Hello world! Well, WordPress anyway.

Dogsolitude_uk has just migrated to WordPress. There’s a lot of housekeeping to do now, involving admin user accounts, importing blog posts and sorting out a suitable development environment and coding workflow. At time of writing, this is not generally visible to the public, and has been hidden from Google using a <robots> tag. This should stop it being indexed until I’ve sorted out the Theme, content and changed the DNS records to point to the WordPress installation rather than my placeholder page.

Currently I have the following setup:

  • WordPress 4.9.8, using the Twenty Seventeen theme, installed both locally and remotely
  • A custom Child Theme that restyles some aspects of the CSS, images
  • …which in turn is held in a GIT repository to facilitate local development

At the moment it’s all very much work in progress. Ideally I’d like the whole installation on GIT so I can be confident it’s identical across my development and live environments, but for the time being just syncing the Theme files will do.

So far I’m very impressed with WordPress, and now I have my own installation (as opposed to working on someone else’s) I’m looking forward to really pulling it apart and seeing how it all fits together…

On becoming a homeowner in England

Renting your home is a demoralising Faustian pact in the UK. Due to a combination of the  high house prices here and various broken relationships, I made my way through most of adult life renting my home. Recently though, thanks to the generosity of my father (and stepmother) I was given a lump of money to use as a deposit. This brought the mortgage payments right down and made the jump on to the housing ladder much easier, so I found myself owning a mortgage on a home back in January.
In effect, I had gone from renting a home off a landlord, to renting the money to buy a home off of the bank (who never actually had it in the first place, but that’s another story). After the initial blustery circus and brouhaha of purchasing the place and moving had died down, I noticed a number of unexpected changes in my life.

More settled and grounded

Once moved in and settled, I felt more relaxed. Not just in a ‘phew, glad that’s over’ sense, but a more fundamental way. I now knew with a good degree of certainty I wasn’t going to get kicked out of the place with two month’s notice, and so I felt as if after 20+ years, I finally had a home rather than simply inhabiting someone else’ building for a monthly fee.
A few months later, I started to feel generally very grounded and connected with the community and my neighbours, more so than I had ever felt when I rented. I even took an interest in local history.
For example, I found out that my house had been built over 100 years ago to house agricultural labourers on a nearby farm (which is now a branch of Halfords, some car traders and a chunk of ring-road). The area across the road from me was used for archery practise and various mediaeval frolics, including riotous and anarchic games of football. There was a sense of ‘solidity’ in owning the place, a feeling of finally having a proper stake and investment in the society around me.

An unexpected change in social status

People seemed to treat me differently as well. I had always felt a subtle dividing line in our society between homeowners and renters, one which becomes apparent at any dinner party or barbecue when people start discussing gardening and having their kitchen done. As a tenant I could only stand around and nod, whilst looking for an opportunity to talk about something else or find someone else to talk to. This wasn’t out of envy or jealousy, more that these were things I could not relate to as a tenant, like having children for example, or liking football.
In any case, I now felt as if I had claimed a rightful place in wider society.

The fun part: DIY!

Having rented all my adult life, I’d never really done much DIY or painting and decorating. The landlord had done it (or rather, his guys had). The place I moved into required some work, and so I had to upskill myself. I had to invest in a set of good quality tools, and learn how to do things like fit carpet, replace light fittings, prep walls before decorating, apply paint effectively (including ‘cutting in’) and so forth. Youtube, my local library and the combined wisdom of my freinds and family were a big help here.
I found working with wood, tools, and ‘real’ items very satisfying after my day-job working on web code, which has a spritelike ephemeral quality. Plus, like gardening and having kitchens fitted, this was another point of bonding with the Homeowner Classes at work and outside.
But more fundamentally, it’s bloody good fun building things, making things and generally dicking around with drills.

