Blogging about blogging: Block editor in wordpress

WordPress, written in PHP, is the lingua franca of the blogging world.

This is a mini-review about the new block editor in WordPress. The block editor is a new feature with this full-version upgrade in the WordPress blogging environment. Block editing is thought of in such grand terms by the WordPress programmers, that they have called it Gutenberg, after the first printing press. It replaces a more conventional editor, which has not posed me a problem in the past, and thus I see this editor as an attempt to fix things that were never broken.

When I write a blog article, my subject matter takes clear precedence over the tools I use. I do not wish to spend hours learning new ways of creating articles (which were already being created with the “old” tools and posing no problem) when really I ought to be concentrating on my writing. I am sure my audience, and most audiences, don’t care about what tools I used to edit an article; they just want to do a bit of reading and browsing.

My use of the editor caused many things to break from its first use. I had lengthy articles turn into a pea soup of words and images where the structure was broken. This, apparently, is due to a broken plugin I have somewhere, or something like that, I was told by a forum moderator. I disabled some plugins, and tried to get in with the “new mindset” that this new block editor is supposed to encourage. I look on with suspicion things which cause features to break which were not previously a problem.

In this new environment, all articles are thought of in terms of entities called “blocks”. As I understand it, a paragraph, a section of text, an image and a video, can all be separate blocks. Each block can be moved about, and edited separately. This is not well-implemented, as I had encountered toolbars pushing text out of the way, changing the visual quality from the way that it would end up when you read it. Toolbars would also have buttons turn up in strange places, and sometimes, I was not given the option to edit the code to add such formatting as text color, since the button allowing it was missing. In other cases, I would get multiple toolbars (toolbars would not disappear when I left a block), some HTML code would not be properly parsed, and instead bare HTML code would be shown in visual mode. Sometimes it would correct itself after some jiggery-pokery with the mouse and some buttons on the toolbar, but overall I found it tiresome, and symptomatic of a system that has not been well thought-out.

As a result, I have done what many bloggers have done, and disabled Gutenberg and gone back to the conventional editor that was there before. This feature, however, is a plugin, rather than part of the codebase. The plugin has a simple enough name: “Disable Gutenberg”.

I have never considered other blogging platforms, since Worpdress does the job so well, but I have heard more than once that other platforms have arisen that have newfangled ways to put a blog article together, such as Medium and Ghost. This apparently caused the world’s largest blogging platform (WordPress) to fear for its dominanace, and, consequently they needed to cobble together some new tools that would make it relevant to new bloggers deciding on what platform to use. The bug in the old code is not rooted in the code itself, but in the insecurity of the coders who program the platform. To anyone who is already blogging using WordPress, this is irrelevant. We don’t care about Medium or Ghost, we only care about writing our articles. It also on principle, should be irrelevant to most of the coders, who are largely volunteers on a huge open source project, and are mostly unpaid. I believe WordPress makes their money from owners of web servers who act as host to WordPress blogging environments such as GoDaddy, and I would imagine they don’t want to lose those accounts. So the rest of us who chose WordPress are made to suffer for a conflict that does not really involve us.

Scientific Linux

Scientific Linux is the Linux distribution used by CERN and Fermilabs, which I had the experience of installing on to a USB stick to see how it ran. The choice of a USB stick was for many reasons. For one, all my computers are running an installed OS I am happy with, and this was a good opportunity to experiment. Second, I was exploring the use of Scientific Linux for its math and science applications, and wondering if there was anything I can take advantage of.

Apart from being a creature of Fermilabs, Scientific Linux appears to be based on the RedHat RHEL distribution. CERN was also a collaborator, but decided later to move to CentOS, another RHEL-compatible distro.

To “see what I could take advantage of”, I chose the option where it would install as a workstation. I chose a couple of other options, such as office software and programming software, and selected my USB for installation, and it installed very slowly. The image I chose was their maximal-sized image, burned on to a Blu-ray disk, and then booted on to my laptop, which recognized my Blu-ray disk as a boot device.

The install took hours, even though I only chose the three options. When it was finally installed on to the USB, I booted, and saw that I just got a minimal GNOME desktop.  No toolbar, no menus, except for the short menu that offered things like an xterm. But there was no menu that listed the available windowed applications. This made it difficult to explore what unique apps are part of Scientific Linux, or to run an installer to find out what could be installed.

So, for my use case, that being installing on a bootable USB stick, it was a no-go.

My thoughts on the Logitech K380 Keyboard

The k380. Its longest dimension is 11 inches. This contrasts with my full-size desktop keyboard, which is some 17 inches.

I am writing this blog on the K380, first made by Logitech in 2015 or so. C-Net did a review, basing their experience the way I am — writing this article using it.

Starting with the most visible features, it is predictably a small keyboard. You could feel cramped if you have large hands, but then you probably wouldn’t be making a practice of writing text into a smaller device, as I am doing with the K380 into an iPad. Despite this, the space is managed surprisingly well, and the keys are well-spaced for a keyboard this small.

I am also a fan of Logitech input devices, since all of my external mice and keyboards are made by Logitech. My two PC keyboards are solar-powered (available at a range of prices — no one should pay more than $80 for it), the only ones I can find like it. I liked the concept, and they have been serving me well on my two desktop computers for several years.

