The Smith's Journal - August 2006

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Plain Sailing

I was already in quite a serious mood today, since it would have been my late (adopted) father's 73rd birthday. Last night I had reawoken old hopes and fears playing through the (as yet incompletely-orchestrated) second and third movements of my symphonic poem Judgement Day on piano. This morning I decided to keep the music in mind for further processing and so played again the particularly intense climax of one section called Plain Sailing, to prime my mind before going out walking. I strapped on my Chung Shi's and started out down the road, pacing out bassline dotted crotchets with my feet against whistled piano arpeggio triplets and imagined bells and brass as my hands beat polymetric percussion cross-rhythms. As I passed Offley Church, in fact just as I walked past the gate in the wall, I nearly fell over when the church clock miraculously chimed twelve exactly on beat and perfectly in the key of E !!! Wow! You don't get much more of a direct signal from the heavens than that without being struck by lightning (good job I'd not been composing the following section of the piece, which features possibly the most powerful depiction of a storm anywhere in the musical repertoire!). The bells I'd earlier been imagining had just crossed the line from Twilight Zone into reality, and become part of the piece, without me daring to argue! I spent the next hour walking round sheep and bean fields pacing out all the permutations on hands and feet of multiple polyrhythms of 1:3:2:4:6:9 (!) (36 quavers against 12 dotted crotchets against 18 crotchets against 9 minims against 6 dotted minims against 4 double-dotted minims, all simultaneously overlaid and looped in a repeat of four bars of 9/8).

Unfortunately my life in general is not such Plain Sailing at the moment, due to traumas flung in my path by people who should know better, but these things are sent to try us, and such obstacles in Life's journey make us better at steering ;-) Take evasive maneouvres, Mr. Sulu!


Why The BASH Rocks

I've been attending Herts LUG for some time now and at this month's meeting I gave another talk, this time on 'Why The BASH Rocks'. Unfortunately I was shattered after work and had not had time to read up on specific details of quite how awesome BASH is, and so had to wing it and go with what I already knew, which was sufficient anyway. So on arriving I admitted to my fellow Linuxers that it would be first of a series of talks as my experience expanded, and a collaborative effort of everyone chiming in to fill in the gaps in my knowledge, which is kind of apt for a Linux users' group anyway :-)

I began by explaining what the shell is, and showing a few of the helpful tricks every user should know such as command history and tab-completion, aided and abetted by some informative heckling from the back: "And if you press TAB three times it'll complete the filename for you." I was even blown away to discover that you can actually copy and paste with the mouse in an XTerm window - I'd never realised that you need to hit the middle mouse button to paste! ;-) (My own fault for still using an old two-button mouse just because it isn't broken yet (with two-button mice, the third button is activated by pressing both buttons together)). Wow. Being able to do this might have just saved me a whole hour per week...

Next I went on to describe my .bashrc configuration file, and shared some handy aliases I'd found. To finish, I plunged everyone into the deep end and talked them through a shell script I'd written to generate automated thumbnails. Some kind folk even offered some debugging suggestions ;-)

Afterwards people thanked me and said they'd learned something, as had I. I chatted with David about SSH, irssi, Bitlbee (a handy tool to enable irssi to interact with MSN) and screen, which hopefully he'll give a talk on in future.

[UPDATE: In the ensuing post-meeting discussion, Rob announced his very cool Talking Clock which is also written in BASH, and excellently documented on his web page.]


[ Sign pointing into the woods, photo by Doug ]Vitae Drum Circle and Secret Bass perform at Art In Penn Woods

Two African drumming groups I play with, Vitae Drum Circle and Secret Bass, had been invited to play as part of the Art In Penn Wood project. Not afraid of the severe weather warnings on the radio, our two posses met up in the verdant green woods beside the village of Penn Street near High Wycombe, and set up beside some wood sculptures created for the event. Seeking the easy life, we'd put all of the drums into a van and driven that up the muddy track into the woods, as it was a fair walk. Unfortunately only a handful of Secret Bass Special Agents could make it - Ian was on a very long bike ride, and others had either been kidnapped by family, abducted by aliens or lost in transit. Vitae had a stronger turnout, and we easily filled the small clearing beneath a 1000-year-old oak tree which had a hollow trunk with colourful fungi growing inside. In the first of two sets, we played Dance Of The Devils, Lekule, Pap Maggatte and Soli, with singing and dancing to spice up the last one. A small audience had gathered, upon hearing us echoing throughout the woods, and enjoyed our music-making.

