Mar. 11th, 2017

mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
I feel that I have been juggling many balls lately. My tasks at work have tended to be more urgent than usual and there has been enough domestic trivia that, on top of my routine chores like bill-paying and backups and workouts and whatever, by the time I have done enough of what remains on my to-do list I am ready to just relax and go to sleep. It is vexing to still be just about treading water in various ways when someday real life will require me to have made actual progress.
mtbc: maze I (white-red)
Modern Linux desktop environments rarely behave as I would like. Not only are they built atop an opaque ecosystem of complex parts but they never seem to be configurable to strictly follow behavior that I desire, a prime example being focus-follows-mouse combined with that focus does not change without my action. If I am typing into a window then I am probably holding complex thoughts in mind and I do not want that to be interrupted by something as trivial as a notification or event from a different application. I want to be able to at least finish my thought, dumping it out into where I was working, before shifting attention. If windows demand action before I can continue what I was doing or, worse, somehow steal focus and have my ongoing input redirected to somewhere that may interpret it wholly differently, then that is a bug.

Of all things, the venerable twm from the late 1980s gets this right. Even if a window has popped up wanting to be placed I can continue typing and that input goes into the window in which I was working. Unfortunately, the cool kids these days are probably even unaware of it: for instance, Firefox 51, which continues the steady descent of recent years into worsening usability, pops up file chooser dialogs that more than fill my entire screen. Some googling on the matter finds that appropriate choices of desktop environment and GNOME configuration settings and whatnot can tame this bug but I would guess that after some point using a basic window manager may no longer be viable. Over the years I have tried various others such as sawfish but in actual use they came up short.

When I read investigations into odd behaviors like with Chrome under ctwm, a window manager that extends twm with good features like f.movepack, it generally turns out that the bugs arise from applications interacting with X11 rather nonsensically but, I presume, in a manner that does not cause trouble with the mainstream desktop environments; additionally, some of the behaviors that annoy me arise from processing extended window manager hints.

Twenty years ago things would just work or could at least be made to by tweaking shell scripts and the like. I hope that, on my personal computer systems, my little island of simple sanity can persevere for some time yet. At work I already bow to the contemporary and use XFCE4.
mtbc: maze H (magenta-black)
One problem lately, at both home and at work, is that many tasks turn into something rather worse than I might have hoped. For instance, just now I thought I would look at installing qtox on OpenBSD except that I got mired in a horrible mess of aclocal and Automake versions and whatnot and then our broadband PPP connection hiccuped twice while I was doing it and tipped me over into giving up. (At first I thought the powerline ethernet adapters were at fault but I then checked the router logs.)

At work I have been wrestling with tricky lightly documented code at the core of the server that is wrapped up tightly in Hibernate and Spring: for the most part I am not quite sure what is happening, what should happen, nor why. Among the many times I thought, oh, maybe it will work now only to find in time that my attempt wasn't yet good enough, there have been multiple occasions where it turned out I ran into another bug in Hibernate: it is poorly documented, riddled with longstanding bugs, and popular in the industry. At least somebody else fixed OpenStack when the instance I was using for testing fell victim to the OOM killer.

My problem tasks are not just with computers: for example, my last couple of trips to the doctor and the garage and whatnot were for issues that I think still remain essentially unresolved. Also, I just tried to arrange some child's swimming lessons only to find that the schedule has changed to now make them incompatible with where they go to school, and I tried to arrange some extra science lessons in St Andrews only to find that the teaching schedule conflicts with prior commitments. I do try to execute useful actions but little has gone easily in recent weeks.

A reason why in the longer term I need to get back to writing my own software, using languages like Erlang and Haskell, is mental hygiene. Wrestling legacy code in enterprise software stacks is just horrible. My inclination toward tractable, simple elegance in windowing platforms extends further into other areas of computing, though I still make far too little time to effect substantial progress in that direction. My current work does bring the occasional more pleasant taste: for example, I get a lot of the PostgreSQL tasks writing SQL and PL/pgSQL and that at least is well-documented and quite clean to work with. I can't help but wonder if I would have been happier in some alternative career programming microcontrollers for advanced prostheses and suchlike. But, languages like Haskell bring me good surprises: I think, hmm, I could express a solution like this, but what will the compiler think? and it works! As opposed to the bad surprises from libraries like Hibernate where if I do something a little differently, let alone ambitiously, I risk suffering another unanticipated pitfall.
mtbc: photograph of me (Default)
Coins accumulate in our household and I provide the service of turning these into Faster Payments Service transfers into bank accounts. I have just been presented with £68.60 of coins ranging from ten pence to fifty pence in denomination. It is easy enough to bag them for my bank or to use them at self-service kiosks in grocery stores.

It occurs to me that there may be people who would be glad to exchange coins for notes of equivalent value. As a student I would hoard coins for use in communal laundry machines and pool tables in bars and suchlike. I am told that banks charge small retailers a fee for the change for the till. I wonder what a convenient but good way would be for me to turn the coins into notes such that it is positively a win for us both.
mtbc: maze J (red-white)
Today I felt unusually lethargic. I laid in bed for a while after awakening, content to be still, and my morning workout was possibly my gentlest so far this year, after which I drew myself a hot bath. I took the hint from how I felt and stayed at home and wasn't much ambitious and I now feel a little better. Perhaps after another night's sleep I will be back to normal. I think I had just got a little worn out and needed to recover.

I can work a lot when it is the right kind of work for me, when I have managed to arrange my circumstances to better suit me, but for the kinds I might rather avoid I have to be careful to not allow distracting stress to build. I was thinking this morning of how nice it might be to again start to find time to meditate. I have the sense that, while it feels like time is the problem, it's not as simple as that.

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mtbc: photograph of me (Default)
Mark T. B. Carroll

July 2017

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