I also own a small “Keys-to-go” keyboard which works nicely with my android. But with my iPad, it didn’t work so well. The k380’s behaviour on the iPad is quirky in comparison — sometimes the output would freeze, and sometimes it would be quite responsive. It was surprising that I was able to connect to the keyboard without a pairing code.

I tried the k380 on my Motorola Moto 3G cellphone, and while it recognizes it and offers a pairing code, I could not get my K380 to connect. At least, I couldn’t until I found a way to do a kind of hard reboot of my Android. I pressed the power and “up” volume buttons at the same time for a few seconds while it was shut off. This is nearly the same keypress combo as for a factory reset. I was able to avoid a factory reset, and I still have my apps, music and personal info. But be it known that an ordinary power off/power on reboot didn’t work.

Outside of that, I liked the feel of the keys, and its quiet sound.

The ABCs of auto-complete

Filling out “What is _____”?

The rule is: write a word or two about the first topic I see from the autocomplete dropdown.

Antifa: antifa=”anti fascist”
Bitcoin: (I swear, I am just following the first thing I see!) an alternate currency used to purchase items online. (blockchain, a term related to bitcoin, came in third)
climate change: Big topic. Good luck with that project, kids.
DACA: The acronym for an Obama-era immigration programme called “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals”, currently under threat by Donald Trump.
eid: A Muslim festival
fentanyl: a painkiller, too powerful for humans
gout: pain, too powerful for most people. Just try not to use fentanyl.
hpv: human papilloma virus
instagram: a way to share photos and videos via your smartphone
justice: a clothing store for young girls.
kombucha: a fermented Chinese tea
lupus: people seem to have a morbid interest in nasty diseases so far, don’t they?
ms: see?
nafta: an agreement which drains manufacturing jobs to Mexico, while causing Mexican to do the same work in squalid conditions for a fraction of the wages.
osteoporosis: a leaching of calcium from the bones, causing them to weaken.
pinterest: why is this at the top of google? I would bet that the site is something like “pinterest.com” — isn’t that worth a try to find out first-hand?
queer: a gay or lesbian person. The Google dictionary did not offer that as a definition, by the way, which is rather queer, to use the Google definition.
room temperature: 68 fahrenheit or 20 celsius.
Sarahah: Great. Another app which provides a way to harass others anonymously.
transgender: sense of personal identity does not relate to thei r biologically-assigned sex.
uber: Outstanding or Supreme; also a transport company.
vpn: virtual private network
whole milk: milk with around 4% milk fat
xanax: a mood drug
your name: yes, that really came up first for “y”
zip code: doesn’t apply to me, I don’t have a zip code

Storms never last, … or do they?

Image result for go daddy logoVarious ISPs have prevented the hate blog “Daily Stormer”, widely described as a “sewer of humanity”, from passing through their routers, or at least slowed it down. I applaud this move, despite the American’s love of free speech. Americans have free press, but as the cynical adage goes: free press belongs to those who own one, even in the United States. Those who own the telecommunications equipment can determine what passes through their routers and what gets blocked. It gives one a sense of optimism that society and businesses can do what the American govermnment can’t legally do, Trump notwithstanding. ISPs and domain registrars are not bound by the constitution, but instead are generally bound by their own terms of service. Hate speech is generally seen as a violation of the terms of service for most internet-based companies. In this case, the hate speech was especially tasteless, involving verbally attacking Heather Heyer, who was the one who died in Charlottesville, Virginia after being rammed by a car driven this past weekend by Alex Fields, member of Vanguard America, a hate group based in Charlottesville.

Daily Stormer had their “.com” domain name removed by their domain registrar, GoDaddy. Google Domains declined to register their domain name as well. They were even denied after they tried to register their domain with a Russian domain registrar, using a “.ru” TLD (top-level domain).

There are a couple of problems. While being denied a TLD is a good move, it is not the same thing as blocking internet traffic. It just makes finding the website slightly more difficult. Neither domain registrars held their content. The content was on off-site servers, where any web pages, videos and images would have been held. Anyone determined enough could access the website through their IP address, and leave it that way, bypassing any need to know the website name.

Second, there is another cynical adage that every prohibition produces its own underground. The Daily Stormer can always migrate to an alternative internet called “the dark web”. When that happens, anyone with a TOR browser can visit the website. And worse, the IP addresses of those participating in the communication will be undetected and undetectable, through a series of masqueraded IPs that can even obscure the country of origin of the people communicating. And actually, Ars Technica reports that Daily Stormer has already registered a “.onion” domain, a URL on the dark web.

For some more depth, see Ars Technica.

If you are out of topic ideas …

People who need a quick idea or have writers block and have to write a blog article (maybe they do it for a living), would probably consult another blog where the wrter provides some slightly-inspired-but-okay ideas where you can make the most of the suggested topic, or change it into something the writer wants.

I was not aware of some websites which do one better. Some websites run a page that is nothing more than a blog topic generator. I was intrigued. Some websites generate these short lists for a fee. A free sample at one website (who will remain nameless to prevent embarrassment, since they are one of those places that charge a fee) allowed me to enter three keywords. OK. So, I went to a news tramadol 50mg buy online site, and chose three keywords that caught my eye: Brexit, flap, and death. The results were hilarious: “10 things your competitors don’t want you to know about death” was one topic that stood out in my mind. Another was: “10 Signs you should invest in death”; or what about: “8 Best blog articles about Flap”? There was one good one in 10 suggested — perhaps someone can write: “The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Brexit”.

