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mdlbear: (technonerdmonster)

A few years ago I read an article about how to set up a Mac for distraction-free writing. I can't seem to find it anymore (okay, some rather large value of "a few"), but "there's an app for that" now. Many writers on my reading list are talking about distraction-free writing tools like iA Writer (seems to be the one people are most impressed by at the moment) and FocusWriter (free and cross-platform). There's even an Emacs mode.

These all work roughly the same way: run a text editor in full-screen mode, and write plain text with simplified markup in a fixed-width font. Worry about formatting later, if at all. Grey out everything but the sentence or paragraph you're working on. The article I can't find -- written before specialized writing programs and even before the web -- suggested getting the same effect by taking all of the icons off your screen and setting your default font to Courier.

If you're happily using one of these tools, you may want to skip ahead to the section on formatting, and maybe fill in the gaps later. If you're still using a word processor, or typing into a text field in a browser (even in "rich text" mode), you should probably stick with me.

What You See is All You Can Get

WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) word processors are arguably the worst thing to have happened to writing in the last half-century. They have three huge problems:

The first is that they make a promise they can't deliver on. In fact, they should be called WYSIAYCG -- What You See Is All You Can Get. If your word processor doesn't support kerning, multiple fonts, paragraphs with hanging indents large initial capitals, mathematical notation, or internal cross-linking, you can't use them. If they make it difficult to use these features, you still won't use them unless you absolutely have to, and then you find yourself wasting time doing clumsy work-arounds. Think about how you'd go about formatting song lyrics with chords over them. Shudder. How about making the space between sentences equal to one-and-a-half times the space between words?

The second is related to the first: word processors target a specific page layout. If you want to make a printed book, a web page, and an eBook, you're going to have to do extra work to accommodate the differences, or settle for something that has about the same level of mediocrity in all of those environments.

At a lower level, word processors use proportional-spaced fonts. That means you have to peer over the tops of your glasses to see whether that character at the end of the sentence is a period or a comma, and if your hands are shaking from too much coffee you'll have trouble selecting it. Or putting the cursor in front of it without selecting it, if you want to add a few words.

The third is that they distract you from actually writing, tempting you to fiddle with fonts, reformat your footers, worry about word-wrapping and hyphenation, and place your page breaks to avoid widows and orphans, at a time when you should be concentrating on content.

There's a fourth, mostly unrelated, problem which is so pervasive these days that most people accept it as The Way Things Are: if you accidentally select something and then type, whatever you selected goes away. In almost all cases, even if your word processing has an "undo" feature, this can't be undone. So let's talk a little more about...


Anyone who's been hanging around me long enough is expecting me to mention GNU Emacs at some point, and I will. But there are plenty of other text editors, and most of them are perfectly usable. They're often called "programmers' editors".

I'm not going to tell you how to use a text editor here; I'm just going to tell you more about why, and point you at some resources. Michael Hartl's Learn Enough Text Editor to Be Dangerous is a pretty good introduction to most of them, though you may want to skip the chapter on Vim. It gives short shrift to Emacs, but fortunately the first thing on your screen after starting Emacs is the tutorial. Start there.

So, why would you, a writer, want to use a programmer's editor?

One reason is that programmers have been writing on computers for a quite a bit longer than writers have, so text editors have a considerable head start. More to the point, programmers use their own programs. This gives them a strong incentive to make their programs fast, efficient, and powerful. Not every programmer who has a problem with their text editor is going to fix it, but enough do to make them improve rapidly.

Word processors, on the other hand, are written by programmers, but they are usually written for ordinary users, not experts, and they're written to be products, not programming tools. As products, they have to appeal to their customers, which means that they have to be easy to learn and easy to use. They don't have to work well for people who spend their entire work day writing -- those are a tiny fraction of the customer base.

Another reason is that text editors use fixed-width fonts and encourage you to use comparatively short lines (typically 72 or 80 characters, for reasons that date back to the late 1880s). Paragraphs are separated by blank lines. Since line breaks inside of paragraphs are ignored by formatters, some authors like to start every sentence on a new line, which makes them particularly easy to move around, and makes it easier to spot differences between versions.

A text editor also makes you more efficient by giving you a wide range of keyboard commands -- you can write an entire book without ever taking your fingers off the keyboard. (This is, in part, due to their long history -- text editors predate graphical user interfaces by several decades.) And most modern text editors are extensible, so that if you want new commands or want them to behave differently for different kinds of markup, they're easy to add. (I have a set that I use for my band's lead sheets, for example, and another for my to-do files.)


Up until somewhere around 1990, everyone who did any serious writing knew how to edit a manuscript using proofreaders' marks. Manuscripts were typed double-spaced to leave room for insertions, corrections, and cryptic little marks between the lines and in the margins. This was, logically enough, called "marking up" the manuscript. You've probably heard of Markdown. You've certainly heard of HTML, which stands for "HyperText Markup Language". HTML, in turn, is a variant on SGML, "Standard General Markup Language". You may have heard of LaTeX, which is the standard for academic -- especially scientific -- writing.

Markup languages let you separate content writing from formatting. Semantic markup lets you add additional information about what the things you are marking up mean; it's up to a stylesheet to determine what they look like . In HTML, you don't have to <i>italicize</i> something, you can <em>emphasize</em> a talking point, or <cite>cite</cite> a book title. They usually look the same, so most people don't bother, until they decide to turn all the book titles in their two thousand blog posts into links.

You can see how using semantic markup can free you from having to think about formatting while you're writing. There's another, less obvious advantage: you aren't stuck with just one format. By applying different styles to your document you can make it a web page, a printed book, an eBook, a slide show, or an email.

Another advantage of markup languages is that all of the markup is visible. This week's xkcd: "Invisible Formatting", shows how you can accidentally make a boldface space in the middle of normal text, where it can distract you by making an insertion unexpecedly boldface. It may also make subtle changes in line and word spacing that are hard to track down down.

There are two main kinds of markup languages: ones like Markdown and Textile, that use simple conventions like **double asterisks** for strong emphasis, and the ones that use tags, like <cite>HTML</cite>. LaTeX and Restructured Text are somewhere in the middle, using both methods. You can be a lot more specific with HTML, but Markdown is far easier to type. Markdown and Textile let you mix in HTML for semantic tagging; Markdown, Textile, and Resturectured Text all use LaTeX for mathematical notation. Some formatters let you embed code with colored syntax highlighting.

These days, it looks as though Markdown is the most popular, in part thanks to GitHub; you can find it in static site generators like Hugo and Jekyll, and it's accepted by many blogging platforms (including Dreamwidth). Unfortunately they all accept different dialects of Markdown; there is an enormous number of Markdown-to-whatever converters. But the nice thing about markup languages is that you aren't stuck with just one. That brings us to...


Once you have a file that says exactly what you want to say, the next thing you'll want to do is format it. Formatting programs (a category that includes LaTeX, web browsers, website generators like Jekyll and Hugo) all use some kind of style sheet that describes what each kind of markup is supposed to look like. You probably know about CSS, the "Cascading Style Sheets" that are used on the web. LaTeX has a different set, written in the typesetting language TeX.

If you wrote your file in HTML and you want to publish it on the web, you're done. You may want to make your own stylesheet or customize one of the thousands that are already out there, but you don't have to. Modern browsers do a perfectly reasonable job of formatting. CSS lets you specify a separate style for print, so when a reader wants a printed copy it actually looks like something you'd want to read on paper.

If you wrote your file in LaTeX and you want to publish it on paper, you're done -- it's safe to assume that LaTeX knows more about formatting and typesetting than you do, so you can just tell LaTeX what size your pages, pick one of the hundreds of available stylesheets (or write your own), and let it make you a PDF. You can change the page size or layout with just a few keystrokes.

If you wrote your file in Markdown or some other markup language, there are dozens of formatting programs that produces HTML, LaTeX, PDF, or some combination of those. (My favorite is Pandoc -- see below.) Markdown is also used by static website generators like Hugo or Jekyll, and accepted by everything from blogging sites to GitHub. If you're publishing on the web or in some other medium your formatter supports, you're done.

The advantage of separating content from format is that you're not stuck with one format. Web? Print? eBook? You don't have to pick one, you have all of them at your fingertips. There are hundreds of conversion programs around: html2latex, latex2html, kramdown (which GitHub uses),... For most purposes I recommend Pandoc. The subtitle of Pandoc's home page calls it "a universal document converter", and it is. It can convert between any of the the markup languages I've mentioned here, and more, in either direction. In addition it can output eBook, word processor, wiki, and documentation formats, not to mention PDF. As an example of what it can do, I write these posts in either HTML or Markdown as the mood takes me, and use Pandoc to convert them to HTML for Dreamwidth and plain text, stripping out the tags, so that I can get accurate word counts.

