Thursday, December 31, 2015

On Leaving the Harbor

...though the uneven wind
leaned down the mast
swept the straining sails
churned around the sleek keel
the white ship sailed
out the narrow shallows,
where the currents burst
on the shore of dark rocks,
clean and competent
the white ship sailed
between the lighthouse
secured on the reef
and the beauty of languor
kneading blond land
the white ship sailed
into the finer domination
of broad streams
into the serene cadence
of undistorted forces...
sail bravely, sail bravely

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Lost but Found

Once upon a time an inspiration came to me to raise two lambs for market. It's always better to pair up animals. An occasional pig wandering lonesome in the pen won't matter. In winter a shelter with plenty of hay to burrow into will do; in summer they like to get out of the rain. Pigs make good gain however, alone or with companions. But don't be late for dinner!  You'll think it was the end of the world with the boisterous squealing. I once had a lonely pig become a family favorite. Friendly and bright, she, it was a sow, as I remember, wandered around the dooryard. In fall she dug up my garden for me, fertilizing it nicely with an occasional poop here and there to rototill in. When the meat came back from the butcher, the kids wouldn't eat it. They threw up. It was next year before I could talk them into eating pork again. That's why lamb has been in the past scarce around my place. Kids.

But you certainly do get attached to lamb meat once you start eating it often. That's when I went out and bought two lambs. Lamb costs you and I am cheap. Sometimes you can take a chance on an animal that's walking half dead. Loving care and attention can keep them alive. They're cheap. Nowadays lambs can get expensive. But the lamb died and I had to get another one. Cost me a hundred dollars, a hundred-fifty counting what I lost on the one that died. And I had to dig a hole to bury it. I am living proof of how far being cheap gets you.

Now the usual thing I always do every morning after coffee is go out to the pen and feed and water the lambkins. They are such paltry beings in God's scheme of things. They can't make a big racket like pigs can.

Already it is getting hot this morning after a warm night. The giant moon made night seem like day. I was hoping I might have fun with my new animals and get to know them a little better. I went in the barn and came out with a half-cup of Lamb 'n Kid and a bucket of water. I opened the gate to the pen. The pen is about fifty-by-fifty feet made of ordinary stock fencing. My mind doesn't work in neat geometric shapes; there is a blank spot where squares and rectangles should be. Besides, it makes more sense to hang the fencing on trees where you can. Maine has plenty of trees. Where there is no available tree, you pound in a fence post. At one time I used this pen for the bucks. It is grown up to tall grass and perennial junk now. But it has normal hayfield grass in it too. Plenty for two lambs for a little while.

I walked into the pen, called, looked everywhere. No lambs! I walked around the pen through the deep grass, looking for small fuzzy white rustling. It seemed to me that my stomping around would cause a flurry of movement. But no, nothing. Not a ripple in the hay. Next I walked around the fencing. I covered the area thoroughly. Couldn't find the lambkins. There are two gates in this pen. One is easier to get to in the winter. Rats! Looks like I left one of the gates open. It was ever so slightly cracked open. A little, pitiful trail in the grass led to it. Have I gone that far that I forgot to shut a gate. Not only had I forgotten to shut the gate, I couldn't remember when I opened it!

My wife has been complaining more and more often about what seems to be happening to my memory. It's a good thing I keep copious journals. But the topic of when I opened the fence wouldn't be a topic to journal about. I must have opened that fence though because there is nobody else around to do it. I called myself every bitter name I could think of. The lambkins had left the pen, and I would never see them again. I was sure of it. I set out to walk around everywhere, plowing through the deep grass, looking for a little trail in the woods. I looked and I looked. They are so small, I couldn't imagine they would have gone far. My heart was broken. Not only $150 down the tubes, but little as they are I couldn't imagine them surviving for long. I searched high and low. They are so small and the grass was so high. No luck. But how could I give up? Never! How could I let my little lambkins wander into a life bitter, dangerous and dark?

I took my dog Sunshine and we went for a long walk around the neighborhood. Could not spot anything. Finally I heard my wife shouting for me to come back. They had been lost in the tall grass in the pen! I was not such a failure after all! So after chores I built a little pen for them to get used to their new situation in. They were drinking water and they nibbled on their grain immediately. My wife was happy because she could now observe them doing little lamb hops and scampers. Losing and then finding is an experience that goes way back. It takes on a heightened emotional quality beyond what you'd ever imagine.

Now they are in a smaller world, their little round pen, where they cannot get lost and can easily be found. Sounds like a good plan for an old man, too. A smaller world is harder to get lost in.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Is Experience Enough?

In order to make a mixture of cement good
for laying up stone or other general work,
shovel into a spacious container
four heaping portions of clean sand,
one portion of cement, and half a portion of lime.
Apply a hoe to this mixture,
energetically scraping it back and forth
until the material is thoroughly mixed.
It is best then to push it into a mound
in whose center a depression is formed
deep enough to contain a gallon of water.
Shovel briskly the dry over the wet,
adding more water in small portions
until wet and dry are indistinguishable,
and the mixture is balanced in sticky suspension.
Of this work I am passing certain;
and submit that these facts of experience
possess rhythm and splendor equal
with any imagination inspired by Helicon.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Black Island

North of Center Harbor New Hampshire is the road to Black Island. There is a beach on the neck across the bridge onto the island. This beach was a place for me, a monument in my life. I always felt peace in that spot, even when youthful trouble filled my heart.  Nearby the beach was a summer camp for rich kids. Camp staff taught the kids to play tennis and waterski and other rich kid activities.
    One summer my cousin Nick went to work there. They hired him as maintenance man. He was good at that kind of work. He walked around all day barefoot fixing a window or repairing a leaky roof or whatever other job happened to come up.  He was always punctilious about his work.
    Nick was friendly with Jules and Cesar, two other of the camp staff.  Jules was from Iowa and she had played tennis on the professional tour. But she got in an auto accident that laid her up. Now she was trying to get back in shape for the tour.  One day the tennis team threw Jules off the end of the dock after the big win over a rival camp.  The first time I fully appreciated her was when she was walking out of the lake.
    Cesar's father ran a resort in Acapulco. Cesar, following the weather, towed a speedboat behind his Cadillac. He taught the kids to water ski wherever it was summer.  He followed the summer with his Cadillac and speedboat.  But he was also a good tennis player and he could round Jules into the shape she never lost. Cesar was an athlete, he jogged and did his exercises religiously. But he became friendly with Nick and he might drink a beer with him after he was done with the kids.
    On beautiful summer evenings Cesar would take Nick, Jules and me on speed boat rides. His boat was very powerful. We drove into Meredith to get beer at the general store. Jules loved to drive the speedboat.
    When they returned with the beer they secretly carried it into the back corner of the parking lot. Cesar parked the Caddy nearby. That Caddy had a nice radio. We got BLM Boston. You could see the lake through the trees in the darkness and the houses of rich people lit up across the channel, their lights reflecting on the still black surface of the lake.
    Jules said, "I'm going home. I'm through with this. I am going home and I am gonna get married. We were childhood sweethearts. His father runs a famous candy factory. They make Caramel. His family owns a big Victorian house on the hill. It must be the biggest house in town. They are society. I'm tired of my dream. It's all over for me. I can't make the big, booming shots anymore."
    "Not me," Cesar said. "I'll teach the kids to waterski. While they are children they can be lighthearted before they grow up and the world puts upon them all its cares. Me the Caddy and my boat will follow the fair weather. I can't change the world but I can leave my mark on it."
    "Oh you're such a dreamer Cesar. These kids won't remember you. They'll grow up and get married and have children and that is what they will remember. Then they will die and be buried on some family plot somewhere who knows where. Lucky if they don't hate each other."
    "Oh, woman! Do you think I will change the world? I won't change the world. But I can teach it something, I can be there when it plays. One day when I have done what I want I'll go home but not until I am old and mean and burdened with too much wisdom."
    "Too much wisdom?" Says Jules. "What does that mean?"
    "It means when I figure everything out and I understand that the world wasn't created with me in mind."
    "Oh! And it has taken you this long?"
    "Sure. Suppose it isn't true? Suppose it is just another lie they tell you to keep you still."
    So that was how they talked, Jules and Cesar.
    I got drunk one night. Cesar had to hold me up to keep me from falling over. What was my dream? Cesar wondered about sodden me.  I couldn't figure out what I was smart enough to do. You live a life a certain way and not another way because you can do it the one way and not the other way.
    Cesar let me sleep in the back seat of the caddy. I left about dawn. I had the old Norton motorcycle then and it was running OK. The sun was rising over the lake. I saw it that morning in a way different than I had ever seen it before.
    After that dawn I was out on my own. I wanted to make my own way true to myself. I would struggle to be like Cesar but then I became afraid that I'd somehow blow it. That fear has remained with me all my life.
    In fact I was so fearful of blowing it that I think I did.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

A Shiny Day

A shiny day of amber damp.
A slow day not windish.
A changing, shifting, faint,
ever so faint suspense
of forthcoming damp.
But bright sun dapples
the tall grass. The plants stand
still breathe lightly.
The goats peaceful in their languor;
chewing frankly, lolling;
unembarrassed maternal
bellies thick with juice.
Magistrates of the barn.
By dark, rain.
Come dawn, the tree tops blaze
in a towering sun.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Blog Entries

I have found an interesting app on the net to write blogs on, for whomever doesn't like the Blogger interface. It is called OmPad. It is more a background than an app but it seems serviceable. You can't make another page, which in my case is probably good because I tend to get out of focus with numerous ideas blossoming every which way and most things never getting finished. The interface takes about five minutes to figure out. I have Blogger in another tab. All you need to do is copy and paste. Though not elegant, you'd like to push it off with a couple of keystrokes, I have never been able to find that capability anywhere. The claim of such an end is always more arduous and complicated than copy and paste.

