Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sewing Without Shopping

I'm caught up with posting about 2011 fiber activities. These patchwork pieces are my current project--a double four-patch wool coverlet. So far, I have 72 eight-inch blocks, sewn together into two four-by-nine block chunks.

I'm holding back on sewing the two big chunks together until I'm ready to finish the thing, as it's easier to handle this way. After auditioning the coverlet on the bed, I've decided that it needs more blocks: two additional rows and two columns more should do it. That's why I'm making 34 more double four-patch blocks. I have several polar fleece remnants that I'm planning to sew together to back this patchwork project, so it will be totally made of scraps, leftovers, and old clothing. I believe it will empty at least two large storage tubs of fabric scraps. It's a tightwad bonanza--hours of sewing pleasure without shopping, and decluttering/reorganizing to boot.

I took these photos last week, and yes, I was also drying clothes on the clothes line. I did so again today--we haven't had to use the dryer yet this winter. Very strange.

Monday, January 30, 2012

CS 101: Classroom Droop Mountain

I was excited to read this last week: Udacity and the future of online universities by Felix Salmon. Speaking of Sebastian Thrun, Salmon writes:

... It started as a way of putting his Stanford course online--he was going to teach the whole thing, for free, to anybody in the world who wanted it. With quizzes and grades and a final certificate, in parallel with the in-person course he was giving his Stanford undergrad students. He sent out one email to announce the class, and from that one email there was ultimately an enrollment of 160,000 students....

Thrun was eloquent on the subject of how he realized that he had been running "weeder" classes, designed to be tough and make students fail and make himself, the professor, look good. Going forwards, he said, he wanted to learn from Khan Academy and build courses designed to make as many students as possible succeed--by revisiting classes and tests as many times as necessary until they really master the material.

.... he concluded that "I can't teach at Stanford again." He's given up his tenure at Stanford, and he's started a new online university called Udacity. He wants to enroll 500,000 students for his first course, on how to build a search engine--and of course it's all going to be free.


Here's the Website for the Introduction to Artificial Intelligence class that started it all, and here's the Udacity site, which is preparing to offer two more computer classes free on the Web. They say:

We believe university-level education can be both high quality and low cost. Using the economics of the Internet, we've connected some of the greatest teachers to hundreds of thousands of students all over the world.

I've signed up for "CS 101: Building a Search Engine" to learn Python. Aside from my FORTRAN course in 1976, everything I've ever learned about computers has been self-taught and ad hoc. I'd love to try it in a structured environment. (I enjoyed my FORTRAN course, but the Computer Science department at my alma mater made it really clear they didn't want a bunch of ladies running around their nice clean building.) Classes start February 20!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

An End to Peaches


The Tree Year 2011 was a sadly inauspicious year for trees on our ridge. The stag-horn sumac trees did not fare well in the summer, and this happened in the spring. This poor peach tree has been struggling for years, but every once in a while it would produce a small crop of flavorful (gnarly-looking) fruit. This spring, the wind took it down. I'm saving the last freezer-bag of peach pie filling for a special occasion.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Feature-Rich Rambouillet Wool Socks

Here's my most recent knitting--socks from my crock-pot-dyed, hand-spun Rambouillet fleece. Several years ago, I decided that this neppy, lumpy wool was not a failure, but an interesting exercise in color and texture: It's Not a Nep, It's a Feature. I tried out a few interesting rib and cable patterns, but they lost all definition in this "highly-textured" yarn, so in the end, it was plain old "Knit 2, Purl 2" ribbing. It was a fun, mindless knit, and these soft, soft socks are a treat to wear.

Friday, January 27, 2012

New USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map


This week the USDA Agricultural Research Service released its new Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Strangely, I discovered this, not through the agriculture and gardening sites I follow, but through Mother Jones magazine's Blue Marble Blog. Julia Whitty points out:

The new map is interactive, which is cool, and based on a much finer data scale than the old one, which is great. And guess what. It shows that things are getting warmer. The USDA managed to pretty much bury that fact in Bureaucratese in their press release...Compared to the 1990 version, zone boundaries in this edition of the map have shifted in many areas. The new map is generally one 5-degree Fahrenheit half-zone warmer than the previous map throughout much of the United States. This is mostly a result of using temperature data from a longer and more recent time period; the new map uses data measured at weather stations during the 30-year period 1976-2005. In contrast, the 1990 map was based on temperature data from only a 13-year period of 1974-1986.

The interactive USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map lets you select a state and "zoom in" to see surprisingly fine-grained detail. I've already zoomed in on every place I've ever tried to garden.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Finding a WiFi Adapter for a New Linux Box

Given the mysterious boot failures of the last few weeks, I need regular and reliable access to my laptop. Yet since the Mac Mini failed last summer, the laptop has been commandeered for streaming video in the living room. It seems the time had come for (the cheapest possible) Mac Mini replacement. I found a refurbished desktop without an OS at Geeks.com, and while it had an Ethernet adapter, I thought I'd like to have wireless capability. (There's just no convenient way to run Ethernet cables between the "office" and the living room.)