Next up came Secret Bass, today represented by Sasha, Tony, Fabrizia and I; alas Jayne got stuck in traffic, but Anthony stepped in to play dun duns on one song. We began by emerging from the depths of this atmospheric forest, singing a Senegalese folk song called Suley Maniye accompanied by percussion as we walked, the cracking sound of my woodblock reverberating wonderfully around the trees. Next up we played the Gambian Rhythm followed by Samba and Afrocubanites, before ending with "Anye", a beautiful spiritual song that my Nigerian teacher David Oladunni taught us many years ago. Big thanks to Sasha and Doug for these photos:

[ Secret Bass and Vitae Drum Circle join forces, photo by Doug | Malc playing dun duns in Penn Woods, photo by Sasha Bradbury | Vitae Drum Circle in Penn Woods, photo by Sasha Bradbury | Vitae Drum Circle in dappled sunlight, photo by Sasha Bradbury ]

Then we combined forces to play another set of songs that both groups know: Kuku, Yankadi/Makru, Limbanjitoho/Lenje and Djole, with Fabrizia dancing in the second song. Sadly we only got as far as Makru when it began to rain :-( Luckily Sasha had brought two gazebos which we had set up behind us in case of bad weather (we preferred to play out in the open under the outstretched arms of the old oak, and so kept them for emergencies). There wasn't space for us all to fit under the gazebos to play on, so we quickly stashed all the drums undercover and Bizia cleverly draped a tarpaulin over them for double protection. We took this as a fine time to have our picnic sitting under the other gazebo.

However, as we feasted, the rains grew stronger until they became an unceasing torrential onslaught with thunder and lightning and very very frightening. Soon the situation became alarming when water started flowing in over our picnic blanket, creating a pool where we were sitting. We realised that we needed to get the drums safely to a dry place, since any contact with water would harm the skins and their fabric cases were no match for this kind of monsoon, but most people's cars were 500m away and the rain was lethal. Also, it soon became apparent that the track that we had driven our van up was rapidly becoming a river, and it was quite likely that it would get stuck in the mud! We waited a while to see if the rain would ease off, which it did for a while before returning to its initial intensity. Eventually we made a plan to wrap up the drums in bin liners and carry them under umbrellas to the organiser's Land Rover which was nearby, who would then ferry them down the river to the car park. This whole operation took about an hour and involved lots of shouting just to be heard over the downpour and thunderclaps, plus getting very very wet - I must have looked quite a picture in my drenched-to-the-skin African suit :-)

Our task was made even harder by sudden shouts and bursts of semi-automatic gunfire ricocheting around the trees, as a platoon of armed police chased a gang of terrorists clutching an exploding suitcase. Before we could dive for cover, a huge wall of floodwater came cascading down the hill, washing away the terrorists, police and sadly some of our players. I'll never forget the tragic look in Tina's eyes as the torrent swept her away into the raging whirlpool down the hill beneath us. Ah well, one has to expect a few casualties on dangerous missions like this. We sang a song in her honour as our brief tears were washed away by the rain and then continued back to the car park, all running along holding the tarpaulin above our heads like a big blue Chinese dragon!

[ Drenched drummers after torrential rain, photo by Doug ]Of course, as we arrived, the rain stopped and the sun came out again! Clouds were still in the sky, so it was foolish to dare to play any more in case we lose anybody else. So we bade our farewells and I took my camera to see the charming church with a very atmospheric graveyard glistening after the rain, mourning our loved ones beside a war grave. [More pictures to follow soon...]

Thankfully though the drums stayed dry and weren't harmed, and Tina even managed to swim away to safety by finding a secret underwater tunnel which surfaced in a remote Welsh fishing village.


Website migration to completed

I'm happy to report a successful transition to a new website address, hosted at Black Cat Networks:

I've taken the opportunity of moving to a new server to alter some URLs to create a better structure, which should hopefully be more intuitive in use. Unlike most website upgrades though, which frequently break links by changing URLs/server protocols with every passing year and fashion, I shall be maintaining the old pages for some time to come, and redirecting them to the new ones, so that users and web robots are not presented with 404 errors; I don't wish to jeopardise the high PageRanks in Google that some of my obscure musical pages have achieved, nor contribute to the growing malaise of linkrot that is ever more prevalent on the Web. My website has been online since February 2002, which is 5 years now with no major change - an age in computing timescales.

[UPDATE: since Demon won't allow .htaccess files (*groan*) to effortlessly redirect all page requests to a new URL, I've had to resort to manually substituting the top-ranking thirty pages with redirect files pointing to the new website. This will at least preserve continuity for the major pages which were well-known by Google and linked from elsewhere. All other files have now been removed. Let me know if you want a list of which files are still there, or know of an unchangeable link to another page not redirected.]

The old Links pages have now been pruned of dead wood and placed in context in the relevant subject's directories. Originally the website was mostly text, with relatively few images which lived in their own directory. Now that I have a scanner and much more webspace, photos are now scattered all over the site, and so the old directory of Images is obsolete; Art, People and Places are now given a prominent position directly in the navigation bar. Lesser categories of Food and Issues move under the heading of Words. The Computers section gains all other old Links pages relating to the subject, many of which have been discarded as they were hopelessly out of date and/or offline. I have pruned away a lot of cruft that is no longer relevant, so hopefully this website will at least start from a fresh canvas.

A few new pages have appeared; the most notable additions are in the About section which groups together pages about me and the website. I have also included a breadcrumb-trail at the top of each page to aid navigation, as well as duplicating the navigation bar that links to each section at the top as well as the foot of each page. This makes it easier to get from one part of the site to another, and keeps you aware of where you are.

For the time being, there is no major change to the look and feel for users. I am still learning CSS and wanted to get the site moved before undertaking the massive task of altering all of the pages. Any feedback about the redesign is very welcome, and may be considered for future updates.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Licence © The right to copy is left with the user copyleft Malcolm Smith 2006-08-12 - last updated 2006-10-14