The dream for the web writer is to get on the Internet not next to it or near it but right on top of it, which isn't as easy, in my opinion, as it should be. I don't think anybody, especially programmers, think that this service should be available to everybody whether educated or uneducated, whether steeped in the art of programming or not. Geeks tend to admire each other and they band together to exclude and obfuscate. They also like the idea that their program may be "controlling" fifty other input screens, which in fact is hardly ever the case. Most people who use their computers to write on are simply lonely voices using the internet to get heard. What they put out there is what they want everybody to know about. They know all about emails and privacy. Private files are kept in a local directory, and backups are done one way or another locally too. Why would a famous person or just any person want to put a private file on the web? You want to get on top of the internet. You don't want to get embarrassed by it.

On the other hand there are OS dreamers who don't want the Internet at all. They also don't want Apple secrecy. The backslapping clubbiness of Internet insiders is almost as obnoxious as Apple secrecy. On the other hand, the combination of Apple hardware and software is hard to say no to. Every OS has something wrong with it. Flash is a big hassle for everybody, a creepy, greedy nonsense. For an interesting take on one OS dreamer see here.

In this article the author, Richard Mitton, looks at the work of Terry A. Davis, the author of TempleOS. Incidentally, Mr Davis's You Tube videos are riveting. TempleOS is an expression of its author. As I have said repeatedly in my blogs, wouldn't anyone prefer to avoid waiting forever, sometimes it seems, for an app to launch or for an OS to boot up? I can't work that way. I need the snatch of info now, I need my Emacs to open up now not ten seconds from now. You might think that is a little crazy but when you get to a place where a command happens instantly, it becomes a habit you never want to leave. It is like an addiction. My personal OS is an admixture of Debian and Fluxbox and Emacs. I use ROX sometimes because it gives me what I want fast, and Elinks because it also is instantaneous. My Mac, with the addition of a super fast OWC SSD, is almost as fast as Debian which I built around whatever hardware I happened to run across at the dump, very ordinary hardware. My fondness for my Apple Macbook pro is not reasonable. But TempleOS is in another league altogether in this respect. It works at the rate of brainwaves. I don't care about the inventor's personal life or his personal beliefs: I see it as an extension of a mind and a personality. Anybody who can get into TempleOS and dig it will think: why didn't the big money come up with that? And that, and this other thing? My feeling is that if Terry Davis is crazy, what are we?

But it does not add up to the Internet.

If you love to write on your computer and you run maybe two at a time—I have run three at a time, a server and a work computer and a web machine—and what you want for a career is to write for the web without having to pay x dollars a month to a server farm—good old Blogger is still free, and there are others—, say you want to build your own server, then, if you weren't a computer science major in college, without help or instruction, it is hard. There is plenty of information out there; books on Amazon and You Tube instructional videos to get by eventually. Apache isn't that hard once you get into it; nor is mySQL. But I do remember the first time I got into mySQL. What is this, I thought? I gave up and tried to find an easier way. I couldn't make any sense of it. I tried Hugo for awhile, which worked okay, but still wasn't what I wanted. I wanted a Wordpress blog on my personal server. That took awhile. I got help on the Internet to a point, but You Tube nor the available books cannot stay up to date and much of the stuff taught a few years ago doesn't work any more. They tell you, well, study and you'll figure it out eventually. Thanks.

Some net related subjects are very well documented. Emacs documentation is voluminous, BSD UNIX, HTML and LaTex can be figured out and understood and employed without too much struggle because the documentation is thorough and always kept by little munchkin scriveners up to date. But when it comes to putting that info on the Web in serious blogger fashion, not so easy. I don't know why it is easy to a point and then mystifying. Want to throw together hardware and build a machine; want to install an OS on a spare hard drive; set up a serious, well thought out and smooth desk top? That's all easy and instructions are everywhere. A couple of trips to the dump, you can put it all together for $25. But put your server on line? No! It's almost like the insiders don't want you to do it. They remind me of mob gangs; there is too much big money; they want you to go through the money. When Aaron Schwartz died the first thing I thought was he touched the net too close and he got hot. I still don't think it was suicide. Now there are others who are touching it and getting hot and I wait with baited breath.

I am off OmPad, as anyone might expect, and back on Emacs. They want to cut off your fingers, make it hard to do anything. You can't write a blog because there isn't a form for a blog. Well here I go again. I don't care if CBS news has been in Paris for almost two weeks now. It is impossible to separate what happened in Paris from the Internet. The Paris massacre is a fog to be breathed in whole. Now, all news comes from the Internet. It is the moral duty of everyone who has trained himself to write code or who has learned to understand computers to put a server in everyman's house. That's where the future will come from, an army of millions of small computer boxes running ARM CPU's connected directly to the Internet, not through Facebook or Twitter or any of the others. Then see how far the Barbarians will get. Secrecy slows down both the insider and the outsider. It is hard to be secret when everybody has the same tools available to them.

Last modified: Thu Nov 19 20:41:02 EST 2015

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Just Testing

I have left OS X in favor of Xubuntu. I don't know how anybody can use Emacs in OS X Mountain Lion. I guess some people do. I got sick of the crashes. However, Aquamacs is stable. Emacs and Aquamacs are approximately the same thing. There are a few features that are slightly different. Aquamacs does not play nice with custom. Changing colors, for instance, in Aquamacs through custom is buggy. Tabs are buggy. Frames can be buggy when scrolling. But it is easy to steer away from a bug once you get used to it. I could have done okay on Aquamacs. The reason why I departed OS X is because the equipment is so expensive. It is great equipment, but too expensive for me. Besides build-your-own is fun. Hacking on hardware and configuration files is fun, too much fun to pass up. You don't know how much fun till you have tried it. I still have the Mac; I can't bring myself to sell it. But I keep it as hardware. I am hoping that one day somebody will figure out a way to Libreboot 8,3. Then I'll run GNU on it like Gluglug does with Thinkpads. But now I have Trisquel and Xubuntu installed on my desktop and Apple OS on the Macbook to compare.

Who wins?

All three OSes are on SSD's, though one is a Seagate hybrid. The disk Trisquel is on is a 65G SATA2 Kingston SSD. You can still use small SSDs with most Linux distros. A complete installation of Trisquel is 8.9G, that is with 2.6G of Auctex files. So the install uses about half of /. That leaves 40G of free space in /home. I have piggy backed a 650G 7200rpm Western Digital Blue for archiving and downloads directory. Ubuntu is on a 500G Seagate hybrid. Since they each boot up on their own disk, neither one or the other is on a virtual disk. I believe this is a fair way to compare them. Both have been long term trials: I used Xubuntu for four months. Then I set up Trisquel as similarly to Xubuntu as I was able to. Trisquel is GNU free software. The browsers in Trisquel are Icecat and Abrowser, which are similar to Firefox and Chromium, the two Xubuntu browsers, except no Flash, which may be a deal breaker if you are addicted to You Tube. The disgusting situation with Flash is a good subject for another blog. But most videos in Abrowser do play. Dropbox is not available in GNU, though there are other possibilities if you need to sync across multiple machines. Emacs in Xubuntu is the latest 24.4 which has the internal browser EWW; I have not installed the latest Emacs on Trisquel yet. EWW is nothing to run around in joy about.

First let me describe the hardware. It so happened that one day I ran across an Acer/Gateway desktop that somebody left at the dump. I have worked the Phenom Quad and the extra RAM into my existing installation. The parts are probably four to five years old. The board I am presently using is an ECS board. Everything works together and though the hardware is less than average, I have not had any problems with it. The SSDs are snappy, as snappy as my Macbook Pro in which is a modern i7 quad and an up-to-date board. You may find that statement hard to believe, but there is only so much that human beings can notice. I am not interested in numbers.

