At first glance, this seems to imply a super-power view of defense, that you are adequately defended only if you can annihilate the other side. … Hare’s equation of defense and attack comes from two sources … [t]he general point is that ethical theories in this style can readily be seen as offensive weapons, aimed against prejudice, so that if there is an important style of prejudice that is immune to them, they are not well designed for their job and are likely to be replaced, if not by prejudice, then by an ethical theory with more firepower. To some extent, this is true of all of them, although they differ from one another in their aggressive ambitions. —B. Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, ch. 5.

Posted Mon 01 Aug 2011 09:18:00 UTC Tags:

Here’s something that made me far happier than it should have done a week or so ago:

I think it’s the CRUX theme that I really like; gives my installation some identity whereas previously if someone said “is this the famous CRUX?” there was nothing to show for it, it’s just my usual Emacs-in-stumpwm setup.

This is SLiM, a login manage I’ve started using at the recommendation of the Arch wiki. A login manager moves your login inside of X, and usually has features for launching different environments, for example a drop-down for Gnome or KDE. SLiM offers this but I’m not using it; SLiM is the standard lightweight choice for people with their own heavily customised environments.

Why is this better than my old approach, where I would login at the tty (in fact I used autologin) and then my .zshrc calls startx when it sees that it’s been loaded at tty1? Is this not just a piece of vanity, an extra process, a tweak that doesn’t achieve anything? In fact there is a speed advantage to this, even if it’s only a psychological one. Firstly I’m not logging on at any TTY which means no shells spawned for the sake of it, but further the time spent logging into SLiM gives background processes more time to settle, so Emacs then opens up faster once the graphical session gets going. The login is necessary because on my desktop there is no disc encryption so I need some kind of simple protection from tampering by others.

Far more significant than this is slimlock being significantly faster than vlock at locking and unlocking. This is because you don’t have to switch from a virtual terminal to a graphical session and back for every lock. I’m definitely noticing this speed up.

Posted Thu 04 Aug 2011 11:28:00 UTC Tags:

I’ve been a subscriber to LWN for a while now, courtesy of BitFolk, and I really enjoy reading it each week. It covers a wide enough range of free software activities, from GNU Emacs development to involved kernel internals to moves being made by the distributions, that I am able to keep abreast of a lot of tech stuff through one publication rather than having to be subscribed to a lot of blogs which I don’t really have time for. And there are interesting features on new stuff that I haven’t come across before. It’s mainstream in the sense that really cool stuff probably isn’t going to appear for a while, but I can live with that.

The other week there was an edition that was particularly high in the interesting article count (so I read a much higher percentage than usual; I rarely read very much of the kernel and security pages), and I wanted to share some of the links.

A decline in email spam?

Vsftpd backdoor discovered in source code (The H)

A look at Gawk 4.0.0

Copyright, copyleft, and culture

VLC and unwelcome redistributors

Semantic MediaWiki: Toward smarter wikis (really cool)

Making GEGL useful for applications beyond GIMP

Malcolm: A visualization of GCC’s passes as a subway map

IPv6 NAT (poignant)

Posted Sat 06 Aug 2011 22:38:00 UTC Tags:

I’ve put my 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons books up for sale on Amazon Marketplace[1] this morning, after spending about an hour and a half comparing eBay and Amazon and playing around. Amazon’s fees are higher and you don’t get much to cover delivery, but I think I can get a higher price for my rarer books to counteract this somewhat and Amazon means avoiding PayPal and fighting against eBay searches and the like.

I’ve listed the books as new because they’ve not been read more than a book in a shop on the shelf might be read, because I had read other people’s copies cover to cover before I got them and have PDFs for reference anyway. And this is why I’m selling them, too. I’ve got the references I need and we barely play this game anymore anyway. In fact we barely play any games :(

I’m trying not to worry too much about how I could get much more if I waited a few years when they are rarer or used eBay etc.etc. because it’s not significant in the grand scheme of my life and right now this is being done with a purpose in mind (buying an e-reader) so as long as I can fulfill that purpose I should be happy with the situation.

If you know me in person and want the books cheaper we may be able to negotiate (Amazon’s terms mean I’m not allowed to state a cheaper price on this blog).

[1] Amusingly if you visit the book via this store page, I appear as the only seller so you get “Dispatched and sold by Sean Whitton” and “only 1 left in stock—order soon” etc.

Posted Sun 07 Aug 2011 11:21:00 UTC Tags:

Over the summer I’ve been revisiting old games and trying new ones, so I’ve been thinking about video games and how they fit into my life and the lives of others around me. Let me begin by cutting a broad distinction between games that one plays to get lost in, and games one plays to be good at. The latter category includes electronic sports, and the former action-adventure games like Zelda as well as the obvious candidates such as hard-core RPGs like Morrowind. Now, plenty of games can be one of these two for one person and the other for another—for example, speed runs convert any game to get lost in into a challenge of skill—but I think my distinction is sound on the grounds that for me, games are one or the other. They play very different roles in my life.

Immersion games first. Possibly the best reason to have grown up when I did rather than at some other point in the 20th century? I had Tiberian Sun, Morrowind, Wind Waker, Diablo II, Final Fantasy VI, Oracle of Ages, Pokémon Crystal. Indelibly marked in my memory are phrases like “not even death can save you from me”, “you have quite a treasure there in that Horadric Cube”, “move it move it get back to the base!” and moments like Celes’ opera sequence and attempting to beat Veran atop the Black Tower for the fifty-fifth time, and failing once more. The immense challenge (at the time) of fighting your way out of Hyrule Castle when it comes out of the time-freeze! “Stay a while and listen.” Hearing Tina’s Theme—IMO the best piece of game music of all time—upon entering the overworld for the first time! You’ll have to have about the same age and taste as me to get particularly riled up by this, I imagine. But hopefully you can share in my nostalgic remembrance of the joy of working your way through a series of challenges to advance a plot to save the world.

My favourite game of all time deserves its own paragraph but there isn’t much to say because most people just haven’t heard of it: Skies of Arcadia. A proper turn-based RPG, and the best I have ever played.

The thing is, that was then and this is now and it’s just not the same anymore. It’s been a long, long time since I got lost in a game, and even pasted over with nostalgia old ones aren’t the same because the challenge has all but disappeared: I am presently blasting my way through Wind Waker and Ocarina of Time (even with Master Quest turned on) with no difficulty at all. I imagine if I sat down with Tiberian Sun or Diablo II it would be the same. I never actually finished Final Fantasy VI, come to think of it, and maybe that would be harder.

The other difference is that I have A Lot Of Other Things To Do now, and it’s not so great to lose a week of vac (heaven forbid term) to a game. This leads me to question what place this kind of game can have in my life. The next thing upcoming is Skyrim in November, which we are all desperately hoping will be the best of both Morrowind and Oblivion—for even just that, with nothing ‘new’, would make for an earth-shattering RPG—and I am looking forward to hopefully playing it at Christmas. Aside from must-play titles like this, should I continue to buy games? This sounds like a stupid question if I enjoy them as much as I have been making out in this post. The point, though, is that this often isn’t the case and what I really don’t want to be is merely a consumer of games. I’m not talking of the usual form of material consumerism that grips our society but am just considering books, films, television, etc.: with these, there is still a danger of falling into consumerism, though it’s different. When I am waiting for some water to boil and have flicked on the TV to find something to watch, that’s consumption; there is a vast, vast swathe of things that I only watch because they use up time, even if I don’t sit down with that intent, and the same applies to books and films too (I hardly ever go to the cinema, sadly (too expensive), but for an example look to the stream of superhero movies we’ve had over the past few years).

