Kobo update

A few months ago I bought a Kobo Mini ereader. These are a few notes I’ve made since then about how well it works. It does work well, and I use it a lot.

  • Quite often, after first turning the thing on, it will go back to sleep mode after the first or second page-turn—without me touching the on/off switch. After switching it back on, it stays on until commanded otherwise. This is annoying, and the first few times I thought the thing was total crap, but now I’m used to it and it doesn’t really detract from normal use.
  • It took far longer than I would’ve expected to get used to turning the page! In a couple of books, it would turn the wrong way, or two pages at once, or not turn at all (but just refresh to the same page!). I think this was just my fumbling and lack of awareness of the various screen areas and swipe/tap directions, because it hasn’t happened for ages and I’ve nearly forgotten about it.
  • The bezel is a bit high, casting shadows across the text when the light is not quite high. Far better than the shadow cast by the opposite page of a book, though, so I don’t really say this as a criticism (but it is noticible).
  • Hyperlinks don’t work and should not be displayed as such. (This has only come up in Wikisource texts, and I realised that the epub’s stylesheet should be able to solve this problem.)
  • Fonts seem lacking in some UTF characters (such as 1/8).
  • Hyphenation is a bit weird. Maybe that’s something to do with the epub itself though? I haven’t bothered to read further on the issue.
  • The first-run can not be done on a Linux machine, as it does some stupid reporting and updating to the Kobo HQ. Why this sort of shit is necessary is beyond me, but at least it only needs to be done once and thereafter can be treated as a USB storage device on any OS. I would have loved to have been able to take it out of the box and instantly start reading some pre-packaged whatever.

There’s lots of other stuff, but basically positive and therefore invisible. It has good battery life; good screen contrast; is physically robust (although I do have a fantastic case for it, which puts a nice slab of binders’ board over the screen when it’s not in use); all up is pretty good.

Now, I just hope I don’t have to buy another ereader for, say, five years. Ten, preferably.

Trust the Tech

Believing we have all the technology we’ll ever need, we seek to draw attention to its destructive side effects. This seems foolish…

—Neal Stephenson, Innovation Starvation

It is the first day of a new month. Does that mean anything? Not really, but it’s a convenient thing to kick me in to writing again.

Can we imagine things, and then have them come to be? Should we do so? I mean, should one set out with some grand plan, a vision of something (presumably) desirable, and work doggedly towards it? Is the confidence of this, fundamentally, a good thing? To throw aside doubt, charge forward with a grin, and do something! To aim to get what we think is good?

Or is the doubt that stops this, useful; does it help?

Obviously, the premise of that second stance is that, indeed, the doubt must be listened to! For otherwise, why ask? Why acknowledge that there is any doubt, if the better thing to do is to push through it?

Forgive me, I’m not making much sense. Blame the beer (and I’ve heard some advise against writing publicly in this condition… bah!). All I’m getting at is the seemingly inexhaustable bloody optimism of the tech industry…

Everywhere I turn, in my job as a coder and in my general skiving around the web, there is a pervading sense that all this tech — all these screens, these images, this communication ad adnauseam — is good. Of course that’s the prevailing mood, within the tech; it has to be. No doubt that there’s tomes of discourse, paper tomes, swapped between those who disagree with the tech-is-good premise; but they’re not on the web, and I don’t see them.

And I don’t really want to! I’m so very much on the verge of giving in to the doubt, that I really don’t need any encouragement! Where’d I be, if I listened to the posibility that the very foundations of my daily work are not to be trusted?! A gibbering wreck of anxiety, or bean-hoeing luddite; one or the other. Maybe both.

So I’m going forth with optimism (which may be blindness); grabbing the (possibly fake, or at least poorly-built) handrail of geeky progression; and climbing the hill (or decending into the pit) of joyous digital liberation.

Or something.

What Technology Wants

Kevin Kelly, in The European:

Most of the problems today have been generated by technology, and most future problems will be generated by technology as well. I am so technocentric that I say: The solution to technological problems is more technology. Here’s a tangible example: If I throw around some really bad ideas in this interview, you won’t counsel me to stop thinking. You will encourage me to think more and come up with better ideas. Technology is a way of thinking. The proper response to bad technology is not less, but more and better technology.

The idea of privacy is a very recent concept. When people shared large huts, there was no privacy. The reason this was acceptable is that there was no privacy for anyone. The problems begin when some people are forced to be a lot more transparent than others.

Thoughts of more deep seclusion

Monday morning. A weekend of much work and little writing, in which I thought (yet again) to chuck the blog, chuck the computer, and return to Moleskine and ink. I didn’t; I just went to work.

And two comments on my last post, in as many days — I actually had no idea that anyone read this blog, at all, ever. So thank you! I shall blather on, at least for the Nablopomo duration (so I’d better catch up with my one-post-per-day quota).

