Thursday, September 27, 2012

Making Emacs Act More Like a Text Editor

Emacs used to be a great programmer's editor. It still is, but non-text features keep creeping in making it less usable for editing and viewing text. For example, doc-view mode makes emacs render a PDF, DVI, or PS file. But PDF and PS are text formats, so I can't imagine why I'd want emacs to render them--other tools do that well.
To make emacs better-behaved, it seems the following in one's .emacs file is sufficient:

(add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.pdf\\'" . fundamental-mode))
(add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.ps\\'" . fundamental-mode))
Thanks to Stefan Monnier at!topic/
My .emacs file (really, my emacs-custom.el which is loaded from my .emacs) has been growing since Fall 1988, and I don't see that changing, especially as new puppies start monkeying with emacs' behavior. Of course, I do trim detritus from time-to-time.
Actually there might be some stuff in there from my time at William and Mary, 1984-1986. Zippy says "yow."

Nick Anderson on Fee Speech

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Time to Give Up On the NFL

Several years ago, Fall of 2004, I decided that attending an NFL game in person is no longer enjoyable. It seemed to be more TV timeout than actual action. Gradually I've decided that watching an NFL game on TV isn't worth it due to the amount of time they cut away for commercials. Now that the NFL is blatantly taking fans for granted by putting out an inferior product, I think it should be clear to all that this is primarily a large corporation focused on short-term profits over quality products. No more. They can do the right thing and pay the officials, or not. Either way, I'm gone.

My last game in person was in Pittsburgh, watching the Steelers beat the Redskins at the end of November. It's a great venue for a game: we had brunch, took a ferry across to the game, and had pretty good seats. I enjoyed the company, but not the fact that the NFL was treating me like part of a captive audience. No more.

That was Ben Roethlisberger's rookie season, and despite the win, he had a forgettable game. Now it's time to forget the NFL.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mate 1.4 on Lubuntu 12.04

I strongly prefer Ubuntu to Mint since Mint doesn't provide an install-time option for an encrypted LVM, i.e., full-disk encryption. This just seems to be a basic requirement, especially for a laptop. However, Ubuntu has gone along with the Gnome 3 atrocity, and compounded the matter with Ubuntu Shell. So, how to get a usable UI with Ubuntu? I've been playing around with LXDE on Lubuntu, and it has considerable appeal. However, when all is said and done, it is too bare-bones. What I really want is Mate, except not bloated.

What I have done this afternoon is a fresh Lubuntu 12.04 install, and then I installed Mate 1.4 on that. This is a newer version of Mate than I have on my Mint 13 systems; that is possibly a good thing--I'm hoping for fewer bugs.

How did I install Mate on Lubuntu? It's pretty simple--the first page Google pointed me to was the right one, at Ubuntu Geek. It was not quite right, but the solution was in the comments following the article. My summary, combining the above-mentioned article with one of the corrections in comments:

sudo add-apt-repository "deb precise main"
sudo apt-get install mate-archive-keyring
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install mate-archive-keyring
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install mate-core
sudo apt-get install mate-desktop-environment

The weird thing above is the repeated install of mate-archive-keyring and update. What I was seeing was that, as expected, apt was unable to verify the packages in the Mate archive without its public key. So the first time I installed mate-archive-keyring, there was a warning message indicating a missing key. Then I did the update, and received a similar warning message. The next time I installed mate-archive-keyring and update, each worked. Everything else was smooth and easy.

So, how badly bloated is the result? I'm not yet sure, but I will be going over it in the near future making a list of what to remove.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Opera Address Bar Tip

There is a user interface design flaw in Opera 12.02 where, by default, the full URL of a web site is not shown. Here's an example:

Now suppose I want to select and paste this address, and click at the right edge of the displayed "URL." This is the result:

As can be easily seen in the image, if as user is not careful, a critical portion of the URL is lost. Even an attentive user still must repeat the select operation. Either way, time and effort are wasted.

Fortunately, though this is a bad UI decision, there is an option to force Opera to correctly display the URL correctly. Navigate to Opera|Settings|Advanced|Browsing. The penultimate checkbox under this tab is Show full web address in address field. Check this and the address bar will function correctly:

Similarly, Firefox no longer displays URLs correctly. The fix is here.

Friday, September 14, 2012

More Blackboard Dumbness

Blackboard is a badly-bloated course management tool that is mostly convenient for students, and mostly inconvenient for faculty. Periodically I point out problems with the tool. My most recent peeve is that posting an announcement, the instructor always must check a box saying that the announcement is available over the length of the course, rather than just temporarily. This is a failure on the part of a Blackboard "designer" to understand the basic principle. keep the common case fast. Par for the course.

A more amusing bug that I've noticed today is that if an instructor posts an HTML document that includes a commented-out link to an image, Blackboard prompts to upload the image. Dumb. Why interrogate the user about HTML source from a tool that is clearly incapable of parsing HTML source?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Early Impressions of LXDE

I'm using LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment) on my laptop. First of all, it seems to be a resurrection of the long dead Unix philosophy: simple tools that do specific things well. Second of all, it makes no sense to use Mint on a laptop until Mint makes whole-disk encryption easier. It's a piece of cake in Lubuntu.

LXDE seems to be missing some very basic things, but it also does some very basic things right. In Mint, there are no themes (okay, maybe if I wanted to spend my life looking through themes designed for 12-year-olds) that provide significant contrast between the window with focus and the other windows. LXDE does this in an attractive fashion. It has panels, rather than the brain-damaged crap the Gnome project is trying to foist on people.

Why am I more willing to spend time adding functionality to LXDE than to figure out how to customize, say, Mate? Mate is a very heavy-weight environment. Overall Mate is well thought-out and well-implemented, and it is available for more secure environments than Mint, but it is yet another attempt to make Linux into a Windows clone.

With a new Mate installation, I have to spend hours uninstall useless crap, disabling useless background daemons, etc. LXDE saves this hassle--I have a machine I can halfway trust before pounding on it for a week.

LXDE is a better idea than Mate, and a much, much better idea than Gnome Shell. It's worth spending time on. Or so I think so far.