Now, I knew installing wireless drivers in Linux has a painful history, so I the first thing I did was check out what wireless devices are Linux-compatible.

I looked up all sorts of wireless adapter cards and USB adapters, and got very confused. However, Geeks.com provides information I haven't seen anywhere else: For each Wireless adapter, it lists what operating systems the device will work with. I picked out a Linux-compatible one and made my order.

I was able to install Debian testing using a netinstall CD and the Ethernet connection, and when that was finished, I modified the /etc/apt/sources.list to include the contrib and non-free sources. (I always do that anyway.) Then, of course, at the command line, I typed aptitude update

From there Debian Wiki had everything I needed to know to go wireless. The wireless USB adapter had the RT3070 chip, so that meant I needed the rt2800usb driver. The driver is installed by aptitude install firmware-ralink Because I'd already installed the KDE desktop environment, there was a WiFi interface waiting for me. It detected the wireless device and set things up without a hitch. (I had to give it my password, that's all.) If it had not been that simple, the Debian Wiki had WiFi--How To Use. (I read it anyway, and found it informative.)

It was quite a treat to have something work easily and as expected.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pastel Pier Glass Socks

Here's another pair of socks from 2011, using oddities from my vintage yarn collection. This yarn is the same stuff I used for Heraldic Socks-- a "baby weight," pastel called "Peter Pan by Wendy." The fiber content is 55% nylon, 45% acrylic. To my surprise, the white Heraldic Socks are quite comfortable (so many acrylics make one's feet sweat miserably), and they are refreshingly easy to wash.



I used Barbara Walker's Pier Glass Pattern from A Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns, p. 148. The pattern looks complicated, but it's just a nice, fancy ribbing that's interesting to knit, but not so "interesting" that you get totally confused. (At least, I didn't get confused, and I'm sometimes rather...inattentive.)



Tuesday, January 24, 2012

JSTOR Limited Free Access for Unmoored Scholars

jstor opens limited free access option non-subscribing scholars | Inside Higher Ed: "The depletion of the traditional professoriate has produced a new demographic of unmoored scholars who might not have “the consistency of access that they want,” says Heidi McGregor, a spokeswoman for JSTOR. The goal of Register & Read would be to better serve that population — as well as others that the organization might not have even known about."

Good news for us "unmoored scholars." The institutions that employ me as an adjunct faculty member don't subscribe to JSTOR.

'via Blog this'

Monday, January 23, 2012

Academic Badges and GarageBand E-Books

As part of the "adjunct army" that teaches a great chunk of the post-secondary academic courses, I'm painfully conscious of the high costs of textbooks and tuition, without being able to do much about it beyond observe the news. Here's a recent bid to "revolutionize" textbook publishing:


Apple to announce tools, platform to "digitally destroy" textbook publishing: "MacInnis sees Apple as possibly up-ending the traditional print publishing model for the low-end, where basic information has for many years remained locked behind high textbook prices. Apple can "kick up dust with the education market," which could then create visibility for platforms like Inkling. This could then serve as a sort of professional Logic-type tool for interactive textbook creation complement to Apple's "GarageBand for e-books." "There will be a spectrum of tools and consumers, and we will continue to fit on that spectrum," MacInnis opined. "I don't know if the publishing industry will react to it with fear or enthusiasm.""

Here's more about it from Open Culture: The best free cultural & educational media on the web. They've incorporated Apple's offerings into their aggregation of free online courses: Apple Releases Free iTunesU App & Enhanced University Courses (Plus Textbooks).


And this article suggests that college curricula and diplomas themselves may be on the way out:

College 2.0: Badges Earned Online Pose Challenge to Traditional College Diplomas | The Chronicle of Higher Education: "The spread of a seemingly playful alternative to traditional diplomas, inspired by Boy Scout achievement patches and video-game power-ups, suggests that the standard certification system no longer works in today's fast-changing job market. Educational upstarts across the Web are adopting systems of "badges" to certify skills and abilities. If scouting focuses on outdoorsy skills like tying knots, these badges denote areas employers might look for, like mentorship or digital video editing. Many of the new digital badges are easy to attain--intentionally so--to keep students motivated, while others signal mastery of fine-grained skills that are not formally recognized in a traditional classroom."

Digitization Policies for the Web

Apropos of the SOPA/PIPA controversy last week, I've revised my short paper on digital copyright issues written for a local history project a few years ago. The website where it was posted has since been shut down, so I'm re-posting it here for my own reference. Even without SOPA/PIPA, modern copyright law has a stifling effect on preserving genealogy and local history, while profiting no one. "Orphan works" still under copyright, are being lost because they cannot legally be curated or shared on the Internet.

Pocahontas County Historic Preservation Project: A First Draft of Digitization Policies

Goals of the Digitization Project
  • To facilitate preservation of historic materials through digitization.
  • To make freely available as much material as possible, over the web and through local libraries, museums, and historic sites.
  • To behave in a scholarly, courteous, and responsible manner to those who create or donate historic materials and to those who wish to access such material for noncommercial purposes. This must include acting in accordance with copyright, property, and privacy laws.

