Refining the Pi

So, with RuneAudio running on my Raspberry Pi, I had an audio player that I was fairly happy with. However, there were a couple of ways in which it was still in need of improvement. In my previous post on the subject, I noted that I was keen to set it up to use an IR remote for basic controls like play/pause, skip forward & backwards, etc. But also I wanted to be able to try and transfer music onto the player via the network, rather than by un-mounting the USB drive (or shutting down the RPi) taking the USB drive out, plugging it into the computer, copying the files over, ejecting the drive, putting it back in the Pi and re-mounting it (or starting the RPi up again). I briefly considered getting a second Raspberry Pi, setting that up as a dedicated NAS controller, and then using that to store the music, with the RuneAudio machine reading the files remotely. However, this seemed like overkill, so I decided instead to try and get the RuneAudio to share its storage over the network instead.

I rapidly proceeded to completely foul up my entire RuneAudio installation, to the point where it was completely non-functional. Humbled, I downloaded the latest RuneAudio image and prepared to reinstall from scratch.

However, at this point I discovered that the current install image has been significantly updated from the (quite old) one I had previously used to install the software from. And one of the improvements in the current version is that it comes with Samba installed, so that its storage is already shared on the network. By simply upgrading to the latest version, I had added the functionality that I was after. Hurrah!

Now that I had started tinkering with the Pi again, I decided that it was time to see about getting a remote set up. I started out following this handy guide. There were a few ways that it wasn’t completely accurate, possibly due to being out-of-date. There was no need to install the lirc package, as it was already installed, and the lines in /boot/config.txt that needed to be uncommented began #dtoverlay and #dtparam, rather than #device_tree_overlay and #device_tree_param. There was also no need to uncomment the #dparam=gpio_out_pin=xx line, as it wasn’t used, nor the #dparam=gpio_in_pull=down, as down is the default anyway.

Otherwise, though, all went well until I came to stage 9: finding or generating a configuration file for my specific remote. The guide is correct that the irrecord utility doesn’t work on the RPi version of Arch Linux (on which RuneAudio is based), although it doesn’t output incorrect information; it just fails to work. So I had two options. I could install another Linux distribution on my RPi, set up lirc on that, use irrecord to generate a suitable config file and copy that across. Alternatively, I could go to lirc-remotes.sourceforge.net and see if I could find one there. The former seemed like a huge ballache, so I tried the latter.

Unfortunately, the remote I was trying to use was a cheap no-name item for which I had no chance of getting a pre-prepared config. Even if such a thing existed, there was no brand or model number to identify it. So I began to consider giving up on this particular remote and getting a better (or, at least, better-known) one.

Surprisingly, of all the widely available remote controls, the Apple Remote best fitted my requirements. Most remotes that were available by themselves were clearly designed for use with home cinema setups and had vast numbers of buttons, most of which would be superfluous in this context. Apple’s offering, conversely, had a mere 7, covering all of the functions I needed with few left spare.

So, for the first time in my life, I ordered an Apple product. I’m not a huge fan of Apple. The biggest turn-off for me is one of the things that has made them so successful: the fact that their products double up as fashion accessories and status symbols. To be seen with an Apple device is to announce to the world that I am a Dedicated Follower of Fashion. And while this is a huge part of their appeal for many, I find it off-putting.

Other than that, I’m not actually that anti-Apple. I’ve enough experience with other people’s iOS devices to know that I would find them frustrating and annoying to use myself, but there’s a lot that they do well and for other people they may well be great. I use a Mac at work and while it still wouldn’t be my choice of machine for use at home, as a work machine it’s pretty decent. I’m not keen on the aggressive way that Apple shuns interoperability to tie you exclusively into its ecosystem, and it’s all overpriced. But otherwise Apple makes pretty decent stuff: just not, until now, stuff that suits me or meets my personal requirements.

But in this case, the Apple remote was the best option for what I needed. So I went for it.

The remote arrived this afternoon. I downloaded the appropriate config file, copied it onto my RPi, and tried it out with the irw command.

Nothing.

After some time spent troubleshooting, eliminating various possible reasons why it might not be working, I began to suspect that the problem lay with the config file I had downloaded. I would have to generate my own config using the Raspbian distro after all.

Fortunately, I had a spare MicroSD card, so I didn’t have to erase my RuneAudio installation, I just put Raspbian on the spare card and swapped them over. Installing lirc was easy enough, and it wasn’t too hard to get it configured, although some files were in different places from where they had been in Arch/RuneAudio. This time the irrecord utility worked just fine. Armed with my new lirc.conf, I swapped my RuneAudio SD card back in and gave it a try.

It worked!

From there on, it was just a case of following the rest of the guide; everything else worked perfectly. I had to change a few lines in the example /etc/conf.d/lircrc to match the buttons on my specific remote. I also added a stop option (mapped to the ‘menu’ button on the remote), and set the ‘OK’ button to start playing from the beginning of the current queue rather than the currently selected track.

With everything now up and working, all that remained was to modify the remote slightly. I painted over the text on the ‘MENU’ button and replaced it with a little white stop icon.

