Part 33 of elf's Apple PowerBook G4 Journal

#emacs Poetry

Sat Dec 01 21:42:45 2007

i write so bad at line endings,
it doesn't prose no consolers
to define the language you abstract.
yi yi! sing me of poetry:
like that, the desktop is so defiant!

I began with roughly the 3rd word of every line of a part of an Emacs channel conversation, then chose two or more words and then added punctuation.

Campaign Logo Analysis


Sun Dec 02 14:58:35 2007

A few Sunday's ago, Ward Sutton wrote a thoughtful and comic critique of the logos of the current U.S. presidential campaign by using an "Op-Art cartoon" instead of the usual editorial commentary.

Campaign Stops

obama google

Wed Dec 05 21:26:21 2007

Last century, General Motors assembly plants were a regular stop on the itineraries of presidential candidates. This election cycle, Google headquarters has become a favorite destination. Hillary Rodham Clinton, made the pilgrimage in February. Then came John McCain, Bill Richardson, John Edwards, Ron Paul, Mike Gravel and most recently, Barak Obama.
The proceedings at Google are not unremittingly serious affairs. Mr. Schimdt asked Senator McCain, "How do you determine good ways of sorting one million 32-bit integers in two megabytes of RAM?" Immediately signaling that the question was asked in jest, Mr. Schimdt moved on. Six months later, Senator Obama faced the same questionl, but his staff had prepared him. When he replied in fluent tech-speak ("A bubble sort is the wrong way to go"), the quip brought down the house.

—Charles Stross, NY Times Sunday Business, Dec. 2, 2007


books pynchon

Fri Dec 07 23:07:24 2007

A screaming comes across the sky.

In the tedium that is December, I have begun reading Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. I ordered it from just before the Christmas rush to qualify for free shipping when I ordered Stewart Brand's How Buildings Learn which was listed in Richard Gabriel's bibliography of his 2007 OOPSLA paper Conscientious Software (which has ideas that are currently only implemented in hardcore SF that Vinge writes).

I wasn't sure I would enjoy reading Gravity's Rainbow as so many find Pynchon's writing pretentious and tedious (especially his latest, Against the Day which, at more than 1000 pages was, harshly criticized by most literary critics). I can understand their criticism because as professional reviewers, they work under publishing deadlines. I, on the other hand, am under no such obligations; being four five book-reviews behind: The Elements of Typographic Style, Legacy of Ashes and the comic book, Watchmen (Update Sat Dec 08 09:49:15 2007: I forgot Kaufman's Field Guide to Insects of North America).

I am reading Pynchon in morsels— on the train, to and from Toronto— rather than the marathon sessions one is typically obliged to undertake during days at the cottage, or whilst lazing under a beach umbrella and during other so designated periods of ritualized reading that the publishing industry's marketing division has invented to sell more books. In the queue for December are The Princess Bride and Jimmy Corrigan (Update Sat Dec 08 09:49:15 2007: I forgot Once and Future King).

I should note that the trade paperback 2006 edition of Gravity's Rainbow cost me CAD$15.30; even though the back cover lists USD$18 and CAD$23.50. The 1995 edition is cheaper at CAD$14.50. Ironically, A Gravity's Rainbow Companion costs more than the book itself.

Update Mon Dec 10 19:55:47 2007: Claire commented saying that she managed to find A Gravity's Rainbow for USD$7.95 (which was covered over by a $9.95 sticker). She said that her reading style was similar to mine and that she has read both Against the Day ("a lot of fun") and Mason & Dixon ("a lot like Against the Day in some ways, but is, I think, much sillier. On the other hand, Against the Day has airships."). She also suggests:

Another frequently-cited-in-the-computing-world architecture book ... A Pattern Language (by Christopher Alexander, which inspired the various computer-programming pattern languages, and essentially provides sets of nesting and complementary building and urban-area design components that can be used to construct buildings that integrate well into their surroundings and work well within themselves. It's also a beautiful artifact itself, being a somewhat flexible hardcover designed to sit well in your hand.

I have added A Pattern Language to my reading list and I plan on reading Against the Day as I also share a fondness for airships— the video game, Crimson Skies and Miyazaki's anime, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, immediately come to mind.