I was in tech-free mode yesterday, and the day before, for no better reason than what I sometimes perceive to be the utter fragility of computing technology. I don’t mean the physical fragility of the hardware involved — although that, when one is contemplating writing in the salty wind sitting on the rocks of South Mole, for example — can be annoying enough. I mean more the vast, unimaginably complex, worldwide systems that keep everything going so that I can sit at this latop and type this — I just shudder, sometimes, and want to run from it (screaming) as fast as I can. No single word would be going from my brain to this page, if it were not for some system of manufacture and distribution that allows me to have this computer, and use the power supplied to this house, and everything else required. And I have no idea, absolutely no idea, of anything but the vaguest idea of that system (and even that is probably wrong).

That’s the fragility I see in I.T., and it scares me I guess, or at least prompts me to think that writing on paper with ink is somehow less dependent upon all this massive, modern, world.

And that’s the answer I find: that, actually, however a chap like me lives (short of subsistence farming) is inextricably tied up with, forever dependent upon, how everyone else lives. (Oh, sorry about the cliché, I didn’t mean to arrive at such a twee conclusion!)

* * *

After which contemplation of where the electrons flow, I shall go now to where the wind flows through the heath, on a stroll that I’ve meaning to take since getting back to W.A. nearly six months ago:

Five years have past; five summers with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur.—Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
The day is come when I again repose
Here, under this dark sycamore, and view
These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard tufts,

—Mr. Wordsworth’s Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey

Facebook vs. WordPress

The last few weeks have seen a great number of my friends turn to Facebook (and, of course, I know exactly how many). It’s great, it’s exciting, it’s suddenly become so easy to organise things and we can now all talk about Facebookwhen we meet for a coffee at the Front; however, all is not as funky as one might seem…

Don’t misunderstand me here, I’m all in favour of using Facebook — I just don’t think it should be used for everything. It’s great as a procrastination tool, for example, or for stumbling across long-lost friends, or being sent lovely pictures like this:

Picture: Sam got tapes for 35c.

But Facebook is, despite their oh-so-wonderful API, a closed system. We’re all piling our (desperately interesting, I’m sure) personal information into it, and giving no thought to what will happen to that information in the future. I don’t neccessarilly mean the usual conspiracy theories of governmental data-harvesting or derranged stalkers (they probably apply to wherever one is one the web), but what about ideas of cultural artifact preservation? (I know, I know, no one cares…)

Much of Facebook replicates systems that we’ve been using for years. Why, for example, did they have to build their own private messaging system? What’s wrong with email? Could they not have made it all work together — maybe someone will build an IMAP webmail application for Facebook, and prove my objections aimless.

But that’s all beside the point: I’m a geek, and prefer to build my own. An article in Wired started me off thinking about this, and since then I’ve been doing a bit of reading (eg. SNIX), and here’s my skeleton thus far of a distributed, home-grown, open-source, social networking system:

  • Start with a blog. I prefer WordPress, but the point of all this is that by using open standards it really doesn’t matter what software we use. Post whatever you want (images, movies, audio, anything) and enable comments on everything.
  • Collect feeds. Most blogging tools come with in-built support for news feeds of some kind, usually at least RSS and Atom. Create a page on your blog and aggregate all of your friends’ feeds there.
  • Post coming events. With a plugin like Event Calendar you can post future events, and produce a iCalendar feed to which your friends can subscribe. Add another page, to aggregate your friends’ events.

Unfortunately, that’s about where it ends. How does one have ‘Friends’ on a system that doesn’t mandate common software — or common anything save interchange formats?! I don’t know. Maybe Facebook does rock after all…

But I do know that I’d rather be using my own software, with all content remaining under my control at all times; the methods for sharing this with the world are maturing, and before long will be widespread and useable.

The F-91W

I bought this watch when I started working at IBM, because it is such an archetype of The Digital Watch, and I like to be reminded of the Future.

The Casio F-91WSome pointless facts about the F-91W:

  • Water Resistant;
  • Micro Light;
  • Daily Alarm;
  • 1/100 second digital stopwatch: Measuring capacity: 59:59.99; Measuring modes: Net time, split time, 1st-2nd place times;
  • Hourly Time Signal;
  • Auto Calendar;
  • Accuracy: ±30 seconds per month;
  • Battery CR2016;
  • Approx. battery life: 7 years;
  • Module 593;
  • Size of case: 37.5 x 33.5 x 9.5mm;
  • Total weight: 20g.

“Dad, I dug a hole.”

I have been digging this morning, working on the chicken run. It’s muddy, now we’ve started pulling up the concrete, and the clay sucks at my boots and sticks to all the tools; how very far this is from my memories of digging soakwells in Fremantle! (Incidentally: I have only just learnt that around here they don’t even have soakwells, and all storm water goes into Sullies; I’ve just never thought about it…)

I looked down at the mattock, at the ridge that runs down the center of its blade and the taper of the handle where it runs through the eye, and I was stuck by the fierce solidity of this joint of wood and steel. Such a strong place, grubby and perfect for what it does, and so greatly congruent with its materials that I’m sure no one can find fault with this example of truth to materials. And if anything, it is that which I am striving for in my life.

(P.S. The title of this post, if you don’t know it, is a quote from The Castle.)

