Gather round and listen to a story of me, self-surveillance, entrepreneurship, and a miniconference about the Python programming language.

I have always charged a flat rate for art and design.* This time, I wanted to time myself to find out what I earned per hour and adjust my future rates to what I need to bring in, based on accurate estimates of different types of assignments.
Read more... )
Forgetting frustrates me. I've forgotten more knowledge in my life than peasants in the Dark Ages ever learned. The point of taking a class is not about what I learn. It's about what I won't forget. Then I can move forward on programming projects with confidence that I don't have to waste a bunch of time catching up on what the keywords and punctuation mean. I refuse to cram for exams and just lose it all. I have to practice, practice, practice-- then I need to keep doing a regimen of projects to keep in the habit.

At an informational level, I've understood true-false logic, strings, variables, constants, conditionals, loops, iteration, and recursion for twenty years. But it was learning, not training. I can self-teach, but my life was too busy for self-training. There is a certain hump I must surmount.

I owe my desktop publishing proficiency to taking classes, with a set of practice exercises on deadlines. Now I can pick up a new program and not even think about it. I just get in the Zone. That is the hump I need to get over with programming, which is why I am taking a class.

[ profile] blue_duck and [ profile] ssanfratello will understand the concept of training, right down at the muscle memory level. It's not just what you learn about stances, balance, breathing, keeping your options open like water, when to commit to swinging the sword, and absorbing the universe juice. It's about what your body does from practice, just WHAM. If you have to stop and access the knowledge, you have been stabbed. With a sword.

That's what I'm interested in. When it comes to my daily Lojban regimen, it needs to be engraved in the brain at the level of instant linguistic connection between word and meaning. I know the vocabulary of Lojban, but most of it I still have to translate from English, which should not happen. Translation wastes valuable milliseconds, too long for comfortable speech. Fortunately I do not get hit with padded sticks when this happens.

When I program Karda, it will be for language training, not just language learning. Spaced repetition algorithms do training. I'm interested in software for self-training in various skills. As Napoleon Dynamite said, "You know, like nunchuku skills ... bow hunting skills ... computer hacking skills." The idea will be for the software to remind you to practice the skill again, get feedback on the result, and modify the interval for when it will remind you to do it again.
Any advice on a quick tool to preserve code formatting in a blog post?

The assignment. )

My solution. )
[ profile] le_bebna_kamni knows Java really well, which has come in handy for tutoring, I can tell you.

However, she also has a copy of "Beginning Python From Novice To Professional" by Magnus Lie Hetland lying around. Since Python is the language I want to make actual real projects in, I was curious. So I decided to do my homework again, in Python. This time it was six lines long.

However, I decided to take it further. The new version properly uses singular and plural English. In other words, it will say "1 hour" instead of "1 hours."

My Python script. )
So while I was doing this, she also did the exercise in Python, except she didn't want to type the singlular/plural decision into her version three times like I did. She felt it was more elegant to make one set of pluralization instructions and have Python repeat it for hours, minutes, and seconds. She cursed at the computer for a half hour and came up with the version she will post in the comments.

I do not curse at the computer. I expect coding to be painful, and have been pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong.

pain = False

if not pain:
    gain = False
Well, that was instructional.

To recap:
I found a nice old PC in the curbside trash.
I tried to upgrade my Linux box running Ubuntu to the latest version, "Gutsy Gibbon", but it only would boot to a command line.
At this point I still had not done anything with the curbside PC-- we're talking about two different computers, just so we're clear.

Well, this evening I took both the hard drives out of the Linux box, and put the 160GB hard drive from the curbside PC in there. I formatted what's-his-name's data, and installed Ubuntu Gutsy on the curbside drive, mounted in the Linux box.

It only booted to the command line, precisely as it did on my computer's previous drives.

This means the problem is either on the Ubuntu installation disk (which passed an error check after I burned it), or in my BIOS or graphics card or something other than the hard drives.
The same thing has happened when I tried to upgrade to the latest version of Ubuntu (Gutsy Gibbon) as happened the last time Canonical released an upgrade (Feisty Fawn). The upgrade manager only freezes.

So I burned it to a CD and went through a reinstall process. It told me if I wanted to install on the master hard drive it would delete all my data. I installed it on the secondary hard drive, since it's blank and the master hard drive has been telling me lately that it's detecting errors and is about to die. Just as the upgrade to Feisty did, this has hosed my system, which now only starts up to a matt@ubuntu:~$ blinking prompt.

So I swapped the order of the hard drives on the IDE cable and changed the Master jumper to Slave jumper and vice versa. Now the screen only fills with endless repetitions of the word GRUB.

Will someone help me fix this?
I suddenly have a new computer! For free, of course, as they all are. (Wait long enough, look in the right places, and manufacture luck through social networking, and spending money is often unnecessary. In money as in so many other aspects of life, waiting and watching is one of my superpowers.)