"My Fair Emacsia"


Sat Dec 08 18:39:54 2007

<cluck> it's all very fine and dandy, but where in hell are we gonna find a geek that can sing?
<e1f> sachac will do it

I'm thinking of writing a play called "My Fair Emacsia" about a vintage editor found wandering the streets of London around Covent Gardens. Essentially, the plot involves a wager between a professor of Lisp and a professional soldier, who fought in Java, to transform and modernize the ancient editor.

The heroine of our story is Emacsia Doeslisp (M-x eliza, for short). There is a song-and-dance number called, "Wouldn't it be Loverly", about the editor's current defects— "All I want is multi-threads/Just so the editor doesn't hang". The professor also does a song, which covering the antiquated terminology used by the editor, titled, "Why can't a Window be more like a Frame?"

There is another song-and-dance as the first milestone of the project is reached—"The text in a Region falls mainly between the Mark and Point" and a song and dance number by Emacsia's father called, "With a little bit of bloomin' Lisp".

The project is still in its preliminary stages and I want to thank <offby1>, <bpalmer> and <entropie> for their initial ideas and help with the songs.

Wii + MacBook Pro + Dome

hardware 3d

Sun Dec 09 17:08:09 2007

Some research by Paul Bourke on 3D immersive visualization using a Wii remote for navigation, a MBP for rendering and a dome screen for display. The conclusions are interesting— the Wii accelerometer alone does not provide enough data to acuurately determine position; the IR sensors are an important part of the design.

Ultra-portable Mac Rumours


Mon Dec 10 14:51:12 2007

I try to avoid posting about rumoured hardware unless the reliable Wall Street Journal mentions it, however, the ultra-slim, ultra-portable has been "confirmed" by both Apple Insider and CNBC (hopefully their sources are independant) for a release at Macworld 2008. Macrumours has a summary of all the available information.

The Garden Path

philosophy search www

Thu Dec 13 11:51:54 2007

Every path to a new understanding begins in confusion.
—Mason Cooley

Last month, we were testing a piece of lab equipment to see whether it would work within our lab environment— Fedora on x86 with VMWare for any Windows-only applications. This piece of equipment was USB based and since it only had drivers for Windows, it had to run under VMWare.

As soon as the software attempted to communicate with the hardware, there was a BSOD and VMWare re-started; the hardware worked perfectly on a native Windows install. We concluded that the problem was with this piece of hardware interacting with VMWare and our Google searches for solutions were tainted with keywords that drew us away from the real problem.

After a long day of fighting with this problem, in what is one of the quirks of the human brain— as I washed my hands in the washroom— it occured to me that the problem might not be specifically with this piece of hardware but a more general problem with VMWare and USB. I returned to my office and I removed the keywords specific to the hardware and searched again. I hit upon the solution in an instant (result No. 3, Google took 0.15 s). Testing the hypothesis took a few minutes and I was correct— unloading the USB2.0 kernel modules and defaulting to the USB1.1 modules was the answer to our problem.

Basking in the glow of victory (my boss had been working on this problem intermittently for a few months— were initially given a defective piece of hardware) I thought about what would have happened if we didn't have Google's vast storehouse of information at our disposal. I remembered that I had recently read a blog titled, My Life Without Google.

So I performed a small test— I searched Yahoo! using exactly the same keywords, to see if I would have found the answer. Surprisingly (I had not expected to be successful), I found (in a mere 0.03 s) an entirely different document (result No. 5) that had a similar answer. Pretty good, but it could be a lot better.

Rather than searching for problems via conceptual inquiries, we are still using keywords to search for answers. Sadly, my search results are only as good as the keywords I use, based on my intuition. The state of today's serch engines can be summarized as— if you don't know what you're searching for, don't even bother looking.

drm copyright

Sun Dec 16 09:04:29 2007

The Globe and Mail has a great article describing the events that led up to the postponement of an "anti-piracy" bill that was to be tabled by Jim Prentice, the Industry Minister of Canada.

Because of the organizational efforts of Michael Geist, law professor at the University of Ottawa, 300 questions were submitted online to a CBC show called Search Engine where the minister was supposed to appear; the minister cancelled his appearance. Undaunted, people appeared at the minister's open-house in Calgary and posed the questions in person. The videos are available on the Facebook group, which has 25,000 people registered.

