As previously discussed, I have RSI. Since I developed it over the course of my year away working, now that I am back at uni I’ve suddenly realised how much it hurts to write. Even though a normal lecture is only 50 mins long, writing solidly for that amount of time is proving increasing difficult.

Since I manage to work on computers for 50 mins at a time with no problems (perhaps because one’s hands are more relaxed when typing vs writing) I figured I should get myself a laptop setup so I could take notes electronically. Online shopping being the beautiful thing that it is, I am now the proud owner of an IBM Thinkpad 570 and a new docking station will arrive for it tomorrow. The laptop itself didn’t come from the linked shop, but the docking station is coming from who really seem to know their stuff. UPDATE: No, they don’t. They told me the docking station came with drives included, but when it arrived it didn’t. When I rang up to ask for the drives to be sent as well they said the original information is wrong and are being singularly unhelpful in resolving the issue

My reasons for choosing this particular laptop are multiple — I used to have one at work a few years ago and although it struggled under the weight of Win98, I think it will run Linux like a dream. It’s a particularly lightweight model and apparently works with Debian. Although if I’m honest I’m thinking of trying Feather Linux on my USB key and seeing if that will work. Admittedly I couldn’t get it to boot from USB earlier today, hence buying the docking station. But arguably if I can get Linux running happily on it I might be able to update the BIOS and then have a chance of booting from more modern peripherals.

Bluetooth is great. I recently got a Bluetooth headset to go with my mobile phone. It works really well and makes it much less likely that I’ll injure myself whilst trying to talk to someone on the phone and show them things on the computer.

Unfortunately, I’ve just realised that whenever I am talking on the phone, my funky RSI-friendly trackman acts strangely. It took me a little while to piece together the situation, but it seems that the wireless trackman and the wireless headset are getting their nonexistent wires crossed.

Somedays technology just cracks me up

How many geeks does it take to change a lightbulb?

In our house, five.

One to climb up the ladder and deal with the light fitting.

One to hold the ladder.

One to hold the screws, pass things around and crawl around on the floor retrieving things that go AWOL (geeks have butterfingers)

One to deal with the power tools.

And finally, one to film the entire escapade.

Today I handed in my Project Proposal, which is the starting point for the massive final year project I am embarking on that will eventually end in my dissertation. The proposal itself was fairly easy to write content-wise (I’m doing something that I’m interested in and had already started the research). Producing the thing in the right format though was a different story.

Essentially, everyone I have spoken to has recommended that I choose LaTeX for writing up my dissertation. Having seen how wonderful LaTeX docs tend to look when cast against the unholy offspring of other options, I thought this was a fantastic idea. Following my recent revelations about how to really get good at using something rather than just trying it and giving up, I decided that there was no time like the present and that I’d prepare my Project Proposal in LaTeX too.

This, ladies & gentlemen, is why writing a five page document just took me 15 hours.

On the one hand, I really wish that this wasn’t my 33rd consecutive waking hour (I had to work yesterday so didn’t start until the evening), but on the other I have learnt so much. I have also discovered that there are some mighty fine bits of software out there that can be really good. So I thought I’d post a little thank you here.

What I ended up using was LyX on my newly installed Debian Sarge desktop (different machine to the server previously discussed). LyX is a WYSIWYM editor that runs off a LaTeX engine and lets you produce PostScript output that prints beautifully.

[Well, it does if your printer is working. Truth be told, I haven’t gotten around to installing the drivers and working out how to run CUPS yet, so I had a slight problem: no way to print out my beautifully formatted Project Proposal. Then I remembered the WinXP laptop had already been set up for the printer, so reconnected it to that and moved the file over to that machine.

Ah, slight problem. WinXP can’t do PostScript. This was when I discovered GhostScript and GSView. They installed in minutes … and they just worked. So Proposal printed, problems sorted and my heartfelt thanks to all the developers and their families.]