Yesterday the Lojban User Group met at my house. On our way back from a Vietnamese/Thai restaurant, Nick suddenly slammed on the brakes. A pile of four computers sat in a trash pile on the curb. After we got them home we discovered they work fine, and were state-of-the-art 2002! Nick took three and I took one, with a 160GB Seagate hard drive and three 256MB sticks of RAM. I'm thinking I'll use it for an Ubuntu server as I learn web development with Python under the Django framework. (I'm just not ready to use the TurboGears framework yet.)
The computer on which I run Linux had a hardware problem and wouldn't boot up; [ profile] overthesun took it and fixed it in half an hour by resetting the BIOS chip. Thanks, [ profile] overthesun!

I've also had a software problem for months: the Firefox web browser wouldn't start. Even uninstalling and reinstalling it didn't fix this. I logged on to the chat channel of Ubuntu Linux, and within half an hour the friendly folks there had identified the problem and took me step-by-step through setting things right. Somehow Firefox was living in a directory called "firefox" when it was expected to be living in a directory called "mozilla-firefox". All my buttons and menu items that were supposed to open this application were looking for it in the wrong place. The Ubuntu free tech support volunteers helped me create a symbolic link, so that when the buttons looked in the wrong place they'd be directed to the right place; since then all has been well. Thanks, Ubuntu volunteer folks! The good reputation of this "Linux for Human Beings" distribution is well-deserved!

nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
My Linux box is still set up to the resolution or refresh rate of that monitor which burned out last week. On every other monitor I use it with, it looks fine through the booting phase showing the Ubuntu logo above a scrolling list of things that are happening. But just when it is about to get to the desktop, the image shuts off and is replaced with the words "OUT OF SYNC".Read more... )
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Penguicon's tech guest of honor in 2007 will be Bruce Schneier, security guru. I was mentioning to Eric Raymond that I will be Head of Programming for Penguicon this year and looked forward to putting Bruce Schneier on panels about viruses, spyware and rootkits. Eric said something to the effect of not being interested in closed source software. I can't remember the exact sentence but it may have been referring to something to do with security programs that people use to protect their computers, such as McCaffrey, Symantec, Norton and so forth. Those are closed-source software.

Bad Windows security seems to affect Linux users too. We don't want to have to live in a world full of compromised botnets that are being used to send us spam.

Here now is the setup to my question.

The reason open source software can be trusted and closed source software can't is that someone can read the code of the open source software to ensure that it's free of spyware and other malware. A computer geek who reads the source code, compiles it, and installs the software can be assured that he knows what he's running.

Those of us to whom source code is unintelligible, and who don't know how to compile software from source code, use pre-compiled installer programs of open source software that we download from the internet. Someone in the open source community has presumably checked the source code of the program, but what about the particular copy of it that we are getting? What's to stop someone from distributing a precompiled installer of a popular open-source program, but altering it to include malware that will compromise the computer? Those who can't read source code would think we had the same program as everybody else.

Is this scenario likely or unlikely? Would it work? Is there anything set up to prevent it?
Good news! The smoke and the "pop-hiss" didn't come from the computer, it came from the monitor! The computer's fine. I have no shortage of monitors. None. In fact, a dozen monitors were deliberately abandoned at Penguicon. If you're coming to the Stilyagi party at our house on Saturday the 13th, maybe I'll give you one. Especially if we can sign you up to be on the convention committee for ConFusion 2007!
nemorathwald: (I'm losin' it)
Last night I followed a burning smell to the area of my computers. The Windows box responded when I nudged the mouse, and was in working order, but the screen of the Linux box remained blank. A minute later, there was a brief sound ("fssss") like a sparkler being lit on Independence Day. The power supply still lights up when I turn the computer on, so apparently it's not that component. But the computer doesn't boot.
I'm off work today on medical leave, and working on the Penguicon program book. I use my Ubuntu Linux desktop computer for web browsing, instant messages, music-- everything but games and graphic design software. I dropped the folder "My Music" into Totem Music Player so that it would queue up all the music files in my entire collection to play for me randomly while I lie in bed recuperating and working on the program book on a laptop. I liked one song in particular and went to find it in my filesystem. It was nowhere to be found by browsing, but turned up with the "Find File" feature:
Screenshot behind the cut. )I right clicked it and chose "Open Containing Folder":
Screenshot behind the cut. )It's contained in home: Music: Soundtracks: Ghost In The Shell. So I clicked the Soundtracks folder.
Screenshot behind the cut. )The Ghost In The Shell folder is not visible in the folder that the computer says it's in. Why?


Mar. 9th, 2006 01:09 pm
I've dreamed of an input device like the TactaPad for years. It resembles a little overhead projector. The camera on the stem is watching your hands and portraying a grey transparent sillhouette of them on the screen so that you don't have to look at your hands. It's a touch-sensitive tablet that can detect the touch of all of your fingers simultaneously, not just one point, and can detect differences in pressure and velocity. The surface gives you force feedback sensations.

