K/Ubuntu Upgrade to 8.04 – A Job Well Done

Well, some of you may remember me commenting a little while ago that I had been pleasantly surprised (and a little nervous) to discover a completely painless transition from Kubuntu 7.04 to 7.10 (the first time I’d ever managed to have a completely clean upgrade between Ubuntu versions since I started using it back with 5.04 – Hoary Hedgehog).

This was on my IBM T41 that I picked up second hand last summer, and which has been using the Kubuntu version of the Operating System since being purchased. It seems to handle it well, no major hardware problems (the ones that do have problems are solved using the proprietary drivers – because I hate freedom) and just does what it needs to do.

Last time I decided to stick to what I (think I) know and did the upgrade via the command line – manually changed all the official repositories to Gutsy versions, removed all the 3rd party options and went out on a prayer with sudo aptitude dist-upgrade. It worked. Which was a miracle.

This time, I went a stage further and decided to see if the Kubuntu GUI for these sort of things actually worked as well and looked as acceptable doing it as its GNOME-based older brother. Full marks to the Kubuntu team for getting the update manager up to speed and looking every bit as ‘in place’ as they have on Ubuntu for a version or two. I still think straight Ubuntu looks better, but that’s mainly because of GNOME’s layout – on the flipside I just prefer how KDE works. Having said all that, I may well find myself going back to a GNOME desktop if I continue to fail epically at getting along with using Dolphin as a file manager, at least until I find an easy way to keep it permanently replaced.

Anyway, that’s not the point of the post. The point was to say well done to both Ubuntu and Kubuntu teams for a job well done. The upgrade was painless, kept me informed at every step of the way, looked nice and really was easy. I have yet to double-check that every little thing still works as it should do, but I’m fairly confident any setbacks will be entirely minor and fixable, if present.

As far as this laptop goes, I reckon this will be the last time it gets such an upgrade process, as it doesn’t really need the shininess of KDE 4, and solid Long Term Support that Hardy provides should definitely see it through it’s lifespan as a workhorse.

I still want to get an EeePC though. In black, please.

Glastonbury Lineup Anticipation…

Well, the lineup for Glastonbury 2008 has been announced and, unlike a lot of comments I’ve seen posted in places, I’m actually rather looking forward to it.

It’s a weird one though because, with one or two exceptions, there’s no particular artists that have been announced that I could say I’m huge-mega-omgwtf fan of, but there’s just a whole bunch of artists that I’ve heard a good deal by and / or would just be really interested in seeing what they’re like live. To mention a few in such a position are:

  • Kings of Leon
  • Leonard Cohen
  • Spiritualized
  • Groove Armada
  • Kate Nash
  • The Zutons
  • Newton Faulkner
  • Fatboy Slim
  • Sinead O’Connor
  • Fun Lovin’ Criminals
  • Candi Staton
  • Manu Chao
  • Hot Chip
  • Duffy
  • Pendulum
  • The Verve

There are obviously others beyond that as well (if there’s nothing else on I’d be quite interested in seeig The Subways and Joan Baez for example), but that gives a rough impression from my first looking through it.

It looks like it’s going to be quite a cool mix all-in-all, with Manu Chao, Groove Armada and Kings of Leon topping my list of ‘really want to see’.

Bring on the rain.

Local Elections and Propaganda?

I have a fairly lengthy drive to work each morning, and pass through a few little towns / villages on the way.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve spotted a noticeable sprouting of (largely) orange signs declaring proudly:

Liberal Decocrats – Winning Here!

Now, ignoring the blatantly obvious graffiti opportunities of daubing ‘And only here’ or ‘but nowhere else’ underneath*, these signs irritate me. Even the highly conservative blue Conservative ones (see what I did there..?) that I saw strategically placed in neighbouring gardens and carrying similarly optimistic messages manage to annoy me.