I have never been all that great a fan of blog topic suggestions by others or of blog topic generators. I tend to write when I think I have an idea. I then write and see where it takes me. Something about these generators go against the grain for me.

If operating systems were airlines (a compilation)

If Operating Systems Were Airlines is a popular article that predates the web, and was first seen in Usenet in the 1980s. Over time, it has undergone several revisions all over the internet. Here is a compilation as far as I can do. Most of this is sourced from webaugur.com. But there has been other OSes added from elsewhere. Illustrations and logos are from random places about the web.

DOS Airlines

Everybody pushes the airplane until it glides, then they jump on and let the plane coast until it hits the ground again, then they push again jump on again, and so on.

OS/2 Airlines

The terminal is almost empty, with only a few prospective passengers milling about. The announcer says that their flight has just departed, wishes them a good flight, though there are no planes on the runway. Airline personnel walk around, apologising profusely to customers in hushed voices, pointing from time to time to the sleek, powerful jets outside the terminal on the field. They tell each passenger how good the real flight will be on these new jets and how much safer it will be than Windows Airlines, but that they will have to wait a little longer for the technicians to finish the flight systems.

Once they finally finished you’re offered a flight at reduced cost.  To board the plane, you have your ticket stamped ten different times by standing in ten different lines. Then you fill our a form showing where you want to sit and whether the plane should look and feel like an ocean liner, a passenger train or a bus. If you succeed in getting on the plane and the plane succeeds in taking off the ground, you have a wonderful trip…except for the time when the rudder and flaps get frozen in position, in which case you will just have time to say your prayers and get in crash position.

Wings of Windows

The terminal is pretty and colorful, with friendly stewards, easy baggage check and boarding, and a smooth take-off.  After about 10 minutes in the air, the plane explodes with no warning whatsoever.

Windows NT Air

Just like Windows Air, but costs more, uses much bigger planes, and takes out all the other aircraft within a 40-mile radius when it explodes.

Mac Air Air

All the stewards, stewardesses, captains, baggage handlers, and ticket agents look the same, act the same, and talk the same. Every time you ask questions about details, you are told you don’t need to know, don’t want to know, and would you please return to your seat and watch the movie.

Unix Airlines

Each passenger brings a piece of the airplane and a box of tools to the airport. They gather on the tarmac, arguing constantly about what kind of plane they want to build and how to put it together. Eventually, they build several different aircraft, but give them all the same name. Some passengers actually reach their destinations. All passengers believe they got there.

OSX Air:

You enter a white terminal, and all you can see is a woman sitting in the corner behind a white desk, you walk up to get your ticket. She smiles and says “Welcome to OS X Air, please allow us to take your picture”, at which point a camera in the wall you didn’t notice before takes your picture. “Thank you, here is your ticket” You are handed a minimalistic ticket with your picture at the top, it already has all of your information. A door opens to your right and you walk through. You enter a wide open space with one seat in the middle, you sit, listen to music and watch movies until the end of the flight. You never see any of the other passengers. You land, get off, and you say to yourself “wow, that was really nice, but I feel like something was missing”

Wings of OS/400

The airline has bought ancient DC-3s, arguably the best and safest planes that ever flew, and painted “747” on their tails to make them look as if they are fast. The flight attendants, of course, attend to your every need, though the drinks cost $15 a pop. Stupid questions cost $230 per hour, unless you have SupportLine, which requires a first class ticket and membership in the frequent flyer club. Then they cost $500, but your accounting department can call it overhead.

Mach Airlines

There is no airplane. The passengers gather and shout for an airplane, then wait and wait and wait and wait. A bunch of people come, each carrying one piece of the plane with them. These people all go out on the runway and put the plane together piece by piece, arguing constantly about what kind of plane they’re building. The plane finally takes off, leaving the passengers on the ground waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting. After the plane lands, the pilot telephones the passengers at the departing airport to inform them that they have arrived.

Newton Airlines

After buying your ticket 18 months in advance, you finally get to board the plane. Upon boarding the plane you are asked your name. After 6 times, the crew member recognizes your name and then you are allowed to take your seat. As you are getting ready to take your seat, the steward announces that you have to repeat the boarding process because they are out of room and need to recount to make sure they can take more passengers.

VMS Airlines (Also applies to MVS Airways)

The passengers all gather in the hanger, watching hundreds of technicians check the flight systems on this immense, luxury aircraft. This plane has at least 10 engines and seats over 1,000 passengers. All the passengers scramble aboard, as do the necessary complement of 200 technicians. The pilot takes his place up in the glass cockpit. He guns the engines, only to realise that the plane is too big to get through the hangar doors.

UNIX Airways

Everyone brings one piece of the plane along when they come to the airport. They all go out on the runway and put the plane together piece by piece, arguing non-stop about what kind of plane they are supposed to be building.

