Back and pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to sync up my computers. It took a while because of being ultra-careful to avoid a repeat of my recent e-mail disaster but everything seems to be just working and identical to my laptop despite being untouched for so long. The power of config files. Syncing up music also proving to be pretty painless. This all shows how settled my environment now is, without incessant changes needing to be synced. I’ll introduce a temporary layer of pain when I switch from Arch to CRUX because customisations to make things work that I haven’t documented won’t be there until I do them but again it’s going to become a one-time thing.

Updating my website a bit flaky for some reason; Org-mode caches that keep track of which files need re-publishing don’t seem to like moving between hosts, which surprises me. Maybe it’s just git messing up mtimes though.

Have got most of my unpacking done now but am finding myself seized with a strange desire to get rid of stuff. I have so many things floating around, decorations in my room, keepsakes, things that have a use but I rarely/never use, and I just want to get rid of them. I want clear surfaces; I feel it crowding in on me. I hope this is not the effect of reading blog posts on Internet hipster minimalism, a philosophy I despise. But less stuff would make life easier when I have to move back and forth. Not sure how best to get rid; charity shops probably best place to start.

Also good that I keep wanting to write about things like this on here; nice flow, which is what I wanted: it just shows that you can achieve what you think is good even if your habits don’t presently match up. Speaking of this I think I’m off to a good start with an efficient afternoon of unpacking and sorting stuff out.

Posted Fri 01 Jul 2011 20:25:00 UTC Tags:

As I said I would I’ve recreated my Facebook account, very minimally. Frustratingly, as I trawled through the settings to switch various things off, I discovered a feature to download all your messages, photos, wall posts etc. which I could have used to archive my old account, which would have been nice—sad that that’s now an impossibility.

If I know you in real life and actually see you frequently, feel free to add facebook.com/spwhitton to your friends. I’ll be ignoring people I don’t really have real life contact with; you’re very welcome to e-mail me though…

I am trying out TheFriendMail to get my news feed e-mailed to me. Don’t like using a piece of proprietary software for this but not any different to using Facebook itself.

This means that I’m back on Facebook chat, so I’ve hacked up a ZNC module to switch this on and off when I detach and reattach from the bouncer, because Facebook’s XMPP implementation doesn’t allow you to set yourself as away.

#+INCLUDE ~/.znc/modules/spwbitlbee.cpp
Posted Tue 05 Jul 2011 22:51:00 UTC Tags:

localtunnel—Quickly expose your local web server to the Internet

Looks like a useful tool; they’ve even released the source for the server, as it should be, excellent.

Posted Wed 06 Jul 2011 08:34:00 UTC Tags:

Taking the mind out of body image disorders | Brain Study

This is an interesting article about how recent research seems to suggest that eating disorders like anorexia are more similar to disorders in the sense organs/how the sense organs connect to the brain than, in the extremely crude way I understand these things, purely psychological problems of self-esteem. It feels like this is a good way out, because anorexia makes no sense to me, so blaming it on something that seems fixable appeals, but that seems too easy when people with eating disorders seem to be pretty messed up mentally as well.

Another interesting post from this blog: Pathologizing the norm

Posted Wed 06 Jul 2011 08:52:00 UTC Tags:

Review of ‘Examined Life’: what is popular philosophy?

Really enjoyed this review. Something I want to write about: I’m increasingly convinced that you can’t do this stuff without lots of effort; popular philosophy is impossible beyond the Socratic questioning ideal.

Posted Wed 06 Jul 2011 10:08:00 UTC Tags:

On Sunday afternoon I started transferring files off my laptop (artemis) and onto my desktop (zephyr) ready to replace the former’s Arch Linux installation with CRUX, a source-based GNU/Linux distribution that inspired the creation of Arch. Five and a half days later yesterday afternoon, and the installation and setup are complete, with only a few things not quite working, which are set up as tasks to do later once I’ve settled into the new OS a little more. I think I’ve probably put in about fifty hours, throwing all else aside, and the result can be summarised as this document, where I wrote everything down, and my repository of CRUX ports for all the software I had to package up for CRUX, which I’ll put up online and have added to the CRUX ports database soon.

A few thoughts on why it has taken so long. First of all I spent a great deal of time figuring out how I was going to encrypt the drive, which is important on a laptop. In order to speed things up CRUX doesn’t use an initrd which means that it’s impossible to encrypt absolutely everything, so either you slow things down by working in an initrd, or don’t encrypt quite everything; I took the latter approach, but it took me a while to figure out how I could make this feasible. The resulting solution is elegant and simple and essentially as secure as my setup before; they suffered from the same weakness of having unencrypted code on the drive that could be tampered with by an attacker. Once I got this sorted out the rest of the time was spent, aside from waiting for files to copy and for software to compile, packaging up all my software, for a surprising amount of it isn’t available for CRUX. Oh and there were plenty of existent packages to fix as well. It’s quite poor just how many CRUX ports are broken. But this was a one-time thing, essentially, aside from software updates from time to time which aren’t too hard.

Yesterday evening I wiped the family 256MB Celeron and installed Linux Mint LXDE to try and get some use out of it, because once I have Emacs installed with a few utilities, I can get on with things, and this of course is a lot easier than installing software on CRUX. Apt rumbles into action, does layer after layer of auto-configuration and everything Just Works; I sat there wondering just a little why I don’t just use this. Except the version of Emacs that comes with Mint is too old, so then you have to figure out how to upgrade the package, but there are actually about three packages and a metapackage that interact and the Emacs addons like BBDB keep in sync with these in (too) clever ways so paradoxically, until you realise what’s going on, you can’t remove one version of Emacs without it trying to install an older version in its place and vice-versa and urgh, it’s so complicated once you try and do something even remotely different. But CRUX’s package management and in fact everything about it is so simple, that you don’t have to spend long understanding it before you can just apply your general Unix knowledge to make it do what you want it to. It requires a lot more knowledge, but not that much more effort.

I wasn’t feeling so positive a few days ago about all this, when I’d got almost everything in place except classic GNU/Linux unexplainables like X11 font rendering, and (still unfixed) ACPI nonsense and laptop-mode. I was wondering if I’d ever get these things fixed at all, if I’d ever get my setup back to what I am used to, and starting to question the amount of time I’d poured into this project. Was I really going to get something worthwhile out of it? What if I couldn’t get it right, gave up and went back to my old setup—think of how much time I would have wasted! This is all wrong though. Firstly I have learnt so very much over the past week about how a GNU/Linux system is constructed. As you move from distributions that do more for you, such as Debian, to distributions that do less, such as Arch, and then down to the bare minimum like CRUX, more and more of the system makes sense and stops being a mysterious black box. Right now I don’t know much about init, and of course the clever things the kernel does on the inside are always going to beyond this lowly math/phil with no knowledge of computer science, but I get how little you actually need in order to boot the rest of the OS. It’s all just a bunch of bash scripts. I definitely couldn’t have completed this installation without my prior experience of Arch.

Secondly, I’ve now switched distros while carrying my entire environment with me enough times to know that I am capable of fixing pretty much everything eventually, and what I can’t fix I’ll get used to. Switching from Debian to Arch was dramatic in the sense that I suddenly had to get little things in place all over, and Arch to CRUX was the same. X11 font rendering is a good example: Arch has patches in place to make things look non-rubbish, and I was anxious to achieve the same thing, but CRUX gives you nothing with the standard packages and I was left with forum thread after forum thread (Arch forums that is; there is almost no information out there on CRUX). I’m not quite there and things are still weird: for example I have noticed that my browser’s interface now uses a sans-serif font whereas I was very used to it using a serif before, but I got over the major hurdle in that things are not rubbish, and after that I realised that anything else doesn’t actually matter and I was getting worked up for the sake of it. During my Arch install I was far less comfortable without my knowledge gained through experience that I will get there in the end. The other thing I’ve learnt is that once this stuff is set up, I forget about it. So even if my setup is slightly messy in that some of the packages I have written don’t install as neatly as I would like, I won’t care once I go back to my normal computing of working away in Emacs and reading away in Conkeror (web browser). And even if it’s messier than Arch or Debian because it’s less automated, it’s just that I’m aware of the mess because I made it; I don’t doubt there is plenty of mess to be blamed on Arch and Debian devs too.

