Third ear nostalgia

An old car radio with push-in buttons to change station
Black Car Stereo Turned on at 7

Have you ever heard or smelled or tasted something that just dragged you instantly into the past? It’s like that scene with Anton Ego, the food critic in the climax of Ratatouille - everything drops away and you’re experiencing something your concious mind had forgotten, but is still living in your brain buried under a mountain of time.

I was chatting to my kids over dinner when something prompted the memory of an old song from my childhood. Like a lot of the songs I tell my kids about, they didn’t believe it could have been real, so as usual I had to get it playing for them. But the version blasting from Spotify wasn’t the version of the song I’d heard as a child and it got me wondering what had I been listening to all those years ago.

See, like a lot of people in the eighties we had car with a tape deck (and no air conditioner, which I still to this day cannot explain to my children how anyone lived without). And on this tape deck we wore out a lot of tapes driving our parents mad with the same songs over and over. We were a Christian family, the family of a pastor no less, so most of the tapes were Psalty the Singing Songbook (and that anthropomorphic hymnal could be a post in and of itself, but lets not get side-tracked). I’m sure mum and dad had their tapes too, and I recall a lot of Keith Green and maybe some Dion? Was that the ex-pop star turned Christian? This is already taking too long so I’m not looking him up.

But man cannot live on bread alone, and not every tape was dedicated to the glory of God. We had one tape that had popular music. There may have been more, but this is the singular one that has made an impression on my childhood brain. And not because it was unholy. Lets not forget, this was the mid-eighties, and my parents had stopped listening to secular music in the decade before I was born, so this “pop” music was taken from an era before my parents even met. Anything with lyrics was right out, so the tape we had, cribbed from an old record we may have not even owned (yes, I’m putting my parents at risk of being prosecuted for piracy some 35 years after the fact) was instrumental only.

But not just any instrument, no. This was not an album of romantic violin. This was no inspirational piano. Ask yourself, what instrument could elevate the hits of the 70’s more than any other? What could capture the spirit of daring, of whimsy - of new possibilities - like no other instrument before or since?

Why the Moog of course!

That slice of synth heaven from God himself, squeaking to your third ear like the voice of an electronic angel. Telling you music will never be the same and you will never be shackled to wood and string and reed again.

Frankly I’ve built it up too much now. I don’t actually normally enjoy the Moog too much. As a child of the eighties I have a soft spot for chiptunes produced on the Commodore SID chip, so I recognise it can take some rosy glasses of nostalgia to see the appeal of some sounds. In reality, this Moog album was my first, and in the intervening years I’ve never felt the pressing need to seek out more.

But that song I recalled, but didn’t recognise? I thought it might have been an electronic version from an album of synthesizer covers. The memory of the song Popcorn, another childhood favourite, rose unbidden to my mind and I knew it had to have been the same tape.

So I did some digging. It took a couple of tries, but I found it. In that moment I experienced that slow but wonderful excavation of buried memories that crystallise and lock the fragments of the past back into those places you’d made for them.

Which is all so much prelude to share this treasure from my childhood. I present Popcorn (and other switched-on smash hits) by Electric Coconut, also re-released a year later as Elektrik Cokernut’s Go Moog! I don’t recall which title we knew it as, but we probably just called it “the Popcorn tape”. has the full album, and I swear as I listened to each song, deeply worn mental pathways covered in neglect reconnected and unearthed memories of brown leather seats three kids wide, big clicky radio buttons, and driving with the wind in your face skipping your hand against the current of air.

Moog may be an acquired taste, but the whole album is such a treat of 70’s hits.

Starting with “Popcorn”, this cover may be the one that most closely resembles the original. “Pop Corn” was written for the Moog in 1969 by Gershon Kingsley and the original is the classic synth tune that hit number one on charts all over the world. You may have heard a different version to me, and that might be your definitive version. Hot Butter’s version was also very popular and the Swedish Chef from The Muppets did a cute interpretation. I hope for your sake your childhood version wasn’t the Crazy Frog one.

Before diving into this album I’d never heard the original “Sampson and Delilah” by Middle of the Road. I don’t know if my parents knew it, or just fit the name of the song to the music as it played, but I recall a fair bit of “nah nah nah, Samson and Delilah, mumble mumble, huh huh huhh” in place of the actual lyrics as it played. Actually, some of the lyrics are literally “nah nah nah”, so that complicates it somewhat. There’s a little violin sting in there and it’s possible that planted a tiny seed of love for that instrument in my head.

Next is the song who’s very existence my children doubted. To be fair, if you told me there was a hit song in ‘72 whose sole lyric was the words “Mouldy Old Dough’' spoken in a low growl, I’d probably not believe you either, but there you go. It’s an absolute banger, with tin whistle, a honky-tonk sorta marching beat and the privilege of being “the only British number one single to feature a mother and son”. That’s right, this band of groovy young men roped in front-man Rob Woodward’s mum Hilda to play piano for many of their songs, and you can see from video recorded at the time she was having a fun time playing with these nice young men. The Electric Coconut version is fun too, cemented in my head more than any other on the album except perhaps for “Popcorn” itself.

“Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep” was a song whose known lyrics in that car extended further than the title, but not much further. Admittedly there’s not much more to it, but I think my parents knew the chirpy cheep bits and maybe the bits crying “where’s your mamma gone” but not much else. It’s probably for the best, as the 1970’s Middle of the Road hit topped the Guardian’s list of Top Ten Creepiest Songs.

Another 1972 hit “Wig-Wam Bam” by The Sweet is next, and listening to the original up against the Moog version, this is one of the few on Popcorn I might enjoy more. The lyrics of the original have a potentially problematic cultural appropriation issue, being based on The Song of Hiawatha, a poem from 1855. The poem took a bunch of Native American cultural concepts and fashioned them into a narrative but with made up characters that end with the natives accepting Christianity. None of that is in the song, but it’s got that same sort of messed up idea that non-white cultures have magic nonsense words that reminds me a lot of that Witch Doctor song (“ooh ee ooh ah ah, ting tang walla etc..").

We’re half way through, and wrapping up side one is “Morning has Broken” popularised by Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) in 1972. This was originally a Christian hymn, and between this and “Samson & Delilah” probably accounts for the survival of this tape in our religious car for so many years. The Moog version definitely uses the Cat Stevens arrangement, as that piano introduction is so iconic, but the electronic version is almost unbearable to listen to in contrast.

Side two starts off strong with the only original Electric Coconut composition on this album. “Jungle Juice” is a really fun tune that reminds me a lot of Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part 2” which came out in… you guessed it, 1972. If there’s some other connective tissue between these two songs, or you think they’re not all that closely related and I’m imagining things, let me know!

“Seaside Shuffle” is the last song on the album that warrants its own paragraph. Released in ‘71 then again to better success in 1972 by Terry Dactyl and the Dinosaurs, I enjoy both the original and this Moog version. In 1995 when Shaggy released “In the Summertime” I could not for the life of me figure out why this catchy tune was so familiar, those mental pathways covered over with 10 years of moss. They’re not the same song of course - Shaggy was covering the 1970’s hit “In the Summer Time” by Mungo Jerry. Again, my ability to parse out musical cues may be off-target, but “Seaside Shuffle” and “In the Summer Time” certainly share some musical DNA. I can’t find anything sourced, but this post from 2012 claims Mungo Jerry played with the house band that went onto become Terry Dactyl, but they make no effort to back those claims, so take it with a pinch of salt. Regardless, the similarity explains why Shaggy’s hit triggered that little bell in my brain that elevates my opinion of new music when it reminds me of childhood memories and makes a song irresistible to me.

“Softly Whispering I Love You” is a slow and quiet track that hasn’t got a lot to recommend itself in an instrumental Moog version. It was written in ‘67 but wasn’t popular until covered in ‘71. None of these versions are my cup of tea. Track ten is “Jeepster” which uses the squishy electric sound to good effect, but T. Rex’s original is better. The penultimate track is Neil Diamond’s “Song Sung Blue”, and from the shallower mental pathways this song made (though they are still there) this was about the point in Popcorn (and other switched-on smash hits) the kids were begging mum and dad to fast-forward to the other side of the tape - if we hadn’t already asked at “Softly Whispering”. This side of the album really derails fast, and if you’ve made it this far you’re treated to a very forgettable version of Ringo Starr’s “Back Off Boogaloo”. I’m grateful now to have heard the original ‘cause it’s got some charm, but fast-forwarding at any of the previous three tracks and losing this one in the wash is not something anyone in the car ever regretted.

So there you have it, a tape from a record of Moog covers of 70’s hits, learned on road trips in the Queensland heat that buried their way into my brain in ways I could barely put into words before my kids reminded me of a ridiculous song about spoiled food. Digging through the songs I loved gave me some fun connections I wanted to share with you all, and I hope you can enjoy some of them too, through whichever version makes you happiest. I’ve included a link to a playlist of the original versions, and included links to the Wikipedia pages of each song in case you want to learn more about any of them yourselves.

Thank you for reading and enjoy yourselves!

Spotify playlist of Popcorn (and other switched-on smash hits)

Popcorn (and other switched-on smash hits) by Electric Coconut

Restoration of a Childhood Icon Part Three


In parts one and two of this small series I tried to repair my childhood Commodore 64.

I’ve tried a lot since my last post and completely botched it, so all-in-all I’m feeling pretty confident in myself and happy with my progress.

Testing, testing

A screen with blocks in place of the correct characters
Failure to launch

Step one was to try the test cartridge when it arrived. Plugging it in I got a completely different unique garbage pattern, and a green border instead of the usual blue. This said to me that parts of the test cartridge were working, but that something NOT tested by the cart was to blame for the garbled pattern. A bit of research suggested the logic chip can sometimes output this sort of nonsense, although I was unable to find any pictures showing either of the issues I’ve experienced. I ordered a new 74LS373 logic chip and a backup 8500 CPU just in case, and sat quietly in the corner of the room for them to arrive.