Version Control, etc.

Text files with short lines are ideal for other tools in the Linux (and Unix -- did you know that Unix was originally used by technical writers?) environment. When you compare two files, a line-by-line comparison (which is what diff gives you) is more useful than a paragraph-by-paragraph comparison (which is what diff gives you if you don't hard-wrap your text). Text editors can run formatters, spelling checkers, search tools, and others, and put the cursor on the exact line you're looking for. Want to search nearly 6500 blog posts for your favorite quote from G. K. Chesterton? Took me one line and a little over 4 seconds.

        time find . -type f -exec grep -nHi -e 'rules of architecture' {} +

Many formatting tools simply ignore single line breaks and use a blank line to separate paragraphs, examples include LaTeX and most (though not all) Markdown translators. HTML ignores line breaks altogether and relies on tags. I take advantage of that to make HTML more readable by indenting the text by four spaces, and using 80- or 90-character lines. If you want an example and you're reading this page in a browser, just hit Ctrl-U to look at the page source. Compare that to web pages made without hard-wrapped lines -- you may find yourself scrolling dozens, if not hundreds, of characters to the right because browsers don't do any wrapping when displaying source. Nor would you want them to.

The biggest advantage (in my not-so-humble opinion) is version control. (Those of you who've been around me were just waiting for me to mention git, weren't you?) Being able to find all the changes you made this week -- and why you made them -- can be incredibly useful. Being able to retrieve a file from three years ago that you accidentally deleted is priceless.

This post is already pretty long, so the next post in this series is going to be about version control (and the other things you can do with git and GitHub; it's not just version control) for writers. Stay tuned.


Another fine post from The Computer Curmudgeon (also at computer-curmudgeon.com).

mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)

It's been another rough week. This week it's been mostly health care -- I found out Tuesday that Amazon hadn't continued my health care as they said they were going to, so I was unable to order Colleen's humira. (Which, at $1800 for two doses, isn't something one wants to pay for out of pocket.) My HR contact is looking into it, but it took several days to get through; meanwhile I went online and signed up for Medicare Part D and identified a Medigap provider (ExpressScripts and Premera Blue Cross; both for continuity and because they seem to get top reviews. Who knows how long that will last under Trump(Doesn't)Care.)

I know there's something called compassion fatigue. Is despair fatigue a thing? Or is that just another phase of despair? I find myself incapable of being surprised at whatever outrageous thing Trump and the "Republicans" have done each day. (I put "Republicans" in quotes because they are rapidly turning this country into a right-wing dictatorship. I feel powerless to stop them.)

Onward. Had a really good trip with Colleen up to Whidbey Island; we went up the whole length of it and came back by way of Deception Pass. It's been a very long time since Colleen and I went out for a drive that long that was just a drive -- our occasional loop drives along the California coast were probably the last ones. It was a little too long, but it went ok.

I've been spending much of my spare time catching up on my reading. For some reason I'd stopped reading LWN (Linux Weekly News) sometime around the first of the year; in the last two weeks I've completely caught up. You can see the results in the links, most of which came from LWN, or indirectly by way of Sacha Chua's awesome Emacs News. I've also been finding Whidbey-related links. At some point I need to go back through my to.do archives, extract all the links, and aggregate them. They're kind of useless scattered across blog entries the way they are.

I've even done a little walking (not quite every day, and not much because I seem to be walking at about half my old 3mph pace), a little music, and a little hacking (almost entirely cleanup tasks). On the whole, I appear to have been keeping myself busy in a relaxed kind of way, though I haven't yet fallen into any kind of routine. Later, hopefully.


My last few trips down to the house we used to call Rainbow's End (should we call it "Rainbow's Ended" now?) have been increasingly sad and discouraging. We put a lot of ourselves into that house; it was a large part of what we were as a family. Now we're scattered. We'll come back together, mostly, on Whidbey Island in a little over two months; it may very well be wonderful -- I hope it will -- but it won't be the same. I can't keep from thinking of what I might have done differently, over the last few decades(!), that might have made it possible to stay there. Hell, we all made decisions that seemed like the right thing at the time. Can't be fixed.

"I can't fix it!" is probably what I say most often when things are going badly. It always feels like my fault. I don't think I can fix that, either. I should shut up and go for a walk with Colleen.

Notes & links, as usual )

mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)

You may want to start with Part 1


Xmonad is a tiling window manager. That means that, with very few exceptions, it lays out all of the windows in your workspace so that they completely fill the screen. You can have multiple layouts, and flip between them with a single keystroke. You can bring a workspace (there are 9 by default, but you can add more) to your screen with a single keystroke, or send a window to a workspace.

And the whole thing is configured using a text file that is actually a program, written in the functional language Haskell. I'll get to that later.

One of my main gripes about Gnome, etc., and one of the things I miss the most about CTWM, is that when you first start a program its window shows up at some random location on the screen, with whatever size the program thinks is appropriate. If you don't like those choices you have to move and resize the window yourself, and then do it all over the next time you log in. (There are some exceptions -- many newer programs remember where you put them last, and older programs, from the CTWM era, can be given a starting geometry.)

Xmonad's layouts are all deterministic, which is to say, predictable. When you start a program, you know exactly where it's going to be on the screen. When you change the layout, you know where everything is going to go. If you want to move a window into the main position (most layouts have one; e.g. the left-hand column) it's (as usual) just one keystroke to put it there.

But the best thing, and the reason I switched to xmonad in the first place, is the way it treats multiple monitors: it simply assigns one workspace to each monitor.

Undock your laptop, and its screen stays exactly the same. The workspaces that were shown on the other screens simply go back into hiding with all the others, and are still only a keystroke away. When you have multiple screens, you can move a window to another screen, or bring a workspace to a screen, or warp the pointer to another screen, all with single keystrokes.

When you go to a conference room and plug in a projector, a workspace immediately shows up there and its layout automatically adjusts to the projector's resolution and aspect ratio. When you get a new computer -- all the developers at work got new laptops just a month or two ago -- just copy your configuration files to it and everything will be exactly the same as it was on the old one. (Sometime later I'll write about my portable configuration, which makes it possible for me to set up my entire working environment in mere minutes.)


So let's go a little deeper into those magic keystrokes. First of all, you have to know that all of the commands (you can't really call them shortcuts) include a key that xmonad calls "Mod" (short for "modifier", of course). Mod is initially defined as Alt, but the first thing any Emacs user is going to do is redefine it as something else, usually the "logo" key. (That's the one on the left between Ctrl and Alt that usually has a Windows logo on it. If your keyboard has replaceable keys you may be able to get a penguin for it.) On old laptops that don't have a logo key I use Ctrl-Alt, but that's a matter of taste.

You also probably want to know that Mod-? gets you a list of all the commands. And that there's a fantastic collection of tutorials, documentation, and sample configuration files at xmonad.org.

When xmonad starts up, you see a totally empty, black screen. Most people, myself included, add a status/navigation bar at the top, but you don't have to. I'll get to that later. You can start a program by typing Mod-P, or open a terminal window with Mod-Shift-Enter. You will immediately notice that the first window you open fills the screen. If you open another, xmonad will tile the screen with them, showing them side by side.

If you start a third program, it will get added to the right-hand column. You can probably see where this is going. When you move the mouse pointer into a window, it gets a thin red border to show you that it has "focus".

If you decide that you started things in the wrong order, move the pointer into the window you want to put in the left-hand column (the "master" column) and hit Mod-Enter. You close a window you're done with using Mod-Shift-C.

Here's where it gets interesting: Mod-Space will switch you to a new layout, with the master column turning into a master row, and all the other windows across the bottom. Hit Mod-Space again, and the currently-focused window goes full-screen. (I reconfigure my full-screen layout to put a row of tabs across the top. Wondering how to see the hidden windows? Mod-Tab moves focus to the next window in the stack. It also works in other layouts, so you don't need the mouse to move focus around. If you spend most of your time in a terminal and an editor like vim or emacs, you can throw your mouse away and still be productive. Mod-Shift-Tab moves focus to the previous window.

Mod-2 puts you into a second workspace. There are nine of them. (I add two more -- 0 and -.) If you want to move a window, say from workspace 2 to workspace 1, use Mod-Shift-1. That's kind of a recurring theme in xmonad -- Mod-something does one thing, and Mod-Shift-something does something related.

You can see that in action if you add an(other) monitor. Now, workspace 1 is in the left-hand screen, and 2 is in the right-hand screen. Think of the two of them as West and East.

