blarg?

May 18, 2014

Optics

Filed under: awesome,fail,interfaces,toys,weird — mhoye @ 1:25 pm

Well, we have to get back to making jokes at some point. I bought some glasses from the internet.

I bought new glasses from the internet.

It didn’t go exactly as I’d hoped.

November 8, 2013

A Glass Half Broken

Filed under: digital,documentation,doom,fail,hate,interfaces,losers,toys,vendetta — mhoye @ 3:46 pm

horse-castle

A friend of mine has called me a glass-half-broken kind of guy.

My increasingly venerable Nokia N9 has been getting squirrelly for a few months, and since it finally decided its battery was getting on in years it was time for a new phone.

I’m going to miss it a lot. The hardware was just a hair too slow, the browser was just a hair too old and even though email was crisp and as well done as I’ve ever seen it on a small screen, Twitter – despite being the one piece of software that periodically got updates, strangely – was always off in the weeds. Despite all that, despite the storied history of managerial incompetence and market failure in that software stack, they got so many things right. A beautiful, solid UI, an elegant gesture system that you could work reliably one-handed and a device whose curved shape informed your interaction with the software in a meaningful way. Like WebOS before it, it had a consistent and elegantly-executed interaction model full of beautiful ideas and surprisingly human touches that have pretty much all died on the vine.

Some friends have been proposing a hedge-fund model where they follow my twitter feed, scrape it for any piece of technology I express interest in and then short that company’s stock immediately and mercilessly. The reasoning being, of course, that I tend to back underdogs and generally underdogs are called that because of their unfortunate tendency to not win.

So now I own a Nexus 5; do with that information what you will. The experience has not been uniformly positive.

Android, the joke goes, is technical debt that’s figured out how to call 911, and with KitKat it seems like somebody has finally sent help. For a while now Android has been struggling to overcome its early… well, “design process” seems like too strong a term, but some sort of UI-buglist spin-the-bottle thing that seemed to amount to “how can I ignore anyone with any sort of design expertise, aesthetic sensibility or even just matching socks and get this bug off my desk.” KitKat is clearly the point we all saw coming, where Android has pivoted away from being a half-assed OS to start being a whole-assed Google-services portal, and it really shows.

Look: I know I’m a jagged, rusty edge case. I know. But this is what happened next.

As you open the box, you find a protective plastic sheet over the device that says “NEXUS 5” in a faint grey on black. If you don’t peel it off before pushing the power button, the Google logo appears, slightly offset and obscured behind it. It’s not a big thing; it’s trivial but ugly. If either word had been a few millimetres higher or lower it would have been a nice touch. As shipped it’s an empty-net miss, a small but ominous hint that maybe nobody was really in charge of the details.

I signed in with my Google Apps account and the phone started restoring my old apps from other Android installs. This is one of the things Google has done right for a long time; once you see it you immediately think it should have worked that way everywhere the whole time. But I didn’t realize that it restored the earlier version of the software you had on file, not the current one; most of my restored pre-KitKat apps crashed on startup, and it took me a while to understand why.

Once I’d figured that out and refreshed a few of them manually, set up my work email and decided to see if Google Goggles was neat as it was last time I looked. Goggles immediately crashed the camera service, and I couldn’t figure out how make the camera work again in any app without power-cycling the phone.

So I restart the phone, poked around at Hangouts a bit; seems nice enough and works mostly OK, could use some judicious copy-editing in the setup phase to sound a little less panopticon-stalkerish. (But we’re all affluent white men here it’s no big deal, right? Who doesn’t mind being super-easy to find all the time?)

I went to make dinner then, and presumably that’s when the phone started heating up.