I’m not equipped for this

The new chips arrived - and as the CPU I have is socketed - it was a quick job to see if the new 8500 would help. It did not. The logic chip was not socketed, and so I made a trip to Jaycar for one so I could start the process of making the whole board more easy to use for testing chips.

I did not spend the money on a desoldering gun, and soon regretted it. I was not enjoying it, but I was at least making progress until the final pin of the old logic chip didn’t de-solder the whole way and pulled up the trace on the board all the way back to the previous thru-hole.

I tracked back to Jaycar and purchased some silver trace paint and some wire. The trace paint was a waste of time (although I could have been doing it wrong), so I’m glad I picked up some wire while I was there. Then I installed the socket and tried to hard-wire the pin on the broken trace back to where it needed to be.

One, Two, Three

A close up of a circuit board with bad wiring and soldering visible

My attempts had made things worse. With the new logic chip in place in the socket and my gross wiring, the display now cuts in and out. Mostly out. The crazy patterns are still there too, making it clear the logic chip was not the culprit so I also shoddily removed a potentially working logic chip. Finally, I thought it might have simply been a dodgy soldering job, so I rechecked my work, and in the process learned my soldering iron might be too hot for this sort of work, and I’ve melted parts of the socket and I’m worried I’ve damaged the PCB even further.

Time to give up

At this point I was ready to pack it in. Deep down I’m not ready to stop, but I reached the limits of my knowledge about three steps ago, and have little to show for it. I reached out to friends who gave me some further advice, but I thought I’d sit on if for a while and try to decide the next best steps.

Fortunately I may have some better news for the next post in this series.

Restoration of a Childhood Icon Part Two

40-Year-Old Computers Are A Nightmare

Restoring my childhood computer is apparently going to take longer than I hoped. Restoration of a Childhood Icon Part One ended on a bit of a bummer, and (spoiler warning) this part is also not the conclusion I’m looking for.

On Mike, First of His Name’s advice, I ended up purchasing a set of new capacitors and a modern PLA replacement chip from, then waited patiently for them to arrive.

Like Riding A Bike

In preparation, I’d asked for a soldering iron for my birthday, and also grabbed myself some supplies so I could dredge my rusty soldering skills out of their 30 year hiatus.

With solder in hand, and solder sucker in… also… hand, I started by recapping the board. Fortunately, once you learn to solder it’s not difficult enough to forget, so I soon had new capacitors in place.

However on testing, the old boy still wouldn’t give me anything better than a black screen.

Light At The End

A modern PLA chip replacement
Wanna PLA?

But fear not! I had the replacement PLA chip! And with this baby in place, I was…

Only slightly better off.

On testing, I’m getting somewhere with this new PLA, but it’s clear that the PLA was one of the issues with the old boy, but not the only one. Now instead of a black screen, I get the familiar blue border indicating not everything is borked, but I get a jumble of colours instead of the expected BASIC intro text.

A CRT TV with a garbled Commodore 64 display
So near...

At this point Mike offered to take the board and run some tests and repair it himself, but I’ve come so far and want to see the repairs through myself if at all possible. So on his recommendation, I’ve ordered myself this diagnostic and dead test cartridge to see if I can suss which chips are still not quite right.

The Pictorial C64 Fault Guide doesn’t show any issues quite like mine, so I need to do some digging of my own.

So stay tuned for part three, when I wire up my test harness and try and pry some chips.

Restoration of a Childhood Icon

The Pull of Nostalgia

Ever since sending my old Commodore 128 to a better place, I’ve been thinking of it’s older breadbin C64 brother I’ve got sitting in storage. I knew we mostly used the 128 because the 64 stopped working, but I couldn’t remember exactly what was wrong with it. Thinking it was completely dead, I felt like even just putting the shell to good use would be a win. There’s some great tutorials and components you can buy that can help you convert a non-functional Commodore 64 into a modern PC or USB keyboard.

However, after almost 2 years of thinking about it, I decided I didn’t want to gut the thing until I was really sure it was dead. My mum has one of those C64 Minis and what I discovered getting that running was that emulating the Commodore wasn’t the experience I wanted to capture (or recapture). The C64 full size upgrade appears to be a better experience, but is completely sold out everywhere.

I have this small piece of my own history sitting in a cupboard, and I’ve decided I wanted to try and do what I can to breath new life into it.

Problem One: Power Supply

Step number one was the power supply. Conventional wisdom is that you don’t ever, for any reason, do anything to anyone for any reason ever, no matter what, no matter where, or who, or who you are with, or where you are going, or where you’ve been… ever, for any reason whatsoever… plug an original Commodore 64 power supply into a Commodore 64.

The problem as I understand it, is that the 5V DC line on the power supply will eventually inevitably break and pump more voltage into the machine than its chips can handle. There’s also a 9V AC line that’s far more stable and doesn’t cause issues, but that DC line has killed more Commodores than time alone would be responsible for. So before I could see if the machine even worked, I would have to get myself an alternative modern power supply. There’s a couple out there, but I’m told the most reliable modern PSU is the C64PSU made in Poland. Getting a PSU shipped from Poland seemed like an expensive way to start however, as there could be many more things wrong with the board, and having a working PSU sitting around with the broken computer seemed like a waste.