All well and good, but how does one tell the difference? When you hear of a new game coming out, how can you decide whether or not to try it out? Reviews are rarely much use and on particular games friends and I have wildly diverging opinions, so, how can you decide where to put your time?[1] The bottom line is that I don’t want to play bad games, and I don’t want to play mediocre games because game-playing is what I do—it isn’t anymore—and there aren’t enough great games around: I want to play great games and leave it there, but finding out whether a game is great is pretty challenging without playing it yourself.

The other category of gaming as described above is only something I’ve done very recently, because it’s only for about seven years or so that I’ve had enough people around me who also play games for this to be an option. I imagine this is the same for most. Games I play/have played to beat other people at (with minimal success) are Left4Dead, Supreme Commander, and DotA All-Stars, and there are probably others but not in anything like the numbers of immersion games. Right now there’s a powerful opportunity to get involved in this kind of gaming with the advent of StarCraft II and its world-wide community of obsessive RTS players,[2] and at some point we’re going to get a Valve version of DotA with exactly the same mechanics, oh those joyous mechanics, deny deny last hit! deny deny deny, but presumably with well-organised multiplayer match-making, the present lack of which means that, even for someone like me with a reasonable amount of DotA experience, DotA is extremely hard to get into and improve at.

Now, I have two friends who play StarCraft seriously and know various people at university who play, but I don’t know how seriously: unlike DotA, it’s something I could get into as a game to play as something to get better at rather than a world to get immersed in, and I’d have people around me to do this with, which makes it a lot more fun than struggling through DotA “pubs” on Battle.net. I’ve downloaded the new Starter Edition, which is essentially a demo, and have played it to its limits really; the AI level available is not at all challenging. Choosing whether or not to buy the game is a significant decision because £33 is basically the sum total of my disposable money. It would take me some time to get into the game, and I don’t even know if I’d like it that much: I only assume I would because I like strategy, but I’ve not found the first four campaign missions and Terran skirmish against Easy AI particularly thrilling. I’d be buying it for an interesting diversion that doesn’t use up very much time as games are short, and can be played casually due to the ladder system. Do I want that?

The final thing to talk about is how these two categories of games affect my mood. The latter is generally always positive, because it’s usually multiplayer, and because you’re not leaving the real world and are trying to use a skill, it’s always a positive experience as using any skill is. You are left a little like one is left after exercise; it’s great. However it’s not quite the same with the former category. I tend to find that ordinary games put me in a bad mood after I’ve played them, and I’m left angry and short with people around me—perhaps for them dragging me away or the game shoving me away by getting stuck? My short spell of playing Minecraft reminds me most of this. I found myself always left in a terrible mood by playing Minecraft because I wanted more I guess? Not sure.

[1] I’m ignoring the question of where to put your money.

[2] So it’s a year old, so I’m late to being aware of just how big this community is, I admit it.

Posted Sun 07 Aug 2011 20:15:00 UTC Tags:

I’ve written a number of posts recently on my relationship with my father. Nothing has changed over there because I minimise the amount I see him. However, my relationship with my mother is now in free-fall, over the past couple of days culminating in one incident of extremely uncharacteristic dishonesty, and another in the rekindling of an ongoing saga of what feels like some kind of petty extortion. Before delving into this issue in detail, which will be on the level of my ideas and someone else’s feelings, I’d like to mention something which all this makes me feel about myself: it makes me worry a great deal about my capacity for human relationships. If I can’t maintain one with both my mother and my father, I’m really not doing too hot. However there are extenuating circumstances in both cases on the part of the other individuals: for my father, there are the longterm issues initiated by him that I’ve talked about before, and my mother has (presumably) been going through a difficult period for some years, for all of her family find her at times much harder to deal with than we ever used to. I would like to be better at tolerating her incessant demands that she makes upon us through a recognition that this is in some sense not her in her full self—I do not want to use the rather stronger “not herself” because that would be an exaggeration.

I put aside any self-involved musings about my character which would involve entirely unreasonable extrapolation were I to go any further and turn to what’s been going on very recently. The issue of the fact that I don’t do any paid work to support my studies returned to us yesterday, after many months dormancy, in a particularly brutal and sudden manner. I spent yesterday delivering leaflets on behalf of a friend’s mother’s business, getting £50 for 1000 leaflets, and my mother had been kind enough to give me a lift because, unusually, I was to deliver this batch of leaflets to a part of the city rather removed from where we live now. On the way back, I told her that I’d been offered another batch of 1000 leaflets, but because I thought that they needed delivering the very next day (that’s not the case as it happens), I’d said no because I didn’t want to do another day immediately when I don’t need another £50. This set things going. My mother told me that while she now accepts that any kind of steady employment doesn’t fit with the combination of university terms and a hefty amount of vac work, she expects that I should take any casual work I can possibly get (this was the first time I have heard this opinion from her).

A summary of our positions from what followed is that my mother wants to see me earning some money, and when pressed she is quite willing to confirm that it is just seeing it that matters to her. But this money isn’t actually for any necessities, because I have all the money I need already, so effectively she wants to see me earning spending money because when I have asked if she would reduce the amount she gives me towards my food and rent if I earned some money with which to replace a portion of this contribution, she says that she wouldn’t. I tried to explain that, concerning this second day of leafleting, that a day of four hours academic work, two or three hours projecting and yes then a good few hours messing about is to me more valuable than £50 which, after the first day of leafleting, I don’t have anything non-frivolous to buy with.

The issue here is that I am viewed as taking for granted a life that to a certain extent, for six months of the year, is a life of leisure. Other people have given me this life: I have a place to live and somewhere to keep my books and computer, and funds to go to Oxford for the other six months of the year, and I can to some extent put myself in my mother’s position and say, well, it hurts to see no kind of contribution in exchange for that. My stance is that I try my hardest every day to make the most of that life that I’ve been given. I am already using this dispute with my mother as a motivational boost. Every day I make more progress towards my ideal of scholarship, though I’m not there yet. It is immensely important to me that I am always learning and progressing in all areas of life and I have a deep sense of guilt when I fail at this.

If my mother doesn’t want to fund this life anymore because, perhaps, I’m not using it as I should be, that is not a judgement that I would vehemently disagree with, in all honesty. If she said, well, I’m not going to give you all the money anymore and you should work to fill the gap, I’d be in a different situation to where I am. But the point is that I’m not in that situation, no-one is suggesting I’m going to be and so why does she want to see me earning money I don’t need? I would hope that when I reach my fifties I will not be dependent for my comfort on people close to me behaving in ways which, when broken down, serve no material purpose.

The only other explanation that comes to me, which my mother denies, is that what she wants here is for me to conform to some kind of stereotype of a middle-class student earning and spending money on social activities, drinking, holidays etc.. Again I think I pressed her sufficiently to be confident in saying this: she believes that having more money would make me happier. She refers to being able to make train journeys and visit friends and go into town without walking; she says that money could make me more comfortable and that would make me happier. She says that I complain about not having money and use it as a weapon to cut her off when she makes suggestions for things I could do. But, this is not my life. First of all I do not have the kind of friends with which I would do any of these activities. And more importantly, to me, not having much money makes me stronger and better, even if at limited and discrete times I feel a desire for it and might moan. My siblings tend to get a lot more spent on them,[1] with a step-brother who gets anything he asks for and a sister having money poured into her to learn to drive, and at times I feel jealousy over this. But I do not consider such feelings to be justified, and if I complain about them it is only my temporary feelings getting the better of my longer term judgement. Sure, I can’t buy Portal 2 and at some level I would like to be able to because my friends all tell me it is a fantastic game and I expect they are right, but what I am doing is carefully crafting the best possible life for myself that my thoughts lead me to, rather than merely unmediated desire, and material concerns are not a part of this. What I am saying here is that I can’t disagree more with the suggestion that more money than I have now would make me any happier.