Conclusions

In conclusion, I have felt a shift in my life in terms of practical responsibilities, and a sense of security and belonging in society. I now feel a greater sense of belonging and ease within myself. I no longer have anxiety dreams about getting a Section 21 Notice to Quit on the doormat, or of the landlord turning up and concreting over the garden to make a car park.
It is to my regret though that the circumstances behind my buying a home came down to luck on my part, and generosity on the part of my parents to whom I feel a very deep gratitude. I fully understand my privilege here – I am very much a ‘have’. Many of my peers, including my friends and colleagues, are not so lucky, and may never own their own homes.

The UK housing market is well out of reach for many people, leaving them in a very precarious situation as tenants in the private sector with an Assured Shorthold Tenancy: a landlord can chuck them out, with no reason given and just 2 months notice. There’s no protection against this, no appeal.
The thought of an entire generation of people in England and Wales* being unable to put down roots, to live with constant anxiety of being kicked out is chilling.

  • How can they plan for having children or working?
  • How can they ever hope to connect and feel a real part of their neighbourhoods and community? They are already saddled with university debt, phantom jobs on the gig economy, and the potential disruption of the workplace from AI and next-generation automation.

Avocado Toast

    Berating young people for liking Avocado Toast as per property mogul Tim Gurner is an underhanded diversion, an attempt turn the issue of inequality into a moral issue rather than an economic one: previous generations enjoyed much lower house-price-to-earnings ratios, lower property prices when adjusted for inflation, and lower deposit-to-earnings ratios (whilst at the same time enjoying their own small luxuries). It hasn’t been tenants that have driven these trends, and if they’re irreversible, then we need to move to a more sustainable and secure rental model for the younger generation. Reform of the private rental sector is urgently needed to bring it into line with the European model, where tenants can keep pets, redecorate and refurbish under the protection of long term tenancies.

    This will, I believe, give tenants the ability to plan for their lives longer-term, build connections with their neighbours and communities, and give them the stability enjoyed by out European cousins.

    Epilogue

    Meanwhile, in the six months since I have moved in, inflation has already knocked a few hundred off my mortgage, and the value of my home has risen by nearly £10k. Earning money from investments is not ‘hard work’. Plant money, it grows. But you have to have the seeds and the soil, the opportunity and resources to invest in the first place.

    *Scottish law is different to English and Welsh law in this regard. The Scottish Parliament has already passed a law to restrict evictions.

    Notes from a long lost blog

    A couple of days ago I found this old blog of mine. I had completely forgotten I had it, as I must have been busy with other things over the last few years, but still, it was a nice surprise: rather like finding an old bicycle or computer in the loft that still sort-of works.

    I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it yet, but in the meantime I’ve reskinned it with a new CSS theme.

    In the meantime, here’s a picture of a cat, because everyone likes cats and it’s what the internet was invented for:

    Back to it…

    Back into developing my skillset now, and thoroughly enjoying picking new things up. In the last 12 months I’ve started working with node-webkit (I was looking for a way of knocking up small HTML/Javascript desktop apps that would work across Linux and Windows now that adobe’s killed off Air for Linux), as well as Bootstrap and SASS.

    It’s the thing I love about web development: it keeps you busy and there are always many more things to learn.

    For now though I’m revising my long-neglected ASP.NET skills (what, we’re on 4.5 already?), and also learning a bit about F# for the forthcoming NorDevCon, where I will be attending the ‘Machine Learning and F#’ workshop.

    I’m also back into blogging as well.

    Adventures in Linux

    For the last week I’ve not actually booted into Windows at all (well, unless I’ve been at work). Instead at home I’ve been using the wonderful Linux Mint.

    I’m not entirely sure why I started doing this. There was certainly no cut-off point where I thought ‘right, that’s it, no more Windows ever again!’. I do recall a few months back having wondered what it would be like to have Linux on my actual desktop PC rather than just using it as a kind of necromantic spell with which to revive any dead PCs that people give me, but that was about it.

