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Journal: Beyond Salvation

Journal by thoth

I've concluded that Slashdot is beyond salvation. Too many articles on politics with no tech content, e.g. http://news.slashdot.org/story/14/06/11/1635228/house-majority-leader-defeated-in-primary, and even the technology articles often get sidetracked into some political ranting, e.g. http://tech.slashdot.org/story/14/05/16/1321218/proton-m-rocket-carrying-russias-most-advanced-satellite-crashes.

Basically it has become some kind of tech-libertarian rant site and a waste of time. I get more actual tech info from links on Hacker News and Reddit than I do here, so the obvious thing to do is just bail. It was great in the heyday but those days are gone, and I see that now.

User Journal

Journal: Why I Like Slashdot

Journal by thoth

A followup to my previous entry...

I find time spent on Reddit to be reasonably efficient - I subscribe to topics that interest me and can quickly see what new posts there are. As for the discussion, the higher voted responses float to the top. It is easier to follow and participate on a topic even though it isn't the more recent.

However, Slashdot has value as well: the comments. Other posters have pointed this out, but every article I do read generally has a few very informative posts. Most of those are even moderated to +5 Insightful ;).

Politics, anything related to shall we say large computer companies *cough* Apple Microsoft Google *cough* tends to be dominated by fanboys on both sides, but by picking and filtering what articles to even bother looking at, I can honestly say I generally learn something from most posts.

The catch is since I can't follow Slashdot in "real time", I'm mostly left to pick over topics that are several hours or days old. That's fine, since it makes for even more efficient time usage - glance through and read the "best" posts, for topics I'm interested in - but it also means I'm more of an observer rather than direct participant. Again, that isn't bad but it does mean other people have the burden of making Slashdot worth visiting.

Anyway, ever since I excluded political articles, I'm a much happier Slashdot reader.

User Journal

Journal: Why I like Reddit

Journal by thoth

This is just personal opinion of course, but I've been logging in and checking things here a lot less frequently lately. Why is that?

It's easier to avoid hot/controversial topics, because Reddit is opt-in and Slashdot is opt-out. If I want to follow Politics on Reddit, I need to find the subreddit and subscribe. Here, I see all posts and have to go exclude tags I don't want to see. Granted, that isn't backbreaking but is a minor inconvenience.

I get more specific feeds by picking appropriate subreddits. I want to read stuff about programming, sports, and my favorite computer games. Yep, I can arrange for that to happen on reddit. This is more luck of the draw, er... whoever submits a story that might fit that.

There is more community. I think so at least, from the viewpoint that reddit users acknowledge others outside reddit or have helpful/interactive groups. This is most visible in MMOs, where the garden variety few I dabble in all have reddit guilds/clans/corporations/whatever with open recruitment. Another example is the DailyProgrammer reddit, which posts easy/medium/hard problems for everybody to solve in whatever language they want to use. There is the occasional helpful comment or pointer for the language newbie. The boardgames subreddit arranges occasional trades and also participates in the boardgamegeek math trades. None of that happens here. I'm not saying it's good or bad, but Slashdot users don't acknowledge they are users of Slashdot, outside Slashdot itself.

It is easier to follow. Back when I used Slashdot most, I had a job where I could keep it open and refresh constantly. I was able to participate on the hot/current topic. I can't do that anymore so Slashdot is more of a passive reading site these days. If you miss commenting on the most recent 5 or so stories, the crowd isn't there so there isn't much point - very few people will see or answer you. Reddit's way of handling replies has its quirks, but not being there within the first 3 hours of posting doesn't destroy your ability to participate.

Fundamentally, my Slashdot usage is shifting to checking it once a day, opening a handful of recent stories and sifting for the top replies. I only post if I just happen to catch something of interest that is very recent (and of course, I feel like I have something to add with a post). Reddit is the site I check for info I want to read, from Programming, Coding, Boardgaming, EVE, etc.