That’s a lot of ranting and raving about a dispute between two unimportant people. I’ve tried to set out why I don’t understand my mother’s insistence, and an attempt at explaining what might be sitting (way) behind it, but this is mainly for myself and it would be only an unwarranted level of self-importance that would lead me to now say that I’m right and you, reader, should agree with me and side with me against my mother. No-one should be thinking that from one side of the story. I’ve almost certainly missed something, since we continue to fail to understand each other, and if you know what this might be I’d love to be made aware of it. You might well think I am the guilty party, that I should be working; fine. These are all plausible views. The consequences of this dispute, now that I’ve finished laying it out, are what I think are actually worth writing about.

In summary, my mother has for many months made me feel very unwelcome in the home we share—yes, if I wasn’t there it would be a different home, so I am entitled to that phrase at least—and this dispute has sky-rocketed the levels of those vibes over the past twenty-four hours. From my fourteen year old step-brother who didn’t get up until 4pm today[2] I get a degree of appreciation appropriate to his strange way of living; my sister and I get on very well and we are both pleased when the other arrives at whichever parents’ house we’re staying at; from the dog, Chilli, I get a lukewarm reception because I don’t provide very much food or trips to the woods; from my step-father, despite utter disregard for my study of philosophy, there is still a familial raport between us. Between my mother and I such a thing does not seem to exist anymore. Everything I do that she is not happy with is couched in terms of how much I cost to keep. The amount it apparently costs to feed me for six months of the year is brought up again and again. Whatever my mother might say it is entirely implausible that there is any financial strain of anything other than her own creation at work here, which becomes perfectly clear when one notes how many thousands of pounds she is about to spend on landscaping and replanting the garden. My view that I long to be back in Oxford and dislike the vac is not treated as “that’s fantastic, he’s getting a lot out of university life” but “well get back there then”. How much of this does she mean? I have no idea; it is not my way to dismiss it as not something she “really means”.

I should briefly detail the incident of dishonesty I mentioned above; I won’t bore you with what I called ‘petty extortion’. My mother and her partner recently went away on holiday and I moved back and forth between my father’s house and my mother’s while they were away, watering the plants etc. and also getting a break from my father. This was the plan and in fact I ended up staying at my mother’s far more because I couldn’t be bothered to move my books back and forth. Before my mother left I said, “if I buy ingredients and cook here, will you pay me back for them?” and she said she would. So I did this; I spent very little money as usual but was quite willing to restock the family supplies of pasta and icing sugar,[3] no problem. Now my mother turns round to me and says that with my attitude to our dispute, she’s not sure if she’s going to pay; I could have gone to my father’s, and she doesn’t see, she says, why she should pay for food for me when she already does for six months of the year and I could just have gone to my father’s. If she hadn’t wanted to pay that would have been fine. One word and I wouldn’t have spent a minute in her house while they were away. Instead I am arbitrarily docked £20 of next term’s living expenses, effectively, which is an amount so much more significant to me than it could ever be for her. More importantly someone as close to me as my mother has broken her word. I consider my standards of honesty to be high, and my mother is to thank for that, so it feels terrible to be betrayed like this. Hopefully she will change her mind.

My father is currently in the process of moving in with a woman who is to be our step-mother who I like very much. They have a great hope that I will start living with them again because they seem to think that I have issues with where my father lives now. I don’t have such issues, it’s just a case of having all my stuff at my mother’s, and the diluting effect upon my father of his fiance’s presence is rather powerful. So I am hoping that I will be able to spend a lot more time there and then perhaps some distance will help repair my relationship with my mother. Right now though it is in tatters because we both feel so deeply wronged by each other; my mother seems to feel taken advantage of, and I feel entirely unwanted. I suppose these feelings have a certain similarity.

[1] It is not relevant that I am now an adult, because this has always been the case if I compare my life when I was younger to theirs.

[2] Actually maybe he did ‘get up’, but he certainly didn’t leave his room or open his curtains. And there’s no alcohol involved in this, only that he seems to have nothing to get up for.

[3] sister came over to bake

Posted Tue 09 Aug 2011 16:54:00 UTC Tags:

London Riots. (The BBC will never replay this. Send it out) | YouTube

Riot of a Time | Bad Conscience

I’ve been observing my family’s reactions to the rioting and my own. I’m very reluctant to form any opinions at all at the moment—aside from the view that people shouldn’t be rioting and I feel for those who have had their homes and small businesses destroyed, ofc—because after the media’s (esp. the BBC’s) coverage of protests over the past year I don’t trust them to be anything like impartial.

There are so many points where one can interpret the media as being one massive propaganda machine. I have been fleshing out such possibilities in my head as I watch, but I’m almost certainly overdoing it in my naïvety.

I have been pleased to see the reluctance on the part of the police to deploy their various weapons, water cannons etc., as middle England call for them. I was impressed to hear the head of the ACPO explaining how such ‘tools’ only work in narrow situations that don’t match with what’s going on. They seem to be sticking to ideas of using minimal force and force to protect people not things: I get the impression that if employing a weapon would save some shops but would hurt people and wouldn’t save any lives/injuries, they’re not willing to employ it. This is good.

It says a lot about the hold of consumerist capitalism when the attacks on the state following their brutal slashing of public spending has come down to little more than stealing flat-screen TVs.

Posted Wed 10 Aug 2011 19:53:00 UTC Tags:

Some unexpected work came my way this week, and with £50 that I really didn’t expect to have I decided to spend £31 of it on a copy of StarCraft II. I’ve been playing the Starter Edition and finding it very intimidating: there’s a great deal to learn before I can even begin, it seems, to do some strategic thinking. So I searched up a video on how to get started:

Day{9} Daily #269 – Newbie Tuesday: How to get into SC2!

I was quite surprised by the attitude taken by this video because it felt like the host, Day9, was turning the whole into a chore while repeating that it’s all about having fun. He talked about making oneself play a certain number of times per week, and I said hang on a minute, surely if this if you are having fun with this fun game, you won’t have any reason to make yourself play—I mean, maybe a certain amount of discipline will be required to improve in certain areas where one tends to be lazy, sure, but surely the game as a whole doesn’t need to be made into a chore like this.

Despite my uneasiness with this attitude I was fired up a fair bit by the video. Assuming I actually like a game I haven’t really played yet, it seems that it’s something that can become really fun and in a very positive way that doesn’t have to be dropped because it’s termtime etc.etc. so I’m looking forward to receiving the full game, finishing the campaign and challenges and seeing if I can macro and micro it up.

Been thinking about race choice. Traditionally in RTS games I like to turtle, but I’m not sure what this actually means because I’ve never played an RTS as an RTS. By turtle I mean “build up a pretty base because I am a megalomaniac”, so I’m not sure that the obvious recommendation of playing Terran is so great. I think I’m being drawn into Protoss by cool things like not having to leave workers building things, by the way they lay down buildings—building within a certain distance from your existing buildings takes me back to my C&C days—and by things like forcefields which looks like a really interesting tool to use for winning battles. I mean, winning battles in an RTS through something other than having an overwhelming number of units? I’m such a newb.

Day9’s manifesto is an interesting read: look how much he feels he must defend himself. My immediate thought is, “surely Chess is harder than SC2 can ever be” but you know, maybe this is entirely prejudice. The other issue here, which only someone like me is going to notice, is that SC2 is dependent on Blizzard. Something like Warcraft III isn’t because it has LAN support that can easily be hacked upon, but SC2 is dependent on this massive corporation. One can only hope that it could be hacked round if necessary, but I’m not so sure.