Then, the astonishingly generous Mike, First of His Name1 from offered to send me his C64PSU as a loner from his lockdown in Melbourne, kicking off my attempts to finally get this thing repaired.

Problem Step Two: Spring Cleaning

While I waited for that to arrive, I gave the whole thing a spruce up. The case got a clean in the dishwasher along with the keycaps, while the board got a brush down with a soft brush. The internals don’t look too bad, and I can’t see any capacitor bulges with the naked eye.

A cleaned up but still old looking Commodore 64 with brown keys
Ain't she a beut'?

I’m happy with how it turned out, and I’m even oddly proud of the couple of melt-marks on its upper grill. In my research I learned that the marks are quite common on these machines, and weren’t caused by some sort of over-heated wire or soldering iron (as I’d originally presumed) but due to a chemical reaction between the plastic of the case and something in the cables a lot of people wrapped around their C=64s while they were in storage!

Step Three: Tuning Up

Finally the other night I was able to pull out my old CRT TV and plug in Mike’s power supply and see if the thing would even boot any more. The LED came on - which was a good sign, as I vaguely recall previously attempting to get it working and not even getting a light (leaving me fearing I’d pre-fried my chips!).

The CRT is the only TV in the house I still know how to tune via RF, as I’ve also since remembered that we never once had a proper AV cable for the Commodore, and always relied on tuning the TV to channel 3 and plugging direct to the RF port (prompting memories of swapping cables at the back of the TV any time we wanted to play games).

A dusty black CRT TV sitting on a desk
Alfred, consider our game... postponed.

Problem Four: Nothing

Tuning the RF was successful after I worked out how to tune the TV with the sparse controls, but alas - I only have an empty black screen. As setbacks go, this is quite a big one - more research shows the completely black screen can be commonly caused by upwards of a dozen different issues, and tracing it to the real issue is going to take time… and money.

Speaking to Mike we think the next step will be to replace all the capacitors on the board and see if it makes a difference, followed by replacing the PLA2. After that your guess is as good as mine. Some very clever people have dozens of tricks to determine the myriad ways a C=64 can be busted, and I’m hoping to learn a lot as I figure this out, but it may be slow going and I might not have anything to show for it for a long time, if ever.

And that’s where I’m leaving it for now. I’m looking forward to doing this, and trying to keep the cost to a minimum as I go. Getting the old thing cleaned up really confirmed my desire to get it working again. Wish me (and the memory of the 5-year-old I used to be) luck!

  1. which is just such blatant bullshit, as I have three people named “Mike” in my 10 person team at work, so they must be common as fuck.3 ↩︎

  2. whatever that is. ↩︎

  3. Although I suspect Mike might be slightly older than Mike, Mike, or Mike so this mighke still be true. ↩︎

Thaehan - Mekatsune

I want to share the album I was listening to while I figured out how to dockerise Hugo. It’s such an upbeat listen that I didn’t notice when it looped through and played again. I was listening on soundcloud through docker-tizonia but I’ll leave you the Spotify link for Thaehan - Mekatsune and the FULL LP on Youtube

My two fave tracks are Chapô Chapô and Goblins, but you make up your own mind.

NOTE: I added the above as sign off on another post a few weeks ago, but re-listened to some of their music again today and decided they deserved a separate post. I’m totally blown away by their music. And as an additional bonus for re-reading this post if you saw it at the bottom of the last one, here’s a newer trilogy track called Mechanical Heart.

Flamming the Gilstone X488

Back in ‘87 the Gilstone company released the X488, a breakthrough in mesopliner technology that was soon forgotten to the mists of time. Today I’m building my own X488 and I’m going to do it with flamming!

Keeping inline with my desire to produce catchy titles I’ve named this post something nonsensical. The Gilstone X488 wasn’t a thing (was it?), but lately I’ve been getting all nostalgic for retro tech, and reading a bunch of excellent posts about technology and frankly I was feeling left out.

So I apologise if you came here hoping to learn more about flamming, or if you yourself have fond memories of the Gilstone X488, but that’s not what we’re doing today. Today I thought I’d share some excellent websites I’ve been enjoying lately, and hopefully you can find some good posts there instead!

A person holding two mugs of tea, one that says 'me' they're holding to their chest, another says 'you' they're offering to the viewer
`Sharing` by yarenlen

Recently there was some discussion on EVERY SITE123456 about RSS feeds - how hidden they are now, and how we need to promote and boost those sites that write about the things we enjoy reading about. Not every site has to pump out quality SEO driven articles about technical subjects to drive ad revenue, and the re-emerging indieweb of randos writing about topics that interest them is so nice to see.