I have taken one step to making my newsfeed here more palatable. I excluded Politics and YourRightsOnline. I'm just tired of reading the same circle-jerk who-can-shit-the-biggest-pile-of-hate-on-the-current-administration-or-government. I originally came here in late 1997 or 1998 for the tech slant.

User Journal

Journal: Back to QWERTY from DVORAK, and maybe trying something else...?

Journal by thoth

A few months ago I switched from QWERTY to DVORAK. I was lured by a more efficient layout but the final shove was finding out a coworker used the layout.

I took some online lessons, and was shocked at how many words you can type just using the home row of DVORAK - especially compared to QWERTY. But then QWERTY only has one vowel on the home row... clearly not a well designed layout.

Getting used to the layout was another matter. My typing speed with DVORAK hovered around 25 words/minute (counting the time used to fix typos) and it was generally frustrating. Granted, I have 2 or 3 decades of muscle memory built up on QWERTY so overcoming that is a huge problem.

I decided to quit the experiment recently, while struggling to keep up typing with a friend in a chatroom at work. 3 months and I had plateaued - I was typing slower but not moving my fingers as much... still, I felt that DVORAK could be improved on.

Going back to QWERTY I noticed far more finger/hand movement than before. A LOT more. But I'm back to 50+ wpm typing again and I don't have to think and mentally remap letters before moving my fingers.

QWERTY is awful though, so much "prime real estate" devoted to bad letters - like the JKC, and so on. DVORAK is better, but isn't perfect - the placement of the L and S on the pinky is rough, the R is more common than other letters on the home row, plus I found myself stretching for the F (where the Y is on QWERTY) more than reasonable given how frequent it comes up. Also, the QWERTY E becomes . on DVORAK, giving prime placement to punctuation?!

Anyway, for me, too many letters and other keys changed. Only the A and M stay the same switching QWERTY to DVORAK, leaving the other 24 letters moved, plus basically all the common punctuation as well. I think that's a bad move - props to Dvorak for trying to design a better layout, because QWERTY is clearly just crap - but since QWERTY is so dominant, moving from it (how many people literally learn a keyboard layout starting from a blank slate?) require a near complete relearning of keys.

I'm going to "rest" back with QWERTY again, but the lure of a better key layout is still there. To that end, I've become interested in Colemak and Workman, both are recently designed alternate layouts. Colemak is especially interesting because only 17 keys change, instead of 31 for Dvorak.

The Colemak layout comes with OSX and Linux out of the box, making it super easy to try. For Windows, on machines I'm admin on, I can install an IME, not quite as good (availability wise) but decent enough. Workman is available on Linux as well.

Anyway, I'm interested but probably won't try learning a new layout for a little bit. I'll give Colemak a shot since it has better availability and looks easier to learn. I think the Workman layout is very interesting from the design perspective, but more keys move and I found that to be the problem with learning DVORAK. Workman tests better than Colemak, but are similar in efficiency and better thank DVORAK. Dragging in last place, far behind, is QWERTY.

I even bought a Colemak keyboard cover for my MBP (no Workman available), and an ergonomic Type Matrix keyboard (QWERTY but I also bought a Colemak skin - Workman is available as a skin for the Type Matrix).

Anyway, I'll see how this goes... in a little bit. ;)

User Journal

Journal: Remapping Keys

Journal by thoth

Recently my left pinky started to ache. I was at a loss until I reached for the CTRL key and felt a stabbing pain. It seems I have a bit of RSI.

So I thought, why not remap CTRL and CAPS LOCK? Try that for a while and see if it helps.

This is no problem on OSX. Keyboard Preferences -> Modified Keys; done.

This is no problem on Linux. Specifics vary, but it can also be done. (For me using Fedora, it involved installing the gnome tweak tool and using it).

This is a pain in the ass on Windows. There is no built in preference for it. Instead, you get to EDIT THE REGISTRY and REBOOT. WTF?

