Caress of Steel (Rush, week 4)

The Rush album for week 4 is Caress of Steel. I have to say, this is not my favorite. I am aware that this is a common sentiment.

Bastille Day is just a weird topic for a band to write about. And Geddy’s voice in this is just so shouty.

I think I’m going bald is … cute. But as a teenager, it just didn’t strike me as a relevant topic. I tried to see the deeper meaning in it, and I suppose that now that I’m 50 I can see the “I’m getting older” theme here. And now that I’m grey, I’m definitely grey my way. Although I remember distinctly that in the album liner (which I no longer have, for some reason!) grey was spelled differently (grey/gray) the two times it was mentioned, which I wanted to be profound somehow, but just wasn’t.

And I was confused as to why there were two fantasy stories, that seemed unrelated, on the same album.

Looking back on it, I still love Fountain. I listened to that thousands of times that summer (not 1975 – it was probably 86 when I got my copy), and still find it beautiful.

Necromancer, less so. It wants to be about LOtR, but isn’t, somehow, and as a huge Tolkien geek, I find that very offputting.

So, I guess I’m saying, I like Lamneth, and I like Lakeside Park, but this just doesn’t hold together as an album, and I’m always disappointed when I try to listen to it as one. Just let me enjoy Lamneth, and leave it at that.

HOWEVER, I want to add, emphatically, that you should like what you like. I have zero time for the people on Rush Reddit that insist that their preference is the only truth. If you love it, that’s freaking awesome. Tell me everything about why.

Snakes and Arrows (Rush, week 3)

Snakes and Arrows is probably in my top 3 (which changes all the time so don’t ask) because it is a coherent album rather than a pile of songs. It tells a progression from despair through hope to determination. It was clearly crafted to tell a story.

  1. Far Cry – the world sucks and is worse than our parents promised.
  2. Armor and Sword – in fact, those parents – even the well meaning ones – are a large part of the problem for a lot of kids.
  3. Workin’ Them Angels – but, I also create a lot of hardship for myself.
  4. The Larger Bowl (A Pantoum) – and there is so much pain and injustice that makes it harder for those for whom it is already hard.
  5. Spindrift – even personal relationships are complicated and I don’t know how to get through to those closest to me
  6. The Main Monkey Business – instrumental jam!
  7. The Way the Wind Blows – we are doomed to repeat the errors of everyone around us
  8. Hope (instrumental) – yet, inexplicably, there is hope
  9. Faithless – I can rely on my own instincts, and try to make it better
  10. Bravest Face – maybe, you too can suck it up and try to make things better
  11. Good News First – quit whining and try to see the good in all this
  12. Malignant Narcissism – instrumental jam! Music is part of the solution!
  13. We Hold On – yes, it’s hard and things suck. But it’s up to you and me to make it better.

Yes this is a gross oversimplification. But there is a clear progression from despair through hope to determination and I absolutely love listening to this in the order it was published for that reason.

Several gems here.

The larger bowl is a pantoum which is a specific rhyme/poetry form that is surprisingly hard to write well. Look for more pantoums and you’ll find that they seldom hold together this well. Try to write your own and you’ll be even more impressed.

Armor and Sword is my wife’s favorite Rush song, far and away.

Hope is my favorite instrumental they’ve ever done. Just so gorgeous.

Individually some of these songs are just so dark and depressing but you have to hold on to the end.

(writing from Gordon Biersch in the Detroit airport. Will add album art when I get home.)

Oh and we saw them at Riverbend on this tour.

Update: it turns out, that although I have the live tour album on CD, I never actually bought the full snakes and arrows album on physical media. So I don’t have any album art to post.

Hemispheres (Rush, week 2)

As mentioned last week, we’re doing a Rush album every week this year.

This week was Hemispheres, and I have to admit … not my favorite.

I remember when I heard it the first time, and I was confused. The entire album has 4 tracks, and one of them is 18 minutes long, and is about … mythological gods. Also, the name – “Cygnus X-1 Book II” … where is book 1, and … what the heck? (No, I hadn’t heard FTK at this point.)