Posted Wed 10 Aug 2011 20:10:00 UTC Tags:

Either through selling DnD books (not going so well so far…) or by asking for it for my 21st, I would like to get an e-reader at some point in the next six months. My sister finds this surprising, because “you don’t read” which is true in terms of non-academic books, but actually I spend at least two hours a day reading blogs and news websites (well, one website) online per day, and so I think a more comfortable platform would let me expand this since I do so hate extended reading off a bright screen.

Everyone tells me that Amazon’s Kindle is “the best” e-reader and I get the impression this opinion is decisive. Of course I share Stallman’s extreme dislike for the platform, but if it really is that good I’m not these are overriding for me: there is no completely free-as-in-freedom platform available, and crucially my e-reader wouldn’t be something that dealt in data that matters to me. I would never buy an ebook stuffed with DRM; I’d get it from sources which kept me in control, then all I’m doing it copying the book onto the device to make use of it. Similarly when reading web stuff, I’d hack up my own script to send a page that’s come in via RSS over to the e-reader or something; it’s just a place to store things and then read them. If I chose a Kindle I think I’d see it as a service I’m buying for however long Amazon keeps it going, rather than a permanent investment as I see a computer.

In taking such an approach I suspect that I’d be losing out on all the “my Kindle downloads everything I want to read automatically before I’ve got up” stuff. A quick Google reveals some possibilities. My old readinglist.py script could be put together with kindle-feeds, for example. If this became a massive hack that I actually had to put time into and that tended to break I’d be losing everything I’d wanted out of an e-reader, though.

Other alternative readers? Only the Sony PRS stands out as being able to read anything and not having a wasteful keyboard. Undecided on whether I want 3G.

A lot of people say that they really like books and wouldn’t want to give them up; just wanted to note that this doesn’t apply to me at all. Maybe I once cared about this but I Just Don’t anymore. Indeed I rather like the impossibility of breaking an e-reader’s spine since it doesn’t have one.

I’ll continue to investigate.

Posted Wed 10 Aug 2011 20:29:00 UTC Tags:

I tend to open lots of terminal emulators and get frustrated when I can’t find the one I want and can’t view terminals side by side. Emacs isn’t really an option as its terminal emulation is rubbish, and my window manager, despite being a tiling window manager, makes a poor job of it too. So I’m trying out the famous Terminator. Here is my config if you want Zenburn and Emacs-like bindings.

#+INCLUDE “~/.config/terminator/config” src conf

Posted Fri 12 Aug 2011 10:16:00 UTC Tags:

Multiple air bogies detected! ETA: Right the hell now —Tychus

I’ve spent a great deal of time over the past few days playing the StarCraft II campaign (not quite finished yet but done a great deal), and I’ve been really enjoying it, especially now that Plot has happened. I’ve managed to break through the corniness barrier and am really feeling the very Blizzard plot and characters, especially in the Protoss missions: it reminds me of Warcraft III all the time. Not having the StarCraft universe embedded in me is a loss, though, and I now wish that StarCraft had been my RTS when I was younger, rather than the C&C series which crashed and burned thanks to EA buying Westwood. What seemed to me like an uninteresting world before is now one I want to know a lot more about, thanks to the campaign.

It has taken until this latter half of the campaign for the story and atmosphere to drag me in, though, and I think that’s in large part due to the Protoss missions. I enjoy building up a Protoss army a lot more than building up a Terran one, and the final Protoss mission where you’re fighting a last stand against a universe of zerg (I don’t consider that to be a massive spoiler…) is brilliant: for once as the player you’re locking down the archives to be discovered by dungeon-crawling RPG heroes in centuries to come, as you fend off wave after wave.

The gameplay of the campaign missions is a lot better than other RTS campaigns I have played, as there is a lot of variety to the mission objectives. In one mission you’re mining a rare crystal, but the areas with the deposits get flooded with lava so you have to evacuate both units and structures—most Terran structures can fly—and then fly them back in. And of course you’re fending off attacks and accomplishing side goals while this is going on, which combined is much more interesting than “destroy all Nod forces in the area”.

I’ve been playing on normal difficulty as that is what was suggested for players with some RTS experience, and I’ve been finding it a bit easy thus far, but there are various achievements to get that can only be gained on various difficulty levels, and as you can freely replay missions I can see myself going back to get these. So the campaign has replayability.

One problem I’ve had with the Terran missions is that you tend to get a unit designed to solve all your problems that mission (often not available in multiplayer) so you just deploy a load of those and they do indeed solve all your problems. As I say, I found the Protoss missions a lot more interesting. First of all several involve a small squad of units with no base, facing many well-entrenched enemies, and this reminds me of brilliant campaign missions in Tiberian Sun. Except in SC2 you have spells and powers and the like rather than many, many conveniently placed “ammo piles” so it requires some thought.

The game’s presentation is very slick. First of all, in my typical style, the music: I haven’t heard any Zerg music yet, the Protoss music is non-descript but the Terran music is really good. In-game it’s basically Firefly, and it plays at all the right moments. Far more impressive than this is the main theme which plays in the main menu. I am reminded of John Williams’ score for Star Wars—and on a comparable level of quality. Graphics are as you would expect for a modern RTS. I’ve not really been paying any attention, but some of the death animations are particularly pretty. The Zerg look perhaps a touch too cartoony, but the Protoss and Terran are about right.

As an international phenomenon, StarCraft I and its expansion Brood War created a massive range of vocabulary and techniques and concepts, and similar to DotA this can make things rather inaccessible. With StarCraft II Blizzard had a chance to integrate all this unofficial stuff into their interface, and try to let newbies in, and I think they’ve done a good job of it. You’ve got things like Build Orders for review after a game, and a good progression from campaign to challenges to vs. AI to multiplayer. It’s clearly working as so many people who would never normally play games are picking this up.

It’s really, really sad that this comes at the price of user control over their software. Why the heck can’t you play the campaign without a Battle.net account? Armed with a DVD with the game on it and a serial number, I should be able to sit down and play through the campaign, and the longevity of the game as a work of art[1] is damaged: when humans create a piece of culture that is good, it shouldn’t be something with the potential to disappear just for the sake of making money. It’s not like there are many SC2 players who would pirate it anyway, since they’d want the multiplayer, and LAN play just isn’t going to be able to compete with Battle.net’s integrated service even with something like garena.

So now I come to the decision as to which race to play in multiplayer. I am told to select one and stick to it, and not to pick for reasons such as “Terrans are humans and I like humans”, “Protoss are shiny shiny aliens with lasers” and “Zerg russsssssssssshh”. I don’t need to decide until after I’ve finished the campaign and played the challenge missions, but I’ve been reading around and I think that Protoss might be the best choice. Considering the “cool” things both Protoss and Terran can do, I am more interesting in developing strategies around blinking and placing forcefields than moving my base around or setting up massive defensive lines[2] and I like how Protoss build structures; it reminds me of my C&C days.

I need to play some Zerg against the AI because I have no experience of that right now, and only have what I’ve read on “choose your race” pages to go on. Reading up on the mechanics, I am told that Protoss are micro-focussed, because you have a smaller army of powerful units with powers and at the other extreme are the Zerg who are focussed on macro and production and then what is produced just gets hurled at you. Terran, I am told, are a balance of the two. I think micro is a skill I’m more interested in developing. I already have some from DotA, and I think that the “let’s see who can manage their base best” race is important and interesting but not what I want to win based on: I want to outmaneuver and outflank opponents on the battlefield.

