peace like the peace of the mosque; no hope so vain as the hope of salvation; no service but that which is given unconditionally and without recognition. That said, I have no need of the religious or philosophical Book: neither the Bible nor Qu’ran are any use to me now. If I need fiction, I have the complete works of Shakespeare, altogether more credible a read.

I was thinking that I might take for my own choice Sun Tzu’s Art of War. If I have nobody to fight a war with but myself it may offer a route to greater self-awareness. However, I have settled on a brilliant little book that will keep me occupied and mentally stimulated until I am rescued from the island: The Chicken from Minsk: And 99 Other Infuriating Brainteasers. I was recommended this book several years ago and finally bought one, second-hand, for a penny. To give you a flavour of the book, from the back cover:

Besides chess playing and problem solving, drinking is and always has been the most common form of recreation in Russia. Vassily has acquired a 12 litre bucket of vodka and wishes to share it with Pyotr. However, all Pyotr has is an empty 8 litre bottle and an empty 5 litre bottle. How can the vodka be divided evenly?

The Luxury item and the One Disc I’d Save

I was considering an Appalachian Dulcimer, so that I could learn to play “A Case of You” – the one disc I would save from the waves if I had to – but realised that I would probably break the strings quite quickly. A longer-lasting luxury, depending on how much I am permitted to have of this, would be writing and sketching materials. Writing is the one thing I have never tired of: and when I do, I tend to sketch. Not very well, but like the guitar playing, well enough for my own entertainment.

Which is probably good news for the other inhabitants of the island.

MacBook Memory Storage upgrade

Noticing the performance of my 5-year-old MacBook Pro was becoming – well, noticeable, I thought it might be time to replace it. The trouble with that is cost. That, and the inconvenience of it. I asked around some of my Mac buddies, did a bit of googling (other search engines are available, but nobody uses them), and sought advice from the Apple Store. The hive mind seemed to favour and recommend an increase in RAM and a replacement of the hard drive with a solid state drive (SSD). Here’s how it went.

1. Backup/clone

The first thing I had to do was create a copy of all the files on my 256GB internal hard drive. The drive was running with about 75GB unused spaceIMG_2699 but I had a 256GB external USB hard drive available for this purpose. You can buy USB enclosures for about a fiver which would allow you to clone your old hard drive straight to your new SSD but I took the intermediate step because I wanted to tread carefully and also create a backup of the drive and settings, something I hadn’t properly done before. I am a regular backer-upper of my files, sometimes keeping several redundant copies of important things. The backup tool of choice is Bombich’s Carbon Copy Cloner. I like this software because (a) it works, (b) it anticipates the user’s possible lack of caution or experience and (c) helps the user do the right thing. There’s a 30-day trial available but if you’re spending money on an upgrade, why not include the just-under-thirty-quid full licence as part of your budget and get a decent backup solution while you’re at it?

2. Buy the right bits

The Apple Store people were quite clear and unhesitant in telling me that Crucial Memory is the place to buy your upgraded memory chips and drives. There is a config checker tool on their site that will tell you what you need and guarantee it’s right if you buy from them. If you’re certain that it was 2009 when you bought your Mac, then you might not need this. I was certain but used the tool anyway. I was impressed with the speed of service and delivery from Crucial. Ordering late on Wednesday night and not paying extra for faster postage, the new drive and memory dropped through my letterbox on Friday morning.

IMG_2700IMG_2701

3. Replace

The replacement is pretty straightforward. The back of the MBP is retained by 10 cross-head screws (you’ll need instrument screwdIMG_2702rivers), 3 of which are longer than the rest. Remember where they go. I recommend that you read about and follow good static discharge protection procedures, before you fry anything electronic and sensitive. The big yellow sticker is trying to tell you that. I used a bonding wrist strap that I connected to the case of the laptop and generally tried hard not to touch anything metal at all.

The memory cards are held in their slots by two plastic clips, one on each side, that you pull aside to allow the card to pop up for easy removal. The second card slot on my MBP is under the first.

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Make sure you align the new memory cards correctly before trying to press them into the holder. There is a notch in the connector side which requires you to put it in the correct way round. On mine the notch is to the left of centre. If you refer to the top image of the new memory, you’ll see this meant that I had to put the memory in with that “Crucial” label facing down (i.e. on the keyboard side).

IMG_2705

The HDD came out easily enough. There are two retaining brackets held in by a total of four cross-head screws. You can only see one clearly in the picture, at the bottom left. Remove these and disconnect the HDD carefully. For some reason there was a rubber blind washer in the case by this connector (see picture). I have no idea why. I have put it back where it was.

The HDD is fitted with four spigots which are needed for the new SSD. They are Torx screws, of a size I do not have the tool for, so I removed them with pliers and installed them in the SSD the same way. Reassembly is the reverse of what you’ve done so far.