Earlier today I put the finishing touches on a simple Docker/PHP combo script to grab my Miniflux feeds and convert them into a “follow” page here on The Geekorium. Eventually I’ll follow some of the excellent work put into the exact same problem by Jan-Lukas Else on his site to build his Miniflux blogroll, as solving the problem in Go seems more inline with my use of Hugo than a php script.

My Follow page has a super simple list of sites I’d recommend, along with their RSS feeds to make subscribing simpler if you’re into it. But right now I’ll break down some excellent posts I’ve enjoyed by a few of the people on that list.

Kev Quirk runs the mastodon instance and posted recently about his experiences with Synology and Nextcloud. I was particularly interested because I’ve tried Nextcloud in the past, and while I love the idea of keeping full control over my data, I found Nextcloud to be slow and unweildy when I tried to encrypt the data and store it in the cloud. Turns out Nextcloud is just slow. Synology looks interesting, but I’ve found that Tresorit while expensive, meets my backup needs. Kev is a ‘metablogger’ who writes sometimes about his own experiences as a writer, and is also the brains behind #100DaysToOffload, a challenge to “Just. Write.” and power the old-school personal website revolution again. Also, Quirk is a kickass last name.

I originally read Guillermo Garron (ggarron)’s post Blogging is not dead on Hacker News. It was part of a longer ongoing discussion across a number of sites on whether old-school personal web logs were dead or dying. The irony of this discussion happening across multiple personal “blogs” was not actually irony at all, but rather a concerted effort to bring back something a lot of people miss, now that corporations lock us into their specific “social” platforms. GGarron has been consistently putting out new fresh posts on his own site, doing his part to power this resurgence, to take back control and give people a reason to find and follow new people. Hs posting has led directly to making me write my more recent entries, and directly inspired me to set up a feedreader and subscribe to more people. He was the first of my new subscriptions when I finally got set up.

Horst Gutmann (zerok) wrote about Domain Of Ones Own, a program of certain universities to offer personalised domains and hosting for their students instead of a generic institutional address. This gets the student set up for life “owning” their own identity early in their career and ensures they can continue using the same tools after academia that they’ve been using all along. This idea gels with my belief that people deserve, in fact need, to claim a domain and use it for at least their own email. Zerok also built webmeniond, a way to hook the indieweb webmention technology up to your site, that I must actually enable here some time.

Launching Keyoxide is a post by Yarmo Mackenbach on the really excellent Keyoxide service he’s built as an independent tool to “prove you’re you” across multiple important websites. For example, I have a Github profile, a Mastodon profile and a personal domain that you have no way of knowing are truly “mine”. By using my Keyoxide proofs page, you’re able to see that I’ve explicitly identified profiles on these services as being under my control. Yarmo writes a lot about, and is clearly passionate for, our independence from large corporations holding and monetising our data.

Mike Stone is another fosstodon admin, and writes the sort of geeky stuff I love reading. He’s covered the software he uses, the purchase of Keybase by Zoom and his adventures into Open Source AI. He’s always got something interesting to share, and I’ve found and tried multiple new programs I’d never heard of based on his recommendations. Just don’t try eDEX-UI - it’ll crash your desktop like it did to mine!

My most recent follow I found only after putting the finishing touches on this post! Katie McLaughlin (glasnt) wrote a post called Generating a pseudorandom string: the what and the how, and while I like linux geek posts, normally the “here’s a simple command that does x” sort of posts are skippable if I can’t immediately figure out how I’ll use them. Glasnt however uses the post as an opportunity to break down the command into its parts, teaching me about tr (and LC_ALL=C), fold, and finally why short and long commandline option/argument combos make no friggin’ sense to me in a way that makes friggin' sense. I had to immediately subscribe and add her to this list for making a linux command-line post so much more informative than they usually are.

The last person on my list is someone I’ve followed since at least 2010 when “blogs” were a thing, the salmon protocol was about to take off, and Twitter was cool. Ruben Schade (Rubenerd) has been podcasting and writing since before both were things everyone did, and is still going years later (he’s up to 411 episodes of his show which is just insane). I’m not even going to try and link to a good example of his posts, as they’re so eclectic. His technical posts are the reason I titled this post the way I did, and I’m using Linux and Hugo directly because of him (although he uses BSD like a gentleman), and I have implemented or de-implemented tech on this very site due to his recommendations. If you search for mentions of his name here, you’ll start to wonder if I have a crush on the guy, but he’s just one of the few consistent writers I’ve follow - and he also doesn’t allow comments on his site and only uses Twitter, so I can’t give him feedback any other way!

So that’s just a small list and taste of the people I’m following. There are many others, but I can’t write paragraphs about all of them so I’ll throw up some good posts by randos here:

I hope you can find someone new to follow, or are inspired to fire up a feed reader and start. And to all the people I’ve linked to here, and those who are on my list who maybe didn’t get a mention, thank you for writing, please keep going! Let’s write for pleasure and enrichment and keep the web personal and alive.