These thoughts taken together lead me to the Protoss but really I don’t know what I am talking about. I am capable of little more than producing a bunch of units and then focus-firing them, smashing through the map (or not), but I’m looking forward to learning more.

[1] I do not mean to glorify by using this phrase, only remind you that games are works of art just as much as books and paintings are.

[2] The only game with true turtling is Supreme Commander; shame it doesn’t actually work very well in that game.

Posted Fri 12 Aug 2011 22:33:00 UTC Tags:

James was kind enough to gift me Portal 2 earlier this week and seven hours of game time later I had the single player finished.[1] I thought the game took a good while to get going, with GLaDOS not seeming her old self for a good while, and I thought the beginning was really dull, and GLaDOS’s challenges were boring, but then it gets good with the forbidden testing and Wheatley’s testing, especially once you had Wheatley and GLaDOS playing off each other, the latter from her potato.

There are some really fun sequences when you fall out of the test chamber system and the two traps GLaDOS sets up for you, and learning more about the history of Aperture Science deep underground was great; the three gel puzzles down there were really enjoyable.

Now to consider this game alongside the original Portal. The beginning really was a massive weakness for me in this respect because it was more of the same without the Portal feel you get from GLaDOS. I also felt that Wheatley was pretty cheesy, but he got a lot better. Upping the scale to include so much more of the facility and adding things like funnels made it into a worthwhile sequel in the end.

I didn’t really understand how Chell got inside again until I was told that they hacked the Portal ending to have her re-captured. I am really annoyed to hear this. Firstly, the ending had a great feel to it, which they didn’t quite get at the end of the second—probably because GLaDOS let you out—of “yeah now I’m out, but what next?” and there were hints of the HalfLife 2 ruined world situation, and you were rewarded by having played both. Having her re-captured seems like a really cheap way of doing a sequel at the cost of a great original ending.

Have started playing the co-op; lots of fun.

[1] I also finished off the StarCraft II campaign the same day, but I’ve said enough about that already.

Posted Mon 15 Aug 2011 16:28:00 UTC Tags:

Teaser video caught me by surprise yesterday then a DotA 2 tournament to watch today. Such annoying commentators! So much lag! Looks like a worthy successor to DotA but not sure I am going to buy it outside of Steam sales: I already have one competitive online game I am getting into, and DotA games are a lot longer than SC2 games and I’ve never really been very good at it. Dunno though, will see how development pans out.

Posted Wed 17 Aug 2011 16:44:00 UTC Tags:

I received an e-reader for my (admittedly upcoming) 21st birthday today, an Amazon Kindle 3, and have spent a couple of hours getting it set up. It really was very easy to get it to do all the things I wanted it to do, and it’s all wireless, which was my reason for choosing this e-reader over alternatives. Perhaps I’ll review it when I’ve owned it for a little while, but for the time being here are some notes on the technical setup.

The following three headings are the three things I wanted to make sure I had working as they are the three things I read that I want to read on an e-reader, academic books being the main other thing I don’t really want on here atm.

Ebooks

The point of the device. I’m putting these on using Calibre, which is Free Software that runs fine under GNU/Linux and will e-mail books to your @free.kindle.com address no questions asked. It even gives you a setup wizard so you don’t have to fiddle at all.

I’m maintaining a library of ebooks (rather small atm!) using Calibre and checking my Calibre config into git as usual, and I’ll backup the library using Unison in the same way that I backup my music directory; they live in ~/var/calibre. I have absolutely no intention of ever visiting the Amazon Kindle Store, even for the free books, because I am not prepared to suffer that level of DRM. I will acquire my ebooks from DRM-free stores, or libraries, and send them over.

The Guardian

This is much, much better than having the RSS feeds dumped into my Maildir, and it remains free. Calibre has built-in recipes to convert the Guardian website content each day—that is, the content that got printed in the paper, not all the live blogs and online-only content which I don’t really want—into a nice browsable .mobi and while this is a rather CPU-intensive operation, I’m nicing it down and running it on my server with no noticeable performance losses at present.

I’m using the latest version of the Guardian recipe rather than that supplied with the older version of Calibre that comes with Debian Lenny. Here’s my script:

#!/bin/sh

nice -n 19 ebook-convert /home/swhitton/lib/guardian.recipe /tmp/guardian.mobi
calibre-smtp --attachment /tmp/guardian.mobi --relay localhost my_email_address_here my_kindle_address_here ""
rm /tmp/guardian.mobi

and the cron job:

0 6 * * * /home/swhitton/bin/guardianget.sh 1>/dev/null 2>&1

If anyone else I know well would like this e-mailing to their device too, I can easily add more calibre-smtp lines.

RSS feed content & other web pages

Very pleased to discover Kindlebility, which is free software, for converting webpages. Here is the code to get it bound to a key in Conkeror:

// Kindlebility ftw
define_webjump("kindlebility", "<paste bookmarklet code here>");
interactive("kindlebility", "Sending articles to your Kindle, one click at a time!", "find-url", $browser_object = "kindlebility");
define_key(content_buffer_normal_keymap, "C-x C-k", "kindlebility");

and remember to authorise the Kindlebility e-mail address or nothing will get through. Then C-x C-k to send a page hassle-free.

I’m still going to have RSS coming in by e-mail because I have lots of web comics and things that take seconds to read, but anything of significant length is just going to be opened up in my browser and Kindlebility’d over the airwaves if I want to read it.

This means that e-mail will not drag out into a few hours each evening; it’ll be moving swiftly through messages, making decisions about what proper stuff to go away and read and then I can close my e-mail client rather than having it open all evening which means I get distracted, so I’m pleased by this new workflow. I strongly suspect it will mean me spending far fewer hours in front of my desk which is definitely a good thing.

Posted Thu 18 Aug 2011 12:40:00 UTC Tags:

Strange phenomenon being experienced over the past few days. My life at the moment seems to be academic reading in the mornings, then a massive chunk of hours alternating between reading A Game of Thrones and watching StarCraft II videos, mainly from Day{9}, and then I’m studiously not doing all the other bits and pieces I have set myself to do for the rest of the day, instead smashing people on the SC2 practice league (and occasionally getting smashed back). I’m watching all these videos and not remembering much, but just immersing myself in what surrounds this game in order to see where I can be going in the future once I’ve got my 4gate down, yes, I’m learning24gate and owning scrubs. The funny thing is how all this Day9 is getting into my Emacs outlook. When I start firing off a key sequence, actually not just in Emacs with something like C-c a a n n n n n B s + but also in my window manager, opening up my music player and searching something up like say C-i TAB C-i s-F7 3 n n n n ... RET n n n n SPC 2 RET and bam I have some music playing; as I do this I have Day9’s voice going “okay gotta get my rax down on eleven, nice and clean, then BAM there goes the chrono boost” and I can hear the sound of his keyboard tapping through his microphone, and as I get it right and what I want to happen happens, I can almost hear the sound you get when a Protoss building begins warping in and I get a shadow of the same surge of excitement when you get the stage of your build you always get wrong right for once… clearly, my “immersion into SC2” thing I mentioned earlier is succeeding. Similarly when I mis-type the command I want to run or run into a lisp error—most of which I am sort of expecting as I’ve been using this setup so long I know where the breakages are—I get the same feeling I get when I build a gateway instead of my cybernetics core, like “oh great I know I’ve wrecked this now, better power on through and see if I can still make something of the game” and don’t forget all I’m doing here is opening my music player. Yeah.

Oh and just now I tried to open my browser to find a link to an old blog post for below, and started typing the URL into Emacs by mistake because it was taking longer than usual to load because I haven’t loaded it yet this session, and I was like “argh I’m supply blocked, gotta wait for that pylon”. I am not making this up!