BeOS Air

You have to pay for the tickets, but they’re half the price of Windows Air, and if you are an aircraft mechanic you can probably ride for free. It only takes 15 minutes to get to the airport and you are cheuferred there in a limozine. BeOS Air only has limited types of planes that only only hold new luggage. All planes are single seaters and the model names all start with an “F” (F-14, F-15, F-16, F-18, etc.). The plane will fly you to your destination on autopilot in half the time of other Airways or you can fly the plane yourself. There are limited destinations, but they are only places you’d want to go to anyway. You tell all your friends how great BeOS Air is and all they say is “What do you mean I can’t bring all my old baggage with me?”

Windows XP Air

You turn up at the airport,which is under contract to only allow XP Air planes. All the aircraft are identical, brightly coloured and three times as big as they need to be. The signs are huge and all point the same way. Whichever way you go, someone pops up dressed in a cloak and pointed hat insisting you follow him. Your luggage and clothes are taken off you and replaced with an XP Air suit and suitcase identical to everyone around you as this is included in the exorbitant ticket cost. The aircraft will not take off until you have signed a contract. The inflight entertainment promised turns out to be the same Mickey Mouse cartoon repeated over and over again. You have to phone your travel agent before you can have a meal or drink. You are searched regularly throughout the flight. If you go to the toilet twice or more you get charged for a new ticket. No matter what destination you booked you will always end up crash landing at Whistler in B. C.

Windows Vista Airlines:

You enter a good looking terminal with the largest planes you have ever seen. Every 10 feet a security officer appears and asks you if you are “sure” you want to continue walking to your plane and if you would like to cancel. Not sure what cancel would do, you continue walking and ask the agent at the desk why the planes are so big. After the security officer making sure you want to ask the question and you want to hear the answer, the agent replies that they are bigger because it makes customers feel better, but the planes are designed to fly twice as slow. Adding the size helped achieve the slow fly goal.

Once on the plane, every passenger has to be asked individually by the flight attendants if they are sure they want to take this flight. Then it is company policy that the captain asks the passengers collectively the same thing. After answering yes to so many questions, you are punched in the face by some stranger who when he asked “Are you sure you want me to punch you in the face? Cancel or Allow?” you instinctively say “Allow”.

After takeoff, the pilots realize that the landing gear driver wasn’t updated to work with the new plane. Therefore it is always stuck in the down position. This forces the plane to fly even slower, but the pilots are used to it and continue to fly the planes, hoping that soon the landing gear manufacturer will give out a landing gear driver update.

You arrive at your destination wishing you had used your reward miles with XP airlines rather than trying out this new carrier. A close friend, after hearing your story, mentions that Linux Air is a much better alternative and helps.

GNU/Linux Airlines

Disgruntled employees of all the other OS airlines decide to start their own airline. They build the planes, ticket counters, and pave the runways themselves. They charge a small fee to cover the cost of printing the ticket, but you can also download and print the ticket yourself. When you board the plane, you are given a seat, four bolts, a wrench and a copy of the seat-HOWTO.html. Once settled, the fully adjustable seat is very comfortable, the plane leaves and arrives on time without a single problem, the in-flight meal is wonderful. You try to tell customers of the other airlines about the great trip, but all they can say is, “You had to do what with the seat?”

Computers in education

Children enjoying some time reading at their desktops.
The debate over computers in the schools has finally come  around to giving naysayers equal time. There was an article in the Sunday New York Times regarding a school in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley that teaches math, music, and other standard elementary school subjects in a computer-free environment.Computers are touted as an enhancer for learning in education. However, data is unclear as to whether they do anything at all. There appear to do some things better, such as helping us to visualise certain concepts such as transformations in graphs in math. But it doesn’t help matters if by grade 10 a student is still lunging for his or her calculator to figure out 7×6.

A famous american president, reading at his desktop.
The Waldorf school in the article appeared to have caught on to the idea that in order to learn something, your brain should be doing the work. A machine shouldn’t be doing the work for you. Otherwise, you are accepting your own obsolescence, and admitting to the world that you are replaceable by a machine.There is no substitute for a live, human teacher or the child’s own parent in helping a child learn. The Waldorf school bans computers up to at least grade 8, afterward allowing limited access to computer technology. Most user interfaces are braindead simple these days anyway. It takes you minutes to learn how to use your iTouch device. These days, if you have to read a manual to learn the operation of a new computer gizmo, the designers have failed. Windows and OSX are designed that way too. The learning of how to use a computer is easier than it has ever been, and students lose nothing by delaying their exposure to computers to a later age.

Dennis Ritchie, dead at 70

Computer programmer Dennis Ritchie passed away today at age 70. Ritchie co-invented the UNIX operating system with Ken Thompson at Bell Labs in 1969, while co-authoring the C programming language with Brian Kernighan around the same period. In 1978, Kernighan and Ritchie co-authored the book “The C Programming Language”, now known as the K&R book. The peculiar syntactical styles they introduced in their coding examples from that book became known as “K&R style” or “K&R syntax”.

Without UNIX there would be no Linux, no Snow Leopard, Android, or OSX. No Google, no Amazon. Without C there wouldn’t be, well, actually, there wouldn’t be much of anything. Most stable programs that are in common use today were written in the C programming language. Our internet protocols depend on software written in it. 40 years on, C is still in wide use by many programmers for a wide variety of applications large and small. There are also a spawning of both interpreted and compiled languages that mimic many of C commands and syntax, such as Java, Awk, C++, C#, csh, Perl, and the list goes on.

