Mad Times

“To be sane in a mad time is bad for the brain, worse for the heart.” – Wendell Berry

March 1st, 2016 at 6:46 pm

March challenge

Regular readers will recall that I was doing a “tiny challenge” for February that I dubbed “Clear the desk”. That actually went okay until the physical desk was clear and then things got abstract and difficult to share. And then all the kitty badness. But overall, I declare it a success since my desk has been and remains visible and useful.

For March, the community challenge is a doodle thing. I have no particular objection to that, but I’m not ready for something quite that whimsical. So for my March challenge I’m going to spend a little time each day refreshing my web development skills. I’m starting with a course I got cheap in a bundle last month. The Complete Web Developer Course covers a whole bunch of web tech stuff, some of which I’ve known before at various levels of competence, and some of which I’ve never used.

As in February, I’ll tweet my progress, hopefully with links to samples of whatever nonsense websites flow from my fingers.

Today I upgraded my old iMac (20-inch Mid-2007) from Mavericks to El Capitan. I did that mostly because 1password wasn’t supporting what I had and not having it was seriously cramping my style. Then I went through the first four lectures of the course which included signing up for the included free hosting account (which I don’t really need since I’ve got a server, but decided to use so I don’t wander down compatibility and configuration ratholes.) Behold my not-a-web-site.

ETA: Oops, I need a hash tag. How about #webbing. Yep, that works. On twitter it’s all about climbing and upholstery.

January 1st, 2014 at 7:32 pm

Podcasts I listen to

I keep talking to Becky about stuff I heard on various podcasts I listen to and she can’t keep them all straight. Here’s the rundown as of now:

Podcast Categories Comments
Accidental Tech Podcast Tech Marco Arment (Instapaper, The Magazine), John Siracusa (OS X reviews, all the podcasts), each had shows on 5by5 with Dan Benjamin, then they both quit and started a show about cars with their friend Casey Liss (Programmer dude everyone likes to say they’ve never heard of). The car shows kept devolving into tech wank, so they started this. Come for Siracusa, stay for Siracusa. End theme is a vicious earworm.
Ad hoc Media Tech people talk about media stuff. Infrequent show with a varying panel, but chaired by Guy English and Rene Ritchie.
Alan Watts Podcast Philosophy Bits from the infamous Buddhist’s lectures podcastified.
Back to Work Tech Dan Benjamin and Merlin Mann jawbone about comics, kids, movies, tech, and, oh yeah, productivity. So many private jokes.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies Fiction Weekly SF short story.
Bitsplitting Tech, Interview Developer Daniel Jalkut in long-form interviews with various tech notables. Currently on hiatus.
Bruno and the Professor Politics Two guys in Seattle chat about politics. The audio quality is frequently dreadful, but the content makes up for it.
CMD+Space Tech, Interview Brit Myke Hurley interviews various notable tech people
Core Intuition Tech Daniel Jalkut and Manton Reece discuss the news in tech-land and thier experience as developers.
Debug Tech Guy English and Rene Ritchie chat with tech folks individually and in groups about topics of interest.
Decode DC Politics Former NPR comentator Andrea Seabrook digs into the background behind political issues trying to explain why it is the way it is.
Developing Perspective Tech Underscore David Smith (FeedWrangler) dispenses 15 minutes of insight about Mac app development.
eco-logical Sustainability, Interview Seems to be on hiatus. Host architect Terry Phelan interviews folks about topics around sustainable building.
Escape Pod Fiction, SF Weekly SF short story.
Hanselminutes Tech, Interview Scott Hanselman interviews tech people. Leans more towards web and Windows than most of my other techy stuff which trends towards Mac and iOS.
The Hidden Almanac Fiction, SF Ursula Vernon makes up crazy shit and her hubby Kevin Sonney (as Reverend Mord) reads it. It’s a cross between Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac and Welcome to Night Vale filtered through Ursula’s quirky brain.
In Beta Tech In flux now, but was a conversation between programmer Gina Trapani and tech journalist Kevin Purdy about various techy topics. This one trends towards Android and open source. Gina and Kevin’s run on this show was one of my very favorite podcasts. Great interactions, and Kevin always cracks me up.
The Incomparable Media A neverending cast of random techie people (all connected through show host (and MacWorld editor (and denizen of my home town)) Jason Snell), talk about nerdy media, play D&D, enact radio plays, and generally have a good time.
IRL Talk Media, Tech Used to be Geek Friday but left 5by5 for reasons never explained and is now this. Jason Seifer and Faith Korpi talk about geeky stuff.
Just The Tip Comedy Lawyer (and tech spouse) Amy Jane Gruber and programmer Paul Kafasis snark entertainingly about stuff for 30 minutes.
Let's Make Mistakes Design, Tech, Interview Mule Design Studio pater familias and all around net curmudgeon Mike Monteiro and chirpy cheerful Jessie Char, both designers, chat with folks who have something to say about tech, design, San Francisco, and other things.
99% Invisible Design, Radio Roman Mars hosts this wonderful examination of the design of our built environment. I love this show so much.
Planet Money Radio I subscribed to this because Roman Mars told me to and because their joint show about the commodities trading at the end of Trading Places was quite good.
PodCastle Fiction, SF Weekly Fantasy short story.
Radiolab from WNYC Radio Come for the production value, stay for having your mind blown repeatedly. Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich host this show that’s hard to describe, but is usually about science.
Screen Time Media, Interview Mois├ęs Chiullan interviews notables and talks about screen-based media from movies to tv to games.
SF Crossing the Gulf Media SF people and physicists, Karen Burnham and Karen Lord have deep conversations about SF books.
SF Squeecast Media, Interview A pack of SF writers (often including Elizabeth Bear, Paul Cornell, Seanan Maquire, and Cat Valente) convene with an SF writer guest to recommend stuff and torment their guest.
StarShipSofa Interview, Fiction, SF An SF story or two plus the occasional interview, science fact bit, or other related work.
Systematic Tech, Interview Brett Terpstra interviews a variety of people on tech and non-tech topics. Sometimes super nerdy, sometimes not.
The Talk Show With John Gruber Tech, Interview John Gruber (of uber Mac news blog Daring Fireball) has long rambling conversations with other Mac people.
Tea and Jeopardy SF, Interview Adorable-voiced Brit, Emma Newman has perilous conversations with science fiction folks.
TechHive's Clockwise Tech Jason Snell and Dan Moren host other TechHive editors in this 30-minute tech news opinion show.
Technical Difficulties Tech Gabe Weatherhead and Erik Hess. This used to be (and occasionally reverts to) an interview show called “Generational”. But in its current incarnation it’s a discussion of how to navigate some arena where the solution isn’t immediately obvious. They’ve talked about home network wiring and home music distribution, so stuff like that.
This American Life Radio The prototypical radio magazine show. It’s just consistently good.
Unprofessional Language, Interview Silver-tongued goofball Lex Friedman (formerly of Mac World (and now formerly of this podcast!)) and ascerbic yet strangely charming designer musician Dave Wiskus (Vesper, Airplane Mode) have inappropriate conversations with surprisingly well-known people.
Welcome to Night Vale Fiction, SF Lovecraftian horror through the eyes of a fictional (I hope!) community radio station in the town of Night Vale.
WTF with Marc Maron Language, Interview Comedian Marc Maron interviews everyone. I skip some episodes when the interviewee isn’t interesting to me, but when this show is good it’s very very good.
June 28th, 2012 at 5:02 pm