Digitization has tremendous potential to enhance preservation of historic materials, and to make all types of information available to interested parties around the world at little cost. However, it also presents novel problems in intellectual property rights. Who owns the rights to reproduce materials, and what may be done with the digital copies? There have been many changes in intellectual property rights law in the last 20 years, and there are few simple, straightforward answers to these questions.

I believe there are some cases in which we can use materials without fear of infringing anyone's rights.

  • Text and photographs published prior to January 1, 1923 are considered in the public domain. At least one item of interest to our project, William T. Price's Historical Sketches of Pocahontas County, has been scanned by the Google Books Project, and is freely available at their website in pdf and ascii text files.
  • Works of the United States Government, and other government-generated writings, as described by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.
  • Any work that was neither published nor registered as of Jan. 1, 1978, and whose author died before 1933 entered the public domain on Jan. 1, 2003, unless it was published on or before Dec. 31, 2002. (U.S. Copyright Office, see passage in Appendix.)
  • Unpublished works that have been donated, along with their copyrights, to the Historical Society, the Genealogy group, or the Library system. (See the "Deed of Gift" references in the Appendix.) For example, if a diary and some family snapshots are donated by the creator's heir, along with explicit permission to share and reproduce, we may legally digitize and post these on the Web site.
  • Our own photographs of three-dimensional artifacts, with the permission of the artifact owner.
  • Descriptions of the materials in our local collections, using the Archon archive content management system to list our holdings on the Web, even where we cannot find the copyright owner or obtain permission. We can display excerpts of text or images as long as we comply with the Fair Use Doctrine. (Described by the Copyright Office, see Appendix.)
  • Digital copies of unpublished works under copyright protection can be made (up to three copies) by a library for preservation purposes, but they cannot be posted on the Internet, or otherwise displayed or distributed. (Section 108 of the U.S. Copyright Code, see Appendix for a link.)

Items that may not be available for digitization or publication on a Web site include:

  • Studio and professional photographs where the photographer was still living as of January 1, 1933. The person who commissioned the photo did not get copyrights at purchase. These remained with the photographer, unless explicitly surrendered.
  • Photographs and papers found and donated to the Historical Society. Although these organizations have legal ownership of the physical objects, copyright does not automatically convey with the object.
  • Published materials under copyright protection where the copyright holder is unidentifiable, unavailable, or unwilling to give permission for digitization.

To proceed with the digitization project, we need to identify which materials we have legal right to digitize, obtain permission to use materials where necessary, and determine how we want to share our own materials.

  • We need to identify copyright holders for materials already in possession of the Historical Society, the Pearl Buck Birthplace, and the libraries. Where this is known, we can request permission to digitize and share materials.
  • As we gain access to new materials, we need to get permission in writing to digitize and share the materials. There are several "Deed of Gift" templates available for us to use in developing our own permission form. (See "Deed of Gift" in Appendix.) It will be important to make sure this form does not sound ominous, intimidating, or excessively technical, lest it have a "wet blanket" effect on offers of information.
  • We need to spell out our copyright for the Web site. I suggest a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial license, but this will only apply to materials where we own the copyright (for example, things the Historic Preservation Officer writes while "on the clock;" new photographs of historic locations and objects taken specifically for the digitization project, etc.) Where we use materials by permission with attribution, we have no authority to grant permission to another party.

  • The possibility of print publications such as books, calendars, and recordings has been discussed, especially as a form of fund raising for the support of the various institutions involved. Copyright issues must be considered especially carefully for such projects, as they are more carefully examined in for-profit situations.

Appendix: Quotations From Pertinent Sources

Copyright Office On Protection of Digital Rights

Pertinent information from the United States Copyright Office Frequently Asked Questions:

It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights provided by the copyright law to the owner of copyright. These rights, however, are not unlimited in scope. Sections 107 through 121 of the 1976 Copyright Act establish limitations on these rights....One major limitation is the doctrine of "fair use," which is given a statutory basis in section 107 of the 1976 Copyright Act....

A party may seek to protect his or her copyrights against unauthorized use by filing a civil lawsuit in federal district court. If you believe that your copyright has been infringed, consult an attorney. In cases of willful infringement for profit, the U.S. Attorney may initiate a criminal investigation....

If you use a copyrighted work without authorization, the owner may be entitled to bring an infringement action against you. There are circumstances under the fair use doctrine where a quote or a sample may be used without permission. However, in cases of doubt, the Copyright Office recommends that permission be obtained....

....Uploading or downloading works protected by copyright without the authority of the copyright owner is an infringement of the copyright owner's exclusive rights of reproduction and/or distribution. Anyone found to have infringed a copyrighted work may be liable for statutory damages up to $30,000 for each work infringed and, if willful infringement is proven by the copyright owner, that amount may be increased up to $150,000 for each work infringed. In addition, an infringer of a work may also be liable for the attorney's fees incurred by the copyright owner to enforce his or her rights.....