Let me say first of all to anybody interested in my personal testimony: for launching apps the hybrid is equally quick as the SSD. I am unable to detect any difference. Also, I am unable to detect any difference between the OWC SATA3 Extreme (I love these names!) SSD I have in my Mac and these other solid state devices I have in my desktop. Even when downloading large files, I can't detect any difference between SATA3 and SATA2. You can refer to the numbers if that is your thing. I can't even say that the hybrid is slower than either of the SSDs. At first it was, in fact I thought it was another phony ripoff, though I got it for $75 on sale. Then I couldn't tell the difference between hybrid and SSD until I had opened six or so tabs in a browser and a folder of photos. Then the hybrid might have been a little slower. The only other way I could tell the hybrid was SSDs are, of course, silent. The mechanical part of the hybrid is easy to hear, especially in a laptop when you are sitting right over the disk. The disk is turning at 7,200rpm, which makes a distinct obnoxious whine that I am sensitive to, and I'd bet a lot of other writers are sensitive to it also. When anyone tells you a mechanical drive is quiet, they mean one is slightly quieter than another. They all make noise. The OWC SSD was more expensive. Both machines, the Macbook Pro and my ragtag desktop have 4G of RAM and they both have quad-core CPUs. I believe both machines are comparable in feel, though not exactly comparable in hardware. The Mac is slightly more modern. The best way I know of to upgrade a system is to put an SSD in it. You may not see much difference with extra RAM but you will see a big difference with the SSD. If your board does not support SATA3, buy a SATA2 SSD for $50 and piggy back. Or so they tell me, you can buy a SATA3 and when you get around to it a more modern board. SATA2 SSDs can be got cheap. If you use your machine to write on, almost any hardware that will run quietly will do.

I have spent a lot of time comparing Ubuntu with Mac OS 10.8, Mountain Lion. Ubuntu is a good running OS. It is rare that anything odd pops up that needs immediate attention. You can run around through Linux for years, have a great time amazing your friends and acting like a geek. Some geeks like it when a bug pops up and they take care of it. Others hate bugs passionately, attack them with fervor and hope that finding the fix won't take too long. Ubuntu is dependable. Dropbox, for instance, may not be in a big hurry to adapt the newer version to Linux. The newer version is suddenly swilling RAM to the point where the system locks up. A twitter feed to the desktop may cease working, and so on. But that is not Ubuntu's fault. Some people may be reluctant to shut off Dropbox and switch to Google Drive—I personally love the words, maybe we can do a workaround—it is music to my ears. In OS X or Windows these sorts of happenings are unusual but don't say never. In OS X Aquamacs I can no longer send an Email in Gnus! That is after doing it for five years. Some phenomenal hocus-pocus has happened. For the most part you can boot up Ubuntu and write all day and nothing will happen; everything that works will continue to work; you might wish something would happen to break up the routine.1 You are as likely to waste time playing in OS X as you are in Linux. Neither Ubuntu or Trisquel require a lot of maintenance. Updates come along in rhythm, and they don't seem inclined to break the system. One reason I moved away from OS X is, as I have said, I couldn't get Emacs to work. Text interests me; pictures and video not so much. Apple's thing is all about pictures. They do pictures not necessarily better than anyone else. If you want to watch a movie or fix up a photo, make it look nice, Apple will do the job. At one time Apple did a lot of work on fonts. They have passable fonts and colors. Many times I have returned to OS X for the fonts and colors. But the later versions of OS X since Tiger have been less stable than anyone would like. The machines have not dropped off. The hardware is the best, but the software is in a decline right now. That probably won't last long. I should not say that Apple OS is in a decline when I am primarily interested in writing text. I still haven't sold my Macbook but that is only because I want to load Linux on it later on, because I have a feeling I will be wandering around occasionally in my retirement, and a laptop will be useful. Sometimes I go back to the Mac to remind myself of its faults.

Now when I first loaded Trisquel, frankly, I wasn't expecting much that was different. I was just curious. It made sense to me that Emacs, my favorite app, the foremost GNU app, in my opinion, would run nice on a GNU distro. Trisquel is basically Ubuntu and Debian. Trisquel does a few things a little differently. Everything is open source. If your thing is spending money on apps, then you won't like GNU because nothing is for sale. If you want to buy a lawn mower and research them on the web before buying, and you use a GNU browser, Google will not necessarily know about it. There are people who do not mind Google's googling, who tune out the subsequent ads via extension or frame of mind, but anyone must admit that seeing lawn mower ads for months after the lawn mower situation has past can be noisome. None of that will happen in GNU. Then as I got the OS set up and it became comfortable (non-obtrusive) for me to write on, I began to notice a feel to the OS that had not been present in any OS I had used previously. That goes back to Windows 98 and OS X Tiger. I think XP was good and enjoyable to work on and Tiger was so good it got me started with Apple hardware. There were at least two Linuxes, Debian Lenny (5.0) and Linux Mint Helena (8.0), that I used a lot. I think highly of them still. But I used them both before I started to get into the richness and common sense that is Emacs. I found that the more I learned about Emacs the more efficiently I could write and output to typeset quality PDFs, HTML and UTF-8 and so on. The problem was finding distros that ran Emacs without a hassle. One distro might run Emacs better than another.2 Emacs 24.4 is in Synaptic. That is not the latest Emacs. But I always run at least a version behind because I am in Emacs 95% of the time, and I do my work with it and I don't want any screw-ups.

My Emacs setup is extensive and complex. It took me awhile to set it up on Trisquel. That is a big problem with Emacs. Still, usually you can do a lot with stock basic Emacs if you happen to work on different systems and different machines by work or habit. In Mac, when I switched to Aquamacs, I switched init from .emacs to init.el basically because Finder in Mac doesn't play nice with dot files, and I didn't want to be in the terminal all day. Xubuntu didn't seem to mind that init was in .emacs.d named init.el. But Trisquel would have no such bullshit. It wanted .emacs. Once I realized that, Emacs went in like a charm, and brother does it work nice. After a month and a half, other than the fact that twittering-mode doesn't work in Linux at all, Emacs has been solid. Everything I put on it works. In fact Trisquel has been so good that there is no comparison between it and Xubuntu. That's saying a lot. It has a "feel", a cooperation between the forces that used to show up occasionally in Tiger and XP.

My hardware is old and most users would say sub-adequate. I don't have a lot of RAM to waste, or disk space. I have used the 65G Kingston SSD in both Xubuntu and Debian Lenny besides Trisquel 7.0. There was always plenty of room. Both OS X and Windows have outgrown 65g disks. A simple arrangement of Mountain Lion on my Mac is 65g alone! (That fact is slightly unbelievable to me.) You could still run on the Mac a 120g SSD, but if you are into pictures, you'd have to be careful. It is frustrating to have to worry whether a download of six movies, for instance, will break the bank. Mount the 650g mechanical drive and send your downloads there. The only problem is backing up your big disk with all that valuable stuff on it. Let me tell you, once you get into Linux and understand its basic procedures, it is easy to back up a non-bootable disk to either a partition of the same disk, not too bright in my opinion, or to another disk of equal size. If you have a bootable disk, that is easy to back up too. Linux makes backups easy, a subject for another blog. I have on Xubuntu my present writing projects and two or three hundred family photos. Root is about 9.5g and /home is less than 3g. Since the disk that it is on is 500g, there is essentially nothing on the disk. I could imagine the free space getting filled in a hurry if I ever got into movies. The problem with substandard hardware in modern versions of some Linux distos is not room on the disk, any disk bigger than 30g will do, it has to do with RAM.

As ridiculous as it sounds even if you decide to get into BSD, which will provide added security, or another lightweight Linux distro, 4G of RAM is about the minimum.3 Six to eight gigs makes you a happy camper. My Mac runs up to 2G of RAM quite often. Xubuntu comes with XFCE, said to be a lightweight desktop, but it is easy to utilize 1G of RAM, and lots of times you will be well over 1G. It can even get into swap on occasion even with 4G RAM. (So much for the theory that you don't need swap.) The basic desktop for Trisquel is a fixed up and deflated Gnome. That seems to use less RAM than XFCE; Trisquel stays around 800mb RAM though it can explode over 1G if three or four apps are launched and open and a browser running full time. But Fluxbox in Salix is 400mb to 600mb, and if you are careful you can get by on 2G of salvaged DDR2, and be happy with it, and have a nice running computer besides. Salix also has a version with Ratpoison desktop. The boys have been working on Ratpoison so that Emacs and Ratpoison function keys don't clobber each other. Last time I used Ratpoison, I was averaging 50mb of RAM, which means I could operate fine on 1G RAM total. Salix is touchy about Wi-Fi. It is derived from Slackware, so you know that after a while of familiarization, you will get work done on it. I am anxious to give the Ratpoison version a try out. Both Ubuntu and Trisquel and Debian will do Wi-Fi on almost anything. Salix didn't like my Athos Wi-Fi card, but if you are on the wire, you can get the Internet from any distro. I have never run across one that did not pick up the wire. And besides, I am talking about a desktop with lots of I/O. Why would you not be on the wire?

