The Smith's Journal - December 2007

Home / Words / Journal / December 2007


All Systems Go!

Tags: Computers

I'm happy to report that all recent MalFunktions have been sorted and we are now running a shiny new computer system. Well, the computer hardware is still the same (budgets won't allow a new workstation until probably 2009), but the software that powers has been upgraded. We are now on Boredband, so feel free to email videos at me! Multiple redundant backups now protect against future disasters, and my disks are now being monitored for signs of stress and imminent failure. (Hey, I need some of that too ;-) I even got some ergonomic furniture to promote good posture. Special highly-trained rabbits have been drafted in to dig the tunnels that make this website so twisty. They shall soon be improving the look and feel with CSS goodness. We hope you enjoy enhanced experiences as a result.

Drumming Is Fun

Tags: Drumming, Pro, Computers

You may also be interested in the opening of my company website:


Vitae Winter Party

Tags: Drumming

This year's winter party for the Vitae Drum Circle promised to be quite an occasion. Three groups of different levels of players came together to form a huge supergroup comprising:

[ Lots of dun duns :-) | Singing Djole at Vitae Winter Party | Vitae drummers performing at Winter Party |  | Vitae dancers | Balakulajan | Cosmic light show ]

DJ/VJs Lawrence and Colin provided some stunning sounds and visuals for the disco, projecting rippling graphics morphing pictures of us performing on the ceiling (the projections, not the players!). Two sets of drumming occurred: first just the more experienced group played Soli, Lekule, Soko and Sanja. Later on the intermediates and beginners joined to form a massive throbbing wall of solid sound that severely challenged my microphones' sanity. The onslaught began with the monster groove that is Asiko, and then I shocked everyone by leaving my usual post on dun duns and joining Justine upfront to play a manic solo djembe part for Balakulajan that we'd been secretly working on since I learned it from Nansady Keita in the summer. Unfortunately my djembe was not warmed up and the bass tone was dead (I was very worried I would put my hand through it again!) so it was very hard to voice my solo over the gathered throng. Towards the end I realised my hands had gone past the threshold of being body parts and I observed my arms just whacking them against the drum like stumps in the effort to call the raging drum machine behind me to stop. Luckily my hands survived intact and they hit the brakes in time. Next the full band played the mighty Moribayassa with some fabulous singing and dancing, before the grande finale of Djole which Justine and friends danced joyously before she went ballistic in her final djembe solo and broke all speed records, clocked later at 152bpm!

Once we caught our breath, a raffle was held and then we danced until midnight. A big thanks go to Lin for organising all this, also to Lawrence for providing the PA and taking these photos, and of course to Justine for being such a great teacher :-)

Listening back afterwards to the recording, after some initial distortion it came out OK, except the lead djembe is much louder than the band since my mic was right in front of her; the law of proximity effect means that any sound twice as far away as another will be four times quieter, just like gravitational attraction between heavenly bodies also has an inverse square relationship. Putting the mic further away means it getting trampled by the dancers/audience, so it's clear I'm going to have to investigate some sort of overhead mic suspension techniques using cables strewn from the roof like the BBC do :-) Or maybe try miking from behind the lead djembe? As a result the sound is clear while the leader is playing but only when she stops to dance do you hear the full force of thirty distant djembes pounding away like a rhythmic regiment of elephants just about to trample you...! And the dun duns sound strangely woolly. The restrained volume of the voices, even when shrieking en masse, shows quite how loud the drumming is.

Before you ask: yes, I will one day make CDs of this to give to all involved, but don't expect that day to be too soon as the list of similar candidates is very very very long, and my studio is still not operational, having been set back two months by November's computer crash. The recording will need some processing work (compression and equalisation) to make it listenable, so others will get done first.


Christmas Message

Tags: Misc

Well, it's that time again, for my usual Christmas message begging you not to waste time and money trudging through the shops looking for presents we don't really want. My good friend Ruth Ford put it best:

"I don't want your presents, I want your presence."
"I'd rather spend time with you."

I'm sure she wasn't really referring to me when she said that, but you get the idea. Spend quality time with olde friends/family rather than the token card/gift.

