Adventures with Rafaela and Rosa

•25 May, 2016 • Leave a Comment

The story so far: forced to move from Fedora 20 with KDE Plasma 4, and sceptical of Plasma 5, I installed Mint 17.2 in the hope of a quiet life. It was not to be.

The sleep comas were mystifying. They were also a huge source of frustration to me because I like to leave my computer on standby over the weekend rather than constantly turning it on and off. As it happens, I’d never encountered this bug before, and I was curious that it affected both Fedora and Mint. The common denominator was Plasma 4. Furthermore, where the problem appeared to be being triggered in Fedora, it was constant in Mint. So it struck me that maybe it was a DE thing rather than an OS thing. And then, while looking for solutions to other minor annoyances, I came across this article.

So that was that, I thought, KDE is a pollutant when it interacts with systems that aren’t designed for it. And Mint was a Cinnamon beast based on a Unity beast. So I decided to re-evaluate my options. I was sticking with Mint for the polish and the longevity, so I figured that the best way to go was to either start over with Cinnamon or MATE. Checking the marketing blurb for both, I decided that MATE seemed a bit limited but Cinnamon, as a fork of Gnome to imitate its older way of working, was something I could get on with. I mean, I’d used Gnome with my earliest Red Hat and Ubuntu adventures. I remembered it as quite customisable, even if it didn’t have as many bells and whistles as KDE. And Mint 17.3 was about to be released. So I waited a couple of weeks and installed the latest version of Mint with Cinnamon.

There were two problems. First off, I was still getting sleep comas. I’d kept my system pure despite the fact that I can barely function without Amarok and K3B. I had to tolerate Rhythmbox and Brasero. And the problem was still occurring. This told me that the issue wasn’t KDE at all. I’d leapt to a conclusion based on one tech blogger’s opinion. When will I learn that most Linux advice on the net comes from users with strong personal biases? Well, I’d now learned that “Pjotr” was just being anal about his libs and I’d junked a system for no reason because of that. The second, and pressing, problem was that Cinnamon sucks.

Remember, of course, that this is my opinion based on my needs. Cinnamon, although coherent, is inflexible. It’s heavier than XFCE and LXDE, while being less customisable. Furthermore, things like custom wallpaper need you to leave the default folders in your /home/[user] folder in situ, or faff about putting new wallpapers in whichever shared folder the defaults are picked from. I junked Windows nine years ago partly because I want my computer to do what I tell it, not vice versa.

And then things got worse.

Farewell to Heisenbug

•18 May, 2016 • Leave a Comment

So the last operating system I discussed in any depth was Fedora 20, which I installed around October 2014. Given the length of support that Red Hat gives any edition of Fedora, I was lucky that it was maintained until June 2015 owing to delays to Fedora 21. Being of a paranoid bent, and knowing that sometimes a security flaw is found in a Linux kernel, I wasn’t inclined to blithely continue running an out-of-date release that wouldn’t receive a patch the next time an issue was found. So I had to upgrade.

Here my problems began. KDE had retired Plasma 4 (which my copy of Fedora 20 had as its desktop environment) in August 2015, meaning that if I continued to use Fedora with KDE, I’d be using Plasma 5. And at the time (July 2015ish) the reviews were basically saying that Plasma 5 had been released too early and was not just unpolished, but positively unfinished. If I wanted Plasma 4, I had to go retro.

At the time, I was used to Ubuntu’s old long term service model. The .04 release every two years was maintained for two years and this had been the case for a while. So I expected Kubuntu 14.04 to have a lifespan until April 2016 – about 9 months (yes, I know this is wrong, it’s just what I thought I knew at the time). Furthermore, I had already tried Lubuntu 14.04 and had difficulties with it. Even 18 months on, I wasn’t convinced these issues would be fixed*. This was when I stumbled across Mint. Mint had been recommended to me by a work colleague a long time ago, and reading their web page, I thought their philosophy was right. Mint is based on Ubuntu, but where Ubuntu releases can be deal-breaker buggy for a few months, Mint doesn’t release their version until it’s good and ready. Furthermore, they base their releases on the long term support versions of Ubuntu, meaning that Mint 17.2, would be supported until 2019 (I hadn’t twigged that this was because Ubuntu had already extended their long term support editions from two to five years). And besides their home-grown desktops, Cinnamon and MATE, there was also a KDE edition. With Plasma 4.