Raspberry Pi and Remote
(Click for larger image)

So now I have pretty much exactly the setup that I want. If I want to edit the playlist to add or remove files or albums, I can do this easily via the web interface. If I am sitting at my computer, this is a trivial effort, if not then doing it via my phone is still slightly less of a faff than finding a CD, getting it out and putting it in the drive. Once the music that I want is loaded, I can start and stop playback and navigate through the playlist by remote control just as I would with any other player. Hurrah!

Return to Death Magnetic

Interesting.

Back in 2008, Metallica released Death Magnetic, arguably their best album since the early 90s. I blogged about it at the time. In summary, while the material was a triumphant return to form, somewhere in the mixing and mastering process, things were badly botched, and the album that was released sounded terrible: not only badly over-compressed, but also horribly clipped and distorted. On headphones it was unlistenable. In an odd twist, however, the album was simultaneously released as DLC for Guitar Hero 3, and this release used an unmastered rough early mix of the album that did not suffer from these problems (although it had other faults). Soon, remastered versions of the album based on this version appeared on the Internet, and although they did have some issues of their own, they sounded far better than the proper CD release.

But it turns out that the story doesn’t end there. Since (I think) 2012, Apple have set up a ‘Mastered for iTunes’ programme. It mostly seems to consist of using a different master to generate the compressed audio files that are sold through iTunes from the one used to produce CDs. Tricks are used with this alternative master so that when encoded in the lossy AAC format, the impact on the audio quality is minimised. Last year, Metallica’s back catalogue was added to the Mastered for iTunes catalogue.

And so Death Magnetic finally got the remastering it so badly needed, in an official, legitimate release.

At first, this version was only available if you bought it via iTunes (and even if you owned the original release on iTunes, you would have to buy it again). But the new master is also now available for sale via the band’s website, in either 320kbps MP3 or lossless FLAC or ALAC formats, the latter in either standard 16-bit/44.1kHz or hi-resolution 24-bit/96kHz versions.

And it sounds great. It’s still a modern, fairly loud and compressed recording, but no more so than is normal for a rock or metal release in 2016. And it’s the proper, finished mix of the album, unlike the GHIII versions, which are a little rough around the edges even after the excellent remastering jobs that various enthusiasts gave them. The version of Suicide and Redemption is the proper one with the shorter versions of both solos (not extended versions of either one or the other) and fades in and out in the right places.

At last it is possible to listen to this album in the finished form that the band genuinely chose to release, without it sounding like utter crap because of a badly botched mastering job. It’s taken 8 years, but we got there in the end.

Cunt

In my previous post, I used the word cunt (I’ve since edited it away). I don’t say cunt all that often. In fact, I don’t swear all that often in general. I slip minor crudities into my speech quite a bit, but more strongly taboo words I tend only to use sparingly, and then I am usually careful in whose company I use them.

I personally am not all that bothered by a lot of swearing, although in more formal or professional contexts it tends to jar. I also find that when ‘fucking’ is used as a sort of spoken punctuation, or as a sort of ‘place-holder’ sound to indicate a pause for thought, similar to ‘umm’ or ‘ah’, it grates a little, not in a sense of being offensive, but because it represents a clumsy and inelegant ineloquence.

Cunt is one of the oldest words in the English language. It probably comes to English via the Old Norse kunta. However, there is also the Latin word cunnus, which presumably has a common origin to the Norse word, putting its origins very far back up the Indo-European family tree indeed. It’s also a harsh, curt-sounding word, which to my mind makes it poorly suited to denoting female genitalia, but excellent as a derogatory term for a vile, despicable person.

Right now, aside from terms of racial abuse, cunt is probably the most taboo word in the English language. It’s also peculiar in that it is becoming more unacceptable over time, whereas I cannot think of any other such word that isn’t more permissible now than it was a few decades ago. Many people who will happily sprinkle other expletives throughout their speech will think twice before saying cunt.

One argument that is put forward for why the term has become so taboo is that it is misogynistic. In British usage, this argument is unconvincing. I don’t think that describing someone as a dick or a cock implies any hatred of men. And the word twat, which means the exact same thing as cunt, both literally and in colloquial slang, is not objected to in the same way, or, at least, not as often. I don’t think my description of Nigel Farage as a twat in the same article raised any eyebrows at all.

In American English, however, the accusation of misogyny holds rather more weight. It is my understanding that, unlike in British usage where the term is equally often applied to men and women, in the US the term is normally only applied as an insult to women, and there it is more closely connected with its literal meaning.

As an English person, on the rare occasions that I call people cunts, I do not mean to imply any sort of misogyny. I’m just using it to denote someone I find detestable. I think this is consistent with standard usage within British English. When I used it in my previous post, I simply chose the sweariest swear-word that there is in order to signify that I meant not just people that I don’t like, but the people I really can’t stand: the worst of the worst. I also felt that the sudden, unexpected use of a strong swear-word gave the (somewhat off-hand) comment an impact and humour that a lighter expletive would have lacked.

However, unusually, I shared said post on Facebook and am quite happy for it to be shared by other people if they are interested. Most regular readers of this blog (if there even are are any these days) are people I’ve known for some time but this post might well be read by people who don’t know me that well and/or who don’t speak British English as their first language. I don’t want my use of a controversial word, which might be misunderstood as misogynistic, to distract from what I’m actually trying to say. So while I wouldn’t normally censor myself for use of naughty words, in this case I have decided to replace ‘utter cunts’ with ‘utter shits’ in the previous post.