Eventually I noticed that I’d lost about a quarter of my battery life over the course of an almost-idle hour, with the battery monitor showing that the mail I’d received exactly none of was the culprit. From what I can tell the Exchange-connection service is just completely, aggressively broken; it looks like if you set up the stock mail client for Exchange and pick “push” it immediately goes insane, checking for mail hundreds of times per second and trying to melt itself, and that’s exciting. But even if you dial it back to only check manually, after a while it just… stops working. A reboot doesn’t fix it, I’ve had to delete and recreate the account to make it work again. Even figuring out how to do that isn’t as easy as it should be; I’ve done it twice so far, one day in. So I guess it’s IMAP and I’ll figure calendars out some other way. We use Zimbra at the office, not Exchange proper, and their doc on connecting to Android hasn’t been updated in two years so that’s a thing. I’m totally fine in this corner, really. Cozy. I can warm my hands on my new phone.

I’ve been using my Bespoke I/O Google Apps accounts before Google doubled down on this grasping, awful “G+ Or GTFO” policy, and disabling G+ in Apps years ago has turned my first-touch experience with this phone into a weird technical tug-of-war-in-a-minefield exercise. On the one hand, it’s consistently protected me from Google’s ongoing “by glancing at this checkbox in passing you’re totally saying you want a Google+ account” mendacity, but it also means that lots of things on the phone fail in strange and wonderful ways. The different reactions of the various Play $X apps is remarkable. “Play Games” tells me I need to sign up for a G+ account and won’t let me proceed without one, Play Movies and Music seem to work for on-device content, and Play Magazines just loses its mind and starts into a decent imitation of a strobe light.

I went looking for alternative software, but The Play Store reminds me a lot more of Nokia’s Ovi Store than the App Store juggernaut in a lot of unfortunate ways. There are a handful of high-profile apps there work fast and well if you can find them. I miss Tweetbot and a handful of other iOS apps a lot, and keep going back to my iPod Touch for it. In what I’m sure is a common sentiment Tweetbot for Android is looking pretty unlikely at this point, probably because – like the Ovi Store – there’s a hundred low-rent knockoffs of the iOS app you actually want availabl, but developing for Android is a nightmare on stilts and you make no money so anything worth buying isn’t for sale there.

It’s really a very nice piece of hardware. Fast, crisp, big beautiful screen. Firefox with Adblock Plus is way, way better than anything else in that space – go team – and for that on its own I could have overlooked a lot. But this is how my first day with this phone went, and a glass that’s half-broken isn’t one I’m super happy I decided to keep drinking from.

August 7, 2013

Stand In The Place Where You Work

Filed under: awesome,documentation,interfaces,mozilla,toys,work — mhoye @ 10:03 pm

Watching

Before they were called cubicles, the prefabricated office furniture we all now take despondently for granted was part of an idea called an “Action Office”. Though they’ve apparently lost their way at Herman Miller where the idea was born the idea was, at least in part, that:

[…] during the 20th century, the office environment had changed substantially, especially when considering the dramatic increase in the amount of information being processed. Despite the change in what an employee had to analyze, organize, and maintain on a daily basis, the basic layout of the corporate office had remained largely unchanged, with employees sitting behind rows of traditional desks in a large open room that was devoid of privacy. Propst’s studies suggested that an open environment actually reduced communication between employees, and impeded personal initiative. On this, Propst commented that “one of the regrettable conditions of present day offices is the tendency to provide a formula kind of sameness for everyone.“ In addition, the employee’s bodies were suffering from long hours of sitting in one position. Propst concluded that office workers require both privacy and interaction, depending on which of their many duties they were performing.

Action offices, in short, were meant to provide a variety of environments and physical working positions, so people weren’t forced into a single space and position for the whole day. Which, it turns out, is really really bad for you. That’s not the history of office furniture we know, of course – all it quickly became was a cheap way of providing prefab desks and air circulation to shabby, beige and slightly greenishly-lit cubefarms furnished by the lowest bidder, because the invisible hand of the free market likes nothing better than flipping off the proles. But the idea, at least, had a lot of merit.

About three weeks ago, I switched to a standing desk. It’s this bolt-on model, and while I love it, it’s not perfect. My desk has an unfortunate amount of of flex to it, making the heavy Ergotron dingus a bit bouncy, but I’ve mostly addressed that that a bit by screwing in an extra table leg just under the bracket.

I love it. A lot. I don’t think I’m going to be able to go back to using an office chair.