 

An SSD on an HP TX-2 Laptop with Linux

I recently purchased an OCZ Vertex 2 Solid State Hard Drive. The price per gig is enormous ($220 after taxes, in-store warranty, and mail-in rebate for a 120 gig hard drive), but is just the size to install the operating system and any applications I like. I generally don’t use the main hard drive (or C: drive) for documents, graphics, or anything else that would be user-created, which is a protection in  case of failure.

I wanted to see how this thing would make my tablet sing, and what I initially wanted was to install the original backup that came with my HP TX2 tablet, and that was from a Future Shop backup that I paid $100.00 for. The backup failed, and I had to order system recovery disks from HP, and I had them couriered to me at my expense the next day (it’s nice when you live in the same city as one of the HP warehouses!).

I have been using my current laptop since about summer 2009, and have been reasonably happy with the device. I am currently running W7, and have found that performance degrades in approximately 1-year cycles. This summer, I decided to invest in a solid state 120G SATA 2 drive, which was quite a sacrifice in storage space from my roomy 500G “conventional” notebook drive, itself a replacement from a failed stock drive that shipped with it and lasted a year.

I needed to wait for recovery CDs to be shipped from HP (the original failed hard drive took the backups with it), and while I was doing so, I tried installing Ubuntu 11.04 to see what would happen. A reboot later, and I found that the pen, my finger, and the touchpad all worked with zero configuration. For those missing a Windows Journal replacement, there are at least 3 that are out there, but only xournal installed properly using

sudo apt-get install xournal

It also worked properly. I now learned that xournal is superior to MS Journal in that it supports the use of rulers and can also interpret your pen strokes as circles, quadrilaterals, triangles or straight lines when a tool button is pressed.

I didn’t see a way to turn off the “finger touch” option. Finger touch is a pain when using a pen, since it throws off your pen strokes and the mouse generally. If there was a way to turn it off, I didn’t find it. I also didn’t find anything that would calibrate things like sensitivity, or recalibrate the n-Trig system if things go haywire. In this case, this moment of nirvana only lasted one reboot. In the next reboot, the Ubuntu splash screen malfunctioned and registered an error message, and the mouse behaved unpredictably.

One thing, however, the loading speed of the program was noticeably faster, due largely to the new SSD. Libre Office loaded almost as fast as vi.

But even so, a vastly improved performance on this unit over Linux versions from last year. I am now sitting through the interminable Software Install screen for the original Vista OS it was shipped with, which will provide factory settings (3 hours running so far, not sure why it would take that long). I intend to make a small partition at the end of the drive for Linux, and another smaller one for swap space. I am doing this because I was curious as to what had gone wrong with the installation to cause it to behave awkwardly on subsequent reboots.

I also noticed that there isn’t a way to rotate the screen. I read mostly from posts in 2009 that no driver had been developed yet, and obviously no driver made it into the Ubuntu codebase for me to take advantage of.

The TX2 also allows me to run Linux from a bootable USB stick, and check things from that vantage point in case I change my mind and decide to use the entire SSD disk for Windows.

Keyboards and Keypads II

I had been searching for a good USB keypad for use with my laptop. I prefer to enter sets of numbers using a separate keypad rather than using the “keypad mode” keys native to my laptop, since I don’t need to keep switching between modes if I am both entering a list of numbers and going back and forth to text.

Over the years, I have had several different keypads, and the most common problem is that the rubber feet keep coming off of them. To anyone manufacturing these things, I need to tell you:

  • people who use separate keypads use them with their laptops;
  • this means that your keypad must be as mobile as my laptop;
  • when little pieces come off the keypad in my book bag, most likely one or more of the rubber feet, this causes the keypad to annoyingly rock side to side as I press the keys, since the pad is no longer supported in a balanced way;
  • this always happens, because manufacturers universally fasten the feet (which are made of rubber to keep the keypad stationary on the table as I type) to the keypad with glue;
  • this is a bad thing, because these feet eventually become un-glued;
  • there are many new keypad designs which come out every year, the prices of these differ wildly, as do their functions and capabilities;
  • all of these people glue the rubber feet to the keypad, regardless of how much you paid for the keypad;
  • meaning that all keypads from $6 to over $100 has a useable life of about 3 months, unless you wish to put up with the instability issue;
  • and so if you are like me and you get annoyed with it, you’ll spend $6.00 for a minimal USB keypad, knowing that you’ll buy one again in 3 months.

This is an open letter to the many manufacturers of such keypads: rubberize the entire bottom of the keypad. Affix it mechanically rather than with glue. Hell, you can even make the whole keypad waterproof. Even make the whole thing our of silicone like some manufacturers do with entire keyboards.

Above is a $6.99 keypad I picked up at Canada Computes, made by iCan. The depiction from the store website is more optimistic than my actual product, feet-wise. Notice that one piece of rubber goes all the way across the top. That would actually be nice, except that my actual keypad has the conventional four smaller feet. I am still hopeful that this one might be more durable, since they appear to be on the unit quite solidly. As a bonus, the USB wire wraps all the way around the unit when you store it.

