on the edge

computers & technology, books & writing, civilisation & society, cars & stuff

Greg Black

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If you’re not living life on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.

FQE30 at speed

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Worthy organisations

Amnesty International Australia — global defenders of human rights

global defenders of human rights

Médecins Sans Frontières — help us save lives around the world

Médecins Sans Frontières - help us save lives around the world

Electronic Frontiers Australia — protecting and promoting on-line civil liberties in Australia

Electronic Frontiers Australia


(Coming soon…)

Software resources

GNU Emacs


The FreeBSD Project

Sat, 12 Jun 2010

Blog Moving to New Home

After six years of this temporary blog, I’ve finally setup something intended to be its successor. If you want to follow the new blog, it’s at Tea Parties and Unicorns.

If you want to subscribe to the feed, use one of these:

    Atom: http://teapartiesandunicorns.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default
     RSS: http://teapartiesandunicorns.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default?alt=rss

The technology used in the old blog doesn’t allow any automatic redirection, so this has to be done manually. I have updated Planet Humbug to the new feed, but it would be good if maintainers of other Planet installations could do the same.

Tue, 01 Dec 2009

Second Thoughts on OpenSolaris

After my recent post about migrating to OpenSolaris, I’ve had cause to re-think. For me, there was one really significant argument in favour of the move and one rather significant other argument. The biggie was ZFS, the other was dtrace. They are both compelling, but the more I push against all the things that make OpenSolaris painful the more I think that it’s not worth the pain.

I had been thinking of writing at length about the reasons for turning away from OpenSolaris, but I think I might defer that (at least unless I see significant interest in my thoughts).

That leaves the question of which way to jump. I’m a long-term FreeBSD user and FreeBSD does have ZFS and dtrace—so there’s some incentive to go back there. But the truth is that many of the things that make OpenSolaris a pain also apply to the BSD camp. Again, I can expand on that if people care.

When I first went to FreeBSD, it was the early days of Release 2 and Linux was far from ready for prime time. Linux is still not ideal, but it has enough people working on it to ensure that big nasty things like Gnome and Firefox and OpenOffice are as up-to-date as one might reasonably hope for; and it has lots of people writing software aimed at Linux that becomes painful to port to other systems. So, for what it’s worth, I think Linux is the path of least pain. On top of that, all my VPSes in the USA run on Debian and so I need to have Linuxisms burned into my fingertips anyway.

Which Linux? I’ve had just enough experience with Ubuntu that I think that will be my choice for boxes that have a desktop function and I’ll stick to Debian for my servers for now.

One benefit from this decision is that I expect to be able to power down most of the 7 computers that pump heat and noise into my office at home while consuming many kW of power. There will inevitably be things to regret in this plan, but I think I can live with that. I will keep at least one powerful box with 4 disks in it for temporary installations of alternate operating systems for those occasions when I want to check some software on various platforms, but I’ll only power it up when I’m actually using it.

Fri, 20 Nov 2009

Migration to OpenSolaris

This entry is really just to verify that the migration of the development site for this blog to an OpenSolaris host has been completed successfully. The deployment site is still running Debian and that’s not likely to change any time soon.

Wed, 23 Sep 2009

Perils of Perfectionism

I began this blog in May 2004, largely as an experiment to see if this new-fangled blogging thing was something I wanted to do. I kept at it, more or less, until the end of 2007—by which time I’d decided that I did want to continue blogging.

And that’s when things went wrong. I had already more or less decided that I really needed two blogs—one for more technical material and one for all the rest. And I knew that I wanted some features that were not provided by the simple software that I had been using for my experiment. So it was then just a simple matter of choosing names for the new blogs and selecting one of the full-featured blogging platforms and I could get on with things.

Almost 20 months later, and I’m still wrestling with these weighty questions. And I’m completely out of what habit I had developed of writing. I have chosen and then rejected about a gazillion names for the new blogs; and I have chosen and then rejected and then re-chosen and then re-rejected just about every blogging platform in existence. Nothing seems to be just right for my needs.

And so, even more belatedly than I often manage to achieve it, I have come to realize that my perfectionism has become the obstacle to getting anything done.

The way forward from here now seems clear—I will resume writing posts in this blog (in a new location, but retaining its original URL) and when I make those difficult decisions about names and blogging platforms, I’ll announce them here and allow this blog to rest in peace.

