Sunday 5 December 2021

Welcome to Chaos Central

I've written before about how Jerry Pournelle was a massive influence on me as a writer, even though it wasn't through his fiction, for which he's best known. Yes, I like that too, whether he was writing with Larry Niven and/or Steven Barnes or just by himself. It was his non fiction that hooked me though.

He wrote a long running column for Byte magazine called Chaos Manor, a user column in which he talked about the tech he was using and trying out and playing with and breaking and how it worked for him (or didn't) as a writer. That was an eye opener of a magazine for me, a young computer fan in the eighties, but it still got to the point where I was buying it to read Jerry's user column. That's one reason, albeit not the only one, why home here in Phoenix is named Chaos Central.

Now, I'm a solid Linux user and that's what a lot of this user column will be about, because I know some and need to know a lot more.

Even though my background was with Microsoft products, both as a user and a professional, eventually supporting them for a living, I didn't want any of what Vista had to bring, so I tried out Ubuntu Linux. I didn't know how that would go, so I installed it to a new hard drive to slot into my laptop rather than replacing the Windows XP I had. I figured that, if I didn't like it or I got stuck or I found too many things I couldn't do, I could just take it out, slot the old Windows drive back in and be back up and running. I think I did that once.

I guess that means that I've used Ubuntu as my primary OS for almost a decade and a half now. I'm no expert, but I get by and I can do everything I need to do. I didn't like Unity, when they brought that in, so switched to Maté as a desktop manager and I've been happy with that ever since. My desktops run Ubuntu Maté, my laptop runs Ubuntu Maté and, more recently, my server runs Ubuntu Maté. Yes, I have a desktop manager installed on my server. I'm not comfortable doing everything I do on it from the command line yet. Maybe I'll get there.

And that's what I'm going to talk about today. I've had problems with KONG for a while (all my computers are named for kaiju), with it shutting down at apparently random points, and haven't been able to figure them out until now but I've finally fixed them. Whew.

What I should have done a long time ago was delve into the logs, in particular /var/log/syslog. That told me that the problem was due to overheating. I installed a tool called hardinfo that allowed me to look at the system sensors and I could see that one of them was consistently well over 90° C. Even with just one thing running, like a single data copy, and the case open, it was hovering around 97° or 98° C. That's not good. And yeah, it caused shutdowns for safety reasons.

What I should have done then was dig into exactly which sensor was overheating, because I bought and fitted a new CPU fan and found that it didn't solve anything. That's because it wasn't the CPU that was running hot but the GPU on the graphics card that's hardly the most important thing on a server that spends most of its time without a screen attached. Once I realised that it was the graphics card, I took it out and problem solved. Sure, I'm now using an antique S3 PCI card that only allows me to connect at 800x600, but I have a couple of others I'll check to see if they'll run at a higher resolution, ones that are newer than that but still so old that they don't need fans on their GPUs that might fail and trigger shutdowns.

I also installed a couple of new hard drives, via a couple of new power splitters, because I was running out of space. I now have eleven hard drives for data in KONG, all either 4 TB or 6 TB in size,that add up to 56 TB of space, along with another smaller one for the system. Yes, I have a lot of data. Hey, I'm a film and music critic and I run a film festival. Data adds up. And yes, all of it is kept redundant by having it in two separate places. Most of it is live on the server and then backed up to filers, which are configured as DLNA servers so I can watch this stuff on the TV in the front room.

What's important here is that a couple of new hard drives means that I can shuffle data around to empty them in turn and finally format these drives to the ext4 file system that Linux kind of expects nowadays. Up until now, they've been formatted as NTFS because KONG used to run Windows 2008 Server and, when I upgraded to Ubuntu Maté, I didn't have the ability to change that at the time.

Now I do because I have shuffle space, so I've learned some things, especially as not all these drives show up as mounted when I power up.

What I'm doing is as follows. It seems to be working.