Let it Snow


Sun Dec 16 13:08:03 2007

Oh the weather outside is frightful

That was the view outside a corner of my window this morning (note that it's not a black and white photo). Temperatures hovering around -20° with the windchill. Since the storm came from the south, it travelled over the Great Lakes picking up moisture which was then converted into snow— which is always preferable to rain.

Looking at the weather radar maps last night, Oakville, Hamilton, Kitchener, St. Catharines and Rochester, NY were buried in snow. There was actually a thunderstorm in the middle of the morning; I didn't know what the rumbling sound was until I refreshed the forecast webpage. This morning's email-bulletin from GO Transit reported delays of 75 minutes across the system. Surprisingly, today's NY Times was delivered.

Chipmunk BASIC

software basic

Mon Dec 17 03:26:49 2007

20 GOTO 10

The Chipmunk BASIC interpreter for OS X supports AppleScript, graphics, sprites, sound, speech and OOP. So what if it doesn't have closures, it's still great for writing kids games.

Yonge and Queen


Mon Dec 17 20:36:42 2007

The photo on the left is a two-image panorama, taken last Wednesday, of the Christmas decorations on Yonge Street, looking north from Richmond Street. On the left, is The Hudson's Bay department store with the awnings decorated with red lights. The next intersection up the street is Queen Street; the tall building in the middle-center is the Maritime Life Insurance building built "on top" of the original Bank of Montreal building, whose facade and interior has been preserved as a heritage structure.

I have provided two additional pictures, taken in 2005, giving a better view of the Romanesque architecture of the Bank of Montreal building at Yonge and Queen. The second photo is of the main doors on Yonge street (note the slope of the street rising from right to left— south to north) to the Sen5es restaurant). The third photo faces north-east and shows the length of the building along Queen street and the Maritime Life building rising above it. (The lobby of the Maritime Life building has an interesting sculpture with a nautical theme.) The last photo (taken from Toronto Before) shows the building in 1913.

This entry which originally started as a simple post, titled 'Tis the Season, with a Christmasy picture I took last week, grew into this historical look back at the intersection, for no apparent reason.

Ludwig von Brahms


Tue Dec 18 11:31:18 2007

This morning I remembered that, "Brahms' first symphony (which took 15 years to write) is considered to be Beethoven's tenth symphony". I don't remember whether I dreamt it or whether I read it somewhere.

When I Googled for it, I found that it was indeed true. Which meant that I couldn't have dreamt it because Google is not yet that powerful. Unfortunately, I don't know where I read it because I haven't been reading articles on classical music (I recently read a book review of Steve Martin's autobiography and started the review of Laurence Bergreen's Marco Polo).

The Wikipedia article does link to a cache of classical music performed by the Columbia University Orchestra.

Google Grand Prix

iphone google

Tue Dec 18 17:37:41 2007

Earlier this month, Google released new cellphone software with the codename Grad Prix. A project that took just six weeks to complete, Grand Prix allows for fast and easy access to Google services like search, Gmail and calendars through a stripped-down mobile phone browser. (For now, it is tailored for iPhone browsers, but the plan is to make it work on other mobile browsers as well.)

It bothers me when I read about something technological in the newspaper before I've read about it on the net. The article, a profile of Eric Schimdt, in the New York Times' Sunday Business section, included a detailed play-by-play of the program's genesis by an un-named Google engineer from the moment he demo'd it to his boss to the time Sergey Brin saw it and blessed the project (total elapsed time: 1 hour).

A Google search for more information results in two hits which just summarize the article (and you have to add "iphone" to the keywords "google grand prix").

"The Other Side"


Wed Dec 19 22:00:54 2007

The Other Side”, by Istvan Banyai is the most surreal children's book I have ever had the pleasure to read. Lookybook is a new website that lets you browse children's books using a Flash interface.

That Settles It


Thu Dec 20 01:45:04 2007

Apple, Think Secret settle lawsuit

December 20, 2007 - PRESS RELEASE: Apple and Think Secret have settled their lawsuit, reaching an agreement that results in a positive solution for both sides. As part of the confidential settlement, no sources were revealed and Think Secret will no longer be published. Nick Ciarelli, Think Secret's publisher, said "I'm pleased to have reached this amicable settlement, and will now be able to move forward with my college studies and broader journalistic pursuits."