4. Restore

Once your MBP is back in one piece, so to speak, you will need to boot it from the external clone if you made one, or straight from the new SSD if you didn’t take that step. If like me, you used the external clone, then you have another couple of hours to wait while you clone onto the new SSD.

5. Outcomes

What I have now is the same MBP as before only a lot faster and quieter. The fan did run fast for the first hour or two of operation but this is partly due to Google Drive getting its knickers in a twist. GDrive cannot cope with moving your GDrive folder to a different place – it has to start from scratch, synching from the web. Yet another good reason not to use GDrive. Dropbox needs you to log in again. Copy.com just copes.

Some of your file associations will have reverted to default settings in the process of setting up partitions on the clone. Apart from that, it looks exactly the same as it did before but somehow feels new. Browsing, email and compiling are all noticeably faster.

Thanks to those who steered me in the right direction; also to CarbonCopy and to Crucial for great products and customer support.

6. Next steps

Next? Probably a new battery. Even with the low-energy SSD, I’m probably down to about 3 or 4 hours maximum use from my five-year old battery which has been asking for service for months.

Declaration of Independence

Hoots, mon, old chap.
Hoots, mon, old chap.

A while ago, an old friend from my Sussex days posted on Facebook, “When are you coming home?”. My response, to the applause of the crowd, was, “I am home”. I love Scotland, or at least parts of it, and she has been quite kind to me since I came here in 1991 for what I had intended to be a maximum of 6 months.

I migrated involuntarily to Scotland 23 years ago out of economic necessity. My pedigree is not dissimilar to your average mongrel although I do have strong roots back 200 years through my American father’s line to the Hoods of Dumfries. I am as proud of my heritage as I am of anything else I have no control over, like my height. “Proud” in the sense that I recognise it as my good fortune and something I should (and do) take full advantage of.

Something else I inherited from my father was his intolerance of pretension, although I think I can run with a line so far, before rebelling (this trait from the Bourne family, my mother’s genetic base). This is what I often refer to as the “F*ck it” point.

I have reached this point in the debate over Scotland’s independence. Listening carefully to both sides of the argument, I have found no imperative nor evidence to support the action of severing the leg we stand on in the United Kingdom. Neither the leg nor the amputee would fare well, although I suspect that the economic reality of our population distribution, one-eighth of it in London and 91% not in the metaphorical leg, the UK-not-including-Scotland will survive.

The vote in September is going to be made with people’s heads, hearts and the (m)asses.

To intellectualise the argument, there is no economic or political advantage for Scotland to cede from the rest of the UK: our UK research investment, world investment, finance investment, European investment would be damaged substantially. Alec Salmond, clever cookie that he might be, has failed to convince anyone’s head that a Yes vote is in anyone’s interests.

Hearts will be bursting with nationalistic emotion, the halls and glens still echoing to the skirl of pipes and the choruses of “Caledonia” and “Flùr na h-Alba” at the end of the Glasgow games and the SNP will be hoping for a “games effect”  just in time for the referendum in September.

Finally, there is, despite all the hype, door-knocking, state-funded leafleting and propaganda, the most powerful political force of all: the disinterest of the masses. Here is the greatest vote, if not actually for the status quo, but against the change in it. For same reason I didn’t engage with the rubbish waiter in the rubbish restaurant I had lunch in yesterday when he asked if everything was all right, people don’t feel sufficiently interested in revolution or changing things for the better to engage in the argument. This is why you see a predominance of “Yes” stickers all over the place. There is the sense that to dissent from the nationalist zeitgeist is somehow anti-Scottish, not something to be in times of Nationalist fervour.

Well, I am at the F*ck it point with this debate. Blame my breeding. I am going to vote against independence: because I love Scotland (parts of it); because there’s no argument for it that even remotely sounds convincing to me; because as part of the UK, Scotland punches above its weight and I like that; and because it’s right to stand up against Nationalism in this insidious form. I declare my independence.

WordPress Redirect Loop

WordPress is a brilliant tool, probably the best of the CMSs – Google says so – but every now and then it can stop you in your tracks. It did this today as I was setting up a new site for Marc Walker, the British Biathlon veteran and team manager who is retiring from Her Majesty’s service in August to set up a very special personal trainer business in Knutsford.

Marc Walker (image copyright Marcel Laponder CC-BY-3.0)
Marc Walker (image copyright Marcel Laponder CC-BY-3.0)

I hit a wee problem with an unexpected redirect loop when trying to access the back end. There are plenty of articles and “fixes” available on the web, none of which were relevant to my installation and most of which relate to permalinks and .htaccess. Because my installation is a long-standing derivative of WPMU or multi-site, it could not have been that.

