jlj

The musings of an aspiring carver of space

Making oneself heard

Another day with little time behind the keyboard: my partner goes back to work tomorrow (remotely), so we made sure to have plenty of family fun in the garden. My daughter — 14 months now — may not have words yet, but she makes her wishes known: from the time she gets up until I'm singing her to sleep, she's asking to be picked up so she can point at everything around her. And if you don't make the noise she expects for, say, that painting of a ship, or, say, starting singing an In The Night Garden theme for the character she's picked out on her lampshade, prepare for an earful.


I did have some success today, however: my RSS feed seems to be displaying properly in Conky now. After a bit of research, it seemed likely that I was running up against Reddit's very low tolerance for bots; it was suggested that distinguishing the call with a user-agent string that included my username might help. For this, I switched back to my bash script — well, it's the one written by Bill Woodward that seems to have made the rounds — and modified it to take an optional user-agent string that it would then add to the curl command using the -A flag.

And I haven't seen “Too many requests” or a blank section since.


dvavasour@fosstodon.org wrote a nice little post on Dasher today. I hadn't heard of it before. I'm really impressed with what I've seen so far. It almost makes me wish I was back in my old job. (Well, not really; that was backbreaking. Maybe if I was working with the Augmentative and Alternative Communication devices.) It seems like a lifetime ago, but I did work for National Star as a facilitator for five years up until the beginning of this one. In a nutshell, you're there to help the students — who often have very complex disabilities — advance in their chosen college programme; everything is individually tailored.

One of the students I worked with a lot used an AAC device mounted to his wheelchair to communicate. Through the use of paddle switches in his headrest, he could select concepts and then words as the device cycled predictably through a grid of icons. Cognitively, he could converse with ease, with anyone. But he needed a lot of lead time, if he had questions he wanted to ask or statements he wanted to make. Constructing the sentences was very time consuming. He had to deal with some athetoid movements, but, usually, once he was comfortable in his chair, these were infrequent. I bet an eye-gaze device running Dasher would speed up his composition process tenfold, even accounting for some sort of error-checking process that would allow him to fix mistakes.

I'm going to see whether my former colleagues are aware of Dasher.

End of Day 34

jlj@Fosstodon #100DaysToOffload

I'm writing this as part of the 100 Days To Offload project; join us at: https://100daystooffload.com/

Debugging, and tech manuals

Didn't spend much time at the keyboard today. Chose to watch Picard this evening instead. (Don't worry; no spoilers.) What time I did spend there was mostly consumed by trying to debug my Conky config; yeah, I spoke too soon yesterday.

It seemed like my RSS script was being called too frequently; I'd grabbed the code from elsewhere, and “Too many requests” kept appearing in the window. I decided to switch back to the native RSS support, but that seemed to consistently return nothing. After playing around with Epsi's Lua code for debugging Conky, I confirmed that it too was eliciting the same response from Reddit (in the form of a 429 status in this case).

That's as far as I got because, while thinking about another RSS feed I might inadvertently abuse as part of this debugging process, I suddenly remembered LWN.net. I started reading it back in the late 90s — right around its inception, it seems, in 1997, although I didn't remember that — and then just stopped at some point, I guess; much like Slashdot. I couldn't believe it was still going, and I spent quite a while reading the archives. It, unlike other concepts on the 'net in the late 90s, has held up very well.

I read that, while they weren't struggling (yet), many of their former subscribers cited losing their jobs as their reason for cutting back. Well, I bought a year's subscription on the spot. That sort of experience, of quality, is effectively irreplaceable. I read a comment on HN the other day about that person's work at O'Reilly in its heyday. I bloody loved those books. Unix in a Nutshell? Advanced Perl Programming? All twenty or so of the X Window System bleedin' encyclopedia? With the exception of the latter — which was always scattered around the office as well as any treasure hunt — these bibles never left my desktop; never even got put back up on my shelves.

And, as much as I love Jeff Atwood, Stack Overflow killed them. Not directly, obviously, but as a consequence of us, collectively, failing to value experience, expertise and, just, hard work. The (wo)man-hours that went into these books — as laid out by the commenter — were staggering; far exceeding the most comprehensive entry I've seen in Stack Overflow. I used to believe that reputation systems would save the world; the cream they curated would be indistinguishable from god-sent.

I've come to my senses.

Simply put, I think there's a lot that collaboration — and the tedious grind of peer review and an editing department — bring to the table that reputation systems can't replicate; or at least the ones I'm familiar with. And that's nothing against them; I've seen some brilliant ones, that do indeed curate top-shelf content. But how did we decide they would replace our reference material, our ground truth in technology? Well, I think the answer is that we didn't; we just failed to step in when it became clear that they would perish without adequate investment.

When did this become a rant? I need to hit the sack.