And, although it’s been more than 40 years since I heard it the first time, this was the first time I read through all the lyrics. It’s about the battle between various gods, and I feel like only Rush could get away with putting out a record like this. FWIW, there’s a brief explanation on Wikipedia.

On the other hand (on the other side), I always loved La Villa Strangiato, although I don’t think I have ever really understood what it’s about. It’s instrumental, with some simply amazing guitar bits.

Each section has a whimsical name that is apparently part of some elaborate inside joke between the band members.

I. Buenas Noches, Mein Froinds!
II. To sleep, perchance to dream…
III. Strangiato Theme
IV. A Lerxst in Wonderland
V. Monsters!
VI. Danforth and Pape
VII. The Waltz of the Shreves
VIII. Never turn your back on a Monster!
IX. Monsters! (Reprise)
X. Strangiato Theme (Reprise)
XI. A Farewell to Things

As a kid, of course, we didn’t have the Internet, and so the explanations of these headings were matters of speculation in letters between myself any my friend Kristina who had sent me the bootleg cassette from the US. I expect that Rush Reddit has all the answers here, but there’s a certain amount of nostalgia in my ignorance, than you very much.

So, some good memories, but definitely not the album that I go to first when I need a Rush fix. But Strangiato makes great background music when I’m working.

Hold Your Fire (Rush, week 1)

A friend of a friend, on Mastodon, is doing a Rush album a week listen party thing. This week’s album is Hold Your Fire. I don’t know how this particular album was picked to go first, but it’s all chock-full of nostalgia for me.

HYF wasn’t my first Rush album. A friend in the US sent me several bootleg cassettes back in 1984 or so, and I listened to those thousands of times. (Led Zeppelin 4 was on the flip side of one of them!) I still have those tapes somewhere, I’m sure.

But HYF was my first Rush album that I bought, with my own money.

I was in the US – Oklahoma City – for the summer of 1987, for ear surgery, and bought HYF at a record store at the mall, and listened to it on repeat for weeks.

It was so different from what I had heard, but still the same. And the drums! I had never heard drums played as an instrument, rather than just as a beat. I was already hooked, but this sealed it, and I’ve been a Rush fan since then.

I remember to this day the new cassette scent – something that, sadly, is no longer available in our advanced modern world. And also reading the lyrics and notes and inscrutable inside jokes, all without Reddit for commentary.

I pulled out the cassette yesterday, and the lyrics are, alas, almost completely unreadable to my 52-year-old eyes, but the memories are still sharp.

I’m listening to it a couple times a day this week, and trying to figure out if I have a favorite song. It’s been part of my life soundtrack for 36 years, and I find I cannot choose. As, indeed, I’ve never been able to choose a favorite Rush album or song.

But then, I always do have trouble picking favorites. The question “what’s your favorite food” or “what’s your favorite country that you’ve visited” always throw me into indecision, because they’re all great, and the joys of one inform the enjoyment of another. And, really, I don’t want to pick, because I love the variety.

I do love Open Secrets. And I’ve always loved Tai Shan, despite Reddit’s disdain for it. I’ve wanted to climb Mount Tai for … well, 36 years, I guess. And High Water gives me chills. Hearing them perform it live – TWICE! – was just so incredible. Time Stand Still becomes more and more meaningful as I age. And … and … yeah, I really can’t pick.

Anyways, I’m really looking forward to the coming weeks of revisiting these old friends. Thanks, Craig, for kicking this off.

Re-learning Mac

For the first time in over a decade, I have a MacBook again. So I’m re-learning how to use it as an actual useful operating system, from the perspective of having used Fedora Linux for 10+ years.

I remember a lot of things being a lot easier, but I suspect that by the time I stopped using Macs, I had a LOT of third-party thingies installed to make it more Linux-like.

Perhaps I’ll post some tips here as I discover/remember them.

Tip 1: Enable sshd by going to System Preferences, type ‘ssh’ in the search box, click “remote login”, and turn remote login ON in the dialog that pops up.

Knife costs

I posted on Facebook a few days ago that I’m available to make custom knife handles for folks who are interested. This post is to give an idea of what this would cost.

