tech

Nerdvana

Well I am tecknically on holiday, but it is good to be able to do a bit of work as well, especially with Susan. I am starting to get the hang of TextMate for editing, and with the Subversion bundle I can work on a local checkout. I am also logged on to my machine at work via SSH, running screen so that I can access lots of servers at once. I could run that here of course but I am just showing off, plus it does not require updating lots of firewalls with my new IP here.

I found a good tip for iTunes, I have the impossibly superior iAudio 7 music player, which does not sync with iTunes (despite starting with ‘i’), but it would be nice to play tracks from it through the Mac. There is a preference setting in iTunes under ‘Advanced’ called ‘Copy Files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library’. If you turn it off, you can drag folders into the iTunes window and it does not actually copy the music files into the library, it just stores their location. (If you just want to do this as a one-off, Option-dragging the files has the same effect.) I use this to play my main music collecktion at home off a network hard drive.

Similarly, I can drag the music folder from the iAudio into iTunes and it will happily play the tracks over USB instead of trying to copy everything onto my hard drive. It is a bit confusing though when you are moving around and attaching to different drives, networks and players, and the songs still show up in your library (if you try and play them, iTunes says they are not available). So you can create different iTunes libraries eg one for your music player, one for local files, one for a remote disk, ekcetera. Just hold down Option when starting iTunes and it gives you the choice of creating a new library or selecting an existing one. Nifty!

I also bought a nice little laptop travel kit, it has various goodies in it eg a retractable LAN/phone cable, retractable USB cable, USB mini adapter, a tiny 4-port USB hub, and a darling little USB optical mouse with a scroll wheel! All at a price to fit your pocket, in a zip-up pouch with lots of places to put your own bonus gadgets in! It is like Verbatim invented a special nerd accessory kit just for me!

As much fun as I am having though I should turn the computer off and do something else, I have not even read any of the books I brought with me! Last time I read the whole of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, with hardly a pause except to get more wine and crisps. On the other hand I did not have Susan then.

Anti-usability

Now let us not praise GnomeBaker, the Gnome CD writing application.

It actually seems to have been carefully designed for anti-usability. It doesn’t remember the things you want to it to remember; it remembers those things which are inconvenient and wrong for next time. Every action that you do has the opposite effect to that you expect; if it can do the wrong thing, or the right thing in the wrong situation, it will. This is not mere bad design; someone has sat down and done careful user studies of exactly how people use CD writing software, and then deliberately implemented a piece of software to frustrate them.

I’ve recently been suffering agonies because K3B is broken in debian-testing; I finally cracked today when I had to make a large and complicated data DVD and GnomeBaker persisted in getting things wrong at every possible opportunity. If you create a new folder in a folder that GB’s already seen, it won’t recognise that a new folder has appeared. If you force it to refresh the display, it shows the folder, but it can’t open it. If you write the DVD, it doesn’t give you any errors, but then you find the folder is empty on the DVD. If you go to another folder and come back, it doesn’t refresh the cache. If you exit the program and restart to force a cache refresh, you lose all the DVD project information you’ve already built up. There’s no way to save your project.

There’s more. If you select a bunch of folders with shift-click, and then try to drag them into the project area, GnomeBaker unselects everything but the file you clicked on. This is exactly the wrong behaviour, especially as Nautilus and every other Gnome app gets this right. It’s even in Gnome’s own usability standards. It doesn’t remember what size of disc you burnt last time and always defaults to a 700Mb CD. So if you drag a bunch of folders into the project, it tells you the disc is too small and throws all the folders away except the first few that fit. If you choose the right size disc and then re-drag the folders, it duplicates the folders you successfully dragged last time. You have to manually select them and remove them.

It also doesn’t cope with files with Unicode names or funny characters generally, and aborts the whole DVD until you fix it. Basically what I am saying is that the US intelligence agencies have been on the wrong track at Camp X-Ray and what they should actually be doing is forcing internees to create complicated DVD projects under time pressure using GnomeBaker. No-one can stand up to that kind of torture without breaking down and begging to confess. I found myself wanting to ring the American Embassy and turn myself in as an illegal combatant, just to make it stop.

What joy when I just bit the bullet and installed K3B from unstable. It did what I wanted straight away and worked. I have rarely felt such a sense of vengeful satisfaction as I did typing

keith@newman:~$ apt-get remove gnomebaker
keith@newman:~$ apt-get hunt down and destroy all those involved

Aerial photography

Perhaps oddly for someone who is petrified of flying I am fascinated by aviation and have always been a bit plane crazy, in fact I would love to become a pilot. A flight simulator like FlightGear is ideal as I can learn the basics, explore far-off places, and fly the latest high-speed military jets while eating crisps. This is not recommended for real pilots, as the crumbs could get into the ejector seat mechanism or interfere with avionics.

This is me creating a hazard to air traffic over the City of London, flying a Cessna 172 for a trip around the Gherkin.

