It’s considered bad luck to change the name of your boat!

I’m absolutely a sceptic when it comes to superstition, but I do like tradition and I would never have changed the name of the boat. The previous owner but one owned the boat for twenty odd years. It’s a ship’s lifeboat conversion and she bought it from the guy who did the conversion in the nineties.

A motorboat called Nora motoring along a peaceful river

She was always single handed and she said the name of her boat “Saucy Jack” was well known. So when she sold the boat and bought a new one, fifteen years or so ago , she wanted to keep the boat name so that people will know it was still her, and give her a hand with mooring. Her new Saucy Jack is still moored at Tiptree marina. An Aquacraft 40’ or something similar.

She sold it to a guy who moored it at Cathedral Marina, Ely and lived on it there. A condition of the sale was that he had to change the name, and he chose “Nora”.

We both hated the name when we bought the boat, but it has grown on us.

An old motor boat that looks a little like a fishing boat moored outside a pub

In the first few years of owning the boat I asked a boating friend a lot for advice. He used to answer the phone “Noraid”, which was amusing if in bad taste.

In hindsight it was a bad decision to buy that boat as our first boat. Because it’s a lifeboat conversion nothing is standard, and some parts of the conversion were done with poor materials and even less skill. It’s been a steep learning curve.

For example I would have struggled to point out where a boat engine’s gearbox was when we bought the boat. Since then I’ve changed both gearboxes twice. First time with a friend’s help, then three times on my own.The gearboxes are too small and only just rated for the output of the two large Perkins diesels (4.5l – 60hp). They overheat which causes the plates to slip. They lose shardds of metal which then ruins the plates and then need to be rebuilt. A bad design. The port box was a Hurth HBW150r and rated for engines of 10-60HP. The port engine had a ZF Gearbox with even lower output a ZF10M. I replaced this with a ZF15m (ZF bought Hurth sometime ago) which had the exact same alignment for the prop and engine. I then replaced the starboard gearbox with a ZF15m (the newer version of the Hurth HBW150r). Then I’ve had both boxes rebuilt.

A clean gearbox sat on a wooden desk.

There are some threaded holes on the side of the box. Here you can attach a box and pump water through it to cool the gearbox. Apparently this keeps it cool and makes them last a lot longer. However, they are next to impossible to find. I saw one once at a boat jumble. The guy wanted £200!

A pair of dirty gearboxes on a bench.

yet another wonderful wintery day

What a wonderfully frosty and misty day today. However, the appearance of the sun, as it tried to burn it’s way through the mist, made a noticeable difference to the weather in the hour long walk. The ground was frozen solid on the walk out, but was muddy on the way back. I think we have seen the last of the cold weather in Cambridge.

A misty winter landscape with a low sun over a ploughed field

On the way back..! A misty winter landscape with a low sun over a ploughed field

..and the ice on the shallow ponds were thick enough to walk on. Just look at those bubbles frozen in the ice.

A frozen pond looking down at vegetation and bubbles frozen in the ice.

Zsh and Its Searchable History

So I guess this says a lot about me and the limited things I do on my Linux box as well as the power of ZSH’s searchable history, but I find myself rarely typing commands from scratch. Instead typing the first few letters of the command then using the up cursor arrow to search for the last time I ran that command. It is so, so useful. Rarely do I need to grep my way through my .history file. For commands such a checking a Duplicity backup to Backblaze’s B2 buckets, where I need long strings of my keys it is essential. But for even simple commands like updating my Gentoo setup it is just so useful.

Can you remember this every time?
Duplicity collection-status b2:// [22 character string]:[22 character string]@BucketName/folder

I should remember this one, but I never remember those parameters…

Emerge -uDNav @world —keep going

For bash that was:
history | grep xxxx
– Then typing the line number.
– Hitting ctrl-c to kill that command
– up cursor key then editing the command before hitting return.

With ZSH I type the first few characters and then the cursor. Even when you search and use the line number it allows you to edit that command before running it.

By default this behaviour is not enabled. But edit your .zshrc/.zprofile files and bind the UP/DOWN cursor keys to these two options:
bindkey "^[[A" history-beginning-search-backward
bindkey "^[[B" history-beginning-search-forward

Oh and if you use zsh (it’s the default shell on macOS nowadays) then you really should use Oh My Zsh

Tapbots Tweetbot Memorial

Tapbots called it a day on their Twitter client Tweetbot. All quite sad really, but I guess inevitable. After I stopped using Tweetdeck, Tweetbot became my favourite Twitter client both on macOS and iOS. It was just so easy to swap between accounts and to tweet as a different accounts without switching accounts.
I got onto the beta of their new Mastodon client for iOS, Ivory, a week or so ago. I’ve just bought an annual subscription.

The Shit Show

Craig Hockenberry’s blog post about the last day of Twitteriffic working is acerbic and brilliant. It’s all because of Space Karen’s blocking of most popular third party Twitter clients from their API. I never used Twitteriffic. I used the web client, then Tweetdeck and finally settling on Tapbots set of iOS/macOS clients (which have also stopped working).
Since the buyout I’ve more or less stopped using my personal account. I’m reluctant to delete it as it’s been active since 2006, but it’s not been much fun over the past few years. I have kept three other accounts active. My work account, a campaign account and a village news account. I should let these die too really.
I opened a Mastodon account when Space Karen first hinted he wanted to buy Twitter (thanks Raj!) but never really used it. But since November I have. A much pleasanter place.
So far I’ve been using an iOS Mastodon app, Metatext, on iOS and macOS (Apple Silicon right!). Luckily Tapbots are working on an iOS Mastodon client, that I managed to get on the latest round of TestFlight beta apps yesterday.
Note: I’m posting this in an attempt to revive my blog. Instead of Marsedit (my usual blogging tool) I’m using Drafts with the WordPress Action.

