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.