What moved me to do this was two things. First: after poking around, the best information available suggests that spending ten or fifteen hours a day sitting is approximately as bad for you as smoking, and in a lot of ways worse. The other thing was that largely of curiosity I picked up a Jawbone Up wristband and, doubling down on the metrics tools, a Fitbit One*.

Whatever else those Quantified Life dongles claim, the one thing they can do very accurately is tell you how much time you spend doing nothing. And would you look at that, it turns out that I spend… nineteen hours or more of a typical day basically immobile. Um, that can’t be good. I’m going to have to do something about that.

During the first week. you really feel it. All those little muscles in my back that I really hadn’t been using, they expressed considerable displeasure at being suddenly called back into active duty, and understandably given the abusive relationship I’ve had with my knees, they’re were right there in line too. But sometime late in week two, that all settled right down. Even biking to work and lifting stuff around the house, back and knee pains I’ve had for years are going away, my posture is clearly getting better and that oh-god-it’s-painful-to-stand-up process I used to experience after uncoiling from an hour or four over hunched over a terminal just doesn’t happen anymore.

I feel unaccountably strong. I doubt I’m actually any stronger than I was a month ago, but I end my day feeling like I’ve put in a day of real work and I’m looking forward to the bike ride home, rather than feeling like I’m spent and I’ve got to drag my sorry ass across town again, and that’s not nothing.

I don’t know who’s got my chair at MoTo right now, and I don’t care. I think I’m pretty much done with it.

April 25, 2013

Raising A Revolution

Filed under: arcade,digital,future,interfaces,life,parenting,toys,vendetta — mhoye @ 9:39 am

I had a long conversation with the very excellent people of Samantha Blackmon’s “Not Your Mama’s Gamer” podcast the other day; I get rolling at around the half-hour mark. They’re quite flattering about the whole thing; we talk a lot about video games and parenting, and I had a great time doing it.

One of the points I got to make there was about the reaction I get when I tell people that I received death threats for making the Windwaker mod. They fall into basically two camps; I tell that story to men, and they’re invariably surprised, or at least feigning surprise. “Really? Death threats? No way. Really? For that?”

When I mention it to women, on the other hand, the reaction is invariably just a slow breath and long stare into the middle distance. “Yeah, that’s how it is. Did any one threaten to rape you to death? No? Well, you’re only halfway to your Being A Woman On The Internet Merit Badge, then. Oh, you though it would be any other way? That’s adorable.”

So much work to do.

April 11, 2013

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service

Filed under: business,digital,fail,future,hate,interfaces,life,losers,toys,vendetta — mhoye @ 3:52 pm

No Wearable Cameras

If you own a public establishment, consider putting one of these near the door.

The keynote file it comes from is right here, under a CC-BY-SA 3.0 license, and you’re welcome to use it as often as you feel is necessary.

February 18, 2013

That’s Too Much Machine For You

Filed under: awesome,documentation,future,interfaces,irc,linux,science,toys — mhoye @ 11:10 am

Keep This Area Clear

Man, how awful is it to see people broken by the realization that they are no longer young. Why are you being cantankerous, newly-old person? It’s totally OK not to be 17 or 23, things are still amazing! Kids are having fun! You may not really understand it, but just roll with it! The stuff you liked when you were 17 isn’t diminished by your creeping up on 40!

This has been making the rounds, a lazy, disappointing article from Wired about the things we supposedly “learned about hacking” from the 1995 almost-classic, Hackers. It’s a pretty unoriginal softball of an article, going for a few easy smirks by cherrypicking some characters’ sillier idiosyncrasies while making the author sound like his birthday landed on him like a cartoon piano.

We need a word for this whole genre of writing, where the author tries far too hard to convince you of his respectable-grownup-hood by burning down his youth. It’s hard to believe that in fifteen years the cycle won’t repeat itself, with this article being the one on the pyre; you can almost smell the smoke already, the odor of burning Brut and secret regrets.