Why? Because I question what their point is. The only thing I can come up with the more I think about it and run it over in my head is that it’s to encourage other people to vote your way… or intimidation. “Oh, everybody else is voting that way, we might as well do the same.”
Of course, the flipside is that, I hope, there’s many people like me who simply don’t care which way you’re voting. That’s why we have private ballots, surely? So that nobody needs to know which way you’ve decided to vote.

Maybe I’m just turning ever more cynical in my old age, but it did just strike me as one huge waste of time and resources that seems to go into these things. On the flip side, if I ever live somewhere where this sort of thing is prevalent, I need ideas as to what hugely ironic, incredibly invasive, and downright ballsy signs I can stick in my garden. I’m thinking something to be done in Neon, perhaps with flashy bits. And lots of shiny stuff. That’ll learn ’em.

* – I don’t have anything against the Lib Dems but, let’s face it, they’re neither Republican nor Democrat (sic) so they’re not going to win long term.

Been Watching…

The last week or so’s seen me watching a few things I either haven’t watched / heard much of before, or that I’ve been waiting desperately for for a good long while. Figured I might as well share…

Music Decides… and Wins

A little while back I was at work, drunk / hungover, with little to do and my wallet in my pocket. Oh, and with access to the internet.

We were stood around, talking about films, and I was wracking my brain trying to think up the title of a film that I simply love the soundtrack of, but had actually never seen. After much deliberation, frustrated (and foolish) guesses the name came to me (via Google-searching the Artists and Tracks…) – Natural Born Killers by Oliver Stone / Quentin Tarantino, and starring Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis as the murderers central to the story. As mentioned, it’s the first time I’d done it, but I wanted to watch it and bought it purely on the strength of the soundtrack. And I wasn’t disappointed.

I’m not going to bother getting into the little details you can find all over the place about what this movie means / analyzes / comments on but it is fascinating to see a couple of the points the characters raise in their various little segments, especially after they’ve been arrested. To be fair, up until that point I found the film enjoyable and entertaining, but it was the stretch after they’d been arrested and were in jail that really gripped me. Mickey (Harrelson) being interviewed by Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr.) was great.

Well worth a watch, especially if you enjoyed such things Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and similar.

Mr. Stephen Fry recommends…

I’ve enjoyed various things featuring Stephen Fry for a good long while now, and just before I returned from being in Egypt I read his auto-biography – Moab is My Washpot and, to borrow a popular phrase, fucking loved it. The way it was written, the humour, the story-telling, the sensible parts, the analysis of different things, all added together to make it thoroughly bloody good read, and set off a somewhat renewed passion for seeking out some of his other things (not his physical possessions and the like, you understand, more like his different articles and the like as they caught my eye). It was shortly after this when I noticed he had written a piece for The Guardian entitled ‘Deliver Us From Microsoft’,  commenting on Ubuntu and some other open source things, and had posted this on his blog. The blog quickly became a new staple addition to my growing list of RSS Feeds I try to read through every so often. Not too long after, that same RSS Feed notified me that he was starting to do a podcast. Bloody brilliant. And well worth a listen.

Anyway, now that I’ve given you all that spiel, the podcast that affects this little story was Episode 2 – Bored of the Dance, in which, amongst other things covering not liking to dance and music in general, he quotes a scene from the 1988 film Running on Empty by Sidney Lumet and starring Christine Lahti, River Phoenix, and Judd Hirsch, amongst others.

The scene he quotes is one I’d actually heard of before, but never remembered the name of the film, and it’s the part fairly close to the start of the film, where Danny Pope (River Phoenix), on his first day in a new school and using another fake identity (read the IMDB description or Fry’s blog to get a rough idea of the background), chirps up from his seat at the back of the music class he’s just joined, and makes a pretty insightful comment above and beyond the answers put forward by his peers to mark out the difference between a piece of Classical music (in the scene’s case, Beethoven) and a piece of modern pop music. Watch the film (or listen to Fry) if you want to know what he says. It’s good. Or, at least, I thought it was.