Nothing to say

(So why am I saying this?) I am looking forward to the day when I will again have something worth writing about (and I’m thinking here of woodwork: one of the happiest times of wood/tech union was back in 2003 when I was working at the art school wood workshop. The web then was a motivation for me to keep working with wood, not the distraction that it’s now become. All I wanted was a workshop, wood, digital camera and computer, and I was happy.

Of course, that was in the sheltered bubble of the art school, and it was coming out of that and finding no similar space elsewhere that turned me to geek school last year—seeking the same solace, with different materials. But can code and computers really do for me what wood and words did once? I doubt it.

My xorg.conf

At last we have Ubuntu working with a SGI 1600SW Flatpanel display. Here’s the xorg.conf:

# /etc/X11/xorg.conf (xorg X Window System server configuration file)
#
# This file was generated by dexconf, the Debian X Configuration tool, using
# values from the debconf database.
#
# Edit this file with caution, and see the /etc/X11/xorg.conf manual page.
# (Type "man /etc/X11/xorg.conf" at the shell prompt.)
#
# This file is automatically updated on xserver-xorg package upgrades *only*
# if it has not been modified since the last upgrade of the xserver-xorg
# package.
#
# If you have edited this file but would like it to be automatically updated
# again, run the following commands:
#
#   cp /etc/X11/xorg.conf /etc/X11/xorg.conf.custom
#   sudo sh -c 'md5sum /etc/X11/xorg.conf >/var/lib/xfree86/xorg.conf.md5sum'
#   sudo dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg

Section "Files"
	FontPath	"unix/:7100"			# local font server
	# if the local font server has problems, we can fall back on these
	FontPath	"/usr/lib/X11/fonts/misc"
	FontPath	"/usr/lib/X11/fonts/cyrillic"
	FontPath	"/usr/lib/X11/fonts/100dpi/:unscaled"
	FontPath	"/usr/lib/X11/fonts/75dpi/:unscaled"
	FontPath	"/usr/lib/X11/fonts/Type1"
	FontPath	"/usr/lib/X11/fonts/CID"
	FontPath	"/usr/lib/X11/fonts/100dpi"
	FontPath	"/usr/lib/X11/fonts/75dpi"
        # paths to defoma fonts
	FontPath	"/var/lib/defoma/x-ttcidfont-conf.d/dirs/TrueType"
	FontPath	"/var/lib/defoma/x-ttcidfont-conf.d/dirs/CID"
EndSection

Section "Module"
	Load	"bitmap"
	Load	"dbe"
	Load	"ddc"
	Load	"dri"
	Load	"extmod"
	Load	"freetype"
	Load	"glx"
	Load	"int10"
	Load	"record"
	Load	"type1"
	Load	"vbe"
EndSection

Section "InputDevice"
	Identifier	"Generic Keyboard"
	Driver		"keyboard"
	Option		"CoreKeyboard"
	Option		"XkbRules"	"xorg"
	Option		"XkbModel"	"pc104"
	Option		"XkbLayout"	"us"
EndSection

Section "InputDevice"
	Identifier	"Configured Mouse"
	Driver		"mouse"
	Option		"CorePointer"
	Option		"Device"		"/dev/input/mice"
	Option		"Protocol"		"ImPS/2"
	Option		"Emulate3Buttons"	"true"
	Option		"ZAxisMapping"		"4 5"
EndSection

Section "Device"
	Identifier	"Number 9 Computer Company Revolution 4"
	Driver		"i128"
	BusID		"PCI:0:10:0"
EndSection

Section "Monitor"
	Identifier	"SGI 1600SW F"
	DisplaySize	370 240
	Option		"DPMS"
	VertRefresh	30-75
	HorizSync	30-70
	VendorName	"SGI"
	UseModes	"Modes0"
EndSection

Section "Modes"
	Identifier "Modes0"
	Modeline "1600x1024d32" 103.125 1600 1600 1656 1664 1024 1024 1029 1030 HSkew 7 +Hsync +Vsync
	Modeline "1600x1024d16" 103.125 1600 1600 1656 1664 1024 1024 1029 1030 HSkew 5 +Hsync +Vsync
EndSection

Section "Screen"
	Identifier	"Default Screen"
	Device		"Number 9 Computer Company Revolution 4"
	Monitor		"SGI 1600SW F"
	DefaultDepth	16
	SubSection "Display"
		Depth		32
		Modes		"1600x1024d32"
	EndSubSection
	SubSection "Display"
		Depth		16
		Modes		"1600x1024d16"
	EndSubSection
	SubSection "Display"
		Depth		8
		Modes		"1600x1024"
	EndSubSection
	SubSection "Display"
		Depth		15
		Modes		"1600x1024"
	EndSubSection
	SubSection "Display"
		Depth		16
		Modes		"1600x1024"
	EndSubSection
	SubSection "Display"
		Depth		24
		Modes		"1600x1024"
	EndSubSection
EndSection

Section "ServerLayout"
	Identifier	"Default Layout"
	Screen		"Default Screen"
	InputDevice	"Generic Keyboard"
	InputDevice	"Configured Mouse"
EndSection

Section "DRI"
	Mode	0666
EndSection