On a quick visit to the UK, to sell or give away most of our belongings, pack up what’s left and ship out to our new life, in the sunny, dusty desert.

I’m trying to prepare my wife for just how crazy the roads are in Riyadh. She’s a bad enough passenger in Manchester, so the drive from the airport to our new home should be fun…

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To the desert…

So, tomorrow I leave for Riyadh – a new life as an expat, in a country that is virtually impossible to visit otherwise. Naturally I am somewhat apprehensive, but excited in equal measure.

I will be leaving my wife and son behind in the UK for about three months, which is going to be a challenge for a family that’s close, but the toughest bit right now is that I will miss my son’s birthday next week. Hopefully the next few months will pass quickly.

Still, our new life in Arabia promises to be truly life-changing. I’m looking forward to when we’re reunited in our new home.

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Preston Hackspace

Yesterday evening, I went to the first meeting of the newly-formed Preston Hackspace group, held in the civilised surroundings of the New Continental – one of my favourite pubs in Preston, and very well stocked with beers and ales of various kinds.

We met in the very warm and bright conservatory area, which made looking at laptop screens a bit of a challenge, but luckily the evening was mostly about chatting and getting to know each other, rather actual hacking.

There were plenty of ideas being chucked around, and it was interesting to hear about the breadth of experience across the various people who attended.

Should be interesting to see how this one pans out…

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Ubuntu Studio documentation

I’ve been using Ubuntu Studio since I started experimenting with Linux again last November – it’s a great, multimedia-focused distribution based on Xubuntu, and it comes with all sorts of audio, video and graphics applications pre-installed. It also has a low-latency kernel, which (in theory) means that any real-time audio or video processing should proceed without getting interrupted by routine software updates or suchlike.

However, I hate to admit this, but I still don’t find it anywhere near as easy to lay down a quick backing track or indulge in some ad-hoc sound design as it is in Windows 7 or OSX. Part of this is bound to be familiarity – I had quite a bit of experience using both Windows and OSX for audio stuff – but the main issue is that the open-source pro-audio applications available and the linux audio stack just doesn’t seem quite as well-developed. Recording multi-track audio seems more than adequately covered by Ardour, but the electronic music industry has now pretty well embraced VST/AU plug-ins and virtual instruments, and it’s not easy (maybe impossible) to replicate the kind of plug-and-play workflow of applications like Ableton Live, Cubase or Logic Pro using the open source options currently available (yep, including the all-powerful Ardour).

Luckily, one of Ubuntu Studio’s real strengths is the documentation available, including the Ubuntu Studio Wiki, so if there’s a way to achieve a particular task, you can usually find out how in the docs. Another of the things I love about open source software is the opportunity to contribute, and I approached the Ubuntu Studio team last month about helping out – they told me that they could do with some help reviewing and updating the documentation. We agreed that the perfect place for me to start was with the Pro Audio Intro and the Jack Quick Start. I’m working my way through both of these (when I get chance alongside work stuff), but I’m having great fun learning about Ubuntu Studio and audio on linux in general.

UPDATE 27/06/2013: Unfortunately, since I learned that my current contract work contract will be ending soon, my focus has been (and will be for the foreseeable future) on ‘up-skilling’ in technology that’s more relevant to work, so Ubuntu Studio has had to take a back seat for the time-being…

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New Year’s Resolutions 2013

OK, I’m finally done – it’s ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ time.

In the spirit of social accountability, I’ve decided to go public this year, so feel free to harass me about my progress at any time in the coming year. Here goes…

In 2013, I plan to:
1) Run my first marathon.
2012 was supposed to be the year, but I was thwarted by injury a month before the marathon I signed up for.

February will be spent recovering from an operation, but sometime in March, I’ll be back out on the streets and trails, building miles and working on my pace.

By June, I’ll be ready to take part in the Freckleton Half Marathon again, with a full marathon entered for later in the year.

2) Really learn how to code.
By the end of the year I will be able to:
– write shell scripts and administer Linux using bash,
– confidently contribute to php/mysql/html5/js projects,
– write applications in python.
I also want to gain a better understanding of big data and cloud technologies (eg hadoop, openstack).

3) This year I’d like to help my wife make even more of a success of her online businesses. Seeing sales gradually creep up week on week over the past few months has been exciting, and has brought home to me how ecommerce success, although not instant, is rewarding the consistent hard work that my wife has put into these ventures (over years). It’s important to state that I do enjoy my day job and the challenges it offers, but I also enjoy working alongside my wife, and I’d like to do more of that.

4) Write an ebook.
I’m still undecided on the subject for this, but I rediscovered the pleasure of writing in 2012, and I’m going to capitalise on that this year. The book needn’t be especially long for me to achieve some sense of achievement, but I’d like to produce something that at least one reader will find useful.

5) Compose a four track EP.
I’ve been neglecting music for too long, and I still get ideas and snippets of tunes popping into my head regularly, so I’ll stop procrastinating and get some ideas down this year. Four tracks isn’t too onerous a target, so this won’t take much focus away from everything else I’m doing in 2013. I’ll also use it as an opportunity to learn/re-learn to play the guitar properly.

6) Take a holiday.
It’s been far too long (years!) – this year we are going to take a proper holiday as a family… and relax. It would be nice to take our boy to Disneyworld; he’s been saving his pocket money towards that for about two years. In any case, it must be somewhere warm, and the UK doesn’t count. I know that’s not politically correct in some quarters to say that, but I’m fed up of being cold!

7) Buy a car.
Time for an upgrade. We’ve been umming and ahhing about it for a good couple of years now, and it’s time to do something about it.

8) Get back my pilot licence.
Revalidate my lapsed PPL and start flying regularly again.

Well, that should keep me busy. All feedback, advice, support, encouragement or ribbing welcomed!

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What it’s all about…

Scrunched NewspaperThe following is a list of stuff that I’m interested it, and so will probably ramble on about – some more than others, most likely. The list below is not exhaustive, and I will probably find other stuff that interests me over time, as I tend to do…

  • computing, specifically linux, open-source software, programming, data, reporting, business intelligence;
  • general science, technology and engineering subjects, particularly physics or space-related;
  • environmental research and green technology;
  • self-building, going off-grid and smart home tech;
  • aviation, especially small general aviation aircraft and aerobatics;
  • travel, backpacking and going on adventures;
  • running, fitness and nutrition;
  • …and whatever else pops into my head.

Stuff may appear sporadically – there could be a number of posts then nothing for a while. But I’ll try to make sure it’s worth reading.

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