The saddest part of the article, really, is how much it ignores. Which is to say: just about everything else. There’s plenty of meat to chew on there, so I don’t really understand why; presumably it has something to do with deadlines or clickthroughs or word-counts or column inches or something, whatever magic words the writers at Wired burble as they pantomime their editor’s demands and sob into their dwindling Zima stockpile.

I’ve got quite a soft spot in my heart and possibly also my brain for this movie, in part because it is flat-out amazing how many things Hackers got exactly right:

  • Most of the work involves sitting in immobile concentration, staring at a screen for hours trying to understand what’s going on? Check.
  • It’s usually an inside job from a disgruntled employee? Check.
  • A bunch of kids who don’t really understand how severe the consequences of what they’re up to can be, in it for kicks? Check.
  • Grepping otherwise-garbage swapfiles for security-sensitive information? Almost 20 years later most people still don’t get why that one’s a check, but my goodness: check.
  • Social-engineering for that one piece of information you can’t get otherwise, it works like a charm? Check.
  • Using your computer to watch a TV show you wouldn’t otherwise be able to? Golly, that sounds familiar.
  • Dumpster-diving for source printouts? I suspect that for most of my audience “line printers” fit in the same mental bucket as “coelecanth”, and printing anything at all, much less code, seems kind of silly and weird by now, so you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say: very much so, check.
  • A computer virus that can affect industrial control systems, causing a critical malfunction? I wonder where I’ve heard that recently.
  • Abusive prosecutorial overreach, right from the opening scene? You’d better believe, check.

So if you haven’t seen it, Hackers is a remarkable artefact of its time. It’s hardly perfect; the dialog is uneven, the invented slang aged as well as invented-slang always does. Moore’s Law has made anything with a number on the side look kind of quaint, and there’s plenty of that horrible neon-cars-on-neon-highways that directors seem to fall back on when they need to show you what the inside of a computer is doing. But really: Look at that list. Look at it.

For all its flaws, sure, Hackers may not be something you’d hold aloft as a classic. But it’s good fun and it gets an awful lot more right than wrong, and that’s not nothing.

January 24, 2013

Majora’s Mask

Filed under: arcade,awesome,interfaces,toys — mhoye @ 10:35 pm

Bricks

I’ve been thinking a lot about Majora’s Mask recently, and as usual the best way for me to get something out of my head is to blog about it. I suspect this is going to turn into one of those awkward, poorly-disguised confessionals that says more about inside of my head than to anything in the actual game, but at least I’ve warned you up-front about that, so let’s proceed.

I’m going to start into it with Maya, I think, once she I are done with Windwaker (HD remake coming soon!). But mostly I’ve been thinking about it in terms of its thematic structure, story arc and use of space in its various environments; it resonates with me as a sysadmin and a parent, so let me tell you about it.

For my money Majora’s Mask is one of the darkest and most fascinating video games ever made, rewarding a great deal of introspection and careful deconstruction. It’s far and away the darkest Zelda game, if it actually counts as one, and perhaps one of the most darkly introspective games ever made. Certainly one the most underrated; you get to be a epic hero in lots of games, sometimes you even play an antihero in games that are trying way too hard to be “dark” and “gritty”, but I can’t think of another game where your role is to be the hero of an anti-epic.

It’s hard to say exactly what I mean by that, but bear with me.

Uniquely of any quest-RPGs I know, the game runs on a pauseless three day cycle. The inexorable passage of time is a core element of the gameplay, and unless you can figure out what to do in 72 hours a demonically-possessed moon is going to crash into Clocktown, the doomed city at the center of Termina. And while you can reset the clock you also reset virtually all of your progress, restarting without much more than what you’ve learned from the last time.

As game mechanics go, it’s surprisingly intense.

But every facet of Majora’s Mask – gameplay, narrative arcs, hidden secrets and overarching themes, all of it – is The Ocarina Of Time seen through a dark mirror. The anchors of the traditional Legend Of Zelda narrative, the Princess, Ganon and the Triforce, don’t even put in an appearance; the primary antagonist of Majora’s Mask is an angry Skull Kid, a minor character you crossed briefly in Ocarina. Lashing out from a sense of abandonment, the Skull Kid is enabled by a powerful artefact he’s stolen but doesn’t understand; this isn’t a powerful arch-villain with designs for world domination, it’s a child who’s found a gun.