....Photocopying shops, photography stores and other photo developing stores are often reluctant to make reproductions of old photographs for fear of violating the copyright law and being sued. These fears are not unreasonable, because copy shops have been sued for reproducing copyrighted works and have been required to pay substantial damages for infringing copyrighted works. The policy established by a shop is a business decision and risk assessment that the business is entitled to make, because the business may face liability if they reproduce a work even if they did not know the work was copyrighted....

....In the case of photographs, it is sometimes difficult to determine who owns the copyright and there may be little or no information about the owner on individual copies. Ownership of a "copy" of a photograph the tangible embodiment of the "work" is distinct from the "work" itself the intangible intellectual property. The owner of the "work" is generally the photographer or, in certain situations, the employer of the photographer. Even if a person hires a photographer to take pictures of a wedding, for example, the photographer will own the copyright in the photographs unless the copyright in the photographs is transferred, in writing and signed by the copyright owner, to another person. The subject of the photograph generally has nothing to do with the ownership of the copyright in the photograph. If the photographer is no longer living, the rights in the photograph are determined by the photographer's will or passed as personal property by the applicable laws of intestate succession.....


Materials In the Public Domain

When U.S. Works Pass Into the Public Domain provides a chart to clarify the rules. The simplest entry indicates that works published prior to January 1, 1923 are in the public domain. Complexity increases from there.

The Copyright Office explains how unpublished works may enter public domain: Certain Unpublished, Unregistered Works Enter Public Domain.

Certain works that were neither published nor registered for copyright as of Jan. 1, 1978, entered the public domain on Jan. 1, 2003, unless the works were published on or before Dec. 31, 2002.

Under the 1909 Copyright Act, works that were neither published nor registered did not enjoy statutory protection, although they were protected under common law in perpetuity as long as they remained unpublished and unregistered. But under section 303 of the 1976 Copyright Act, works that were created but neither published nor registered in the Copyright Office before Jan. 1, 1978, lost their common law protection and acquired a statutory term of protection that was the life of the author plus 50 years, amended in 1998 to life plus 70 years.

As a result of the 1976 Copyright Act, any of the works in question whose author had died over 50 years prior to 1978 would have entered the public domain after Dec. 31, 1977. To provide a reasonable term of copyright protection for these works, and in light of the fact that these works had enjoyed perpetual protection under common law, Congress extended their term by at least 25 more years. Congress also encouraged publication by providing an additional 25 more years, extended in 1998 to 45 more years, of protection if the work was published on or before Dec. 31, 2002.

That first 25-year period expired on Dec. 31, 2002. Any work that was neither published nor registered as of Jan. 1, 1978, and whose author died before 1933 entered the public domain on Jan. 1, 2003, unless it was published on or before Dec. 31, 2002. If the author died in 1933 or later, the work will be protected for 70 years after the author's death, due to the passage of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act in 1998.


Fair Use Doctrine

A discussion of the Fair Use Doctrine, by the U.S. Copyright Office

Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered “fair,” such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of
    commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The distinction between "fair use" and infringement may be unclear
and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.

The 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law cites examples of activities that courts have regarded as fair use: quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author's observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report; reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy; reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson; reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports; incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.

Privacy and Publicity Issues

Library of Congress Privacy and Publicity Issues:

While copyright protects the copyright holder's property rights in the work or intellectual creation, privacy and publicity rights protect the interests of the person(s) who may be the subject(s) of the work or intellectual creation. Issues pertaining to privacy and publicity may arise when a researcher contemplates the use of letters, diary entries, photographs or reportage in visual, audio, and print formats found in library collections. Because two or more people are often involved in the work (e.g., photographer and subject, interviewer and interviewee) and because of the ease with which various media in digital format can be reused, photographs, audio files, and motion pictures represent materials in which issues of privacy and publicity emerge with some frequency....

While copyright is a federally protected right under the United States Copyright Act, with statutorily described fair use defenses against charges of copyright infringement, neither privacy nor publicity rights are the subject of federal law. Note also that while fair use is a defense to copyright infringement, fair use is not a defense to claims of violation of privacy or publicity rights. Privacy and publicity rights are the subject of state laws. What may be permitted in one state may not be permitted in another. Note also that related causes of action may be pursued under the federal Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. P 1125 (a), for example, for unauthorized uses of a person's identity in order to create a false endorsement.

While an individual's right to privacy generally ends when the individual dies, publicity rights associated with the commercial value connected with an individual's name, image or voice may continue. For example, many estates or representatives of famous authors, musicians, actors, photographers, politicians, sports figures, celebrities, and other public figures continue to control and license the uses of those figures' names, likenesses, etc.


How Libraries Manage Copyright Issues Pertaining to Their Digital Collections
Library of Congress

How the Library of Congress handles copyright issues on its Web site, as explained by the United States Copyright Office FAQ's:

I saw an image on the Library of Congress website that I would like to use. Do I need to obtain permission?

