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

My PaperWM desktop, as I write this post.

My PaperWM desktop, as I write this post.

Just before Christmas I decided to try out a GNOME extension I'd read about, PaperWM. It looked promising, but I was a little nervous about breaking my existing workflow, which was heavily reliant on the Put Windows extension.

It's great! I have had to carefully un-train some of my muscle memory but it seems to be worth it. It seems to strike a great balance between the rigidity of a tile-based window manager and a more traditional floating-windows one.

I'm always wary of coming to rely upon large extensions or plugins. The parent software is often quite hands-off about caring about supporting users of them, or breaking them by making API changes. Certainly those Firefox users who were heavily dependent on plugins prior to the Quantum fire-break are still very, very angry. (I actually returned to Firefox at that point, so I avoided the pain, and enjoy the advantages of the re-architecture). PaperWM hopefully is large enough and popular enough to avoid that fate.

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picture of a vinyl record
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picture of a vinyl record
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For my PhD work, I've been working on preparing an experimental branch of StrIoT for merging down to the main branch. This has been a long-lived branch (a year!) within which I've been exploring some ideas. Some of the code I want to keep, and some I don't.

The history of the experimental branch is consequently messy. Looking it over and considering what a reviewer needs to see, there's a lot of things that are irrelevant and potentially distracting. And so, I've been going through an iterative process of steadily whittling down the history to the stuff that matters: some strings of commits are dropped, others squashed together, and others re-ordered. The resulting branch is a historic fiction.

This is common practice. Joey Hess ruminated about it 5 years ago in "our beautiful fake histories", pointing out that the real history is also useful, and perhaps worth preserving.

After a recent conversation with my supervisor I realised the situation was analagous to writing a research paper (or a thesis): the process of getting to the conclusion which the thesis documents is messy, with false starts, wrong directions, and plenty of roads-not-travelled. The eventual write-up focusses on the path that lead to the conclusion, and a lot of the side-quest stuff disappears.

The "true history" then, is captured elsewhere: in lab books, diaries and the like, and these have their own value. So do my messy exploratory branches, before they've been cleaned up for merging.

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selfie skating at night
Nathan Phillips Square rink at night
view over Nathan Phillips Square rink
skaters by day

This time a year ago, I visited Toronto, Canada for my first (and hopefully not last) time, for the Red Hat Java team's face-to-face meetings. The hotel we were staying in was right next to Nathan Phillip's Square, which is an open-air Ice Rink for the winter months. I love Ice Skating and rarely took opportunities to do it (even before Covid-19) so I decided to take full advantage of the locality. Skating was free, but boot rental was not, so I bought some new skates. That meant an interesting problem getting them home on the plane.

I think I got out there about 5 times over 5 days. It was busy during the day and very quiet at other times. 8am worked pretty well.

My local Ice Rink has been intermittently open over the year as and when the Lockdown rules have allowed it, but the combination of cold air, indoor circulation and strenuous activity seem to me to be very unsafe, so I won't risk it. In Newcastle, the Centre for Life usually puts an outdoor rink on around Christmas, which is very expensive to skate on. Unfortunately they've decided against it this year.

Toronto was great for more than just Ice Skating! I had a fantastic time meeting my team members; good food, good drink (especially Ice Wine); The CN Tower; a funky music instrument shop, and the first Teenage Engineering OP-1 I've ever seen in the flesh; not much Maple syrup, which surprised me. Good coffee. A comfortable-feeling city.

It'll probably be a long while before I travel for work (or anything else) quite like this again. I'm glad to have made the most of it, whilst I could!

me, covered in snow
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