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Recent Posts

Mon, 04 Dec 2023
Tis The Season
# 16:17 in ./general

Well, tis the season to go shopping it seems.

Edinburgh is jam packed with people in the town center. I read that the official Christmas Market on Princes Street is unbearably busy, with some people turning around and walking away because of the queues. Even outside the main areas things are busy, especially at weekends. Luckily, I'm an early bird so, if I need to go near the epicentre, I can mostly avoid the crush. I assume it will be getting worse.

It's definitely something to take in at night though. I like this time of year because of the number of things to do but I prefer the smaller and less commercial attractions. Some reports to come hopefully.

Fri, 01 Dec 2023
Goodbye John Byrne
# 19:25 in ./general

Above: Biggish Self Portrait, John Byrne. Oil on Board. 61x71cm

John Byrne, one of the best artists Scotland's produced, died today. He was a natural : he had to draw (write,paint) to live.

I was mostly familiar with his painting, drawing and print making and he was very prolific. In addition to this, he was a successful writer and playwright.

Definitely a big Byrne-shaped hole in the Scottish arts scene.

I saw a lot of his work over the years in Edinburgh, and would even occasionally see the man himself around town (or in the Art Shop). A very dapper dresser. He was fond of doing self-portraits, often with a cigarette in his mouth: not very good for his health although he lived to a good age (like another famous artist smoker, David Hockney).

Although I'll miss seeing new art works from him, I look forward to a proper retrospective exhibition.

Thu, 30 Nov 2023
Winter Sun
# 18:50 in ./general
Above: Resilient Tree, Rising Moon. Victoria Crowe. woodblock, screenprint and lithograph. 77x83.5cm. [link]

There is a bit of winter sun around just now in Edinburgh: an occasional bright sun, weakly warming, with clouds and the threat of rain, sleet or snow. Perhaps all three on the same afternoon. It's very cold but this is something you need to get used to during a winter in Scotland. There's often no sun at all and it can be quite dark and dismal all day.

The Scottish Gallery's December exhibition is called Low Winter Sun and celebrates the sort of weather we might get up here at this time of year. Victoria Crowe is the artist and always a welcome sight in the gallery; an artist I like and have admired on this blog.

Some of Crowe's work in the exhibition are monotype prints, and they're good. From Jackson's Art blog :

Technically, only one impression is made with a monotype, so the work you create is a unique work on paper, although there is often the ability to create ‘ghost prints’ – slightly faded impressions of the work you have made on the glass once the first print is taken

The blog linked above also describes how to make a monotype print. Even better, Victoria Crowe shows how it is done on the Scottish Gallery's YouTube channel : The Making of Burnished by a Late Sun (YouTube video).

The exhibition is on for a few weeks and I'll visit again.

Sun, 12 Nov 2023
WILL: Release an IP Address
# 06:54 in ./tech

If you use DHCP anywhere, you know that the server sends network configuration to you, the client, to set up things like your IP address, gateway, DNS server etc. An essential service today for most devices. What if you change something in the server and need to refresh these settings?

On Linux when using the NetworkManager program to deal with networking, you can easily release and refresh the configured settings using the NM command line tool nmcli. See what network conections are present :

nmcli connection show

Identify the network you want to refresh ("NAME") and switch it off ("down") :

nmcli connection down id "NAME"
Replace "NAME" with the name of the conection (you will need quotes if there are any spaces in the name of the connection).

Turn it back on ("up") :

nmcli connection up id "NAME"

This should refresh your network configuration to reflect the server change you have made.


Putting my "What I learned Today" efforts in the shade is Josh Branchaud's "Today I Learned" (TIL) repository of useful knowledge. He's been adding to this for quite a few years and it's a very impressive collection. It's on Github.

Sun, 29 Oct 2023
Sunny Day on the Links
# 16:52 in ./art

The banner at the top of my blog at the moment (end of October 2023) is a detail from a photograph I took a couple of years ago on Bruntsfield Links, Edinburgh. The banner (cropped a little) :

This was a lovely sunny afternoon in September 2020. I used the photograph as a reference for a painting I completed late last year (November 2022). The painting came out fairly well I think. I've come to terms with how much green there is. I think. The painting :

Above: Sunny Afternoon at the Links, oil on canvas, 60x76cm

A detail from the painting :

Fri, 27 Oct 2023
A State of Collapse
# 10:54 in ./books

By Greg Egan

Score: 4/5

A near future Earth, cut off from the rest of the universe by a "bubble" in space blocking out the stars and any access to the universe beyond the solar system. A future Earth where brain modifications ("mods") are easily bought and installed, giving the user ways of taking a call in their sleep, suppressing boredom or even bringing a visible and audible avatar of a dead partner to life. Maybe an idea installed: something that becomes a central part of who you are. However, this is the least of it in Greg Egan's novel. It gets even stranger: quantum physics strange. What is the quantum wave function and what does it mean when it "collapses"?