    My introduction to the world of Linux had what I imagine to be a fairly typical starting point. A few years back I moved into my flat. The previous tenant was a friend of mine who’d left a few bits and bobs behind. One of these bits and bobs was a purportedly ‘dead’ PC which couldn’t be used because the hard drive was screwed. It was an old IDE hard drive, but I managed to find a replacement, and found myself wondering how to get it working. I thought about buying an old OEM copy of Win XP for it, but something in my baulked at shelling out for an OS for an old computer. Why not try Linux? So I did: Ubuntu looked easy (and it was), and so on it went.

    So up until recently, if someone had given me a dead laptop or some computer parts I’d usually have installed Ubuntu. I like brown for a start (cue synaesthetic mixed metaphor: it was like having a chocolate and coffee flavoured OS, purring away like a Burmese cat on a warm summers evening), and the out-of-the-box Gnome 2 desktop was a bit like a friendlier version of Windows. Plus it was free, and so were all the weird little bits of software on it, so I didn’t have to worry about nasty license restrictions should I upgrade or find myself reinstalling anything. All in all a very happy option that I was pleased to use.

    Unfortunately Ubuntu utterly shot themselves in both feet with the ‘Unity’ desktop. Like Windows 8’s Metro and touch-interface obsession and Skyrim’s completely unsuitable UI on the PC, this was a triumph of ‘Vision’ over usability and common-sense, which shot my workflow to hell and rendered using the OS a hopeless mess. Meanwhile Gnome 3 was doing something similar in it’s gnomey cave, thus similarly alienating its user base.

    Sadly I had to put Ubuntu to bed as a result of this ‘blue sky’ meddling by the Unity visionaries, and didn’t bother with Linux much after that. However, the idea of having a free operating system, thus reducing my dependence on Windows, kept its appeal. I kept finding myself contemplating different imaginary scenarios where I’d work almost entirely with free/open source software, and so searched around for another distro that would be attractive, pleasant to use and, erm, actually usable.

    For the benefit of Windows users reading this, it’s here that one of the most striking differences between Linux and Windows becomes apparent: the interface (desktop, windows, menus, buttons etc) is in fact seperate(ish) from the actual operating system itself. This means that you can have Linux installed, and depending on your hardware or your UI preferences, you can choose between different ‘Windows-ish’ setups. Up until recently there have been two main contenders, Gnome and KDE. Both of these offered a Windows-like experience, together with the various widgets, multiple workspaces and so on. Switching between different workspaces is great if you’re into multi-tasking, and is something I miss when working with Windows. There were subtle differences between Gnome and KDE, and these have become more marked as both have sought to make use of accelerated graphics hardware in different ways.

    Neither Gnome 3, nor KDE really appealed to me. Ubuntu’s Unity was awful due to the way it hampered my ability to rapidly switch between tasks, Gnome 3 did similar, and KDE never really felt particularly ‘solid’.

    Lately though, whilst Googling different versions of Linux, I found Linux Mint. I had used it before (when to my innocent mind it was just a ‘green’ version of Ubuntu), but not extensively. I saw that Clem Lefebvre and his Linux Mint team had heeded the criticisms levelled by the Linux community at Unity and Gnome 3, and set about finding solutions that would enable them to maintain a usable and pleasant Linux Distro that didn’t piss people off or crash their PCs. Thus Linux Mint is available with two Desktop environments: Cinnamon and MATE. Both are simple and enjoyable to use, and although they’re both very new they both feel and behave in a solid fashion. What’s most cheering about these projects is the way that folks working on both the MATE and Cinnamon projects have been careful to listen to the needs and the wishes of their userbases, improving those things that need to be improved whilst keeping the things that work well.

    Since installing Linux Mint 12 as a second OS on my desktop PC, I’ve been tinkering around with it quite a bit. It was only yesterday that I noticed that the tinkering had become full-time use for the last week, and that I hadn’t actually used Windows at all at home during that period.