With few exceptions, the Library of Congress does not own copyright in the materials in its collections and does not grant or deny permission to use the content mounted on its website. Responsibility for making an independent legal assessment of an item from the Library's collections and for securing any necessary permissions rests with persons desiring to use the item. To the greatest extent possible, the Library attempts to provide any known rights information about its collections. Such information can be found in the "Copyright and Other Restrictions" statements on each American Memory online collection homepage. If the image is not part of the American Memory collections, contact the Library custodial division to which the image is credited. Bibliographic records and finding aids available in each custodial division include information that may assist in assessing the copyright status. Search our catalogs through the Library's Online Catalog. To access information from the Library's reading rooms, go to Research Centers.

Library of Congress "Legal" Page

Whenever possible, the Library of Congress provides factual information about copyright owners and related matters in the catalog records, finding aids and other texts that accompany collections. As a publicly supported institution, the Library generally does not own rights in its collections. Therefore, it does not charge permission fees for use of such material and generally does not grant or deny permission to publish or otherwise distribute material in its collections. Permission and possible fees may be required from the copyright owner independently of the Library. It is the researcher's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other use restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the Library's collections. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Researchers must make their own assessments of rights in light of their intended use.

If you have any more information about an item you've seen on our website or if you are the copyright owner and believe our website has not properly attributed your work to you or has used it without permission, we want to hear from you. Please contact OGC@loc.gov with your contact information and a link to the relevant content.


West Virginia University Libraries

How West Virginia University University Library regulates use of its archives, physical archives: Rules for the Use of Library Materials in the West Virginia and Regional History Collection


Some materials in the WVRHC are protected by copyright laws and other restrictions. The researcher assumes all responsibility for possible infringement of copyright and/or other literary, artistic, property or privacy rights in the act of copying or in the subsequent use of the materials copied....The reproduction of any collection in its entirety is prohibited.

Any publication, exhibition, or other public use of materials reproduced must properly credit the source from which a copy is made. The basic credit line is "West Virginia and Regional History Collection, West Virginia University Libraries"....Researchers are not permitted to photograph any materials in the WVRHC. To order photographs, users may inquire at the reference desk about policies, forms and fees.


West Virginia History Online Digital Collections has rules that offer us a model on proper usage: Notes on Rights and Reproductions. Their West Virginia History OnView: Photographs From the West Virginia & Regional History Collection is the sort of online archive we hope to produce.


West Virginia History OnLine digital resources are available for use in research, teaching, and private study only. These materials may NOT be used for publication or exhibition, downloaded and placed on another server where they can be publicly accessed, or utilized in any other public manner without the express written permission of the West Virginia and Regional History Collection. Such permission may be granted only by a curator of the WV&RHC or by the Dean of WVU Libraries. Any reproduction of materials from this site must properly credit the source of the materials. For archives and manuscripts, the proper credit line includes the full name of the collection, plus "West Virginia and Regional History Collection, West Virginia University Libraries." For works of art, the proper credit line includes the names of the artist and artwork, plus "West Virginia and Regional History Collection, West Virginia University Libraries."

Some Materials in the WV&RHC and on this web site are protected by copyright laws and other restrictions. The researcher assumes all responsibility for possible infringement of copyright and/or other literary, artistic, property or privacy rights in the act of copying or in the subsequent use of the materials copied.


Deed of Gift Forms

Local history research organizations such as libraries, museums, and historical associations, can protect themselves against inadvertent copyright violations by obtaining permission to display and use material at the time it is donated. If your organization accepts gifts (items), then it needs a Deed of gift form.

Here are two other sources for Deed of Gift formats:

Copyright Concerns For Libraries

There are special rules for libraries and digital copying. Section 108 of the U.S. Copyright Code is a graphic presentation of these rules, provided by Copyright advisory network, a site about the latest developments in digital collections and archives.


Modes of Managing Copyright Issues

Online Resources for Further Reading

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Burgess Shale--A New (Very Old) Animal


PLoS ONE - www.plosone.org

A New Stalked Filter-Feeder from the Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale, British Columbia, Canada. 2012. L. J. O'Brien and J.-B. Caron. PLoS ONE 7(1): e29233.

This is a new member of the "Problematica," those strange Cambrian animals not assigned to any known phylum. And because it's published in PLoS ONE, the entire article (including many beautiful photos of fossils and some ecological notes) is freely-available on line. What a treat! Via Paleoblog.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

This Weekend's Space Weather


Popular media coverage made this sound hair-raising: Cosmic Log - Solar blast heading our way, and the video is very cool, is it not? It led me to the video's home, Spaceweather.com's January 19 archive page. The "solar blast" might cause some impressive auroras this weekend.

Mostly, I was excited to find Spaceweather, which directed me to NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center. It's there to check daily, the way I check NOAA National Weather Service forecast.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Flora, For a Change

Lately, this blog has been heavy computer troubles and sewing project catch-up posts. There's more of both to come. This morning glory from last August is offered for a change of pace. I love the dusty pollen in the corolla.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA and PIPA--Are We All Pirates Now?

I'm no expert on legislation and the Internet, which is why I'm passing along Ask Slashdot: What Can You Do About SOPA and PIPA?: "The intent of both pieces of legislation is to combat online piracy, giving the Attorney General and the Department of Justice power to block domain name services and demand that links be stripped from sites not involved in piracy. The problem is that the legislation, as written, is vague and overly-broad."