At times I cannot come to a decision about which distro is best. They all have different features and you can find out about all that on the Net, pictures and all. If you want to use Ubuntu, Ubuntu is selling you to Google. Go here to see Stallman on that subject. But I don't care about that as much as I probably should. I write on my computer, I blog and I research my blogs on my computer. I don't see any reason for secrecy. I take care of my own files. And I know how to keep a secret. I don't need the cloud or specifically Dropbox to help me. I do my backups, and I hope everybody one day will go to StoryNoir and read my blogs and follow the links to other places such as Scribd where I have published other writings. Free software is not less useful or serviceable than non-free software. Emacs is free however you want to think about it; it is one of the oldest apps on the planet and it is still as vital and useful as ever. The fact that it seems so far to work on Trisquel as well or better than anywhere else I have been able to discover gives Trisquel a leg up in my opinion. But also in Trisquel there is a feel that comes with FSF philosophy. It is as if all the apps are pulling together. You don't have to fight with any of them. They flutter around Emacs like bees around the hive. The Gnome work over is splendid. I am going along fine with my old friendly board and 4G of RAM. Ubuntu wants more; Ubuntu wants an almost new board and at least 8G of RAM. I don't think it was much of a battle. Trisquel has so far won this battle. Trisquel by philosophy allows me to be minimal. But all that means nothing until we build the system into a server.

To sum up: Xubuntu doesn't match up very well with either OS X or Trisquel. The match up is between OS X and Trisquel. On the inexpensive equipment I like to run and the fact that I derive enjoyment from build-your-own, for me and my purposes Trisquel is the easy winner in this battle. But with 8G of RAM on the Mac and Yosemite installed, which is on the 100% POSIX compliant list, maybe...

Hope you will be reading here again soon.


1 They say Faulkner used to swill Bourbon to break up the routine of writing. But you have your computer to play with. And it is much better for your health. Another good reason to write on a computer.

2 I don't know why this is so. I give up. But Trisquel has not disappointed me too much so far. Every system even my favorites are off one way or another. One programmer pointed out to me that I wouldn't have to look too far to find programming that didn't work any more.

3 That makes me angry, and I don't believe there is any reason for it. When some OSes went to a DVD or a thumb drive to load an install disk, and they took my old CD Rom out of the picture, I also became angry. Trisquel needs a DVD. The download of the OS is over 1G. There is a lightweight install that fits on a CD. But you won't get to serious work on it right away. Xubuntu comes on a CD Rom. I finally found a DVD Rom at the dump. Forget floppies except for emergency boot disk. All this is sad and driven by profit.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Philosophy of StoryNoir

I have been a writer for a long time. It has been a great and happy occupation. It gives me solace and diversion in troubled times and in good times recreation and delight. I have written much, mostly from personal experience; I am a puzzler over experience. I get inspiration from the Internet and my computer too. My computer has eased the terrific burden of constant retyping, which has allowed me to edit a piece till I am vaguely content. Also, I have finally been able to make artistic decisions and stick to them. My characters appear, they explain themselves. I have learnt over the years some general understandings. Perhaps you will find them interesting.

Autobiographic writing is not my favorite. I dream of writing imaginative stories. I have tried for a long time to learn how to use the imagination. I didn’t want to let the imagination get extreme. Usually that’s what happens. As we all know, wildly imaginative writing can be popular. But even if you have art burning inside you, you shouldn’t need to suspend disbelief to the point that you wonder whether you must be cracking up! Why should I feel like a lunatic for reading a book and actually believing in it? Even worse, suppose I am writing the book? Truth interests me, and it is in my nature to be skeptical. But I don’t think anymore that truth, in the sense of experience, has much to do with the real world. Truth has more to do with the unreal world. When you are driving in traffic and an extra long stop light irritates you, the stoplight is engaging you in a truth of experience. But truths of experience (data) like stoplights come and go. Untruths flicker and vanish, they may be suitable to the occasion, but truths of experience may act similarly. The kind of experience that concerns me is stubborn and persistent. This experience has a quality of truth that finds a niche in the world and it persists, and damned if you are not stubbing your toe on it your whole life! That's what I mean by realism: not what comes and goes but rather the patterns that are incessantly THERE; and it seems like at times they're gonna drive you crazy, so you try to forget about them, ignoring them. So I try to stick to these truths of experience. The fact that although important, they are ignored or forgotten is, I think, worth puzzling over. I try to be realistic. I haven’t gone off into fantasy. The upshot is that if you go by this notion of stubborn facts the writing must be believable. You don't have to drive yourself crazy wondering why you have to suspend belief to such an extreme. But you still have to use your imagination to get there. Stubborn facts don't just present themselves; everybody has to search for them.

Now, I’m thinking of the word fair. It disturbs me that a fair-minded person in this world tends to sound like a radical, or like a person who has let his imagination get the better of him. You take a fair-minded person trying to explain why it is better to compromise with another person than kill him. Such people clear the air, but how has it come to be that they sound so weird? I used to be a nihilist and an anarchist. I still love the theory that least is best. If you want to improve something make it simpler. My youthful nihilism, which simplified everything it couldn’t end, eventually made it a little easier to believe because in reducing the number of blockhead pre-conceptions, it made my perception of the real world a little truer. (I hope!) So I try to convey that perception because it has been a struggle to learn to believe in it myself. The result is that I want to be fair to my characters and not kill them off when they slip up or don't seem useful anymore. They must persist if I am ever to reach truths that persist. I hope I am fair and balanced in how I judge them.

I don't mean to suggest that everything I write about actually happened. Something similar to it did happen to me personally, else I wouldn't be writing about it. But I’m only a soldier, a lover of the written word, not one of the brass. I'm not interested in the doings of the brass, what I’m interested in is the greater world, which exposes the darkness that surrounds the self. The fact that we can actually turn back darkness into light is what makes us human, and a little less than angels. What I have tried to write about are the mysteries that surround every one of us, to turn back that darkness a little. Well, a man can always dream. In my life I have been a terrible dreamer, and not much of a success. Any kind of light can be a long time dawning.

Another word, balance, has bothered me for a long time. Everybody thinks about Ulysses’ avoidance of extremes. Now suppose. You want to write a best seller. But you want to be loyal to your upbringing and your mother’s admonition about not lying, and true to the experience of the world you have gathered over a lifetime. So invoke balance. Stand there, let them take their shots. Maybe they’ll even take you seriously. In other words: show up! The guys who are out of balance will disappear. But you'll show up.

When I was a young fellow, I used to search all over, town and city, for stores that sold used paperback books for a nickel. There was always some crazy guy in there who’d give you a cardboard box, and pretty soon you were walking out with fifty or a hundred books, a big pile of them anyway, for ten bucks. My dream was that one day I’d find a book that had everything you could imagine in it. Not The Holy Bible, which, of course, is okay for starters—I spent days loitering over it—, but a for real scuzzy paperback that had everything in it, and no bullshit. Then I’d screw around with it and keep it in my back pocket. Leaves of Grass, plenty of good reading there, I used to tell myself, better get started, time is wasting; and other books passed the time. Now I'm dreaming that one day I'll write that big book with everything in it and no bullshit. It will explain everything I know about noir and storynoir.

But that's energy and enthusiasm. There is nothing I'd rather do than sit in front of my computer and write. For me the undocumented life is not worth living. The simple object is to write a best seller, but the complicated object is to get read. How do you do that? Sex, violence (guns and war always help), and love and family. If you can convincingly write about kids, that’s a good thing. A few writers have been lucky that they can write about kids. Something for the head, something for the heart. If anybody can explain to me how you get read, I'll listen to everybody.

Some other items (not in order of importance) I am pretty sure about:

— I’m usually not interested in anything that doesn’t have some sort of climax somewhere close to the end.

— Almost everything I try to read is about a third too long, even Holy Ye Christmas! books. The popular taste is inured to it; it’s another opportunity to speed read and accomplish something. Think again.

— If I don’t know the story by personal experience, I’m not interested in writing it. But I hate journalism and my stories are anything but memoirs.

— I don’t know what imagination is. I think it’s something you’re born with. If you are a person born with it, maybe you could explain it to me.