The other thing getting itself stuck into my head is touch-typing. I’m still not fast enough and too error-prone to use it, but it’s getting a little harder to switch back to my old style now: I’ll have just run a command with my fingers in the proper places automatically, great, but then I need to do some typing so I have to force myself over into what I have always done, and that takes a little effort. Not sure how to improve from here as seem to have ceilinged at around 60wpm on a good day, 50 on a slightly worse one. The other thing is that I keep mentally spelling out words on the keyboard. Say I’m walking down the street thinking about something and a quotation from a book or video game character or friends floats into my head, relevant to what I am thinking about, well before I know it I’m typing that quote, seeing what fingers I have to put where to make it happen. It’s such a waste of energy but I keep doing it before I realise and stop myself.

I’m reading rather a lot at the moment, with my new ereader, and it’s become my default activity rather than sitting at the computer reading through things but continually swapping to Emacs for some reason. This is not a situation where you want to be flipping back to your base (Emacs) to make sure you are still producing units (Org-mode?), ahahahahahahahaa, so it’s great to just be sitting and reading rather than messing about. The main thing is that I only have my e-mail client open twice a day, some time around midday and some time around 6pm, and then reading gets deferred to when I’m not at my desk so I get more out of it because I’m not being distracted. A friend with an ereader would always say to me that one thing he likes is the lack of distractions; I was disparaging, saying that I am capable of managing distractions. Apparently he was right.

Ack I’m still doing it; just sent an e-mail in the way I might hop back to base and build units and probes while ‘microing’ this blog entry? Wth? This is so weird.

Getting frustrated with bugs in my computing setup. As I say my setup is there functionality-wise and I no longer have very much desire to tweak it, which is great but now I have too little motivation to fix the annoying problems with it. Should try to do them gradually I guess.

Oh yes, a few other notes—I’ve dropped my “learn lisp” summer project because I don’t seem to be interested enough; maybe another time. Also I’ve got a few new things to do every day, such as Write, Read, Pursue Petty TODOs and I’ve renamed my projects one to Pursue Substantive TODOs. Writing because I have so many things on my “blog posts to write list” so I’ll try to get some more written.

So things are good.

Posted Tue 23 Aug 2011 14:19:00 UTC Tags:

I’ve been thinking recently on how little I like, indeed how much I dislike, celebrating achievements, completions, the ends of projects and companies and trips with anything other than an exchange of smiles and verbal congratulations. The big exception is celebrating birthdays etc., but these are just excuses to get together really; no-one is seriously considering the person’s success in surviving another year or celebrating their presence anymore than they usually would. The prime example of things to celebrate in my life are exam results, but there are also things like finishing exams and terms and years. I’m not old enough yet to finish “team projects” at “places of work” though I imagine that will come.

As regards to celebrating the success of someone else, a success in which I had no part (i.e. not team efforts between me and others), I’m perfectly ordinary about it, but if it’s me or a team I’m on or even my team, I dislike it.

A particular example of this is the day I got my (final) A-level results, brought back to me by last week’s A-level results day. I dashed inside school (I think maybe it was raining?) from my mother’s car, grabbed the envelope, checked that I’d got my offer and then headed back. The only thing I said to my mother was a gleeful expression of selfish success in that I’d beaten someone at either Maths or Philosophy who I did not expect to beat, and she was then cross with me for the rest of the day. Putting aside the pathetic intellectual competitiveness shown there that I think I’m well on the road to dropping from my personality, this day well illustrates my attitude. I haven’t not got what I needed, so let’s put the stupid thing behind us.

Now, the above description is something to do with exam results, and I’m always very anti-results in general and see all exams as a stepping stone and little more: I’m sufficiently disenchanted with whatever it is that exams are supposed to test that they’re little more than a necessary (oh so very necessary) evil for me.

So in the case of exams I have a reasoned out objection to the practice and therefore do not wish to indulge in it any more than it necessary: slightly rattled or not, the experience each time is over and I can go on to more interesting things. For other celebrations, such as finishing exams, finishing a term or a project—if I played a sport, another example might be winning a tournament or whatever—there’s no actual objection, just a strong distaste. When someone says “let’s celebrate” I find the idea petty and out-of-proportion. The best explanation I can come up with is that I seem to suddenly rattle up through the layers of perspective when there is a cause for celebration to see the achievement as utterly insignificant in the grand scheme of things; at least, choosing to go and celebrate seems pompous and arrogant and out-of-place.

It could be a bad reflection of my psychology at work here, that I am always living in the future rather than the present or something or maybe the reverse. I just want to move on and do, continue trying to be better, rather than “letting myself go” to celebrate already having been great—well, no need for that, I’m uncomfortable with that.

Posted Wed 24 Aug 2011 15:52:00 UTC Tags:

I got a harsh reminder of just how much I fail at SC2 yesterday and today after a few games against all three Ward siblings, gamer friends I know from school, who can crush me in so many different ways. There are three basic components to SC2 that one can always be working on, which are micro, macro and strategy/opening. The former might be called tactics: winning battles between armies by fancy footwork and clever usage of things like forcefields. This is something closed off to me at the moment as it’s too much on top of everything else. Macro is keeping your bases going while you’re busily trying to annihilate the enemy, expanding your economy and continually producing reinforcements. This is hard, but I’m getting slowly better at it. Strategy in StarCraft II is how you spend your initial resources and time and what kind of units you angle for at the beginning of the game. Right now I have one strategy, a short-term strategy that for me is either “whee I’ve won” or “okay that didn’t work now let’s slowly die because I don’t know what to do now”. This is the infamous Protoss 4gate, which I am told can lead into other more interesting things, but all I can do right now is get the massive initial attack off—about ninety seconds late at best, often more—which is a good beginner’s strategy.

And it works: I win the majority of my practice league games. That’s hardly surprising, though. Tonight I’m planning to try out a Void Ray rush strategy as an alternative, because it’s getting a bit boring trying and failing to get my build right. Ben has offered to give me a “Brotoss training sesh” later this week, when my present housebound illness passes, and hopefully he can help me sort out stupid things I’m doing. None of this is overwhelming though, because there are always basics you can get better at that really do make a difference to your gameplay: making sure you keep expanding your economy and reinforcing your army.

In other news my e-reader continues to transform my life. My dream of a neatly segregated day of focusing in on things and not living at my desk is coming to fruition in a big way. I go to bed on time every day because I’m not being distracted by things online I don’t actually care about; I end every day reading rather than messing about; when I’m on the computer, I’m always doing something constructive. This is great; it’s definitely boosting my mood. It’s also giving me a fresh look at how I actually want to be spending my time, causing me to throw out projects that I’m just not that bothered about. I do not for a moment think that this is down to a gadget—it’s just often the case in life, I am finding, that when things change you get a boost to your plans. Another example of this happening is at the end and the beginning of each term.

I spent three or four hours today clearing out Emacs links from my notes. Again I’m experiencing massive difficulty throwing aside things that genuinely aren’t useful. The thing is, I’ve realised that for all my tweaking I’ve not actually got that much use for a computer besides a flow of content from the Internet, and as a glorified notebook, diary and of course e-mail. I do some sysadmin stuff but not all that much really, and I’ve got the tools that I need and I already know Org-mode well even if the rest of Emacs remains mysterious. But what makes it hard to just move on from all this is the feeling that I’m missing out on so many cool features. There are keybindings everywhere to do useful things, but so many don’t come up enough to be worth memorising. It still hurts to say no to them, though.

