Neologism: Onboarding suppository

Aug 11 2018

onboarding suppository - noun complex - The massive volume of data that a new hire has to assimilate and comprehend before they can understand what they're supposed to be working on to any meaningful extent.

The Circle of HOPE.

Jul 28 2018

Last weekend the twelfth Hackers On Planet Earth conference, subtitled The Circle of HOPE was held at the Hotel Pennsylvania by 2600 Magazine.  As with most years, I made my cross-country pilgrimage to New York City to attend.  I flew out on Thursday morning with the eventual goal of making it to my hotel early enough that I could order in, relax a bit, and get to sleep early to shake the inevitable jet lag so I could be somewhat functional the next day.  Modulo the usual difficulty in catching a ride from JFK, I made good time and accomplished a decent amount of war driving along the way.  There isn't much to remark on until the next day...

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Back from the Circle of HOPE.

Jul 27 2018

Got back from HOPE on Monday.  Tired and trying to avoid con crud.  Also came home to a deadline at work.  More news as time permits.

Neologism: PoS

Jul 16 2018

PoS - noun phrase - Term for the DSL or cable modem your ISP requires you to run.  The quality of the equipment is exactly what you think it is.

The Doctor's boot care regimen.

Jul 14 2018

Boots: 14 hole Doc Martens, black, real leather.

Unlace.

Wipe down with damp paper towels.

Wipe down with dry paper towels.

Coat with Dr. Martens Wonder Balsam using included sponge.  Be sure to work balsam into stitches and exposed edges.  I ordinarily don't like to shill for particular products, but I started using this stuff to help break in my boots (it makes the leather softer, so it adapts to your feet more readily) and I was wearing them clubbing within a month of getting them (instead of six months to a year).  It's amazing stuff.

Wait half an hour.  Get some coffee, go for a run, something like that.

Buff balsam off with a clean, dry cloth.  I use a regular washcloth set aside for doing my boots.

Prep your boot polish.  I like Kiwi Shoe Polish Paste, just make sure it's the right color for your boots.  Pop the lid and set the polish on fire with a lighter or matches.  No, seriously, I mean set it on fire.  The polish will melt faster than it burns.  When at least half the polish is burning, drop the lid back on and make sure it closes completely.

Wait.  The flame will burn itself out because the oxygen inside the container (there isn't much) will be used up.  Wait for the pressure to build up inside the tin and pop the lid off with a festive "Poing!"

(If this doesn't happen inside of five minutes, just open the tin.  No big deal.)

The shoe polish is now a thick goop instead of a waxy mass.  Apply polish to your boots with a sponge.

Wait another half hour.

Buff dried polish off with a clean, dry cloth.  I usually flip the washcloth over and use that, but do whatever works.  Rub until the finish doesn't look smoky anymore.  Mine tend to look clean but a little on the dull side.  That goes away as I wear them for a while.

Re-lace and wear for an hour or two to take advantage of the new dose of balsam soaked into the leather making it a bit softer than usual.

Repeat every one or two months, or after cleaning them if they get dirty.

Exocortex bots: How everything talks to each other (roughly).

Jul 08 2018

I've mentioned in the past that my exocortex incorporates a number of different kinds of bots that do a number of different things in a slightly different way than Huginn does.  Which is to say, rather than running on their own and pinging me when something interesting happens, I can communicate with them directly and they parse what I say to figure out what I want them to do.  Every bot is function-specific so this winds up being a somewhat simpler task than it might otherwise appear.  One bot runs web searches, another downloads files, videos, and audio, another wakes up and look sat system stats every minute... but where does this all start?  How does it all fit together?

It starts with Jabber, the humble XMPP protocol.

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Setting random backgrounds in LXDE.

Jun 28 2018

So, here's the situation:

On Windbringer, I habitually run LXDE as my desktop environment because it's lightweight and does what I need: It manages windows, gives me a menu, and stays out of my way so I can do interesting things.  For years I've been using a utility called GKrellm to implement not only system monitoring on my desktop (because I like to know what's going on), but to set and change my desktop background every 24 hours.  However, GKrellm has gotten somewhat long in the tooth and I've started using something different for realtime monitoring (but that's not the point of this post).  So, the question is, how do I set my background now?  Conky doesn't have that capability.

I tried a few of the old standbys like feh and nitrogen, but they didn't seem to work.  The reason for this appears to be that PCmanFM, which is both the file manager and the desktop... stuff... of LXDE.  By this, I refer to the desktop icons as well as the background image.  As it turns out, nothing I tried to change the background worked, and that is due to the fact that PCmanFM is a jealous desktop module and doesn't let other tools frob the settings it's in charge of.  After some tinkering, here's how I did it:

Short form: pcmanfm -w `ls -d -1 /home/drwho/backgrounds/* | shuf -n 1`

Long form (from inside to outside):

  • ls -d -1 /home/drwho/backgrounds/* - List all of the files in /home/drwho/backgrounds.  Show the full path to each file.  List everything in a single column.
  • | - Feed the output of the last command to the input of the next command.
  • shuf -n 1 - shuf is a little-known GNU Coreutils tool which randomly shuffles whatever things you give it.  It only returns one line of output, a randomly chosen image file.
  • The output of the previous two commands (captured between back-ticks) is passed to...
  • pcmanfm -w - Set the current desktop background to whatever filename is passed on the command line as a free action.

To set an initial background when I log in, I added the following command to my ~/.config/lxsession/LXDE/autostart file: @pcmanfm -w `ls -d -1 /home/drwho/backgrounds/* | shuf -n 1`

This means that the command will run every time my desktop starts up.  The @ symbol tells lxsession to re-run the command if it ever crashes.  However, how do I change my background periodically?

The easiest way to set that up was to set a cron job that runs every day.  Every user gets their own set of cron jobs (called a crontab) so you don't need any particular privileges to do this (unless your machine's really locked down).  If you've never set a cronjob before, the command I used was this: crontab -e

My cronjob looks like this: 00 10 * * * pcmanfm -w `ls -d -1 /home/drwho/backgrounds/* | shuf -n 1`

"At 10:00 hours every day, run the following command..."

And there you have it.  One randomly set desktop background in LXDE.

Incidentally, if you're curious about all the nifty things you can do with cron, I recommend playing around at crontab.guru, it's an online editor for crontab settings.  It's good for experimenting in such a way that you don't have to worry about messing up your system, and it's also handy for figuring out particularly arcane cronjobs.

Neologism: Binder Hell

Jun 21 2018

Binder Hell - noun - The state of being stuck dealing with varying numbers of people on the phone who are only functionally capable of putting you through processes documented in their three ring binders, even though none of those processes will actually fix the problem you have.  Symptomatic of an over-engineered system which has all but programmed out common sense and initiative.  For example, a company which is so hell-bent on keeping customers will needlessly obfuscate or entirely eliminate processes that let customers cancel their service.  As another example, a telecom provider which demands the serial number of your SIM card when your device doesn't actually have a SIM card.