— I like to dump my subject matter into the road and drive over it about a thousand times with a ¾-ton pick up. To leave it fluffed up is a sin. Once it's flattened then you load it. You don’t want to drive away with less than a full load. It is something that has always bothered me. Too long, too much stuff. Either you understand this or you don’t. I don’t have any words for what I am trying to get at from my love of brevity. Not minimalism. That is a professor’s word, and I don’t even know what it means. The deep wisdom silence spins off. There are people who think I am not brief at all.

— I like the illusion of spontaneity. Who invented the words “flash fiction”? Is that supposed to leave the impression of an insult like teenybopper used to? But I like it and crave to obtain an effect that is immediate, that “flashes” at you. And best of all: the work is all figured out when you finally write it down as if on an impulse. Then you don't have to spend the best part of a lifetime worrying it to death (and ruining it).

— This all goes hand in hand with the classical drill that inculcates clarity. Clarity sure helps. It is hard work, though, and good luck to the player. You have good days and bad days. On a bad day you can't get the mud out of the writing because you don't even know it's there.

— One thing I’m pretty sure of, I have noticed that a time comes for everything. I owned a paperback copy of Isaac Babel’s stories for almost twenty years before the cobwebs cleared and I could finally see in them a philosophy of storytelling that I could build on. Take John Milton! What a struggle I had with him! How could I ever read that? I must be dumb. No sense going to school any more. Eventually the time came. I like to read, and I’d read a lot more than I do if I didn’t love to write so much.

— The big objective: avoid journalism. A man does not avoid a rat carrying the plague like I avoid journalism. In my younger days we used to sit around wondering why we didn’t want to write journalism. Some of us eventually did. And there was a scholar among us, too. But to this day I’ve never sinned that way. Journalists are all dickweeds, though some of the ladies are cute.

— I don’t set myself up as anybody’s conscience. I am not a doctor, so I can’t tell you what happens in the ER. I can’t write a glossy detective story either. Criticize another writer? Don't be ridiculous. But write a potboiler? Maybe. I have ideas. I don’t intend to mirror my age, wouldn’t know how to even if I wanted to. I’m a guy who loves to write. I’ve been doing it all my life on the back of cereal boxes, on file cards, little notebooks, big notebooks and now on my computers. In college I cut an amusing figure. People shook their heads in bewilderment and smiled: I didn't look smart enough to put one foot in front of the other! Still it can’t be that of all the millions of words I have written nothing of it can be any good, can it? Given the even possibility of happy accident.

— Face it, the object is to finish the work, and like it enough to believe somebody ought to read it.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Internet Shock

What is on the internet? I have noticed it seems easier to find out stuff than it used to be. It is a striking difference over one lifetime, although I wonder what is the meaning and importance of this stuff that has become so much more available.

The modern internet, which started modestly only fifteen or so years ago, has become an immensity of data that lots of people insist is information, meaning they claim for it a certain definite credibility. Maybe they are vaguely skeptical, which is natural and normal, what they were taught by their parents in childhood, but they insist that most of it has truth value. That’s why the idea comes to mind that this stuff is information.

There is an awful pile of it; what are we to do with it all?

A bearish old man is crossing our neighborhood. He is ragged and acting kind of funny, up and down, herky-jerky, and it sounds like he is calling for his lost dog. It can get depressing; he won’t go away, and yet he is out there acting funny. Suppose he really is looking for something? You would prefer not to get involved. But what does he mean by hanging around? You would rather shut him off; but he won’t shut off. What springs up naturally is close to fascination. The skepticism kicks in. But suppose all this data spinning in and bearishly crossing our neighborhood is not quite real, in fact it is just static, electrical interference? and you can’t shut it off? Or even worse, suppose some of it is static and some of it is information, important information, in fact, with a definite truth value? Suppose it is fluttering in the air: a handsome young man shot in the head point blank on the streets of Cairo in real time.

When I remember the neat, correctly and expertly written articles in the Encyclopedia Britannica and compare them with the evolving and often confusing entries in Wikipedia, which did not exist till a few years ago, I feel that something has changed. I can still get the Britannica article (though not free) but the Wikipedia article is built in and it must be sufficient for my purposes, though perhaps mildly skewed, mustn’t it? So the notion behind my research is superficial, and I may not even be aware of it. Wikipedia data is easy to get and it is right there right now.

But there is more to this story: the situation deepens. The information is close enough in accuracy, and besides it never shuts off. Aren’t we so very little people with all this data surrounding us that we are ignorant of? What are we supposed to pay attention to? A sense of frustration, even shock must come over us. Our bearish, ragged stranger calling for his dog demands that we wonder what is important. What of this information is important? Is his dog the one who will bite me? The true object in the idea of self-education, which is what you do after you get out of school, is to learn to think for yourself. If the information is written in such a way that it is not understandable or is faulty even in little ways, if you haven’t managed to teach yourself how to think about it—most people never do—then it is useless. It is fallacy, illusion.

What is new about the sense of frustration at the besieging confusion of data? Ptolemy kept about him a few wise men, and their numerous sayings must have been at times confusing. The speed of change is one wonder. What, if anything, is being improved? But that’s the eternal question. Time is relative. Ptolemy’s rush of affairs may have troubled him as much as ours troubles us.

It is not normal for human beings to concentrate upon any one thing at length. History chronically complains about short attention span. A new war fought over the same ground every generation is the usual thing. It is normal to be hardened toward human mortality. Though information abounds, it is in the air, soon it is going to be in a corner of our eyeglasses, what has become different?

My personal interest in the Internet has to do with the simple and uneventful way that it seems to flow on. It flows on inside out; and without telling you, when you get the hang of it, events start happening. And it is fun to be gadget conscious. The question is where does it get you in the real world? A new war flies by, numerous the dead, with rumors aplenty but little honest recognition, debate airy, brief. Laws are now on the books whose aim is to prevent people from killing themselves texting while driving! Parents struggle with their children to eat and exercise rather than melt away like little wizards in front of a video monitor. Who am I to chastise them, when I, an old man, am apt to do similarly? It seems to me I have heard rumors of a headachy kid glued to a book.

Freedom, human equality remain spotty. The rich continue to run truth and justice; the poor have no say in anything, though they are not slaves any more. (Come to think of it, isn't that different in the last 4,000 years?) But it’s hard to get away with specific acts of despotism any more. Intellectuals continue to admire despots secretly, for they are capable of action. But little changes have evolved. Bad things tend to happen in secret, and unless you have been drunk all the time or you have smoked too much pot or you are just naturally dim perhaps you have noticed that secrets even about small things are hard to keep. But once the secrets get to the people, they remain ignorant. Experience is labelled as obvious and eschewed even via outright lying. The imagination runs rampant; the mass media, whether the New York Times or NBC are no less ripe with illusion than was the daily news in the kingdoms of ancient Greece. Sources remain unnamed; rumor rules all. One must study hard to approach the truth, and modern scholars are often not willing to be helpful.

What of all this welter is important? I don’t think there is any way to figure it out, but you know it when you see it. Test now for one second if this can be made understandable: an ancient Egyptian people runs about in a window in the corner of my video contesting with each other to the death over an idea, a dream.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Philosophy and Mr Miller

As long as I have lived in the foothills of western Maine, I never learned anything about Mr Miller. That is similar to a grown man who does not own a one-half inch ratchet. It means that either you haven't fixed anything or the machines you own are indestructible. Another example: if you don't wear long johns this time of year in Maine, you don't go outdoors much or you are a flaming radical. Same thing: if you live in a trailer in Maine, and you don't know Mr Miller, you are either lucky, rich enough to pay the repairman, or you are freezing to death. Though not rich, for a long time I was lucky, then suddenly I was not so lucky.

This winter started so mildly that the oil delivery for my heater didn't come till late in the fall. An occasional fire in the wood stove kept the faith. I had plenty of firewood. My wife said, "He only delivers kerosene to outside tanks." "We'll get half-and-half," I said. That means half kerosene and half no2 fuel oil. My mistake was not listening to either my wife or the oil delivery man.

Everybody I know burns wood. I burn wood most of the time. Trouble is, the temps go down below zero and Mr Miller, our furnace, comes in handy. It is a hard job keeping a house, any house, warm with a woodstove when the temp has dropped below zero. If Mr Miller won't work when you need him, then you might want to think about fixing him. When you burn firewood, you don't need Mr Miller till you really need Mr Miller.

Finally, the big day came when the fuel truck drove into the dooryard. I said, "I want half-and-half." "You sure you want half-and-half?" Said the delivery man. I thought he was just trying to sell more kerosene. Kerosene is almost a dollar more than no2 fuel oil. Then he said, shrugging, "Okay." Meaning, you asked for it. It didn't take me but a couple of days to learn that no2, which when mixed with kerosene used to flow to -40f, now gels at 32f no matter what it is mixed with. Now why would they want to sell shit like that in the happy northwestern backwoods, up Maine? First cold day, Mr Miller stopped and refused to start again.