Cambridge Diary II

2:11 PM Tuesday 16 August

  • I am sitting in the Catherine Stratton Lounge inside the Stratton Student Centre at MIT. At one end, a soap opera plays in a room where about 20 armchairs and couches are arranged on one end, theatre-style, around a 50-inch flat-screen TV. Only two students are lying there viewing the latest episode of “The Bold and the Beautiful”. To the side is an empty black glass case reaching to the ceiling. Two large, wobbly single-pedestal circular wooden tables surrounded by chairs behind the armchairs and couches.
  • At the end opposite the TV a young man lies across a couch, his empty sneakers placed in front of it, and his tattooed arms folded across his chest and the visor of his baseball cap is shading his eyes.
  • I lost the paper stating where in the Stratton Student Centre my meeting with Alex is supposed to take place. I decide to take out my laptop and hunt around for the Student Information Processing Board (SIPB) office.
  • I have the choice of four different wireless networks to log on to in the Stratton Centre, and I choose the Wireless N-Unsecured (since I’m not a student), and soon I’m on the air. To no surprise, the UNIX logins are lightning-fast, and MIT’s copy of XEmacs takes a fraction of a second to load up. But that’s a distraction right now. On my web browser, I find that SIPB is on the 5th floor. I write down the room number on a sheet of paper. I couldn’t see from the outside that this building actually had 5 floors.
  • I meet Alex, and we enter the SIPB office. It’s a bit of a messy office; but it is the kind of mess that you sense that at least everyone knows where everything is. Senator-bedfellow is still posting to the USENET’s *.answers groups; bloom-picayune has been decommissioned and is now the name of a new machine that has new functions; and our good buddy rtfm, also known as penguin-lust, is now home to the canonical FAQ archive.
  • That, and a host of other niggly technical stuff, is what came out of our 90-minute conversation today.

MATH MISTAKES I’VE SEEN AT MIT:

  • I gave a cashier 28.00 for a $27.92 purchase, and she rung up $280.00 for which she would have needed to provide $252.02 in change. But she worked it out in her head anyway. Bully for her.
  • We were among the nerdy T-shirts at the MIT Co-op bookstore, and someone saw PV/nR printed on a T-shirt. This was part of the code for: E/c2 -1 PV/nR, which ends up being “MIT”. The person looking at the phrase guessed it, but called PV/nR a Tensor expression. But it is part of the Universal Gas Law: PV = nRT, solving for T. T is thus temperature. The “m” is mass from the Einstein equation E = mc2, solving for mass, while i is the imaginary number: √ -1 .

Keyboards and keypads I

I have had a problem with dust, hair, and dirt accumulating on my keyboard, going in between and under keys thus and over time the keyboard gets increasingly difficult to use, even with compressed air. Elephant adds a silicone covering over the actual keyboard. The form-fitting layer is completely removable. Cleaning it is a simple matter of wiping. No more compressed air. The keyboard sold for under $20.00, so I picked one up.

It is also kind of slim, and is avoiding the recent trend toward a split keyboard design (not sure I liked it anyway). But in wanting this cleanabillity, I had to give up the direct access keys which my old keyboard had: for things like a calculator, a file window, and email. What I get instead are the 12 function keys which seem to have a dual function within applications. I can still control the sound card volume from this keyboard, however.

I had some past experience with other keyboards which boasted total flexibilty, whose structural material consisted entirely of silicone and thus could be rolled up, apart from its improved cleanability. The problem was that I found them more difficult to use. There is something to be said in favour of a keyboard that has a hard plastic case. It makes keyboarding easier when it is done on a hard surface. And with the silicone covering I get the best of both worlds.

[Media Monday] – Getting Sound equipment on the uber-cheap

This photo shows my sound equipment used for generating voice recording on a laptop.

The most prominent devices on the photo are the pair of Optimus microphones which have no hint of XLR connectivity, and just have quarter inch jacks. I bought them 10 years ago, and they have hardly been used.

There is also a Nexxtech preamp which takes a 9-volt battery and uses only RCA connectors. The Source was able to sell me 1/4″ to RCA adaptor plugs. I already had the required RCA to 1/8″ stereo mike input at home. The Source was able to get Nexxtech to special-order the preamp for me for about 25 dollars.

So, a 9-volt battery, a preamp, and a 1/4″-to-RCA adaptor, with tax came to about $35.00.  I have no need for sound management software, since I use Audacity, which is free.

I thought it was time to pull the old mikes off the shelf and use them for once. But in my ongoing struggle to be cheaper than is socially acceptable, I scrounged around the music and sound shops for equipment that would utilize these mikes. I was constantly confronted by salesmen who, in the efforts to socialise me into the range of acceptability for spending  money, tried to sell me another pair of mikes that would work with the preamps and mixers they had.

Well, admittedly, $150 for a mixer and preamp is cheap compared to what used to be the case years ago. In fact, I have written before about a Behringer mixer that sells for under $50.00. And I’ve seen them and realise now that they don’t work with my relatively antiquated equipment. But because I am more of a cheapskate than is socially acceptable, I see that as their problem, not my problem. The XLR mikes in most of these places would set me back another $30 or so, not counting other needed equipment should I go that route.