If you know what Schrödinger's Cat is, or a bit about Quantum Physics (the strange and sometimes outlandish theory of the subatomic world) you might think you have an understanding of what's in store: you might need to think again.

I enjoyed reading this but must admit that the speculation was tough going on some occasions (also: I have a Physics Degree). Quantum Physics is a very successfully theory of the world but also notoriously difficult to understand on many levels (beyond the mathematical equations). This is definitely not your average "speculative" fiction book, science-fiction or otherwise and Egan has form; he is not afraid to consider the stranger aspects of science and where it leads. It can be mind-bending stuff, so great fun sometimes but also hard to follow on occasion.

This is definitely not a book everyone will like; probably a book only a few will manage to get through perhaps. But for those that like their science-fiction to have harder "science" in it, you can't beat Greg Egan's novels and I would highly recommend you have a look at Quarantine. Especially if you are interested in the ramifications of Quantum Physics.

Fri, 13 Oct 2023
Hard Things
# 09:39 in ./general

Above: Slide 4 © Julia Evans

Almost a followup to the recent post about removing complexity and keeping things simple: a recent post by Julia Evans (a software developer in Canada). She has a video and a transcript of a talk she gave entitled Making Hard Things Easy and makes a case that far too much knowledge is poorly documented and hard to understand. She's primarily talking about technical things, like the Bash Shell or DNS, but the main point is applicable to many other things in normal day to day life and work. This is why we write an "executive summary" on a report. We want to extract the important parts of a (possibly long and involved) document and present them in an easily digested list up front. Fundamentally, it is all about good communication.

Wed, 11 Oct 2023
# 15:53 in ./general

"Keep It Simple, Stupid" is often an apt plan in life, not just in your technical endeavours. If something is complicated, it's easier to build badly, or break.. So I will place this "What I Learned Lately" post in the "general" section.

I was looking at the state of the technical back-end of my web site and blog (such as it is), trying to recall how it all fit together: what this or that file (or style) did and where it came from. Most of it is quite simple: the blogging "platform" itself is straightforward (a small CGI script called blosxom), the rest generally static. But I had included some bigger components, a so-called "framework" (Foundation), of which I was only using a tiny portion (barely noticeable really). Also extra fonts, mostly unused but cluttering up the HTML. When you add complexity like this, things can get slower and harder to extend. The final problem was: I barely understood what this extra stuff was or how it worked.

So, I stripped it all out and put back just enough of my own work to keep the site and blog looking decent (mostly the "same" hopefully). This is now small and easily managed, and also something I fully understand. If I want to work on building my knowledge of HTML, CSS and Javascript (something I want to do), then it's best to start simple.

A final thing to note: testing the site to make sure it still worked and looked okay, I came across a lot of my old blog posts. Book reviews, some social comment, galleries and art. It all builds up and is fascinating to read now (to me at least). It's amazing to look back and recall I actually owned a Firefox Smartphone! Unfortunately it didn't work out for the long term. Things are a lot better now of course /s

Above: Into the sunlight through Rodney Street tunnel, Canonmills, Edinburgh 2023.

Thu, 05 Oct 2023
The New National
# 09:25 in ./general

It's finally open. It's been a long and frustrating wait in many ways, but Scotland's new National Gallery of Art opened its doors to the public for the first time last Saturday. Many delays, some due to the pandemic, and a lot of money spent. But we have something to visit at last and the bottom of the Mound is beginning to look somewhat presentable again (although I have a bit of a complaint: see below).

The new gallery is laid out along the length of the main gallery building, but underneath it. In the photo above, the new extension is all the way at the back, stretching away under the National Gallery building at the far end. Unlike the old spaces for the Scottish collection, the new area doesn't feel so much like a basement now. It's lighter and better laid out.