So at work, I have 5 computers. 3 are under my control, so I can do this operation. 2 are not, they are "corporate managed" systems, where I'm not administrator, and editing the registry is disabled as well via group policy (so no trying to use HKEY_CURRENT_USER). The SysInternals tool "Ctrl2Cap" is also blocked.

Fortunately, those 3 computers I control are also the ones I do most my typing on.

Gizmos in the control panel do let you turn on sticky keys, toggle keys, filter keys, all this great (?) stuff, but not swap CTRL and CAPS LOCK. Goddamn.

Bitcoin

Journal: Bitcoin

Journal by thoth

This whole bitcoin client bug is fascinating to me. Not that I own any bitcoins or plan to buy any... I'm curious on how the currency will handle this bug. Specifically, in a currency whose express design goal is avoiding central authority and the imposition of arbitrary rules, how do you convince people to voluntarily upgrade/downgrade/whatever to a different client version, when such a change may not be in their best interests. How to force/incent everyone to run a client version - isn't doing that itself an imposition of an arbitrary rule?

I'm reading the thread over at bitcointalk, and let's just say there is a "gold mine" (har har) of info there. I'll need to study it at home.
https://bitcointalk.org/index.php?topic=152030.0

User Journal

Journal: Great Advice

Journal by thoth

Many users have noted that for its flaws, Slashdot does have a great userbase that produces some excellent advice.

I was catching up on recent (ok, a day or two old) posts and came across this one: http://ask.slashdot.org/story/13/03/06/2318220/ask-slashdot-advice-for-summer-before-phd-program

There are some gems in the responses!

I'm gonna try to highlight posts like that - ones that contain really good discussion. That will exclude the OS/Politics flame wars that sometimes erupt ;) but I think if you read selectively you can learn a lot here.

As for me, I was enrolled in a PhD program once, in electrical engineering. Along the way I found that I enjoyed the CS side of things more, and before finishing my Masters in EE, I switched to CS and earned it there. By the time I finished all this, I was a bit burned out on grad school so continuing for a PhD was never the plan. Sometimes I think it would have been nice, but on the other hand, I did achieve a personal goal (Masters) and didn't really have the motivation to keep going. And I know that a PhD student in any field really needs to have a massive amount of internal motivation and drive to get that PhD.

What's also a consideration is that we, and I mean EE and CS types, are very lucky in that there are some great, interesting, well paying jobs available for all levels, including Bachelors and Masters. You don't NEED a PhD to get a pretty decent job (in the field), unlike many other areas of study.

User Journal

Journal: SSD Update, Win8

Journal by thoth

I received the SSD and that night, had my screwdrivers out and replaced the drive in my Sager. I ended up installing Win8 after all, and then added Google Chrome (set as default browser), Steam, various Steam Games, and Guild Wars 2. That's it.

I have ~120 GB left free, so I could setup a VM... but for right now, I'm not adding anything extra. I want to be totally fascist about keeping this windows install as clean as possible, to the point of considering flash and acrobat as unwanted extras that go into a VM install, along with misc utilities and software development tools in general (compilers, editors, languages, debuggers, etc. - all in a VM). So essentially other than games, the only extra software that will go on is Virtual Box, which will possibly host a future Win 7 VM where all the uncontained stuff will go.

I use Win8 from the desktop mode, and it's fine. I have no Metro-style apps that didn't come with the install. I opted to use a local account and not tie a hotmail email address to this computer (I don't have another Win8 machine, don't plan on getting one, and don't use it as my main system so the auto-syncing and all that don't really interest me).

In related news, a friend's netbook died and they needed a computer. I offered over my System 76 (that had Qubes) after restalling the Win7 home premium 32 bit version I bought for it. I'll miss having that system around to play with linux distros on, but I went to help my friend. VM's are again the answer - unfortunately Qubes in particular won't run in one, since it is based on the Xen hypervisor.

Oh well, that's OK. I will potentially pickup my parent's old Mac Mini this Christmas, since I'm getting them a new one. They have a 2005-era system and its a PowerPC Mac Mini. Maybe I can turn it into a linux system. Or perhaps it won't be worth the trouble since I'm sort of trying to simplify my home computer inventory.

