Below are the five most recent posts in my weblog. You can also see a chronological list of all posts, dating back to 1999.

sortpaper 16:9

sortpaper 16:9

Back in 2011 I stumbled across a file "sortpaper.png", which was a hand-crafted wallpaper I'd created some time in the early noughties to help me organise icons on my computer's Desktop. I published it at the time in the blog post sortpaper.

Since then I rediscovered the blog post, and since I was looking for an excuse to try out the Processing software, I wrote a Processing Sketch to re-create it, but with the size and colours parameterized: sortpaper.pde.txt. The thumbnail above links to an example 1920x1080 rendering.

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Cover for The Rise Of The Meritocracy

Cover for The Rise Of The Meritocracy

At some point during my Undergraduate years I lost the habit of using Libraries. On reflection this is probably Amazon's fault. In recent years I've tried to get back into the habit of using them.

Using libraries is a great idea if you are trying to lead a more minimalist life. I am registered to use Libraries in two counties: North Tyneside, where I live, and Newcastle, where I work. The union of the two counties' catalogues is pretty extensive. Perhaps surprisingly I have found North Tyneside to offer both better customer service and a more interesting selection of books.

Sometimes there are still things that are hard to get ahold of. After listening to BBC Radio 4's documentary The Rise and Fall of Meritocracy, presented by Toby Young, I became interested in reading The Rise of the Meritocracy: an alarmist, speculative essay that coined the term meritocracy, written by Toby's father, Michael Young.

The book was not on either catalogue. It is out of print, with the price of second hand copies fluctuating but generally higher than I am prepared to pay. I finally managed to find a copy in Newcastle University's Library. As an associate of the School of Computing I have access to the Library services.

It's an interesting read, and I think if it were framed more as a novel than as an essay it might be remembered in the same bracket as Brave New World or 1984.

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Back in November, Michael Stapelberg blogged about running (pure) Debian on the Raspberry Pi 3. This is pretty exciting because Raspbian still provide 32 bit packages, so this means you can run a true ARM64 OS on the Pi. Unfortunately, one of the major missing pieces with Debian on the Pi3 at this time is broken video support.

A helpful person known as "SandPox" wrote to me in June to explain that they had working video for a custom kernel build on top of pure Debian on the Pi, and they achieved this simply by enabling CONFIG_FB_SIMPLE in the kernel configuration. On request, this has since been enabled for official Debian kernel builds.

Michael and I explored this and eventually figured out that this does work when building the kernel using the upstream build instructions, but it doesn't work when building using the Debian kernel package's build instructions.

I've since ran out of time to look at this more, so I wrote to request help from the debian-kernel mailing list, alas, nobody has replied yet.

I've put up the dmesg.txt for a boot with the failing kernel, which might offer some clues. Can anyone help figure out what's wrong?

Thanks to Michael for driving efforts for Debian on the Pi, and to SandPox for getting in touch to make their first contribution to Debian. Thanks also to Daniel Silverstone who loaned me an ARM64 VM (from Scaleway) upon which I performed some of my kernel builds.

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I've been using a Mac day-to-day since around 2014, initially as a refreshing break from the disappointment I felt with GNOME3, but since then a few coincidences have kept me on the platform. Something happened earlier in the year that made me start to think about a move back to Linux on the desktop. My next work hardware refresh is due in March next year, which gives me about nine months to "un-plumb" myself from the Mac ecosystem. From the top of my head, here's the things I'm going to have to address:

  • the command modifier key (⌘). It's a small thing but its use on the Mac platform is very consistent, and since it's not used at all within terminals, there's never a clash between window management and terminal applications. Compared to the morass of modifier keys on Linux, I will miss it. It's possible if I settle on a desktop environment and spend some time configuring it I can get to a similarly comfortable place. Similarly, I'd like to stick to one clipboard, and if possible, ignore the select-to-copy, middle-click-to-paste one entirely. This may be an issue for older software.

  • The Mac hardware trackpad and gestures are honestly fantastic. I still have some residual muscle memory of using the Thinkpad trackpoint, and so I'm weaning myself off the trackpad by using an external thinkpad keyboard with the work Mac, and increasingly using a x61s where possible.

  • SizeUp. I wrote about this in useful mac programs. It's a window management helper that lets you use keyboard shortcuts to move move and resize windows. I may need something similar, depending on what desktop environment I settle on. (I'm currently evaluating Awesome WM).

  • 1Password. These days I think a password manager is an essential piece of software, and 1Password is a very, very good example of one. There are several other options now, but sadly none that seem remotely as nice as 1Password. Ryan C Gordon wrote 1pass, a Linux-compatible tool to read a 1Password keychain, but it's quite raw and needs some love. By coincidence that's currently his focus, and one can support him in this work via his Patreon.

  • Font rendering. Both monospace and regular fonts look fantastic out of the box on a Mac, and it can be quite hard to switch back and forth between a Mac and Linux due to the difference in quality. I think this is a mixture of ensuring the font rendering software on Linux is configured properly, but also that I install a reasonable selection of fonts.

I think that's probably it: not a big list! Notably, I'm not locked into iTunes, which I avoid where possible; Apple's Photo app (formerly iPhoto) which is a bit of a disaster; nor Time Machine, which is excellent, but I have a backup system for other things in place that I can use.

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An update for my post on Western Digital Hard Drive head parking: disabling the head-parking completely stopped the Load_Cycle_Count S.M.A.R.T. attribute from incrementing. This is probably at the cost of power usage, but I am not able to assess the impact of that as I'm not currently monitoring the power draw of the NAS (Although that's on my TODO list).

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