If this is the case the natural question to ask is whether I’ve gained any benefits at all from this aside from what I learnt from building the system up. In a non-minimalist hipster way, the elegance of CRUX’s simplicity is worth having for itself, and for the ease with which you can extend it sensibly. What I mean by this is that if I want to install something new and not just slap it in but have it as a package so that I can repeat that install automatically in the future, I can do that far more easily than I could with Debian or even Arch. When it’s time to upgrade the system, I can do that without too many headaches over things no longer working together, because the tools for upgrading and merging configuration files are simple and elegant. CRUX has no dependency resolution by default and not much of a central software repository; these seem like they will give you more work, but once you get into it, the effort required to maintain an elegant system you can recreate when needed is far smaller than it would be with other distros, which is important. A lack of features but once you get the package together it’s brilliantly slick. Aside from waiting around for things to compile but I can live with that.

I haven’t expressed that very well nor have I expressed how cool CRUX’s simplicity is in this post in general, but that is perhaps because it pales in comparison to the main non-educational thing I’ve gained from this project, and that is blazing speed. When artemis and zephyr had near-identical installs of Arch, zephyr out-paced the laptop by a good way because it’s faster, has a better video card, and is a desktop (I maintain that laptops are Just Slower), so I was rather surprised to find that with CRUX installed, artemis is actually beating, rather than just coming closer to, zephyr, on basic things that matter such as booting, firing up X, opening and closing Emacs, opening and closing my mail client etc.. Sure, zephyr will still encode MP3s faster, but the snappiness I’ve gained makes computing a lot pleasanter. My laptop no longer feels like a slowish machine, which it shouldn’t considering its very reasonable hardware. Now of course I shudder to think just how fast zephyr is going to be when I switch it from Arch to CRUX too. As a more standard machine, since laptops are always a bit special, I can probably pare the kernel down even more.

And of course this is not just about gaining speed—you might say, just buy a faster machine. Given the general trend of operating systems towards being more bloated, buying faster and faster machines doesn’t make your basic computing any faster any more, nor is it really a very good idea for environmental reasons. But setting up a CRUX system or something similar really does speed things up in a very meaningful way. I suspect the biggest factor is stripping so much out of the kernel, rather than the distribution being source-based, but I don’t really know what’s doing it.

That’s a lot of poor prose about what I’ve been doing for the past week or so; mildly annoyed I haven’t managed to explain it better. The other thing I wanted to note down was a few thoughts on my new Facebook account. I’ve only logged on once since I created it on Monday, and that was the following morning to approve a few friend requests, and I suppose I shall have to do the same at some point for the others that have come in. TheFriendMail is working well for giving me a daily copy of my newsfeed but the HTML doesn’t render well in Gnus and I end up struggling to tell when something is a comment on a status or whatever, since everything seems to be commentable on nowadays. However I can scan for important things so it’s serving its purpose.

In the time that I did spend on Facebook I’ve been impressed with the slick new interface, which has changed a lot (I suspect multiple times) since I last actively used Facebook. It really is impressive what people can construct inside browsers nowadays, even if it’s going to always be to a certain degree inelegant for being within a browser without really being a webpage. It feels like a distressingly cohesive and well thought-out interface for converting social lives into the Facebook Ideal of a social life. Glad to be staying away from actually getting involved in very much, but wanted to note that it looks like they’ve got things sorted, even if I don’t like their attitude towards some of the features.

Posted Sat 09 Jul 2011 17:20:00 UTC Tags:

Found this recently; what a gem. Not in the main xkcd archives.

?bitlbee3.png

(source, where I found it)

Posted Mon 11 Jul 2011 10:04:00 UTC Tags:

Build a Killer Customized Arch Linux Installation (and Learn All About Linux in the Process) | Lifehacker

Really detailed post on switching to Arch; looks like a great complement to their Beginners’ Guide.

Posted Mon 11 Jul 2011 10:33:00 UTC Tags:

I’ve started using YAPET to manage my passwords:

The obvious advantage is that you have a different password for different sites. As you can see I am only just beginning to add sites.

Here’s an interesting alternative approach.

Posted Mon 11 Jul 2011 10:50:00 UTC Tags:

Stephen Wolfram: Can he topple Google? | The Guardian

Another old link. I wrote underneath it in my notes: “Why won’t he share? We don’t make progress by hoarding. Stupid capitalism.”

The lost art of editing | The Guardian

I would like to see zest for difficulty making a comeback. Must we always be transparent? Remember when TS Eliot was asked what he meant by “Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper tree”, he said: “I meant, ‘Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper tree’.” … We should edit with good sense, of course, but with a sense that sense is not everything.

Seems overly romantic to me but I seem to be incapable of understanding poetry so that’s hardly surprising.

The time on this post is inaccurate.

Posted Mon 11 Jul 2011 11:00:00 UTC Tags:

These are pretty advanced nowadays. Here are some fun ones I’ve been meaning to link to on this blog for a while:

goosh.org—the unofficial Google shell

ApertureScience.com

xkcd CLI interface

More seriously, these things are very useful so long as you remember to force https. I used to use shellinabox to get to mutt from libraries; it’s very impressive. It took me a while to find a decent browser SSH client but I’m now fairly confident that this is the best one out there.

Posted Mon 11 Jul 2011 11:05:00 UTC Tags:

The High Frontier, Redux | Charles Stross

Sorry for all the posts; still emptying out my archives.

Posted Mon 11 Jul 2011 11:07:00 UTC Tags:

codepad

codepad is an online compiler/interpreter, and a simple collaboration tool. Paste your code below, and codepad will run it and give you a short URL you can use to share it in chat or email.

O’Reilly Maker—Create a funny book cover!

Posted Mon 11 Jul 2011 11:13:00 UTC Tags:

Hostnames on GNU/Linux are a complete pain; no-one seems to know how they work and how you should set up your domain name.

This classic Ubuntu bug (cf. comments #3 and #30 in particular) is an example of this. I still don’t really know what I should have in /etc/hosts. The 127.0.1.1 approach looks best.