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Catchy Titles Capture Clicks

This is the third in a series of posts where I just plonk stuff I’ve been thinking about that doesn’t go anywhere else. It’s got a stupid title because my first thought is…

  1. I have a real bad time trying to come up with good titles. I don’t try too hard, so I guess it’s to be expected, but I note that my titles have a similar quality to other posts I’ve read that strike me as amateur. If I could tell you what that meant it would put me closer to rectifying it.

  2. I have subscribed to a number of new “blogs” recently - as an aside, I think the word blog is awful so I will from now on refer to them as as net-logs, or personal chronicles, or whatever fits.

    After a week of posts on Hackernews about the death and resurrection1 of said personal chronicles, I thought I’d fire up the ol' RSS reader and brush off the dust.

    The first thing that struck me was how unpleasant the PHP-based software I had been using was. So instead of dicking around with it, I put my new Docker/Nginx skills to work and fired up a version of Miniflux which is just so elegant and simple to work with. I’ve been slowly accumulating a bunch of low-key personal chronicles by people who write about FOSS and speculate about the same kind of issues that interest me. I’ll put up a list of them somewhere soon.

  3. I’m looking for some diversity in my growing list - a lot of these people are other men about my age, which is a fine thing to be - I myself am a man about my age - but other view-points and ideas are also nice. I’m interested in FOSS, internet decentralisation/federation, programming, technology so I’m looking for personal chronicles with a similar bent. I’m not looking to subscribe to stuff that’s completely outside my interests (eg. sport, cars, gardening etc.) but someone who occasionally shares their passions for those things amongst the stuff I’m interested in is welcome2. Share your linkrolls!

  4. Today I did a big Mastodon harvest - finding and following a lot of new people. This was just to widen the number of voices I’m seeing there. I have to walk the line I failed to walk on Twitter though - while it’s important to be politically engaged, Twitter doesn’t do political nuance well, and Masto probably doesn’t either. I don’t want a lot of politics in my feed anymore. I also need to remember that hiding people’s boosts is a thing I can do.

  5. I was going to say something about the protests and riots and police/military action going on in the US, but almost everything I wrote seemed flippant. I hope that whatever happens it leads to real lasting change (or the start of it).

That’s another round up of stuff that’s been on my mind that doesn’t deserve it’s own post. I guess it’s also the third in the #100DaysToOffload3 series I haven’t officially committed to.

  1. is one of my first new subscriptions ↩︎

  2. gets a lot of mentions on here because he shares a lot of my passions, but will often share stuff I had no idea was interesting and I appreciate it. ↩︎

  3. was posting almost daily and made me nostalgic for the days where I was reading lots of personal logs and occasionally keeping my own. ↩︎

Dockerised Hugo for Local Development

Following on from last night’s post, I needed a way to run Hugo to build the new entry and deploy it. Since I had to rebuild my environment from scratch I wanted to see if I could run Hugo and Go without installing them locally.

I know Go is unlikely to cause any stability issues, as it installs all its dependencies in the user’s home dir, rather than touching system files but I’m determined in my experiment to keep my new install as clean as possible.

Using some insight I’d gathered from using docker-tizonia a Docker version of Tizonia and using asolera’s Golang minimal Dockerfile image as a base, I was able to put together a minimal Dockerfile that does the following:

  1. Creates a golang based build image to pull down the latest version of Hugo.
  2. Build and install the Hugo binary
  3. Copy the binary to a clean image
  4. Set the image work directory to /site
  5. Expose the Hugo server port 1313
  6. Make Hugo the entry point and default to the help text if I forget to add a command.

The Dockerfile looks something like the following:

FROM golang:1.14.3-alpine3.11 AS build

RUN apk add --no-cache git


RUN go get -v
WORKDIR /go/src/

RUN go install

RUN apk del git

FROM alpine:3.11

COPY --from=build /go/bin/hugo /usr/bin/hugo

RUN mkdir /site

# Expose port for live server

CMD ["--help"]

Also thanks to jojomi of bits cribbed from their Hugo Dockerfile.

Many of the Hugo Dockerfiles I found would copy the website source to the container in preparation of serving the files from Docker. In my case I’m happy with my plain HTML to continue being served where it is, but didn’t want to lose out on the features you get when you’re using Hugo to develop locally - such as running a test server with live reloading.

With the help of a handy “hugo” wrapper shell script, I was able to fire up Hugo in the container, and serve my local files through a mapped volume with no appreciable difference to how Hugo was running for me before.

The wrapper is as follows:


docker run -it --rm \
    --network host \
    --volume=$(pwd):/site \
    --name hugo \
    $(docker build -q .) "$@";

This wrapper

  1. Runs the necessary Docker command to hook the image into the host network so I can check my changes on http://localhost:1313
  2. Shares the working directory into the expected /site working directory on the image.
  3. Passes in whatever argue I pass in.

I set this Hugo file to executable with chmod u+x hugo and I can now run the automatically updating Hugo server with

./hugo server

Now because the command hugo by itself is used the build the site, I now just pass in a harmless switch like -v (verbose) to build the site without triggering the default --help text.

Finally I use my previous ./deploy script to rsync the files to my host.

