Lars Wirzenius: September, 2004


Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Random thought: On touch typing

Rich Burridge over on Planet GNOME writes about his child learning to touch type at an early age. I was about 13 when I learned to touch type, from a book using my father's portable typewriter. It might be the single most useful practical skill I've learned to help me with programming. Being able to type fast enough that my typing does not lag far behind my brain makes me more productive, I think. It also makes it really cheap to throw code (or text) away and start from scratch. If I typed only very slowly and with a high typo rate, I'd be inclined to keep any old code and use lots of cut and paste to create new stuff. This helps improve the quality of the end result.

I guess being able type fast also makes me less interested in fancy editors. For example, I don't want completion for variable and function names, since by the time I would react to a completion cue, I've already typed the rest of the name. My preference is a simple editor that gets the hell out of my way when my fingers are flying.

Of course, I'm not a really fast typist. I might benefit from some training. On the other hand, since I rarely find my brain waiting for my fingers, perhaps I'm fast enough now and could spend the effort on learning something more useful, like French. Too bad I can't get a faster brain.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Random thought: My "cringe" essay translated to English

In 2000, as my then-employer moved into new offices, I wrote an essay to the company internal mailing list explaining why I thought it was a good idea to let us programmers work in peace without unnecessary interruptions. The essay, Kammoksu keskittyneen koodarin keskeyttämistä, was in Finnish, except for long quotes that were in English. Today, I translated the rest into English as well. The result is Cringe from crossing a concentrating coder. The title is the best I and a few friends could get to translating the alliterated title.

The essay could probably be summarized as "flow good, interruption bad". It is not revolutionary, but has been useful to me and some friends in explaining to co-workers why we dislike being interrupted.

Monday, September 27, 2004

System administration: TCP window scaling workaround

I had a bit of trouble reaching a web site and this turned out to be a known problem related to TCP window scaling and broken routers. Linux Weekly News reports a workaround:

echo 0 > /proc/sys/net/ipv4/tcp_default_win_scale

This is just a workaround; the fix is to fix or replace the broken routers.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Anecdotes: On slow mail delivery

When I was moderating the comp.os.linux.announce newsgroup many years ago, I once received a mail that had been a year on the way. One of the relaying machines had been shut down before it had forwarded the mail and then a year later it was rebooted and the mail got to me.

I didn't notice the date and approved the message for the newsgroup. The company who had sent the announcement was confused as to why I sent such an old message to the newgroups, especially since they'd changed names in the mean time and everything.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Random thought: A short Finnish lecture

I pity people who don't understand Finnish, it is such a nice language, especially for word play. To help them in their plight I offer the following small lecture in the language.

Where English uses prepositions and other helper words, Finnish modifies the word itself. For example, the Finnish word for "house" is "talo". Where English would use the word "into", as in "into the house", Finnish uses a suffix: "taloon". Additional examples:

house talo
house's talon
into the house taloon
into his house taloonsa
also into his house taloonsakin
he burned also his house poltti talonsakin

The Finnish system clearly results in fewer but longer words. Finnish also favors compound words: words catenated from simpler words. The word for "storey" is "kerros", and thus a house with many storeys (floors) is "kerrostalo". Compound words can also be modified: "twenty storey building" becomes "kaksikymmenkerroksinen talo", and "he also burned the twenty storey building, which he owned" becomes "poltti kaksikymmenkerroksisen talonsakin".

These are real, everyday words, not something specifically constructed to make Finnish words seem long. That can also be done: the word for "system for giving a hand towel" could be "käsipyyherullajärjestelmä". Actually, that word is used, but only by the device manufacturer. Real people use shorter versions.

Kiinnostavuustoivotusloppukaneettilisäyspaikkani (or "this is where I should add a note that I hope this was interesting to you").

Monday, September 20, 2004

System administration: Plextor PX-712A DVD burner

I bought a Plextor PX-712A DVD burner (single layer, pretty much all formats) today and installed it on my scratch computer. There were absolutely no problems in installing it, either the hardware or the software. I've now used Linux kernel 2.6.8 and dvd+rw-tools for burning and everything worked the first time. I could not ask for a simpler installation. Happy now.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Personal life: Job hunting

My job hunting took a significant step forward yesterday. I have been talking to a startup-in-the-making in Portland, Oregon, who would like to hire me. The job would involve building things (or a particular thing) on top of Debian, and it would be, I think, be a very nice job indeed. Unfortunately, they're still arranging funding and I can't wait for much longer to decide, so I had to decline the job. The only chance of getting that job now is if some nice millionaire wants to invest immediately. If you are a millionaire and want to invest in a startup, drop me a note.

At the moment I'll try to get a job in Finland. I have intereviewed for a couple of jobs, and at least one of them is also quite interesting, and they are hopefully still interested in me. We'll see.

Random thought: Find in an editor

Bryan Clark wrote about the user interface of a Find feature in GNOME programs. To me, what he proposes sounds complicated and awkward. There are essentially two levels of find, and that alone makes me feel icky. I'm not sure how to do a good Find in the general case, but here's what I did for my editor.