Posted Mon 11 Jul 2011 11:54:00 UTC Tags:

The new version of Readability is closed-source, slow (as no longer client-side) and altogether not as good as the old one. I found a working copy of the old one and adapted it for Conkeror; the old one’s code is Apache License, so this is fine.

interactive("readability_arc90",
            "Readability is a simple tool that makes reading on the web more enjoyable by removing the clutter around what you are reading",
            function readability_arc90(I) {
                var document = I.window.buffers.current.document;

                var readConvertLinksToFootnotes = false;
                var readStyle = 'style-apertura';
                var readSize = 'size-large';
                var readMargin = 'margin-wide';

                var _readability_readStyle = document.createElement('SCRIPT');
                _readability_readStyle.text = 'var readStyle = \'' + readStyle + '\';';
                document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0].appendChild(_readability_readStyle);

                var _readability_readSize = document.createElement('SCRIPT');
                _readability_readSize.text = 'var readSize = \'' + readSize + '\';';
                document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0].appendChild(_readability_readSize);

                var _readability_readMargin = document.createElement('SCRIPT');
                _readability_readMargin.text = 'var readMargin = \'' + readMargin + '\';';
                document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0].appendChild(_readability_readMargin);

                var _readability_readConvertLinksToFootnotes = document.createElement('SCRIPT');
                _readability_readConvertLinksToFootnotes.text = 'var readConvertLinksToFootnotes = ' + readConvertLinksToFootnotes + ';';
                document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0].appendChild(_readability_readConvertLinksToFootnotes);

                var _readability_script = document.createElement('script')
                _readability_script.type='text/javascript'
                _readability_script.src='http://sean.whitton.me/geek/old-readability.js?x='+(Math.random())
                document.documentElement.appendChild(_readability_script)

                var _readability_css = document.createElement('link')
                _readability_css.rel = 'stylesheet'
                _readability_css.href = 'http://sean.whitton.me/geek/old-readability.css'
                _readability_css.type = 'text/css'
                _readability_css.media = 'all'
                document.documentElement.appendChild(_readability_css)

                var _readability_print_css = document.createElement('link')
                _readability_print_css.rel = 'stylesheet'
                _readability_print_css.href = 'http://sean.whitton.me/geek/old-readability-print.css'
                _readability_print_css.media = 'print'
                _readability_print_css.type = 'text/css'
                document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0].appendChild(_readability_print_css)
            });

define_key(content_buffer_normal_keymap, "C-x C-r", "readability_arc90");
Posted Mon 11 Jul 2011 15:06:00 UTC Tags:

LaTeX notes | Iain Murray

There’s some useful stuff here about getting spacing right, and the microtype package:

\usepackage[protrusion=true,expansion=true]{microtype}

which I’ve now added to all my standard packages (set-it-and-forget-it credit).

Posted Mon 11 Jul 2011 18:04:00 UTC Tags:

‘Anyway, what is indisputable in what we’re saying’, I said, ‘is that dialectic is the only field of enquiry which sets out methodically to grasp the reality of any and every thing. All the other areas of expertise, on the other hand, are either concerned with fulfilling people’s beliefs and desires, or are directed towards the generation and manufacture or looking after things while they’re being generated and manufactured. Even any that are left—geometry and so on, which we were saying do grasp reality to some extent—are evidently dreaming about reality. There’s no chance of their having a conscious glimpse of reality as long as they refuse to disturb the things they take for granted and remain incapable of explaining them. For if your starting-point is unknown, and your end-point and intermediate stages are woven together out of unknown material, there may be coherence, but knowledge is completely out of the question.’ —Plato, Republic, 533b–c (trans. R. Waterfield)

Posted Tue 12 Jul 2011 09:15:00 UTC Tags:

Riches to rags as Guardian bleeds £33m in a year | The Telegraph

It’s easy to forget just how small newspaper circulation figures are, even for papers much who sell many more copies than the Granuad, considering how important TV and radio news consider them to be.

Now trying to persuade mother to buy the Guardian every day; poor students such as myself can’t really afford it.

Here’s an interesting read about the media changing in the face of the Internet:

The News of the World closes as media’s tectonic plates shift | Will Self on Comment is Free

We will remain in this interregnum only for as long as media organisations remain unable to make web-based content – whether editorial, entertainment or social media – generate genuinely self-sustaining revenue. When it does begin to do so new hierarchies will be erected very speedily to exploit it, and my suspicion is that these new hierarchies will look very much like the old.

Posted Tue 12 Jul 2011 16:00:00 UTC Tags:

Just wanted to note down this thought from Cory Doctorow:

Some hacktivists argue that their DDoS attacks are comparable to the civil-rights-era sit-ins — after all, a wall of activists blockading the doors to a “whites-only” lunch counter is a kind of denial-of-service attack. I think they’re wrong. …

Sit-ins are a sort of denial of service, but that’s not why they work. What they do is convey the message: “I am willing to put myself in harm’s way for my beliefs. I am willing to risk arrest and jail. This matters.”

And that’s a crucial difference between a DDoS and a sit-in: participants in a sit-in expect to get arrested. …

Moral Suasion | MAKE Magazine

Posted Tue 12 Jul 2011 16:06:00 UTC Tags:

?steamwinter.jpg

(source)

Posted Wed 13 Jul 2011 08:40:00 UTC Tags:

Two related topics of search engine bubbling and our addiction to Facebook and friend’s mantra of ‘staying connected’, where ‘connected’ is used fairly indiscriminately.

Does the {I}nternet control our minds? | Brain Study

Escape your search engine Filter Bubble! An illustrated guide by DuckDuckGo.com

When the Internet Thinks It Knows You | NYT

Even though I have no e-mail notifications, my phone doesn’t make any sound when I receive a text (unless I’m expecting something important so I enable it) and I don’t use social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook (well not properly), I still feel this effect with new e-mails etc. or when a notification slips through.

And on bubbling—well, this is only going to get worse as people write search engines to think for us, which is fine for preferences over food and films, but I worry that people at Google and Facebook aren’t necessarily capable of making the distinction between preference and opinion.

Posted Wed 13 Jul 2011 16:34:00 UTC Tags:

Been meaning to install this for a while. Zen Coding is a way to write HTML fast:

http://www.emacswiki.org/pics/static/ZenCodingModeScreenshot.png

(source)

Here’s a blog post and a YouTube video explaining it.

Posted Wed 13 Jul 2011 21:32:00 UTC Tags:

Google Maps for Emacs | jd’s homepage

Amazed I haven’t blogged this before; it even integrates with Org-mode.

Posted Wed 13 Jul 2011 21:36:00 UTC Tags:

I use MPD to play music but I’m finding the ncmpcpp client a bit limiting. The problem is that it isn’t very fast for searching; you have to press far too many buttons to do a search. The best alternative I’ve found is Ario, but you can’t search and then add the whole album with that easily. I want to be able to do a generic search, then add individual tracks and/or the entire album. Any suggestions?

Posted Thu 14 Jul 2011 14:21:00 UTC Tags:

mediawiki.el is an Emacs mode for editing pages on MediaWiki wikis, such as Wikipedia, which combines an already existent set of syntax highlighting and indentation rules for MediaWiki’s syntax with automatic loading and saving of pages via the MediaWiki API. I’ve integrated it with Conkeror, so once I’ve done M-x mediawiki-site to login, I can just visit a page and hit C-M-e to edit it. The entirely standard C-x C-s will prompt for an edit summary and save the page.

My settings for the mode:

;; MediaWiki editing

(load "mwlogins.el")
(autoload 'mediawiki-open "mediawiki")
(autoload 'mediawiki-site "mediawiki")
(add-hook 'mediawiki-mode-hook 'variable-pitch-mode)
;(add-hook 'mediawiki-mode-hook 'longlines-mode)
(add-hook 'mediawiki-mode-hook (lambda ()
                 (make-local-variable 'outline-regexp)
                 (setq outline-regexp "=+")
                 (outline-minor-mode 1)
                 (hide-body)))

And the Conkeror config:

// Emacs mediawiki.el support - this is just for the English Wikipedia
// at present; could be extended to auto-detect the wiki we want and
// call the Emacs command mediawiki-site
interactive("mediawiki_open", "Edit pages using Emacs' mediawiki.el",
          function mediawiki_open(I) {
          var page = I.buffer.display_uri_string.substring(6 + I.buffer.display_uri_string.lastIndexOf("/wiki/"));
          shell_command_blind("emacsclient -e \'(mediawiki-open \"" + page + "\")\'");
          });
define_key(wikipedia_keymap, "C-M-e", "mediawiki_open");

It’s been ages since I wrote any JavaScript; it was the first language I learnt, back in the day when it wasn’t a standard first language to learn at all.