I caught an interesting meme on this theme from the World Service last week: they featured some guy from a website designed to find interesting stuff for the superrich to save them time surfing through the dross. He said that their typical client who would pay for such a service* really values their free time, perhaps at $500/hour (probably because they get so little time away from the office). That got me thinking: "Maybe I should see what happens if I valued my time at a similarly high figure." I doubt folk will actually pay me such extortionate rates, but it might make me more productive if I was always watching the clock a bit more. I should pretend I'm in the studio or on a filmset or something (Oh, life is but a dream... :-)

* (Of course, here at TheSmith we offer such internet intelligence for free ;-)

I'll spare you the apocalyptic visions I originally had in mind for this year's message and end on an upbeat note. There's way too much despair in the world today so how about some funny stuff to end the year on. Enjoy the festivities :-)


More disk errors!

Tags: Computers

Oh dear:

hda: dma_intr: status=0x71 { DriveReady DeviceFault SeekComplete Error }
hda: dma_intr: error=0x10 { SectorIdNotFound }, LBAsect=2408348, sector=2408348
ide: failed opcode was: unknown
hda: DMA disabled
ide0: reset: success

That message appeared in my console window, interrupting my typing. I rarely like being interrupted, especially by disk errors which have been something too frighteningly close to /home recently. This time the message referred to the disk that houses my operating system, rather than my /home directories as before, which I keep on a separate disk for various reasons too technical to go into even here (BIOS limits of olde PC, etc.).

tomsrtbt and hal91 floppy disks to the rescue

Tags: Computers

Fearing the worst and sensing an imminent data loss, I overreacted and shut down all applications and the X server and quickly fired up elinks. Luckily Google's user interface still works with simple text-mode browsing, so I was able to seek and download fresh copies of tomsrtbt and hal91 (my old floppy disks no longer worked). These are both complete Linux distributions so ingeniously compact that they fit onto a floppy disk! I had begun my Linux life using them on college machines back in 2000, and so instinctively returned to them in my hour of danger for disaster recovery (my 7 year-old computer can't boot from CDROM to use a more modern rescue disk). Crossing my fingers, I emailed friends with a last wish for luck before heading down into the netherworld...

Finding my feet took a while in this crazy nanoworld of very small shells. They are both very cool systems with lots of nice touches, but surprisingly unfamiliar now to someone used to the luxuries of BASH. There is a command line history but no auto-completion, and the Home key generates a weird character rather than moving to the start of the line, all of which makes typing rather tricky. I found out the hard way that hal91 has no support for the ext3 filing system, throwing up lots of weird errors, so I tried tomsrtbt instead. My memory of what happened next during those early hours is blurry but I think it was something like this:


Making a clone of a hard disk

Tags: Computers

Once safely running from within a rescue environment, I was able to make a clone of the OS drive by simply using dd if=/dev/hda of=/dev/hdb without even having those disks mounted: all partitions were copied exactly and the two disks are complete replicas of each other.

This was the only thing I'd not yet got round to after last month's disk crash, although I had backed up the OS, but a non-bootable OS backup is quite useless as it means reinstalling and configuring everything again. By using another identical 4GB (almost hot) spare disk I had lying around, then if the OS drive does become damaged, I can just swap out the disk (I'm now using the 'new' disk and keeping the problematic one as the spare). Of course, I really should replace the olde 4200rpm disk for better performance, or preferably the whole computer, but finances are suddenly tight at the mo so any chance to re-use old kit is welcome until I can buy a new machine.

Pilot error crashes computer again

Tags: Computers

Prior to cloning the OS, I'd wanted to make a backup of whatever may have been on my spare 4GB disk before copying the OS from the failing drive onto it. I tried to put this backup onto my new 400GB /home drive. I think my big mistake was trying to do this from within such a limited environment, using software from years ago before 400GB disks had been dreamed of. tomsrtbt apparently does support ext3 but maybe it was a problem with the size of the drive, or more likely my earlier attempts to mount the filesystem using hal91. I could mount the partition but it was quite scrambled and many directories were totally missing.