ebooks on KCLS

So KCLS recently asked their Facebook friends to share how easy it is for people to “download FREE eBooks to their favorite gadget”.

“Easy” is not the word I’d use. Here’s an example. Say you wanted to get the ebook of George R. R. Martin’s insanely popular book A Game of Thrones.

Click on for lots of details about the process

November 10th, 2008 at 12:55 pm

It’s full of stars

Well, only 32, but they’re all the stars within 14 light years of home in a 3d animation so you can tell how relatively far away they are. The lines show whether they’re above or below the ecliptic. Nifty.

Whoa, I just noticed that if you point your mouse at a star it will tell you all about it.

via James Nicoll

July 2nd, 2008 at 5:20 pm

Computer demise

Our IT guys have been rearranging the network at work the past few weeks. I got an email asking if it was okay to change the IP address on the machine named “hugo”. Hugo is a Sun Sparcstation 10 that was assigned to me in about 1993. It runs SunOS 4.1.4 which was the last BSD-based Sun unix before the SysV-based Solaris took over. The machine has been running in a rack in our computer room with no keyboard, mouse, or display since about 2002.

I told them to go ahead, but they were unable to access it. It was responding to pings, but wouldn’t answer to telnet. There are a handful of other machines of similar vintage in the same rack so I logged in to one of them to see how long it had been since it was last rebooted. 764 days. That’s over two years running continuously without a reboot for systems that are 15 years old. (These systems are all on UPS power backed by a big old diesel generator)

Since there was no display handy to show what was going wrong I tried power cycling it. It didn’t come back. The system hadn’t been in active use for a while so extreme measures weren’t called for. Time of death was 2:51pm 6/26/08.

I just didn’t think its passing should go unremarked. How old is 15 in computer years?