Posted Thu 14 Jul 2011 15:52:00 UTC Tags:

Just had a quick play with eproject, an Emacs extension to define projects, which are sets of files and shortcut commands to compile and run them/whatever. The idea is that you can quickly open and close large numbers of buffers and keep your total number of open buffers down by flicking between projects, and then using other bindings to flick between files within the project.

This raises interesting questions for me about the best way of maintaining sets of open files. At the moment I use Workgroups, which does a good job but I don’t find myself using it very much. I think this is indicative of the fact that I don’t have large coding projects, because I don’t code very often, so eproject isn’t something useful right now. And I haven’t any LaTeX projects because I use an external PDF viewer, and anyway almost everything else is in Org. Still I shall keep eproject in mind for the next time I do take up any kind of project and see if it might be a useful way of avoiding buffer-switching frustration.

Posted Thu 14 Jul 2011 17:27:00 UTC Tags:

Oxford has switched to a new library computer system, from OLIS-tacked-onto-SOLO to something else entirely I’ve yet to take a look at. OLIS (Oxford Libraries Information something) was an old system with telnet and web interfaces, and when they realised that modern students don’t understand telnet and that the web interface is a bit rubbish, they tacked on this awful thing called SOLO, Search Oxford Libraries Online, on top. SOLO was meant to pull in other resources, so it was supposed to be able to jump you to website where you can download journals and it also integrated with OxLIP+. However, it did all this exceptionally badly. For example when you found a book you wanted on SOLO by getting through the horrifically cluttered search interface, and once you’d selected a “version of this work”, you then need to know which libraries have the book. You could click something to make this appear, but in order to see which of the copies are available and which are on loan you had to click something else which would pop up an iframe-wrapped copy of OLIS’s web interface in order to show you an identical table, with an extra column showing the loan status. It was slow, clunky and you ended up with five windows open for no good reason. Oh and the feature to jump to a journal’s website never worked: it gave you a form and you would laboriously fill in the issue number, volume etc. only to be inevitably taken to the journal’s home page to begin your search again. It was nice to have a search engine that you could just type at without thinking about authors vs. titles etc., but this wasn’t worth the cost of it being so useless in general.

So SOLO wasn’t/isn’t that great, but I am of the view that there was nothing wrong with OLIS. It is very sad to see the telnet interface going, because I found that to be far more efficient than any kind of web interface. A networked service like a library works really well over that kind of connection, since it’s a two-way thing; why is it so scary, why must we push things back into a browser? Hopefully the new system will work better than the convoluted joined-up system we had before, in any case.

Of course I like the telnet interface for reasons of nostalgia, so in the following screenshots I’ve recorded its main aspects. Once I e-mailed Balliol’s librarian asking how to do something, and she overflowed with excitement at a student using the telnet interface, saying that SOLO isn’t a tool for serious scholarship!

Logging on, after telnet library.ox.ac.uk:

?intro.png

Here’s the help screen:

?help.png

At the first screen we entered PHI for the Philosophy Library. You are expected to narrow your search as you’re expected to be accessing the catalogue from a terminal in the library itself.

?phiopac.png

Here’s the search screen. You can select one of the options of just type it in using the syntax it shows; that’s what I do.

?search.png

Let’s find a book.

?searchent.png

?searchr.png

Here’s the result, showing copies available in Balliol, the Bodleian and in the Philosophy Library and of course there are more if you scroll—it pays to be at a college that is first alphabetically :D

?searchr1.png

It can do links to electronic versions of books too.

?searchr2.png

Alternatively let’s search for a journal.

?journal.png

We’ve selected detailed display rather than brief display to get a bit more info, such as the journal’s frequency (I think this wasn’t displayed before anyway).

?journal2.png

?journal3.png

Here’s an electronic version.

?journal4.png

Now we search up a book that we’re going to need to request from the stacks, as it isn’t open shelf (actually it is nowadays; it wasn’t when I first used it).

?full.png

?stackreq.png

OLIS can show you related works because everything is catalogued with so much detail—this is called “extending” your search.

?extend.png

Finally here’s the very mysterious “MARC Display”.

?marc.png

Here we show how we limit the search to a particular library (the initial PHI just prioritises philosophy results, but here we actually cut out everything else).

?narrow.png

?narrow2.png

Let’s login.

?patron.png

?patron2.png

Here’s what I have out on loan.

?patron3.png

My stack request limits (quite high!).

?patron4.png

The libraries I am a member of. SSLUND is the Social Science Library but I’ve never been there and never would have any reason to go there, so I don’t know why I’m a member. RSLS is the Radcliffe Science Library.

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More detail on my membership of the RSL.

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Finally the first page of my loans history, wow, rather a long time ago. 126 loans doesn’t feel like very many either. Many, many renewals mustn’t have been counted.

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Posted Thu 14 Jul 2011 20:20:00 UTC Tags:

Two Handed Great Sword | Cold Steel Knives on YouTube

Never Unarmed | Cold Steel Knives

Jonathan tweeted this first link today and I found the latter after visiting their website. A 10m video demonstrating a sword is one thing; I assumed it was just a collector’s item. But then the guy started making comments like “a massive advantage in any fight” escalating to “keep one of these by your front door and no-one will try to take advantage of you”. Then I realised why they kept chopping up meat rather than other random objects: it’s very similar to all those humans they want you to be chopping up.

I think it surprises me so much because I find it hard to believe it’d be socially acceptable to have such an advert over here?

Edit 11/xii/2011: Alternate link as original video taken down by copyright owner.

Posted Thu 14 Jul 2011 21:35:00 UTC Tags:

On a mailing list or an IRC channel I recall seeing someone say that however bad X11 is, they’d never switch to a newer alternative like Wayland (which I believe Ubuntu is doing) because X11 is capable of being used on a network at a pretty fundamental level. Today I tried that out by opening a graphical Emacs frame on my laptop connected to the same Emacs process on my desktop.

And it’s so easy, and that’s the point. You just have to remember that ‘client’ and ‘server’ feel like they are the wrong way around: the X server in this case is my laptop, and the X client is the emacsclient process running on the desktop, whereas at a more natural level of abstraction, the laptop is the client and the desktop the server because the desktop has the persistent running Emacs process.

Ideally I would like to do Emacs this way so that I could just keep everything running. This isn’t practical because I’m on a laptop, but perhaps when I stop being a student I’ll be able to switch to it.

Oh yes and the coolest part: the remote box doesn’t have to have X running in any shape or form; it doesn’t even need it to be installed. The program in question just needs to be able to use the X11 libraries, and it just sends it all tunnelled over SSH to the local machine which draws it on the screen.

X authentication got in my way, so for trying this out, these are the hacks I had to make. To /etc/sshd_config on my desktop

X11Forwarding yes
XAuthLocation /usr/bin/xauth

and then I had to nuke ~/.Xauthority on my desktop and run ssh -Y desktop rather than ssh -X desktop to get it to work. Then you can just type xterm or emacsclient -c or whatever and it pops up locally.

This may be relevant for actually doing it properly.