Anyway, based on what was mentioned in that Podcast, I figured it was worth a go and, seeing I was already ordering Natural Born Killers from Amazon, I might as well double my drunken spending spree and go really wild. So I also bought a copy of Snatch, as I hadn’t watched that in a long time.

To be short, it was a much better film than I’d anticipated. From wha I’d heard about it I figured I’d like it, but I thought it would be one of those that I could take or leave. I was wrong. It’s not high-paced, action-packed or any of that fun stuff, but it is a simply excellent storyline and script that really draws you in and gets you associated with the characters and the complications / dilemmas they are forced to face. Good stuff.  I can thoroughly recommend it.

Who’s a Cylon…?

That’s right, Battlestar Galactica Season 4 has begun. Bloody brilliant. Can’t get enough of it. That is all.

‘Intro to Caving’

Monday saw me taken on a little excursion, to Iron Kiln Hole (Notts II) up at Leck Fell (info at http://www.rrcpc.org.uk/easegill/text/leck.htm ), with Rob Dean, Danny Fitton, and Dez (surname unknown, to me at least), basically to see what I thought about caves and what all their fuss was about… 😉

It was the first time I’d ever really been caving, be it scuba diving or, as in the case, (relatively) dry. I didn’t take a camera, which was both a mistake and a saving grace (I would have managed to trash it), so unfortunately what follows is just my experiences of it.

I met Rob, Dez, and Danny in the Cafe above Inglesport in Ingleton just after 2 in the afternoon which, to me at least, seemed an odd time to be just considering setting about doing something, but then I guess that’s from a diving mindset of getting places early and spending the day doing it, given the time constraints involved in being underwater.
They’d all just about finished their food and brews and so we headed more or less next door to hire me an oversuit, undersuit, and helmet. I brought my own wellies… 🙂 Then we set off in convoy, following Danny up to Leck Fell to leave the cars, get changed, and head down to the entrance to the cave – effectively a shockingly small hole covered with a man-hole cover which, for some reason, was not the entrance I was expecting to find. I say ‘for some reason’ because, whilst I expected caving round these parts to be small and tight, I still can’t explain why but I wasn’t expecting a vertical shaft access to it. Just call me naïve.

I headed into the shaft third, with Danny closing the way and replacing the cover. the LED lamps on the front of the helmets actually provided an impressive amount of light across quite a wide beam, which was nice. Straight from the outset it was about climbing down scaffolding and a bit of breeze-block-fashioned ladders, which was interesting, although admittedly I was stuck wondering at first quite how long this would go on for. Judging by how quick we seemed to get back up it on the way back, it really wasn’t as far as it seemed.
To me, the bit at the bottom was where it got interesting, if a little difficult. Getting pointers from Rob in front and Danny behind about how best to twist and turn my body to get over or around various obstacles and tight gaps was pretty entertaining at times, as I never quite realized how much movement you can have when you really need / want to. It was also pretty refreshing to be having to think about things in a similar sort of way as I had to when I was out climbing with Dicko and Rob.

At the bottom of that little stretch it all started to level out a bit and opened up into a much larger chamber than I was ever expecting to find. This was only really the start though, and the next part was a damn sight tighter and closer than I had planned on as we scrambled up a mud slope into an insanely low section, crawling on bellies for what seemed a bloody good distance until it opened up enough to, initially, sit up and take a breather and, eventually to stand up and walk around a bit, as well as seeing my first sight of some nice stalactites, by which I mean ones that weren’t around 6cm long. As ever, it sounds stupid, but I really wasn’t expecting to see much in the way of stalctites and the like as I simply wasn’t expecting to be in passages big enough to house ‘big ones’. As ever, I couldn’t be more wrong.
Back into another tight scramble we went, at which point I was getting a little irritated, not at the scrambling, but at the though of “if this doesn’t go anywhere, there’s no way I am going to be able to crawl backwards out of this bastard. And I sure as hell can’t turn around”. It wasn’t really the tight scrambling that annoyed me, in its own way it was actually quite fun, it was the fact that I was failing to get used to the idea that I couldn’t look straight ahead, as my helmet would keep hitting the roof, so I had to look to the side and angle my body accordingly.
Anyway, this didn’t go on too long and, to be fair, it was all worth while as we came out the other side above a fairly fast-flowing stream that had clearly carved it’s path through the surrounding rock over a number of years – exactly the sort of thing that, for whatever reason excites me. Maybe it’s just the image of running water that I’ve always sort of found fascinating.