End of Day 33

jlj@Fosstodon #100DaysToOffload

I'm writing this as part of the 100 Days To Offload project; join us at: https://100daystooffload.com/

RSS & Org-mode

This post will be a bit like ratatouille: thrown together with what's sitting in my notes file, as I've spent most of the day relaxing. My daughter had a longer orientation day at nursery today — which went very well — allowing my partner and I some time alone before she goes back to work part-time next week. (We did some reading and some cleaning; I know, I know, but the point was, we had — relatively speaking, anyway — near-infinite choice, and chose something. Pure luxury, as parents in the Fediverse well know.)

My Conky config is, dare I say it, done for now. I'm really happy with for the weather — augmented with my script grabbing the UV index from the Met Office — and, thanks to Reddit really continuing to embrace RSS, I'm much happier with the news section too: I had been using a (pretty ugly) desklet, but Reddit's support of what they've coined multireddit means I've got the latest from /r/Linux & /r/FOSS beautifully integrated in my minimal set-up with a simple script.

Why is RSS dying? I cry a bit inside every time I see a Subscribe text field for email.


I'm not quite ready to throw my hat in #screenshotsunday, however. I'm still using the notes desklet for my to-do list, which makes me sad. Syncing isn't a huge issue at the moment — especially in COVID-19 times — but I've got it pointing at a file on Dropbox anyway. I had been using Keep, but: a) I'm trying to pull my life out of Google, and b) I don't want to have to fire up a browser just to see and change my lists.

I've got space in Conky; I want it there.

I used Trello a long time ago, and while it does have a REST API, I want to go FOSS, if possible. Wekan has jumped up the ranks, after I randomly saw SuperDicq@cdrom.tokyo plug it yesterday. (There's a handy comparison on GitHub, actually.) Today — I can't even remember how I got on to this; must've specifically searched for Org-mode, as it's tied up in lots of Roam discussions — I'm thinking that the ease of exporting from Org-mode might be the way forward. Particularly as I could also see using it to publish here, and there are zettelkasten options for Emacs as well. A one-stop shop, dare I hope? More research required.

End of Day 32

jlj@Fosstodon #100DaysToOffload

I'm writing this as part of the 100 Days To Offload project; join us at: https://100daystooffload.com/

I passed!

Got the confirmation this morning. Didn't cover myself in glory by any stretch, but I got some solid feedback to work on, and, most importantly, cleared the hurdle. Now it's only the exam between me and the title of Splunk Architect.

I really feel like I've reached the limit of what I can take by firehose. I've gotten by with informal methods and procedures to date, but, most recently, that was only with the benefit of an insight from my manager's stunningly-thorough runbook. That said, this realisation may dovetail nicely with my zettelkasten project, although that would be mean fully committing to the pursuit. On that note, a place has opened up on the Roam waiting list. However, you only get a certain number of days free now before the not-insignificant subscription fee of $15/month (IIRC) kicks in. My nascent plan is to really kick the tyres on Obsidian, and then, with my well-practised workflow, try Roam. A potential snag is this window to Roam closing in the interim, of course.


As if I needed another lesson in humility after the Architect lab, I spent longer than I care to admit debugging a 'problem' with tmux. Spoiler alert: the problem was solely between my keyboard and chair. In my defence, I was attempting to learn it for the first time. (Oh, how I wish I'd had it for my Architect lab, jumping around between eight different ssh sessions.) It looked like the key bindings weren't working: Ctrl-B, changing it to Ctrl-backslash — I can't even find a shortcut to that character in the current layout on my netbook; the nail in the coffin for that idea — had no effect; like the key binding was being seized before tmux got a look in. Enough with the suspense: have you guessed what I did? I didn't release Ctrl-B before trying to execute any of the various commands I tried. #facepalm

As with all learning, however, should you seek it out, a silver lining will usually present itself: showkey -a was new to me, and echoed all my keystrokes perfectly to STDOUT, you now won't be surprised to learn. Also, bind -p stunned me by showing the number of key bindings in bash by default. I was reminded of a few gems too: Ctrl-A for the beginning of the command line; Ctrl-E for the end. I was saving loads of time with Ctrl-R already, but these will certainly be in daily use now as well.

End of Day 31

jlj@Fosstodon #100DaysToOffload

I'm writing this as part of the 100 Days To Offload project; join us at: https://100daystooffload.com/

Break

I decided to stick with the plan to take a week's leave, even though the wedding we were to attend has been postponed. (Because of COVID-19; they're still happy together, last I heard.) I need the time.


I've decided to make some changes to the site; let me know what you think. It's part of signing up to a free trial of a pro account on write.as. I'm lucky enough to be able to support the people who make the Internet a better place, so I've stopped making excuses.

I didn't go through with deleting my bookface account, in the end. My partner was understandably saddened by the idea of losing all the associated photos, and comments on posts like our birth announcements. And I'd forgotten that I'd scanned and posted loads of my mum's old photos for the enjoyment of her circle. So the account has been reinstated, but locked down. Only they can see it, and I won't be posting anything new with it. This feels like a good compromise, and, happily, I don't feel any pull to go back to that space (for now).

End of Day 30

jlj@Fosstodon #100DaysToOffload

I'm writing this as part of the 100 Days To Offload project; join us at: https://100daystooffload.com/

I've been furloughed

It's official now, so I'll simply say that I've been furloughed. I'm certainly not alone, even in my company, and I'm still better off than many. It's worrying, but that isn't why I've been away.


I completed my Architect practical lab yesterday. (Or around 3am today, more precisely. I needed 18 of the 24 hours, in the end.) That's my shorthand for what Splunk calls their Splunk Enterprise Deployment Practical Lab Public Class, by the way. Quite a mouthful. It'll be a few days before I get my results. There isn't much feedback, apparently. And, they are completely upfront about it being a subjective evaluation, just as it would be with a customer, waiting to be paid.

I'm disappointed, regardless of the outcome. The whole process has highlighted some glaring gaps in my knowledge, particularly around apps and technology add-ons. I was deep on trying to extract fields from syslog before a colleague pointed out that putting the *nix TA on my search head would do the job for me. (I'd only installed it on the universal forwarder that was gathering the data.) And my regex is pitiful: I tried to use the Add Data wizard on a custom XML data source, and was so thrown by the stream of gobbledygook it spat out that I lost hours and never properly parsed the stuff, in the end. I tried to justify that point, amongst others, in my report to the 'customer'; we'll soon see how it all went down.

It was a real blow to my ego. Especially now, seeing my manager finish the same lab in seven hours today. I'm so impressed by her intelligence, work ethic and thought process, but, try as I might, I still use moments like this to knock myself down. Ah, well, I'm a work in progress, as we all are.

End of Day 29

(I know I've missed a few actual days, but I've decided to ignore the gap.)

jlj@Fosstodon #100DaysToOffload

I'm writing this as part of the 100 Days To Offload project; join us at: https://100daystooffload.com/

Community, in the 'multiverse'

Not across universes, literally; I can't think of a good word for an association that transcends the fediverse, and to IRL beyond. I don't know why I keep coming back to this idea. It'll probably be the first topic in my zettelkasten, when I finally decide on a medium for it. If I could (non-disruptively) give my 20-year-old self anything, it'd be a zettelkasten; an actual piece of furniture, I guess, as Windows 95 was the height of innovation back then. But, man, I know this post would be an order of magnitude better for it.

Clay Shirky talks about how you can have a small community — on the Internet; I'll explicitly reference IRL when I mean otherwise — and, particularly with a dedicated core of a few friends committed to your vision, the centre will likely hold. (I recently rejoined IRC, and TooCool@EFNet pointed me to a piece that also explored this idea.) But, with success, comes danger: there is a size, beyond which, your vision will be threatened. This came back to me while reading about Cooper coming on as a community manager @Fosstodon, so I want to say it's around 10000 members (but don't quote me on that). And this is where I reference the cliche of an ellipsis, followed by the Shangri-La of 'profit'. Seriously, though, there are probably tens of thousands of examples for every birdsite. (Not that I'd hold that up as my ideal, mind.)

I joined Lemmy(Net) yesterday, curious about the ReverseEagle project that bubbled up in /r/Linux. I liked the message, and the tone. I'm a sucker for humility, and the opening apology regarding a perceived lack of professionalism really struck a chord. I mean, they sound very measured to me, and they're talking about simply offering genuine alternatives. That seems far more professional than, say, the early days of Slashdot, where Bill Gates as Borg was considering the starting point for any conversation outside of FOSS. (I can't resist bragging about my five-digit user id: 68393; yeah, it was mid-morning before I realised CmdrTaco had opened registration.) And then you have other models, like Tildes' sponsorship (lite) one.

I want to know my IRL neighbours (I think). But I'm not good in meat space; particularly after some of the difficulties I've had in recent years. Years ago I tried Streetlife, but that registration process alone was far too intrusive, especially for the limited benefit of what became a local Gumtree knock-off, from what I could see, before closing. Freegle was OK, pre-COVID, but, again, fairly intrusive, and a mixed bag of, well, exactly what you'd probably get IRL if a bunch of people came together for the primary purpose of barter, in effect. I had some positive experiences with Meetup, but the clue is in the name, for me: too heavy on IRL; I want a community that is rich here, and naturally extends beyond that over time.

I'm going to end it there. More to come, though — fuelled by my zettelkasten, I hope!

End of Day 28

— jlj #100DaysToOffload

I'm writing this as part of the 100 Days To Offload project; join us at: https://100daystooffload.com/

The elephant in the room

It's been a tough day. I'm still not at liberty to explain why. Mind you, I don't imagine it would take much of a leap to guess the reasons. Still, I'll leave it there, as an apology for what will probably be a lacklustre post.


More practice today: the Splunk Enterprise Deployment Practical Lab test is this Monday. So there goes my weekend. I'm up to almost 90% of my monthly EC2 usage on the AWS free tier, so I switched to GCP today. I have to say, I like the interface more. It's still early days, obviously, but it's a better experience, so far. For example, they explicitly state that you will not be billed for your free kit; period. It will just stop working at the end of the trial period, presumably, if you haven't made a payment. I like that, as I've had a low level of worry rumbling along this week about waking up to a bill from Amazon. (Although, probably a very small one, in their defence.)

A word of warning if you're thinking about using Keybase's private storage heavily: don't overextend yourself. It's obvious, with hindsight, that performing lots of writes and deletes on a (remote) encrypted filesystem is a bad idea, but it took being in a real mess to open my eyes. Actually, it was my sloppiness that included the path for what would be the synced copy of those files (in my home directory) in the actual copy I was making to Keybase's storage that kicked off the facing mirrors, reflections ad infinitum, hard disk drive thrashing itself to death. Obvious, as I said, but this cautionary tale is the single benefit I can wrestle out of that agonising spell yesterday.

End of Day 27

— jlj #100DaysToOffload

I'm writing this as part of the 100 Days To Offload project; join us at: https://100daystooffload.com/

How cheap IS disk space?

What's on my mind? Keybase. I saw that they offered file storage as part of my general tour of their services upon first signing up a few weeks ago. Today, I noted that — thanks to FUSE, coincidentally on my radar for the second time this week — the desktop client provides simple access to this storage. And then I thought something went wrong, because Nemo told me I had approximately 248GB of free space on that filesystem.

The documentation confirms it: every single user gets 250GB of free storage space. I do not understand how this is good business, but, then again, I've never had a head for business. (Still, I can't help but wonder whether Zoom will revisit this policy.) Regardless, it's very generous. (Thank you, Keybase!) More than ten times what Google offers, while foregoing the profits Google makes by selling our data to boot.

So I've been playing around with rsync and cron today, adjusting my backup solution to take advantage of this bounty.

Oh, and I created a team — beardlovers, for fans of YouTuber Wheezy Waiter — so I could play around with that feature as well. Pop in, and I'll tell you all about the wonderful show that is The Good Stuff.


I had some news at work today. I'm not at liberty to share it right now, but let's just say I'm a bit preoccupied at the moment. I'm also worried about my upcoming 24-hour game show of a test that is my Splunk Architect practical lab; I keep running into indexer cluster issues, and so haven't had much time to practice field extractions, creating sourcetypes, or dashboarding. Oh, well. A fun weekend activity, I guess?

End of Day 26

— jlj #100DaysToOffload

I'm writing this as part of the 100 Days To Offload project; join us at: https://100daystooffload.com/

Great expectations, and coping

I was hoping to share a screenshot of Conky today, with the weather conditions beautifully displayed. Instead, I'll have to settle for the results on the command line, conditionally formatted:

weather script output

I failed to account for the necessary transition to pixels when working with Conky. I think I'll need to manipulate the returned JSON directly — as opposed to calling a script to parse it — or reconsider how I want the results formatted. A decision for another day.


I'm a lot better at dealing with disappointment these days; and on a much bigger scale than some failed hacking, let me quickly add! Not long after I first moved to the UK — more than a decade ago now — I blew a PSU.

And completely lost it.

It's embarrassing to remember, frankly, and really scared my ex at the time. Most of that embarrassment is due to the extent of my overreaction, but a small part of it is because, while I did read the instructions on the PSU, I failed to take in that its wide tolerance of voltage was predicated on throwing a (very prominent, in their defence) switch on the back of it. Unbelievably, it was the only casualty of that mistake: the motherboard, and all the attached components, served me well for another eight years. (In fact, the hard disk drive is still working well in my current tower.)

Fast forward ten years, and that reaction seems completely alien to me. Part of that is having young children: things get smashed, lost, they explode; life loses much of its predictability. Part of it is one of the many happy consequences of years of psychotherapy. Part of it is simply getting older.

It feels good. Particularly in the light of the criticism I've been levelling at myself recently: what could, ungenerously, be deemed a regression in my anxiety levels as lockdown has continued.

End of Day 25 — a quarter of the way!

— jlj #100DaysToOffload

I'm writing this as part of the 100 Days To Offload project; join us at: https://100daystooffload.com/

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