Enable Left Win as the Compose Key on Ubuntu

It is very easy to type “special” characters on Linux (i.e. those that aren’t printed on the keyboard). It’s called the Compose or Multi Key, and it’s brilliant.

First, enable it in ‘Keyboard settings > Advanced > Position of Compose Key’. I’ve got it set to Left Win because I never use that for anything and it’s in a similar position to the key on Apple computers that serves a similar purpose (but whose name I cannot remember).

If the Left Win option is missing (as it seems to be on some Ubuntu installations), you just need to edit /etc/default/keyboard and set:

XKBOPTIONS="compose:lwin"

Then run:

sudo dpkg-reconfigure keyboard-configuration

Once it’s all working you just need to look up the characters you want (Tim Starling also has a good list).

Ink or keyboard? (Revisited)

I was just sitting there, just now, reading the natural navigation book that Mum gave me earlier this year, and I was struck by just how nice it was to hold something physical, something nice, in my hands. I wanted to have more of that. I wanted to be a woodworker, making my house nice all over, and having things that are good and real. But then, it all seemed pointless, as well. Why have nice things? For what purpose? Just because they’re nice? Well, yes. That’s it, really. Nothing more. It’s about the present, and the personal, immediate experience of them. It’s not about the future, and how these things will fare in the coming decades and centuries. It’s also not about how sensible and efficient and practical these things are. The book, for instance: this afternoon Tristan and I popped in to the bookshop near the Stock Road markets, and it was lovely. Nothing special, just a normal second-hand bookshop — but it was real and immediate and did not look to the future or the past; it was just for now. I bought a couple of paperbacks, thinking to add to my growing collection of Penguin Classics. Now I feel like that’s all wrong: I can’t have these temporary, poorly-made paperbacks! Why not get an ebook reader?! That’s what a paperback is aiming to be! The simplest thing, least concerned with aesthetics and the feel of the thing in the hand. So paperbacks are superceded; but well-bound hardcovers aren’t. They’re objects of beauty in their own right. I should collect them, because they’re worth more than the sum of the words they contain. But I should not collect them, because there’s just no need.

There’s no need to have these things that are nice! They’re satisfying, in the moment, but if that for which they’re being used — and now I’m thinking more about books in which one writes, journals, than published books — is not a thing that is about the current moment, then what’s the point? No, worse than that: they’re detracting from the real purpose! I write, to get words down, and be able to re-read them in years to come; this is better done on a computer (which is backed up, and the words are printed, and in other ways assured to live on) than in a paper journal. I read, to hear the author, and not to be happy with the heft of the cardboard case and the smell of the pages; these are incidental. There are lovely things about the phsical objects, and using them; but if the loveliness blinds me from getting better quality in the features that the objects exist for in the first place — exchange of ideas over time — then I’m losing out.

It’s a hard decision, and turn after turn I think I’ve made the wrong one… but ultimately, words are better off in digital form (remembering that they can always make it back on to the paper, and in multiple copies) than as ink in books. There are so many other objects that can be nice to hold, and physically satisfying to use; kitchen knifes, for example. Amazon aren’t going to replace them any time soon.