    Mint boots quickly on my PC, doesn’t pester me with security updates, and doesn’t spend the first half hour working at a crawl whilst the antivirus updates itself. I can just get on with whatever everyday tasks I want to do, and Mint gets out of the way. The desktop customisation means that I’ve been able to arrange things in a manner that is both aesthetically pleasing and functional, and I’ve been learning about Linux on the way as well.

    In fact, it’s the last bit that’s been the most satisfying, because even though there are icons on the desktop and menus here and there just like Windows, Linux differs to Windows in many ways so there’s been loads of new things to discover. I’ve been finding out about the file structure, the way permissions are used and also how to use scripts and terminal commands.

    I’ll still be using Windows for music production (I swear by Orion and Komplete) and learning ASP.NET stuff (Visual Studio 2010 has no parallel). Oh, and AAA games like Skyrim too, but for everyday stuff I’ll stick with Mint.

    Worst. Scam. Email. Ever.

    This one actually made me laugh. Here it is, complete with typos and batshit capitalisation:

    ANTI-TERRORIST AND MONETORY CRIMES DIVISION
    FBI HEADQUARTERS WASHINGTON, D.C.
    FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION
    J. EDGAR HOOVER BUILDING
    935 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE,
    NW WASHINGTON, D.C. 20535-0001
    Fax 0872 111 5935

    Bank of Nigeria transferred 10,500,000.00 us dollars to bank of America in your favor as the beneficiary; bank of Nigeria used (secret diplomatic transit payment to wire this money. Secret diplomatic payments are only made if its Terrorist related. why must your payment be made by a secret transfer, if you are not a terrorist, then why did you not 
    Receive the money? Why did you instruct them to use a coded means to transfer your money? We have intercepted the transfer of  $10,500,000.00 usd to you .we advise you to contact us immediately for directives on what next to do, as your money is In a suspense account in the bank of America, present to us your diplomatic immunity seal of transfer (dist) document 

    To prove this money is not terrorist related.

    Failure to produce the dist document, we shall impound your money and prosecute you for criminal offense, but on the  Contrary the money will be released immediately we receive the dist document. The dist document guarantees the following

    60t your transferred money is genuine
    61h you are empowered to receive the money without further scrutiny
    62j your receiving bank account can either be in usa/uk/outside or anywhere you wish

    Reply immediately with this dist document if you want to receive your transferred moneys we intercepted Respond within 24 hrs upon receipt of this mail

    Assistant director in charge
    James w. Mcjunkin
    For
    Robert s. Mueller, iii
    Federal bureau of investigation
    United states department of justice
    Washington, d.c. 20535

    What I Did For Xmas 2011

    Having done my present shopping early, avoided shops, turned the TV off and made plans to not travel anywhere, I found myself spending the Christmas weekend largely on my own in my cavernous flat.

    It’s amazing what a difference the ‘No TV, Travelling or Shops’ thing makes to the whole experience of Christmas. I actually had a splendidly refreshing long weekend completely free of any kind of pressure to do anything. It was almost like having a week’s holiday.

    Joolz and Mr Ian popped by on Christmas Eve, and it was lovely as always to catch up with them and set the world to rights about life, the universe and everything. After they tootled off I went back to my study, and woke my PC up to do a bit of gaming.

    A while back I had downloaded Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and had got quite a way into it. After a good solid play through, I finally finished it at 1.30am on Christmas eve. And so to bed, a bit bleary, and still playing the game in my head. Boy I had some funny dreams that night…

    Christmas morning I managed to get my guitar hooked up to my music software, Orion v8, meaning that I can now record live guitar playing through a variety of effects on to my tracks. I’ve yet to try it with vocals, but seeing as I cannot sing (and so tend to leave vocals to the Dogsolitude_uk Singing Robots) it’s a bit of a moot point.

    I cleaned the kitchen and tidied up a bit, and did some weeding in the front garden.

    I also went for a bit of a bike ride up past one of the country-ish areas near where I live. This is where I learned that a Barbour Moorland Jacket may be wonderful for dog-walking or generally traipsing around in the drizzle and wind, but it’s bloody dreadful on a bike. After a couple of miles I noticed a bit of a chill, and noticed that the jacket had started coming undone from the bottom as my legs pedalled, thanks to the two-way zip. I also accidentally reset the numbers on my bike computer.