I have, of course, used the term cunt repeatedly in this post, so overall the number of times I’ve said cunt on my blog has just gone up quite a lot. I think, in a discussion of the acceptability of the word cunt, that this is probably permissible, and I hope nobody is offended by this discussion. That said, if anyone does have a problem with my repeated use of the word cunt in this post and, especially, this paragraph, they can fuck right off. The cunts.

EU

In tomorrow’s referendum, I’m planning on voting remain.

Economically the argument is pretty much over. In the short-to-medium term, leaving the EU would be damaging to Britain’s economy. The only uncertainty is how bad. In the long term it’s harder to say. Nobody really knows.

I am not interested in arguments about some spurious notion of ‘sovereignty’. Even outside the EU, we are party to hundreds of treaties and international agreements. The idea that Britain must be governed exclusively by Britons, and that foreigners will inevitably be working against our interests is nonsense.

I have not been swayed by arguments about democracy. There are ways in which the EU could be more democratic, and I would like to see some reform in these areas, but the same is true of the UK; in some ways the EU is more democratic than Britain is.

I am concerned that entrenched corporate interests are too powerful in the EU, and that it is being used to impose neo-liberal economic policies on poorer countries, to their detriment. But I am far from convinced that leaving would help Britain in that respect; not with the political landscape as it currently stands. I have even seen it argued that this is our fault, that Britain is one of the worst influences pulling the EU away from Social Democracy and more towards corporate cronyism. Indeed, the most compelling argument I have yet heard in favour of leaving is that we are a toxic influence on Europe, and that they would be better off without us. But I am not fully convinced by this argument either. Germany has been very influential in protecting its banking interests at the expense of Southern Europe and I don’t see that Britain leaving would change that.

Leaving the EU would be very damaging to the sector in which I work. Research and academia benefit hugely both from EU funding and from the free movement of people that makes international collaboration far easier. My job (which I value for purely selfish reasons) and the good work of the people I work with (which I value because they are of benefit to humanity) would both be threatened by leaving the EU.

Migration is a complicated subject. But it’s worth noting that although EU citizens are free to live and work in Britain as they please, nobody else is guaranteed that right and yet despite it being entirely within their legal power to do so, successive governments have not cut non-EU migration to the tiny trickle that they so often promise. There are good reasons for this, both economic and ethical. But the point is that leaving the EU wouldn’t be an effective way to cut immigration even if that were a desirable goal. We can cut immigration anyway, we just don’t, because it isn’t necessarily a good idea.

As for EU migrants, I look down my friends list on Facebook and as well as lots of English people and various other Britons, I also see people from 21 other EU-member countries: Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Sweden. Now we could quibble over the distinction between ‘friends’ on Facebook and actual friendships. I will admit that I don’t know all of those people all that well. But still, they are all people that I have some contact with and whom I like, and many of them I would never have met were it not for free movement of people within Europe.

Conversely, when I consider the list of people I consider to be utter shits, I could name quite a few Britons.

I love Britain and I love England. This country is my home, its culture is the one in which I grew up and there are many things about our national character that I adore. We still have much to offer the world. But for me that love for my country does not imply any kind of Great British Exceptionalism. We are no longer a great power on the world stage, and I do not think we should seek to be again. If we are to have any influence in the world it will be through cooperation with our peers. And our peers are not China or the USA. They are Germany and France, Spain and Italy. And, as their economies grow faster than ours, Eastern European countries like Poland are not far behind.

Britain is not a special case. We do not have a monopoly on greatness. Our crumbling union cannot stand alone, nor should it seek to. If we are to be truly great, it must be as part of something greater.

We are currently one of the richest and most powerful countries in Europe. We can be a key part of the second-largest economy in the world. Or we can be an increasingly irrelevant backwater, an impotent satellite of both the USA and of the Europe we turned our back on.

The EU as it stands is not perfect. It needs reform in several areas. But it is not irredeemable, and to abandon it because of some misguided notion of British Exceptionalism, or as a protest against a perceived elite (note how the leave campaign is led by members of the establishment just as much as remain is, unless you think that Boris Johnson’s amiable buffoonish persona somehow exempts him from being a part of the ruling class, or that Nigel Farage is really a maverick outsider and not just a twat) would be a foolish move.

I won’t deny that my position is, when all is said and done, largely instinctive and aesthetic. I want to be on the side of remain because being a part of a united Europe appeals to my internationalist sensibilities. But even if I recognise that fact and try to look at the arguments and consider things impartially and pragmatically, I still come down on the side of remain, albeit with some reservations. My heart says stay, but my head says stay as well.

Count me in.

Imperial Air Wing

As well as the Chaos army, I also finished another — significantly smaller — Epic painting project recently; my Imperial Navy Air Wing.

One thing that is conspicuously missing from my Titan Legion is any kind of air support. This is because I wanted to paint my Imperial Aircraft as a separate force. Then not only would the AMTL be able to use the Aircraft in support, but the Space Marine and Imperial Guard armies I plan to paint in future would also be able to use Titans from the Titan Legion and aircraft from the Air Wing.