Just Don't Turn It Off....

My Linux reboot problems continue. If I restart shutdown -r now, I get a variety of boot failures. I've determined there's nothing wrong with my grub2 and config files, the whole /boot directory and everything in it is fine. If I leave the computer alone for at least half an hour, I can turn it on, and boot successfully from /dev/sda1. Any less time, and every version of grub, SuperGrub, rescue disk, live Linux CD, whatever I try reports it cannot read any files. Hardware problem, or software, or a combination of the two? I really don't know. For the moment, I'm just leaving it turned on all the time, because sleep modes give other problems. If I need to turn it off, I'll try to leave it off overnight.

This is really unsatisfactory. Here's some unsatisfying but perhaps informative information I've found about similar Linux troubles.

  • The Analysis of Drive Issues: This page has been designed to help with the analysis of drive problems, and often to recommend what steps to take.
  • SATA disks resets in a md setup:
    Setup:
    ------
    The system is amd64bit running Debian unstable stock with kernel 2.6.29
    (Debian package). full dmesg is attached
    I have 2 250GB disks (/dev/sda, /dev/sdb) that I used to assemble a
    md array (/dev/md0)
    
    Homework:
    ---------
    Please note that the two disk are tested via smart long selftest
    and via $dd bs=256M if=/dev/sd? of=/dev/null without any problem.
    I researched in web and followed advice:
    I have checked / exchanged cables
    I disabled smartd.
    
    The actual Problem:
    -------------------
    Then I start the following stress test. From the other disks of the machine
    /dev/hda, /dev/hdb, /dev/sdc I start copying (via rsync) to /dev/md0 to a
    newly formatted ext3 filesystem.
    
    Everything goes fine for a while and then the system freezes
    [Error messages deleted--they look much like my errors]
    and my filesystem is dead. /dev/sdb is deleted from /dev. I have to reboot
    and even then Linux can't find the ata2 /dev/sdb.
    I have to remove power for 1-2 min for the disk to become accessible again.
    
    Do you think the disk is bad or something?
    

    The answer he eventually gets is that it's a kernel bug, which has since been fixed.

  • SATA functionality and performance with OMAPL-138: In this case the writer is working with a board that seems to have problems accessing SATA drives. The answers he gets suggest looking at different kernels and checking SATA cables.

  • ata3: COMRESET failed (errno=-16):
    At bootup I end up in busybox and I see the following message on the top of the screen "Gave up waiting for root device"
    Actually I think that my hard drive "falls asleep" just after leaving grub. When I'm in the busybox I need to unplug my hard drive (serial ata) and to plug it again so that I can hear that it's restarting. After doing that I type exit in the busybox and the boot process restarts normally.

    This turns out to be a kernel bug which has been fixed.

  • Fails to find boot device in Intel D945Gnt: These boot failures resemble mine; also a kernel bug which has been fixed.
  • Can someone explain how to perform this workaround? I've tried this fix with no success:
    sudo gedit /boot/grub/menu.lst
    
    you will see some lines like : 
    
    title  Debian GNU/Linux, kernel 2.6.26-1-686
    root  (hd0,0)
    kernel  /boot/vmlinuz-2.6.26-1-686 root=/dev/sda1 ro quiet
    initrd  /boot/initrd.img-2.6.26-1-686
    
    add rootdelay=90 after quiet

    This person had success with the rootdelay=90 solution: Cold boots fine, but get 'Gave up waiting for root device' on reboot.

  • Debian Bug report logs - #649563 linux-image-3.1.0-1-amd64 can't load initial ramdisk anymore:
    after upgrading wheezy to linux-image-3.1.0-1-amd64, grub complains:
    
    Loading initial ramdisk ...
    error: couldn't read file.
    
    Later the kernel panics. 

    This one is also solved by a kernel upgrade.


Here are some more rescue disks I've burned and tried.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sewing Summer Shirts


The last 10 years or so, I've tried all sorts of alterations on this (out-of-print) pattern, Kwik-Sew K2953, alterations that almost worked, but not quite. Last year, I started over, and made the full bust adjustment, then rotating the resulting side dart to the shoulder, where I gathered (or pleated) the extra fullness at the yoke seam.

I found that the two rayon shirts (the red one and the white and gray print) fit and looked very nice. The black and green plaid cotton shirt and this white and navy window pane check below are less satisfactory. I think the difference lies in the drape and "hand" of the fabrics. The crisper cotton pulls and puffs, and doesn't look flattering or feel comfortable.

Because these garments were testers, and made of ravel-y fabric remnants, I used a serger shortcut on the collars and cuffs. I believe they may last longer than conventionally-applied shirt collars.

After a little practice, I'm able to manage the collar stand without obvious unevenness. I probably will keep making menswear collar and cuff details on firmer woven shirt fabric, but this quick and dirty finish has its benefits.