The recording below is from my cheap setup, with audacity as the recording software. The sound is compromised as I am sitting right next to the air conditioner (the window is next to my desk), which is turned on. We are in the middle of a heat wave, and things are getting desparate, heat-wise.

[media id=125 width=320 height=240]

Things to blame for my miserable life

Today, I have made a discovery. If you want to bring Windows 7 Home Edition to its knees,  all you need to do on your laptop is plug in a 2 GB SD card into the SD slot. Every time I have done this, I have either gotten the well-known “green bar of death”, or the shutdown process would take forever. In many cases, the Windows Explorer window would freeze, or Cygwin (for W7) would not take system commands such as “cd” or “ls” on any directory. Then I could not exit Cygwin. In this case, I was merely running the shell.

Another time, I opened Windows Explorer to view the contents of the SD drive, and this time, I got a green bar once more. But it was cancellable. It said it was “computing items”. While I could close the window, the computer would not shut down.

Tell me, why does any operating system need to do anything more than just show me my files when I ask it to?

Version 2 of the TI Nspire operating system

My main complaint about the Nspire and Nspire CAS, the need to have some kind of input statement in its programmnig language, looks like it is closer to reality. I just have to fiddle with it some more to see if it can really place data in tables (or now, spreadsheets), and see if I can really do I/O in a running program as was the case for the TI-84 family. To be clear, I am not using the new “touchpad” version of the CAS, I am using the slightly older version, which had the original keyboard.

When I did a test statement

Request "---> ", j
and ran it, the calculator came back with a screen using “–>” as a prompt, and a blank for me to input something. I entered “36”, then the input window disappeared, then the string

--> 36
was output. The input window seems cumbersome.  That could be because I like command line input, and think it has less memory overhead on a device where every byte of RAM is precious.

At any rate, the value is stored in j, and this was proven by doing the multiplication

4j
and I got 144. This was on a calculator whose memory was cleared due to the OS upgrade. The cursor is much more sensitive, and there is a noticeable speed impovement over prior OS versions.

I tried to make a simple program, and got nowhere with the Request statement, when I placed it inside a FOR/END FOR loop in a named program.

Programming on the TI-84, Nspire and Nspire CAS

The TI-Nspire comes with a great deal of programming tools, but after many updates, it is still crippled by the lack of an input statement.

Without input, what you have is a collection of functions. You have to run and re-run functions with new parameters each time to enter a list.

Of course they provide their spreadsheet, which requires the user to tab to a new cell after each input. Then to go to the first cell of the new row, you need to arrow down then left for several arrow presses until you return to the first cell of the row below. Once all your data is input, TI says you are given two choices: either run your function on your spreadsheet (the output going into a new column), or run your program in calculator mode, using the variables from your spreadsheet as parameters.

Running a TI-84 with an input command, I input data into multiple lists, pressing only the enter key until the end of the list (list length was the first data entered). These lists ended up in the table, namely L1 to L6. To correct my input, I could always return to the table and correct  anything I needed. If the list consisted of multiple items for each row in a table, that was no problem. The program I wrote took care of the tabulation and did the calculations on columns, storing the output in new columns, as the code below illustrates.

I can only see the Nspire becoming most useful after the raw data is fully tabulated. I can see how formerly complex calculations and metadata generation becomes greatly simplified once the table is in place, using the Nspire. I have appreciated how cutting and pasting, and the invocation of spreadsheet-based functions greatly resemble that of Microsoft Excel. Before we appreciate the math power it holds, it is comparatively a slog, with having to navigate back and forth across a spreadsheet.
__________________________
This is a TI-84 Program to input student marks based on 4 categories and calculate statistics on class evaluations. Indentation is for presentation only. You cannot indent code in the TI-84.

VARIABLE DICTIONARY
K: Knowledge out of            A: Application out of
T: Thinking out of             C: Communication out of
N: # of tests                  I: Counts test #
L: Knowledge mark              B: Application mark
U: Thinking mark               D: Communication mark
Z: Used in calculating student's percentage
Y: Amount of mark accounted for so far
L1, L2, L3, ... L6
   ... arrays which hold raw scores or mid-stage calculations,
   each array element accessed through counter I. These are the
   lists stored and tabulated as they appear on the TI-84.

PURPOSE:
This program attempts to convert the 4-mark grade awarded to
students to a percentage overall grade. While many teachers
consider this a "no-no", students appreciate it, and have
a better feel for what the mark means.

If the user chooses not to enter a certain category, then s/he
should where can i buy generic viagra online from canada enter "0" when prompted at the beginning for what that
category is out of. For example, if the teacher chooses to omit
the category "Application", then s/he should enter "0" in response
to

     AP OUT OF? 0

The user is never prompted for an application mark again.