I only have three formations of aircraft. Two flights of Thunderbolt Fighter-Bombers:

Thunderbolt Fighters
Thunderbolt Fighters
Thunderbolt Fighters (underside)

And a pair of Marauder Bombers:

Marauders
Marauders (underside)

And here they are together:

Imperial Aircraft

And in action!

Imperial Aircraft in action

A Dry May

Throughout May, I have consumed no alcohol.

This wasn’t because I felt that I needed to, or to see if I could, or anything like that. I was fairly confident that my alcohol intake was perfectly healthy and that not drinking would be mildly frustrating but no big deal. But I wanted to confirm that was the case. So I decided to go for a month without drinking.

Things nearly got off to a bad start on the second when I completely forgot about the plan and ordered a pint. Fortunately I was reminded of the plan before I started drinking it.

Since then it has occasionally been a bit of a pain not to have a drink. But it hasn’t been that big a deal. I may have saved a little money but not all that much. I haven’t felt any better for it. All of which added up to the result I was hoping for.

So, with that over, I can go back to healthy moderate drinking for enjoyment.

Epic Chaos: the Final Chapter

Way back in 2007, I started putting together a Chaos Space Marine army for Epic, starting with a Ravager Titan. Strictly speaking, the Chaos Marines weren’t my very first epic army; I already had a small force of Imperial Marines comprised mostly of the models that came in the 3rd-edition Epic 40,000 box. Still, they were the first army I started painting for the 4th Edition, and the first that I actually played any great number of games with. However, about a year and a half later, when I left Southampton and stopped playing Epic on any regular basis, the army was still only about half painted.

I came back to the army in 2009, and over the course of a couple of months I filled in the gaps, touched up a few things, added some new units. By September, I had a 6,000-point army fully painted.

Then, in 2010, I returned to the army again. Although I kept going for a little while after this blog post, I stalled before I reached my intended total of 10,000 points and so the army remained unfinished.

When I returned to painting in 2014, I decided to focus on my other armies before I moved on to this one, and so it was not until last year that I finally got around to working on the Chaos Marines again. By this time the army list had been re-organised slightly, and in order to make the army legal again I would need to make some more additions. I also wanted to add some units so that I could also use the army with the Red Corsairs army list as well as the Black Legion.

With a painting schedule that was sporadic, and with large gaps where my attention shifted to other projects, painting up the remaining models has taken almost a year. But now, at last, the army is completely finished!

13,000-point Chaos army
Close-up of the Chaos army
Close-up of the Chaos army

Although I’ve posted pictures of quite a lot of the army before, they’ve been of variable quality and I have re-organised things a little bit since, so rather than separating out the new stuff from the old, I’m just going to post shots of everything and note as I go when it was painted.

I’ll start with the army’s commanders. First, this Chaos Warlord, which was one of the first infantry units I painted for the army in 2007.

Chaos Warlord

This Daemon Prince unit was added in 2010. It’s a Warmaster model, although I’ve added two terminator models to the base so that it counts as an infantry unit in Epic (the rules require 3-7 models to a base). I think that the Daemon Prince unit is actually supposed to represent something a bit smaller than this, but I think that the model looks good enough to get away with it.

Daemon Prince

Moving on to the core formations, I have four retinues of Chaos Space Marine infantry. Two of them were painted in 2009, the other two in 2010. Each has the option of either a Lord or a Sorcerer Lord to lead it and an optional Icon Bearer who can be swapped in or out as needed. There are also two Chaos Champions who can also be swapped in. Three of the retinues have Rhinos to transport them; those that do have a special custom Rhino for each character.

Chaos Space Marine Retinue
Chaos Space Marine Retinue
Chaos Space Marine Retinue
Chaos Space Marine Retinue

I also have three Armoured Companies. I initially painted a company of Land Raiders in 2007, then expanded it to 8 models in 2010. Last year I added a company of 8 Chaos Predators, which I put together using plastic Rhinos and some 3D-printed parts from Shapeways. I finally added a second company of 8 Land Raiders this year.

Chaos Space Marine Land Raiders
Chaos Space Marine Predators
Chaos Space Marine Land Raiders

Also added this year were these two Chaos Vindicators. The models are the first-generation metal Vindicator models from back in the day, but with bulldozer blades added from Shapeways, as having a large armoured ram has become a defining feature of this unit in recent years.

Chaos Space Marine Vindicators

Although this is not a Thousand Sons army, it is dedicated to the Chaos God Tzeentch, so I have included some allied Thousand Sons units, with dedicated Rhino transports. The sorcerer models here do not represent characters, just the Aspiring Sorcerers who lead squads of Rubric Marines according to the background. Although I painted a single stand (and the Rhinos) in 2007, the other three units were not completed until 2009.

Thousand Sons

Also available to be added to other formations are these Havoc units. I have enough to upgrade three formations. The first group were painted in 2009, the other two in 2010. The top-knots are painted black instead of red to make them easier to distinguish from regular Chaos Space Marines.