They tell you to bleed the fuel line. But suppose something is wrong with the pump? When the fuel line is bleeding, the fuel should pour out the bleeder tube. I use a clear plastic tube to see whether or not there are bubbles. It may take awhile to free up the line, but a big glob should squirt through the plastic tube and into the collection bottle. It should be a light brown, and then it should flow in a steady stream. When you have it near right, if nothing else is wrong, Mr Miller will start up.

Mr Miller takes a surprising amount of fuel; the nozzle on mine runs at a gallon an hour. So when I bleed, and a dribble is coming out, something is blocking the fuel line. Time for the compressor, another tool I couldn't imagine a jump-suited rustic living without. The wife may not be too happy about revving up an air compressor in the living room. Mine is loud, but it uses house current. Rev it up to 110 pounds per square inch. Disconnect the fuel hose at the pump and the tank outside; insert the compressed air nozzle in the end of the pipe INSIDE the house—don't squirt heating fuel in the house, it stinks awful, takes forever to go away—push the nozzle firmly inside the pipe, and pull the trigger. May need two hits or more to clear the line. Once empty before you reconnect outside, open the valve under the tank to make sure the fuel is healthily flowing out of the tank. If no healthy flow, some people use a block heater on the tank. Or they wait till spring. You have a problem. If you do get plenty of fuel pouring out of the tank into your collection pot, reconnected the fuel line to pump and tank and bleed. Fuel should pour out. And Mr Miller should get enough fuel to start even when bleeding.

But in my case Mr Miller still would not start. This is when repair work reminds me of philosophy. There is to it basic logic. the concept of if...then comes up. Isn't that philosophy? Every time I do repair work, that question prods me. "Humm, sounds like philosophy," I think. There is to fixing something a certain fascination. It is not similar to the delight one gets in a picture or a poem or a story. Our broken something should work but does not. There is nothing delightful about that, especially when the something puts heat in the house on a below zero morning. Both ends of the if...then equation are pragmatic, concrete. But they still require thought. What does that mean? It means that if there is no blockage of fuel up to the pump which must be pumping if any fuel is moving at all, then the blockage of fuel must be somewhere on the other side of the pump before it sprays into the combustion chamber. In order to run, the furnace needs two things: fire and fuel. If we have already tested for fire—the test for fire is as simple as the test for fuel—then the fuel line must be plugged up somewhere else. The only other place that the fuel line could be plugged up is at the nozzle. So I removed the nozzle assembly and unscrewed the nozzle and sure enough a sandy, coarse film spewed out. Once I replaced the nozzle, which cost $10 at the hardware store in town, and set up the gun with electrodes in the proper position, and I ran the fuel, the heater started. A bottle of HOT! heating oil treatment poured into the tank helps. I guess it works; so far it has seemed to. Trickery by modern chemistry.

My house is properly heat efficient for an old trailer. Today has been below zero all day, and wind driven snow crosses my window sideways. It is the sort of day an old man stays inside without wondering what he is missing outside, and a pile of good books lies handy nearby. Mr Miller lopes along like an experienced war horse, starting and stopping in casual rhythm. Now Mr Miller is acting decent, my marriage, which had been fussy, has calmed down. Philosophy did it, that old if...then thing I was telling you about. That's what did it. Mr Miller only happened to be around.
Last modified: Sat Feb 7 15:00:45 EST 2015

Friday, January 30, 2015

A Farmer's Tale

Fri Jan 30, 2015

I didn't tell you about the fact that one day I'd come into the barn and there would not be any time to play. I would be all business. Might have with me a stranger to help lift you into the pickup. One summer of life. Remember how we played together? You would rear up, play that you were gonna charge, rout me, send me flying. And then your buddy would get into the act. I called you Blacky and Whitey. I had to call you something. You are white, the other is black. While you were rearing up your buddy Blacky was tearing around me, jumping up all of a sudden, all four feet off the ground. Then I gave you extra grain, the most amazing tasting cracked corn you loved to eat. So you gobbled that down, and then we'd play some more.

Do you remember the first time I brought you home, you little devils? It was July. The garden was planted. Some of the early crops were going into giant salads. We are not much for animals as we used to be: four goats, four laying hens. We used to have dozens of both, cows and pigs too. Somebody on the Internet was selling lambs. In summer we used to raise animals for sale and meat. These lambs were cheaper than usual, fire sale lambs. Maybe a good buy. And that was where I got you, Whitey. You were a little fuzz ball, and so was your brother. Once I caught you, you seemed to snuggle in my arms, remember, old fool? Your brother, too. You had good size, your brother, not so good. But it was a deal I could not resist. The woman who helped me catch you in the field was pregnant. I didn't think it was such a good idea pregnant as she was to be running around after lambs. She tripped, fell to her knees once, laughed it off. I brought you home in little crates in the back of the pickup. First I put you in a small pen near the house, so to watch you and your brother. Your brother was so small, so cute. We tried this and that to get him going. He seemed to gain after awhile. I put you both into the big pen. You were so small in that big pen. Plenty of goodies near the ground to eat, the kind of thing you guys like to munch on. Got up early the next morn to do my usual thing. Could not find you guys. Where had you gone? Then: rats! I had left the gate open. Not only had I obviously not shut the gate, I couldn't remember ever opening it. I looked all over the neighborhood. I didn't figure you could have gone far. I searched high and low. Sunshine, my dog, was out with me. My heart was broken. I thought of any number of wild animals happening upon you, not to mention $150 down the tubes. Then I heard my wife shouting in the distance. "They're in the pen, you nut." I went back to the pen, and there you were Whitey, you and your brother, in the brush where I could not see you; not lost at all. Then your brother, who had been sickly, died. Remember how heart broken you were? Ah, old pal, you looked so sad standing over him who was dead. You did get some mad when I took his poor lifeless body away. But that's when I brought Blacky home, a new buddy for you to romp around with. And so you did, all through the late summer and fall and early winter. We did not get deep snow till late. You and Blacky were always outside the barn romping around in the snow, digging for a last delicious root, and playing, forever, little light hearted fools. I don't know why I never told you about the rest of it. It was a stressful day, I wasn't feeling well. At least your pen at the butcher's was large enough so you could both go in. But you looked up at me quizzically. The lady said you never knew what hit you. I had a couple of chops last night. Taste kind of good. Nobody I know in Maine is rich enough to enjoy lamb very often. It's a treat. Nothing like it. Usually I square with you guys in the beginning. Funny. This time I forgot.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Bellyache, Bad Breath, Bald

Monday January 26, 2015

This was the worst day I have had recently. Big storm coming in. I had chores to do, and no sooner I got started than I felt like I was gonna keel over. Every five minutes, dizzy, nauseous, breathless. A couple of times I was sure I was gonna keel over. I'm not kidding. When I finally do, I'm gonna drop on the ground like an old dog. Hell, I've lived long enough. If I die, I die. I'd miss the wife, though. But a holy man I know says that you don't have to go to church to go to heaven. So she and I could meet up in heaven. Theory being, if you don't do anything wrong, then you go to heaven. Diddling all day on a computer can't be evil. Right? Suppose I might meet up with gentle William Shakespeare or Martin Luther King or Mahatma Ghandi? What the hell, let's go. I'd kick off for the long journey any time if I could expect at the end a chat with Socrates, but I'd miss the old lady. I'm not kidding. It was a stress day before the storm. I remembered way back all the people I hated. I wonder how King David felt the first time Abishag walked in. Talk about stress! He was old, had all the old things—gas, incontinence, bad breath, bald, breathless. Bet he'd rather spend his day out in a big storm face down in the mud than hang out with some brainless teenager. Now I haveta do two days chores to get ready for this fucking storm. And I feel old. I love these words the TV cooks up—historic. Aw come on! Bigger than usual. Temps around zero f and the wind blowing thirty mph. Unusual doesn't mean whatever you want it to mean. And as you might imagine Abishag might not have been too impressed by the old man either. We haven't had a 20 inch nor'easter with big winds in awhile. I've got plenty of firewood to stick in the woodstove. Hopefully the water pipes won't freeze. The Miller heater in my house is broken again. I'll fix it sometime before spring. Right now I'm dizzy, nauseous and breathless.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Song of Globs