We headed further up against the stream through the fairly narrow but high parts and carried on that way until the flow slowed off as things got a bit wider, flatter and, in parts, deeper. We carried on up that way, towards the sump (I can’t pretend I remember where it’s meant to lead) and Rob and co. were commenting on how the water level was a lot lower than the last time they were there. That struck me as odd as it started to reach testicular level on me… shortly after that though we were, indeed, at the sump, and had to climb up and across to take another small-ish route which involved a lower rough, making crawling on hands and knees the ideal approach (if a little uncomfortable without gloves and, before rob gave me his elbow pads, any knee protection).

At this point Rob and Dez continued a pretty intense mud fight, which was entertaining to spectate  on at least. The next stretch continued the mud theme, along with the crawling, all of which was easy enough, although I was becoming increasingly more aware of the added weight from having a suit that had become fairly waterlogged (if not actually too cold) and still thought we were going to have to crawl on hands and knees for a large distance on the return journey. After passing some more impressive formations, myself and Rob stopped whilst letting Danny and Dez go ahead and, quite literally, test the water at the next block they came across. To say it was deep would be an understatement. Turns out it was another sump, apparently leading to ‘a huge chamber’ (Danny’s words, not mine). But to get there we were going to have to swim across it.
I think if we’re honest, Rob and I were all for turning back, but we cracked when Dez came back to encourage us. I have to admit, even when I was stood waist deep in the water on the edge of where I was going to have to swim, I was having doubts, but I figured I’d got that far, I might as well give it a whirl. Besides, the rest of them were already on the other side. Turning back would have made their swims a waste of energy. So I finally went for it.
To say it was cold would be an understatement. It was fucking freezing. The sort of cold that takes your breath away (although, admittedly, I was impressed with how well the simple wooley bear and oversuit worked at slowing the influx of water).

So we’d manned up and swum across the gap (probably a couple of metres across). We then got out, shook around a bit to try to keep warm, and set off towards the ‘chamber’ Danny had promised. It got narrow, and before long the water got deeper again. Expletives were uttered, albeit in a light-hearted manner, and we turned back, for another swim. It was no warmer, but we were having a laugh at least.

The way back was largely uneventful, following a similar route. Before we got back to the spot we’d belly-crawled through, Danny took me on a diversion to show me Curry Inlet. There were some simply stunning formations on the way to it and I’d love to go back and spend a little more time around the area just admiring the formations.
The route back took a slight variation as we got to the point where we’d crawled through as, instead, we followed the stream down and winding around through the narrow passage back to where Danny and Dez had left the bags. This was a great way to end the walking around as well, for me at least. All down hill, water rushing all around, various rocks that had fallen lodged at different angles to duck and weave around. Great stuff.

As mentioned right at the start, the climb out was both a lot easier and a lot quicker than it had felt on the way in and before long we were back above the surface, where the visibility had improved, providing a simply stunning view right out down the valley and over the bay towards the offshore wind farms. Again, the lack of camera irritated me although, to be fair, if I had one it probably wouldn’t quite have captured what a good view it was.

Time to change again, try and put dry clothes on, and then down to the Marton Arms for a swift point before the drive home.

Overall impressions? It was a lot of fun, and in many ways lived up to everything I expected it to be. I wouldn’t say any of it particularly surprised me, although I did expect to find generally a lot more smaller passages and a lot less of the open spaces that were there, along with the formations.
I don’t know a lot about caves in general, and in a way I kind of like that, as it leaves me just appreciating things as they are and as I see them, rather than knowing all the reasons why they’re like that. Of course, it would be nice to know why as well, but I’m happy to have Dez, Rob and Danny tell me instead for now!