Chaos Space Marine Havocs
Chaos Space Marine Havocs
Chaos Space Marine Havocs

However, recent revisions to the army list have also allowed Havoc formations of four units, including a Chaos Lord character and with an option for an Icon Bearer, so last year I added some character stands:

Chaos Space Marine Havocs

Two of these Obliterator units were converted and painted in 2007, the third I added last year. They are based on Colossus-class Imperial Robots, with shoulder pads from Space Marine Terminators, weapons from various sources, and fleshy bits sculpted from putty.

Chaos Obliterators

These Chaos Terminators were painted in 2009.

Chaos Space Marine Terminators
Chaos Space Marine Terminators

These two formations of Chosen are painted in camouflage colours (except for the shoulder pads) to reflect their role as scouts. One was painted in 2009; I added a second in 2010.

Chosen Chaos Space Marines
Chosen Chaos Space Marines

When I came back to painting in 2014, I first intended that I would work on both this army and my Eldar in parallel, alternating between one and the other. This idea fell by the wayside, but I did get these dreadnoughts painted before I started to concentrate fully on the Eldar. These old models are a bit of an oddity. They are based on the Dreadnoughts from Space Crusade rather than anything that has ever appeared in the Warhammer 40,000 game, and as far as I know they were only ever available as part of a sprue that also featured an Ork Stompa, two Eldar Dreadnoughts, an Ork Dreandought, two Space Marine Dreadnoughts (in a design that did not appear in 40k until Forge World released their Contemptor Dreadnought), two Space Marine Terminators, an Ork Shokk Attack Gun, a Mole Mortar and four Chaos Androids (also from Space Crusade). I can’t remember how many of these sprues came in a box.

Chaos Dreadnoughts

When I first started putting the army together in 2007, not only were there no genuine Defiler models available but there were no particularly good proxies available, either. The best I could come up with were these Daemon Knights, based on Imperial Knights Paladin. I originally only made three, but I added a fourth in 2010.

Chaos Knights Paladin

Since then, Troublemaker Games have released these ‘Cybershadows Warcrabs’, which make perfect proxies for Defilers. Troublemaker Games are now defunct, but their range of 6mm models is available from Vanguard Miniatures. I painted both of these formations this year.

Cybershadows Warcrabs
Cybershadows Warcrabs

I painted the first of my Chaos Bike Companies back in 2007, but re-based them and tweaked the paint job in 2009. This year I added another two companies. These are just the old plastic Space Marine Bikes, painted to match the rest of the army.

Chaos Space Marine Bike Company
Chaos Space Marine Bike Company
Chaos Space Marine Bike Company

Again, the Raptor Cult is just made up of Imperial Space Marine Assault troops, painted in Chaos colours.

Chaos Space Marine Raptors

Moving on to the support section, here’s the model that started it all, the Ravager Titan, based on Forge World’s Lucius Pattern Reaver. I originally converted and painted it back in February 2007, but I re-based it and re-painted some sections in 2010:

Chaos Ravager Titan

Dwarfing the Ravager is this Warplord Titan from 2010.

Chaos Warplord Titan

And completing the set of Chaos Titans are these two Ferals, again from 2010 and based on Forge World’s Warhounds:

Chaos Feral Titans

The Chaos army also has some other War Engines available to it. I converted this squadron of Death Wheels in 2010, although I completely ripped off the design from someone else.

Chaos Death Wheels

These Decimators were converted in 2007, but I only painted two of them at the time. I added a third and touched up the paint on the other two in 2009.

Chaos Decimators

For air support, I have these Hell Talon fighter-bombers, painted in 2009, and Hellblade fighters, which I added in 2010.

Chaos Hell Talons
Chaos Hellblades

I also have a variety of Daemons in support. Firstly, this Lord of Change, which I painted in 2009, but made some minor adjustments to in 2010.

Lord of Change

I also have these 16 Flamers of Tzeentch. Half were painted in 2009, the other half I added in 2010.

Flamers of Tzeentch

These six Screamers were the last thing I painted for this army in 2010 before drifting off to focus on other things. They count as Daemonic Beasts in the army list. Like the Daemon Prince, they were originally for Warmaster, but aren’t so large as to look wrong in Epic.

Screamers of Tzeentch

Also in 2009 I made these three custom objective markers to go with the army:

Chaos Objectives

This is almost everything, and under the Black Legion army list it adds up to a total of 12,465 points. But I was also keen to try out the Red Corsairs list, which includes a few units that aren’t available to the Black Legion, so I added a few additional units to the army. Even though they don’t appear in the Black Legion army list, they can mostly be used to represent units that do if necessary.

In the Red Corsairs list, in addition to being taken as an upgrade to Retinues, Thousand Sons can also be taken as a 6-unit formation, with a Chaos Lord or Sorcerer Lord character. So back in 2010 I added these additional units. Although I intend to use him to represent a Sorcerer Lord, I have used the Chaos Lord model here to distinguish him from the Aspiring Sorcerers in the other units.

Thousand Sons Lord

All the other units I painted in the last couple of months. Firstly, these four Chaos Hunters for anti-air support. As with the Predators, they’re made using plastic Rhinos with extra parts from Shapeways. If I want to use them in the Black Legion army list, they can proxy as a company of four Chaos Predators.

