Wulf's Webden

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Wednesday 29 October 2014
by Wulf
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Is this thing on?

My trusty old Zoom H2 recording device seems to have permanently entered that mode known as “pining for the fjords”. Over the last few months it has been a bit flaky about switching on and now it entirely refuses to start, with or without batteries in and trying both a direct power supply and USB power. It has had pretty good use for getting on for a decade so I’ve probably had my money’s worth. Time however to think about a replacement.

It may be though that, living in the age of tablets and smart phones, this is another thing that can be handled by appropriate software on one of these types of device. I already use both my phone and tablet as a tuner and metronome so what about recording? Based on the results of last night’s rehearsal and some Android software called ASR, this is looking a strong possibility. I need to give it a listen on headphones – there did seem to be some background interference – but for the purpose of capturing aural notes I think it may suffice.

BTW, I’ve got another gig with the String Project coming up at East Oxford Community Centre on 14 November – details on Facebook. I think the stretch to learn this music is paying off in terms of improving my facility on double bass and the recording is part of the process of providing a way to take a sounding on this.

Tuesday 28 October 2014
by Wulf
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By Chance

Quarter of a century ago I played in a number of bands with two of the three members of TV for Dogs. Hurrah for The Wagtails! Hurrah for The P’tang Yang Kipper Band! Hurrah for that unnamed line up that did a one off gig somewhere in North London!

By chance, it turns out that they’ve just released a new album called, perchance, By Chance. Not only that but, on release day (today!) there is a discount for purchasing it on their Bandcamp website (you don’t have to pay bottom dollar but you can choose an amount which is less than equivalent “commercial” release might be). It’s none too shabby. I can hear echoes of some of the music we used to play and other things that have come up in the intervening years but the album sounds fresh, the guys don’t sound old and tired and, having finished my first listen through, I’m looking forward to getting more familiar with it over the next few days.

Nice one, Neil, Paul (and Mark)!

Monday 27 October 2014
by Wulf
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Cider Time

As well as my Oxxxford Beer beer gently bubbling away, I’ve also started a batch of rough cider. Yesterday I sorted through a big tub trug of lightly washed apples, chopping out and discarding the mankiest bits but not being too fussy and then left them in a sanitised plastic barrel topped up to just below the brim with water. Over the next week or so, those will begin to mush down and the enzymes will extract apple flavours and sugars into the liquid while natural yeasts will begin to work.

Round about next weekend, I’ll siphon off the liquid and mix in some sugar at a ratio of about 100g per litre. This will give the yeast more to work on and I’ll leave it to quietly bubble away somewhere warm until the gravity reading starts to settle down at which point it can be left somewhere cool and dark to condition until early in the New Year.

Sunday 26 October 2014
by Wulf
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T-T-Taste Test

Yesterday I compared my Tiny Tim homebrew with a bottle of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. The two weren’t identical but both were good drinks.

I had asked Jane to not tell me which glass was which. The more persistent foam on the commercial glass gave it away but both looked identical regarding colour and clarity. My brew was actually a bit fuller tasting although that could come from having started above the target gravity for the recipe. I’m sure I’ll make this brew again and, when I do, perhaps I’ll dilute the wort down a bit if I come out over target. On the other hand, what I’m after is not a strict clone but a decent beer and I think I’ve managed that.

I also cracked open a bottle of my Autumn Gold today. This one has reached drinkable status although it won’t hurt to wait in the bottle a bit longer. I don’t know what the original is like in this case but it certainly has a golden colour and pleasantly bitter taste, dying away to a sweetness in the mouth. I’ve got an experiment in mind for my next brew but have to wait for the current one to get out of the fermentor first.

Friday 24 October 2014
by Wulf
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Delays in Oxxxford

I have christened my latest brew Oxxxford Beer, since it is based on Graham Wheeler’s Brew Your Own British Real Ale clone of Batemans XXXB. I haven’t tried the original but grains produce a strong and relatively dark wort that should turn out fine.

This brew sees two innovations to my regular practise. Firstly, I used spraymalt as I was short on grains. That does save the mashing stage although also works out more expensive. I can get spraymalt locally but grains take a bit more planning so it may prove to be a useful dodge when I have time to brew but not to top up my stocks. Secondly, rather than setting it fermenting the day after I created the wort (Monday) I left it sitting in a sealed plastic Jerry can until today. The wisdom of the internet suggests that wort can be left this way for a long time; if the container was sanitised and the wort was near boiling hot when added, it is a clean environment and some people have reported delaying the next stage for months.

Anyway, it is now fermenting away with some Nottingham yeast. Original gravity was 1.048 @ 18°C (which is corrected to 1.049), only a small amount over the original target. In my experience Nottingham is a fast working so I could be bottling within the week… and then I’ve got another experiment lined up.

Thursday 23 October 2014
by Wulf
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Building it up

Another day, another task involving wrangling a text file to extract data and another chance to wield the might hammer of Vim to crack the problem. My starting point was a database extract with two columns of related identifiers which we’ll call A and B. I wanted to construct a line of HTML from each pair such that I can smoothly visit a page in an application to assess its contents. With just a few lines, this is easily done by hand but I’ve got fifty lines in this case. Fortunately, I also have the power of backreferences, which I learned last year.

The new trick I have added in the intervening time is a method of constructing the resulting scary looking statements step by step. Firstly, I search in a way that highlights the whole line. However, rather than using .*, which grabs everything in one chunk, I break it down into chunks that produce the same result. Rather than changing anything, I use an ampersand to simply repeat everything I found. For example, this morning’s data had a four character id consisting of two letters followed by two numbers, a tab and then another identifier, so I used:

:%s/..\d\d\t.*/&/

Next, I can use escaped parentheses to group the chunks of my search and back references to return them:

:%s/\(..\d\d\)\(\t\(.*\)/\1\2\3/

Again, it doesn’t change anything but I am now poised to finish off by rearranging how I call the references. I can insert them into the HTML statement, repeating as I want (for example, one of the components is useful as part of the label and as part of the URL) and ignoring \2, which is always a tab character but necessary in the search to allow me to pick up \1 and \3 cleanly.

It has similarities to that game where you start with one word and by a succession of alterations to a single letter change it into another word. However, while that is an interesting mental challenge, it is a diversion and costs time. The kind of stepwise development I am describing, approaching the problem crabwise, is all about saving time, making sure that before I strike and change the data, everything is lined up and that the problem is a series of easy steps rather than one complex and involved one.

Wednesday 22 October 2014
by Wulf
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Almost a Century

We were sad to hear yesterday that our friend Reg passed away in hospital during the early evening. Reg was our neighbour and we used to pop across to see him regularly, helping with a few chores but also enjoying his company. Reg turned 99 this year, which means he was almost a decade older than I am now even when I was born and thus was a living repository of experienced history. Although his health deteriorated sharply this year, he kept his mental acuity; indeed, when we first met him about four years ago, he was still driving and had only just retired from over 70 years serving as a leader of the local Scout troop.

It was remarkable to think that some of the youthful escapades he described to us (such as cycling from Oxford down to London for an overnight stay with relatives and forgetting to tell his mother) took place before my parents were born. He also maintained a large number of friends from his years in the Scout movement and we were far from his only visitors.

We won’t now get to see the telegram from the Queen that he would have received if he’d survived another year but, while we feel his loss, we are grateful that we had a few years in which to get to know this venerable and kindly man.