I like the new gallery and I am very happy that it is finally open. Like many, it was dragging on a bit but you can't argue with the great art work we can finally see again. It makes a big difference to see the paintings in a well lit and more open space. And even though it is hard to integrate with the rest of the gallery space, it's a huge improvement.

Above: St Bride (detail/full), John Duncan, Tempera, oil and gold leaf on canvas, 122.30x144.50cm

The gallery site has a fuller section on Celebrating Scotland's Art.

You can also have a look at a YouTube video which walks you through the space.

I wish they actually cleaned up the mess and litter outside the gallery in real life, rather than just virtually. Council or gallery problem ownership? Also, hooray that the Playfair Steps are also open again.

Wed, 27 Sep 2023
Water Works
# 18:10 in ./general

Every year, the Mall Galleries in London hosts an exhibition of the Royal Society of Marine Artists and the 2023 show finishes on September 30th. Unfortunately, I don't get down to see them anymore, but the gallery always puts them online and it's the next best thing. As always, amazing works of art.

Some awards are given out each year (online). Frankly, they're all excellent but here are two I particularly like. Jenny Aitken's Sundown from Harwich Quay (link) because of the beautiful evening light, and Raymond Leech's Evening Crabbing Session Blakeney (link) because of it's lovely "painterly" execution. Great light as well!

Above: Sundown from Harwich Quay, Jenny Aitken, Oil on canvas, 40x50 cm

Above: Evening Crabbing Session Blakeney, Raymond Leech, Oil on canvas, 18x23 cm

The world is a lot better with good art.

Sun, 24 Sep 2023
WILL: Getting the File Name from a Whole Path
# 20:36 in ./tech

There is a more straightforward way to do this, plus a more arcane way (syntax-wise). There's a lot of arcane in the Bash Shell and in some ways, it's like Vim: you just have to get used to things, try and remember them and not ask "why?" too much.

If you have a file path and want to know the last part (usually the file name) only, you can use the command basename (man basename) e.g. If I have a path : /usr/include/stdio.h, then :

basename /usr/include/stdio.h

Gives me : stdio.h.

The command also has options to strip a suffix (e.g. the ".h" part).

Alternatively, a more arcane was is to use the parameter expansion functionality of the Bash shell.

echo "${FILENAME##*/}"

This is looking for a pattern ("##") and stripping everything up to the last "/" (*/).

This also gives : stdio.h

Did I mention arcane? There are are lot of very useful features like this in the Bash shell but they can just be a little hard to remember sometimes (and you have to watch out for "gotchas" using them!).


See Bash Manual : Parameter Expansion

Sat, 09 Sep 2023
WILL: Substituting Within Vim Visual Selection Only
# 16:00 in ./tech

In vim you can be in a visual selection mode, perhaps selecting only parts of the text file. Normally, a substitution operation (e.g. replace string "2022" with "2023") operates on a whole line (or range of lines). To restrict this to operate only on the visual selection you have, use the "\%V" pattern at the start of your search.

So, assuming a visual selection is highlighted and within this I want to change "-" to " " :

:'<,'>s/\%V\-/ /g

A highlight containing "This-is-a-test" becomes "This is a test".

See Vim help %V

Reference :

Wed, 06 Sep 2023
WILL: Naming My Ethernet Device
# 15:24 in ./tech

My server has USB 2.0 only and I thought I'd upgrade it to USB 3.0 via a Startech USB 3.0 PCI card. Installation was straightforward but after restarting the computer I discovered my networking was broken.

It turns out that my ethernet device used to be enp2s0 but was now enp3s0 and my network setup failed.

This type of kernel device name is created based on various schemes e.g. the physical location of the connector of the hardware on the PCI bus. See the Redhat Docs.

I've been using Linux for many years now and computers have changed a lot in this time. Leaving aside the huge advances in CPU, RAM and storage, many computer devices are not "fixed" in place but can come and go (even CPU's and RAM). Mostly, these devices might get plugged in or out, such as a USB mouse or external USB hard drive. PCI devices are also capable of being "hotplugged" and when any of this happens, the kernel has to scan the new configuration and determine what devices are present. Sometimes it has to re-arrange the device names.

My server is an old HP Microserver (N36L) : 12 years old now but still going strong (although it needed a new power supply last year). Because I use an external USB disk for backup, USB 3.0 will speed things up a lot (I hope). On to the reboot and networking failure ...