1. Use gparted to format a new hard drive and give it a name. Let's use Backups as an example.

  • select the right hard drive from the dropdown menu
  • delete both partitions used by NTFS
  • apply changes
  • wait for gparted to scan all drives again
  • create a new partition table from the Device menu, using the default gpt partition table type
  • wait for gparted to scan all drives again
  • create new partition of maximum size by right clicking the bar and choosing New, entering Backups as both Partition Name and Label
  • apply changes
  • wait for gparted to scan all drives again

2. Create a directory to mount it to (where "myusername" is not really my username but will work for here).

sudo mkdir /media/myusername/Backups

3. Mount the drive to that directory:

sudo mount -t auto -o rw /dev/sdb1 /media/myusername/Backups -v

4. Set permissions so I can write to this hard drive:

cd /media/myusername
sudo chown -R myusername:myusername Backups

5. Copy data to it from another drive until that drive is empty. Rinse and repeat until done.

While that directory is permanent, that mount is temporary. To make it permanent, this seems to be doing the trick:

1. Get the UUID for this particular hard drive by looking at the results of:

sudo blkid

2. Open the system's file system table:

sudo pluma /etc/fstab

3. Append a line for this hard drive, with the items tab delimited:

UUID=3aca479b-4f2c-4254-9ea5-42140ee68bc6 /media/myusername/Backups ext4 defaults 0 0

Now, I just need to finish up with all this data copying. 7 of these 11 drives are now ext4 and I set a million files copying earlier. That was cool. There are thirteen hours still to go on that.

Saturday 4 December 2021

It's Been a While!

Hey, it's been a while! How you doin'?

My biggest struggle at Apocalypse Later has been to find a balance between all the things I'm doing, let alone all the things I still want to do, and I'll be seriously trying to fix that in 2022.

I'm reviewing a lot of albums and a lot of books, but not as many films nowadays as I'd like. I have a lot of words written on a lot of new books but I haven't published anything new since The Awesomely Awful '80s, Part 2 in 2019. That's so long ago, it's before COVID. I haven't got my music zine properly up and running yet. I haven't managed to keep up with blogging here at Apocalypse Later Now! in the slightest. And there are other projects I've wanted to do for a long time and I've done a lot of work on some of them, but none of them are out there as of yet. I don't have a radio show yet, though I've recorded some sample editions. I don't have a podcast or a vidcast of my own. So watch this space and let's see what I can manage in 2022.

Let's start with what's actually happening right now.

1. I want my zine to start happening and to publish regularly.

This is Horns Ablaze, a music zine that will be built off the reviews I already write at Apocalypse Later Music of new albums from across the rock and metal spectrum and around the globe. I want that to publish monthly, with added interviews and a local gig calendar. The goal is for it to publish free online as a PDF, under a Creative Commons license so that it can be copied freely on a non-profit basis, while keeping my name credited, but to also publish a physical edition through KDP just in case anyone wants to buy a copy.

I've already figured out the layout and built my template of styles in LibreOffice, which I use to lay out all my books, though I'd like to shift over to Scribus once I can figure out everything I need it to do. I've figured out how to work the covers, using high definition copies of classic works of art that are in the public domain. I've licensed the font that I'm using for the logo, the cover and the section headers.

All I need to do now is to make it happen. Hopefully I'll put out an issue #0 this month with the first proper edition published in January, probably mid-month though I haven't set a firm date yet.

2. I want a regular publication schedule for my books.

Some recent policies by senior management at the company I work for as a day job have led me to reevaluate Apocalypse Later Press to be something a bit more serious and structured than it's been. I think those policies have worked themselves out, but there was a possibility for a while that I'd need to leave that day job and I can't imagine finding another one that a) pays as well and b) gives me the flexibility to do everything Apocalypse Later I do today. So I'm figuring out how I want a regular publication schedule at Apocalypse Later Press to look like. And I think I'm there. It's ambitious, but ambition is never a bad thing. I'm hoping to publish on a quarterly cycle.

The first month of the quarter will see me publish a non-fiction book. I have a few of those done and waiting on cover art. I have even more mostly done that I need to just wrap up and put to bed. I have even more still partly done that I need to keep in motion. Many of these are built around film, as all my previous books are, but there are books about books too and some other things too.

The second month will see me publish a fiction book. This is new for me, but not as new as you'd think. The first one will be a collection of a lot of old short stories and poems that I've written over three decades and change, with some new pieces written specifically for this book. And then we'll get into novel territory, which is the most daunting thing I'm facing at the moment but I'm looking forward to the challenge.

The third month will see me reprint two works of genre fiction from the public domain under the banner of Apocalypse Later Favourites. These are some of my favourite books that I selfishly want to have on my shelf in consistent trade paperback editions with an introduction by me and new cover art not by me, because nobody wants to see that.