So I replaced Fedora 20 with Mint 17.2 – and that’s when my troubles began. You see, I had an issue in Fedora with the suspend functions. I avoid the “hibernate” function because I’ve never seen it work in any Linux edition, but “sleep” was temperamental. If I had switched users too often, or didn’t leave a good 30 seconds after closing my browser before sleeping, my computer’s screen would go off but the fan and lights would stay on. And it wouldn’t come back to life again. I quickly discovered that in Mint 17.2, this “sleep coma” would happen every time, regardless of circumstance. Given that I can be on and off my computer all day, this is a problem.

*In an update to the audio issue, I eventually got a reply to my bug report that amounted to, “Not our problem; submit it to the PulseAudio devs.”

A Saga Begins

•11 May, 2016 • Leave a Comment

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about my operating system. Well, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged about anything much, so my latest round of Linux adventures is as good a place as any to start again.

If a Linux home workstation has any real disadvantage compared to Windows, it is this: most Linux users are tech people and Linux release models are catered to them. The phrase you hear a lot on communities is, “bleeding edge”. Not cutting. Bleeding. One way or another, the developers behind the most used distros are committed to the user communities always having the latest and greatest. This attitude has its downside.

There are two main release models for home Linux distros: biannual and ‘rolling’. Fedora and Ubuntu, the two main ones I’ve used over the past 8 years, release a new version every 6 months, usually packaged with the latest versions of the software applications (i.e. the latest version of the preferred browser, desktop environment, office package, etc.). When you upgrade or install, you have the most recent stable software at that date, packaged as a complete operating system that will be patched as bugs and security issues are resolved for a given length of time. (And I’ll come back to the length of time in a moment.) If you always want the latest everything, distros like Arch release the latest version of everything from app to kernel so you always have the option of the bleeding edge of everything. This constant updating does come at the price of more frequent issues than a development freeze-frame every six months.

The problem with the bleeding edge for the more general user is that nothing stays stable and working. Red Hat only supports a given version of Fedora for around a year, so unless you want the ball-ache of some serious maintenance DIY, you’re forced to upgrade at least every other version. At least Canonical supports every fourth version of Ubuntu for five years for the people who just want an operating system that works for the lifespan of their computer.

I know that some will argue that upgrading every six months or so only requires a couple of clicks. However, I’ve tended to do fresh installs ever since my first attempt at an Ubuntu upgrade, which made a total mess and resulted in my having to do a fresh install anyway. Furthermore, I do have a bit of an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. Once I’ve got an operating system as I want it, I tend to resent all the fiddling to get my desktop looking and working as it used to. Plus, I prefer Fedora to Ubuntu – a given release candidate is (usually) less buggy in my experience, and I feel more like I’m in control of Fedora’s behaviour. Yes, I know I’m probably Gentoo’s target market.

Why am I telling you this? So that the saga of my latest computer woes (beginning next week) makes more sense.

Review: March of Fate – Let the Ritual Begin

•2 May, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I hope Lord Mattias and his motley company will forgive me for posting this so late. I had hoped to get this written before the launch, but I haven’t written much of anything lately…

Rising on the Birmingham metal scene (and apparently worldwide, certainly with followers in America) are March of Fate, a fantasy metal band with a distinctive look, a distinctive sound, and a pretty fresh take on the genre. Over the course of the last few months, they have been going from strength to strength, gracing venues in Birmingham, the Black Country and Leicester with their wild stage show and distinctive sound. And their slot at the Mayday Meltdown festival in Colley Gate, Halesowen marked the launch of their début EP, Let the Ritual Begin.