Watching the demo movie of TactaDraw makes it clear why someone like me who has used art software for years would drool over this. I also would love to play a real time strategy game with this input method.

Of course, just as with its countless wonderful predecessors in the field of alternative input devices, there is no reason to expect this to be developed into a product that makes it to market, much less a product that succeeds in the market. Each application would have to be rewritten to accept the unique aspects of its input, and that doesn't tend to happen.
In a few days I will set down my goals for 2006. Last year at this time I blogged about my goals for 2005. It's now time to review.
Read more... )
I usually just use Windows because it's too inconvenient and uncomfortable to reach across the desk to the keyboards and mice for Mac and Linux. Since I'm the perfect customer for a keyboard/mouse/monitor switch, I've wanted to run Synergy for a long time. This is a piece of software that hooks up multiple computers on the same desk so that you can roll your mouse off the edge of one screen and onto the one next to it. The keyboard operates whatever computer the mouse is on; and it lets you cut and paste from one computer to another. It runs on Windows, Mac and Linux, which happen to be the platforms connected to the three monitors on my desk. Up until now I haven't been able to get the Mac or Linux versions of the client software to work. Windows, as usual, had an auto-setup GUI version that Just Worked. But now there's QuickSynergy, a set of graphical user interfaces for Synergy in Mac and Linux! Joy!
Read more... )
nemorathwald: (I'm losin' it)
On Thanksgiving I suffered a stroke in my exocortex. No, don't worry, I'm not talking about a medical condition! My handheld computer isn't working. And like Manfred Macx in the third chapter of Accelerando! ("Tourist"), I and those around me noticed the effect immediately. Symptoms included a complete lack of any idea what I was scheduled to do, when or where I was scheduled to do it, passwords to allow access to it, and the contact info of people I was scheduled to do it with. The patient was also increasingly observed to pace back and forth muttering about missing several days in a row of flashcard testing and drilling in vocabulary memorization.

Read more... )
Fortunately [ profile] overthesun shepherded me to the Penguicon cube cleaning on time and I have now put the organized catalog and map of the storage unit on another part of my exocortex, the EncycloPenguicon wiki.

Bill participated in the cube cleaning too. While there, he gave me a wireless laptop card that he found for really cheap on the internet, sold under the name of the Orinoco chipset. That's the chipset that Linux is compatible with. Now I can return the one I borrowed from [ profile] phecda. Unfortunately the new card was falsely advertised, because small changes were made to the chipset, giving it a trait that makes it unique among all cards that have ever been labeled "Orinoco": instead of the most compatible card ever, it's completely incompatible. [ profile] phecda's Netgear card worked fine under Linux, so this is a step down, but it's a step up in terms of ownership. Fortunately at the LAN party [ profile] overthesun installed Windows XP and Ubuntu double-booting on the laptop, and the new card works under Windows. (That is to say, it works everywhere except my house, because the home wireless network is so secure it locks out the only intended user.)

Speaking of the LAN party, we played a lot of single-player games together, but only got one game to work in multiplayer mode over the LAN. It turns out to be mind-bogglingly difficult to set up a connection with the older, unique and quirky games with personality that we enjoy, such as Red Alert 2 or Mech Commander. Fortunately Freelancer worked, and that game is truly a thing of beauty. From online guides to how to throw a LAN party, it turns out that successful LAN gamers typically use the latest cookie-cutter first-person shooter, churned out by risk-averse cookie-cutter game publishers, that billions of boring conformists are currently playing. Nevertheless, [ profile] overthesun, [ profile] rachelann1977, [ profile] cosettevaljean, Drew, and I had a great time snacking, drinking tons of caffiene, laughing, talking, teaching each other how to play various games and watching each other play them. No doubt with what we have now learned, our next LAN party will contain more actual networked gaming.
PC Turnoff Organization wants us to turn off our computers August 1 through 7. Their website features articles like "Give Your Kids The Gift Of Boredom." I am not making this up. For a moment I thought it was a parody, but it's not.

I can hardly wait five years to carry a computer with voice recognition in a hip pack, wirelessly connected to a heads-up display and headphones embedded in a pair of glasses. Through augmented reality, networking with each other would no longer involve staring through a window into another "cyberspace" reality. Computer-mediation is coming out of the screen, and layering over our entire environment.

I'm all in favor of getting up from a desk to interact with the world around us. I'll do that more often after wearable computers with augmented reality have made the two worlds become one and the same. Lose the ball and chain to the location, not the computer.
Last night I went out and got a Socket 755 motherboard, a chip fan, a P4-ready 400 watt power supply, and thermal paste. I made sure to buy a board compatible with the P4 CPU that had been given to me as a gift. You should have seen the salesperson when I proffered a static bag at him.Read more... )

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