Writing on my new novel Jimmy Freeman has been slowing down lately. I am in a glob. I have always wanted to write a high school book. Now I have got a chance to write a part of a high school book. The rest of the book has come to me right along without hesitation. But this part, the high school part has become a glob. Untangling all the threads is hard. And it hurts probably more than anything else I have ever written. Why did I not remember how complicated it is to be a high school kid? How could I go through all these years and not remember? You say, I don't like high school kids; I'd never want to go back. Okay! Hack up your life. You're a jerk. Also, as you might expect, you do get tired writing these long works. Wouldn't it be better to get a life rather than sit there in front of your computer wondering what makes a high school kid tick? That kind of shit comes in globs. I personally can't figure out any other way of getting through it except patiently slowly. It's something you have to wait for. It is a process of chipping away. The hands and the spirit get tired. A glob is a tightly knit experience. It refers to a time when a lot was happening, next to each other, one thing right after another. Like machine gun fire in a war. Numerous foundation stones appear. There is a jam up in the mind, similar to writer's block. No way to get out of it except by thinking through it. It is like flying through a thunder storm: happenings get all mixed up in each other; they wind in over and through. Takes a while for all the elements to play out. Eventually, holes appear in the glob. Somebody says something. Oh yes, that is the beginning of another sentence. You get that nailed down. Move on. Might take awhile. You feel rich, though frustrated. You feel like a millionaire, buy anything, what you want to buy? Where you want to go now? Each sentence has a thousand-and-one possibilities. Oh yeah. XYZ. Good idea. Nail that down. Slow but rich. Don't hang around like a drunk bustin everybody's frigging balls. Sweat, you get tired. Next time you work, you start at the top. A lot more comes down, more details, new details within details. The wonderation: is this interesting enough?; should it be cut? But wonder doesn't come up till later. At least not while you're doing it. You have a feeling something deep is going on. Carnality! Risk! Accident! Freedom! Being! Life won't let you think about those things unless you have always wanted to. In fact, why should you even bother with a glob unless you have always wanted to. Skirt it, make an end run; a quick transition takes you past. Ignore your globs! Why not? Ignore everything. A fool is a friend to all. Trouble is, where will you be when it is over? Nowhere. A little less confused or more confused than ever?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Emacs and the Internet

Emacs and the Internet

Truly cold gray and miserable day. It is snowing on the coast but not in the Western foothills. It was snowing in Portland at 9a. A dangerous week for bad weather is coming up. I have been blogging today. A lot has been on my mind lately. And I am trying to figure out how to blog from emacs. It's All Text seems like such a backwards way to do anything. Though it is simple enough when you get used to it, you still have to be careful. I tried two packages, e-blog and gblogger and neither worked. They are both from 2005-2010. Part of the problem with the lack of apps dealing with the web is that web technology is moving so fast that it is hard to keep up. What works one day doesn't work a week later. In Emacs the package weblogger has gone past. There are still interesting weblogs to refer to. The guys on #emacs remind me that not all code works. In fact most code is outdated. So it is not surprising that apps cease to work; they get old, and disappear. When progress is fast, code packages get outdated fast. There are not enough maintainers to go around. Commercial operating systems are getting dangerously limited and unstable. Still I find it hard to believe that there is no way to write a blog post in a favorite text editor or word processor and not easily and swiftly export it to a blog and publish it. Especially when the blog is on Google's Blogger, which is free and democratic. My feeling is that what little serious thinking that is happening and getting published or will be in the future published in most of this century will happen on the web. The web is a basic change in the way human beings reveal themselves. There has been nothing like it since the printing press. Even librarians complain about the lack of thought provoking books published in the traditional press. I myself spend more time than I should looking through the just arrived shelves at the library, my most familiar haunt. Most of these books are slick, commercial, popular. Harried and self-involved college professors claim seriousness for their books. I would too often debate them on their claim. The classics are always available, or are they? They seem to me as good a place to escape as the movies are. The air is full of high voltage static. A simple reasonable civility based on accurate analogy seems found nowhere. Style overshadows substance. More and more the web is becoming a favorite haunt. Books lie beside my desk untouched. I am writing or reading on my computer. Can't tear myself away. Brevity and variety. I don't know where else to go to find the substance I crave. It used to be an attraction based on novelty. I will say this, anybody who has not looked toward the web for substance does so at their own peril. The problem with most of the web is that the providers, though with exceptions, do not try hard enough to make it easy and open. There is still an attraction to the difficult and obscure that comes from UNIX.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

To an Aquamacsen

I was getting so tired of Emacs crashing on my Macbook Pro that I had decided to sell it in order to raise enough cash to buy parts to update my desktop, whose board and CPU combo are five or six years old. I am running Xubuntu on my eight years old desktop, and Emacs has not faltered or crashed in forever. My Mac, on the other hand, is a fancy deal: I7 quad, OWC SSD Extreme, and 16G of RAM. So I was figuring I might built a pretty desktop to write with. Then a friend on the web suggested I give Aquamacs a try. He thought I'd have less problems, which has proved to be true. I have been using Aquamacs for a couple of weeks now and no crashes to speak of, one sort of, maybe, my fingers got tangled up and I hit a bunch of keys at once. The lack of crashes has encouraged me to move out of the stripped Aquamacs. I found out quickly that Aquamacs does not get along with Custom. Changing up the looks of the mini-buffer for instance in Custom may not be a happy venture. But Aquamacs comes out of the box with more stuff than Emacs. Also, just downloaded Aquamacs-3a this morn, which is the latest thing. I have been on it all day. No crashes. Maybe I won't sell the Mac after all.

More Aquamacs for Writers

It is a real thing not worth arguing about any longer that OS X is in a slump. Apple socialites soldier on in the struggle to get the damned machine, which sits on their desk in icy splendor, as mine does, to work. Even made for Apple apps seem uncomfortable to use. A good example is DEVONthink. I have always admired the idea behind it, but the thought of actually using it to write with for hour after hour is obnoxious. Emacs, even the one which supposedly has OS X in mind, crashes all the time. Eventually the word junk comes to mind.

I can assure Emacsen who are having trouble with Emacs but love their Macs like the girl in the first row in grade school, Aquamacs is not that much different than Emacs. Get a grip of the one and you've pretty much got the other too. On either Emacs or Aquamacs a beginner who has done the tutorial and mastered the function keys can soon begin to pound out text. All the rest is gravy; I admit there is a world of gravy. But Emacs and Aquamacs are similar enough that if you can't afford the Mac Pro any more, you can load up Xubuntu on your junker, and set up Emacs, and after awhile it will work like or better than the Mac did. You won't get that crazy, erotic feeling like you used to with the Mac, but think of the thousands of dollars you'll be able to keep in your pocket. An old Emacsen, on the other hand, progressing out of their worn out Dell or Thinkpad into a Mac retina, might be more aggravated switching to Aquamacs. But if they are smart, as I'm not, they might be able to get round the lack of cooperation that seems to be going on between Emacs and Apple OS.

I found the interval between auto saves in Emacs to be too long, 300 characters, but when I shortened it to 100 the frequency of the crashes seemed to increase also, so I changed it back. At first I copied over the .emacs and the .emacs.d I had been running so successfully on Xubuntu onto the Mac. But soon I gave up on that and I deleted everything and downloaded a new copy of Emacs and built it from scratch. That didn't seem to make any difference. (Incidentally, Homebrew's copy didn't work either.) The pattern of crashes in Emacs decided me to try Aquamacs. Since I have switched to Aquamacs I have loaded most of my favorite extensions, yassnippet, sublimity mode, ido, deft and writeroom. Recently, I loaded wordsmith-mode, pandoc-mode and zoom-frm, and I have not had any crashes.

A few times I have had missing letters, and garbage showing up on the screen. It can be worrisome when there is writing to do and no time to fuss. But M-X redraw-display seems to resolve the issue. It has not happened often. One time I resized the frame and the problem went away. It has not happened at all lately.

One feature on Aquamacs, besides the beautiful Apple colors and fonts, is sessions. It comes in Aquamacs out of the box. You can load the session from Files. In GNU Emacs you have to load the package from Melpa. There are odds and ends to go through before it will work. One complaint I have always had with Emacs is that you often have to do tiresome setting up before you get the frames all organized the way you'd like before starting work. I'm settling in to write well before dawn, still half asleep, so fiddling with frames and colors is not what I want to do. In Aquamacs first thing, when you get your basic files set up, create and name a session file, then after you launch each morning go to File>Load session. A browser will open up. Go to your session file, click on it, and click on "open". It takes a second, but suddenly all your big morning files will show up appropriately framed and most of the fiddling done. It is then off to work. I have a novel session and a blog session. I may be working on three or four blogs at a time. Or I might have three or four chapters of my novel Jimmy Freeman plus a notes file all in buffers for me to get at instantly. It is a time and effort saving feature that helps.