The two new files are in my personal-chronicle github repo for any good they can be to anyone, and I’m curious to know if there’s any way I can improve the Docker build to simplify it.

Some questions or areas I think I can improve are:

  1. I’m not sure if the line ARG HUGO_BUILD_TAGS is necessary. It just happened to be there when I finally got it working, after removing other lines that were causing it to fail.
  2. I’m getting the hugo source from when the Hugo documentation says the main repo root is what you’d use to install it. I’m not sure if there was a better way to go get the Hugo project.
  3. I think I’d prefer to freeze the version of Hugo at the current version until I choose to upgrade after testing. I’m not sure how to ‘go get’ a specific version of the git repo.
  4. Is the RUN apk del git line necessary if I’m using a throwaway build image?

The thing that blows me away about Docker and Golang and a lot of modern developer technology is just how much “standing on the shoulders of giants” I’m able to do. Docker is not just a clever idea, but such a well built stack that even with a rudimentary understanding of what I wanted to achieve, I was able to do it with a few lines of code. And the Go ecosystem meant that go get etc.. pulled an entire projects worth of dependencies and built the entire Hugo app inside a black box. This is such a far cry from past experiences I’ve had trying to build software from source that I can only express gratitude for all the hard work donated by so many.

Containers May Save Me From Myself

Over on the Aus Mastodon instance (where I choose to Toot, rather than Tweet) I posted that I’m frustrated over and over again that my Linux experience goes like this:

  1. Install a new Linux distro. Be amazed and surprised just how smooth the experience is, and how little effort there was to get it working.

  2. Get excited for more “Linux” and think “Great, time to try compiling something from scratch for the experience” or “Now I can install that technology stack I was reading about”

  3. Install said stack, or attempt to compile said something.

  4. Fail - due to having picked the wrong distro with the wrong version of Python, or having picked a desktop that runs on Wayland instead of X.

  5. Find workarounds, tutorials on how to compile around the issue, or just instructions on how to install another version of Python. Be successful or not.

  6. Get a notification that the Next Version of my distro is available - and look at all the neat new features and stability it has!

  7. Install the new version and discover some new hellish torment that means that the rock solid stability I’ve b1een enjoying up until this version is gone and no amount of scouring the internet, or trawling the logs will help me figure out how to restore my OS and with it, my sanity.

I’m not sure if step seven happens because of my tinkering in step five. The frequency with which it happens is makes me think it has to be me.

So I find another distro, or I download the installer for the new version, and I backup all my files and I rebuild my machine and repeat from step one. It’s getting tiresome.

So having pinned the problem on myself, I’ve decided this time around I’m going to containerise everything. For those only slightly behind me on the discovery of new technology concepts, containers (or sandboxes (or jails Rubenerd has been using for years)) are a way to put applications in their own little bubbles without access to anything else on your computer2. They help keep everything from rubbing up against each other and getting computer juices everywhere - sort of like social distancing for computer software. Fedora Silverblue is container-based and looks amazing. I have loved using Fedora and learning how to sandbox everything is probably a good skill to learn moving forward. Also, @shlee generously gave me his time to teach me Docker and now I want to keep using it for everything.

BUT… Fedora (and Silverblue) have some downsides for me. Remeber step five? Almost every Linux tutorial or piece of software I’ve ever found anywhere assumes two things: you’re using apt as your package manager, and you’re using Xorg not Wayland as your display server. I was constantly hunting for the ‘dnf’ package, or checking to ensure that the new clipboard manager I was about to use could handle Wayland3. Critically, Docker is a second class citizen in Fedora in favour of Podman, and while Podman might be better in some ways - like Wayland: it’s not what everyone is using. In the end the perpetual dream I have to use the “superior” technology over the “winning” technology had to be put aside, and I’ve settled on Cinnamon flavoured Debian.

Debian is not containered. But it doesn’t insist on making me use Podman instead of Docker like Fedora does, and it’s the closest thing Linux has to a “default” distribution, so I’m making do. The first thing I did was install Flatpak to start my container journey and… immediately failed.

  • Flatpak Firefox looks like shit. I spend almost all my computer time in Firefox and I want it to match my theme and the container version didn’t. That’s a really shallow reason not to use it though, so I’m going to try that again4.

  • Docker is complex enough for a Docker n00b to learn. Trying to run a Sandboxed containerised Docker instance of some sort is right out, so it got a full install.

  • The Flatpak version of VS Code is so isolated it can’t see Docker. I want to use the Docker plugin. I switched to the fully integrated version immediately.

So my ideals took a small beating when the rubber hit the road, but I swear to Woz that I will only use Docker and Flatpak for everything else. And one day when I’m more comfortable translating distro specific nonsense into my preferred flavour, I will give Silverblue or a fully containered distro a much better go.

And maybe one day my desktop will go more than a single major version without being replaced.