User Journal

Journal: Computer Updates

Journal by thoth

More updates in the fascinating series, "thoth's home computers". ;)

My linux notebook (System76) is now running Qubes, Joanna Rutkowska's OS built on lightweight disposable VMs. It uses the Xen hypervisor with a template VM based on Fedora 17. I've had it working for about a months, and so far, I really like it, it works pretty well considering what's going on under the hood. I have some issues getting specific menu items to appear, but if I were handier with KDE that might not be a problem. I installed common software packages into the template VM and update about once a week.

My windows notebook (Sager Midern) is lumbering along. I've toyed with replacing it with a build-to-order system from Velocity Micro, but budgets being what they are, I decided instead to upgrade the hard drive to an SSD. I just now ordered a 256 GB SSD off NewEgg, and plan to do the swap as soon as it comes in and I have a few hours. I toyed with upgrading to Windows 8 at the same time, but decided instead to stick with Windows 7. This system is essentially for games, so I'm going to clean install it and put on Steam plus a handful of other software.

My mac notebook (17 inch MBP from 2009) is getting also getting along fine, even at its advanced age. ;) I've gone back and forth about replacing it, upgrading it and finally decided what do to: get an iMac. Yes, after 3.5+ years of no desktop computers (at home), I'm getting another one. I've loved the portability notebooks give me, but something quite surprising happened a few months ago that changes my need for notebooks. That event was: I bought a Google Nexus 7 and that thing is simply awesome.

Yes I know, you reading this HATE tablets and think they are a fad. Great for you. The thing is, when I travel, I'm generally not coding. I'm checking email, surfing the web, reading books, or playing simple games. The tablet is perfect and now it is what I take when I go somewhere for the weekend or overnight. Work issued me two notebook computers (a Dell E6420 windows notebook, and a 15" MBP with OSX), so if I travel for work, I'll take those (hopefully just one and not both!).

Anyway, I'm looking at the 27" iMac. It'll be nice to have a larger screen again, and my non-gaming windows needs can be solved with a VM. I'm excited that two of my favorite windows games are coming to OSX, so I may not "need" the windows notebook to play them (I'll reserve judgement until I get the iMac in and see how those games actually play).

User Journal

Journal: Free Market Confusion 1

Journal by thoth

The comment here illustrates what I think is a pervasive confusion among commenters, and people in general for that matter. That is, the belief the free market is just *awesome* but the consumers are idiots.

That's just puzzling to me.. some folks (and extend that to politics) absolutely worship the free market. It is the saviour of mankind, it is better than omniscient, it always decides fairly, it can't be questioned, etc. But when consumers actually exercise their free market choice, they are called clueless, idiotic, etc. WTF?

The cognitive dissonance here is that consumers may make choices that conflict with some other belief (i.e. I don't like Apple for a zillion reasons I'll now bore you with ZZzzzzzz.... so therefore why doesn't everybody think like I do?????. OMG it can't be a problem with me, or the free market, therefore people are stupid sheep!)

I think these people are idiots. No, that is too kind. Raging dumbfucks is more like it, but that is perhaps not polite.

I'm by no means a free market disciple. It serves a purpose, can be studied and modeled and works pretty well at very specific things. But I do enjoy thinking about how a free market works, and how it also fails. Something I think more free market advocates need to spend serious time also doing.

Anyway, back to the quote. Some idiot anonymous coward is raging about how Apple is out to destroy computer utopia, because people are clueless you see... if only they would do whatever the idiot anonymous coward would do. As I posted in response, you can't have it both ways. More importantly, when people have choices THEY MAY NOT PICK THE ONE YOU WANT THEM TO. That doesn't make them clueless; as a economist would no doubt say, they just value various facets of the product differently.

The real clueless and stupid here is the anonymous coward.

