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Last update: December 2022

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I make music. These days, I make lots of music. And the results of all that music making are available for you to listen to. My latest release on Bandcamp is a re-examination of material I created for this summer's Fifty/Ninety songwriting challenge; once I'd upgraded the studio with new monitors, I found myself going back and polishing my favourite tracks and I was stunned by how much better the results sounded. The album is called The Future Never Arrives and this time around you get nine seconds short of an hour of music with strong prog and eighties pop influences.

Once again I'm making this release a name your price deal, so you can get it for free. Go get some!

ONE LESS ANNOYANCE

I didn't expect to be delving into the intricacies of formatting text as an e-book this year, but in writing a hundred-thousand-word account of taking part in the Fifty/Ninety songwriting challenge this summer, that is what I have been doing recently. And it's been driving me nuts.

I use a free open-source alternative to Microsoft Office called Libre Office and while it's good enough to get the job done, it's also riddled with bugs. It will quite frequently just disappear on me without so much as an error message. For the last week I've been discovering just how bad it is at exporting text documents to the .epub format. My chief gripe is that the exported text is absolutely full of random "span" HTML tags that seem to bear no relation to edits I've made in the document.

And yes, I know that direct formatting in Writer documents is the work of the devil and should never be used; the behaviour I was seeing will occur even after I've selected the entire document with Ctrl-A and then hit Ctrl-M to remove any direct formatting that might have crept in.

This afternoon I finally discovered here that Libre Writer treats any file information generated by its comparison or track changes functions as text to be included in the export. Switching off change tracking and disabling the generation of random numbers (which are embedded invisibly in a file to improve Writer's file comparison abilities) has finally removed all of those spurious Span tags. This is acknowledged as a bug in one of the replies, but I can't see any sign of it in the known bugs tracker, more than a year later.

The fact that Writer generates these random numbers (known as RSIDs) by default was raised as a bug back in 2014, but someone closed the bug report in 2017 because you can turn off the generation of RSIDs in Writer's options window—which completely misses the point that it's the default setting that the original bug report was suggesting should be changed. If the original bug had been addressed it would have saved me hours of faffing about trying to figure out what was broken.

There are other problems with Writer's "Export as EPUB" option as well. Importing the resulting file into Sigil still generates a warning that the file contains multiple DOCTYPE errors, but at least it's formatted a darn sight more cleanly than it was before. I guess I can't complain, as Libre Office is software that's provided entirely for free, but considering how long it's been in development (I'm using version 7.4.3 at present) you'd think that something like exporting files to different formats would be less of a challenge than it apparently is.

Still, the resulting file is now several kilobytes smaller than it was. I guess we have to be thankful for the small things in life...

FROZEN

The ice on my conservatory roof hasn't thawed out at all today. On Wednesday night it was -7°C in the back garden and that was cold enough; my buddy Alex tells me that they're getting temperatures of -30°C where he lives in Canada. Yeah, don't want that here.

COLD SNAP INCOMING

After the prodigious heatwaves of the summer (at one point it got to 39°C in my back garden, which is 102°F) it seems odd to be writing about how cold it is at the moment, but the outside temperature here has barely made it to 4°C today. Tomorrow, it's supposed to be turning colder still with overnight temperatures expected to drop well below freezing for the next five days or so. At this point, the forecast for Christmas is for average temperatures and unsettled weather, so I'm expecting it to be cold and wet rather than snow. But it's still cold.

I've managed to stay warm so far, although my need to stay hydrated means I'm still drinking several litres of weak fruit squash a day and it's surprising how quickly that cools me down to the point where I start shivering. A more pleasant surprise was how much warmer the house feels today with bright sunshine coming through the windows compared with yesterday, when it was grey and overcast. There's probably also a fair bit of residual heat from yesterday hanging around, at least in the living room, because I had the gas fire on full blast for a while in an attempt to get the load of laundry that I did to dry. With the doors all shut, I was only heating one room instead of the whole house. It's rather depressing seeing my energy costs mount up on my smart meter but that was cheaper than running the central heating in every single room. This is how people used to use their houses back in the old days, withdrawing to the central core of the house for the winter and leaving the light and airy rooms with big windows to be used solely in the summer. And for the moment, the thirty-two-year-old circulation pump in the airing cupboard seems to be working properly again. I haven't needed to bleed it again, but it no longer runs as silently as it did (I can hear when the system starts up from anywhere in the house) so I'm going to have it replaced, just in case.

I just looked at the adventures I had in early December twelve years ago when my brother's kids were building igloos in their back garden and South East London was gridlocked for days. I'm just fine with the sunshine, thanks very much.

DREAM ON

Later on in the blog that month, I comment about how badly I was sleeping. There's a considerable difference between those days and now in the quality of the sleep I get. My phone now classifies nights when I get more than 40% of NREM sleep as "average" but back then, I would consistently have been getting less that 25%. In my last job, an "average" night was closer to 20%. And I would have been getting far less sleep in total, too. This morning I lay in my nice warm bed and dozed until well after 10 am before I finally got up, and I have to say it felt wonderful to be able to do that.

I'm still keeping my mind occupied, though. I'm continuing to make good progress on the book, and it's currently sitting at 103k words. I've been tightening up the structure and adding more technical stuff for people who might want to start their own home recording adventures. I've also been cutting out some of the more eccentric excursions and diversions I'd gone off on. Not all of them, though. The book still has to sound like me, after all.

The next step will be recruiting some beta testers to see what they think...

DREICH

The first of December dawned grey and foggy here, the sort of weather that we used to get towards the end of October. When I first moved to the South West, I would usually decide it was time to put the heating back on automatic at around the third week in October. This year, I only decided I needed to do so on November 24th, thus setting a new record (I keep track of these things, because I'm me).

I needed the heat this morning, as the temperature outside was -1°C overnight. The forecast for next week is showing signs of the season's first proper cold snap, too. But rising fuel costs mean that I'm being much less eager to put the heating on, and I'm not the only one. I saw this week that domestic energy usage in the UK is 10% less than it was last year. I'm lucky enough to be able to afford to heat the house and buy food to eat. A shocking amount of families in the UK are no longer as fortunate as me. That's where 12 years of Tory austerity has got us. It's funny how so many Tory party members have managed to stay grossly overweight though, isn't it? It's almost as if they weren't being affected by the need to "tighten our belts" that they're so fond of telling the rest of us about...

LOWER

Following my most recent trip to the doctor's, I needed to buy myself a blood pressure monitor to make daily checks. After my brush with Covid in October, I've been suffering from mild hypertension. I gently started exercising again, and last weekend I picked up my weights for the first time in six weeks.

Wow. I was amazed by how quickly that had a result on my blood pressure. It was dramatic; in just five days I've gone from 145/85 to 135/75. That puts me back in the "high normal" range, and has removed a major source of the stress that would have been boosting my high blood pressure in the first place.