Chaos Hunters

Sometimes what you really need is a small castle full of wizards, built on the back of a giant flying mushroom. Hence these Silver Towers. These are a bit trickier to find an equivalent for in the Black Legion list, but they could probably pass as Defilers at a push.

Silver Towers

Last of all is this Thunderhawk Gunship, with modified rear undercarriage. This is the most difficult model to find a proxy for in the Black Legion list. The only other large aircraft in the list is the Harbinger Bomber, which is also the only unit for which I have no model (they’re pretty rare and very expensive). Accordingly, that is what I’ll count it as in the list.

Chaos Thunderhawk

With these additions, the army comes to a whopping 13,340 points, making it my largest army in total.

Using the current Black Legion list from the NetEA Tournament pack:

Retinue
(Chaos Lord)
Chaos Warlord
Icon Bearer
3 Dreadnoughts
3 Obliterators
275
 
50
25
150
225
Retinue
(Chaos Sorcerer Lord)
Chaos Champion
Icon Bearer
Havocs
6 Rhinos
275
 
50
25
150
60
Retinue
(Chaos Lord)
Chaos Champion
Icon Bearer
Havocs
6 Rhinos
275
 
50
25
150
60
Retinue
(Chaos Sorcerer Lord)
Icon Bearer
Cult Marines (Thousand Sons)
6 Rhinos
275
 
25
150
60
Armoured Company
8 Chaos Land Raiders
 
600
Armoured Company
8 Chaos Land Raiders
 
600
Armoured Company
8 Chaos Predators
2 Chaos Vindicators
 
400
70
Chaos Hunters
(Counts as Armoured Company
4 Chaos Predators)
 
 
200
Chaos Terminators (6 units)
Daemon Prince
Chaos Champion
Icon Bearer
2 Dreadnoughts
395
 
50
25
100
Chaos Terminators (6 units)
(Chaos Lord)
Chaos Champion
Icon Bearer
3 Dreadnoughts
395
50
50
25
150
Chosen
2 Rhinos
125
20
Chosen
2 Rhinos
125
20
Bike Company
(Chaos Lord)
Icon Bearer
300
 
25
Bike Company
(Chaos Lord)
300
 
Bike Company
(Chaos Lord)
300
 
Defiler Assault Pack 275
Defiler Assault Pack 275
Defiler Assault Pack 275
Silver Towers
(Count as Defiler Assault Pack)
 
275
Raptor Cult (8 units)
(Chaos Lord)
315
 
Havocs
(Chaos Sorcerer Lord)
Icon Bearer
2 Rhinos
225
 
25
20
Havocs
(Chaos Sorcerer Lord)
Icon Bearer
2 Rhinos
225
 
25
20
Warplord Titan 800
Ravager Titan 600
Feral Titan 275
Feral Titan 275
Decimators
3 Decimators
 
675
Death Wheel Squadron
3 Death Wheels
 
825
Three Hellblade Fighters 200
Two Hell Talon Fighter-Bombers 225
Chaos Thunderhawk
(Counts as Harbinger Bomber)
 
400
Daemon Pool
22 Lesser Daemons
1 Greater Daemon
 
330
50
Total 13,340

So that’s it. After nine years, my Chaos army is finally complete. With my AMTL and Eldar armies also entirely finished, this is now the first time since 2007 that I haven’t had an Epic army on the go.

This leaves the question of what to paint next. I have models for Space Marine, Ork and Imperial guard armies for Epic, and I don’t really know which to do first. I think the Marines would be the quickest and easiest to paint, and thus the ones that I’d be most likely to get finished. I already have a 3000-point army planned out as a starting point. So those are tempting. On the other hand, Orks are the most different from what I’ve done before, so might be the most interesting.

Fortunately, I don’t have to decide immediately. I don’t plan on painting any more Epic models straight away. Instead, I’m going to paint a few 30mm miniatures first. They will be the first 28/30mm figures I’ve painted since 2010.

More Audio Upgrades

So, having got my Raspberry Pi/RuneAudio setup in place, I started looking at my audio system as a whole, and wondering whether there were any other aspects of it that were worth upgrading. I’ve had my hi-fi for over 15 years: it was, I think, my 18th birthday present from my parents. It had served me well over the years and still sounded pretty good using the speakers that came with it. However, it had some limitations. The remote control had stopped working some time ago. The Minidisc player was now essentially obsolete. I no longer had an aerial for the FM radio and it didn’t support DAB. With my CD collection now mostly absent, the usefulness of the CD player was now greatly reduced. So it was essentially just acting as an amplifier for the devices plugged into the two external inputs: my RPi, and a Bluetooth receiver that I mostly left unplugged anyway as it had an annoying blue light that flashed when it wasn’t connected to anything (which was most of the time). With this in mind, I wondered whether I wouldn’t do better to replace it with a dedicated amplifier.