Pressing Ctrl-F (or selecing Edit/Find) pops up small box at the bottom of the editor window, see below. You can then type in what you want to search for and press enter, and the editing area scrolls to the next match and highlights it. If you want to search further, just press enter. If you want to replace matches with other text as well, press Tab to get to the Replace box and type in the replacement text and press Enter, which then replaces and finds the next match. If you don't need to edit the replacement text, you can keep pressing Enter to replace and find further.

Once you're done, press Escape to close the search box. I could live with some other key closing the search box, as long as it is only one easy key press. Pressing Ctrl-G will always find the next match, whether the search box is open or closed.

This interface does not allow for displaying multiple search results. That's OK by me; what Clark shows would be pretty useless to me anyway. I usually want to see several lines of text surrounding a match.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Rant: Too little text message spam in Finland?!

The Finnish newspaper Helsingin sanomat published a news story about a study that concluded that advertising in mobile media in Finland is much less common than in the rest of Europe. Mobile advertising seems to mean, mostly, text messages with ads. Helsingin sanomat titles the news as "Study: Finland is a mobile advertising developing country" ("Tutkimus: Suomi on mobiilimarkkinoinnin kehitysmaa"). That's like saying that Finland is really bad at corruption and murder: we have too little of them, and need quickly to get some more!

There is too much advertising already, in my life, and I don't even watch television or listen to radio. Streets and the city scenery has plenty. Despite my best efforts to reduce it, I even get some via snail mail. The last thing I want is more advertisments reaching me, especially in my phone. Text message spam is wrong in so many ways, it is incomprehensible to me that anyone would even think of doing it.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Random thought: Mozilla popularity rising

I just had a look at the web statistics (by webalizer) for, my web site, for the month of September, prompted by Janne Jalkanen's rant about yet another web site that is Windows+IE only. He mentioned that people are switching away from IE, and I went to check what happens with my site. Here are the top five from July:

hits % of total browser
79755 48,11% MSIE 6.0
48874 29,48% Mozilla/5.0
4926 2,97% Opera 7.2
4834 2,92% Opera 7.5
4743 2,86% MSIE 5.5

MSIE is clearly ahead of Mozilla. The top five from August:

hits % of total browser
92977 37,77% Mozilla/5.0
91322 37,09% MSIE 6.0
5795 2,35% MSIE 5.0
5725 2,33% Googlebot/2.1
1502 2,31% MSIE 5.5

Counting all versions of Internet Explorer together, it still comes ahead, but only slightly. It would seem to me that people really are switching away from IE, and that Mozilla is unsurprisingly gaining from this.

My web pages are not very representative of the general surfing population, of course, since they have a fair amount of Linux material, which is likely to attract atypically many non-IE surfers. Even so, given that IE has always been the most common web browsers among my readers, this change in the trend is remarkable.

System administration: UTF-8 transition completish, except for netnews

I have now converted all my filenames (using convmv and data (using isutf8 and my editor) to UTF-8. I haven't had to configure any of my applications to use it specially, they either honor locale settings or were already configured to use UTF-8 when talking to the Internet.

The only real casualty seems to be slrn: it seems unable to live in a UTF-8 environment in any useful way, unless you stick to ASCII-only newsgroups. I experimented with a couple of other news readers, but they seemed to be unusable as well. Pan is weird and wants me to download messages, which is a strange concept for news. I don't want to be bothered about when the news reader fetches the article headers and when it fetches bodies and what not. That's all uninteresting detail to me; slrn deal with this fine. The Pan user interface is also cluttered and full of little buttons that do similar but different things, but are hard to distinguish.

Mozilla Thunderbird let me configure a news account and then proceeded to eat up all my CPU and memory. Unimpressive.

Given that Usenet is at best a distraction to me, I don't want to invest a lot of time in finding a news reader. In fact, I might be best off with abandoning Usenet altogether.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Random hacks: isutf8 utility

Since I'm moving to using UTF-8, I will need to convert all my files to use UTF-8. To do this, I will need to find the files that are not yet UTF-8. Last night (well, morning actually, just before I went to bed) I couldn't find a tool for telling me whether a file is UTF-8 and if not, where the first problem byte is. So I wrote one. See isutf8 on my programs page. Not tested much, just a quick hack.

Debian: Debian Lessons updated

I published my draft for the new version of Debian Lessons. Perhaps it will be of interest to some people in the future. The old one got a fair number of hits over the years, though few people referred to it in discussions, so I don't think it had much of an impact.

System administration: Laptop back from repairs, re-installed

I got my laptop back from repairs on Friday. All the hardware problems I had with it are fixed. Even the optical drive. And everything was under warranty! Whee! This is so perfect. Thank you Acer Finland.

I re-installed Debian on the laptop, and wrote some installation notes about it.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Personal life: Close your mind to stress and pain / Fight 'till you're no longer sane

For the past four days, I have been in almost constant battle. This is a fight to the death! I will kill my foe, or be killed in the attempt. Things have got bad enough that no other solution is possible.

On Monday, my opponent invaded my apartment, and has refused to leave, no matter what I do. Thus, I will make right with might and use violent force, justice be damned.

If I can't kill a single fly, what kind of a man am I? Less of a man than my grandmother, that's for sure. She could pick out flies from the air when she was 60. I've never been able to do that, so I'm resorting to technology: various kinds of blunt and other instruments and chemical warfare, possibly even biological warfare, if someone will lend me a cat. The ends justify the means. I will show no mercy.