Now, Mod-w will move the focus (and the mouse pointer) into the West screen, and Mod-e will move the focus into the East screen. Mod-1 through Mod-9 will bring that workspace into whatever screen has the focus. If the other workspace was already visible, they trade places. (Some people don't like that, so you can change it so that it just moves focus into the other screen if you select a workspace that's already visible.)

Add a third screen to the right of East, and call it Right. Now, Mod-r and Mod-Shift-R do exactly what you would expect. (There are no bindings for T, so I suppose that if you have space for a fourth screen you could use it for that.)

There are more key bindings, to move focus (Mod-j and Mod-k focus the next and previous window, respectively; shifted, they swap the focused window with the next or previous window), to shrink and enlarge the master area (Mod-h and Mod-l respectively), or increase or decrease the number of windows in the master area (Mod-Comma and Mod-Period respectively).

mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)

Not all that good a week. Continued lack of productivity at work, mainly because of meetings this time, but still... I want to take a vacation after Westercon, but I have goals that I can't meet if I do. Bletch.

I haven't done much writing, either. A reasonable amount on Monday, but only a little after that. Grump. Did do more cooking than usual: chicken tikka masala on Monday, and beef Stroganoff yesterday. That was a real win. Lots of shrooms. I note in passing that while Cash and Carry has great prices, it doesn't have a very big selection, and few if any small packages.

On the plus side, I did a pretty good job of noticing and identifying my mood Friday. On the minus side, the mood in question was despair. Cat therapy helps, but not completely.

A fair amount of computer-related work -- got my raspberry pi up and running, with both Raspbian and OSMC (on different cards). OSMC (Open Source Media Center) looks like it would work well as a music and video player. Being one of the original cards, it doesn't have much in the way of RAM, so it wouldn't work as a desktop with my current workload. I also swapped my desktop machine for one of the two that have been sitting behind my desk ever since we moved in.

Moderate amount of house-project work.

Notes & links, as usual )
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)

As I mentioned about a week ago, I've been trying to write more. And since my current obsession is a program called xmonad, well, ...

This is incomplete: it's about the first day's worth (I've been trying to write about 500 words per day). Comments and suggestions are, of course, welcome.


My new 27" monitors arrived at work; I took advantage of the change to rearrange my work space. Before, it was the set-up I've had for most of the last three years -- monitor in front on a stand, second monitor on the right, and my laptop on the left. The new laptop, however, has a decent keyboard (with trackpoint and three buttons), and the monitors between them occupy about 2/3 of the desk.

The new arrangement has the laptop dock under the "middle" monitor; the laptop, being a business-class Dell, has both a pointing stick and a middle "mouse" button. The laptop's keyboard is decent enough that it can replace the thinkpad keyboard I've been using for the last couple of years -- it's a high-end Dell, and has both a pointing stick and a middle button. (The middle button has part of the Unix desktop environment since the mid 1980s; it means "paste", and I use it all the time.) The monitors are about 50% bigger, pixel-wise, than the laptop, and are arranged "traditionally" with the laptop on the left.

You can probably see the problem with this arrangement. The total workspace is about 7000 pixels wide, and it's not even arranged in a straight line -- to get from the laptop to the "middle" monitor you have to move the cursor to the right, but the natural direction would be straight up. What's more, when you undock the laptop the whole thing collapses down to a "mere" 1920x1080. It's no wonder that most of the programmers in my team have opted for a single 30" monitor, and keep their laptop (almost invariably a mac) closed while they're using it.

Fortunately, I anticipated this problem months ago, and started using a window manager called xmonad.


One of the things I love most about Linux is the fact that the program that manages the layout of the screen and the behavior and appearance of the windows on it is not part of the operating system. It's a separate program, sensibly called a "window manager", and it runs in user space as a perfectly ordinary application that just happens to have a couple of extra hooks into X, which is the (also ordinary) program that actually controls the display, the keyboard, and the mouse.

Being an ordinary program -- and not even a terribly complicated one -- anybody can write one, and many people have. For a long time I was using one called TWM (Tabbed Window Manager, but the T originally stood for Tom's). Later I started using CTWM (Claude's Tabbed Window Manager), because it introduced the then unfamiliar notion of multiple workspaces. (Before CTWM, these could only be found in an experimental system at Xerox where they were called "rooms". Apple introduced them decades later, as part of MacOS X.)

You've probably heard of Gnome, KDE, and Ubuntu's horrible Unity desktop environments. Down at the bottom, they're just window managers plus a couple of utilities for doing things like putting up the familiar bar (Gnome calls it a "panel") full of menus, launcher buttons, clocks and other widgets. You can, in fact, run gnome-panel under any window manager, and I did for a while. They also include a "session manager", which handles things like starting the panel and making sure that applications get notified when you log out, so that they can save their state and exit cleanly. I've been using Gnome for years, and loved it for its configurability.

But Gnome's configurability comes with a cost -- every time you move to a new computer, you have to spend an hour clicking around in control panels and property windows to get everything set up the way you like it. And every time there's a major upgrade, something is a little different. It's a cost I no longer have to pay.

Part 2

mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)

Moderately productive week. Lots of computer configuration and upgrading work, which is always an easy way for me to feel like I've done something, even if it isn't all that useful. I have a new desktop computer, in a nice little Shuttle box, but haven't fully switched over to it yet. Because browser tabs, mostly. (I also got the raspberry pi booting, finally. Which mostly required looking at the installed card and noticing that, not only did it not have an OS installed, but it wasn't flagged as bootable. The Pi is one of the original 512Mb ones -- it's dog slow. Still, it has a lot of potential as either a media center or a special-purpose controller. I'm guessing that used, older pi's are dirt cheap on eBay.

My new monitors arrived at work; I took advantage of the opportunity to re-arrange my workspace (see notes for 0615We) -- and to get back into writing, with xmonad as my first topic. Xmonad really wins for this, because the physical arrangement of the monitors becomes almost irrelevant. By moving the laptop in front of me (because it has a usable keyboard for once) with the dock under the monitor, I not only freed up a sizeable amount of desk space but freed up my second thinkpad keyboard to come home with me. Win.

Last weekend also included a lot of cleanup work in the garage and the back yard -- the huge piles of junk and lumber have been hauled away. I really hated to lose the lumber, but it had been out in the rain for too long. I was, however, able to save most of the hardwood.

As indicated, I have been writing (see notes for 0614Tu). My goal is to write 500 words most days. (I missed yesterday because I was hacking on my journaling makefiles, which sort of counts in terms of time if not bytes.) This post is intended to hit today's word count, and, no, I'm not going to count the notes.

So that raises a question for you, my loyal readers. The article I'm writing on xmonad isn't done yet, but I do have two days worth of work on it. Should I post "episodes" as I go along? Maybe I should phrase that differently -- would anyone object if I did post what amount to partial rough drafts? Feedback would be useful. Because otherwise, that's what I'm going to do.

Some other ongoing projects will also be included in the word count, notably "Songs for Saturday" (or occasionally Sunday, if I'm being lazy) and the "River" posts. I will find or create a tag for the Linux-related stuff, like the aforementioned xmonad article, and probably "adventures in home computing" as well. Fiction is somewhat unlikely; I'm pretty bad at it, especially plotting. Metafiction and prose poems are a distinct possibility, though.

There. 500 words. Approximately, since wc doesn't distinguish between actual content and markup. At some point I need to do something about that, but I'm not going to worry about it right now.

Notes & links, as usual )
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)

Hmm. Long week. The week included a lot of moving stuff around setting things back up after the wedding; that's probably what's behind my current back problems. (See QOTD from yesterday.)

My loaner project at work is winding down, though not as quickly as I'd like. Not feeling very good about work right now.

On the gripping hand, the Great Room looks fantastic, with much more room in its new configuration (blue couch in the SE corner). And Colleen's new baker's rack nightstand has been installed, and looks great. And I upgraded Nova to Debian Jesse, which rocks. (Not entirely clear what I'll do with the extra monitor space; possibly mostly devote it to the to.do file, which I usually edit on Nova anyway when I'm at home. x2x rocks, too.

I have to tell you about x2x(1). (For those of you still stuck on legacy operating systems, the equivalent is synergy or, if one of your machines runs linux, x2vnc.) It's the exact opposite of a remote desktop application (which you get for free in Linux) -- it lets you share a mouse and keyboard between multiple computers. You just sit their displays side by side, tell x2x which edges are next to one another, and your mouse slides smoothly between them, taking the keyboard with it. Cut and paste work perfectly. Indispensable. I also set it up at work, between my desktop and laptop.

Links in the notes, as usual.

raw notes, with links )
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)

As I mentioned downwhen Stargate, our gateway/router, had become basically unusable by Sunday morning. It's rather mysterious -- the CPU seems to be working fine, and it passed rootkit, memory and filesystem checks just fine. But there you have it: it would slow down rapidly after each reboot.