And you’re not the Hero Of Time, on a quest to rescue the princess and cast down the evil facing the land. In fact, you’re not a hero at all; you spend the entire game hidden behind the masks of the people you’re trying to help. Nobody knows who you are or why you’re important, and even when you’ve managed to help them, well, next time you reset that clock they won’t remember you at all.

And their problems you have to set out to solve aren’t huge, world-rescuing problems. They’re by and large just messed-up relationships; people with bad communication, bad timing or bad luck. The broken-down relationship between the Skull Kid and the Giants – pillars of the world in Termina, where Hyrule’s three Goddesses are notably absent – is the big one driving the game’s central crisis, but all the core quests follows the same broad motif. There’s some screwed up family situation, generally with a lost or absent mother-figure, that Link has to put right. And he has to do it not by being an epic hero himself, but by wearing the death-mask of the real hero who should be there, but for whatever reason is not.

Virtually all the side quests are like that too; very few monsters or fetchquests, almost all about you needing to show up in the right place at the right time and talk to somebody and be the person that small moment needed. Unlike Ocarina’s Hyrule where everything revolves around you, you quickly get the sense that nothing in Termina does. You just happen to the only person there with the power to set things right. In Hyrule, people will remember you as a legend; in Termina nobody will ever really even realize you were there.

Day to day events aren’t driven by your arrival either – very much like real life, you have to figure out where you need to be and show up on time or the day just moves on. And the ending reflects that – no music, no fanfare, you’re told you’re done and should go away now and you do, to no more reward than a single whispered “Thank you…” you don’t even hear. Everyone else in Clocktown goes on to see the fourth day, celebrating the town’s festival without you.

In fact, that’s Majora’s Mask in a nutshell. Why did you do any of that? There’s none of the epic heroism forced on you by the world in Ocarina here, only the obligations of a duty you’ve imposed on yourself. You spend a lot of time just wandering around, talking to people and trying to figure out how things work and where you need to be, just so you can show up on time and do what needs doing. Not for any fanfare or reward or even thanks, but because you can help, and you’re the only person who can.

And the fundamentally tragic nature of this isn’t really driven home until later in the series: in Ocarina we’re told that a creature called a Stalfos is the skeleton of a traveler who loses their way in the Kokiri’s Lost Woods, the same woods that Link returns to at the end of Majora’s Mask. The game opens with Link on a personal quest to find his friend Navi, lost at the end of Ocarina; it’s not immediately apparent until you’ve put those things together, but the Hero’s Spirit from Twilight Princess – the armored Stalfos who teaches the Hero of Twilight how to fight – is the remains of the now-lost Hero Of Time, who never finds his friend.

I can’t think of any other game like it. I can’t think of a game that’s even tried, really; you can make a decent argument that other games have been extremely Zelda-like vis-a-vis the more traditional Zelda structure – Arkham City comes to mind, though there are others – I can’t think of another pseudo-epic built around small, human misunderstandings. I’d love to see it redone here in our glorious high-definition modernity; this incredible fan-made footage (Made by Pablo Belmonte) gives you an idea of what it could look like:

I’ve always preferred my heroism untainted by the heroic, if that makes any sense. The next Zelda, on the WiiU, is reportedly going to be reconsidering many of the tropes of the Zelda series to build an entirely new kind of Zelda.

Here’s hoping.

December 14, 2012

Reading Glasses

Filed under: digital,documentation,interfaces,linux,toys,weird,work — mhoye @ 12:22 am

I’ll level with you: I’m not very good at reading code.

I had an interview the other day that featured the dreaded read-this-code segment that’s inevitable in modernity, and reading somebody else’s Python without context, with a regex or two thrown in for kicks… I know there are people who can do that really well, but man, I’m not one of them.

To try and atone for how that went, I’ve written a thing I’ve been meaning to get done for a while, a kind of high-level analysis tool for Git repositories that will be able to give you some suggestions based on historical commit information. It’s called gitcoach, and it’s over on github if you’re interested.

