Moving howtos to Github Gist

I have made a lot of promises on my technical posts to provide updates whenever I run across them, and I have broken most of these promises. A large part of that has to do with my publication (on WordPress) being separated from my notetaking (on Github Gists).

So here’s a mini announcement: all technical howtos will be migrated to Github Gists. You should see a convenient link to my gists in the right sidebar. And here’s a list of the migrated posts, each hyperlinked to their new home on Github.

  1. Logitech MX Revolution in Arch Linux
  2. Linux and Western Digital Advanced Format Drives
  3. Cyborg RAT 7 in Arch Linux
  4. Linux disk performance tweaking parameters

Thresholds in computing: Part 11 – A Thin-ITX challenger appears: The Intel 5×5

(Part 11 in a series of posts on small-form-factor computing)

Before I temporarily ended my series on thresholds in small-form-factor computing, I talked about Thin-ITX being the last stop in a series of miniaturisations. For a while it looked like the Intel NUC might become the next form factor; there were third-party cases and coolers being made for it, and Intel has stuck with it for three generations, gradually lending it the stability needed for OEMs to build businesses around the product. Nobody wants to make accessories and alternative parts for something that could disappear in
a year or two.

But in CES 2015, something interesting appeared: a socketed sub-ITX motherboard.

intel-sff-mobo Continue reading Thresholds in computing: Part 11 – A Thin-ITX challenger appears: The Intel 5×5

Short-term memory and productivity: a theory of hold time

Over the past few months, I have observed some curious things about my workflow. They are not rigorously measured; in fact the only way I have noticed these is mainly by looking at the system clock, or wall clock. I don’t have the kind of free time that would allow me to really set up ways to verify this, but if there are any published papers on this phenomenon (or lack thereof) I would love a pointer to them.

  1. Simple tasks (sending emails, collating names) take about the same time both on the desktop at home, and on the laptop at work.
  2. Complex tasks (timetabling, collating multiple columns of student information, searching for images and videos) take longer on the work laptop tan on the desktop. And I mean sometimes as much as 3 or 4 times longer.
  3. I lose my train of thought at work much more easily, and hence fall out of a state of flow more frequently.

A simple explanation for this is that my internet connection is faster at home, my desktop is faster (though the effects of this are pretty negligible except for niche tasks like image processing), and my screen is bigger. But how does this lead to a three- or four-fold change in productivity? I don’t think speed differences in hardware alone can sufficiently account for this.
Continue reading Short-term memory and productivity: a theory of hold time

Inhabiting a desktop

I once tried an MOOC, edX’s Future Cities. It was everything I expected, and I “dropped out” after the third lesson. I had what I wanted: a new term for a new discipline, “Information Architecture”, and examples of how not to do it—the MOOC itself was such an example.

Information Architecture is a discipline that looks at how information is structured. If physical architecture is the partitioning and ordering of space and material, information architecture is the sorting and hierarchical organisation of information and the ways in which it interacts. Databases, contacts, calendars, these are forms of structured information which we are familiar with. They come in a certain expected format: an event invitation would be very strange if it did not mention date, time, and venue, at the very least. But it can quickly get complicated as well. A huge event, such as a conference, with multiple breakoff seminars and sessions, can itself contain multiple overlapping events in multiple venues with multiple people. How is this information to be organised and presented? As we walk through the conference hallways and foyers, how do we see this information arrayed around us?

I’ve been paying more attention to coworkers’ desks lately. I don’t mean the physical desk, the physical structure of wood and steel, but the tangible desk, the way things are laid out. Which photographs and mementos take pride of place, the way in which paper is stacked, and spills over to adjacent spaces, the arrangement of the tiny paper-flanked cubbyhole where the laptop sits, . . . . We all have the same desk and cabinet and shelves, but over time we come to identify each coworker’s desk by this unique arrangement of personal effects. We inhabit our desks. Continue reading Inhabiting a desktop

Digital identities

Something strange happened when I grew up.

Phone numbers as identity

As a high school student, I gave my email address readily, and reserved my phone number only for people I actually wanted to communicate with. Email was (still) easy to filter and ignore; I only logged in once a week and seldom replied to anything. I was most readily reachable via phone.

Phone numbers usually came with contract plans; they were non-portable, each change meant mass-messaging one’s new number to one’s contacts. At that age my peers changed email addresses on a whim, and phone numbers were our only constant.

Emails as identity

As a working adult, things have changed. Now I give my phone number readily, and my personal email address seldom. Phone calls are easy to ignore, especially with a phone in vibrate-only mode.

Emails are still easy to filter, which makes it easier to sort personal correspondence from spammy fluff; it is phones which have become unfilterable, with a UPS delivery call being almost undifferentiable from a telemarketing call.

I have had more than a decade to grow into my email identity, and wouldn’t let go of it for all the world. My phone number now comes from a prepaid plan, because I don’t call often and like the freedom of being able to switch telco service providers on a whim. I use mobile broadband much more often than I use calltime and SMS messages, especially with WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and other messaging services fast replacing them.

The phone number now becomes an impersonal collection of figures, reflecting little personality, while our email carries the collective baggage of everything that has happened to us since we decided on that strange text string to identify ourselves by.

Étude #2

On the NoPhone.


(351 words)

The hallmark of great user experience is not a presence, but an absence—of anxiety. Anxiety is a mark of sub-optimal micro-interactions; with things, with people, with environments. How could I have done it better?

An enlightened mind faces a different anxiety, a mark of sub-optimal choice of micro-interactions; with things, with people, with environments. What could I have done instead?

Is it okay to use my information-device when I could be talking to a fellow complex sentient? Is it okay to talk to a fellow sentient when the occasion is blessed with great weather and that rare breeze, the fruits of a complex space-ball of mass-energy hurtling through space? Is it okay to be enjoying the sensuous fruits of said space ball when my complex information device, by my instruction, is trying to get my attention with something that could be urgent?

Our weapon against anxiety is irony. Irony defuses our self-expectations, shorts the circuits that process this complexity. Turns a complex sentient into a stereotype, a complex space-ball into a nostalgic image, a complex information device into mere moulded plastic. A NoPerson, a NoEarth, a NoPhone. A NoThing cannot feel envy, or engender jealousy.

But juxtaposed faces cannot be highlighted only on one side. As irony slaps the cheek of our sub-optimal choices, we unwittingly turn the other cheek, raising our unexamined envy for sacrifice.

Our weapon against irony is empathy. Where irony seeks to compress and summarise, empathy seeks to experience and individualise. Envy is arrested, stopped dead in its tracks by complexity, by the full magnitude of unanxious engagement with information-devices, with sentients, with space-balls.

Let us cling to our NoPhones, NoPersons, and NoEarths for those moments when the cross of empathy wears us thin. And when our souls, recharged from the great inexhaustible source of life, are filled again with the fire of vocation, let us leave our NoThings to bear our enlightened anxieties, the NoPerson interacting anxiously with the NoPhone to gather more information on the NoEarth, and be free. To engage fully in our interactions, and to let others be engaged fully in theirs.