The next problem was finding a replacement. I tried the machine that had been our router. It wouldn't boot. Even after I noticed that the power connector on the disk had been disconnected, and fixed that. I tried several different ways of replacing it with the fileserver, and succeeded only in disabling its networking altogether with an ill-advised firewall install.

At that point I had two choices: add an extra ethernet card to one of the laptops, or reconfigure our wireless access point as a router instead of a bridge. Fortunately I did the latter. Which was something I'd been toying with for quite a while anyway. Did I mention that I'm somewhat obsessed with saving power?

At this point I have to mention that it wasn't quite that simple. I had to do quite a lot of reconfiguring, and got some of it wrong. For example, forgetting to test incoming ssh. I never did get that to work; it's something of a security hole, so it's not surprising that the router's ssh daemon doesn't listen to the WAN port. When I got back I did what I should have done in the first place, and forwarded the fileserver's ssh port to an alternate on the router.

Also forwarded the fileserver's web server; I still need to set up the appropriate virtual hosting. The other thing that needed attention was that the router was hosting my external git repositories. I moved them to my external host, at savitzky.net. No problem.

DHCP and DNS were a bit of a problem -- the DD-WRT distribution on the router doesn't seem to support multi-homed interfaces or my usual config files. I'll deal. I'll probably have to abandon my hare-brained idea of keeping WiFi and wired interfaces on separate subnets, but that wasn't working too well anyway. And I lose an instance of apcupsd, unless I can get that going on the router.

But the net gain is huge -- I've eliminated a box and about 12W of power-sucking from my rack, improved my security, and gotten a major project out of my "to.do" file. I win.

mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)

Hmm. Not as good a day as its two predecessors, though the morning included a really good, useful meeting on the web-services side of $PROJECT. But that and the switch to cold weather made for too many excuses not to go out for a walk.

And I made progress toward setting up a transfer from my bank to my credit union, but didn't get started soon enough for it to count toward Bank Transfer Day (which is today). I tend to get down on myself about the obvious negative effects of procrastination, but of course by then it's too late to fix them.

One of the good parts was figuring out -- remembering, really -- one of the last bits of magic required to make ssh port tunneling work. Still having trouble with X forwarding, though; it worked fine with Lenny.

As for links, I was pleased to note that Occupy rigs up human-power after generators are confiscated

raw notes )


2009-11-24 09:55 am
mdlbear: (hacker glider)

Today's feeds included this post on ChromeOS by Cringely.

Last week Google made a preemptive strike against Microsoft, revealing details of its Chrome OS months before that product reaches its near-infinite beta release. The idea is simple: who needs a big OS if you are doing everything in a browser? It’s a huge threat to Microsoft and Apple. But then it struck me I’ve heard this all before, so I went back and found this video clip from my show Triumph of the Nerds, circa 1996, where Larry Ellison predicts the future, not knowing he was actually describing 2010.

It struck me that I've seen it before, too: Sun's Display Postscript. The difference is that Javascript is a far friendlier language to program in than Postscript, and that Chrome has some solid security behind it. We've learned a lot in the last two decades: Javascript was designed from the ground up for implementing the programming side of a user interface, and HTML 5 plus SVG on the front end are more than good enough to replace a 2-d graphics toolkit like GTK. So there's that.

Sun also invented the catch-phrase "the network is the computer", and NFS (which stands for Network File System, in case you've forgotten).

Cringe ends with:

We know that under the Chrome OS Google Apps will be very secure. Any tampering will trigger the download of a new and pure OS image. But will the Chrome OS have enough performance to compete with Microsoft Office? I think it eventually will, based, for example, on extensions like Google’s recently announced O3D API, which will allow Google Apps and approved third-party apps to grab spare GPU cycles to improve performance.

What’s left to be seen here is whether these improvements will be enough to beat Office or if Google will have to make a standalone (local PC-based) version of these apps. Only time will tell.

The most interesting part for me will be Microsoft’s response. This strikes at the very heart of Redmond’s business success and Microsoft will not take it lying down. Expect thermonuclear warfare.

What he seems to be forgetting is that it's going to be a three-front war. Down underneath ChromeOS, Android, Maemo, Moblin, and the Ubuntu Netbook Remix -- all of which are designed for mobile devices and thin clients -- is a perfectly functional Linux kernel. Mass storage is still dirt-cheap, and even after we get fiber to the home a suitcase full of hard drives will have more bandwidth than a pipeline to the cloud.

And a net app doesn't much care whether the back-end server it's talking to is in the next room or the next state, but you'll notice the performance difference. Heck, I notice the performance difference in my favorite audio editor between a local SATA drive and the same drive over gigabit ethernet.

Yeah, you'll back up to the cloud, use it for communication and sharing, and use it for deploying massive multi-user web applications. But all your applications will be running their front ends locally on Linux, so they can sneak behind the web to the local filesystem, and sneak behind the browser to X and the GPU, when you need performance. Your photos and music and video may be synchronized to a big server in the sky, but they'll all be in the fileserver in the closet, too. And some things won't get synced; the reasons are left as an exercise for the reader.

No matter what the (other) pundits are trying to claim, a URL is still a (virtual) pathname, a website is still a hierarchical filesystem (which you can of course mount with WebDAV), and the hierarchy of INTERconnected NETworks doesn't stop at your DSL modem or even at the ethernet port on the back of your PC. PCI is a network, too.

ChromeOS may take down Microsoft, and the Google Store may become a strong competitor for Apple. But is it the end of operating systems as we know them? I doubt it. Will you get all your applications from the Google Store? Probably not, any more than you'll get all your music from iTunes and all your books from Amazon. You'll hit some indy website, download to your local server, and away you go.

mdlbear: (ubuntu-hello-cthulhu)

I'm an old bear, and rather set in my ways. But now that Colleen has an Ubuntu-based netbook, we're looking for a good mail reader.


  • Gnome or, preferably, desktop-independent. She doesn't use KDE.
  • Must be able to handle multiple POP and IMAP accounts.
  • Not too complex.

Another possibility would be to suck everything down using fetchmail, but she would still need a good mail reader. Feel free to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of fetchmail you have an opinion on it.

mdlbear: (tux)

Here's a good article on Gizmodo about Android. Things could get interesting.

mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
raw notes )

A good day. I felt very dragged out in the morning, and didn't do much in the way of journaling. It may have been mostly blood sugar, and I was ok by the time I got to work, A little while after that I got a happy, almost bubbly call from [livejournal.com profile] cflute that got the rest of the day off to a great start. We agreed that it was wonderful to have good things to talk about. The last year has been horrific for both our families; we're ready for Samhain to bring us a bright, shiny new one with good jobs for those who need them, good health for all of us, and homes filled with music, love and contentment.

I followed this with a walk around the pond; I took 10 minutes out for meditation, and another five or so to simply sit and watch the beautiful koi. I could feel my mood lighten. I returned to work and was contentedly productive for the rest of the afternoon, turning an ancient EeePC into an Unbuntu server that can be taken to Japan next week for a portable version of $DEMO.

There were too many conversations going on for me to sing, but I came out of my hole for some up-tempo noodling a couple of times.

Yeah; a good day. Let's have some more of them.

mdlbear: (hacker glider)

So... here's an update on this post about cleaning the office, upgrading the fileserver, and fixing the Starport's email.

One out of three is,... um,... pretty bad. I'm probably going to have to go to Plan B or Plan C on the email; I simply can't make it work at Dreamhost. Worth an email to their tech support, though.

As for the fileserver, the problem is that I really "need" to have my home directory up and running for at least most of the day. And I need to have mail working, and the YD needs to have the laser printer working.

After toying with and rejecting the idea of swapping Nova's hard drive into temporary hardware temporarily (which would involve a fair amount of work), it became clear that the right thing to do would be to pull the drive, plop it into an external box, and just do the upgrade (setting up the three SATA drives in a mixed RAID configuration). If it goes quickly and smoothly, mount the old drive and start copying /home. Whee!

If it doesn't go smoothly, mount the old drive on Dorsai, the desktop. This is almost but not quite as much work as a temporary Nova, and is only possible because Dorsai is currently the only machine mounting filesystems over NFS from Nova.

Even if I'm able to bring up Nova quickly and restore /home onto it (it's "only" 15GB, which won't take long), the next thing will be to move the external box over to Dorsai, where I can mount the big partition that has all the media files and website working directories, and still use it while rsync rumbles along doing its thing.

The nice thing about that is that if NFS or NIS gives me trouble -- and those are the two most likely trouble spots, for certain -- I can mount /home on Dorsai and go my merry way while trying to fix them.