Posted Fri 15 Jul 2011 09:46:00 UTC Tags:
Posted Fri 15 Jul 2011 16:23:00 UTC Tags:

Have been meaning to write this post for a few days but didn’t and so something more important that has just happened is going to be in this entry. I’ve got my results, and exactly what I thought would happen has happened: my marks as 59 63 63 47 i.e. I’ve got a 2:1, I’ve made my target, or not because actually I haven’t because that unanswerable question on the fourth paper decimated my overall average down to below 60. Really I’ve done quite well to have recovered from such a terrible year to 60% which was my target but I can’t feel at all good about this because instead something entirely out of my control, an examiner not taking sufficient care when setting a question, has taken that away from me. My mother and step-father are both lecturers, and they assure me that something like this wouldn’t be allowed to stand at their universities, but I reply that Oxford will manage to get away with it. I am going to try to appeal but it’s all arrayed against me. First of all you have to get your college to appeal, you’re not allowed to do so yourself, and so I’ve started this process but the senior tutor is already very pessimistic, saying that this sort of stuff just doesn’t get fixed. So Oxford are allowed to get away with setting unanswerable papers. It’s pretty rubbish.

I am more worried about how this is going to affect my work this summer and into next year. Every time I’ve thought of something to do with Oxford over the past few days I’ve had a pretty grim feeling of not really belonging there anymore. This will pass, but more serious is how I will struggle to work as hard as I can as I have planned to when I know that it’s now virtually impossible for me to get a first. First of all I have to have a perfect set of papers, and secondly I have to be cleverer than I am. Neither of these are likely to come about. However I should still try and do well so that my average is high which will help with getting into graduate study but it will be hard to keep this in mind.

Speaking of work, I haven’t really started yet despite my plans, having only had a few sessions of reading. Instead I’ve been doggedly clearing out task lists and doing really boring things. What happens is that I go to bed maybe ninety minutes late—say, midnight—working on an unfinished task, then I get up late due to going to bed late and just say to myself “I should just get on with this task again, get it done”[1] and so it goes on. I think this is okay because it will get things out of the way. But it’s taking longer than I expected and I’m having to go into a third week of this stuff. And it’s not particularly pleasant. I am spending eight to ten hours a day in front of the computer screen, so I’ve always got a headache, and it’s boring and this saps how much I get done. I am realising just how much I prefer desktop computers to laptops, because I’m getting a sore back from being hunched over a laptop reading and writing notes on what I’m doing to the other machine for hours at a time at an awkward angle on my desk. Also I’m not using my time efficiently in the sense of multi-tasking when waiting for files to copy or things to compile: I end up sitting in my chair spinning round/just doing nothing for twenty minutes at a time. This is really weird and means that I end up being in a situation where I’ve just spent two days reinstalling my desktop PC, fair enough it takes ages to copy files around and back and forth, but I have nothing else to show for the days when I really should have; I’ve got a laptop sitting right here.

All this leads me to ask whether what I’m doing is worthwhile or not, because no-one else goes home for the summer and immediately spends three weeks moving files around, reinstalling computers and collating chunks of elisp. The basic drive behind most of the computer stuff, if we take out my educational project of installing CRUX, is that I want my system to be entirely redundant and completely replaceable. I don’t want to be any risk of losing any data or setup, or at least almost no risk, because I’ve got it stored up in a sensible fashion that I can sync around. The only reason I’m not already in this situation and have to work towards it is that I’ve been careless in the past and have lots of data to move. Hopefully things won’t be so high-maintenance in the future.

At this point a few moans in the direction of various pieces of proprietary software are due. Firstly I wouldn’t have had to reinstall my desktop as I had to if Windows had been capable of shrinking its partition; I want my laptop and desktop to have the same sized GNU/Linux partitions so that I can sync all my media with no issues of one being too small, so I spent about a day and a half trying to defrag my NTFS partition but to no avail for a tiny little unnamed system file refused to budge from the last sector. Frustrating use of time. Secondly Google’s claimed dedication to letting you keep control of your data starts to wear a bit thin when you try to backup Gmail and Google Docs, as I’ve been doing in preparation for nuking SilentFlame’s Google Apps account. Its IMAP has always been buggy (more on that in a minute) but further it seems to throttle you an awful lot after a while. I had around 3GB of mail to download the other day and granted, this being split into over 123 000 messages over the IMAP protocol is going to slow this down but it should not have taken over ten hours on a connection that tends to get 1.1MiB/s on ordinary file downloads outside of peak hours. Google Docs is worse because there is a blanket ban[2] on transferring document ownership out of a Google Apps domain, so the only way to preserve your documents is to share them with your ordinary Google Account, make a copy from that account (fortunately this preserves both collaborator lists and revision history) and then nuke the original. The ‘make a copy’ option is per document so you have to open each up in turn to achieve that.

All this has renewed my anti-software-as-a-service feeling, an objection best set out by rms, but for me right now it’s more a frustration with the practicalities of using this stuff that you can’t control, as outlined above. Something really horrible happened with this, again this week, when I tried to move a friend’s relatively small mail store from his Google Apps account over to my e-mail server. Google’s IMAP screwed up somewhere along the way—it doesn’t seem to be direct human error, and I refuse to believe my beloved mutt got it wrong—and so about a year of messages have disappeared into the ether. Despite there not seeming to be any direct human error, this situation is my fault because I insisted on nuking the Google Apps account right away after the transfer, to avoid XMPP weirdness etc., but we didn’t need to do this and it would have saved us when the messages were discovered to be missing. So my arrogance over my own ability to keep data safe meant I lost a load of someone else’s. Really careless; I haven’t done anything like this as a SysAdmin ever before, so I feel really bad about letting my friend down.

The other activity to question the worth of is all the messing about with Emacs I’ve been doing. There’s nothing new going on, because as I say I’m generally happy with my setup, but it’s a case of clearing out all the “look at this later” links relating to Emacs I have stored up, and also “fix this annoying bug”; the latter is generally worth it as it makes my life a little calmer but the former is questionable at times. I have consigned many of the items to my task list archives marked as CANCELLED because some are clearly not worth it; these are the tweaks mostly related to coding, which I don’t do enough of to warrant spending ages setting up massive additions to Emacs to help with. However I end up in such a weird situation with some of the others, because I find it extremely hard to just let marginally useful but not that great things go. It is as if my whole life is going to swing in one direction or another over this and that it is my last chance and I can’t possibly just throw away this opportunity can I? Well, I’m not doing because these things get archived anyway so if I notice something missing from my life I can dredge them up, but the fact of the matter is that whether or not I implement the lisp, I’ve forgotten about it ten minutes later and no longer care. If I can get past that moment of indecision I can defeat these desires, it seems; should I be doing this? Well yes, because while a certain amount of this is fun and useful, this is one of the exceedingly few occasions where the phrase “life is too short” actually applies.

So I’m getting there, even if it’s taking longer than desired, and my life overall will be better off with these systems in place, but I wish I’d been just a little more efficient in putting them there. It’s scary to think though just how much of the summer three weeks is: it’s a quarter of it. Time is moving slowly up to now but if it speeds up then I’ll be in trouble. It’s okay though, I have my plan, and there is good stuff to look forward to. There is a LAN coming up and we’ve had a few days of gaming, and I’m seriously considering starting up a Terrestrial Exalted campaign. There are lots of other people I haven’t yet seen enough of, and there’ll be so much more to do when I’m not in front of the screen for so long. And of course much interesting Maths and Philosophy to be getting on with, if I can. Glad that I wrote exam stuff at beginning of post now because setting these other things out has restored, at least a little, my general positivity about the vac.

[1] This desire to just get on with it has also stopped me from going running very often; I’ll take this up again properly once I’m back into my work

[2] One would expect it to be possible to turn this off as the domain admin, but you can’t.

Posted Tue 19 Jul 2011 14:22:00 UTC Tags:

Been playing a few games recently. First off I’ve actually got into Left4Dead 2 after being given it as a gift a while back but only playing it a couple of times with friends; now I’ve actually played some single player. It’s deeply engaging and has me on the edge of my seat in a way that I haven’t been for a very long time with gaming, which is fun if exhausting.