The idea is that it takes look at a project’s whole commit history to see what files tend to get modified at the same time and then looks at what you’re working on now; if you’re working on some file Foo, gitcoach can tell that hey, historically anyone who’s had to change Foo has also changed Bar 92% of the time, and Baz 80% of the time. So, no guarantees, but I suggest you look at those too.

There’s more you can do with that data, perhaps obviously – the nice thing about the general idea is that whenever I mention it to somebody, they think of some other thing you can do with that data that I hadn’t even considered.

So that’s something.

It’s not a finished product – there’s some known bugs and missing features listed in the README, and some others I’m sure that I don’t see yet. But there it is, and hopefully it will be useful for people trying to find their way around a big or new projects.

Sorry about the regex question, dude.

November 7, 2012

Flip All The Pronouns

Filed under: a/b,digital,hate,interfaces,parenting,toys,vendetta — mhoye @ 8:56 pm

On A Certain Island

Maya and I have been playing through Windwaker together; she likes sailing, scary birds and remembering to be brave, rescuing her little brother and finding out what’s happening to Medli and her dragon boat.

She’s the hero of the story, of course.

It’s annoying and awkward, to put it mildly, having to do gender-translation on the fly when Maya asks me to read what it says on the screen. You can pick your character’s name, of course – I always stick with Link, being a traditionalist – but all of the dialog insists that Link is a boy, and there’s apparently nothing to be done about it.

Well, there wasn’t anything to be done about it, certainly not anything easy, but as you might imagine I’m not having my daughter growing up thinking girls don’t get to be the hero and rescue their little brothers.

This isn’t particularly user-friendly; you’ll need to download the Dolphin emulator and find a Windwaker .GCM, the Gamecube disk image with this SHA-1 hash:

Original: 6b5f06c10d50ebb4099cded88217eb71e5bfbb4a

and then you’ll need to figure out how to use xdelta3 to apply a binary patch to that image.

This patch.

When you’re done the resulting disk image will have the following SHA-1 hash:

Result: 6a480ffd8ecb6c254f65c0eb8e0538f7b30cfaa7

… and all the dialog will now refer to Link as a young woman, rather than as a young man.

I think I’ve gotten this right – this was all done directly on the original disk image with a hex editor, so all the changes needed to be the same byte-for-byte length, in-place. I haven’t had time to play through the whole game to test it yet, and some of the constructions aren’t perfect. I’ve borrowed Donaldson’s “Swordmain” coinage to replace “Swordsman”, for example, and there’s lots of “milady” replacing “my lad” and “master”, because I couldn’t find a better way to rewrite them in exactly the amount of space allotted. If you come up with something better, I’m all ears.

I’m going to audit it shortly, and may update this post to reflect that. For now, though, here you go.

FemLink or you’re doing it wrong.

August 25, 2012

Toolchain

Filed under: digital,documentation,fail,future,interfaces,linux,toys,vendetta — mhoye @ 9:15 pm

I was idly looking over the shooting script for Men In Black the other day. Different from the movie, in a lot of little ways that add up; as filmed it came out a fun, largely harmless sci-fi movie of no particular note but the original script was quietly darker and more introspective than you’d expect. As an example, the scene where Edwards (Will Smith) has been given until sun-up to decide if he’s in; he asks Jay (Tommy-Lee Jones) “Is it worth it?”

On screen, Jay replies “It is. If you’re strong enough” as he walks away. But on the page Jay’s explanation of the cost of signing up is a lot more personal.

EDWARDS – So what’s the catch?

KAY – What you’ll gain in perspective, you’ll lose in ways you’re too young to comprehend. You give up everything. Sever every human contact. No one will know you exist. Ever.

EDWARDS – Nobody?

KAY – You’re not even allowed a favorite shirt. There. That’s the speech I never heard. That’s the choice I never got.

EDWARDS – Hold up. You track me down, put me through those stupid-ass tests, now you’re trying to talk me out of it. I don’t get it.

KAY – You got ’til sun-up.

EDWARDS – Is it worth it?