What will we do about coal’s ‘crisis in the making’? « Coal Tattoo

What will we do about coal’s ‘crisis in the making’? « Coal Tattoo: "As a society, we do not plan well for economic transitions; nor do we tend to plan for the long term. Our elected officials have a vested interest in helping businesses and industries that are here now, not imagining future businesses and industries. Coal companies focus only on this year’s profits. Unions protect current members’ jobs. Planning the future of Boone County is too important to leave up to the president of the West Virginia Coal Association, the CEO of Alpha Natural Resources, the president of the United Mine Workers, or even government officials like Sen. Manchin and Gov. Tomblin."

'via Blog this'

Monday, January 16, 2012

2011--My Year of Full-Bust Alterations and Lounge Wear

My 2011 garment sewing adventures were not great blog fodder. They involved revisiting my pattern collection and trying the full-bust alteration on previously unsuccessful blouse, shirt, and jacket patterns. Much brown wrapping paper was used for pattern copies, there was much cutting and taping, and many muslins were made and discarded.

While it was an instructive process (and one that is not yet complete--I still have a couple of patterns to try once more), I have little to share here for my trouble beyond an excellent Web resource: Debbie Cook's Stitches and Seams Tutorials. She demonstrates the alteration on princess seams, empire waist garments, dolman sleeves, and other alteration-resistant styles. As if that weren't enough, many of her blog posts show her full bust alteration process, so we can watch the way she solves a variety of problems.


I did do some utilitarian sewing--mainly lounge-wear and undergarments. I made four of these sport bras from an out-of-print "Stretch and Sew" pattern I've used for at least 10 years. This is the first time I've made these since I got the serger, and I was quite pleased with the way the serger inserted the miles of elastic that go into each of these items. It's a quicker and better-looking edge finish than I've gotten in the past.

I made a summer version of the Kwik-Sew robe pattern I altered and tried in January. It's the fuchsia garment on the clothesline below. It uses some silk noil I'd crumple-dyed several years ago, and it's trimmed with some grab-bag lace remnants. The nubby silk noil is surprisingly comfortable in hot weather.

The light blue nylon knit below was made from a pattern in Kwik-Sew's "Beautiful Lingerie". It's a nice pattern, easy to sew and fun to embellish, but I've discovered that a yoke that ends above the bust is...well...not a great look for me.

The purple stretch lace gown on the right is simply a knee-length tee shirt, and this works very well for nightgowns out of stretchy fabrics like thermal knits and cotton interlock. This navy blue nylon tricot seemed to be as stretchy as the knits I've used before, but in this style it seems a little too snug, or perhaps too body-hugging. I have several nylon tricot remnants I'd like to use, but I'll continue looking for a different gown pattern.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tree Year 2011 Recap: Sumac Season

The Tree Year My blogging habit crashed and burned last year, but I continued to take sumac pictures for Tree Year 2011, at least until summer's dry weather killed the small trees I was photographing.

I waited until the end of April to see the buds relax and swell.

These leaves were unfolding on May 21.



By June, most of the trees were leafy, although some new shoots were still growing.


The inflorescences are not as pretty as the red winter fruiting bodies. This is full bloom on June 21.

I had never looked close at sumac inflorescences before.


And then, they all dried up and died--the small, reachable sumacs, that is. Around here, sumacs are adventitious woody shrubs that pop up in old fields and die back after a short time. I had hoped for a series of fall foliage colors, like we had in 2004. I was going to finish off the year with this:




When we read Indian Summer in school, the whole concept of "crimson forest" was a mythical thing in my mind, like dragons and fairy godmothers. Yes, sometimes a leaf might turn yellow or red, but mostly, they turned brown and blew away.

Along the line of smoky hills
The crimson forest stands,
And all the day the blue-jay calls
Throughout the autumn lands.

Now by the brook the maple leans
With all his glory spread,
And all the sumachs on the hills
Have turned their green to red.

Sometimes, I knew, trees could blow away. The Kansas part of "The Wizard of Oz" was all too real--I was in high school before I could bear to watch it on TV. But "sumachs on the hills...turned their green to red" was some sort of literary conceit. Boy did I get a surprise when I moved "back East." I believe sumac sometimes glows in the dark come autumn.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Wind Turbine Mufflers

Mineral County wind farm owner seeks to reduce noise  - News - The Charleston Gazette - West Virginia News and Sports -: "KEYSER, W.Va. -- The owner of a wind farm in Mineral County is working to reduce turbine noise after neighbors complained that they can't sleep. Edison Mission Energy has asked the turbine manufacturer to develop a turbine muffler system."

Reset KDE4 Dolphin

Here's how you reset kde4 dolphin settings:"Just remove settings file and restart dolphin--"


$rm .kde/share/config/dolphinrc

Every time I turn around, it seems I've inadvertently changed some of the KDE desktop goodies, and the GUI's are not really forthcoming with "reset to defaults" options. It seems the place to look to find offending rc files is ~/.kde/share/config There are just so many kde/ & .kde/ & /kde4 directories scattered around the file system that I didn't know where to start. It's the hidden file in your home directory.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Silk Purses from Fabric Scraps (No Sows Were Harmed....)

