Wednesday, 09 May 2012
I just saw David McCarty give a lecture today at the Turing Symposium
hosted here. Will Byrd suggested that I attend and I am glad that he convinced
me to attend. Will described him as the epitome of what he imagines a 19th
century lecturer might sound like. I was not sure what he meant by that, but
when I saw him reading from notes with no slides and no blackboard, I was very
Most lecturers would not be able to pull off a nice, enjoyable,
informative lecture like that. Apparently, Prof. McCarty can.
Most intersting to me is why a lecture with almost no visual aids can be so
much more enjoyable than many other lectures I have seen which do use such
Let me submit a potential reason: he was mentally accessible. That is, he
did not say anything that the attentive audience could not readily grasp
using their minds alone. Even when he went to the whiteboard to illustrate
a concept, he remained fixed firmly in the space of the audience's mental
capacity. I maintain that a great deal of complexity in our presentations
can be eliminated, and I wonder if perhaps our reliance on tools does not
encourage us to make our systems more complex than they need to be simply
because we assume our tools will somehow make things clearer.
One day I would like to give a rich, old school lecture that people can
enjoy, but I also hope that the systems I create are just as engaging and
2012-05-09 18:55:24  link
Tuesday, 24 April 2012
So, if any of you have been annoyed with the idea of having to
actually install something just to try it out, now you can try out
the great and addicting APL language via web browser. Check it out!
2012-04-24 13:39:26  link
Sunday, 22 April 2012
If you are not familiar with this series, see
One of my favorite features of the Gnome 3 shell is how it deals with
workspaces. See, when I was a younger Hacker, I loved the idea
of workspaces, and I spent a lot of time thinking about how I would
lay out my workspaces and what I would do with them, and what things
would go into what workspaces and how many workspaces I would have.
See the problem yet? Workspaces should not take so much time! It dawned
on me a little later that I was gaining no productivity advantage in
using multiple workspaces, and that all I really was doing was wasting
time. In the end, I dumped the use of workspaces and just relied on
minimization to hide things that I did not want. This was true for
tiling window managers as much as for normal ones. In the end, I just
did not find it that useful to have workspaces around.
Why did I find workspaces relatively useless for me? Well, at the
time, I would have responded that they took too much management. Now,
I think I can put a clearer spin on things. Basically, I do not have
a static workflow where I have certain applications and windows that
I want to do certain things, and I do not start by opening up all of
my work at once. I like to have most things turned off first, and
have just what I am working on at that moment around. The problem
with static workspace layouts is that I would always have to remember
to switch to the workspace that I wanted to use, which was supposed
to correspond to something interesting, like my Internet workspace.
Unfortunately, my workflow just doesn't map into nice neat chunks like
that. Sometimes I would want to create a one off and work with a single
application all by itself (like a virtual machine), but then I would want
to switch back to the set of windows that I was using before, but then
something else might come up, so I want to focus on that while leaving the
others alone. Basically, I did not know ahead of time how I would want
to layout my workspaces. It was inconvenient to get an application
to a workspace, because I had to actively switch modes of thinking to
use the workspaces.
With Gnome's stack-oriented approach to workspaces, I can create
and remove workspaces on the fly, on demand, as I need them. If I do
not need a new workspace, then I do not have to worry, because I will not
have them. But if I need to break out a couple more workspaces in rapid
succession, I know that I will have enough workspaces to do that.
Moreover, in Gnome 3, it is oh so easy to get the applications that I want
into the right workspaces. I can open an application in a current workspace,
and then if I decide that things are getting too cluttered, I can easily move
some of the windows quickly to a new workspace. This is easier because the
management of these things is it's own little application that I can go to
in the form of the Activities viewer. I do not have to do the moving through
obscure contextual menus or a small desktop widget somewhere on my screen
that always has to be small enough not to get in the way, which of course
makes it too small to use nicely.
As I mentioned in part 1, the fact that I can just middle-click on an
application to spawn it into its own workspace is something that I take
advantage of plenty, and it's nice to have such an easy way to get applications
into their own workspace. The bottom line is that stack-based workspaces
are the only workspaces that I actually find myself using on a regular basis,
and they are the only form of workspaces that I actually think improves
my productivity. They get out of your way when you do not need them,
and they do not waste real estate, distracting you from your main task,
but they are readily there when you do find an use for them, and it is
easy to utilize them.
2012-04-22 22:21:26  link
Wednesday, 18 April 2012
I have finally gone through with it and updated my Chez Scheme
port of the Portable SRFIs project to the latest I could find.
That's a pretty old release, but everything seems to be there, so
I think we are in good shape. At any rate, I have submitted
a merge request
for the changes to be submitted in, finally, after more than 3 years
of not doing so.
This means that the master branch of my Chez-SRFI project should
now work again out of the box for Chez Scheme, and it should now be
easier to track and move changes upstream as well.
2012-04-18 22:09:06  link
Tuesday, 17 April 2012
I really like the Slackware Linux
distribution; I like that it gives powers users a lot of freedom, and
delivers simplicity, clean builds, and solid stability. I would
consider myself something of a power user of desktops, meaning that I
want to leverage my desktop to work efficiently doing real work that
requires efficient workstation performance. More on that later.
With all of the haters hating on
Gnome 3, especially a lot of
power users, I just had to give Gnome 3 a try for myself, to see if it
was a case of the new being stupid, or a case of the new being too
new for the old fogies. I've decided to live in the Gnome 3 world
for a while, and I've even selected a
text editor that is designed
for a workflow similar to Gnome's. To do this, I am using the
rolling release of OpenSUSE to live at the fore of stable software.
In this series, I intend to document some of my thoughs about the
Gnome 3 experience and how I have found working in it.
I've come to really like Gnome 3, and moreover, I've come to like
it only as a power user. I am not a social networking Web 2.0
junkie, and I don't fit the profile of what most people think of as
the Gnome 3 user. I also do not own a tablet, and I am working on
this with my laptop and a large desktop monitor with an external
keyboard and mouse. I've decided to point out the things that I really
like about Gnome and why I think it is good.
As a little starter, I'll take the first thing that made me want to
look at things. The famous Linus post about Gnome 3 got me thinking
about Gnome 3 and shortly thereafter I had to try it for myself. Linus'
specifically complained about not being able to create a new terminal
easily. The idea was that clicking on the Terminal icon in the Activities
window meant switching to an active Gnome terminal, not creating a new
one. Supposedly, Gnome 3 didn't let you spawn new application windows
easily! Well, that would indeed be a killer for any power user,
and especially one like me who likes to spawn plenty of terminal windows
on demand for small things and to do so without tabs (I really do not
Well, that first challenge is what I had to play with first, and I
was very pleased with the result. In Gnome 3, unlike what I remember of
Mac OS X or Windows, I could easily create new instances of things by
dragging the icon onto a workspace or into the middle space of the
Activities view that shows all of the open windows in the current
workspace. I find this so much nicer than keyboard shortcuts (which I
do not remember well for this sort of thing), or wasting screen real
estate with an explicit icon bar (which I never really used),
or right-clicking to create a new window, as you have to do in Windows
and Mac (IIRC). In short, this is exactly the way that I would have
wanted to do this task, and I was really happy to see that a desktop
environment actually provides this. An added bonus was that middle
clicking made it even easier to spawn whole applications that I
normally might want to use fullscreen into their own workspace.
Basically, I think Gnome 3 got this right, and I think this is a
much better way of managing new window instances than what I have
been forced to use in the past, and it is a feature that I use
2012-04-17 20:57:18  link
Copyright © 2013 Aaron W. Hsu. All right reserved.