XKCD At Google


Thu Dec 20 16:38:27 2007

Every generation, an artist comes along that redefines the way we look at art.
—Peter Norvig introducing Randall Munroe

The author of XKCD, Randall Munroe, visited the Google campus to give a lecture. Peter Norvig introduces him with a presentation running on Firefox on his Mac. Knuth also makes an appearance to ask a question in reference to the recent four-part cartoon strip.

Update Thu Dec 20 21:31:43 2007: I noticed that we share a love for the Japanese made Pigma Micron markers. In Toronto our university bookstore used to carry them, but now only art-supply stores (like Currys) carry them. I have never seen them in office-supply stores.

Update Mon Dec 31 17:10:14 2007: Beyond Satire is the blogger who organized Randall's visit to Google.

Saving Graces


Fri Dec 21 19:00:15 2007

Whereof what’s past is prologue.
—The Tempest, II.i

This is a response to Bryan Murdoch's recent post, My c-x c-s Muscles Are Getting Tired.

I believe that certain Emacs philosophies should be re-considered in light of advancements in technology. One of those philosophies is the concept of the state of a file. Currently, a file being edited in Emacs can exist in one of three states: the version being edited in the buffer, the last version saved on disk and previous versions (saved at particular points in time) named with ~s.

But imagine if you could view the file at any point in time over it's entire lifetime (the smallest time-slice being a single character change)— from the moment it was created ex nihilo, to its current state.

Currently, this is idea is only partially possible within the constraints of a buffer's undo history. But imagine if, 1) the entire undo history was preserved to disk, 2) there was a mechanism (let's call it: M-x timemachine) that allowed you to browse through the undo history and allowed you to replay the entire history of the file, with the ability to choose which edits from the past you wanted restored into the current file.

This would require a fundamental change to an Emacs user's behaviour— it would mean that you no longer had to save a file because all the edits would be automatially preserved as journalled transactions, which could be recalled at any moment in its lifetime to restore the precise contents of the file at that particular moment.

Notes: I proposed this idea to rms, a few years ago; I don't know what he thought of it. Now, I think it's time to consider it again. Also, iPhoto 5 doesn't have a "Save" button/menu-item, everything is saved automatically; but if iPhoto crashes unexpectedly, you lose any slide-shows or albums created since it was started.

Update Sun Dec 23 16:43:50 2007: See the post M-x RememberAll for screenshots of a prototype interface.

"Twilight of the Books"

books literacy amazon

Sun Dec 23 09:58:09 2007

The New Yorker has a great article by Caleb Crain, on the decline of readers around the world, who have substituted television and other electronic entertainment for books.

In a study published this year, experimenters varied the way that people took in a PowerPoint presentation about the country of Mali. Those who were allowed to read silently were more likely to agree with the statement “The presentation was interesting,” and those who read along with an audiovisual commentary were more likely to agree with the statement “I did not learn anything from this presentation.” The silent readers remembered more, too, a finding in line with a series of British studies in which people who read transcripts of television newscasts, political programs, advertisements, and science shows recalled more information than those who had watched the shows themselves.
The Internet, happily, does not so far seem to be antagonistic to literacy. Researchers recently gave Michigan children and teen-agers home computers in exchange for permission to monitor their Internet use. The study found that grades and reading scores rose with the amount of time spent online. Even visits to pornography Web sites improved academic performance.

No wonder sells more than just books; I don't think it would be able to stay in business selling just books in light of a declining readership. If readership is declining, is the Kindle ebook reader an attempt to re-kindle the love of electronic entertainment? In Canada, is limited to books, CDs, DVDs and video games. Is profitable in Canada because there are proportionally more readers than in the U.S?

M-x RememberAll

emacs interface

Sun Dec 23 16:19:12 2007

On #emacs <offby1> asked how M-x timemachine would work (perhaps the mode should be called RememberAll since "TimeMachine" is used by Leopard.). Here are some screenshots that show a possible interface. The scenario shows Thomas Jefferson working on the Declaration of Independence:

The first screen shows the current state of the Declaration (declaration.txt) just before Jefferson invokes Timemachine.

After Timemachine is invoked, the original window splits and the bottom window displays a summary of the edits (the number of places the file was revised) and shows the locations where edits have been made, by fontifying the first character; the first spot is at the word, "When" and the second spot is at the first word, "God". If the document is already fontified, an image glyph may be used to indicate edits.