    Most of my relatives, when I called them, seemed to want to know if I was having Christmas dinner, and if so what I was having. I ate plenty (a quiche, honey-roasted parsnips and potatoes, a hot apple-and-blackberry pie were the more sensible things I consumed) but there seemed to be something a bit Samuel Beckett about making a Christmas Dinner for one, so I waited for ms rhapsody9 to come back before doing any stuffing etc.

    Later in the evening, being a bit too full and rather too physically fatigued to do anything strenuous, I watched Blackadder’s Christmas Carol, the Father Ted Xmas Special, and a few episodes of Family guy. Later on, I booted up Steam and bought a sort of expansion for Deus Ex called ‘The Missing Link’. A bit of shooting and sneaking later, I tootled off to bed.

    From what I can work out, a lot of people find Christmas to be a terrible time to be alone, and it truly must be dreadful if you want to be with your family or other half. However for me it was a much needed respite from the demands of the rest of the world, and a wonderfully refreshing opportunity to rest and recuperate that generally left me feeling cheerful and well-disposed towards my fellow wo/man.

    Which is sort of the whole point, IIRC.

    How I dealt with Xmas 2011

    I finally, after many years, discovered that Christmas is actually quite easy to deal with, and need not be the turgid cauldron of stress that it’s often made out to be in the MSM. It only takes a few small adjustments to one’s behaviour over the period, and suddenly everything will be swimmingly easy.

    1 – Avoid shops

    Shops and shopping centres around Xmas are a Dantean circle of hell, full of the sharp-elbowed middle classes, wailing children, the elderly (who for understandable reasons move at restricted speed), people with buggies (FFS) and the generally lost and bewildered who dawdle and stop, gawping, at window displays at random moments.

    The solution here is to order stuff online and give our postal service a much-needed boost. If you’re prone to getting the Red Card of Absence due to being at work, catch your postman and come to an amicable informal arrangement about dumping stuff in the recycling bin or something. Alternatively, have it delivered to you workplace, or the home of an understanding stay-at-home friend. Or just get on your bike and cycle to the depot. Or drive if you have a car.

    If you really must go shopping, minimise your exposure to the commercial arena by planning purchases beforehand, working out which shops to go to, and doing a quick hit-and-run job during your lunch hour. This approach has the added benefit that it’s easier to think about someone and what to get them from the comfort of your sofa with a notepad in hand, than amidst the throngs of consumers.

    2 – Avoid Xmas Music

    Another reason to avoid shops at Xmas is the wretched music. The crowds are bad enough, however in an inspired attempt to make everyone happy, every single retailer in the land is playing the same selection of roughly twenty ‘Xmas’ songs. From November onwards, you can hear sleighbells, churchbells, children’s choirs and various other noises and lyrics commanding you to be happy (and, by extension, buy more tawdry crap for your loved ones).

    Well, most Xmas songs seem to be musical instructions to make merry, apart from the John Lennon song “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” which somehow makes me feel like opening a vein with it’s sickeningly mawkish attempt to make you feel guilty for not having had your house bombed and your family shot (“Hey guys, it’s Christmas, and I hope you don’t, like, nuke each other, glass each other, stab each other, plant landmines on each other’s territories, bulldoze each other’s homes, commit racially aggravated assaults on each other, torture each other, carpet-bomb cities or generally be nasty ‘cos, like, life’s really tough and that, for old people and kids too, so stop being scared and I really, really hope you can overcome any negativity for just this one day a year, oh and I’ve got some kids singing to really make you feel shit about being a monstrous warlike creature who through slothful inactivity is directly contributing to the growth and influence of the military-industrial complex, you dig?”).

