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Sunday 21 June 2015

My blog has moved

My blog can now be found at

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To learn why this is so, check out my first new post at the new location.

Friday 10 April 2015

Faux- French Food: Quorn Bourguignon


  • olive oil
  • small knob of butter
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 medium-large carrots
  • flour
  • 3 portabella mushrooms
  • 3 shallots
  • 1 bag of qourn fake chicken pieces
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp herbes de provence (if they don't include lavender, add some)
  • 2 tsp thyme
  • 2 tsp bullion powder
  • 1 tsp marmite (or less - to taste)
  • 0.5 bottle french red wine - if you're outside of france, get the cheapest you can. If you're inside france, get something you might consider drinking
  • ground pepper


  • knife
  • cutting board
  • pan
  • measuring spoon
  • stirring spoon


Chop up the onion and cook it over low heat with butter and some olive oil. After the onion goes translucent, add chopped garlic. After the garlic has cooked a bit, add the chopped carrots. After they seems to be somewhat cooked, add a light flour coating and the chopped shallots. After the shallots are a bit cooked, add the chopped mushrooms, hebred de provence and thyme. When the shallots are looking a bit cooked, add the mushrooms. Then, when they seem to have soaked up the oil, add an extra Tbsp of olive oil and wine so it's an inch or two deep in the pan. Add in the bay leaf, bullion and marmite. Simmer over low heat, topping up with wine when it gets low. When the carrots are soft, add the quorn and cook for 20-25 more minutes.

Keep adding wine, such that there should be a bit of liquid left around at the end of cooking. You should be stirring intermittently throughout. All cooking should be done without a lid on the pan.

This is all based loosely on Delia’s recipe.

Saturday 28 March 2015

Publishing Live Notation

My piece Immrama is a live notation piece. A python script generates image files, as the performance is happening, which are put on a web page. Performers connect via any wifi device with a web browser to see the notation. It uses really simple technologies, so nearly any device should work. A Newton won't (I made enquires) but an old Blackberry will.

Setting it up requires python and a web server and a lot of faff. It could be packaged into a mac app, but I'm working on linux and it seems like more and more people in the arts are turning to windows, as Apple increasingly ignores their former core audience of artists and designers. It runs fine on my laptop, of course, but I don't want to have to provide that to anybody who wants to do the piece. Nor do I want to force ensembles to have IT people on hand. Fortunately, I think I've stumbled on how to package this for the masses.

I'm working right now to get it all running on a Raspberry Pi. This is a tiny, cheap computer. Instead of having a hard drive, it uses SD cards. This means that I can set everything up to run my piece, put it all on an SD card, and then anybody can put that SD card into their Raspberry Pi and the piece will be ready to go! ...In principle, at least.

This piece needs wifi, which does not come with the Pi. Pi owners who want wireless networking get their wifi dongles separately. I got mine off a friend who didn't need it any more. And while setting up the networking bit, I found at least three different sets of instructions depending on what dongle people have. I could try to detect what dongle they have and then auto-install needed software to match, but, yikes, there are many things I would rather do with my life. I think instead, if you order an SD card, by default, it should come with a dongle - the buyer can opt out, but not without understanding they may need to install different libraries and do some reconfiguring.

Or, I dunno, if you want to run the piece and don't want to buy a dongle, send me yours and I'll get it working and send it back with an SD card?

My last software job was doing something called being a release engineer - I took people's stuff that worked on their own machine and packaged it so the rest of the world could use it. I wanted to be a developer, but that was the job I could get. It seems like I'm still release engineering, even as a composer.

Anyway, this is all very techy, but the point here is to prevent end users from having to do all this. When I'm done, I'll make an image of the card and use that to make new cards, which I can post to people, saving them my woe. Or, even better, some publishing company will send them to people, so I don't need to do my own order fulfilment, because queuing at the post office, keeping cards and dongles on hand, etc gets very much like running a small business, which is not actually the point.

Tech Notes so far

Later, I'm going to forget how I got this working, so this is what I did:

  1. Get Raspian wheezy, put it on a card.
  2. Boot the Pi off the card
    1. Put the card in the Pi
    2. Plug in the HDMI cable to the monitor and the Pi
    3. Connect the Pi to a powered USB hub
    4. Put the dongle on the powered hub.
    5. Plug in a mouse and keyboard
    6. Connect your Piu to the internet via an ethernet cable
    7. Turn on the HDMI monitor and the hub
    8. Plug in the Pi's power cable (and send electricity to the Pi). Make sure you do this last.
  3. On the setup screen, set it to boot to the desktop and set the locale. then reboot
  4. Open a terminal and run:
    sudo apt-get update
    sudo apt-get install aptitude
    sudo aptitude safe-upgrade
    sudo apt-get autoremove
    sudo apt-get clean
    sudo aptitude install rfkill hostapd hostap-utils iw dnsmasq lighttpd
  5. Using your regular computer (not the Pi), Find the wifi channel with the least traffic and least overlap
    sudo iwlist wlan0 scan | grep Frequency | sort | uniq -c | sort -n
  6. Try to find out what dongle I have
    1. run: iw list
    2. That returns 'nl80211 not found'
    3. run: lsusb
    4. That says I have a RTL8188CUS 802.11n adaptor
  7. Use this script for a rtl8188CUS dongle
    1. For future, it would be nice to get the location from the system locale
    2. Autoset the SSID to he name of the piece
    3. Autoset a default password
    4. Indeed, remove all interactivity from the script
  8. Reboot

It might not seem like much, but that was all day yesterday. The first step alone took bloody ages.