Posted Wed 24 Aug 2011 19:13:00 UTC Tags:

Zsh Tips, Tricks and Examples by zzapper

Really wish I had the time to go through and learn some of these; zsh really can do some fantastic stuff.

Posted Thu 25 Aug 2011 14:37:00 UTC Tags:

I’ve started having The Economist delivered to my e-reader using Calibre. It’s a centre-right publication but it’s got a good reputation and I think it’ll be good for me to read a non-left perspective on things, and a non-newspaper format and style of writing.

The most recent issue of the magazine is available for free to be scraped, which is great.

This turned out to be easier said than done because the Economist free recipe requires some features of Python 2.7. On Debian Squeeze this is how you backport those features:

,# apt-get install python-pip
,# pip install ordereddict

and then change the include line at the top of the recipe:

from collections import OrderedDict

becomes

from ordereddict import OrderedDict

The script is very similar to my Guardian one:

,#!/bin/sh

nice -n 19 ebook-convert /home/swhitton/lib/economist_free.recipe /tmp/economist.mobi
calibre-smtp --attachment /tmp/economist.mobi --relay localhost my_email_here my_kindle_email_here ""
rm /tmp/economist.mobi

Best run as a cron job on a Friday morning, apparently.

Posted Fri 26 Aug 2011 18:20:00 UTC Tags:

It looks like I’m going to end up writing a lot of SC2 posts but I don’t want to spam up my /writing/ category, so I’ve created a fresh one for this purpose. I went round to Ben’s yesterday afternoon to get coached in SC2; he persuaded me to skip the remaining twenty-five matches of the practice league (iirc I won 13 or more of the ones I did) then he helped me through my placement matches by refining my four gate, touching up minor things all over the place and helping me win my first macro game, since I really don’t have a clue about anything beyond an easy beginner opening like the four gate.

Somehow I got placed straight into gold league, but I fully expect to drop down. Somehow, too, I’ve been winning matches—once it stopped matching me with platinum league players—and I’m actually rising in my division to within the top 25, despite not even having won ten matches to get the first Protoss avatar. I’ve got lucky to find myself continually matched against Protoss, so I’m four gating and so long as they don’t destroy my proxy pylon (which keeps happening) I seem to be winning. I imagine I’ll face some proper builds soon enough that’ll stop this, and so I’ll drop down to silver or at least lower gold where I belong.

Been watching some MLG today and asking Ben a continual stream of questions about utterly basic stuff; really do seem to be getting into this.

Am going to try to care as little as possible about my ladder ranking because I don’t want to stop using real matches to test things.

Posted Sat 27 Aug 2011 22:09:00 UTC Tags:

Commutativity of Multiplication | Timothy Gowers

I found this page interesting and it has me thinking about the best way to read Maths. Normally I would check every step of every proof on there, and in doing so would probably have missed the interesting parts of the page. Instead I went through them pretty quickly. I am often accused of making too much out of unimportant things in Maths, so perhaps this is a better approach.

Posted Sun 28 Aug 2011 09:22:00 UTC Tags:

When we started an A-level philosophy course at my school back in 2007, our teacher wanted to have the content available online so I set up a MediaWiki installation within which he wrote up all our course material, and where we occasionally posted essays. It ended up being a mostly read-only resource with only occasional contributions from anyone other than our teacher, but we all came to know and love the MediaWiki print stylesheet filling up our folders.

Then the new A-levels came along with AQA-produced, really poor quality textbooks, and the school made our teacher do his notes with their proprietary interactive whiteboard software, and the wiki fell into disuse. Since it’s hosting contract is coming to a close I’ve prepared a dump of all the pages to preserve the content, and some memorial screenshots.

silverdalephilos.zip (15M)

Shame the three most recent changes thing isn’t working anymore.

(The site was originally at the address http://philosophy.silentflame.com/; these images are of a temporary a copy I made for dumping purposes.)

Posted Sun 28 Aug 2011 12:06:00 UTC Tags:

A very long time ago Peter gave me a copy of his entire “DnD” folder, which mostly consisted of things downloaded online, and one thing that I wish I hadn’t lost—I mean I am pretty sure it exists in my backups somewhere but that would take ages—was two txt files containing the 25 types of player and the 28 types of GM. Well, the other day I stumbled across them:

Role Player Classes

THE 28 TYPES OF GAME MASTER

  1. Verbose - “The door is solid oak, bound with 4 iron bands of

roughly equal width, spaced equidistant along its width, and the wood is polished smooth, stained a dark brown, except for a small patch near the bottom which is blacker. The hinges are not visible from this side, but you notice the exquisite design of the lock, the faceplate of which is a starburst design, edged in gold or maybe polished copper or brass, it’s kind of hard to tell with the torchlight, but the knocker is definitely cast iron and you see …” (sounds of snoring from party members)

  1. Leading and Overbearing - “You pump the bartender for information

and he tells you about a red dragon’s lair to the west.” “Too risky. We go to hear rumours somewhere else.” “A man offers to hire you to clean out a red dragon’s lair for him.” “We say `no, thank you’ and leave for the next village.” “On the way to the village you stumble onto a red dragon’s lair …”

Posted Sun 28 Aug 2011 13:23:00 UTC Tags:

Duply (simple duplicity)

This looks like a great way of using duplicity. I have my own simple scripts that work, but if I were to start backing up something else I’d probably check this out.

Posted Sun 28 Aug 2011 21:10:00 UTC Tags:

It’s clear that I need to start my serious academic work, as opposed to the background reading I’ve been doing gradually for weeks. Once it’s started, it’s fine, I can just churn away at it. So tomorrow I shall get up, go for a run and then settle down to some abstract algebra. The following morning, I’ll make a start on my philosophy. It’s all about starting it, and dissolving the imaginary fear associated with that.

Thinking I’ll sit down and complete my “Prep laptop for term” todo item tomorrow, because I’m not really changing my CRUX setup at all now (aside from the occasional additional package) and it would be nice to clear away the large number of “fill this in” todos associated with my CRUX setup documentation out of my way. It’ll involve lots of sitting and waiting for things to compile but that’s fine, because I can be doing what I’ve been doing for a few days now: clearing out minor tech-related todos, sorting things out, which is great.

Been considering the idea of pumping this blog into Facebook via RSS. This is because my remaining sterile and out here and isolated, I’m just being awkward for the sake of it because by putting the blog into where everyone else’s blog is it’s for their benefit in their medium, it doesn’t mean I am endorsing Facebook myself—that’s up to me going and my usage and visiting the site, which won’t increase above occasionally responding to a comment, I guess. For most people it seems that Twitter and Facebook are their RSS readers, and I shouldn’t be awkward about that just for the sake of it.

Another instance of this is me and messenging. I’ve got this stupid idea in my head that everything has to be done by e-mail, and if it’s not there then I’ll ask someone to put it there—this is stupid, because my diary is quite capable of accepting appointments from elsewhere. I mean that’s why I use Org: plain text is inter-operable. I can even pipe IM conversations straight into it with a quick M-x insert-buffer. So SMSs are fine too. I’ve made an effort over the past few weeks to actually check my phone and be contactable by text.

Posted Sun 28 Aug 2011 21:43:00 UTC Tags:

When I used to run Arch Linux on my laptop I got something like a 40–50% improvement in battery life over the previous Debian installation by enabling pretty aggressive power saving using laptop-mode-tools, so naturally I wanted to replicate this setup under CRUX. I couldn’t get it working initially so I put it aside until later in the summer; after spending the past couple of hours on trying to fix this I have admitted defeat.

One reason why I am not pursuing this further is that my HDD tells me it has been spun up and down over 300k times, or rather a mysterious number that has some relation to spinning up and down is over 300k, and I am told that this is past the dangerous point. I have no data that is not on more than one hard drive for very long, but this makes me more wary of enabling any more power management.