For others in the same position, here’s what my install looks like:

  • LAMP hosted (on a VPS)
  • Version 3.9.1
  • Multiple WP sites, domain-mapped

I had a while ago, for some reason I have now forgotten, network disabled the default WordPress themes. When I added this new site, created the new admin user and mapped the domain, I found that the admin or login pages simply got stuck in a redirect loop.

The fix was easy enough – I simply had to enable Twenty-Fourteen (the default WP theme) for the new site via the network admin panel.

If you want to visit Marc’s new site, it’s at AvantgardePT.com. His new business will start up in August and will have a strong European baseline from his track record in Biathlon, military fitness, Iron Man, and an impressive bunch of competitive sports.

Efficient, searchable logging

I’ve been trying to find out what is the best way – for me – to keep a record of readings, meetings, seminars and the other stuff of studying to become a researcher. I begin a part time PhD in September and as I will have severe demands on my time for the day job, need to be sure that I work smart.

I thought about all kinds of tools for this. The first thing to realise is that I will probably be making use of pen and paper as the ultimate portable and immediate way to organise my thinking. I’ve done this since 1976 and have a wall full of diaries and notes back to that time. Despite being a technophile, I have tried and failed to like any of the web or tablet based services like Evernote. I want to capture images, probably like this photo of hand-written notes. I want what I record to be searchable.

So, what am I going to try? A combination of email and blogging. I already have the blog you’re reading and this post is made using the JetPack “post by email” feature. I wonder if it will work?

Backhander

Praise and appreciation are great motivators. It’s nice to be noticed and for your contributions to be valued. I got this in the mail:

whome

 

“Your sincere contributions and support makes this conference a great success”. I wasn’t there. Glad to have been of such service. I hope to make a similar contribution to the success of your conference this year.

 

Acts of Defiance in the Back Channel

Continuing an act of defiance by taking time out of my work schedule this week, I attended a second lecture by George Veletsianos at Edinburgh University, entitled “MOOCs, automation, artificial intelligence, and pedagogical agents”. This seminar was a special event put on by DICE – the Digital Cultures in Education research group.

The lecture and subsequent discussion was rich and well-informed, as there was a good range of expertise and engagement in the room and from the online participants accessing via the streaming feed. George’s lecture was stimulating and provocative: without overdoing the detail, he managed to tackle MOOCs as a socio-cultural phenomenon. He described the usual rationale for MOOCs of costs and the perceptions that drive their explosion onto the educational landscape but he also gave us new (to me) truths about their origin and the assumptions underpinning their popularity.

Moving on to the automation of teaching, George treated us to a quick history, again, touching the nerves of the implementation of human-computer interaction in education. There was much discussion of this with the final topic of pedagogical agents: perhaps misnamed “bots” in the debate that ensued in the question session and on the twitter back channel.

BqarSeVIcAEeBCg

I can’t do justice to the scope of the issues raised and picked over in today’s two-hour session, not least because of the richness of them. Also, perhaps, for fear of misrepresenting the nuances. I resorted to my comfort zone of scurrilous tweeting, suggesting first that rather than choosing a gender or cultural stereotype for my preferred pedagogical agent, I would choose Brian, the Family Guy dog. This got me followed by Peter Griffin. When I started another cartoon (above), Marshall Dozier outed me with a tweet.

Surgeons Tweeting

I was at a talk given by George Veletsianos today, under the title of “Acts of defiance and personal sharing when academics use social media”. This was a thought-provoking session and not the first of his I’ll be attending this week, hopefully. I’ll not report the details of the talk here, but I will point you towards George’s Networked Scholars open course and this little scribble I made as I thought about how pervasive the use of social media has become.

SurgeonsTweeting

CentOS 6.5 on MSWind

Rather than make a pig’s ear out of my live VPS by testing out new Ruby code I’m playing with, I thought it would be prudent to have a machine that I can break without upsetting users. I have an Atom-based Advent netbook which only ever gets played with occasionally and this afternoon, seems quite willing to volunteer for a rebuild as a CentOS server. The world loves a volunteer. Continue reading “CentOS 6.5 on MSWind”

Metamorphosis of Narcissus

MetaNarcissus was, according to legend, a hunter. Walking in the woods, he was seen by the nymph Echo, who falls in love with him. The nymph had been cursed by Hera, the wife of Zeus, such that she could only repeat the last words heard and not say anything of her own. Narcissus rejects Echo’s love. After praying to Aphrodite, she disappears, remaining only as a voice heard by all.

The goddess of revenge, Nemesis, punishes Narcissus by leading him to fall in love with his own image reflected in a spring. Different outcomes, none of them good, await Narcissus, depending on the version of the story you read. Continue reading “Metamorphosis of Narcissus”