To Do

  • Install needed fonts, etc.
  • Try to ensure that the internet remains available over ethernet, but if this isn't possible, You can still chekc out a github repo to a USB stick and move data that way...
  • Find out what wifi dongle would be best for this application - ideally it has a low power draw, decent range, cheap and commonly owned among people with Pis
  • Set it to hijack all web traffic and serve pages but not with apache! Use the highttpd installed earlier

Sunday 22 March 2015

Best Nutloaf

  • 1 Onion
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 2-3 slices / 100g stale bread OR 100g matzoh
  • 225 g nuts
  • 300 ml vegetable stock
  • 2 tsp marmite
  • 1 tsp herbs de Provence (or mixed herbs)
  1. Preheat oven to 180 C / 350 F / Gas mark 4
  2. Peel and dice the onion. Cook it in a pan on the stove with the oil
  3. Toast bread until slightly crispy. Process or mill it (or the matzoh, if you're using that). Grind the nuts
  4. Heat the stock with the marmite. Bring to a boil and then remove from heat.
  5. Mix everything in a mixing bowl and transfer to a greased deep baking tray. Bake for 30 minutes or until dry on top, but not burnt. (You can cover it with foil for the first 20 minutes if you are prone to burning things.)

From Another Dinner is Possible, which is the best vegan cookbook I know of. You should get a copy.

Americans: 300 ml = 1.25 Cups. Apparently, according to this, if you use almonds, you'll want 1.125 Cups. However, I think you might just need to get a scale for this one, which is a good investment anyway. They're very useful for beer brewing.

Friday 20 March 2015

Meet the new phase of Capitalism

It's a lot like old phases of Capitalism (like, pre-1930), but with more technology. Indeed, it's becoming increasingly apparent that the US has decided to become an oligarchy coupled with a security state apparatus necessary to maintain extreme inequality. This is not new news, but the rapid emergency of the technology and systems needed to maintain this state of affairs does seem new to people living under it, especially to people who were previously part of privileged classes.

An article in The Nation is looking at bits and pieces of what is emerging. This is, in effect, the neoliberal state. When everything is privatised, everything is organised towards the benefit of the people who own the private systems. Since the private sector is taking over state functions - big functions - the emerging privatisation is big companies. Which means that the owning class is the really very very rich. And the functions they want to take over are sometimes surprising, unless this is viewed as a bid for total political and cultural control. Take, for example, Starbucks.

A few days ago, Starbucks decided that it was time for (white) people in America to have a large conversation about race. Ok, obviously, white people in America really do need to talk about race. We need to listen to things black people are saying, talk amongst ourselves, and work to dismantle white supremacy. Starbucks is not wrong about needing a conversation. What is perplexing is why a chain of coffee shops would take this task on board.

One might be tempted to explain this historically. Coffee shops used to be places where people did gather to talk about politics, especially a few centuries ago. More recently, Starbucks has been forced into culture wars, specifically, the gun debate as they finally decided people carrying large assault rifles were not welcome to terrify their staff. The brand itself has a political resonance, on the side of Apple computers, gay rights, urban 'creative classes' and 1990's Bill Clinton. All of that is specifically proto-neoliberal baggage. And this is a neoliberal project. Let's look at how it was promoted to baristas on twitter:

(The images on the tweet are from a screen shot of this page. Note the tweet does not contain a link to the post and thus is completely inaccessible to people who rely on screen readers. Seriously, people, if your post is worth sharing, it's worth making it accessible to blind people.)

The promotional text starts it's second paragraph with, 'Change won’t come from the government. It has to come from everyday people like us.' This fits in very well with the disenfranchisement described in the article in the Nation. Despite being a democracy, this asserts that we cannot depend on the government to have anything to do with our needs or desires. The government does not serve 'everyday people'. Therefore, the business of social change cannot come from the sort of action one normally undertakes to change government. Not from voting, certainly, but not from marches either. The days of MLK giving speeches in Washington are over, because this not Washington DC's problem. It's Seattle, Washington's problem. To emphasis this, the coupled picture shows a hashtagged coffee cup in front of the Washington Monument, where MLK's speech happened. Starbucks wants to privatise social movements.

They've already made efforts to insert themselves into culture, above and beyond serving coffee. They have previously sold CDs in their shops and want to shape, control and profit from culture more generally. And also this is also a way of wading into a disagreement among billionaires as to what extent white supremacy continues to have utility. On the one hand, voter suppression laws are quite openly removing the right to vote from black people. On the other hand, racial unrest is disturbing the market. Under a deligitmised government, this is how democracy is meant to take place: by people with money coming into a private forum to have a conversation about what number of rights to extend to others. (Starbucks does not tend to build coffee shops in black areas and the imagery they've chose to promote this effort is specifically designed to make white people feel comfortable ('the only race is human'), so this is very much a conversation about others, which is not surprising in a conversation that seeks only to decide on the acceptable amount of white supremacy, but I digress.)

It's extremely obvious why an oligarchy would want to control the means to the conversation about race. People in the street are alarming. People purchasing things is good. Which is exactly why any effort like this is ultimately disempowering for everyone involved, aside from the owners. The emerging security state is distressing, but it is not insurmountable. It is still possible to resist. Not by heading to our local multinational outlet to demand extra emotional labour from the staff, but by being in the streets. They want people to politely consume and that is what absolutely will not destabilise concentrated power. People do still have power in the US, from mass movements and street protests. Privatisation has zero long term plans about anything, certainly not about managing us. We can still make a better world.

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