Now I am in Aquamacs, since everything seems to be going pretty well, deft was working, sublimity and ido and yassnippet, and my LaTex files seemed to be compiling without a hitch out of the box(!),&emdash;a big surprise&emdash;, the issue came up the other morning about whether I should download the latest Aquamacs-3a. I usually take a pass on updates because I'm too busy writing, especially now when I'm in the middle of a novel, to put up with the glitches. But this time I couldn't resist. It has a browser in it: EWW. For years now I have dreamed of a relatively modern browser that I could keep open in an Emacs buffer. Then I could have Internet references at hand and all Emacs key bindings.

While I'm on the subject of bugs, tabbar mode seems doubtful, but with other options for file switching in Aquamacs, I shut it off in Options and prefer ido mode. I may have twenty or so files open at any one time anyway. If they were all in tabs that would take up too much space in the frame.

As you go along working in the app, interesting things happen. The echo area just informed me that I did not close one of my heads. Sure enough, I closed a two head with a three head call. (Does that sound slightly unbelievable? I am not kidding.) Also, try "m-x bs-show" and see what you think of it for switching files. Bookmarks of course will open up a file where you left the cursor — just key C-x r-m. Speedbar is available. Recentf mode will present a buffer with all of your most recent files. If you like to point and click, check out the GUI Window or control/mouse 1. All of these methods bring up a file much faster than Finder.

So far so good. I'll be looking at EWW in Xubuntu soon. But wouldn't it be nice to have 24 or so buffers open, a browser in Emacs, and Firefox and Safari open at once ten tabs in each on a 40 inch UHD TV! If I sell my Mac, then one of the new Mac Pros would be only another two thousand dollars!

Friday, January 23, 2015

More Junk Found at the Dump

But I should be reading. I was gonna read, I have a pile of interesting novels stacked up beside my desk. But every time I think I am gonna read, some quaint young philosopher of a geek pops up to claim my attention. I get an optimistic feeling when I listen to them. They don't care about the big picture. They just want to get the problem they are staring at fixed. Instead of reading a novel—novels have occupied my spare hours all my life, and no reason to stop now—I decided to try to build a computer from some junk parts I have collected. I had a good day at the dump.

Last week I got a quad core for my desktop, and it is noticeably faster that the AMD dual core I have in it now. I got it and a half dozen other useful parts in a Gateway box, circa 2010, that somebody left at the town dump. Our town has a small dump. People throw away perfectly good electronics. I drool wondering what it would be like to raid the dumps of some of the bigger towns nearby. Other objects like lawn mowers and kitchen utensils are thoroughly washed up by the time they get to the dump. Electronics, not necessarily so. Perhaps because they outdate themselves so fast. The flashier model is a month away. After four years perfectly serviceable computer parts have become almost worthless. It's not even worth while to sell them on Ebay!

The disk in the Gateway was a Western Digital Blue manufactured 2009, a sturdy 3.5in 7200rpm disk. I like them. You can depend on them. The board was a green Foxconn/Gateway mATX, an efficient, well designed board with six(!) SATA ports and integrated video, both HDMI and Dsub. But the best was yet to come. I removed the fan/heat sink—the fan was a 92mm 4 pin, thick and quiet—and found an AMD Phenom quad! That is an efficient, cool running CPU. I have wanted a quad core for my desktop for a long time. Also, four gigs of RAM. Not a bad deal considering the price was zero. I am gonna get four more G RAM on Ebay. Happy days! A quad core works good with Emacs. Emacs is not by any means a RAM eater, but it can build up a load with ten or twenty files open, EWW, twitter mode and Gnus running too. I think the computer got ditched because the dust jammed the heat sink, so the CPU got hot, quit and wouldn't start till it had cooled off, which happens in these junkers all the time.

I decided not to install the Foxconn/Gateway board in the junker I am building. It is an mATX, and it looks to be of high quality. No fancy digital readouts, but all fundamentals covered. It is a green board, thick like a server board built to last, not sickeningly designer oriented with quaint color patterns. Less chance for the wiring patterns to elongate or thin out through compression or accidental mishandling in such a way that it bleeds current. Gateway built them even after the Acer takeover in 2007. The quality of their hardware was always exceptional, similar to IBM, and the features and design of their desktop boxes were advanced. I have friends with Gateway desktops from the late nineties that they have had to do nothing to, except service with a good dusting once a year. The hardware went past, but it never died. This Foxconn board supports SATA RAID 0, 1, 5, 1+0. The DIMM slots support up to 8G RAM. A quad core, a SATA2 SSD and eight G RAM will work surprisingly well for writing, for instance, for two or three or more years, especially if you stick to the less RAM needy OSes in Linux. Or even longer.

Most OSes work the RAM hard. RAM is cheap so board manufacturers don't worry about it. Right now my Mac, with one browser and Aquamacs and about ten files open is using almost 2 gigs of RAM! Sounds like my machine must be sick, doesn't it? But it checks out okay. Even Linux is RAM hungry. My desktop running Xubuntu (XFCE desktop) with a simple, solid work load on consistently runs 1100 megabytes of RAM. Openbox, in Trisquel, for instance, or any of the other boxes, Fluxbox or Blackbox, run along at 200 or 400 megabytes of RAM with a load on. Ratpoison on BSD used to tickle me because in Htop I'd read 32 to 50 megabytes of RAM usage consistently. The difference is that the automated functions of the more expansive desktops like KDE, OS X, Gnome or XFCE use up a lot of RAM. If you want the convenience of GUI and functions such as auto mount or Dropbox, you'll eventually want to get up to eight G of RAM. I am running four G in all my machines, and if opening photos and playing videos, activities can start slowing down fast. Many Linux distros are no easier on RAM than the commercial distros.

That's why I decided to use a 2009 ECS board for Junker. It is an old standby, inexpensive but also built on a solid PCB, because it has more upside in terms of RAM. But any time something happens I can install the Foxconn board because it works perfectly, and it probably has a higher bus speed, though I was unable to find that out for sure. I understand that CPUs do eventually get burned out, what with all the dust in the heat sink, but after thoroughly testing it, this one seems to be okay. I have a SATA 2 Kingston SSD to install the OS on. There is hardly any difference in the real world between a SATA2 and SATA3 SSD. The Kingston SATA2 with Debian on it runs if anything a little quicker than the OWC extreme SATA3 in my Macbook. I don't care what the numbers may or may not show. There is only so much difference in write and read speed that a person can detect. You can pay the extra hundreds of dollars, overclock and all that, but in the end except for some special purpose, if for instance you need ten-thousand computations per second, unless you are a hyper personality, hot rodding computers ends up making little difference for normal work purposes.

The best way to upgrade a machine that seems to be lagging, if there is only one thing you can afford to do, is to buy an SSD for it. I haven't felt the need to upgrade the RAM in my desktop or my laptop because they both have SSDs. The problem with SSDs is that once they die, they are dead, and anything inside is inside, so far as I know, forever. It is lost, vanished. Platter disks, not so. That means, if you use SSDs, you have to keep up on backups.

So I had all the ingredients to build a writing machine. After removing the battery, the Foxconn board went into hot soapy water with the ECS board. Both came out looking pretty and new as they ever looked. I do the initial drying with a hair dryer, leave overnight, twelve hours or so, and dry them again in the morning.

You can use a trashcan for a case or scrounge one at the dump, or build one. One of the most enjoyable activities in computing is imagining what your perfect computer case would look like, and figuring out some way to build it. Once you do the testing and find a good box to screw things down and hang fans, the actually assembly can go fast. I always slow the assembly down in order to have more time to enjoy it. I like to see the board safely installed and attached to the power supply, so I can put the juice to it and watch for the fans and listen for the boot signal, then I set up the disk drive or whatever I have for peripherals.

Of course, these enjoyable home built recipes leave OS X in the dust. One of the most enjoyable websites to cast around in is here. But security updates or any updates at all are unlikely. Still you can give it a shot, at least to see if you can make those expensive apps you have bought for OS X work. Your Mac has died after five solid years. The wife says no more. Windows will work in your homebuilt. But your best bet is one of the Linux distros. Freedom is what you want. I am starting to play around with GNU/Linux, Trisquel in particular. GNU claims to have a package manager that works, Guix (pronounced "geeks"). No matter what hardware I end up with, I'll be able to find a Linux distro that will work on it.

My name for this computer I have built is Junker. I have no idea what I am going to use it for. I guess I'll keep it for a backup. Now that the job is done, tonight for absolutely no reason I'll scour the Internet for an old IBM box for fifty bucks or so, or a supposedly dead Mac Pro, the "cheese grater" model. These boxes are a little loud, parts overpriced, but they have all the bells and whistles of a high class workstation. Surprising what anyone might run up against if they start looking and get lucky. Someday, I'll get over this strange enthusiasm and start reading novels again.