It’s almost the record you’d expect from a band that has foam cutlass battles instead of mosh pits. And I say that insofar as that an EP doesn’t seem to be enough. Lyrically, the four tracks cover a cast of characters across evil sorcerers, werewolves, and possessed warlords. Somehow the acoustic introduction and coda make the whole affair sound like it should be tied together, like some kind of gothic opera. Instead, the songs are clearly separate entities despite the EP’s structure, when they would all be well served as part of a high fantasy concept album.

I know that sounds like criticism, but really that’s praise for a band’s first EP, given that such discs are, to all intents and purposes, demos. The structure of March of Fate’s song writing is reasonably complex, so to show that kind of promise on a collection recorded in a mere two days speaks volumes both for their musicianship and their producer.

So what do they sound like? Well, they’re a different take on the genre. Heavy though their sound is, and determinedly metal, there is a real melody to their songs. The vocals aren’t incomprehensible roars, Lord Mattias (AKA Matt Frobisher) opting instead for a vocalisation that sounds not unlike Shane MacGowan (minus slurring). It fits the medieval ballad element of their lyrics perfectly, while matching the hard and heavy guitar work. Not that they tend to unnecessary shredding or doomy power chords – the heaviness is in their guitar sound, allowing March of Fate some melodic complexity in the interplay between the guitars. Maybe they wouldn’t suit the tastes of the “heavier the better” crowd, but they’re an easy band to like if your music tastes are diverse.

All told, I think I’ll be paying to upgrade my review white label to the fully-printed disc.

Let the Ritual Begin is available on iTunes and Spotify, or as a physical disc at any March of Fate show


•11 January, 2016 • Leave a Comment

[Edit: I set the title yesterday when I scheduled this post; I wasn’t expecting to read this news today. I’m sorry to disappoint if you were hoping for reflections on David Bowie. May he rest in peace.]

As I mentioned before, a lot has happened since I last mentioned the band on this blog. I left the tale on a bit of a high. We had two guitarists, were looking for a drummer, and I was confident that we were still enough the same band not to require a name change with the loss of momentum that would create. It was all going swimmingly.

I don’t really know what happened next. One Monday, our lead axeman, Brett, is telling Rob (the owner of our regular rehearsal venue) how much he’s looking forward to the night’s session. Two or three days later he tells us that he doesn’t think the project’s for him. And that was that. Brett was kind enough to make sure we had all the material we’d jammed with him, and when the album comes there’ll be a royalty cheque with his name on it. In the meantime, Ed and Matt and I began the audition slog again.

It wasn’t as bad as we feared. Where it had taken us several months to pick up Matt and Brett after our short spell with Kev, our new lead player landed in our lap within a couple of weeks. Mike (for it is he) was a very easy fit with us, from what I remember of his audition, and from a writing point of view has had a synergy with Matt that I could never have hoped for. With a drum machine behind us, we were getting ready to conquer the world.

The drum machine was a bugbear. Many auditioning guitarists hated it so much that it was a deal breaker. But what can you do? Either not gig until some nebulous point in the future when you get a real player, or gig with a machine in the meantime, even if it’s subideal. I’d managed to get a passable sound out of a very basic machine, and it turned out we needn’t have worried. We only had to gig with the thing once.

Taking on Mike in March last year, by June we went to the Roadhouse (drum machine in tow) for a short open mic spot. By the next week our online ad’s had brought Chris to our door.

Ed and I had a good feeling. On meeting him, he reminded Ed and me of a mutual friend of whom we’re very fond. He fell quickly in to the kind of nerd talk that makes up half of the band’s conversations. And he’s a shit-hot drummer to boot. We had a hairy moment soon after we gave him the green light when we all thought he looked awfully young and I realised I hadn’t actually asked him his age, but it turns out he’s just baby-faced.

So there you go: that’s how the second gigging line-up came to be. I’ve been pleased to find that our on-stage energy has only increased, and 2016 is already leading us on to bigger things.