  1. While writing this post, this is the literal point that Gnome took one final shit on the bed and decided to freeze within seconds of loading after every hard reboot. ↩︎

  2. To avoid the wrath of the pedants, there’s a difference between containers and sandboxes and containers aren’t built for security like sandboxes are, but for my purposes they serve roughly the same function. ↩︎

  3. Spolier: it could not. ↩︎

  4. Thanks to the Flatpak Theming instructions at OMG! Ubuntu! I was able to install the Adapta-Nokto theme for Flatpak apps and everything is right with the world. ↩︎

More Observing-ness

It’s time for round-two of a bunch of random stuff that’s slightly-interesting-but-not-interesting-enough-for-a-full-post.

  • I’m sitting on a new office chair that’s called a Swopper that I got second-hand as a Christmas gift from my dear wife, and it’s bouncy and fun to sit on.

    I read an article somewhere that said active chairs encourage you to move more and put weight on your legs and fill that niche between standing desks and vanilla sitting. What I was finding with my fancy-schmancy office chair was that I was cutting circulation in my legs, my butt was always sore, and I just felt bad after sitting for a day of work. While the Swopper has some problems of it’s own, I’m definitely feeling more active while using it, and (surprisingly) I have sore core muscles after using it, like I’ve done a couple of situps.

    I’ll get back to you if my opinion changes, the main downside is that it seems wildly over priced if you buy it new.

  • We took a family holiday to Buninyong to visit my sister, and went with my brother’s family and my mum. It’s the first big family holiday I’ve been on with my mum and brother and sister since well before I got married, and it was a lot of fun to just hang out with them all.

  • We took the opportunity to go to Sovereign Hill, which I visited once when I was a boy, and I remembered why I thought it was so dull when I was a kid. It’s fascinating, but not very hands-on for children, but we spent a good hour panning for gold, so the kids will have some good memories I hope.

  • We stepped up our new car plan before we went so we’d have a bigger car to squash the kids into before we drove over the border. I’ve said goodbye to the beautifully cheap-to-run Prius that has done me well for the last five years, and purchased a second hand Holden Commodore wagon. The running costs are higher, but my daughter can now fit in the back seat again. Plus other men are no longer threatened by the care-free way I drove my smaller, lower-emission car.

  • Australia is on fire. Well, parts of it are. Important parts that have people in them. It’s forced a lot of them to uproot, and has a lot of people very cross that successive governments have done so little to address climate change. I donned a cap of political apathy after the country decided that just because Tony Abbott was no longer the public face of the Liberal party it meant that they were probably the best party we had. I pulled the cap lower and raised my collar after the country decided a second time that a party who is very clearly uninterested in tackling the biggest issues we’re leaving to our kids was their best hope for a bigger tax rebate. These fires would be just as bad if anyone else was in charge, but maybe if we’d given enough of a shit 10 years ago we might have actually been in the middle of trying to do something now.

  • I’m still trying to find somewhere online that can scratch that itch that Reddit used to fill. I’m still resolute that I’m not returning, but I don’t have anywhere to find new things to read, and nowhere to participate in discussion. I’ve been using Hacker News, but as much as I like to think of myself as a “hacker”, only about 20% of posts there interest me, and I’ve almost never felt the desire to contribute to the discussion. In the last two days I’ve discovered, Hubski, and Tildes. and Tildes are invite-only, while Hubski is open for registrations. is even more niche than Hacker News, but I love the technical design decisions they’ve made. If I wanted to make a similar site, the source would be an excellent starting point.

    Hubski is less niche, but despite the open registration seems to have far less activity. As an example: as at time of writing, the fourth article down is about the impeachment of Donald Trump, posted 23 days earlier. It’s big news, and it’s off the back of the Christmas break, but I’d expect more recent news than that on the front page of a news aggregator. The discussion on it is thoughtful though a little sparse, so the community is definitely not the sort of people who left Reddit for Voat, but with so little happening, there’s not a lot of reason to stick around and see if it’s worth it.

    I’ve settled on giving Tildes a try for a week. Their community is big enough that I keep seeing new stuff on the front page, even across the space of a single day. The diversity of discussion is also much better than HN or, and I’ve found myself with actual things to say while reading some threads (although I can’t do so yet). And although I don’t like using it for webpages - it’s much better for a text editor or terminal - the fact that they offer Solarized Dark as one of the out-of-the-box color schemes means that someone there understands sophistication.

  • In the process of trying out I have also installed WeeChat for IRC. I love the idea of IRC, but I’ve never found myself in a room where I’ve wanted to say anything. Can anyone suggest a good room for IRC newbies to just hang out in and chat with nice people? Leave a comment below, or chat in Keybase, Discord, or directly with me on the Mastodon instance. I’d set up a Geekorium IRC channel but from what I can gather, I’d need a server that’s amenable to randos making channels.

So that’s me for another four months - still trying half-hearted-ly to push air through the blue lips of this website.

rex-havoc fun technology use-case debate direction future jones google voice-in-the-dark friend time-diversion tip extensions movie music twitter internet awesome bots official-help users christmas final-flight-of-xarnash interface iphone wordpress blogging create gadgets ortrix support the-professor voice-in-the-flesh anrianna new-feature problem cute family guide past playlist search stupid application embed first-look gina-trapani god humour