Fri, 24 Mar 2006

Full feed without the seemore plugin

Somewhat to my surprise, some people don’t want to be saved from having to see the full text of my posts in their RSS feed by the graces of the seemore plugin.

Read the entire post ...

Goodbye to Technorati

Nothing like being interrupted at exactly the wrong moment to give me a nice opportunity to look like an idiot. Here is the content that was supposed to be attached to this post when it first appeared.

Read the entire post ...

Thu, 02 Feb 2006


I’ve been aimed at Technorati by various people, and I have to embed something in my blog so that I can “claim my blog” there. This post is just to allow me to do that.

Tue, 17 May 2005

Categories at last

This blog is one year old today, so I thought I’d finally stop promising to provide category links and actually do something about it. So, finally, you’ll find the main categories I’ve been using with links to the blog pages and “XML” buttons that you can use for RSS feeds to any of the categories, including the main blog, as usual. This should not be too tricky, but it’s possible I’ve broken something. If so, let me know.

And, while I was improving things, I also shrunk most of the images that might still appear in stories to help them load faster and I’ve cut down the number of entries that get shown on the main page from 40 to 25, also in the interest of speed.

Wed, 17 Nov 2004

Six months on

I reflected on my blogging experience after two months and said I would come back to think about it again in a few more months. This blog is six months old today, so this seems like the time for that. Nothing has changed much since then—I’m finding time to write the occasional article, but not as much as I’d like; but it’s not taking up so much time that other things suffer. It’s pretty clear now that I’ve found a rhythm that suits me and that I’ll probably continue much as I have begun. I don’t plan to come back to this topic unless something dramatic changes.

Thu, 26 Aug 2004

Blosxom setup

Thanks to David Starkoff, I’ve now “fixed” blosxom’s RSS output so that it no longer confuses Planet Humbug. Since this may prove useful to others in the future, I’ll provide the fix here. It seems that you need to add the <pubDate> field to blosxom’s story.rss file. The version I’m now using—taken direct from David—is below.

        <pubDate>$dw, $da $mo $yr $ti:00 +1000</pubDate>

If you want to download a file, rather than cut and paste from the above, you can find it here. Once again, apologies to all for spamming Planet Humbug with all that stuff. Hopefully this will be the end of it.

Wed, 25 Aug 2004

I hate this

Sigh—I really didn’t mean to take over Planet Humbug. For some reason, the other aggregators that I’m aware of don’t seem to be regurgitating most of my old posts the way the Humbug one is doing. I have no idea which is wrong. And I certainly don’t understand why Planet Humbug shows all that stuff in random order. I guess I’ve learned that it’s unwise to “fix” blog bugs, and I think I’ve made a resolution never to do that again. One of these days, I’ll carry out my plan to move on from blosxom and I’ll have to figure out how to more-or-less preserve the old entries without flooding the universe with crap at the same time.

Of course, if somebody who has made the same mistake as I did actually found out how to fix it—without making things even worse—then I’d be happy to hear from you. Apologies to everybody who has a (new) reason to hate me.

Tue, 24 Aug 2004

Fixed a blosxom buglet

About three weeks ago, Adrian pointed out a bug in the RSS output for the links in my blog. I think I’ve fixed it now. I’ll know for sure when this entry shows up in the various aggregators.

Well, that was not such a success, since blosxom then went and updated everything in the universe and the aggregators ended up with tons of old stuff—which was, of course, still incorrect. Sigh. Maybe this time …

Now if I could only be bothered to fix blosxom so that it would date all the RSS files according to the modification times, then this would not have been so bad—but I’m not going to modify any part of my blosxom setup again, so I think I’ll just get some sleep instead. My apologies to everybody who gets to see old news again. My only consolation is that I’ve seen similar things happen to other people who are much more dedicated bloggers than I am.

Sat, 17 Jul 2004

Second anniversary

I marked the first month of this blog, so it seems reasonable to take another look now that it’s hit two months. I think I’m reasonably happy with the way it’s going now. I was concerned that it might take up too much time, and that has not happened. I was also concerned that I might not get around to writing about everything that seemed worthy of comment and that concern was more on target, although the time constraints mean that I’ll never be able to do everything I want to do. On balance, I’m glad I started it and I think I’ll continue more or less in the same way. Maybe I’ll have another think about it in a few more months.