•4 January, 2016 • Leave a Comment

So 2016 is upon us. Facebook for the last couple of days has been full of “New Year, New Me” bollocks, and it’s funny how people use the arbitrary change of the calendar year as their impetus for making such changes. Funny, because it’s also very probably the reason those changes are doomed to failure. Yeah, sure, the turn of the year does engender reflection (especially when one has spent the last week in the company of loved ones one hasn’t seen in a while), but a long list of failed resolutions by both you and your friends is all the evidence one needs that, once you’ve returned to real life, that reflectiveness soon fades. And you fall into the same traps you did last year, because every year is the same.

What I’m saying is: if you’re unhappy with your life in June, start making your changes in June. It really is as simple as that. At least then the changes are not a decision you made while essentially on holiday, away from your normal life, and your normal life doesn’t intrude on your new regime after 3 days – you’ve made your changes intrude on your old routines instead.

But, hey, why should I lecture you? I’m doing much the same, albeit by accident. I’ve been meaning to get a grip for a while – regular readers will have some inkling as to how far my mental health has spiralled downhill in the last six months. I was wanting to get a grip in December, but I didn’t have the will to do it while it meant missing out on the partying of the season.

I’ve been away between Christmas and New Year, spending time with people I haven’t seen in too long and really should spend more time with. It’s not made me reassess my life, but it has proven to me that some of the things I’m aiming for are worthwhile. It’s also demonstrated to me that I have to acknowledge and work to satisfy a need that I’ve been trying to bury and ignore. Yes, that’s deliberately cryptic.

So what does my New Year hold? It’s time to give myself permission to do all the things that I’ve been treating as low priority. I spend a lot of my time not-entirely-consciously trying to live up to the expectations of perceived authority, and That. Shit. Is. Over. I need to move away from my mum again to get properly out of that headspace, but I can still work harder to prioritise my own projects in the meantime. I need to work to improve my mental health, too. If only to keep on an even keel in what could prove to be a very busy year. I need to write again, and this post is the beginning of that. And the band has big things ahead over the course of the next few months. I’ll tell you about that next week.

A Head ’Round the Door

•7 December, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I daren’t check, but this is probably the longest break I’ve ever had from blogging. I tend to stop writing when life gets on top of me. It’s an anxiety thing, mostly, stemming from the fact that I always seem to have a heap of conflicting priorities. As I get overwhelmed, I start to feel paralysed, unable to start one thing as there’s a part of me that screams that I should be doing something else (and something else again if I start doing that). My writing, being something that I do solely for my own benefit, tends to be the first thing to suffer.

Fortunately, I have enthusiastic friends. Apparently several of my long-standing friends read this little corner of the internet (and I suppose it saves me writing one of those Christmas news letters…), the knowledge of which is often the tipping factor that allows me to give myself mental permission to actually write these posts.

Sadly, this short transmission isn’t an indication that I’m getting better (and I wrote it two weeks before I got ’round to posting it). Parts of my life have been out of control this past year, and I’ve been ground down quite badly. My housing situation is uncertain, and the full-time job that I was initially relieved to get has been something of a nightmare in reality. Things at work have begun to improve, but it’s likely to be a while before things settle down.

So here I am. Blogging. Often my first posts after silence have grand promises about what’s to come: more reviews, more fiction, more about the band, etc. etc. Today I can promise nothing. I have spent most of the last week off work trying to recover from a stress-induced physical breakdown. (Editor’s note: that was actually mid-November…) I’d have pushed the point with my GP, but actually being signed off sick is the last thing I can afford. My determination right now is to get my overdraft and credit card paid off so I can start doing something about moving on. One thing I can say is that I feel as though I owe Nevermore’s regular readers an update about Harlequin’s Kiss, because a few things have changed on that front since I last wrote wrote about my musical work. I might even manage to write it for next week before I disappear back into my depressive fug.

I’m hoping I can start to recover. The causes of my work stresses are in the process of being tackled and the fact that I’ve even managed to write this gives me some hope that I can get a grip of the other trailing cables in my life. I’m still a bit of a wreck at the moment, but I can feel a breeze from the end of the tunnel. If I can work out where it’s coming from, I might even find a chink of light…


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