Also started playing Trine from the Humble Frozenbyte Bundle. Enjoying it, gorgeous artsy graphics, but nothing super-special in the way that Braid was.

After getting it going under Wine again, I played a game of DotA this morning. Didn’t do very well but enjoyed it and might play some more this summer. Wine’s support has improved in numerous ways which make the whole experience a lot pleasanter.

Posted Tue 19 Jul 2011 15:20:00 UTC Tags:

As a sort-of followup to my remote X11 Emacs post, here’s some links about VNCs. I often get excited about remote desktops[1] but they’re basically irrelevant to me because I’m on a laptop without an Internet connection often enough.

using vnc to create a thin client | klog

Here’s an HTML5 VNC client—readme, screenshots.

I believe there are Java applets for VNC too as well as this HTML5.

[1] An example of this is my jealousy of the SRCF at Cambridge, with its remote desktop service.

Posted Wed 20 Jul 2011 17:54:00 UTC Tags:

Tiny Tiny IRC

Tiny Tiny RSS

These look pretty sweet if you require them; I don’t normally like web-based things myself.

Posted Wed 20 Jul 2011 17:57:00 UTC Tags:

Understanding memory usage on Linux | Virtual Threads

An interesting read about why ps is always inaccurate. I love the classoc psmem.py script.

It also shows that it pays to stick with one desktop’s software as much as possible. If you run KDE for your desktop, but mostly use Gnome applications, then you are paying a large price for a lot of redundant (but different) shared libraries. By sticking to just KDE or just Gnome apps as much as possible, you reduce your overall memory usage due to the reduced marginal memory cost of running new KDE or Gnome applications, which allows Linux to use more memory for other interesting things (like the file cache, which speeds up file accesses immensely).

Posted Wed 20 Jul 2011 18:05:00 UTC Tags:

linux administration tools | MindMeister

Wish I knew about half of these.

Posted Wed 20 Jul 2011 18:07:00 UTC Tags:

There is a wonderful page on Wikipedia which I came across for the first time a few days ago:

List of common English usage misconceptions | Wikipedia

Now, while it can just about get away with saying that something is not a mistake without inconsistency, it seems odd to then go on to claim that things are mistaken (e.g. the typography stuff) while maintaining from the outset that there aren’t actually any rules.

I reckon that my grammar/typography nazism is little more than a form of snobbery when it is directed at others. However, this is not to suggest that these things aren’t worth pursuing for oneself. Most grammatical rules do actually make writing better—aesthetically, and in how easy it is to understand—and being consistent is also a good idea to smooth things along. And typography is all designed to make things easier and/or pleasanter to read; serif vs. sans-serif is the best-known example of this but I imagine it applies to emdashes vs. hyphens too—although in this latter case I have seen cases where ambiguity has been resolved by the distinction. But suggesting that these things are anything more than a nicety is snobbery and I should get out of that habit.

Posted Wed 20 Jul 2011 21:42:00 UTC Tags:

Was reading a little bit about Emacs history the other night and came across a public access service where you can telnet in and try out TECO, Emacs’ predecessor (and in fact you can get an ancient version of Emacs on there too): TECO was a programmable text editor within which Stallman originally implemented his Editor MACroS.

Here’s some stuff from the Emacs Wiki. A memo describing Emacs for new users at MIT; this is really cool, it’s just all the same stuff I’m using right now to type this:

Finally, of all the people who have contributed to the development of EMACS, and the TECO behind it, special mention and appreciation go to Richard M. Stallman. He not only gave TECO the power and generality it has, but brought together the good ideas of many different Teco-function packages, added a tremendous amount of new ideas and environment, and created EMACS. Personally, one of the joys of my avocational life has been writing Teco/EMACs functions; what makes this fun and not painful is a rich set of tools to work with, all but a few of which have “RMS” chiseled somewhere on them.

And Emacs was bloated even all the way back then:

Running Emacs is equivalent to running a TECO with the EMACS (grossly large) start-up.

Put aside the editors for a minute, here’s a gem for those who don’t care about Emacs:

The Original Hacker’s Dictionary

Posted Wed 20 Jul 2011 22:05:00 UTC Tags:

Since switching to CRUX and finding that the version of xfburn in the repositories, my CD burner of choice, doesn’t work and also pulls in huge amounts of xfce in order to install, I’ve been pondering over a replacement. Memorising commands to do it by hand from the command line is a pain because it’s fiddly, so I’m pleased to have come across a neat frontend, burn-cd. It’ll do ISOs, data, music and video to CD and DVD, though DVD video decoding/encoding is a pain under GNU/Linux that I don’t know how to do; since discovering recently that my parents’ TV has USB ports and seems to be able to decode anything, I’m not too concerned anymore.

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Posted Thu 21 Jul 2011 09:07:00 UTC Tags:

Overpopulation: Perpetual growth is the creed of a cancer cell, not a sustainable human society

This is interesting: over-population is portrayed as reflective of consumerism and capitalism’s drive for growth etc.

Posted Thu 21 Jul 2011 14:56:00 UTC Tags:

Having a clear out of my father’s house before he moves, and coming across a lot of old tech—or, old by my standards. This is the stuff I learnt from.

Every few months my Dad would send off for another clipart CD and a USB hub.

When there was no Wikipedia.

Really pleased to have found this, so that I can use floppy disks with my laptop.

My sister and I spend hours trying to get this microphone to work, and I don’t recall ever succeeding.

My MS-DOS rescue disk for unbootable systems.

Not sure how old this is considered to be.

Genuine!

Now that’s a WiFi adapter.

This post created thanks to

for f in *; do; convert $f -resize 500x ${f%\.*}thumb.jpg; done
for f in *; do; if [ "${f:0-9:5}" != "thumb" ]; then; echo "[[http://spw.sdf.org/blog/photos/oldtech/${f}][http://spw.sdf.org/blog/photos/oldtech/${f%\.*}thumb.jpg]]"; fi; done
Posted Fri 22 Jul 2011 10:43:00 UTC Tags:

Having reached the end of The Wire, my step-father and I have moved on to watching The Sopranos, which we’re both really enjoying. In one episode (no long-term series spoilers here don’t worry), the main character’s son steals wine from his school’s chapel and him and a few friends show up to their P.E. lesson drunk, and so his parents are called in for the teachers to impress the severity of their son’s crimes upon them. At this point the school psychologist/psychiatrist (don’t recall) comes in, and says that their son might have ADHD, and he goes through a series of tests, but his parents then say it’s all nonsense and walk out.

I am also reminded of a TV show I saw a while ago where a family of two parents and I believe five children were all on some kind of medication aside from one girl—even the dog, who was taking something for anxiety.

Here are a few indepth articles on this trend:

The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why? by Marcia Angell | The New York Review of Books

The Illusions of Psychiatry by Marcia Angell | The New York Review of Books

I highly recommend Brain Study for more.

I am informed by my doctor-aunt that this is coming over this side of the Atlantic as well. The encroachment of capitalism upon the medical profession described in this second article doesn’t surprise me that much, however distressing this encroachment sounds, but it is the attitude of psychiatrists on the ground treating only with drugs rather than what she calls ‘talk therapy’ because they make more out of it or because they can’t be bothered or whatever is really bad to hear. I suppose living with two nurses who have fairly old-fashioned attitude to healthcare gives me a very warm picture of medical professionals on the ground and my political leanings give me an automatic dim view of business people and scientists creating drugs, but still, it is a little surprising.