This program allows for missing sections. Up to 3 of the four
categories can be missing and an adequate percentage will be
calculated, assuming:
     Knowledge 30%
     Application 30%
     Thinking 20%
     Communication 20%
PROGRAM: MARKS

Clear Entries
ClrAllLists
Input "NO OF TESTS? ", N
Input "KN OUT OF? ", K
Input "AP OUT OF? ", A
Input "TH OUT OF? ", T
Input "COMM OUT OF? ", C
For(I, 1, N, 1)
   0->L
   0->B
   0->U
   0->D
   0->Y
   0->Z
   If (K>0)
      Then
         Input "K? ", L
         (L/K)*.3->L1(I)
         L1(I)->Z
         .3->Y
   End
   If (A>0)
      Then
         Input "A? ", B
         (B/A)*.3->L2(I)
         Z+L2(I)->Z
         Y+.3->Y
   End
   If (T>0)
      Then
         Input "T? ", U
         (U/T)*.2->L3(I)
         Z+L3(I)->Z
         Y+.2->Y
   End
   If (C>0)
      Then
         Input "C? ", D
         (D/C)*.2->L4(I)
         Z+L4(I)->Z
         Y+.2->Y
   End
   Disp "MARK: ", (Z/Y)*100
   (Z/Y)->L5(I)
End
(L5*100)->L6
1-Var Stats L6

UPDATE: I had to type in the above code by hand, since no Windows-based editor is available for this coding, and there is no editable file for this code that I am aware of, except through the calculator itself. In the process, I spotted some errors, which have now been corrected.  In the old code, “Y” appeared to be counting a possible total of 1.2 instead of 1. Also, the Communication mark was based on 30% instead of 20%.  Since I have no serious intention to maintain the code on this blog entry, send me a comment if you have any other difficulties with this code.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
One of the serious disadvantages of programming the TI-84 is the utter lack of syntax structuring for the purposes of readability, such as indentation. Notice also that the IF statement takes up two lines. THEN seems to be treated as though it marks the beginning of a statement block, ended by END.

But, I suppose in the service of reducing the keyword count, END seems to end any statement block, such as a FOR loop. There is also another problem with not being able to move backward to correct data until after the program has finished execution.

While readability was an issue with the TI-84, I am still willing to live with that for the want of an INPUT statement in the NSPIRE. This code allows for efficient keying in of long lists of data.

USENET: Death of the Alt.* Hierarchy

The Usenet has been, and continues to be, a great source of information, where technologies that push product can easily be pushed aside using filters. There are more than 10,000 newsgroups on nearly every topic that delienates our human existence, all hierarchically arranged. The major hierarchies are known as “The Big 8”: comp.*, humanities.*, misc.*, news.*, rec.*, sci.*, soc.*, and talk.*.

The one hierarchy which has been the bastard child of the usenet has been the alt.* hierarchy. Like all technologies, they start off with good intentions. According to one follower of the Big 8:

The alt.* hierarchy was begun, in part, as a reaction against the management principles of what came to be known as the Big-8. It is an “alternative” approach to creating newsgroups

This meant that, in reaction to certain sites placing a “veto” on certain newsgroups and due to the political influence certain site maintainers had, why not make it possible for anyone to make any newsgroup they want, without the need for a vote? That was the idea behind “alt.*”

Most people who maintain USENET sites will freely admit that much of the alt.* hierarchy has become a moral and technological toilet. It carries nearly every nutty newsgroup bounded only by imagination, including groups no one has ever seriously posted to, as well as long-dead newsgroups that also have no posts (unless you count spam). Examples are

  • alt.swedish-chef.bork.bork.bork
  • alt.n (where “n” = monday, tuesday, wednesday, thursday, friday, saturday, sunday)
  • alt.sex.extraterrestrial
  • alt.food.pez

… you get the idea. This led the folks carrying these newsgroups to decide that: OK, maybe we’ll make the carrying of the alt.* hierarchy optional. Thus, the carrying of the alt.* hierarchy has been considered optional since its inception. I don’t know of any universities that carry it.

There is another problem with the alt.* hierarchy. It has been used as a vehicle for carrying child porn. If we censor ONLY these newsgroups, that would only mean that people can create others within alt.* that do the same thing. This is also the same for newsgroups that carry ISOs of complete software suites, mp3s of complete albums, and DVDs of movies. None of these activities are what I would call “legal”, and is easy justification for axing the whole hierarchy for reasons of freedom from liability for the ISP. That still leaves the “big 8”, which are mostly safe from illegal activity (unless it’s spam).

Verizon will be cutting alt.* from its offerings, and Time-Warner will no longer offer USENET at all later this month. It must be stated that alt.* carries a lot of worthwhile groups that are active, with their own FAQ maintainers. In light of this, many ISPs have taken the middle ground of not carrying the alt.* binary groups, leaving the text groups intact. What Verizon has done would be considered extreme by the standards of most ISPs.

There are hierarchies that are not part of the “Big 8”, having to do with gaining inexpensive (free) tech support, such as microsoft.*, corel.*, borland.*, linux.*, and so on. These are even more worthwhile, and I hope they are keeping them. They typically are relatively free of spam and have more wothwhile posts. There are knowledgeable people there who can answer your queries in a relatively short time.

Freedom of speech has historically been limited by the understanding that “freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.” For the Internet, the argument is specious, since it was taxpayer’s money that built it in the first place.

That means that even the attempt to privatize it to various companies (Time, Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, Bell, and so on) constitutes a form of corporate welfare. The questions seem to come down to: who really has the right to decide what newsgroups I can and can’t read? I suppose someone has to manage alt.*, but who gets to do this, and in who’s interest? These are really the questions that need to be explored.