Birch Street Computing -

about me

John M is a Linux fan in Lowell, MA.

I work at at a company writing software. I fool around with Free and Open Source software for fun & profit.

I was big into and you can still see some of what I listen to there. I can also be found using github and recently sourcehut as well as bitbucket (historically). I don't care for most popular social media sites. If I have an account on one or the other it's probably either old and unused or was created just for tinkering.


Links to things I like, use, or otherwise feel is worth sharing. Things I'd like to see get more popular.

John's Blog & More

A perpetual work in progress. One that has been rarely touched as of late. This applies to both the content and the software to publish it.

Of some historical interest may be the Python Taglib Tutorial, or my old Kubuntu Wireless page.

Nine Years

Well, it has been (approximately) nine years since I last added content to this site. I recently spiffied it up a little bit and removed some of the more unfashionable elements of the site design. I left most of it the same however, as the longer I looked at it the happier I was with it. It's certainly old-fashioned, in the mid-2000s sense of old fashioned, but it's my kind of old-fashioned.

The homegrown static site generator I use for it has been improved as well. Most of the time spent on it was just getting it working on Python 3. Very little else about it needed to change, because it does rather little.

I certainly do not promise much additional activity here but I have been hoping get my thoughts down in writing more often. I spend a lot more time communicating online rather than in person that I once did, that motivates me a bit more to try and keep some of my more common thoughts in one place that I can refer to later. This site could be that place.

I thought I might amuse myself a bit by creating a list of things I would have written about in the intervening years. However, this list would not make any sense to any poor person who stumbles across this site and so I will refrain from making that list part of a post. I might create some sort of list-of-ideas but I'll keep it private.

My 2011 in Music

For me 2011 was a pretty darn good year for music. I regularly listened to a lot more new music than last year. I also sampled more stuff after reading a few more music blogs this year. I especially appreciated learning about and listing to albums from that site. I figure it influenced a couple of real purchases this year.

Biggest 2010 Albums of 2011

These are albums/artists that I listened to a lot in 2011, even though they weren't new this year. Some of them were new to me and others simply kept me coming back to them.

  • Borknagar - Universal: I still listen to this album all the time. Simply fantastic.

  • Enslaved - Axioma Ethica Odini: This is also a insanely good album. Even at work I've named some of my test data after the track names here.

  • Ghost - Opus Eponymous: If evil can be fun and poppy, this album is exhibit A. Every time I see someone diss this album online I want to shake them and tell them to stop overthinking it and just enjoy.

  • Julie Christmas - The Bad Wife: I simply love her voice. I hope Made out of Babies makes another album soon, but this solo album will tide me over in the meantime.

  • Melechesh - The Epigenesis: I simply love the middle eastern + metal sound these guys put together. I've used it to wake myself up on quite a few morning drives.

  • Shining - Blackjazz: This album is nuts, in the best way possible.

Standout New Music of 2011

The Good Ones

These albums were pretty good and I listened to them quite a bit.

  • The Sword - Warp Riders: Loved the title track. I preferred what these guys were doing on the first two albums, but still a very enjoyable journey though space.

  • Novembers Doom - Aphotic: Another solid album from this band.

  • Septicflesh - The Great Mass: Got this one pretty late in the year for it to really sink in on me, but it's kind of been a grower. The orchestral bits are worked in well with the metal side of things. I want to listen to some of these guy's older releases now.

  • Anaal Nathrakh - Passion: Got this one at the same time as Septicflesh. I had this playing when I was stuck in traffic one day and I think it made my crazy (more crazy?). Now sometimes I listen to it when I code in order to feel more evil. :-D

The Great Ones

These albums were really awesome and I listened to these albums a ton. They got the most use in my car so my stats really don't represent how often I listened to these.

  • ICS Vortex - Storm Seeker: I've really grown to like Vortex's vocals after listening to Borknagar so many times. I listened to the opening track, The Blackmobile, and knew I had to buy the album. While the remaining tracks differ quite a bit from Blackmobile I still think it's great. The whole album is good progressive metal, with what sounds to me a Yes-like feel.

  • Obscura - Omnivium: Kicked my ass. This is simply an amazing album there were a few things I liked more on the previous album, mainly the vocals, but well worth a listen. The cover is an illustration from a book on the mating process of Metroids.