Note that I do *not* forge blades. At least not yet. Just handles, on blades I purchase elsewhere.

So, here’s how you figure out cost. There are FOUR components.

First, the blade, which I get from Premium Knife Supply. Typically from the kitchen knife section. So have a look at this collection, and if you just want one of those knives, you can find the model number in the listing, and get the price of just that one knife. For example, my favorite of that set is the PSK11, which goes for $18.

Next select the handle. There are a virtually unlimited number of possible handles. I like to buy from Texas Knife Supply, which has handle materials in wood, bone, antler, and acrylic, among other materials. But there are also dozens of vendors on Etsy that have knife handle materials, or “scales” as they’re called in the lingo. Knife handles range from a couple dollars all the way as much as you want to spend, depending on many factors. I prefer to work with exotic woods, and look for woods with prominent grains, but this is completely a matter of preference. A lot of the options on TexasKnife are one of a kind, so it’s hard to link to a generic product, but for example, right now I’m looking at a Desert Ironwood set of scales and it’s $27.

Third, there’s the knife pin. This is optional, but I like to use what are called mosaic pins, and you can find a million different styles on Etsy and You can go with an existing style, or get a custom-made pin. Custom is, of course, more expensive and takes longer. For some reason, I’ve gotten the best results from vendors in Turkey. My most recent custom pin was from EMAForge, which says it’s in Kentucky, but the actual product shipped from Turkey and took 4 weeks. Pins cost anywhere from a few dollars for a standard design up to $50 or so for custom. I favor 8mm pins, because they’re large enough to actually see what the design is.

The final cost is just getting it done and shipped. I’m not looking to make a lot of money off of this, but I do want to cover costs and make a little bit as incentive. I figure 10% markup, plus shipping, is reasonable.

So, if you were to do exactly the above, you’d be looking at about $80 in expenses, plus $10’ish in markup, plus $20 in shipping, so $110 for a the whole deal. And about 6 weeks for the entire process – most of which is just receiving materials. It generally takes me 2 days to actually make the thing.


The word for world is forest

The word for world is forest, by Ursula Le Guin.

It took me awhile to get into it. It’s kind of slow building. But by the end I was completely hooked. It’s one of those stories where there’s no good guys. Just complicated people. And it’s definitely a product of its time, but still stands up.

There were a few moments where it was very clear when this was written. For example there was a reference at one point to children playing blacks versus Rhodesians. Which puts it firmly in the early 80s.

But other than that the themes were universal. Racism, slavery, and toxic masculinity.

It’s a quick read, and worthwhile if you like interplanetary sci-fi.

Why “open source” still matters

Stephen O’Grady expresses very clearly what I was trying to articulate earlier this week.

This is in response to Matt Asay asserting earlier in the week that it no longer matters whether software is actually open source, because it’s “open enough” or whatever.

Arguing that the definition of open source doesn’t matter because developers don’t care about it is like arguing that climate change doesn’t matter because citizens don’t care.

Thoughts on open source community and “giving back”

[Note: This is really two articles that I’ve smooshed together into one. At some point, I need to tease them apart and publish them separately to avoid muddling the ideas.]

If you hang around open source for more than a few minutes, you’ll hear someone talking about “giving back to the community,” as though it is some kind of moral obligation or repayment. And while contributing to open source purely out of a sense of altruism is great for philosophy students, the reality of open source contribution is very different.

Open source software is pragmatic. People contribute to it, primarily, for practical reasons. For example, most people contribute a change to an open source project in order to improve it for their own benefit, or the benefit of their company or customers. This has historically been called “scratching your own itch.” And you contribute that change to the project, rather than keeping it to yourself, not out of generosity, but so that you don’t have to maintain a separate version of the software with your change in it. It’s also to ensure the sustainability of a piece of software that you rely on. Making it better ensures that it will have happier users (or customers), and thus be more successful and last longer.

The other side of this misnomer is that one contributes changes “to the community.” Open source contribution, done properly, makes you part of the community. The contribution is to yourself, not to some other group of people that you’re not a part of. Contributing to the project is a step towards earning trust and gaining ownership of the project.