And then in the next quarter, I'll do it all over again. That means eight books by me and eight books edited by me every year and that may seem crazy but I'm going to give it a good shot. The fact that I probably have a million words written and waiting to be published does really help.

3. I want to get audio stuff really moving.

And there's a lot of this. It'll start with readings of my reviews, which I'm doing already, though not publicly. More on that later. I'll be compiling some of these into audiobook versions of my books, which is long overdue. None of that should be surprising.

But I want to find a way to get an Apocalypse Later Radio Show onto the air and properly, through a radio station rather than as an online podcast. This is the least likely thing I'll accomplish in 2022, being realistic, but it's something I've wanted to do for decades and Apocalypse Later Music was partly put together in the way it was to feed into it naturally. I've recorded some sample shows and DJ friends have enjoyed them, so it's all about getting enough structure together to make it consistent and a radio station interested enough to allow me the airtime. Wish me luck!

Then there's an Apocalypse Later Podcast, which I've also wanted to do for a long time. I've thought a lot about how this might work and who I might get involved. This isn't firmly on the calendar for 2022 but I want to be ready by 2023 to launch this sustainably.

And, if I'm going to do a podcast, why not do a vidcast? Well, I don't have time to do all the editing and I'll be much more comfortable in a podcast setting than a vidcast anyway. That said, I want to start creating some pieces for YouTube. What I'm thinking is that some of my review projects, like Dry Heat Obscurities, fit that style well in a sort of documentary way, and I'm going to play around with the video editing needed to do it right. Again, I don't have a timetable on this but I'd like to be ready to go, if it's going to be viable, by 2023.

4. I want to expand my social media presence and keep it updated.

I'm doing some of this already. I've long shared everything I do on Facebook and I'll continue to do that. I've also recently started to share my reviews on Twitter and Instagram and they're reaching new eyeballs because of that. That leaves this blog, Apocalypse Later Now! which feeds neatly into my Amazon page but has been left unloved for far too long.

What I think I'm going to do here, starting with a post soon after this one, is something akin to what Jerry Pournelle did with his Chaos Manor column in Byte magazine. I'll talk about tech stuff, the things I'm learning, in large part for my own future reference but also because they may help others and others may help me. I'll post about the other things I'm doing at Apocalypse Later, so it'll work in part as a friendly kind of changelog. And I'll also post about the ways I'm taking Apocalypse Later a little further afield. Which means...

5. I want to expand my presence beyond Apocalypse Later.

And I'm already started to do this, though I've done a terrible job at telling people about it. So I'll include that here at Apocalypse Later Now! For instance...

Due for release on 17th December, 2021 by Red Cape Publishing is Out of the Shadows, a charity anthology of drabbles by a variety of people in the horror scene. There are major names from film like Nicholas Vince from the Hellraiser series and scream queen Debbie Rochon, as well as Arizona folk who do cool stuff, like Dineta Williams-Trigg who runs A Night of Misfit Films and Chris McLennan who runs Phoenix FearCon. And there's me, with three horror themed drabbles, which, for those who have never heard of such creatures, are short stories of exactly 100 words each. And the charity to which all profits will go is Mulligan's Manor, an independent, non-profit home for at risk LGBTQ+ youth who have been abused, neglected or displaced.

Due out sometime next year is a series of three books covering the filmographies of different action stars. They'll be published by Slipway Cinema, an imprint of Bear Manor Media. They're being edited by David C. Hayes with covers by Jason Westlake. The titles are Hard to Watch: The Films of Steven Seagal, Missing the Action: The Films of Chuck Norris and Bloodspurt: The Films of Jean-Claude Van Damme. I covered two films for the Steven Seagal book, four for the Chuck Norris book and eight for the Jean-Claude Van Damme book, which progression means that no fourth book is probably a good thing.

And I have a long piece that will be included, after being translated into Polish, in the second volume of a very special Phantom Press publication, Antologii Sabat, which collects everything Guy N. Smith wrote about Mark Sabat: novels, stories, the works. My article is on the Sabat novels that weren't, because he only wrote the synopses for them. Some of these became Sabat novels in very different form, so I look at the differences between projected and published. Others were simply never written, so I also look at where the series was planned to go but never did.

So that's five forthcoming books that will feature my writing, even though I'm not responsible for them otherwise, as writer, editor or publisher. That's hopefully only the beginning. Let's see how out there I can get! Ha.

So, watch this space, folks! Lots of stuff coming in 2022!