Reflecting on the whole episode, this is one of my Linux experiences that has really shone. The LyX package is a really great way to get the power of LaTeX quickly. I know it’s a bit of a cheat and don’t worry, I have ordered the LaTeX bible and will be learning it properly, but it really is a great bit of software. I’d also heard all about how useful BibTeX could be, but then I discovered Pybliographic, which integrated seamlessly with LyX and handled all my citations in a very smooth manner. All in all it all worked very well and I got a much more professional looking document than I deserved, even having put 15 hours into it. Anyone else doing dissertations this year, I’d heartily recommend you look into it!

Haven’t posted a great deal recently, because there’s been quite a lot on in the Real World ™, including the start of term, my birthday and me setting up our new home network.

This last was both the most time-consuming and most interesting. I ended up going with a Debian Sarge installation (since it had more useful drivers for our modem) to run the router/firewall box and after much intrigue managed to get it all working, even with the Windows machines. I’m sure that more frustration will ensue when I try to get the printers shared and so on, but for now I’m just happy that everyone has net and we can get on with our various piles of work.

I have some thoughts on installing Linux for the first time though:

  1. Don’t “just try it out”. Decide that something really needs to be done using Linux (in my case the network) and then go through with installing it. This will help you persevere in the face of adversity (see pts 2 & 3)
  2. Accept that it will be difficult and frustrating and may make you want to tear your hair out. Very little “just works”
  3. Identify why it is worth doing and leave loads of time for things to get detoured to sort out side-problems. Approach it like a role-playing game — but the side-quests aren’t optional
  4. Play nicely when asking for help — the people on the Linux Questions Forums are lovely, but not to the twats who come in demanding help as if they were paying for it and expect telepathy

Having said that though, despite the recent frustrations, I have enjoyed the last 10 days or so. The learning curve was vertical, but I now feel much happier in the new environment and a lot more competent than if I’d just dabbled and given up again. I’d definitely advise getting into something like Linux when you can either remove all other options or force yourself to use it for a specific task

Elly got me the 46664 albums for my birthday. I’ve been listening to them rather a lot and it’s amazing how eclectic the collection of songs is, yet how well this works. The speeches are particularly moving, especially Bob Geldof’s explanation of their presence:

“the reason we?re here is because a frail, old gentlemen, who is one of the few giants of our planet, summoned us here and you cannot refuse him anything.
This is a man whose entire life is characterised by the pursuit of justice through political action and it says something that this frail, old gent with his resolute conviction that will defeat oppressors, with his
forgiveness and grace that puts a new meaning to the dignity of man, has decided that in his old age the greatest political peril that faces the world is the scourge of AIDS and we just happen to agree with that”

In case you missed it the first time around, go and pledge something , even if it’s just one minute of your life. If you think this doesn’t affect you, that’s your prerogative, but my condolences in advance for the pain you’ll feel when you realise just how much it does.

As I alluded to a couple of posts ago, we wandered off to Dublin for a long weekend, so for anyone vaguely interested I thought I should write it up. Basically, we went for four days, flying Ryanair (crap, but oh so cheap) from Bristol last Saturday. Upon arrival we encountered the hilarious cabby who drove us to our hotel. The hotel was really quite nice, although rather randomly (given this is Dublin) almost exclusively by Romanians. They were lovely though 🙂

We spent the days & evenings wandering around Temple Bar as well as the rest of central Dublin. It was lovely, the river picturesque, the people friendly and the garda hilarious. We asked one if he knew of any tattoo shops in a particular area and he not only provided directions but testimonials of a fair few, based on the experiences of “the lads at the station”.

After shopping for some fabulous tourist kitsch for the new housemate (there are others but they don’t have cool websites ;-P) and sampling some Guinness , we headed off to Zulu Tattoo to get some work done. I added an eagle to my collection, on my right shoulder, as shown in the picture alongside. Elly had a really beautiful fish done.