To fix this, I could just change my ethernet device name in my network setup files (i.e. /etc/network/interfaces on Debian). I decided to use systemd and create my own persistent and simple (old-fashioned) name for the device.

Systemd Link

This is "link" as in a network link (man page : systemd.link).

Use :

ip l

to get the MAC address for the network device enp3s0. Then create the file :


The file must end with ".link" and preferably begin with numbers (as a run order). It contains :



I edited my network setup scripts (Debian : /etc/network/interfaces) to use the network name "eth0". Now, when I boot the system, the name "eth0" is set on the network device with my main ethernet MAC address and will stay that way.

I must add that I like systemd and how it's changed the Linux boot and system control landscape.

Fri, 01 Sep 2023
The Bigger Seat
# 06:20 in ./art

In January last year, I posted a piece about a small study I had done of Arthur's Seat called The Seat by the Loch. I worried that the picture was a bit too saccharine. Maybe it was, but I decided I ignore any qualms and go all in on the "colour" : and so painted a larger version. This was done in July 2022 and I think it turned out okay. So, varnished, framed and hanging on a wall somewhere near me :

Above: View of St Anthony's Chapel and St Margaret's Loch, Oil on Linen, 60x80cm

This is a view of St Margaret's Loch and St Anthony's Chapel on Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh. I'd sometimes have lunch sitting up there with friends, and sharing the rocks opposite the chapel with some ravens chasing any crumbs falling their way. Better a raven than a gull.

Wed, 30 Aug 2023
WILL : Change Vim Tab Colours
# 16:02 in ./tech

What I learnt Lately no. 2 : How to change the colour Vim uses for its tabs.

The editor Vim has "tabs" similar to tabs in other applications (text editors, browsers), or at least can be made similar. I use a plugin called buftabline for my Vim tabs. Vim buffers are shown as classic-style tabs along the top of the window.

One thing I didn't like was the fact that the empty space on this tab bar was shown as white :

To change this, use the "highlight" command and apply different colours to the tab elements :

That's much better and a lot clearer to see what buffer/tab I'm looking at with a glance.

This is what I have in my .vimrc settings file :

highlight TabLineFill term=bold cterm=bold ctermbg=0
highlight TabLineSel ctermfg=0 ctermbg=LightYellow

Note that the vim plugin buftabline has its own set of colour (highlight) groups e.g. BufTabLineActive (these are linked to the built-in tab groups). See the github page.

Reference :

This page was very useful :

Tue, 29 Aug 2023
What I've Learnt Lately: WILL
# 16:14 in ./tech

I love tinkering around with the computer and digging into some of the aspects of running Linux, or the more interesting applications it can host. Take the editor Vim. Not a text editor for the masses (to say the least) but it does have an extremely broad and deep set of features and also a whole swathe of settings for them. I've not done much painting recently and have spent some time sorting out my computing experience. For this, I've learnt quite a few new things and it's made me remember how pleasurable learning stuff is.

So : What I have learnt lately a.k.a. WILL. Maybe I will try and document some of these things, if only for my own reference later.

Vim Lookaround

Viewing some old server backup logs (something else I've been "fixing"), I wanted to jump to the next line not starting with a word ("deleting").

I use the Vim text editor and to find a line that starts with a string, use the "^" regex anchor. Press "/" and :


The "<cr>" means press the return/enter key. So "^deleting" matches the word deleting at the start of a line.

The "/v" means interpret the pattern used as "very magic", so no need to quote brackets etc. See vimdoc for an explanation.

Now for the good stuff (and new to me) : to find a line not starting with "deleting", press "/" and :


This is similar to before but we wrap the pattern in brackets and end with "@!". The "@!" is a negative lookaround (i.e. "lookbehind") i.e. looks for no matching pattern behind us. The "^" means "at start of line" (behind us).

To help retain a piece of knowledge, it's usually useful to write it down somewhere.

Reference :

Mon, 31 Jul 2023
Book of the New Sun
# 09:52 in ./books

The Book of the New Sun
by Gene Wolf

Score: 2/5

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolf is composed of four "books" that I have in two volumes. It is set on a far future Earth, with the sun dying but human kind still around. Much has changed and much forgotten, almost all history is lost or barely remembered.