If I were certain that I wanted to do away with all audio sources except the RPi, then getting a single-source digital amplifier would only cost around £50. There would, however, be no way to control it remotely, although for volume I could use software controls on the Pi. But more importantly, I wasn’t certain that I wanted to completely abandon CDs and radio. If I wanted an amplifier with multiple inputs and remote control, the cost suddenly went up quite a lot, plus if I did want a CD player and/or radio, those would cost more. Since I couldn’t get a set-up that really represented any kind of upgrade over what I already had for less than £300, I decided not to bother. I would keep the core of my existing hi-fi. However, I was still keen to try adding on or replacing other parts to improve the sound and/or restore or add missing functionality.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that there is a huge amount of utter nonsense floating around the world of audio enthusiasts. Believe everything you read and hear, and you could easily justify spending extraordinary sums of money on equipment that cannot possibly achieve what is claimed without using magic. This article provides a brief, well-referenced summary of the most widespread myths that abound on the subject. It’s worth noting in particular the section on well-designed amplifiers all sounding the same. This was a factor in my decision not to replace the core of my hi-fi. The amplifier sounds fine to me; it has more than enough power to drive my speakers at louder volumes than I will ever need, without any audible noise or distortion. If amplifiers did indeed all have their own sonic signatures, there might be some reason to replace it, but since they do not (ignoring very expensive specialist amplifiers which may well have a distinctive sound, as I see no need to pay extra for an amp that reproduces sound less accurately than a cheaper one), there is none.

One upgrade that did make some sense was to replace the speakers. There isn’t anything particularly wrong with the speakers I already had, but I suspected that I could get some benefit from a better pair. Following some research, I eventually concluded that the best speakers I could afford were a pair of Wharfedale Diamond 220s. They do sound very good. I haven’t done any proper blind listening tests, but I do think they are an improvement over the old speakers; in particular the bass is a little clearer and more detailed. That said, the improvement is pretty subtle. The old speakers did a good job already so without spending crazy money I wasn’t going to get a huge improvement. If I want to improve the sound quality further, I could probably experiment with positioning the speakers better. In all honesty their current location isn’t ideal unless I’m sitting opposite them on the bed, which I almost never am.

I also decided I wanted to have the option to listen to the radio again. The RPi setup can stream Internet radio, but with a perfectly good FM receiver it would make more sense to use that where available. Buying a new VHF aerial was all I needed to restore the radio to working order.

However, I also wanted to be able to listen to DAB broadcasts (especially Radio 6music). This would require additional hardware. I eventually got an Ocean Digital DBA-01B, which in addition to receiving digital radio (including DAB+ in case that is ever introduced in the UK) could also act as a Bluetooth receiver. Since I only have two external inputs for my hi-fi, I would have to remove the Bluetooth receiver I already had, so having this feature on the new device was a plus. Even though I don’t use it very much, it was nice to keep it as an option.

At this point my hi-fi setup is complete. It now does everything I want it to do and sounds great.

Hi-fi
(Click for larger image)

I did still have one more thing to get, though. I now had a spare pair of good quality speakers. They weren’t much use on their own, but with the addition of a small amplifier, I was able to hook them up to my computer, where they represent a vast improvement over the fairly basic pair of Logitech speakers I had before. Since the amp is small and portable, this also means that I can take the speakers downstairs and hook them up to a laptop, phone or portable player for parties etc.

Amplifier
(Click for larger image)

Mmmm, Pi

Since moving to Oxford last year, I have had a problem. I don’t have room for my CD collection. I have over 650 albums on CD, and I simply don’t have room at my house in Oxford to store more than a handful of them. Consequently they are still stored at my parents’ house in Witney.

Fortunately, I had not long before gone through and ripped all of my CDs to OGG/Vorbis files. This was originally so that I could listen to music when out and about. Back in the day I had carried my whole record collection around on my old iRiver DAP and I wanted to do the same with my phone. But this also meant that I didn’t necessarily have to take all my CDs with me to be able to listen to music at home.

I first tried connecting up an iRiver H-140 that I had bought on eBay to the back of my hi-fi. This wasn’t terrible, but was an awkward and fiddly solution. Although it was handy and easy to use as a portable player, it proved more awkward to operate while it was sitting on top of the hifi. The next option was to hook up a Bluetooth receiver to the hi-fi and stream audio to it from the phone. This was easier to control but could occasionally be glitchy and there was some loss of sound quality. I also wasn’t happy with my phone being the primary place from which my music was playing. I preferred to keep my home audio set-up independent and self-contained, although being able to control it remotely from the phone did appeal. What I needed was something that could play audio files directly, either stored on the device or possibly from some local network storage, and which could be controlled remotely from, at the very least, anywhere in the same room.

Since the first Rasperry Pi came out in 2012, I have been interested in getting one. However, for a long time, I held off from doing so as I didn’t really have any use for one. Now, however, I did. A quick web search revealed that there were already several RPi music player projects available, so it wouldn’t even be particularly challenging to set one up; mostly it would just be a case of buying a Pi and installing some pre-built software. Of all the projects out there, the one that looked the most polished was RuneAudio, so I decided to go with that.