KAY – You find out, you let me know.

Kev called me out yesterday, and he was not wrong.

Haters Gonna Tweet

I’m back to carrying around a Linux laptop these days, and all those old mixed feelings are still there. Power management is still really dodgy, the UI is a mess, lots of stuff that should Just Work by now either just doesn’t, or somehow stopped working for a while after a good run. Plug the wrong USB dingus into it, and if you close the lid it will try to cook itself; using it for day to day stuff isn’t wildly better than I remember it being a few years ago; I’m back to using it for reasons that I refer to as “principles”, stuff about information freedom and freedom-to vs. freedom-from, developing on the platform you’re deploying to, that sort of thing. They’re arguments that I can make pretty convincingly, even to myself sometimes, but there are days (like this one) that all that rhetoric seems like a thin veneer over some self-imposed variety of Stockholm Syndrome.

I have a paragraph here about how “It is better, the saying goes, to light a single candle than to curse the darkness”, and then goes on to something about being honest about your motivations, and maybe you’re lighting the candle to cover up the smell, not push back the dark. It’s not really coming together for me, but that’s the broad strokes of it.

You get the idea.

But here’s a thing: my brother sent me a PDF he needed to quote some passages from, the usual horrible “PDF-full-of-scanned-JPEGs” garbage you find everywhere. He was losing patience with it, and all the OCR software he could find was either insanely expensive or useless junk or both.

But I know that pdf2html will give me a numbered list of all those images, and after a few seconds of research with apt-cache, I found Tesseract-OCR, installed it and tested it against a small sample of pages to see if the output looked sane. It did; it doesn’t to output to anything but a file, but that’s fine. So a quick for i in `seq` do later, my laptop is quietly grinding out a text file a human can copy and paste from.

The good parts of life with Linux are like that. Rich scripting languages, an incredibly broad, deep and on-demand tools that have been hammered into shape for years or decades, job control that lets you just put it in the background (or on a server somewhere else) and let it run. Being able to chain tools together so that when you need something novel done you can just get it done, and not spend hours scavenging around the ‘net for that one piece of random crapware that does 70% of the job, it’s so great.

Linux on a laptop has a set of problems that have existed for years; I know I’m bringing a lot of this on myself. If I was using a desktop, a lot of these hardware hangups might just disappear, just by virtue of the fact that you never unplug a desktop, or put it to sleep. And I know what way the trends are going, here, too – the Free Software tools people care about seem to be finding their way over to OSX, with varying degrees of speed and elegance, but the rare design sensibilities that find their way back, seemingly via a cargo cult’s long march, don’t seem to be helping much. Bold efforts (like Gnome Shell) that sail less than perfectly polished run rapidly aground on the shoals of the Linux community’s profound fear of change. And as for hardware, well. Um.

But: Apt-get. Shell scripting. Pipe, job control. All the old, unglorious tools, so many of them rock solid and reliable; they are incredibly great. Being able to just have the tools you need, to test and experiment and process and have the computer doing stuff for you instead of having to muck around manually basically all the time, it is so good. Being able to see the right-out-there experimental stuff, like software radio, gestating; amazing. Macports and (God help you) Homebrew are a thin gruel in comparison, and Windows has nothing to compare it to.

I feel like I’m typing with mittens on when they’re not around, like I’ve looked into my toolbox and found one oversize novelty Tonka screwdriver and wrench made of Nerf. These are just the basic fundamental particles of getting anything done! How do people live without this stuff?

These days my everyday computing carry is ideologically polarized. My Macbook is mostly a desktop I can move to the couch, and I roll with a Thinkpad and an iPad. The small number of things I need to Just Work just work, and there’s room to (and yes, frequently, need to) tinker with the rest. I’m actually thinking about my next laptop being a linux on a non-Macbook, as crazy as that sounds. And if you’ve ever tried figuring out if a laptop runs linux correctly, well. You’ve read The Killing Joke, right?

So I don’t even know what direction that pendulum is swinging, now. I guess we’ll see again in a few years. I don’t know if it’s worth it; if I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

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