The first signs of Spring

I’m not a great Winter person. I lose patience about November. So the first signs of Spring that I see are very welcome. Snowdrops and aconites are the first in our garden, Followed by daffodils..!

IMG 3037

IMG 3036

Apple Silicon and Apple Watches

I really like my M1 MBP 13″. It’s fast, light and the battery life is amazing. It’s a pretty large leap from my 2012 Retina MBP.
Except the nicest thing is not the M1, but the fact it supports unlocking with my Apple Watch. My previous MBP was a a single generation too old. But this one supports it. When opening the MBP it unlocks quicker than I can open the screen. I still look at my watch when it vibrates to signify it’s unlocking my laptop, thinking I’ve got a notification. But hey after a year with a Ring doorbell I still look at my watch when it notifies me that there’s movement outside my front door WHEN I AM WALKING OUTSIDE MY FRONT DOOR, so I guess I’m pretty slow to form new habits!


At the start of Lockdown I was sold on the future need to wear masks and so I made some masks on my 1895 Singer model 15 (treadle) sewing machine. However, shamefully on the few times I’ve been out my mask has stayed in my pocket. I’ve justified this to myself that I never went inside a shop/building and observed the two metres distance at all times. I do not need to be further persuaded that wearing a mask helps reduce the transmission of the virus wearing a mask. Nonetheless I’ve felt extremely self conscious (which is not really like me) about wearing one and so my mask stayed in my pocket.
Wearing a mask is a display of civic duty to help your community. In the same way that vaccinations and not coughing in people’s faces are your contributions to a healthier society. Even if you have been extremely diligent in staying at home (which we have been), then wearing a mask sets an example to others that you are a responsible member of society. If we all wear a mask, it helps those who are uncomfortable with it (me!). To those people who refuse to wear a mask on “personal freedom issues”, then I would say the same as to those who refuse vaccinations – “your choice, but stay at home and stay the fuck away from people”.
Basically if we all wear masks then we can return to ‘normality’ sooner. But still my mask has stayed in my pocket. Shameful!
Last weekend we all visited a garden centre (partner, five year old and I). We were pleased to see that so many customers (not staff though) were wearing a mask. I would guess at least 50% of visitors, including entire families. This really did make me feel ashamed of our maskless faces. I think this was what I needed to push me into wearing one.
..and so the following weekend, following a purchase of “funky” masks (rather than my home sewed ones) we went shopping as a family again, but this time all masked up! It felt good!


Upgrading Linux boxes

After returning to upgrading my main Linux box (due to playing with Docker and using some stuff (genome annotation pipelines) that needs more than the system max of 16GB RAM) I came across this blog post about a similar situation (albeit more time). The beautiful machine
I’ve generally always upgraded my own computers. My main Linux box has been upgraded in bits and pieces for some time. I think the oldest current part is the case that is at least 15 years old. It’s been heavily updated with sound insulation from the car audio scene, although TBH it is much quieter now than when the motherboard was an Asus PC-DL running a pair of power hungry overclocked Xeons.
However, for one reason or another (lack of time, stable hardware, iPadOS etc) I’ve not done this for some time. My box was last opened two years ago when the TV tuner card (PCIe TBS6980) died and I replaced it, with an almost exact model. The previous real upgrade was seven or more years ago.
So I got myself a 10 yr old server board with dual Xeons and Max 32gb ram. Intel S5500BC board with a pair of Xeon E6240s. The setup only cost £70 but each CPU is far faster than the previous single Xeon X3470. Plus max RAM is double.
However, when I could previously swap over a motherboard in less than an hour, now we got multiple beginner errors.
– First error was refusing to boot due to a grounding error. I’d assumed there would be the usual 9 standoffs in the ATX format. Nope. There is no motherboard hole for a middle bottom standoff. What compounded the gorging error was that the lower left standoff was too short. Whoops!
– Then I’d not inserted RAM correctly. Turns out a proper server board does not fail to POST, but just omits the DIMM slots and allows the rest to work. Luckily a red LED indicates the incorrect DIMM slots.
– Then all 32GB of RAM (8 x 4GB) was recognised, but once booted into Linux only 24 GB was seen. Turns out another beginner error and the DIMM was inserted enough to be recognised, but not enough to work properly.
As well as the beginner errors the board is a server one and CPU fans ran so fast that it was difficult to think with the noise. Turns out most Intel server boards are intended to be paired with an Intel chassis. If the board does not detect the chassis it just switches on the fans full speed instead of managing then due to CPU heat! Noisy!
I found a few blog posts on reflashing the BIOS to a more recent one AND also something called a Baseboard Management Controller. When did they come along? This adds a non-Intel chassis profile for fan speed and allows it to be managed in line with CPU heat.
Even though Intel have EOLed these boards, I still found the latest BIOS on their site. The current BIOS was so old though I needed to update to an intermediate build, BIOS 66. Then flash to BIOS 69 which is the latest. Flashing the BIOS on servers boards is easy! The board used EFI can can be booted to a console, which allows you to flash the BIOS from a USB stick. Even easier there’s a BAT script to do this from the USB. Funky!
BUT the BMC firmware was very difficult to find. I eventually found it on a niche You Tube video.
Anyway the lesson I should learn is hardware upgrades can only be easy if you spend a lot of money. If you want to save money then you need to do them regularly to keep your skills up!