When Jefferson cursors over to the "G", the Timemachine window displays a history of edits at that spot; the phrase was changed twice at that spot.

When Jefferson cursors over to the "W", the edit at that location is displayed.

Setting the variable rememberall to nil should disable the saving of history for that buffer. Note that the back-end that RememberAll uses to handle the transactions is completely irrelevant to the user— it could be diff run periodically, or vc checkpoints or saving undo-history to disk. The user shouldn't have to care.

OLPC Journal Feed


Mon Dec 24 19:53:08 2007

For anyone that's interested, I now have an RSS feed for my OLPC Journal. The latest news is that deliveries of all 4000+ Canadian orders have been postponed to Jan/Feb. 2008 due to problems with Customs.


Mon Dec 25 00:00:25 2007

And there were in the same channel, nerds idling on irc watching their screens by night. When suddenly, a gnu appeared and their buffers were brightly fontified: and they were sore afraid. Fear not, the gnu said for I bring you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is given this day in the city of Cambridge, a license which is the General Public License. And this shall be the sign: "The GNU General Public License is a free, copyleft license for software and other kinds of works." Ye shall find it in every file, wrapped in a comment lying at the very top. And suddenly there was with the gnu a host of nerds praising the license.

Another Mac at Sun

hardware sun macbook

Wed Dec 26 08:13:20 2007

Jim Grisanzio joins many other bloggers at Sun who bought a Mac to replace their notebook computer. He lives in Japan so his Macbook has a Japanese keyboard (which is not a problem as he knows Japanese). He was quite impressed with the graphics and the ease with which the Mac could be made to switch localizations from Japanese to Latin-1.

Simon Tatham's Portable Puzzle Collection


Thu Dec 27 11:34:20 2007

Simon Tatham's Portable Puzzle Collection has 26 puzzles which can take anywhere from a minute (Untangle, Guess— a Mastermind clone) to an entire lifetime, to solve. Binaries are available for Linux (GTK), Windows, OS X and PalmOS. I hope that when the iPhone SDK is released, they are ported to the iPhone and iPod Touch.

On the OS X version, the instructions and the manual for each puzzle is available via the Help menu and the puzzles themselves are found in File >New Window >"puzzle name"

186 Days


Sat Dec 29 22:38:56 2007

I had to reboot mathilde today after 186 days (a record) of uptime. The problem started when I ran Quinn (Tetris clone) and it wouldn't start— all I got was a dialog box with something about "Error (-600)". I then ran top to verify that there was a Quinn process running; there was. I tried a Force Quit via the Dock icon, to no avail. I proceeded to manually kill it via the Terminal; but the Dock thought the application was still running. Hmmm... Since I had to leave for mass, I closed the lid and left it at that.

When I returned, I noticed no "white blinking eye" (the LED indicating peaceful slumber) and the laptop was rather warm— I encountered this strange phenomenon only once before. I tried "sudo killall -HUP WindowServer" but all I got was a black spinner. I gave up after about a minute and I powered the laptop down and powered it back up.

After it rebooted, I took the opportunity to install SecUpdate2007-008. mathilde is back up and running now.

Old Cash Cows are Dead

technology future

Mon Dec 31 20:36:29 2007

Music CDs are sort of silly now and the new technology doesn't leave a lot of room for a new business model.

A great post by Paul Tyma about the present (fighting to keep the status quo) and the future (inventing completely different ways of doing things).

I would have to agree with him on nearly all the cash cows (CDs, music bands, desktop computers), especially about photography— in the first year I started taking pictures with a digital camera, out of about 3000 photos, I tooks about 30 good ones (good enough for public exhibition) and about 3 excellent ones (definite sellers). I have improved a bit since then— I have to take about 300 pictures to get 30 good ones and 3 excellent ones. Digital cameras (and Photoshop) have allowed me to experiment with and improve my photography very inexpensively. I had a film camera and I only took pictures at family gatherings or outings.

The only point I find myself in disagreement with, is his belief in the the death of libraries (I think he means that paper books will disappear). Paper books will disappear when there is reliable technology that is as durable as paper— there is no electronic data archival and retrieval method today matches or bests paper (c. 100 years).

luis fernandes / G4 PowerBook Journal, Part 33 / Last Modified: Sat Jan 05 11:02:37 2008