11:35 On second thought, the best thing is clearly to start by moving the old drive to Dorsai. That will (presumably) be fairly quick, and will take all the time pressure off of the upgrade.

mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)

It just occurred to me that I can overlap three rather disagreeable major projects this weekend: moving thestarport.org's DNS and email, upgrading the fileserver, and cleaning the office.

I just realized that I have to do the first two in that order, or a lot of email will end up dropped on the floor. Most of that will be spam, of course, but the sheer volume of it means that if I don't move it, the tiny mailbox at my ISP will fill up and things will start bouncing.

But I also realized that having my fileserver out of service for a while will remove a major distraction that would normally keep me from cleaning out the office. Which direly needs it. Because I have to do a lot of that before I have the space to do the taxes. AAARGH!

I don't think I need help with this, just some good excuses to stop making excuses, if that makes any kind of sense. This post is a step in that direction.

mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
raw notes )

Hmm. After taking out the summaries of a couple of long but private conversations, there isn't a whole lot left. I spent almost all of the evening out in the living room, mostly geeking about Linux and programming languages with various people. A lot of the regulars weren't there, but [livejournal.com profile] andyheninger showed up, which is rare. We go way back; he was a coworker at both AMI and Zilog.

The other conversations were mostly about the problems that Colleen was having over the weekend around feeling excluded, and more generally the way she falls apart when things aren't going her way. It's taken me a long time and a lot of help to both understand a little about what her problem is, and to understand that it's her problem, not mine. That was the hardest part -- my natural tendency is to blame myself for anything that goes wrong.

Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] pocketnaomi for finding the perfect word for "the way she falls apart". Once Colleen heard it she understood much more clearly what was going on and what she needs to do about it. I've seen that same look of determination quite recently, when she's been stretching her physical limits. She said something to the effect of: "I have 35 years of bad behavior to unlearn... You'll have to kick me in the ass when I need it. And I'll kick you in the ass about your problems."

So it's a deal. And I have to credit Colleen not only for her understanding and willingness to change, but for giving me the perfect straight line I needed to drive the point home: "You never have that kind of conversation with me." "I'd love to, but I can't -- you keep falling apart."

During the afternoon Colleen and Marty made huge progress re-arranging the sewing corner based on my realization in the morning that it would work better if the sewing machine got moved from the North wall (the window facing the driveway) to the East along the large window that faces the porch and the street. The front window is enough wider that it actually fits, and the rolling storage units that were crowded into the space in front of the built-in shelves are now neatly arranged along the corner wall. Impressive.

Along the way Marty also completely re-arranged the front closet, making it an actual walk-in, with all the contents accessible. And Colleen went through four boxes and sorted the contents. Wow!!

A somewhat tiring day and a little rough in places, but any day when you get a breakthrough on a major problem is a good one. Add the sewing corner and the closet, and it was a very good day indeed.

mdlbear: (ubuntu-hello-cthulhu)

There are actually three things I can burble about right now. The main one is that my coworker presented a paper this week on the project that our group has been working on. So there are things I can talk about! (And some that I still can't.) I can at least point to the abstract, which is here, though you probably have to be an ACM member in order to download the paper.

Basically the thing is an e-writer -- an e-reader with pen input that lets you write on things like forms and book pages. The next prototype version, due soon, is about the same form factor as the Kindle DX only with WiFi instead of cell, and (because it's a research prototype) Debian Linux.

The other two are the fact that I'm pretty much off the hook for the demo next week -- I've already mentioned that one -- and that the Dell Mini-10 that I won at OpenSourceWorld arrived yesterday.

The Dell came already defenestrated, with Ubuntu 8.04LTS installed. Plusses include the almost-full-size keyboard, scroll gestures on the trackpad, a gig of RAM, and 16 GB of solid-state disk. Minuses include the trackpad, the fact that one does not put swap on a flash drive, and the fact that it's just a little too big for the cases that used to hold my Magio laptop. Still, it's a sweet, shiny little thing. It hasn't been named yet.

mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
raw notes )

A very good day. By the time my walk came around almost all the shoulder pain and tension were gone, and a lot of pressure was off. This was mostly because of hearing $boss explaining to his boss why the demo wasn't going to work. So I'm off the hook. Also, the Dell netbook that I won in the drawing at OpenSourceWorld finally arrived (more on that separately), and the friends who'd been visiting Wednesday and Thursday left in the morning. I wish we'd had a lot more time to talk, but the house was pretty crowded and noisy. We'll try not to do that too much; one can't pay adequate attention to two sets of guests at the same time.

It was hot and noisy on my walk, but I wasn't as out-of-shape as I'd been earlier in the week, and all the tension was gone.

Colleen, Naomi, and I had dinner at Spicy Leaves -- excellent as usual. It counted as our date night, since we'd had too many guests Thursday and I got home so late. Great food, and two of my favorite women in all the world; it was wonderful.

The day ended with singing and snuggle, and sleep courtesy of cyclobenzaprine.

mdlbear: (debian)

Debian GNU/Linux 5.0 released. Read more at www.debian.org.

mdlbear: (hacker glider)

This is being posted from Dorsai, a dual-core AMD-64 machine that has been my main workstation, um... all year. There are enough differences between Emacs on Lenny and Etch that I'm still not particularly satisfied with the configuration; that will presumably change over the course of the next few months. Iceweasel, now based on Firefox 3, is another source of continuing dissatisfaction. But on the whole it's a lot better.

The Emacs problems are largely due to my having carried over a number of hacks from the days of Emacs 18; things are better now, but they're different. It was long past time to update, though, and I'm glad of the excuse to do some cleanup.

Today was largely occupied with moving the daily mirror drive from Harmony (the old workstation) back to Nova (the fileserver). This shouldn't have been a problem -- it had been there before -- but a blown power supply occupied a lot of my time, and some oddities about the ethernet configuration occupied the rest. I still don't have a working gigabit ethernet card, and the old power supply I used is noisy. So those will need attention pretty soon, as will upgrading both Nova and Dorsai to reasonable amounts of RAM.

And the little old HP desktop the kids brought down from upstairs now that they're planning on using Harmony as a Linux box simply won't boot at all. Grrr - probably power supply again, and of course being HP it's probably all proprietary inside.

Still, I'm not complaining. I managed to get through the year without spending outrageous amounts of money on computers, and that's something.

The next thing that needs major attention is our net connection. I'd been planning to drop the old AT&T DSL line in favor of the new one from Sonic. But a couple of shills from AT&T came by a couple of days ago to say that the neighborhood has fiber now (or will have it soon -- I missed that part). So that would strongly tilt the balance back in the other direction. That would also include internet phone and TV; the latter would be a major win over cable or satellite. Later. When I have time and brain cells.

mdlbear: (hacker glider)

What I'm looking for is an open-source, cross-platform (Linux, Windows, and preferably also MacOS) program for music notation. Preferably with the ability to export to Lilypond (for typesetting), ABC, and MusicXML. Must import and export MIDI files and play via MIDI. Rosegarden would be absolutely ideal, except that it only runs on Linux (for a change).

Canorus looks plausible, but appears to be immature at this point. Definitely worth a try, though, since there are Windows binaries on the download page. It's based on the earlier Noteedit, which is Linux-only again.

Of course, we could always use VMWare and either run Lilypond on Windows, or a pirated version of Concertware on Linux. The latter is ancient, though, and stuck with proprietary formats.

mdlbear: (hacker glider)
Don Marti www/google-chrome.html
The idea of tabs being first class citizens makes a lot of sense, but why have a sub-window-manager that just manages browser windows in tabs, when you could have a tabbed window manager that can manage everything? I might want a browser and a spreadsheet to share a tab.

So the right "browser" for a Linux environment might just be a really fast HTML/JavaScript viewer that talks to a separate HTTP client/cache, a Google Gears server, and a preferences/history server -- all of which are also available to the rest of the desktop. The browser isn't necessarily the only thing that wants to speak HTTP, use Gears, or store preferences. And the "browser" application could fit into a tabbed window or a standalone window, just as the window manager would let you do for anything else on the desktop.
I'm in complete agreement. I already have a tabbed window manager (the venerable CTWM). I want very much to have all the browsers operating out of my home directory, which is shared among half-a-dozen machines using NFS, to share the same flat file preference file, bookmarks, and history. I wouldn't mind throwing my shell and emacs windows into that mix as well. I already have a text box with command history and completion -- it's called xterm.
mdlbear: (xo)

... from both sides now. From Gizmodo, a matched pair of articles titled "Why I Hate Netbooks" and "Why I Love Netbooks". Both posted by the same author, apparently.