In brief, we follow a young man called Severian, an apprentice torturer (the guild otherwise known as "The Seekers for Truth and Penitence"). Expelled from his guild for showing mercy, he is exiled and has to go on a journey to a far city, armed with an impressive sword and picking up a mysterious gem stone by accident on the way. We meet some odd characters who he joins or join him, and he battles some more bizarre creatures. The gem stone has some strange power and over the course of his travels he learns part of the secret to the world and its governing powers.

A number of times over the last few years I have come across people saying how great this novel was and so I added it to my reading list. The time was finally right to jump in. Or so I thought.

Well, I seriously struggled to get through the books and almost gave up on multiple occasions: after the first book, then after the second. I think I decided that, like having a "sunk cost" here, I might as well push through it. It's not a bad book, and not badly written, but just quite baffling in many ways. I found the (far future Earth) world interesting but hardly revealed or explained. The same with the characters, whose motivations were obscure to me mostly. Always expecting the pace to pick up and something to happen, it mostly didn't and things plodded forward, often slowly. When things did happen, they often seemed to happen as merely a plot device: people would appear, go away and then meet later. Often a bit too much coincidence. As each book ended, I felt generally unrewarded. On to the next?

Like I say, I did read all of them and the books improved for me after the bumpy start. Maybe it was actually the wrong time for me to read the novels; maybe I was expecting something quite different. When I read many other positive reviews now I see much talk of the books needing to be read more than once, to get the nuance and pick up Wolf's cleverly constructed, but slightly obscured, meaning. However, I think a book should stand up to a first reading. Even if the novels contain a lot of not-so-obvious clues to the events and history of the place, Wolf might have been a bit too clever for me.

Tue, 28 Mar 2023
Still Here
# 19:00 in ./books

Leviathan Falls
by James S. A. Corey

Score: 5/5

As written on the frontispiece of the last in the series :

Nine books later and you're still here, so this one's for you.

Nine books is very impressive. They're chunky as well, but the biggest deal is how consistently good they are. And nine books later I get to the end of The Expanse and close the final book, Leviathan Falls. I've waited a long time for the last book to appear: the paperback version seemed to take forever to get released.

This has been the best action/adventure series I have read, consistently good and usually great. The series started well and stayed that way: if anything, it got better. Quite a believable future mapped out by the two authors, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck ("Corey" is a pen name), with the solar system politics and fighting looking a bit parochial as the story expanded into a huge galaxy spanning collection of worlds.

In the end though, what made these novels special were the characters, who we get to know, understand and love. With the vast distances involved, the characters age and by the final few books, they're decades older, and showing it. We've grown besides them.

It's always hard finishing a book you love reading and even if the end is somewhat bitter-sweet, Leviathan Falls does not disappoint.

Sun, 19 Mar 2023
Taking Games Seriously
# 14:33 in ./books

Player of Games
by Iain M. Banks

Score: 4/5

Second time lucky? The last time I read Player of Games I was underwhelmed. I thought the book was okay but a little dull, perhaps a bit hard to understand and lacking in action. Over the years since, however, I keep on coming across people online who consider this book a favourite, and perhaps the best "Culture" novel he wrote. So, an impetus to give it another chance. As is increasingly clear to me, the reaction you have to a book is very dependent on when you read it.

So now I am very glad I came back to the novel because I really liked it this time. I'd forgotten almost all of the story so it felt fresh. It is not action packed, akthough it has some and is a bit more "cerebral" perhaps. The story's about a complicated game: a "game" a society uses as a part of its organising principles. So we learn about cruelty, hierarchy, equality and politics through a cast of very different, and not always very likeable, characters. This is typical Banks, as is the "Culture" culture and humour, including a malicious drone. Things are not always what they seem but we get a satisfying, dare I say, happy ending?

I think I would now consider myself a "booster" of this book.

Sat, 04 Mar 2023
Garage Classic
# 13:32 in ./comics

Going through some of my old comics and comic books, I came across a hardback French edition of Moebius' Le Garage Hermétique, the first version in colour. A true classic of French bande dessiné and a strip I first came across in the American Heavy Metal magazine in the late 1970's. This colour version was published by Les Humanoïdes Associés in October 1988.

Inside is a colour poster insert: a blow-up of one of the most striking panels in the strip. I had completely forgotten about his but what a wonderful surprise to rediscover. It is revealed that it was a woman under that hat all along, not a man!

This is not something to leave hidden away inside a book anymore. It deserves a frame and to be hanging on a wall. RIP Jean Giraud a.k.a. Moebius.

© Alastair Sherringham 2023
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