    3 – Turn the TV off

    Again, this measure gets rid of the ‘forced merriment’ thing. If you avoid shopping malls and turn the TV off you need never hear bloody Slade for the entire duration of the season (I’ve heard ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ precisely once this year, and that was because someone in the office thought it would be great to use it as their mobile ringtone. Mercifully the resulting ridicule forced the poor chap to change it).

    Killing the TV also means you don’t have to put up with the seasonal adverts that stations put on, the seasonal trailers for seasonal programming, endless graphics of snowflakes, santas and reindeer, and earnest Celebrities urging you to have a ‘very merry Christmas’ every fifteen minutes.

    Instead of the TV burbling away in the background, I’ve had the radio on, and Radio 3 have been broadcasting various classic and devotional works throughout Christmas Eve. I may be one of those odd agnostic types when it comes to God and whatnot, but give me the Westminster Choir belting out ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ over ‘Mistletoe’ by Justin Bieber any day (or worse still, Little Mix singing about oral sex – for crying out loud you don’t have to do it if you don’t like it, and FYI Polos are available from most streetcorner shops).

    Please, don’t get me wrong: I’m not a ‘grinch’ or a ‘Scrooge’ or any of those other thought-terminating cliches. I’d hate the thought of banning Christmas, I just think it gone too far. Rather like Football around the time of the World Cup, it invades everything from the end of October onwards in a desperate attempt to claw as much money and attention from us as possible.

    I’d far rather people were given the option to switch off and opt out of the apparently socially-mandatory, media-prescribed festivities. This may seem rather difficult to do, until one recognises that the source of much of this festive stress and ballyhoo really just comes from two sources: shops and TV.

    Coaches

    In general, I prefer to travel via coach than by train.

    Lately I have found train carriages to be increasingly noisy places, with people yapping into mobile phones, kids running around, football fans having loud conversations about The Match and so on. It’s often difficult to find a ‘table seat’ too, and the Carrolian logic behind ticket pricing, where a return fare can mysteriously cost more than a single has bemused me on many an occasion.

    It was quite by accident that I found myself getting reacquainted with coaches, and was cheered to find them quieter, more comfortable and vastly cheaper than trains. The only downside was that they take longer to get to wherever it is you want to go, and may get caught up in traffic, but I consider that a fair transfer of risk given the advatantages of large comfortable leatherette seats and relative peace and quiet.

    Better still, I actually enjoyed the unhurried pace of the coach. One has plenty of time to listen to an audio book or a number of podcasts and generally relax. Add a bottle of mineral water and a blanket, and it can be very pleasant indeed, especially if one is travelling through the countryside an hour before sunset during the summer.

    Earlier today I travelled back from Heathrow to my home city, and all the advantages of the coach I’ve noted above were in evidence. However, a salient disadvantage did arise: if you don’t want to be in the vicnity of the other occupants of the coach you cannot simply move to a different carriage as you can in a train.

    Ms Rhapsody9 and I took to our seats on our coach earlier today, and a few minutes into the journey we noticed a rather horrid smell. Ms rhapsody wondered if it was perhaps a dead squirrel that had got trapped in the wheel arches, or perhaps something terrible had happened in the little toilet at the back. It was arguably worse: the young tracksuited chap behind us had started munching on a tube of Sour Cream and Chive Pringles, which, in the confines of the coach, smelt like salted baby-sick.

    We moved to another seat at the first stop to get away from it, only to find ourselves sitting in front of an old chap who clearly had some terrible disease. Every 20 seconds he’d ejaculate a terrible shotgun of a cough, followed by a plegmy gurgle and what sounded like an attempt to dislodge his adenoids by sniffing very, very hard indeed.

    After one other stop, we moved seats again, only to find history repeating itself. The chap behind us this time had a milder form of the lurgi, but the woman across the aisle was also afflicted, and so we were being accosted on two fronts.

    I was very tempted to telephone the local health authorities and warn them that a plague bus was on its way to the city, but the reception was a bit patchy, so I didn’t. In any case, I was glad to get off that bus and into the fresh air.