Thu, 28 Apr 2011
Great and Manifold Blessings in Cambridge

Great and Manifold Blessings is an exhibition currently on at the Cambridge University Library to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible of 1611. Although only spanning a single room, it contains some of the most important books in the English language as it takes us through the history, and prehistory, of the creation of this most important book.

It's a fascinating story that covers John Wycliffe's early translation and William Tyndale's larger and more successful work. Along with Shakespeare, William Tyndale is now recognised as one of the major originators of the modern English language and many of our most famous and beautiful phrases are his. Much of his original text was used in this new translation and we are all the better for it.

This wonderful writing ability, translating from original Latin, Greek and Hebrew (his unfinished Old Testament) and his biblical scholarship are all markers of a great man. This period in history was a time of much turmoil, and Tyndale paid the ultimate price for his work when he was executed in 1536. Although not bearing his name, the King James Bible certainly bears his imprint and is a very fitting testament to his life.


Sun, 24 Apr 2011
Watteau at The Wallace Collection

I visited The Wallace collection on Saturday 16th April, primarily to have a look at the Watteau by recommendation. However, the museum itself proved to be a real gem with a lot of very interesting things to look at. It is also free.

Situated just a few minutes from Oxford Street, walking up Duke Street to Manchester Square might as well be a million miles away from the shopping hoi polloi.

The museum is a large house, but small enough that a morning or afternoon would be sufficient to see most of it. French 17th and 18th Century artworks make up the heart of the collection, both paintings and furniture (including clocks).

I first encountered Watteau as part of an art history course I took when doing my (Physics) degree. This part of the course concentrated on the Baroque and then Rococo styles prevalent at the tail end of the 17th and start of the 18th century.

The Wallace has a lot more of interest though, I also saw a Fragonard (the famous The Swing (see right)), Franz Hals' Laughing Cavalier, a Titian, Perseus and Andromeda, a Canaletto and many other beautiful paintings, miniatures, furniture, clocks and armour. The collection of armour is one of the largest in Europe, covering both European and Asian weapons and cloths of warfare.

Overall, an excellent afternoon out and well worth another visit.


Fri, 15 Apr 2011
Sugar - Toxic?

There's a great article in the New York Times about the (probable) dangers of sugar, written by Gary Taubes :

Is Sugar Toxic?

Gary Taubes is a respected science journalist and author of a book I read last year called (in the UK) The Diet Delusion ("Good Calories, Bad Calories" in the US).

The Diet Delusion is a detailed investigation of the the problem of obesity, diabetes and related problems, and posits that the causes of the modern epidemic in the west is primarily diet. Carbohydrates and sugars. This book has had a major impact on me and what I eat.

Taubes has followed up The Diet Delusion with a shorter and easier to read book called Why We Get Fat. I can highly recommend both. But the NYT article is a condensed version of some of the argument and a must read.

Note that the article takes as inspiration a lecture by Dr Robert Lustig called Sugar : The Bitter Truth (YouTube video). This is another bit of media that had a big impact when I first saw it.

Wed, 13 Apr 2011
Spring Biking

I used to travel to work on the tube, but the poor service and strikes, crowding and then the summer heat, made me look for alternatives. I then started to get the bus, and even though I had to get up a little earlier to make sure I got to work at a good time, much preferred it. The route is excellent as well.

I had also wanted a bike for a while, but circumstances[1] made that hard until last September, when I finally bought a Brompton.

I caught the last of the good autumn weather and have managed to cycle to and from work 5 days a week, and use the bike at weekends. This is over a pretty bad winter as well, with only a couple of days unused due to snow and ice (something I am a bit allergic to!).

Having the bike has made a massive positive difference to me. Not only do I get to work and back a lot quicker (and consistently), it's easy to travel around and do things at the weekend. The route I take to work is pretty easy as well and I mostly follow the same 88 bus route I'd use on the bus. Bus lanes and quieter roads (except for Vauxhall). The Brompton is fairly easy to carry short distances, so can be taken into a shop for instance, or stored safely under your desk. I have had a puncture though, so it's not all good.

A perfect little commuter bike and a great buy!

1. I broke my ankle in January 2010 was recovering from that for over half a year.

Tue, 12 Apr 2011
Good Wine?

However much the bottle cost, or wherever it's from, how the wine tastes to you is all that matters

I don't drink as much wine as I used to (sometimes staying alcohol free now) and am certainly not a wine connoisseur, but I like a glass or two of red wine with a meal, a civilised accompaniment. When I mentioned that I buy wine at my local supermarket, Sainsbury's, a friend made the comment that "you can't buy a good bottle of wine at Sainsbury's".

That seems completely wrong to me, but did set me thinking about the difference between the varieties of wines available in the supermarket versus the wine shop.

For a change, I decided to buy some wines from Laithwaites (Borough branch). It's a fairly large wine shop with a good range and helpful staff.

The three I chose are ranked as the best customer recommendations :

All Australian, all shiraz but worthwhile for comparison to wines I might buy in Sainsbury's - like a Shiraz from Hardy's, a Lindeman's or (from California) a Gallo.

Results so far : The Black Stump is very highly rated and is certainly a lovely, smooth red wine. It's a few pounds more than a Hardys Stamp Shiraz-Cabernet and probably worth it. But the Hardy's is not a bad wine and worth drinking. If you visit a site like supermarketwine.com you can see that some Sainsbury's wines are reviewed and rated quite highly (e.g. The Guardian).