Projects which do not immediately attempt to capture contributors by welcoming them into the community are similarly misguided. This is often done for seemingly sensible reasons, but in the long run, it’s always a case of giving up the long-term health of the project for dubious short-term benefits.

The most common of these short term benefits is control. I, or my company, want to have more say in the direction of the project than any outsider. And the more control you strive to have, the greater chance that contributors will get frustrated and go away, or that users will choose an alternative where they have greater say in the project’s choices.

A lot of this has to do with a mistaken definition of “community.” A community is not a gleeful band of friends dancing around a campfire. A community is nothing more or less than a group of people with a common mission. If you are unsure what the mission is, then you’re not a member of the community. Similarly, a “community” which is unsure of their mission isn’t likely to last very long.

As it happens, friendship is often a side-effect of strong communities. This is simply because you’ve found your people – people who share your mission – and so friendships are easier to form. But friendship is not the goal of effective communities, just a happy outcome.

As always, I encourage everyone to read Charles Vogl’s book “The Art of Community.”

“Community > Code” doesn’t mean that the code is unimportant. Rather, it means that the code is a means to the end – the end being the mission of the community. The community (ie, the mission) is more important than the code, because it is the mission that drives the community. The code is a vehicle. The code serves the community (ie, the mission).

Open source projects should give a lot more thought to their mission. Not the function of the software, so much as what problem they are trying to solve. Communities that lose sight of their goal, or who never clearly understood it in the first place, tend to spend a lot of time casting about for things to do, because they’re not sure what they’re trying to accomplish.

The Apache Software Foundation’s mission isn’t “software for the public good” – that’s just a phrase for legal documents. The mission of the ASF is to provide a vendor-neutral place where important software can be developed without the threat of corporate capture. This is why the httpd project was created in 1995 – to ensure that the vendor capture that happened to the NCSA web server wouldn’t be likely again. And it’s why the ASF was formed – to ensure that one vendor didn’t get outsized influence in the projects.

All of our rules serve that goal. If a rule seems unmotivated by that goal, then perhaps it’s time to reconsider the rule. And losing track of that mission results in us being unsure how to enforce community mores that serve that mission. (Like single-vendor projects, for example, or too-high bars to inviting committers.)

Upgrading your external drive on a PS4

If you have a Playstation4, you’ll eventually run out of drive space. You’ll want to use an external USB drive. And then that will eventually run out of space. You’ll want to get a larger one, and then you’ll be stuck with the question of how to copy the data from the old one to the new, larger one.

While the official answer is “no, you can’t do that”, here’s how you actually do it. (Yes, amazingly, this is actually not something you can do with any on-board tools. You will find many wrong answers from well-meaning people online.)

  1. Find your geeky friend who runs Linux. Bribe them with pizza.

  2. Run `df -h` to list what drives are already connected.

  3. Plug in old drive, and run `df -h` again to see where it attached. This will probably be `/dev/sdb` unless there were already additional drives. Trust your Linux geek friend.

  4. Plug in new drive. It will probably land at `/dev/sdc

  5. `sudo dd status=progress if=/dev/sdb of=/dev/sdc` (Replace sdb and sdc with wherever those drives landed, if they are somewhere else.)

  6. Wait for ages while the copy completes. This will make an exact bit-for-bit copy of the old drive onto the new drive. As it copies it will show you how much data has been copied, so that you can get a general idea of how long it will take. I get about 40 to 50 MB/s across a USB connection, so do the math. It’ll take a few hours.

  7. When you plug the new drive into your PS4, it will probably complain and say that it needs to repair it. Don’t panic. Let it do its thing. All will be well.

  8. I am reasonably sure that this process will also work for the PS5 filesystem. Would be happy for someone to buy me a PS5 so I can test.

Since PS4 uses a custom filesystem, you can’t just mount the drive on Windows or Mac and copy, but `dd` doesn’t care about filesystem format, it’s just a low-level data copy, and will gladly copy whatever is there. As long as the target drive is as large, or larger, than the source, it’ll Just Work.

And that’s why everyone needs a geeky friend who runs Linux.

The Margin Is Too Narrow