  • Kvelertak - Kvelertak: I'm cheating a little here because only the US release was in 2011. This album is hugely energetic and I liked to listen to it on the treadmill!

  • Woods of Ypres - Woods IV (The Green Album): Can being sad be fun? That's how I feel about this music. Quite often I'd find my self singing or shouting along with the lyrics to this in the car. What's really sad is the recent death of the bands frontman (RIP).

  • Red Fang - Murder the Mountains: This band is hilarious, awesome, and makes fantastic music videos. Of course, the album itself rocks too. My favorite track is Throw Up, which sounds pretty Melvins-ish to me. I expect this band to get more popular soon.

My penultimate album of 2011

Mastodon/The Hunter Album Cover

Mastodon - The Hunter: Mastodon did a great job building up anticipation of this album in my opinion. They released full song previews on youtube before the official release date. Like some I was unsure about some of the differences between what they're doing here versus Crack the Skye. But really, the album's a grower. I mean it's a huge grower. The first time I listened to 'Creature Lives' I wasn't sure about it. But now, and even more after attending the live show, I love it. I sing along to it. My favorite track is Spectrelight, but the whole last few tracks of the album are just tremendous.

My favorite album of 2011

Subrosa/No Help for the Mighty Ones Album Cover

Subrosa - No Help for the Mighty Ones: If you're wondering what album I could have liked more than The Hunter (maybe you're not) wait no longer. No Help for the Mighty Ones is a deep, beautiful and haunting album. I haven't read or watched some of the sources they used as background material, but I'm sure it could only help me appreciate it more. It's simply so heavy and sad it wraps around to wonderful. I'm not much of a reviewer and that's not what I was planning on doing here, suffice to say it's a great piece of art. My personal favorite track is Whippoorwill, but really, there's nothing bad here.

Recent Acquisitions

I got some CDs (real, physical CDs, yay!) this Christmas from my awesome family. I also got some Amazon points that I've already use for a few mp3 albums. These are albums that I haven't got a chance to listen to much yet but I expect I'll be queuing up to play pretty often.

  • Absu - Abzu: Love the opening scream. I've already listened to this a couple of times from the bandcamp page pre purchase. I've got to check out the previous album, Absu (oh-you-guys-are-clever) now.

  • Cave In - White Silence: I was a big fan of Zozobra when these guys were apart. So far I really like what's happening on this album as well.

  • Glorior Belli - The Great Southern Darkness: The title track is seriously badass.

  • Revocation - Chaos of Forms: Love the previous album and expect this one to rock as well.

  • Unexpect - Fables of the Sleepless Empire: I've been waiting for this album for what feels like forever. I'm simply giddy.

  • Yob - Atma: Doom. Doom. DOOM!

Please Release

One nice thing about using Python is the simple and easy way to get libraries and other packages quickly and easily using tools like pypi and pip. However, when deploying I prefer OS packages (typically RPMs since I've worked at RHEL/Fedora using shops). Sometimes the libraries I need are not packaged by upstream and I end up building them myself.

None of that bugs me. What I what I wish was that more OSS projects, especially some of the smaller libs, would actually release occasionally. Instead I have to get a copy out of source control, which often has no release information. This makes me queasy because I have a hard time telling if the most recent versions are stable. Even if you don't want to make tarballs, at least periodically tag your releases in a way that makes us downstream users feel some confidence that your code isn't halfway in the middle of a refactoring or something.

If it's a "mature" code base, one that changes rarely, stick a release tag on there once a year or something. I'm going to end up testing this stuff for my own purposes, but a release tag at least makes me feel that I'm not going to end up wasting too much of my time on software left in the lurch. So far some of the worst offenders are on the dev sites like bitbucket and github. I don't know if my sample size is just too small or I have bad luck, but I have a guess that in the ye olden days people had to create a tarball just to get hold of the code, but these newer sites/tools make it easy for people to skip that step, and then forget completely about doing a release at all.

I don't actually think anyone is going to listen to me, and I'm going to have to keep building packages that have strings like "20101114git83848383f3892" or "20110109hgf110ac096f19" in them. But hope springs eternal :-).