As for me, I want a netbook with a Happy Hacking keyboard. One of the old, clicky ones. That, or just run my XO in terminal mode with a Model M, except it wouldn't be particularly portable. Which was kinda the whole point.

mdlbear: (hacker glider)

I use too many different computers. At any given time I might be on one of three machines at home, or one of two at work. Managing things like browsers, email clients, and IM clients, all of which get upset if I'm using the same account from two different places, is a bit of a chore. IM is the worst; the others are at least manageable.

All of those machines know whether I'm typing at them or not. In many cases, based on the time of day, they might have a pretty good idea of where I am when I'm not typing. It would be really good if there were some kind of service, independent of IM, that could manage my presence, kill off extraneous IM and email clients if necessary, and let people know the best way to contact me.

It could probably be done with Jabber, a private XMPP server, and a batch of specialized clients. Anyone out there know of something like that? Preferably for Debian or Ubuntu.

mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)

This week was LinuxWorld; I went up to the Expo on Wednesday. In some previous years that would have been the high point of the week; you know Linux has gone mainstream when the most innovative products on the show floor were a new kind of ergonomic chair (which didn't seem to suit me) and some gorgeous, handmade wood mobius strips. OK, the 160GB flash drive on a PCIE card was pretty cool, too, streaming 256 movies simultaneously onto two large screens.

The point is that the real action has moved to more specialized conferences; all the open source developers were at OSCon two weeks ago in Portland, for example. As this blog post points out, that's not a bad thing. These days LinuxWorld is aimed primarily at IT departments considering making the move to Linux, or looking to upgrade their hardware or services.

It's an IT show, and I'm a hacker. Sold a CD to someone at the Creative Commons booth, though; easy sell, since all the music on it is CC. *shrug* I'll keep going as long as it's free and it's local. Let me know if there's an interesting conference or trade show in Seattle.

The Linux Picnic, which was this afternoon, was also smaller than in previous years, but still fun. Colleen came, and a visiting [livejournal.com profile] starless_knight substituting for the Y.D., who was off gaming with friends. I brought the XO, and Colleen brought her EeePC; I also brought Ruby and sang a couple of songs after lunch. No album sales, though.

Moving back in the week, we had a terrific talk Tuesday morning by our company president, on the history of $PARENT_COMPANY. It was followed by the company picnic; smaller than the Linux picnic, but the food was better.

All-in-all it's been a quiet week, but as I've said before, that's good. Very good. Compared to what many of our friends are going through...

Much of my creative energy has been going into the drafts of some River posts on conversation and communication. The first two (out of three) are just about ready, but I find that I like taking the time to work on them over the course of a couple of weeks. Plays hob with my other projects, though.

mdlbear: (hacker glider)

Stayed home from work yesterday because we had our annual termite inspection scheduled for sometime in the 11am-1pm, and because it seemed as though there was some serious puttering catching up to do. Good call -- it turned out to be a pretty productive day.

Spent much of the day working on uploading the Tres Gique Concert from Baycon. This was a lot more work than I expected; since the last time I did it, I've made major changes in both the organization of the various websites, and the way uploading is done. (I'll get into that sometime upwhen.)

Squeezed in a trip to Fry's with [livejournal.com profile] selkit to investigate trading in the Fujitsu laptop that he bought back in March, and which has been giving him considerable trouble. That will work; we'll go in again today sometime with laptop and paperwork in hand.

Took a walk (Rose Garden) between the Fry's trip and dinner; cool and pleasant.

There were two background tasks: ripping CDs and uploading. At some point this week, the [livejournal.com profile] flower_cat decided that we really needed to not only get the entire CD collection ripped to disk, but correctly organized; she's started listening to the entire collection, starting with the A's, and handing them off to me for ripping. I got a package of little sticky dots a couple of weeks ago and have been putting them on the jewelcase spine to mark the ones that have been ripped. We're somewhere in the middle of Joan Baez (filed under B) now, plus a bunch ripped from before. (Last week she listened through, and I ripped, all of the piles of unsorted CDs in the living room.) There are 281 CDs ripped at this point.

The other background task is uploading. I believe I mentioned that I have less upstream bandwidth than a carrier pigeon, but I have rsync and nobody needs much bandwidth late at night.

I also finally got the KDE desktop installed on Colleen's EeePC. She'd been finding the dumbed-down desktop extremely limiting. I did the one I was borrowing from work first; using the manual method in the instructions on the wiki. Then I discovered that Asus has taken KDE out of the repository for the 900! !@#$% Idiots!!!@#$ But I found a review article that said that the "easy way" (installing via a Debian package from an alternate repository) worked, and indeed it did. Still have to get mail working for her, which will involve making sure IMAP works on the server and that she has spamassassin properly set up.

Also spent some time just talking and snuggling with Colleen. Somehow sitting in separate chairs with separate laptops didn't seem sufficient, and we discovered last night that a drive wasn't really sufficient either. The living-room couch, which I made years ago, isn't really comfortable and in any case is covered with stuff, so we ended up on our bed, fully-clothed but with the door closed. (Not that the closed door stopped the Younger Daughter from coming in for hugs.) Have to do that more often. (Content also upwhen, under the River filter.)

Sometime in the evening I also pulled out one of the 400GB SATA drives, stuck it in a USB enclosure, and started formatting it with low-level checking. It's about half done now. The plan is to use it for data transfer between home and work, where I have a lot more upload bandwidth.

mdlbear: (ubuntu-hello-cthulhu)
Interview: Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu | Technology | The Guardian
TG: Will you be coming out with a tailored version of Ubuntu for the ultraportable sector?

MS We're announcing it in the first week of June. It's called the Netbook Remix. We're working with Intel, which produces chips custom-made for this sector.

TG: Do you think that GNU/Linux will ever become a significant force on the desktop?

MS I think that depends on how people define a desktop. If people continue to define a desktop as the thing that they run Microsoft Word on, then Windows will retain its position. My sense, though, is that people are increasingly defining the desktop as the thing that they get access to the internet from. In that case, there's a real possibility that we're able to shift people onto different platforms. I think it's the emergence of the internet as the killer application, the thing that describes what you want from the computer, that opens the door to us.
(via engadget
mdlbear: (ubuntu-hello-cthulhu)

The main bit of hackery for the day was diagnosing Tatooine, an aging Fry's windows box (long since dual booted with Debian) that started out in the office, and most recently was used in the bedroom as Colleen's machine. Replacing Seymore, a slightly older Fry's box.

Tatooine had developed the bad habit of rebooting in the middle of the Windows boot sequence. We retired it when it developed the even worse habit of shutting off in the middle of the Linux boot sequence.

This morning I took advantage of a moderately new Vantec power supply I had sitting around, and gave it a try. Linux worked, of course. Windows still reboots -- something must have become corrupt. (OK, Microsoft has been corrupt for years. But I digress.) I'll have to see if the Windows partition is readable at all; I may be able to run the Windows games via Wine.

I also have to see whether I can make Seymore run now. If I remember correctly, a new power supply didn't help it, but it's worth a try. If not, I can always cannibalize it.

mdlbear: (debian)

Upgraded my ancient (IBM i series) laptop from DeMuDi (Debian Sarge-based) to Etch. Involved an hour or two resolving dependencies, and then another couple of hours re-hacking my config files to make them tiny-screen-friendly. I've been using wide screens both at home and at work for a while; it takes a bit of squeezing to fit things back onto 800x600. But I remembered how I'd done it, back when that was a big screen...

There are still a couple of bugs, but they're manageable.

mdlbear: (ubuntu-hello-cthulhu)
Open Source Java Technology Debuts In GNU/Linux Distributions
Latest Releases of Fedora and Ubuntu Feature OpenJDK-based Implementations

SANTA CLARA, CA April 30, 2008 Sun Microsystems, Inc. (NASDAQ: JAVA), Canonical Ltd. and Red Hat, Inc. (NYSE: RHT), today announced the inclusion of OpenJDK-based (http://openjdk.java.net) implementations in Fedora 9 and Ubuntu 8.04 Long Term Support (LTS) Server and Desktop editions, furthering the promise of Sun's open source Java technology initiative.

In addition, the NetBeans 6.0 Integrated Development Environment (IDE) (http://www.netbeans.org) is being delivered as part of the Ubuntu 8.04 LTS release and Canonical has certified Ubuntu 8.04 LTS Server Edition on several Sun x86 systems.
(From Groklaw's news picks.
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
Liliputing: Comprehensive list of low-cost ultraportables
Over the past six months or so, Asus, Everex, and HP have managed to bring low-cost ultraportable notebooks to market. But dozens of other computer makers have promised to bring out their own mini-notebooks. Some will run Linux, while others will be preloaded with Windows XP or Vista. Some will have flash memory, while others will have hard drives. But every one will be smaller, lighter, and cheaper than most existing laptop computers. Here's a roundup of some of the computers that have been announced or are already available.
(From engadget.)


2008-04-21 12:28 pm
mdlbear: (xo)
Asus Eee PC 900 hits the US on May 12th - Engadget
We're serious this time, people. No more kidding around with those international ship dates, we've got ourselves a real live release date from Asus: May 12th. The hotly-anticipated Eee PC 900 with that relatively bountiful 8.9-inch screen is going to sell for a starting price of $549, with Linux and XP versions available at launch.
Well, it's nearly twice the price of the current low-end versions, but...
mdlbear: (tux)

No, I have NO FSCKING IDEA why my linux-based router won't route packets from the DMZ port to anywhere else. I'm guessing it's some piece of Shorewall misconfiguration that's been lingering around since the last time I tried banging my head against this particular problem.

However, my head is very damned sore now, and it at least continues to route from the internal network, so I was able to put the wireless router there where it used to be. At least it works now, even if it isn't as secure as I would like it to be. What's more, the WAP now seems willing to route to the internal network (it had damned-well better, since it's a host on it), so users of my internal web pages should be happy now.

I'm not happy. But it's less broken than it's been for several months, so I'm going to move on for now.

Note to self: any hostnames used in the firewall rules had better be in /etc/hosts, because you can't get to any DNS servers while the firewall is busy configuring itself.

Duh! It helps to enable masquerading for the interface. It helps to read the useful comment I left for myself in /etc/shorewall/masq. It would help even more if that solved the whole problem: it still doesn't route to the internal network. Grump.

mdlbear: (hacker glider)

Went to the Embedded Systems Conference yesterday in the San Jose convention center. A little disappointing -- smaller than last year, and nothing really new except some of the swag. Oh, and a booth with the slogan: "Seeing is Believing, but Touching is More Fun". Yeah; I can get behind that...

There was a moderate amount of Linux in evidence: in addition to the usual distros (Montavista, LynuxWorks) most of the single-board computers and evaluation boards support it as a matter of course.

The nice thing about doing a trade show on a Wednesday is that I can come home, dump the swag on a chair, and expect most of it to disappear by the end of the evening. The only things I found worth keeping were one of the bags (black, with the sides extended into a single long shoulder strap rather than the usual pair of loops) and a pen in the shape of a squid, that opens in a particularly interesting way (from Reach Technology). The patent drawings do not show the mechanism, which is fun to watch.

10:27 Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] rowanf, we now know that this is called a "Transformer Pen". The minimum order appears to be 200...

mdlbear: (kill bill)

The [livejournal.com profile] flower_cat's desktop computer (in the bedroom) appears to have finally bitten the dust -- Windows has been flaky for at least a month, and now Linux is having problems as well. Its CPU fan appears to have died, which has probably caused collateral damage elsewhere. This makes the second of our three Fry's XP boxes to die; the third is the one in the Y.D.'s room. I'll be surprised if that one makes it to the end of the year.

I'm reluctant to just go out and buy her another Windows box -- Fry's track record is pretty poor at this point, and she seems to be happy with Linux on the EeePC. And the budget is still blown all to hell from the wedding and FKO; I really don't need the expense just now. I've been trying to justify a new workstation for the office, because Harmony has become noticeably noisy, but I can't do that either right now, especially when I'm trying to save for an EeePC for the Cat.

So I think what I'll do for the moment is move Dantooine in from the office -- it's an ultra-quiet Mini-ITX system. Fanless, which eliminates that point of failure. We do need a Windows box or two, but that's what virtualization is for.

The other advantage of this move is that it will, at long last, completely defenestrate the computers downstairs. That's a Good Thing.


2008-03-20 08:38 am
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)

Here's wishing a happy -- or at least a calm -- Equinox to those who mark it. It seems like a good day to talk about balance.

My life, like my finances, has been significantly out of balance for years. Things are starting to find a new equilibrium, though sometimes I feel like I've finally gotten it all together just in time to be forgetting where I put it.

Things like blog reading and IM usage are still a bit of a problem -- I always tend to do the fun stuff first -- but I'm trying to limit them and have been mostly successful. This week, anyway.

Financially, it's too early to say for sure, but I may have finally gotten both the Cat and I interested in setting up a household budget. Suggestions for Linux programs or locally-installable web applications will be gratefully accepted. (The ones I know about from "apt-cache search budget" on Ubuntu are grisbi, homebank, and equonimize; haven't had a chance to look at any of them.)

I may have been the only one to notice that last night's selection of cheeses was smaller than usual.

Balance plays a part in conversation, too. Last night's geekish conversation in the office was marked by comparatively little of it; people were more intent on making their own points -- repeatedly -- than in noting their areas of agreement and disagreement and moving on to something more interesting. Yes, scanning, printing, and vector drawing programs in Linux are broken. You really only have to say that once. Yes, human interface studies and guidelines are important. But if you dumb things down to match what your study has determined to be the "average" user's expectations, you leave off what may be a surprisingly long tail of users who aren't average and weren't included in your pitifully small study. (It's my blog -- I get to have the last word there.)

I'm blathering. Balance. Right.

(Note: The trainwreck and river tags are for discussion of financial and psychological issues respectively; there will be corresponding filters for non-public aspects of these, but I haven't started using them yet.)

mdlbear: (ubuntu-hello-cthulhu)

Well, the flakiness seen yesterday expanded into full-blown falling-apart today: I couldn't even boot. And I'll note in passing that an 8-day-old install CD of Hardy alpha required 600-odd updates. I don't think it's stable yet. I'm going to assume both that the drive is unhappy, and that Hardy Heron isn't ready; I put the old drive back.

On the plus side, I found the install disk for my 802-11g wireless card, and it worked in the Win98 partition. So the machine will be usable regardless. At some point I'm going to try both Gutsy (from the text installer) and Lenny. But not right now: there's a lot on my schedule today.

mdlbear: (ubuntu-hello-cthulhu)

I've been spending some time this afternoon upgrading my Thinkpad T21, which I purchased several years ago at a surplus joint. One of my coworkers handed me a 60GB hard drive (removed from an upgraded laptop) that was flaky in his machine at home. We'll see. Replacing a drive on an IBM laptop is a cakewalk.

The install disk for the current Ubuntu, 7.10, boots but does something horrible to the display, making it basically uninstallable. Debian Etch does the same horrible thing, but at least it gets installed so you can flip the driver over to vesa, which is where I had it before. My alternate disk for 7.10 had an error on it, but I also downloaded Hardy alpha 5. That worked perfectly, and is currently installing.

I tried both my WiFi cards; neither worked. Hopefully a suitable driver will fix it. One of them (the 802-11g, oddly enough) actually recognized the network, but kept insisting on a password and wouldn't connect. It's an open network, damnit. Or do I have to kick the router? (9:08 that did it! Just fscking worked. I could really get to love Ubuntu.) (9:32 Still some flakiness -- unclear whether bugs or bad drive. Current thinking favors bugs.)

It's also an open question whether any of the usual laptop features will be recognized out of the box; Etch wouldn't even suspend properly.

Finally, I still have to copy over the old Windows 98SE partition; that will require a USB adapter and searching for the driver disk. The machine is going to a non-geek who's used to Windows; whether I can persuade her to switch over is an open question, so it's important to leave both options open. Hopefully I'll be able to do that with the partition manager once I find a USB enclosure to plop the old drive into.

mdlbear: (ubuntu-hello-cthulhu)
The Top 50 Proprietary Programs that Drive You Crazy — and Their Open Source Alternatives | WHDb
The following fifty proprietary programs are listed in no particular order within broad categories along with their open source alternatives. In some cases you could probably write your own book on frustrations with the proprietary programs shown here. In other cases, you’ll discover that the open source alternative isn’t quite up to snuff yet. And, in other cases still, you’ll learn that some proprietary programs are real gems, but that the open source advocate can replace those gems with equally shiny objects from the open source repertoire.
I don't necessarily agree with everything in this list, but it's a good place to start if you're wondering whether your critical needs will be covered if you switch to Linux, or if you just want to try something different on Windows. Many of my favorites are on the list.

(From InfoWorld.)
mdlbear: (hacker glider)
Getting a static web site organized with git | LinuxWorld Community
Yes, I still end up maintaining some static web sites. I've started doing them under git revision control, just to be safe, and because "git push origin" is just as easy as rsync anyway. Here's a rough cut at a system for keeping these things organized.
Not as directly useful to me as it would be if I wasn't already syncing my entire web-related directory tree up to a large external hosting site for backup.
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)

In this case, of course, Dorsai is the computer in the bedroom. (This being thestarport.org, all the machines are named after places that could plausibly have starports. The machines that are used for recording and editing music are, naturally, places mentioned in filksongs: the laptop is Argo, and the other workstation is Harmony.) Anyway, it works: I'm posting from it.