User Journal

Journal: Ex-Linux Notebook

Journal by thoth

I've decided to wipe out my linux notebook (a System 76) and install... wait for it... Windows 7. Sorry.

The reason why comes down to 3 things:
1) The system would be more useful to me as a backup/spare game machine. I play games (now and then) and would like to have an extra system for a few Windows-only games I have, another system for Steam, etc. It'll be handy for the occasional dual-box scenario (rare for me but I'd like that option), and for travel situations.
2) The system would be more useful to me with wireless. It's frustrating, and I just feel that in 2012 a notebook or any portable system should have the wireless option. I could not get my wireless going on the system. Yes, I googled a lot. I downloaded wireless driver source, built it, tried to load it, etc and on and on and fiddled endlessly and I couldn't get it working. It was fine since I kept my system connected via cable, but recently I've been wanting to move that system to another floor... basically I want wireless now.
3) I want to run at least 2 linux distributions (Fedora and Debian), and tend to experiment with others a lot. If I were running N linux distros, N-1 would have to be in a virtual machine anyway, since I don't want to partition and reboot constantly.

So, I dug up a spare Windows 7 DVD I had and installed it. Once all the patching is complete and I'm done installing "base" software (OpenOffice, VLC, Virtual Box, Steam, some other games, etc.) I'll install Fedora 17 (beta), and Debian Wheezy (testing) for starters, and configure those just like they were installed directly. Previously that system had run Ubuntu (what it came with), Mint, Debian, Fedora, and Qubes for a bit (it error'ed during the install so I didn't do much with it).

I plan to use Fedora and Debian, so I'll be installing software from languages to libraries to databases and all sorts of stuff. In fact, even though the host system will be Windows 7, I'll probably have that system largely running virtual machines in full screen mode. I do have a primary Windows 7 notebook for gaming and development; this configuration will let me fiddle with linux all I want and be more useful due to #1 and #2 above.

User Journal

Journal: Tablet Haters

Journal by thoth

I don't get the tablet hate. I'd think tech enthusiasts would welcome them. They represent another step towards ubiquitous computing, and may even shake up the desktop dominance of Microsoft, shifting towards Apple (iOS) and Google (Android) who are also the major players in cell phone computing.

Yes, they aren't suitable for many tasks, but they don't need to be in order to be successful. Convenience, ease of use, accessibility (by that I mean Wifi AND cell-network enabled), cost, and most importantly, being more than adequate (arguably nearly ideal) for the typical tasks of an average person - which would be web browsing, chat, social networking, light gaming, email, not whatever various power users have convinced themselves is typical usage - will win the future.

As far as cost, Apple currently charges a premium over other similar devices, but when the iPad was introduced, tech pundits were shocked at how "low" a price it was: $500 for the base model. I can't imagine Apple can retain their high profit margin in the face of intense competition from Andoid tablet makers, and eventually Microsoft Metro/Windows 8 devices, but the future market is enormous... Apple will sacrifice some profit margin to remain competitive.

But ultimately, I think tablets (and mobile computing in general) have a huge future, surpassing desktops, for the reasons I listed above. There will always be a need for desktops, and servers, and even bigger systems, but I can easily see a world where a significant portion of the world's population can get by with either a tablet or phone as their primary computing device. Seriously. The upside here is literally 3+ billion devices, that will drown out the current installed base of desktops. It'll take some time but that's where this is headed.

User Journal

Journal: Tablet Haters

Journal by thoth

I don't get the tablet hate. I'd think tech enthusiasts would welcome them. They represent another step towards ubiquitous computing, and may even shake up the desktop dominance of Microsoft, shifting towards Apple (iOS) and Google (Android) who are also the major players in cell phone computing.

Yes, they aren't suitable for many tasks, but they don't need to be in order to be successful. Convenience, ease of use, accessibility (by that I mean Wifi AND cell-network enabled), cost, and most importantly, being more than adequate (arguably nearly ideal) for the typical tasks of an average person - which would be web browsing, chat, social networking, light gaming, email, not whatever various power users have convinced themselves is typical usage - will win the future.