February 6th, 2008 at 12:57 am

Surviving Windows

I use Windows for work. XP is fairly tolerable as an OS once you’ve spent a few years learning where all the knobs and sliders are. But my heart belongs to unix. I spend most of every day at a command prompt (or a bunch of them).

I’ve customized my environment extensively with various software packages. They accrete over time, so it’s hard to identify what they all are. Some of them become so ingrained that I forget that I ever installed them at all.

This is brought to mind now because I dropped my work laptop (just a few inches!) the other day and bricked the hard drive. My heroic IT guy got a new drive and image installed the same day I handed him the sad case. Now I just have to figure out what all the changes are that make life bearable. Hence this post where I’m going to try to capture all the tweaks and additions. I expect I’ll be editing it repeatedly, so apologies to those reading via RSS feeds. You might want to configure your reader to ignore edited entries for my site. I’m expecting a new desktop system soon too which will remind me of another flurry of gadgets.

The order here is the order I installed these on my laptop, so it sort of relates to urgency of need.


Allows you to control a remote computer (that has VNC server running on it) with your local keyboard and mouse. The free download version 4.1.2 is enough for my purposes.
Firefox (plus Adblock Plus and and Long Titles plugins)
Do I have to explain this?
My fingers are most comfortable editing text with the vi editor and this is the best implementation I know of. I make this the default association for text file viewing and editing in explorer. (Here’s my _vimrc)
ActiveState Perl
Still my scripting language of choice. I keep meaning to learn Python or Ruby, but I’ve already got this.
cygwin default set plus tcsh
This is what makes a Windows command prompt usable. Pretty much all the command-line tools you’d find on a unix system. It’s not perfect, but it is so much better than the pathetic set of tools that come with Windows. I don’t even know how many different tools I use from this, but it’s a lot. (ls, df, grep, wc, sed, awk, du, cat, others I use without thinking). tcsh is a guilty indulgence. I can use bash, but I started in csh so its syntax comes more naturally. I know better than to write scripts in it. (Here’s my .cshrc)
Get the old version unless the new version is newer than 2004. You have to tweak the timezone db for either to do the new lame US DST dates. This is not a user-friendly application, but it’s fabulous for compactly displaying multiple time zone clocks on your desktop. I regularly deal with groups on the US west coast, east coast, Germany and Slovakia, India, and Korea so I can’t live without this thing. Here’s my pre-customized version if you want to start there. It has clocks for all those timezones. Right-click on the clock face and un-select everything in the Display menu to get the best effect.
Simple, fast, image display and basic editing tool. Let it yank the associations from whatever crap tool Windows has for this.
Spybot Search & Destroy
I do some random surfing on the laptop that can leave some barnacles on the system. This tool hunts down the spyware and nukes it.
SSH telnet client
SFTP client
Microsoft’s Power Toys for Windows XP
This will be closer to the top on the desktop. Grab TweakUI. Primarily for the Mouse->X-Mouse setting. This makes it so the window focus changes to whatever window your mouse is over without you having to click in the window. It’s a life saver if you keep a lot of windows open. Or it may drive you crazy. I can’t live without it. There are other cool things there, but I don’t use any of them.
Palm Desktop
Need to move this off to some non-work computer, but hotsync doesn’t work very well on my old G4 iBook
Gadget for converting web pages and stuff to a format I can read on my LifeDrive
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
Photo management and editing. The first commercial product on this list. I plan to move this to a new mac real soon now, but for now it’s on my work laptop. Don’t tell the boss.
Flickr Uploadr
Upload a batch of photos to Flickr. You can also use this to apply tags and titles and stuff, but I use Lightroom for that.

Config changes:

  • delete stupid default user values for TMP and TEMP environment variables and change the system values to c:\TEMP
  • add a HOME environment variable set to some useful easy-to-type local directory (like c:\jeffy) (or network directory if the network is ubiquitous (i.e., not on the laptop))

Update for the desktop system:

enable Virtual Desktop
Lets you have multiple virtual screens so you can have more windows open without having to paw through them to find the stuff you’re working on. There are free options for multiple desktops out there (one is in the Windows Power Toys above), but I came from the X windows environment on unix and was pretty picky about how I wanted this to work. The particular features I like in this one:

  • ability to define custom hot keys to switch desktops
  • ability to make rules to keep certain windows sticky so they appear in all desktops
  • ability to drag windows around in the mini-window and drag windows out of the mini window

basically I wanted it to work just like olvwm and it comes pretty close. I don’t use the latest version because I paid for an earlier version and it works fine for my purposes. Looks like it costs $25 now ($20 plus $5 download fee. Um. Okay, whatever.)


output here