The little rolling desk isn't terribly solid, and because it overlaps the bookshelves on the left there isn't room for anything but my Lenovo Thinkpad keyboard. Which is pretty good, and has pointing devices that there otherwise wouldn't be room for, but it's not a Model M.

In addition, it's running Ubuntu Studio instead of Etch; not all my usual fonts are installed (so windows come out the wrong size and don't quite fit properly), (added 02-24: the font problem turned out to be a bad line in .Xdefaults) and it's running Emacs 22.1. I'm not quite ready to make the transition to the new Gnus. OTOH it's fast as a bat. I'd forgotten just how fast it is...

There are still a few piles of stuff scattered around the bedroom that were pulled out of the corner, and the chair isn't particularly comfortable. The recording rig hasn't been reconfigured yet; I'm not sure where the microphones and preamps belong, and there are no monitor speakers (so, basically, I don't have sound on this machine yet).

But, Colleen really likes having me in the bedroom with her, even though she can't see me from where she's sitting. And it does feel comfortable. Moving back and forth between the two systems is slightly painful: I have to kill the browser, and move my IM presence. Not a full solution. It'll take me a while to make the transition smooth; it will probably involve switching to Ubuntu or Lenny on all the clients.

mdlbear: (hacker glider)

Excellent post by [livejournal.com profile] don_marti on becoming more productive by going offline. Git (distributed version control, basically syncing on steroids), ikiwiki (offline-rendered wiki), blosxom (offline-rendered blog), and more. It's related to a lot of what I've been saying about keeping control of your own data. In essence, what you want to do is to separate writing from publishing.

Better yet

2008-02-03 10:10 pm
mdlbear: (hacker glider)

The Wolfling is getting tutoring in math now. Hopefully that will get her through the two classes she needs to graduate. Since her tutor (a family friend) lives most of the way to Palo Alto, the Cat and I proceeded from dropping her off to dinner at Chef Chu's in honor of Chinese New Year. We decided going in that a whole fish, while tempting, wouldn't have given us enough variety, so we had hot and sour soup, tangerine peel chicken, eggplant in garlic sauce, and fried bananas for desert. Yum!

Chef Chu's was my intro to Szechuan cooking when I first came out to California for grad school, 29 years ago.

Coming home, I found that the VIA board had successfully started up X, after the various network-dependent processes timed out. Thus encouraged, I hacked on it for a while and discovered that the onboard ethernet was now eth2. Go figure. I think it has something to do with the hotplug code that I stopped using because it seemed flaky. But it works now: not super fast, but more useable than its predecessor, and totally silent.

The runtime on my UPS is now down from somewhere north of 45 minutes to 39; not too bad, considering.

Hopefully I'll be able to get back to actual (music) work soon.

mdlbear: (hacker glider)

Went to Fry's and bought a new CPU/Motherboard bundle for the fileserver: it's a comparatively crappy ECS MB with an AMD X2 BE-2330 processor. Under $90 with tax. Not terribly fast, but I don't need fast. Only one IDE connector, but 4 SATA, so that's OK. 100MB Ethernet, but it has two PCI slots, so that's OK. NVidia video, but it's a server, so I'm not using X. Swapped boards with the old one, and it just fscking worked.

Only thing that really needs fixing is the kernel -- the default kernel doesn't recognize the second core. (And of course it's in 32-bit mode -- fixing that would require a complete re-install, so I'm going to wait.)

The nice, quiet 1GHz VIA board that it replaced is, for some reason, not working particularly well: newer kernels don't seem to recognize the ethernet controller, and older ones don't see the mouse. Grump. May have to add an ethernet adapter and use it as a NAS box. Or maybe try Ubuntu.

mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)

For some reason Kat's monitor (an ageing 17" Hyundai) has lost the ability to tell the computer at the other end of its cable what its resolution is. We'd just installed a new KVM switch, so I spent quite a lot of time thinking the problem was in the switch. At first it seemed to be -- last time she had problems, I took out the switch, plugged the monitor directly into the computer, and it worked. This time it didn't.

Swapped it with the 17" Samsung on the public system in the office downstairs. Now everything is happy -- Debian Etch on the downstairs machine is set up for fixed resolution, so it ignores the stupid lying monitor and Just Works(TM).

Meanwhile the taxes aren't done and there's practicing to do.

And did I mention that crawling around under desks is bad for my knees?


2008-01-18 09:48 am
mdlbear: (hacker glider)

When last we met the Starport's harried local BOFH system administrator household hacker, he was trying to figure out why Nova, the household fileserver, kept locking up. It looked very like a software or memory problem.

Running top continuously from home and work revealed that the memory usage never got up to the point where it would cause problems -- heck, it hasn't used swap space in three days. On the other hand, it has been up for three days.

About the only thing I've done differently in that time was to kill off Big Brother, the system-monitoring program I've been using for several years now. My copy is decidedly obsolete, and because it was free but not open source, it never got automatically upgraded like the rest of my software. The last few months it had been crashing, and I didn't use it enough to bother tracking down the problem.

I'm now looking for a good system monitor that's well-supported in Debian. I'll probably end up with either nagios or monit -- any recommendations?

mdlbear: (ubuntu-hello-cthulhu)

The last couple of days I've been helping the [livejournal.com profile] chaoswolf install Ubuntu on her ageing HP Celeron system. The initial problem, of course, was to back up the old contents; I tried several hacks of varying effectiveness before discovering that the Seagate drive I was using came with a Windows partition-imaging program on its install CD. Who knew?

Once that was taken care of, actually doing the install was a piece of cake, modulo a crash scanning the partition table and its inability to shrink the existing NTFS partition as much as it should have been able to. (There may be a connection.) There may be some bad memory in that box; it's quite flaky.

The Wolfling seems to be pretty happy with Ubuntu, which is a good sign. Of course, she still has her shiny new XP machine; I'll get her a KVM switch tomorrow.

mdlbear: (penguin-rant)
... so Nova, my fileserver, has been up since about 6:30am this morning. This afternoon I noticed that SpamAssassin's daemon wasn't running, so spam wasn't getting filtered. I started it. A few seconds thereafter, Nova crashed.

I'm guessing either a corrupt application file, corrupt database, or something running out of memory. Possibly some combination. Running out of memory (or some other resource) could be a problem; the others may be fixable by purging and reinstalling spamassassin. Could conceivably be some other weirdness, up to and including a bug in Perl, but the fact that problems have been occurring with increasing frequency is highly suggestive of a problem with spamassassin itself.

15:40 Could also be flaky memory, of course. SA is big, so it could have pushed it over the edge into a bad block. I'll run memtest, though that's no guarantee.

20:11 Spamd is pretty small, and top shows plenty of space: 1G of RAM, about 1/3 full, and 2G of empty swap. I'll watch it for a while.

So far...

2008-01-15 10:15 am
mdlbear: (hacker glider)

Nova was down again when I got up this morning; I took it as an excuse to disconnect the SATA drives (which I should have done yesterday, but it was getting late). If that fixes it, it's probably a controller issue. If not, it's probably memory. Worst case, I can replace it with Harmony (my current workstation), which has been absolutely solid since I bought it. In fact, that MB/CPU used to be in Nova. Would use more power, but a faster CPU would help for printing and some file operations.

Spent some good time this morning talking with the [livejournal.com profile] chaoswolf about upcoming web projects and setting her up with an Ubuntu box. We'll use her old HP Windows box with the new 320GB IDE drive that I originally intended for a USB drive.

mdlbear: (hacker glider)

Nova (the fileserver) hung again this morning; it was hosed when I checked on it from work. So when I got home I turned off email (didn't want it ending up in the wrong place), brought up nova just long enough to update the mirror and take down the workstation that had the external drives hung off it, and moved the new 500GB IDE drive from the external box to nova.

After that, I installed a clean copy of Lenny on the small rescue partition, and spent the entire damned rest of the evening copying files off the mirror. Amused myself while tar was doing its thing by seeing if I could configure a working fileserver out of Lenny, and almost succeeded. Still something wrong with nfs. It may just be something I didn't restart properly. I also had time to eat dinner, do the dishes, and move the boxes of Christmas stuff (including tree) back into the garage. Which in turn involved cleaning out the little closet between the bedroom and the garage, tossing out no less than three huge boxes that once held monitors that we no longer own.

I was a little surprised at how long it stayed up. I suspect that the problem has to do with writing to a SATA drive, and I wasn't doing much of that. But it's back.

Bear fall over now.

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