Posted Fri 22 Jul 2011 20:28:00 UTC Tags:

Started a couple of new things a few days ago, firstly I’m playing The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time again, but this time in its Master Quest incarnation, though I’m not finding it very hard to my disappointment. OoT is a legendary game, considered by many to be the greatest game ever, and it’s reasonably high on my list after coming back to it and comparing it to others. I always used to prefer Wind Waker, but OoT seems to have more originality in it. Looking over at Twilight Princess (via some gameplay videos on YouTube) is sad because it’s a gorgeous game, with graphics and music that outstrip OoT technically speaking—OoT is all MIDI because the N64 cartridge couldn’t fit anything better on, what with the size of the game—but it’s not really memorably better. Those traditional Nintendo melodies are shown at their best in OoT.

The hack-and-slash-and-puzzle of the gameplay in WW and TP far outshines OoT. Sword combat is a lot more interesting and things like fire, ice and light arrows look so much better. My favourite parts of TP are the dragon fight high in the clouds and the requisite tennis boss, with the possessed Zelda, which looks, feels and sounds so good.

I am reminded of Oblivion here: TP’s graphics remind me of Oblivion’s in the extra fluidity you get compared to the previous generation, but the game has far less substance in both cases.

This is sad because TP could have been Ocarina++. Watching the final boss battles of each, and of WW too, WW and TP stand out for their gorgeous presentation, which to my mind comes together much better than any PC game I’ve seen—Nintendo’s Zelda team seem to have the edge—but the Zelda magic isn’t there in quite the same way as it is in OoT. Maybe it is because TP just feels like a rehash of OoT, and WW is great but too different to be really comparable, but they never have managed to improve on OoT and the upcoming Skyward Sword appears to be taking a different direction anyway (and it’s for the Wii, and I mean come on, what a ridiculous platform for an action RPG).

Majora’s Mask is always recommended to me by others and I would like to play it; some day I would like to get hold of/borrow the GameCube game with it on, the Collector’s Edition.

All this has been reminding me of other classic games and I’m wondering if I am past the stage where I can have a game take over my life, where Ganon really scares me when he appears and where boss battles are edge-of-seat-help-must-not-die situations. A lot of this has to do with how easy I tend to find these sorts of games now. I remember spending hours slogging through the Wind and Earth temples with a friend visiting from far away, taking it in turns, solving puzzles (he solved most of them iirc) and slashing up bosses (my job). Being stuck for hours on particular puzzles. It is true that games are getting easier but I’m getting better at them too.

Of course I’ve played great games more recently as well. The Half Life series—all of them—is probably the one I’ve enjoyed the most. And I played Final Fantasy VI only a few years ago and became totally absorbed in that. It’s interesting to compare these things to fantasy books. The relative inaccessibility of classics like OoT to current younger teenagers is because they’re not drawn in because they’re used to games being better at that. Looking at the dialogue between, say, Link and Saria, I can see just how much of my nostalgia I am pasting on to make the characters at all interesting: it’s really not very good dialogue, it’s simple and most of all there isn’t very much of it. So why do we love these things as we love legendary books and films? Immersion—one thing that’s got better with time and technology—and while lots of words can give you a vested interest in a character’s survival/achievement, so can actually playing them.

The other new thing I’ve been doing is learning how to touch type properly, that is, using all ten fingers with minimal movement rather than the weird self-developed touch typing I use now, which most modern young people seem to have a variant of, being able to type very fast without ever having sat down and learnt. The advantages are clear: better speed through improved accuracy—though my accuracy is actually very good nowadays, as I’m now seeing in typing this post, to my dismay—and better treatment for your hands. gtypist is a great little program for teaching; I’m going through the ‘T’ series of lessons, but I don’t really know if that’s the best as the main menu is a bit confusing. Though I’m not so sure that this is worth it. I’m taking a massive hit to my typing speed for the next three or four months; after spending about four hours learning over the last few days, ignoring the fact that I don’t know all the letters yet, I’m on something like 25wpm when I usually get about 90wpm, if not more. Websites talking about touch typing tell you how great it’ll be when you are comfortably typing 60wpm, well that’s not actually so great, and I only hope this new scheme can actually improve on things for me or I’ll be pretty annoyed if I’ve forgotten how I used to do it.

Some of the finger decisions in the standard way of typing on a qwerty keyboard annoy me but I’m loathe to change them, since they were probably picked for the best reasons in the longterm (unlike the qwerty layout itself). For example using my little finger for anything other than hitting control feels strenuous, but to be fair it is lessening as I progress. And the bottom row of the keyboard is proving to be a great challenge, as I struggle to hit c with the right finger and to type commas and full stops, which I keep getting wrong. I think I’m not moving my hands enough to change row, but this is confusing as the whole point is not to move your hands very much. Maybe I should try to find some YouTube videos. I’ve also got to work out how best to use caps lock and meta for all my Emacsing. Meta is not a problem—just use the unused left thumb—but control means that you then have to bring another finger in when you want to use the (important) C-a. I could train myself to use M-m instead which in most cases does what you want (it’s first non-blank char of line rather than start of line, like vi’s 0 vs. ^). Speaking of this, what I also have here is a new opportunity to relearn Emacs in the sense that I can be less wasteful with key presses because I’ve got a temporary chunk of thinking time before each action that I am having to slowly work back to the unconscious level. So I can actually use C-v and M-v and C-s/r for movement rather than just lazily holding down C-n and C-p which is so much slower. Speaking of which (again), C-p is a bit of a worry right now in terms of stretching.

One small improvement I can make is using C-m for enter, C-h for backspace and C-w to delete a word backwards because these are a lot easier then stretching up to backspace and return.

I think though that it’ll probably be worth it. I mean I switched from Vim to Emacs (ha, how amusing, I just tried to capitalise ‘Vim’ using the Vim keybinding rather than the Emacs one, how rare) without too much difficulty and I can see the advantages with things like actually using both shift keys, and keeping your fingers moving but your hands still which is a lot better for scary things like RSI. I’ll just have to keep at it and watch the steady improvement; this is what the vac is for I suppose.

Posted Wed 27 Jul 2011 21:49:00 UTC Tags:

I think I first tried to read Republic in Y12, and since I’m now about to go into “Y16” it’s taken me rather a long time to actually read it properly. I even wrote a four thousand word essay which formed a third of my Philosophy A2 qualification without reading the whole thing, just reading particular bits.

My reaction has not been quite as favorable as I would have desired. Compared, at least, to how I reacted to /Phaedo/, the dialogue I read prior to the Republic: I am far less overwhelmed with this one. Of course this is hard stuff and only patient study and lots of secondary reading and conversations with tutors lets you really get at it, so perhaps it’s just a case of building it up a bit much as something far more interesting than revision.

So hopefully I haven’t actually put myself off writing eight essays on it come Hilary 2012. The tempting thing to do is shrug off Plato as just being mystical and being out-of-date but I’m convinced from past experience that this initial reaction is almost always wrong, so I’m looking forward to exploring the ramifications for the rest of Philosophy.

My next book is Williams’ seminal Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy which is much harder going because it’s got the density that twentieth century works of analytic philosophy always have, which makes it feel like very hard work but this is seriously good stuff even if you have to work around Williams’ tendency to ramble and rather arrogant All Souls-induced desire to slag off everyone else.

Posted Wed 27 Jul 2011 22:02:00 UTC Tags:

Today we had our (what has become) annual TGW LAN party and despite initial worries from some parties not taking the time to install games and find out where Ben lives, it turned out to be our best yet. As usual the key to LAN success, aside from preparation, is game choice but we seem to have learnt from past mistakes and do a better job, so I thought I’d note down what works and what doesn’t.