As far as cost, Apple currently charges a premium over other similar devices, but when the iPad was introduced, tech pundits were shocked at how "low" a price it was: $500 for the base model. I can't imagine Apple can retain their high profit margin in the face of intense competition from Andoid tablet makers, and eventually Microsoft Metro/Windows 8 devices, but the future market is enormous... Apple will sacrifice some profit margin to remain competitive.

But ultimately, I think tablets (and mobile computing in general) have a huge future, surpassing desktops, for the reasons I listed above. There will always be a need for desktops, and servers, and even bigger systems, but I can easily see a world where a significant portion of the world's population can get by with either a tablet or phone as their primary computing device. Seriously. The upside here is literally 3+ billion devices, that will drown out the current installed base of desktops. It'll take some time but that's where this is headed.

User Journal

Journal: Choosing a Linode distro

Journal by thoth

I've been thinking about setting up a VPS system, through Linode. I figure it would be fun to have an actual server on the net, rather than just a webpage/homepage like I have had so many years. It would host a new homepage for me, and be "live" for fiddling around with other projects.

Since this is just for fun, I would start out with the Linode 512, the smallest VPS available. For $20 a month, I'll get 512 MB of memory and 20 GB of storage. Perfect! After viewing the list of available distributions, I pared it down to Debian or CentOS, since those are the two I am most familiar with.

Before opening an account, I decided to "simulate" my future Linode with VirtualBox. So I created two VMs of 512 MB and 20 GB disk. The Debian install went smoothly - I unselected windowing, and selected web server and ssh server, since that's how I'd start. Soon enough the system was ready, and I was able to pull up the "yes it's here" default web page. Cool!

I did the same with CentOS. Or I should say, tried to do the same. No matter what I did, the installer wouldn't run. Double-clicking led to no response. I thought to myself "perhaps 512 MB isn't enough for the installer to run", so I shutdown the VM, bumped it up to 1024 MB, and tried again. Sure enough, the installer started right up when I double clicked.

I'm not sure how the Linode folks actually provision their machines - do you essentially receive an empty VM with an attached ISO for you to start up and install? If that's the case, it appears I can't have CentOS on the Linode 512 because the installer won't run!

That's OK, my home server is Debian and it would probably be best if I match, so I can test things out at home (twice, once in the VM I made to simulate the Linode 512, and once on my actual physical server) before rsycing files to the live Linode.

User Journal

Journal: Backups

Journal by thoth

Ok not much exciting stuff going on with my home infrastructure.

One thing I finally did do is get a better (more comprehensive) backup system in place. I've been using Time Machine on my Mac Book Pro, since it is easy to setup and works like a champ. But I like to keep my files centralized, because I want to essentially mirror my documents to my linux notebook.

After fiddling around with Backup PC, I realized that was overkill for my extremely modest needs. I wound up just making some quick-and-dirty rsync scripts, and have those execute once a day via cron. So now my fileserver grabs from the Mac Book Pro, and my linux notebook grabs from my fileserver. I essentially have 3 backups of my files: the master copy on my Mac (which I consider my main system), a copy on a USB drive via Time Machine, a copy on my file server, and copy on my linux notebook.

Actually that isn't all... some files are copied one more time: I subscribe to JungleDisk and sync my photos to "the cloud". It costs between $3.00 and $4.00 a month, which I feel is well worth it considering my photos are the data I basically cannot reconstruct at all. Sure I'd be bummed if I lost other files, but I literally cannot retake trips/vacations and reshoot pictures/movies, recontact people I've lost touch with, etc. The pictures are "priceless" enough for me to spend a whopping $50 a year backing up offsite.

On the OS front, I downloaded the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, and installed it into a Virtual Box VM. I grabbed Arch Linux and set that up in Virtual Box as well. More later after I fiddle around with both.

1 1 was a race-horse, 2 2 was 1 2. When 1 1 1 1 race, 2 2 1 1 2.

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