Would I go again? Definitely. I mean, it’s not something I can see myself ever really getting into and being as passionate about as I am with my divin but, just like with climbing (which I really need to start doing more of) I could definitely se myself doing it every so often, having a laugh and just getting out and about.

And that just about wraps it up. I’m pretty sure there was more I initially wanted to conclude with, but I guess if that reappears in my head I’ll add it later. Muchos thanks need to go to Danny, Dez, and Rob for letting a numpty such as myself tag along with them and for showing and teaching me some really cool things. Was definitely a good way to spend 4 hours in the dark!

This Month…

… I have mostly been listening to a few albums that I’ve recently found I really quite like. Some I expected to and our fairly new acquisitions, some are ones I’ve had lying around for a good while but never really listened to.

Top of that list is an album I really should have listened to earlier, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips. I seem to remember there being a lot of noise about this when it first came out, but I never really gave it much time of day / heard much of it. Having listened to it more recently, it’s easy to say the Do You Realize?? has fast become a firm ‘favourite of the minute’ track, and in general I find the whole album just quite pleasant to listen to and somehow seems a little bit different and quirky. If you haven’t listened to it before, give it a whirl. I think you may be impressed.

Another album that’s a bit more recent but features some sheer legends has also made it onto my ‘Must Buy’ list of the minute – Raising Sand by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss. It’s a great collection of songs from varying sources done really, really well. I don’t think I’m alone in saying both Plant and Krauss have voices capable of capturing the listener, and the two gel perfectly together. As with The Flaming Lips, it’s not massively upbeat and chirpy, but it’s addictive. Fortune Teller and Please Read the Letter are the tracks I’ve found myself pulling back to time and again, but I really can’t fault the rest of it either. Go have a look-see. 😉

One more that’s not quite old news, buthardly cutting edge either is an album that, to be fair, completely surprised me as it was a whole lot better than I expected it to be, and that’s Made of Bricks by Kate Nash.
I bought it solely on the strength of the first single, Foundations which, against all my usual judgement, was a song I just plain enjoyed. There’s something oddly refreshing about her vocals, perhaps in a slightly ‘earthy’ way. A bit like the same reason I enjoyed the Sandi Thom album, it’s just got something about it that (probably) is ‘genetic’, ‘popular’ and ‘all over the place’ at the minute, but then I don’t really follow the charts, and it sounds fun to me. That, and there are some really, really stunning tracks on there. In my humble opinion… 😉 Check out Nicest Thing if you haven’t heard it recently.

And finally, because otherwise this could drag on all night, an album that I’ve had for years and was one of the first albums I bought by this artist – Bob Dylan‘s Blood on the Tracks. I can’t help it, I fookin’ love it. And it’s one of these albums that I go through phases of. I can listen to it on repeat for a good long time and not get old of it, then suddenly I’ll go weeks without listening to it – not through choice, just that it doesn’t jump out at me for a little while. Then I’m right back into it. It’d be too hard to single a track out as a favourite, and too easy to go ahead and list the entire track listing, so here’s a current (as of today) feeling about a top 3 tracks from the album: You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, Tangled Up in Blue, and Idiot Wind.
Simply sublime.

So there it is, a bit of what I’ve been listening to recently, album-wise. And before any ‘connected folks’ point it out, I know this doesn’t fully reflect my current last.fm User Profile. That’s because I’ve been mostly sticking these on my CD player in the car going to and from work. So much so in fact that I haven’t been able to listen to the latest edition of LUGRadio yet!

In other news, I’m still reading Dune by Frank Herbert. I really should have finished it by now but haven’t been concentrating on it. Now that I’m not on Eve Online in my free time, I should hopefully get that polished off in the next few days. Not sure what I’m going to be reading next, mind. I still owe a promise that I’d try to read some Harry Potter books, as much as the thought bothers me, although I doubt I’ll be doing that quite yet. Procrastination’s bad though kids, mkay?