At this stage the Raspberry Pi 3 had not yet been released and I was unaware that it was just around the corner, so I blithely went ahead and ordered a RPi 2. The built-in audio on the Pi reportedly isn’t great, so I also got a dedicated DAC add-on board. There are several of these available; I went with a Pi-DAC+ from IQaudIO. I picked this particular board for two reasons: firstly, because it included dedicated headers for a volume control and IR receiver, and secondly, because IQaudIO also sell a neat case that would fit the complete setup. In addition to the basic Pi, DAC board and case, I also needed a power supply, SD card (for the OS), USB WiFi adaptor, IR Sensor and USB flash drive (to store music on).

Once all the components had arrived, assembly was pretty straightforward; mostly just a case of screwing things together. The only vaguely challenging part was adding the IR sensor, which did require some soldering. Since I had gone for a transparent case, I soldered the sensor directly onto the board; it should be able to pick up the signal from a remote control through the case.

Raspberry Pi Sensor
(Click for larger images)

Getting RuneAudio set up and running was almost as painless. One thing that the documentation on the RuneAudio website doesn’t mention is that the install image is quite outdated. There are several bugs in this version that are fixed in more recent builds. Fortunately, updating the system isn’t particularly complicated and can be done through the web UI.

Initially, the system needs an Ethernet connection to be able to log in and configure it. As part of the initial set-up it can be linked to a Wi-Fi network and thereafter there is no need for the wired connection.

Once up and running, the Pi is controlled via a web interface, accessible on the local network at http://runeaudio/. Or, at least, it’s supposed to be. In practice, devices connected to the network via Ethernet can see it fine at that address, but Wi-Fi devices (such as my phone) can’t; they can only find it by pointing directly at the device’s IP address. I think this may be an oddity of our router rather than with RuneAudio as such, but I am not certain. Obviously, this is not an insurmountable problem. I could configure the router to give the Pi a static IP address (I am considering doing this anyway) and then bookmarking this address on my phone. But fortunately this isn’t necessary, as there is a RuneAudio Android app, which automatically scans the network for RuneAudio devices and also acts as a wrapper for the web interface.

So with the Pi hooked up to my hi-fi I now have a player containing my entire music collection, controlled remotely through either my computer or my phone. All that remains is to add support for an IR remote control. This isn’t essential, but for basic controls like play/pause and skipping forward and back, being able to just pick up a remote and press a button would be quicker and easier than having to go to the computer, open a browser and click on a button, or to unlock my phone, open the RuneAudio app and tap the control. Unfortunately, this isn’t likely to be as trivially easy as the rest of the set-up. I will need to install some additional software, and then manually configure it, capturing the individual codes sent by the specific remote that I am trying to use and then mapping them to the appropriate controls for the music player software. It doesn’t look hugely difficult, but it does look fiddly and potentially time-consuming. So I haven’t got around to it yet.

In the meantime, I already have a player that works as well as or better than every other option that I’ve tried, and which I’m pretty happy with.

The Labour Party

What, in 2015, is the point of the Labour Party?

I don’t blog about politics very often but on this occasion I felt the need to ask this question. Because it’s one that I’m not sure anyone knows the answer to any more.

At the moment there is a huge debate, both within the Labour Party and outside it, as to why it lost the General Election. And there are lots of answers being suggested. Ed Miliband’s lack of charisma. Scaring away voters by being too left-wing. Being out-of touch with voters and not doing enough to calm their fears of immigrants, benefits-claimants and the EU. “Look”, they say, “the public has elected a Conservative government. Since that’s what they want, the only way we can get them to vote for us is to be more like the Conservatives.”

Or possibly they weren’t left-wing enough, and failed to enthuse their base by being too close to the Conservatives. I think this second theory is closer to the truth, but I think there is something more to it than that.

Lots of people, trying to work out where Labour should go from here, point to the example of Tony Blair (among them, Tony Blair). They note that he moved Labour’s politics closer to the political centre and so won over the electorate by being the closest thing there was to what the largest number of people wanted. But all of them seem to have missed something that I think is important. Tony Blair didn’t occupy the political centre just because he thought that was what would get him elected (although that was probably a factor). It was because he genuinely believed that was a good way to lead the country. That there genuinely was a ‘Third Way’ to be found that would allow the already-rich to get even richer, but which would also harness their success to improve the lives of everyone else. Blair didn’t sell this as a surrender to a disgruntled electorate. He sold this as a genuine best-of-both-worlds alternative.

At the same time, the Tories were a mess. The party was collapsing under the weight of infighting and scandal. They had managed a surprise win in the 1992 election but by 1997 the party had lost all credibility and was nothing but a confused mess of xenophobia and spite. By comparison, Labour’s new vision was something people could get behind. Labour promised a change, and had a clear plan for how to bring it about.

Today’s move-to-the-centre-again advocates have no such vision. Instead they insist that in order to win the next election the party needs to shift its policies closer to the party that won the last one. That way they can get elected again. But what these people don’t seem to be able to explain is why they need to be elected at all, if all they can offer is a slightly watered-down version of what the other guys are doing.

Sure, a party has to get elected in order to be able to do anything at all. But if it wants to be elected, it needs to present a platform that is different from what other parties are offering, and it needs to believe in that platform. It might be a centrist, middle-of-the-road position, or it might be a more radical left-wing one. But it needs to have some kind of goals besides ‘be electable’. If a party’s only aim is to get elected, then what is the point of it? And why should voters vote for it?