Wed, 23 Jun 2004

Blogware options

Having played with blosxom for a while now, I’ve started looking around and I’ve spotted a couple of alternatives that seem to offer some benefits:

Of those, Drupal seems perhaps to be overkill for my needs, although it does offer just about anything you could think of. WordPress, on the other hand, seems to be more like the size of thing I’d be interested in.

The chief problems with both are that they require the Apache, PHP, MySQL combination—and my current Pentium-100 web server box just can’t be expected to manage all that baggage; it can cope with static blosxom pages quite easily. But I do plan on building my “new” server soon, and then I’ll install all that stuff and see how WordPress works in practice.

Thu, 17 Jun 2004

An anniversary

Well, it’s now one month since I started this. Since it’s impossible to guess how long it will last, I thought I’d mark that as at least one anniversary that I’d managed. I thought I’d know more about how I felt about doing this by now, but I’m starting to see that it might just take a while to settle down. For now, I plan to keep going and maybe I’ll find a better way to approach it …

Wed, 19 May 2004

Why publicfile?

Several people have asked me why I’m using publicfile rather than, say, apache. Several reasons come to mind:

  • Nearly everything I’ve ever wanted to publish on the Web has been static html, so publicfile has been entirely adequate.
  • When you don’t need the complexity of apache—regardless of your belief in its security—there’s no point in exposing yourself to needless risk.
  • My long-serving gateway box—bambi (a Celeron-366 with adequate memory)—died recently and its duties are being handled by a Pentium-100 that would be hard-pressed to run apache on top of its principal responsibilities.
  • Whether you like Dan Bernstein or not, his software is reliable (even if badly-written) and performs efficiently.

Notwithstanding the above, I will be changing to apache shortly, as I plan to provide some web-based services that will not be possible with publicfile—once I get time to setup felix (the Celeron-2200 box that’s sitting quietly in a corner) as my gateway.

Tue, 18 May 2004

SmartyPants and titles

I already knew—from AJ’s blog—that “the Planet aggregators don’t seem to like smartquotes in titles.” So I’ve now modified SmartyPants to leave them out there. Sigh.

Mon, 17 May 2004

Blosxom interaction with publicfile

Made a change to the blosxom.cgi thingy so that it will, I hope, generate a correct link from the RSS doodad. The script carefully strips off the trailing ‘/’ that I had carefully put there. But publicfile won’t work without it.

SmartyPants suckage

I hate “normal” web display, so I was pleased when AJ mentioned SmartyPants as it looked like the solution to my concerns about presentation of stuff like quotes and dashes, at least.

It turns out to be a mixed blessing. As far as I can see, Mozilla displays the mutilated text correctly on screen. However, it does not allow for cutting and pasting from a selection that includes smart quotes, etc. Nor does it print the pages properly. What to do? My current feeling is that the suckage will probably get better in time and that probably nobody will want to print this stuff.

That leaves the problem of situations when people might want to cut and paste a couple of sentences to quote somewhere. Often, that will work anyway, as there won’t be problems in every paragraph. Where there are issues, I guess people will either complain; or work around it—either by careful cutting and pasting, or by saving the source and extracting what they want with their editor of choice; or else they’ll complain to me. I think I’ll wait and see.

You're in charge

I’ve selected Blosxom to drive this blog; and I’ve tried to leave most of the display decisions in the readers’ hands. I assume that you know what size and style fonts suit you and how wide you want your browser window to be. I try not to override your decisions or to get in your face. If I’ve failed, feel free to let me know how I can make things better. Of course, I can’t promise to accommodate everybody …

AJ's blog rocks!

This should be entitled “At Last”, given that it’s taken me nine months to progress from talking about writing a blog to doing it. But, since the original inspiration was AJ’s indolence log, and since most of the harassment aimed at getting me started came from AJ at HUMBUG meetings, it seemed only fair to give him the first title in this thing. The wording is AJ’s—as scribbled on my notepad just over a week ago—and does not imply endorsement of the things he writes, especially the stuff he’s wrong about. On the other hand, I find most of his writing to be interesting and often thought-provoking.