It's good to try the occasional non-supermarket wine because even though their range seems large, it's actually tiny compared to the choice available. But for your day to day wine needs, the supermarket's perfectly acceptable.


Sun, 10 Apr 2011
Desktop Take 2

The main component of the new Gnome 3 desktop is the Gnome Shell, and it's been this that has drawn most attention. The shell defines most of the way the user interacts with the desktop environment, so concentrating on this part is natural. The shell is the biggest change from the user's perpective (hence the wailing from some quarters).

An alternative shell for Gnome 3 is Unity, a component primarily developed by Canonical and Ubuntu.

Unity is also a major change from the current Gnome 2 desktop and has drawn a similar level of criticism and praise.

I have not tried Unity yet and, as with Gnome 3, am cautious. However, the idea of an alternative shell is attractive because it brings me greater choice. In fact, the concept of choice is critical to a healthy ecosystem and at the heart of the free software movement. Having said that, it also has costs, like fragmentation and a loss of focus. It can also lead to some strife and bitterness.

Right now, having two competing visions of the next generation Gnome Desktop is a good thing in my opinion. Both are new and need to gain mindshare and traction, so there's all to play for. This is also not a zero sum game.

The next year or two will be interesting. Good luck to both.


Sat, 09 Apr 2011
I am Gnome 2

When I started running Linux, I used a "window manager" not a "desktop". A window manager like FVWM, which was fairly basic but perfectly functional for starting applications like a terminal and a web browser (all you really need).

When Gnome came along, I started using it almost immediately and have used it ever since. It's changed a lot over the years, maturing into a much cleaner and professional desktop environment. The transition from version 1 to 2 was a little rocky but this proved to be only growing pains, as the desktop stripped out over-complexity and simplified itself. It became more useable.

The Gnome3 desktop was released last week but I won't be using it, at least not for a while. Given my recent switch to Debian on the desktop, and a few (still unresolved) hiccups, I'd rather not have the extra "excitement" for now.

Version 3 has had a very mixed reaction from people - it's a major redesign of the desktop. I tried it a month or so ago via a Fedora based live CDROM and loved the look. But playing with it for an afternoon doesn't give me a good idea of how well it works in real life. It looks great but I have some trepidation about the useability.

So, for now I'll stick with Squeeze's Gnome 2. It works well and I can find my way around it quickly. But I'll keep a close eye on the Gnome 3 evolution because I hope and expect to be using it in the near future. Congratulations to all involved with the release!


Fri, 08 Apr 2011
Saturday and Sunday Outlook

Looking good .... :-)


Mon, 04 Apr 2011
Moen & Sons - Clapham

Moen & Sons is a real butcher and it's been in Clapham for quite a long time now.

I think it's only the past 5-10 years that it's blossomed fully though and for the same reasons that Borough Market is so busy nowadays. People want good food, something less bland than what's often available in the supermarket.

I can thoroughly recommend their traditional pork sausages!

PC Update

Still here .... closely monitored ....

Ughh ... Oops

I spoke a bit too soon perhaps ..

On the way out yesterday, my desktop PC froze when I decided to empty the nautilus/gnome "wastebasket". I was ripping a DVD at the time (Downfall, very good) and streaming radio, so I left thinking it might spring back to life when I got home.

It didn't. So a hard reset. And now I keep getting kernel oops and freezes, and have to hold the power button down to switch the system off, before powering up again.

It's usually hard to diagnose this sort of thing, at least if you're not familiar with the internals of the kernel, or drivers. It looks like it might be network related (e1000e), or maybe NFS. I mount a main NFS volumne from my QNAP (T419P), and maybe another NFS volume (USB disk exported). I've forced mounting NFS version 3 (vers=3 in /etc/fstab) and things might have settled down ... I hope so.

I'm monitoring the situation ... I really don't want to have to deal with this just now.


Sat, 02 Apr 2011
Made it to the Desktop

So, I took the plunge this morning and installed Debian Stable (Squeeze) on my desktop/main system at home. Thinking it's a Saturday, so if something went wrong, I'd have the time to fix it up.

Of course, some things did go wrong, but luckily not very much. It's all working pretty well now.

What have I had to fix up?

Audio

I have a USB headset plugged in for Skype, and the system decided this was my main sound device, relegating the onboard Intel HDA device to index 1 (not 0). I rectified this by forcing the default ALSA sound device via the file :

/etc/asound.conf

Containing :

pcm.!default front:Intel

You can figure out the devices and indices by running aplay -l or aplay -L.

This ALSA .asoundrc reference was very useful here.

Skype

I installed a static version of Skype because they don't have a 64 bit deb package for Debian. I changed the audio devices it uses via the "options" menu, and make sure I use the USB Headset.

It works mostly, but recording (voice) was bad - sped up as if the sample rate was wrong. I might need to re-start the system. More to do anyway.

I did manage to fix the font size problem though, and make the tiny fonts larger. Install and run qtconfig-qt4.

This is a cropped portion of the list of audio devices Skype presents to me when I want to set the device (for output, plus microphone) :

You can understand that this stuff gets a bit confusing sometimes. Yes, desktop linux needs work in some areas!

I'm not much of a fan of Skype, but I wish they updated the Linux client. Having said that, they seem to have seriously screwed up the Mac client, so maybe it's best to quit while we're ahead.

Next ...

I might have a play with compiz. I need to configure munin (desktop's being monitored by the server). Check emails go overnight (logwatch etc.). Looking good!