Dell Vostro 3300 and Fedora 13

I recently got myself a Dell Vostro 3300 and am in the process of installing Linux, Fedora 13 to be specific, on it. I started out using the KDE Spin LiveCD and resizing the Windows 7 partition down to about a third of its orignal size. This was a little tricky because the Fedora automated installer saw the partition and recognized it as NTFS, but reported the size a 0 Bytes. This prevented me from running the resize tool in the Fedora installer, so I did it via the command line. I used ntfsresize(8) to shrink it, and then used manual partitioning in the Fedora installer to shrink the partition. I gave myself some wiggle room by making the partition a tad bit bigger than the size I shrunk the filesystem to.

A lot of the hardware was working right out of the box, wireless networking was the big exception. I knew the machine would come with Broadcom wireless beforehand so this was expected. After plugging into the wired lan and running the update tool I added the rpmfusion repos, and thanks to the hints on a helpful blog post I knew to install the kmod-wl package.

There is still more stuff to try out and I plan on writing about this machine a little bit in future entries.

my udev just exploded

Every time I reboot my server machine something explodes. It's my own fault, but its still annoying. This time I found out that the newer versions of udev really don't work with the deprecated SYSFS stuff. I found out because my system wouldn't create /dev nodes for /dev/sda1 and the like. I had to manually futz with udev to get the devices in dev, then mount the file systems, then ultimately I downgraded to udev-149.

I knew that version worked and found a bug ( with a similar issue. I know the right way to fix it is to build a kernel, but I wish the warning the udev ebuild printed was a little more prominent - maybe print something like : "No, Seriously this version won't work at all with the old SYFS layout, you jerk".

Maybe then I would have paid attention. :-)

Fedora 12 works for me

So I've been hankering to try a new distro for a while and after a few false starts in years past, I'm now running Fedora on my laptop. Fedora 12 is the first version I've simply been able to boot up with and have it just load and work without strange glitches. Even the much maligned (by me) NetworkManager is working quite well. Hibernate works, but there is a minor "scrambled" screen before it loads. Other than that, I'm pleased.

Following a couple blog posts got me up and running with the multimedia stuff that the stock distro does not supply. All-in-all it took me very little time to get stuff working well. I'm even all KDE 4.4-up. Aside from my second Kubuntu install from years ago (I think it was a 7.x, but I'm not sure) this has to be one of the bet Linux install experiences - especially counting the post install "get the environment the way I like it" work.

Nasuni, at long last

Today is a crazy day at work, because we're launching our product beta to the world. The Nasuni Filer provides a local network filesystem (CIFS) that is backed by cloud storage, and the user can choose what cloud vendor to use. Files are encrypted remotely and snapshots are automatically made available.

I won't say what parts I worked on. At least not until its been out there for a while. :-)

Everybody is hopping around looking at a monitor we set up to show who's signing up and downloading filers. Let's see if I can get some work done today amidst the excitement.

My 2010 website refresh

So I finally got to a point where I could no longer stand the software I wrote to generate this website. So I redid it, it has a significantly simplified core and I swapped the old Zope-Style page templates for the jinja2 templating library. I like Jinja and I've been doing a lot of Django stuff at work, so it makes sense for me.

I also use some standard library modules where I had been using custom code before. It is always an interesting experience to learn about something like that, a little bit deflating though. :-)

I don't write the code for this site for any other reason than fun. I get to learn a bit and keep coding at my own (snails pace) schedule. Now that the code is all nice and shiny I wonder if I'll have to write more often, not that I'm promising myself anything.

Link: About Intellectual Property and Competition

Just read this article: How “Intellectual Property” Impedes Competition. Which I thought was very interesting. I especially like: "Real, tangible property rights result from natural scarcity and follow as a matter of course from the attempt to maintain occupancy of physical property that cannot be possessed by more than one person at a time."

I think this is why people who defened very strong IP regimes by comparing to real property rights are not making a good argument. I don't totally agree with the article either but I always like to read arguments for limited IP with pro market perspectives.

Buy This Book

If you are interested in distributed version control, buy Mercurial: The Definitive Guide by Bryan O'Sullivan at your first opportunity. I had a chance to make some corrections and suggestions at the online copy so I know it's good. :-)

And while you're at it download release 1.3 with the latest and greatest features and fixes.

Every blog page or article on this site is available under the CC-BY-SA license unless otherwise noted.