Taking off in a Boeing 737-300 from Gatwick Airport, perhaps ferrying hundreds of excited holiday makers to a week in Ibiza. Some of them are drunk already. The 737 is quite easy to fly but I do not know what all the computers and stuff do, it is like NASA in there. Modern airliners are so sophistercated that if the pilot oversleeps and misses wheels-up, the plane will just take off automatically, fly itself to the destination, land safely, and then hang out in local bars all night chatting up girls.

In a Harrier over the mountains of Scotland, it is a beautiful aircraft and a remarkable air-to-air fighter, but it flies like a skittish, nervous fawn, and needs a steady hand on the stick if you are not going to suddenly flip over and crash while absent-mindedly checking your email.

Oil rigs in the Cromarty Firth. It is a shame that FlightGear does not model weapons as otherwise I could inflickt significant long-term damage on the Scottish economy, not that I would want to, as I love Scotchland and all Scotch things. Except Scotch which I do not like.

Taking off at dusk in a BO105 helicopter from San Francisco International. The helicopter is even more of a challenge to fly as the natural aerodynamic state of a helicopter is to be on the ground in 1 million pieces. Without constant rudder attention from the pilot a hovering helicopter will simply spin round and round and make everyone spill their chicken marengo. You need to balance power, collective, rudder and cyclic simply to keep the thing in stable flight, otherwise it turns into a very expensive brick.

Approaching downtown San Francisco with the Bay Bridge in the distance, Monster Park football stadium right of centre. I would like to go to America as I imagine all the girls there would like my posh British accent and think I am dead sexy like Hugh Grant, without the prostitutes. If there are any American girls visiting London that would like to help verify this hypothesis, please write to the address on your screens now and mark your envelopes ‘Like, y’know, whateverrr’.

Flying over the Bay Bridge, this is great as under any other circumstances I could get into serious trouble with the police and local civil aviation authorities. In fact on FlightGear you can connect to a multiplayer server and fly with other people, that sounds fun. Perhaps it could be connected to Second Life somehow so I could fly people around to visit places and tell them the local time is 12.15pm and thank you for flying Keithlard Airways. And get off with some virtual stewardesses, I mean, um, not that after all. Something else.

M-x george-bush-mode

Emacs is full of wonderful and baroque surprises, like a secret garden of hacker delights. It’s a bit like having a brilliant, eclectic, slightly obsessive friend with a quirky sense of humour, who talks to you in Lisp. Today I came across M-x dissociated-press which produces a comically scrambled travesty of the text you’re editing. It generates as much randomised gibberish as you want, and I figured a good way to test this was to apply it to one of George W. Bush’s speeches. If the output exactly resembles the input, then it must be working correctly. Here’s the result:

Today, the U.N. Commission on Human rights, economic sanctions on Iraq. Those sanctions when an outlaw regime’s good faith is to bet the last U.N. Commission on Human Rights, economic liberty, accept liability of the United Nations, and a totalitarian state.

The Iraqi regime is a grave and security will be enforced, or cast aside with little hope of foreign assistance. Iraq employs capable of producing chemical weapons. With every one of those of its founding members resolved a world. Yet today, it’s been almost four years of September the 11th. And al Qaeda terrorism and act to suppression of biological weapons. Delegates to their violent ambitions. In the Middle East and beyond. And we will continues to withhold important Iraqi citizens.

If all these standards, Turkomans, our citizens to do not intimidate through cruelty and conquest, and open societies that were poised to destroy and stopped — by the U.N. Security Council resolutions helping with every one year and a threat to meet our common challenge. In the Middle East the evidence. To assassinate the Emir of the Emir of Kuwait and a threat the Iraqi regime is that terrorism and act to suppress it, as all states are being unilaterally subverted by the Iraq’s dictators and broken that terrorism and act today to rid itself of weapons of mass death throughout free societies do not is among them.

In one place — nuclearning can triumph in the Middle East, there can be now expect of the U.N. Security Council resolutions. We’ve tried sanctions. Iraq has broke this promise, spending disease. If the Iraqi regime takes toward gaining moment to human dignity, the United Nations, and a three more times in 1991, Security Country, and right now those obligations. The Security are challenged. Our common challenge. If Iraq’s regime will remain unstable — the regional conflicts — ethnic afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, Bahraini, and Omani nationals remain unacceptable.

Yesterday, Iraq continues that its legitimacy will also revealed that Iraq continues to develop weapons of mass destructure. Saddam Hussein pursued weapons, our principles and our resolvement with terrorism, and permit no biological weapons. We owe it to all our citizens of our world.

I like the coinages of ‘nuclearning’, and ‘mass destructure’, which are genuine inventions of Emacs. But basically it’s indistinguishable from the real President, so I can conclude that dissociated-press is an idempotent operation over Bushisms.

Flap detection

I am reading a book called Pro Nagios 2.0, it is not exactly a gripper as you can imagine, being tremendously dull and technical, suffice it to say if you do not know what the title means, you don’t need to read it. But there are some good terms in it eg:

  • Flap detection
  • Host obsession
  • State stalking
  • Parent monitoring
  • Notification throttling

It all paints a rarther worrying picture.