Good games

Quake III Arena

Why did it take us about two years to start playing this at LANs? Very impressed to have got IOQuake working flawlessly on CRUX in about ten minutes even if to do so I had to make it my window manager. Made brilliantly fun with so many players running around. This is something we want to start playing over our VPN more often, why don’t we already?

Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance

Our group game if you will. Each year Ben and I come up with a killer strategy which usually succeeds but this year we were overwhelmed by experimental and strategic bomber spam. Works great because of the epic scale but doesn’t scale so well technologically, with the game dropping in speed as you play and units ignoring you more and more.

SupCom has all the ingredients for a fantastic game but they don’t quite come together as you want. For example there is a feature that lets you set up ferrying routes, and you can have factories assist each other so by ordering one factory to construct tanks, bots etc. you can have them automatically airlifted to the front lines, but the power levels are imbalanced in such a way that this is rarely actually useful, despite being really cool. You can have massive navies with aircraft carriers and then begin a ground assault etc. but you can just mass air superiority fighters and drop a few nukes on the navy and it spoils it, which is a shame.

Still we enjoy building loads of nukes in secret submarines positioned around the map and seeing who gets the upper hand.

Left4Dead 2

What a fantastically intense game, as I’ve said on this blog recently. The big difference from Quake 3 is having objectives and not re-spawning immediately: we played versus mode, and with a proper campaign to work through it’s got interesting continuity. Playing as the Infected is lots of fun aside from having to sit around and wait to respawn a lot. Good fun for being reasonably accessible and doesn’t take much practice to be useful to a team.

Warcraft III custom maps

My best LAN party experience was playing Video Game RPG, a Warcraft III custom map, which was very easy and we stomped through and enjoyed all the references. Designed to be played in teams where no-one really knows what they’re doing, so a lot of fun.

CnC generals

A fun alternative RTS.

Bad games (that are good not at LANs)

DotA

Starcraft II? Please. DotA is the true e-sport, but the learning curve (until DotA 2, maybe) is too high to work at LANs, because of the cumulative success from being fed by the worst player.

Sins of a Solar Empire

SupCom is just about okay but the scale of Sins is just a bit too big, we found.

HalfLife 2 Deathmatch

Might as well play one of the above instead; too much of an advantage to those who play lots of shooters.

I think that’s all we’ve ever tried.

Today’s results:

Game  Team Ben, Sean, Joe, Matt Jonathan, Pete, James
L4D2 versus Victory Defeat
SupCom Utterly crushed Barely touched
Quake III team deathmatch Victory (close) Defeat
Quake III capture the flag Victory Crushing defeat

The J/P/J team had such success they inspired Jonathan to suggest playing SupCom tonight (we declined after such a intense day), which is surprising since he doesn’t seem to play that much.

Don’t know why I wrote this post really. I think I wanted to practice my touch typing but I’ve given up because it’s just so slow. Right now I’m not looking at the keyboard or thinking about it and am typing super-fast as I always do, but hopefully I can improve on my 25wpm when doing it properly.

Posted Sat 30 Jul 2011 19:46:00 UTC Tags:

This page was originally static content on my website. I have incorporated it into my blog, entry dated the last time I believe it was edited, as a more appropriate place to archive old things like this.


This page is out-of-date. My site is currently (late 2015) on version 8.

This is version seven of this site which is a loose count of both the site design and my choices of software to run it with. In the not-so-distant past I used a custom script called tachi.py to serve static pages which generated a nice navigation tree and table of contents, and then I had two WordPress installations for my blog and tumblelog. Now I use Org-mode to publish static content and to format the posts to my blog which runs PyBlosxom to serve them up.

Org-mode for static content

The code that sets all this up may be found here. I have a screen something like this when editing pages:

orgstatic.png

and then C-c C-e P updates any pages on the site that I’ve edited since I last published. All the Org-mode source for the website is kept in a git repository.

This setup is made unnecessarily complicated by publishing to two locations: my usual web server, and the web space my university provides me with, which has slightly different settings so that an extra message appears indicating that the page is a mirror.

I have to say, all this effort feels pretty pointless at the moment when I realise just how little content I actually have on my main site.

Org-mode for blog posts

The same setup file also sets up export for blog posts. When editing them I get something like this:

#+INCLUDE: /home/swhitton/doc/www/blog/tech/gnu+linux/admintoolsmindmap.org

and C-c C-e F makes it into a post. The date line in there is actually ignored by PyBlosxom, which looks at OS file modified times to decide on post dates, and I am required to run a script called rdate.py-dir to resync them from date lines like that shown above to bring them back in sync.

I really like PyBlosxom’s approach to blogging, but am really looking forward to a stable 1.5 release due to a number of problems. All the Org sources for my posts are kept in git, of course. Comments are checked into a different (non-public) git repository

CRUX ports

My ports for CRUX are published using a system very similar to that described here. They’re all kept in a git repository.

Older version of this page

I started messing around with webdesign back in year five of primary school and at that point my knowledge was extremely limited, and I used a severely limited free hosting service that is still around today. I moved to a place called InitialHost when I wanted to get something going but left there and my site began to stagnate again - I’d never been any good at actual content.

I then got involved in 3rror, which has now changed hands, and helped to admin that site. Shortly after, SilentFlame was started on a reseller account from the commercial side of 3rror, Xen Hosting. We moved from this due to poor service and then moved around several different places until settling on our VPS we have right now. Xen Hosting closed down at some point during this.

I bought xyrael.net in 2005 and originally put the basis for my website onto it after making silentflame.com purely focussed on web hosting. It started off on a silvery design borrowed with permission from someone else, and this went rather well. I wish I could publish a screenshot to look back to but unfortunately I no longer have those archives.

I moved on to a grey design dubbed v2, and then simply made the site a blog with a standard Blogger template. I then had another blue design for a short period and then a nice grey one, both called v3. A this point I switched over to using my real name online and thus seanwhitton.com was born, with a blog under a blogger template and some pages stored over on this server with the same template stripped down to size. The content pages were very similar to those present now.

v5

The site uses nice, reasonably compliant XHTML and CSS and in most browsers the navigation will follow you as you scroll. I used to use Apache Server Side Includes extensively to keep my files in order and also generate things like the last modified date at the bottom of every page, but on my recent switch to lighttpd I was forced to abandon this method and am now using some simple PHP to include the headers and footers on all pages. The design was inspired by <a duplicity, but I did code it entirely from scratch. Xyzu helped with some issues over browser compatibility.

v6

The big change with this version of the site is that it uses markdown for all the pages, and a python script I wrote converts these to pages on demand. The design was put together using this tutorial. My blog and tumblelog still operate on WordPress but I hope to switch them to PyBlosxom soon.

Posted Sun 31 Jul 2011 00:00:00 UTC Tags:

I’ve spent some time today cleaning out my website content. It felt pretty silly to be rewriting the about page about how the site gets published when there is now so very little on it. But the point is that I still want the site because there are still things I want to be publicly available (e.g. my CRUX notes) so it’s good to have it slimmed down to just that stuff.

I will consider it finished (though still to be kept up to date) when I finish writing up my workstation setup notes and my LaTeX notes.

I’ve also spent a little time reviewing my task list for this blog (certainly not the list of “things to write about”, which is overflowing). I’ve improved on some CSS and given up on improving some other CSS, and don’t care too much about the aesthetics beyond that, but one thing that is sorely lacking is pagination and search, which make finding older posts hard even for me and I flippin’ wrote them so know them best. I am waiting until a stable version of PyBlosxom 1.5 is out before I try to set those up due to various annoying technical problems.

Posted Sun 31 Jul 2011 15:53:00 UTC Tags: