Archive for the 'Tip for Tuesday' Category

Chirp: Honesty on the Internet

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Red says:

I just read an interesting article by Eve Simon talking about how to use Twitter for branding.  While she was talking specifically about ways of thinking that apply to businesses using Twitter to leverage a customer/client/user base, if you apply what she says to your personal tweets, you hit upon some of the things I have been thinking about lately.

Historically, the way to approach the Internet was with extreme caution and lots of thought about how to protect your personal information, often even including your real name.  This kind of caution and paranoia comes easily to me, and makes a lot of sense.

About two years ago, one of my major aliases got compromised, and I felt violated.  It was not done maliciously, just thoughtlessly, and I realized that not everyone thought the way I did about security and safety.  With the recent, and not so recent, mess over Facebook’s lack of privacy (which Danah Boyd has expounded upon at length with a great deal of thought and intelligence), privacy on the Internet, what it means and what rights individuals have to it is the question du jour.

Bear with me, but my next step is theology.  I was raised Quaker, with the associated beliefs in integrity, equality, peace and simplicity — which doesn’t gel with paranoia or falsely representing myself.  Two years ago, I wouldn’t have said I was falsely representing myself by having an alias; after all, I am the same person under all the names I use, and I maintain integrity under all of them.  But with all the thought about privacy issues, I’ve had to consider my different personas.

Even when I write or meet people under my own name, I have different things which I feel are appropriate to disclose depending upon my audience.  I am different people at family gatherings than I am with friends, and different again with co-workers or students.  Those differences translate to virtual space, though with a different set of splits, and I am an egoist on Myspace, a series of obscure non-sequitors on Facebook, and an artist on Twitter.  I know who my cross-over readers are, and I draw parallels in the different virtual mediums tailored to them.  I am honest in all, but selective.

And that selective goes back to the first article about building a branded identity on Twitter.  Is there a way to brand as nothing more, less, or different from one’s self?  As it becomes increasingly difficult to hold identities separate from each other, is our world forcing a more complete honesty, a deeper level of integrity upon us?  Will we find other ways to separate the different parts of ourselves despite the gravitational spiral towards transparency that the ever amassing data base that is the Internet is building?  Do we have a right to do so, or a responsibility to work on becoming a unified whole?

Perhaps transhumanism will be as much about unity of the individual as it will be about any genetic and technical modifications we make.  Radical transparency may have as much influence on the evolution of humanity as fire once did.

I find that strangely comforting.

Search-Fu or How to Find Things on the Internet

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Red says:

In today’s world, knowing things isn’t as important as knowing how to find the information when you need it.  Some people are great at pulling up websites that tell them exactly what they need to know, while others search in vain.  If you do a search for “How to find things on the internet” you will find lots of articles describing search engines, but few hints on how to use those search engines.

I happen to love doing research.  I never liked doing my homework when I was in school, and when teachers assigned us “research” papers so we could learn the valuable skills of … I’m still not sure what, I would groan as loud as anyone.  Now that I’m out in the real world, finding out about things is one of my great thrills.  Sadly, none of the careful lessons in the dewey decimal system, or how to read a card catalogue come in handy for most of the research I do today.  Mostly, I look things up on the internet.

Patch is continually impressed with my Google-fu or search-fu, meaning my ability to find what I am looking for via Google’s search engine.  (Feel free to use any search engine you like, many internet service providers have search functions built into your home page.)  There are people who are much better at it than I am, but after watching Patch doing a search the other night, I was struck by how many little tricks I use for searching that he just didn’t think of.

So here are some pointers for how to make an Internet search better: (more…)

You have time. Really.

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Patch says:

There is one thing I wish that every businessperson with whom I cross paths would learn.  It comes in three parts:

1)  It’s going to take you longer than you think.

2)  It’s not going to be as much of a disaster as you think when it takes you longer than you think.

3)  You have time to do it right.

Emphasis here: you have time to do it right.  Because once today’s deadline has been pushed, faced, completed, there will be another deadline.  And you’re really going to start regretting the shortcuts you took this time around …

Recipe for Disaster

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Red says:

I am not known for following recipes.  This means that my cooking, baking, crafts, etc. have a tendency to be… irregular.  (Sometimes I hit genius, but never twice in a row and rarely twice with the same dish.)  Patch is forever encouraging me to just try [any] recipe as written.  It works well for him.  There is a reason he is the cookie master of the household.

I decided to try making my own gluten-free bread — in a bread machine, because I am lazy.  There are so many factors to consider with making gluten-free bread at all palatable, I actually followed Patch’s advice, and stuck to the recipe exactly.  It wanted two and a half teaspoons of powdered yeast, or follow the manual for bread machines.  Hello, Manual, what’s that you say?  Two and a half teaspoons?  How very reasonable that you should match the recipe, I don’t know why I bothered to  check, I am supposed to be Following The Recipe.

Of course, the bread over-rose, making  a huge, burnt mess in my lovely machine.  Sigh.

On the advice of Patch’s aunt, I reduced the yeast to one and a half teaspoons, and finally got a perfect loaf.

I think I’ll go back to my slap-dash, albeit research-heavy way of baking. My results may not be consistently genius, but they are usually edible.

For any of you wanting to make gluten-free bread in a bread maching, try reducing the yeast.

Generate Random Prounouceable Passwords in Ubuntu

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Patch says:

I’m always forgetting the name of this package, so this blog post is half for me, half for you (all two of you …)

In my frequent capacity as a tech guru of one sort or another, I am oft called upon to come up with passwords, often passwords that must be shared with people (e.g. “I just created an account on the test server for you — the password is …”).  It’s useful to have a utility that will produce something that is a) sufficiently random/somewhat hard to crack, and b) somewhat friendly to the poor client/employee/friend who has to type it in.

Enter “pwgen”.  To install it on Ubuntu, drop to a terminal and type:

sudo apt-get install pwgen

To run it, type:


You’ll be presented with a nice list of “pronounceable” passwords.  Pick one, and be on your merry.  (Those who have been subjected to my overly clever, snidely referential passwords in the past may breath a sigh of relief.)

Note:  One nice thing about pwgen is that if stdout is not a tty, it produces only one random password, which means that it behaves itself in a script that needs to generate a single random password, and move on.

Harboring Difficulties

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Red says:

Rather, difficulties with Greed Corp. Level 23, Asaphyr’s Harbor (Campaign Mode).

Second to the last level, and I got thoroughly stuck.  I lost a couple dozen times over the course of a week, before deciding to give up and find a hint on-line.  Silly me.  I didn’t find one walk through of this game, and the only reference I to this particular level was another poor stuck person, asking for help.  Okay.

No way was I going to stop playing this game so close to the end.  I decided to be more analytical in how I approached the problem.  No more, “whee, I’m the Evil Empire crushing this world,” I had to start breaking it down like a computer bug.  What were my bot opponents doing, and how was it better than what I was doing?

Warning: only read below the break if you want the play by play of how I figured out this level. (more…)

Emacs and Git with Magit

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Patch says:

If you’re like me, you program and/or write in Emacs, and you used Subversion for version control until you discovered Git (or Mercurial — but this article is about Git ;-p), and now you want something like an svn-status buffer, but for your new shiny version control system.  Hooray, you’ve stumbled across this blog, and now you know about Magit.

If you use a Debian based operating system like Ubuntu (and if you don’t, why ever not?), setup is simple:

sudo apt-get install magit

If not, grab the source (git clone git:// and put it some place where Emacs can find  it.

Fire up Emacs and summon Magit with:

M-x magit-status

Details in the documentation, but here’s a list of some useful shortcuts to get you started:

  • g:  updates the status of the buffer (it doesn’t update itself automatically ala svn-status)
  • s:  stages a change
  • c:  starts a commit.  Type a commit message, and hit C-c C-c to commit.
  • P:  pushes
  • F:  pulls  (note:  you need to have your .git/config file properly setup for this to work)
  • b:  switch to a branch (tab completion is supported)
  • B:  create a branch and switch to it
  • M:  automatically merge
  • l: show the log

Aside from reducing the number of times I need to drop to a terminal, using magit discourages gratuitous uses of “git add .”, which always makes me slightly uncomfortable (I like to know what I’m committing), and encourages you to break up commits into nice, log friendly chunks.