I then rebooted onto the newly cloned OS drive to survey the damage to my /home drive. I ran e2fsck -f -v -c -c -k -C 0 /dev/hdc1 to perform an extensive non-destructive read-write test for bad blocks and filesystem inode problems, which took 23 hours for the 400GB partition! While it was doing so, I read the fine manual pages for e2fsck and badblocks, the latter of which includes the following gem:

Forced read/write tests on a mounted filesystem should almost never be used. If you think you're smarter than the badblocks program, you almost certainly aren't.

Next day, e2fsck finally reported no bad blocks but thousands of inode errors: even the process of listing them and asking me to confirm what to do took ages; I eventually just placed a paperweight on the Enter key but it still took a whole hour to get through it all, and I didn't dare interrupt it to try and change the options to not ask me. I wish I'd run the program from within a screen session, so I'd have a searchable list of what files were moved, but hindsight is always like that.

The result is that my filesystem has been changed, somehow. The lost+found directory is full with 5228 unnamed files and directories. Many belong to olde usernames and ancient backups which are no longer important, so I'm hoping that disruption will be minimal. I created a new directory called ThankGodForBackups and promptly copied yesterday's backup into there, and then went through updating of today's changes (not many). I'm keeping the trashed filesystem just in case something is missing. Life is too short to plough through the lost+found directory.

So another 48 hours have been lost due to a disk crash caused by pilot error, brought on by the threat of a disk crash, only weeks after a major failure took me out for a month. If I continue regressing at this rate, I shall soon become medieval.


Grahl Duo Back chair

Tags: Studio, Computers

I spent a cosy Christmas in Nottingham with family, and used the opportunity to collect a second-hand Grahl Duo Back chair that I'd won on eBay. These are very expensive to buy new, so I never thought I'd own one, but having tried them out at Back In Action, I jumped at the chance. The split backrest gives an invigorating spinal massage and adapts to your every movement in any direction. The chair can be easily adjusted for height, seat depth/angle, armrest height/angle, backrest height/width/tilt. It's practically unused and all in black, just what I would have wanted for my studio workstation. (I also use a Stokke Varier Variable kneeler chair.) Thank-you Angels :-)


New Year's Eve party at mine

Tags: Music, Drumming, Studio

Not many folk I'd invited to my party could make it, due to family/other commitments on New Year's Eve, but a select few found their way here for a superfunky time. (I've decided to hold more parties because it's a good way to motivate me to tidy and clean the house :-) Thanks to everyone who came for making it such a special night; those who couldn't make it, I hope to see soon.

I was in high spirits, and on fine DJ form, keen to show people some gems of music that I'm currently custodian of (more on this later). We revelled in exploring some funky soundtracks of the Sixties and Seventies (Hawaii-Five-O, Goldfinger, Our Man Flint) and Ghanaian highlife, oh yes! Luckily no children were present, because there were some pretty hardcore songs played, including Telly Savalas singing "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" and "How Insensitive", definitely not for the faint-hearted. The run-up to midnight was fuelled by the hilarious kitsch of Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner crooning with dangerous abandon. After toasting the chimes of Big Ben, we moved into the studio, which became The Bridge for our further cosmic adventures, all glowing blue with LEDs and lights from passing nebulae (although not half as accurately decorated as some :-) . I set Eve's controls to the year 2008 and on the journey we listened to recordings of our recent Vitae Winter Party. Then I put on the very funked up Theme From The Return Of The Saint which raised the roof and provided an ideal moment of motivation for some people to speed off into the night in their Jaguar XJSes :-)

After most people left, Ant and I played synthesisers and vanished into hyperspace for an hour. After an impromptu 2am drum lesson on stick technique, I returned to the decks which we accompanied with frantic conga+kpanlogo solos :-)

I was still in the mix at 6am :-) Some very congruent musical coincidences ensued, with the celestial electronics of Francois Bayle's "Erosphere" floating over heavy dub from African Head Charge, and then an African girl started singing exactly in tune with Bayle's drones :-) Musical moments like these are worth waiting until dawn for, especially when they happen by accident! It's a shame that by this time I was the only one still awake to witness it (not recorded, but easily reproducible). One day I'll compile a list of my best mixes, many of which are found by chance in action when following one's intuition ("Play a record by Can next - trust me, it's gonna rock and be in time..."). Your Higher Self really does know best.

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 2007-12-01 - last updated 2008-07-10