Would be great to have some more concrete information on this; nothing much to go on right now so playing it safeish.

Posted Tue 30 Aug 2011 16:06:00 UTC Tags:

Rob “CmdrTaco” Malda Resigns From Slashdot

I was a bit late for /.; I remember being shown it and thinking it was too old for me when I was eleven or something. Reddit seems to rule the roost now.

Posted Tue 30 Aug 2011 20:21:00 UTC Tags:

Tweetage Wasteland – Confessions of an Internet Superhero

Found this blog via Stallman’s political notes a while ago (I believe this post was the one Stallman was linking too); the most recent post as of now is good.

Posted Wed 31 Aug 2011 08:32:00 UTC Tags:

Is Google Making Us Stupid? | Nicholas Carr in The Atlantic

Really enjoyed this one; lots of valuable thoughts (forgive the overly dramatic ending).

The company has declared that its mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” It seeks to develop “the perfect search engine,” which it defines as something that “understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.” In Google’s view, information is a kind of commodity, a utilitarian resource that can be mined and processed with industrial efficiency. The more pieces of information we can “access” and the faster we can extract their gist, the more productive we become as thinkers.

Maybe I’m just a worrywart. Just as there’s a tendency to glorify technological progress, there’s a countertendency to expect the worst of every new tool or machine. In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).

Posted Wed 31 Aug 2011 08:49:00 UTC Tags:

JulianHyde goes through chan history on reddit

It’s … a well-known fact that the legendary meme-forging /b/ is now butf a buffer to keep idiots off the better boards (an oversimplification, perhaps; /b/ is still an entry point and a place for infusion of culture). So, where did all the old /b/tards actually go? Well, some say a few still camp out at 7chan, others say the only trace left is in WTFux, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: they came to reddit.

Posted Wed 31 Aug 2011 08:56:00 UTC Tags:

beets: the music geek’s media organizer

I’m not a “music geek” and don’t have enough new stuff coming in to make easytag ineffective so I won’t be bothering with this personally.

Posted Wed 31 Aug 2011 12:02:00 UTC Tags:
Posted Wed 31 Aug 2011 12:19:00 UTC Tags:

Philosophy Paradise

Here’s a fun site full of quotations. Few are cited, though, so for example you can’t really tell whether the Socrates quotation are really Plato quotations.

Posted Wed 31 Aug 2011 12:53:00 UTC Tags:

The word ‘philosophy’ carries unfortunate connotations: impractical, unworldly, weird. I suspect that all philosophers and philosophy students share that moment of silent embarrassment when someone innocently asks us what we do. I would prefer to introduce myself as doing conceptual engineering. For just as the engineer studies the structure of material things, so the philosopher studies the structure of thought. Understanding the structure involves seeing how parts function and how they interconnect. It means knowing what would happen for better or worse if changes were made. This is what we aim at when we investigate the structures that shape our view of the world. Our concepts or ideas form the mental housing in which we live. We may end up proud of the structures we have built. Or, we may believe that they need dismantling and starting afresh. But first, we have to know what they are. —Simon Blackburn, Think, intro.

(source)

Posted Wed 31 Aug 2011 12:56:00 UTC Tags:

Why study history of philosophy? | Leiter Reports

Just spent the past hour and a half or so reading through this blog post, the attached letter and the debate in the comments. Really interesting, encouraging from the point of view of the sort of stuff I am generally interested in going into, and just shows how much I have to learn!

Here’s a nice thought from, I believe, based on writing style, my tutor David Wallace:

As a general rule, I think, when an area of philosophy gets its methodology to the stage where it’s pretty unproblematic, we stop calling it philosophy (which is my usual answer to colleagues in other subjects who ask why philosophy doesn’t progress). It happened to maths long ago, and to physics around the time of Newton; it’s largely happened to formal logic; I’m optimistic it’s happening to the bits of philosophy of language and mind that overlap with cognitive science/psychology/linguistics/AI.

I came across this months ago but very glad that I’ve gotten round to reading it all through.

Posted Wed 31 Aug 2011 14:24:00 UTC Tags:

33GB of JSTOR Articles and a Manifesto | reddit technology

I’m rather late to the party in posting this—like most of today’s posts it’s been stuck in my Org files for ages—but it’s worth a look for people who haven’t seen it. JSTOR is an amazing resource, but I don’t get why they are so protective of old stuff; universities are their only customers, and they could still incentivise them into subscribing.

Posted Wed 31 Aug 2011 14:34:00 UTC Tags:

GameRanger - play your friends online

Like garena, but it does SPELLFORCE zomg what a game! Anyone used this?

Posted Wed 31 Aug 2011 14:37:00 UTC Tags:

SSH Can Do That? Productivity Tips for Working with Remote Servers | Smylers {blogs.perl.org}

SSH is still amazing; several things on here I didn’t know about.

Posted Wed 31 Aug 2011 14:43:00 UTC Tags:

Bookmarklet Combiner

Could well be useful for those who have many of these; not much use for me in Conkeror where I just bind bookmarklets to keys.

Posted Wed 31 Aug 2011 14:46:00 UTC Tags:

I’ve spent the last two and a half hours attempting to hit hyper-mode on my ‘Org-mode zero’ summer ‘project’ of getting all the ‘interesting things to look at later when I have more time’ in my Org files looked at, since I now have more time. This has been accompanied by extremely loud music, from the StarCraft II OST and DragonForce, and has involved a lot of reading and a flood of posting to this blog.

And right now I have my agenda open opposite this post, including the day’s timeline which is just a mass of green DONEs and orange CANCELLEDs, next to all sorts of subject matter—and this doesn’t even include all the items I’ve checked off one way or the other and then immediately archives (probably at least the same again). Sitting here typing furiously—the key sequence to publish a blog post and check it into git I am now actually doing without thinking about it, in the sense that if I think I get it wrong, like when entering familiar passwords—I now look at it and say, this is my life, this big list of green and orange and zenburn’s colour for hyperlinks?

Before setting out on this project I took a few moments to consider whether it’s actually valuable. These things didn’t command my attention at the time, so are they really worth it? Why not just archive the whole lot and have done with it? Alternatively, why do I have such an objection to just letting this stuff sit here: it’s all marked with SOMEDAY, not TODO, so it’s not as if it’s going to pop up anywhere telling me to do it until I actually want to. Firstly, I’m very glad that I’ve been going through this stuff. There is a great deal of uninteresting things to consign to the flames of CANCELLED, but I’ve come across many others I’m very glad I’ve gone back to.

And secondly, the mass of SOMEDAYs weighs on me. I feel as if I am constricted in what else I do until I go back and clear out the backlog. I think the system is pretty good if I actually clear it more often. I should also be more willing to just read stuff straight away and blog it, but when this isn’t appropriate, it’s a easy way to put stuff aside for later. Aside from playing and watching StarCraft II and clearing e-mails, for the past four or five days all I’ve done at the computer is clear out these tasks. I want this to be over because it’s stopping me from doing things because I seem to want to have it done, hence I’m attempting to blitz it.

Posted Wed 31 Aug 2011 15:11:00 UTC Tags:

:: IoNiZeR - Infused Fear EP ::

Found this (ages ago) from the intro music to a dnd podcast, of all things.

Posted Wed 31 Aug 2011 15:20:00 UTC Tags:

Is this actually a thing? Is it worth learning? Sounds like too good to be true to me…

Learn to Speed Read! | MathCrazyTutoring on YouTube

Posted Wed 31 Aug 2011 15:26:00 UTC Tags: