Wed, 27 Sep 2023
Water Works

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

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.

FILENAME="/usr/include/stdio.h" echo "${FILENAME##*/}"

This is looking for a pattern ("##") and stripping everything up to the last "/" (*/). It gives us the following output :

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!).

Reference:

See Bash Manual : Parameter Expansion


Sat, 09 Sep 2023
WILL: Substituting Within Vim Visual Selection Only

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

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 :

/etc/systemd/network/10-eth0.link

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

[Match]
MACAddress=<YOUR MAC ADDRESS>

[Link]
Name=eth0

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

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

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

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. To find a line that starts with a string, use the "^" regex anchor. Press "/" and :

/\v^deleting<cr>

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 :

/\v^(deleting)@!<cr>

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

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

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

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

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 Humano├»des 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.


Tue, 06 Sep 2022
Inverleith Sunrise Process

I often take photographs of work in progress for my own interest and sometimes think to blog about it. So, in the interests of full disclosure, here is the first of a few occasional posts about paintings and the steps I used to create them.

Firstly, a picture of the sun coming up through trees in Inverleith Park, Edinburgh, with the New Town and castle in the distance. A beautiful golden sunrise on a cold day. I'm happy with the result.

A 50x60cm linen canvas, painting in oils.

On the left: Start with a toned canvas. I used a grid on the canvas to do an initial (basic) drawing in pencil, then used thin raw umber paint to block in a light under-painting. I sometimes use faster drying oil paints (e.g. Winsor and Newton Griffin) for an initial block in.

Right: Paint the graduated sky first (bright sun at left), then the graduated city and then foreground. The tree trunks in front of city are also painted in.

Left:Start the tree branches. I waited for the sky to be "dry".

Right:As I go along painting the branches, I adjust the branch colour to account for the sunlight passing through them. To finish the branches, I used a dry-brush technique (and a fan brush) to brush the finer branches at the end of the main branches.

The end result came out well I believe. It is now varnished and framed.


Sat, 13 Aug 2022
The Morrocco Connection

Now that decent summer weather has arrived, perhaps it's time for the bikini?

Right: Community Garden Melbourne: The Morning after the Night Before, 2019-21, Oil on canvas. Leon Morrocco. Detail (link).

I hadn't heard of the Scottish artistic dynasty named "Morrocco" until I moved to Scotland: a little surprising. First Alberto Morrocco (who died in 1998), then his son Leon Morrocco. A sort while later I saw an exhibition by Jack Morrocco, who turned out to be Alberto's nephew. A lot of artistic skill here: all fine artists. One wonders whether it is a genetic foundation for the artistic talent or perhaps genes cause the disposition to put in the practice. Maybe a bit of both.

Leon Morrocco has an exhibition on at the Royal Scottish Acadcemy.

He is eighty years old this year and his work is as large and colourful as always. His palette seems to include colours not often used by other artists: pinks and turquoises perhaps. He is in a post-impressionistic vein, with some admixture of the Fauves perhaps. A wonderfully bright artist and a perfect match for sunnier climes. A type of weather that Edinburgh has right now luckily (for a few days at least). Reading a book about the great Scottish Colourist George Leslie Hunter just now, I also see traces of similarity, as well as that of Matisse, whom Hunter loved.

Below: View Through to the Marina, 2015, Oil on canvas. 85x91cm.

Below: Mountain near Cipières, Alpes-Maritimes, 2021, Oil on canvas. 152x157cm.

You can see all the oil paintings, and many gouache, pencil and watercolours, at the RSA site. The exhibition is free, so no excuse.


Wed, 10 Aug 2022
Some Activity

I have been "active", just not on the blog so much. One thing I need to do better at is complete a post I start!

Now we're well into summer, and a summer that has got quite hot on occasion, even here. Right now, a lovely sunny summer day and about 24°C. It hardly seems any time since Christmas.

I finished a larger painting (my biggest yet) a couple of weeks ago and haven't started another yet. As I posted about a few months ago, I have enjoyed copying an Amedeo Modigliani painting if I am between paintings and feeling stuck on what to do. Pushing a bit of paint around but not thinking about composition or colour helps to re-eneergise me. Modigliani is an instantly recognisable painter who had an unfortunately tragic and short life. I find his works quite easy to copy.

Shown above, a copy I finished yesterday :

Jeanne Hébuterne in yellow sweater, 1918 (link).

My copy is 30x30cm and also in oil.


Thu, 26 May 2022
Matter

Matter
By Iain M. Banks

Score: 4/5

Well, this was the last of Banks' Culture novels I had to read. Now I've read it and really enjoyed it so I'm sad about that.

A quick overview : The story's about a coup in a royal house on a shellworld planet, one of a number in the galaxy created aeons ago for an unknown reason by an unknown race of aliens (there is speculation). The coup takes place in an industrialising but still fairly primitive society on one of the "levels" that exist on the artificial world. This happens during a war with the next level down. We follow a prince of the fallen house and his man-servant as they search for help recovering the throne from the world's manager species, then up the chain to the management's "mentors" and beyond them to the "involved" races. The levels travelled are literal (up the "shells") as well as figurative: civilisational and technological advancement. It might not be a coincidence that an archaeological dig is uncovering something very ancient, unexpected and dangerous on the newly conquered level below.

It is a bit of a tour de force, seeing the fresh wonder of the superior technology as it gets more and more magical. Luckily, the prince has a sister, long ago apprenticed to a Culture ambassador and sent off-world for a higher education. She has many of the usual Special Circumstances agent improvements. It is all a lot of fun following it all.

In a sign of a good book, I would have liked to have known a little about the aftermath of it all. I also missed that the book had a few appendices until I got to the end. In many respects this is one of Banks' best Culture novels and it covers a lot of what's special with them. The unbelievably high technology (post singularity), the odd, interesting and often very flawed, alien species, the dynamics of a post-scarcity economy (no money needed) and the repartee (usually between an intelligent robot and human SC agent).

I will have to read some of them again I think.


Fri, 06 May 2022
Ba' Girl Mar'cela

A long time ago I bought a new comic magazine called Love and Rockets in my local comic shop and discovered the amazingly talented Hernandez Brothers, Jaime and Gilbert. This comic was a real watershed in my appreciation of the art of the cartoon strip.

I've recently been looking through some of these and re-reading a few of Gilbert Hernandez's Palomar stories. Palomar is a fictional and old-fashioned Mexican town inhabited by an odd variety of people (some real eccentrics), dysfunctional families and a cast of children and adolescents that can steal the show. A bit of a soap opera with a latino telenovelo feel to it. Often a bit magical or weird. Now I want to re-read a lot more.

Gilbert Hernandez is very good with the women and children. Here, little Casimira is learning what it takes to be "mom" in her house; much to the horror of her sister Guadalupe. Funny, but also a bit sad (I mentioned dysfunctional already). This is from Human Diastrophism in Love and Rockets no. 24 from 1987.

Click on the images for larger versions.


I would like to return to these pages and my love of comics in the future.


Sun, 01 May 2022
RSA 2022

The Royal Scottish Academy has its annual exhibition on just now and it is the usual mix. Some very good art and some terrible.

It was nice to see some Philip Braham paintings (see below). He had an exhibition on at the Scottish Gallery in 2021 but it was virtual only due to the pandemic restrictions. An atmospheric landscape painter; his work is similar to the sort of subject I like to attempt myself (less successfully). All his paintings in the exhibition were strong. There is no substitute for seeing a painting in real life. He is now "RSA (Elect)".


Above: Last Light, Green Turret by Philip Braham, Oil on Linen, 81x116cm (link)

Another painting really stood out to me: an amazingly colourful picture of a plant from the Royal Botanic Gardens: The Corpse Flower by Laura Footes (Acrylic on canvas, 150x120cm). Shown below, I thought it had shades of the great Hockney, especially the garden background. Very impressive work you can see on the RSA site.

The show is free and on until June 12th.


Thu, 28 Apr 2022
The Expanse TV

I finished book eight of The Expanse series, Tiamat's Wrath, a while ago and have been waiting for the last book to be published in paperback in the UK (June I think). In the meantime, the TV series grew in critical acclaim and then recently came to an end (with season six). I finally sat down to watch them all and, in a word, was impressed.

The TV show has been blessed with a good cast, good scripts and a good production. The books work particularly well because the characters work so well: you come to care about them. Happily, this is also the case on the show. There comes a point where your understanding and sympathy for the characters allow their moments of silence or laughter to say everything you need. There is plenty of action and adventure packed in on the screen, and more compressed than the the page, but the quiet moments make a lot of difference. The terrible trials and trauma people go through on the page have been translated to the screen in a very satisfying way, and a way that packs the same emotional wrench I remember from the written words. There's a lot of dross around: it is very refreshing to meet its polar opposite.


Fri, 22 Apr 2022
Black Haired Girl

Above we can see my copy (on right) of Amedeo Modigliani's 1918 oil painting Black Hair (Young Dark Haired Girl Seated). I did this from a postcard (on left): the original oil painting is 92x60cm, mine is 25x30cm. I like the stylised, doll-like quality of his work. This piece seems very sympathetic to me.

This was also the first time I used a proportional divider tool to get the copy proportions correct. It worked well and is a little less time consuming than using a grid.

I bought the postcard at the Tate's Modigliani exhibition back in 2018. I wrote about the VR studio reproduction they put together.


Thu, 21 Apr 2022
Brentford Covered Warehouse

This is a watercolour painting by Tracy Love as featured in the 2022 Mall Galleries Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour :

Well, what a stunning piece if work! Who knew Brentford had such a beautiful covered warehouse? This is a complicated work to paint, with many intricate details. It must have taken quite a while. Once again, this just goes to show how great watercolours can be, something I am reminded of every year when I visit this exhibition online.