I have trouble throwing out tiny fabric scraps. I found this sort of small drawstring bag lets me use some of my less practical velvets and velours. The drawstrings here are of ribbon left over from a long-ago Christmas project.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Remembering "Cave of Forgotten Dreams"


My wild New Year's Eve activity was watching Netflix's streaming video of Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams. I was expecting something soothing and low-key, and, indeed, there were beautiful landscapes, expert interviews, and hushed voices. However, the effect was astounding, and I've been thinking about the amazing prehistoric artwork ever since. This April, 2011 interview with Hezog is from Scientific American's Youtube channel.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Random Boot Failures, Linux Kernel Updates, and Hardware Troubles

Earlier this week, Debian unstable offered me a kernel upgrade, and, after some cautious data backup, I installed it. Soon after, I attempted to reboot, and, sadly, it was back to kernel panic, can't find grub, can't find kernel, etc., etc. This time, using the Debian testing installation disk in rescue mode was no help. I re-installed grub, updated the configuration file (update-grub) and got the same errors. I shut down the computer and went to my laptop to search for help, and decided to try some alternative rescue disks: Super Grub2 and Rescatux, and, if that didn't suit, perhaps a Linux Mint live CD.

I burned the CD's inserted my first choice, SuperGrub2, and waited for it to spin. It never did (it turned out to be a bad disk). As I sat there, scratching my head, the computer loaded the Grub menu page, selected the first kernel, and proceeded to boot successfully.

So, perhaps, the problem is not a configuration problem, but a hardware problem. I get a variety of intermittent error messages concerning ata1 (and I was getting a bunch them yesterday, so once again I checked the hard drive with smartctl command line utilities. As before, both the long and short versions reported no problems. fsck also reported no problems.

The search terms "boot failure linux hardware" returned a few tales of woe similar to mine, such as Boot failure randomly. Can someone help?: Here's someone who has intermittent boot failures, and suspects a hardware problem. One reader comments:

one of the causes for this can be faulty memory. That can also explain why you sometimes have a problem: if that bad memory is not touched everything works like a charm. If it does get touch unexpected results can be expected. In general: irregular behaviour during boot always start thinking memory 1st. So run memtest from the live cd or from grub if you can boot into it and see if 1 of your memory modules is in bad shape and if so replace it.

The original poster eventually reports:

found a fix but not an explanation therefore help still needed here ;-)

The Fix--Disconnect the cable and take off the battery for a few seconds.

Conjectures--This fix lead me to conclude that maybe something is kept into memory of some hardware.


And here's someone who has the opposite problem from mine: [amd64] Reproducible cold boot failure (reboot succeeds) His computer fails to boot if it's been turned off for several hours, but will reboot, or boot successfully if it's been off for a short time. Eventually, he reports that he's found a memory issue:

In fact, one of the 4GB DIMMs in the system returns bogus data
(0x10000000 or 0x04000000 instead of 0) for some 40 to 50 seconds
after power-on. Once warmed up, memtest86+ runs for days without a
single extra data error (I wanted to have an estimate for the defect
having led to damaged data in disk files).

Running memtester showed no errors, although I started getting reams of complaints about ata:1.00 again. I haven't yet run the more comprehensive memtest, which has to run at start-up; I'll get to that in the next few days. Last night, aptitude update informed me that there was a kernel update. I went ahead and installed it, then shut down the computer. This morning, I powered up, and got a missing grub message, restarted, and the computer booted successfully. So far, today, I'm not getting any complaints about ata1.

Here are some resources I've found either helpful or informative this week:

Hardware Checking Resources for My Particular Problem
  • Test Memory Using memtester in Linux:
    memtester is a user-space utility for testing the memory subsystem in a computer to determine if it is faulty. It does a good job of finding intermittent faults and non-deterministic faults. It has many tests to help catch borderline memory. memtester should compile and run on any 32- or 64-bit Unix or Unix-like system.
  • How should I run fsck on a Linux file system? fsck (not a mis-typed profanity, it's short for "file system check") checks and repairs *nix file systems. You can't (or shouldn't) run it on a mounted file system. As root,
    Single User Mode and umount the file system: Issue command to change run level and umount the /home file system that is mounted on /dev/sda2:
    
    # init 1
    # umount /home
    
    Run fsck:
    
    # fsck /dev/sda2
    



Helpful Resources for Boot Failure
  • GRUB 2 bootloader - Full tutorial:
    My goal is to provide people running any flavor of UNIX-like operating systems or multi-booting their computers and using GRUB as their bootloader with a simple, no-nonsense, step-by-step, proven and working tutorial that should allow them to quickly, easily and painlessly control the boot sequence of their systems.
  • MondoRescue HOWTO Utilization and Configuration of Mondo and Mindi under Linux
    This document describes the use of mondo and mindi tools to realize disaster recovery backup of your systems. It provides information on installation, backup and restore modes, hardware and software requirements, and answers to some frequently asked questions. The goals are to offer a general view of the functions and their best usages. Mondo Rescue is a Disaster Recovery Solution which allows you to effortlessly backup and interactively restore Linux, Windows and other supported file system partitions to/from CD/DVD-+R/RW media, tape, NFS, ... and Mindi Linux provides the bootable emergency restore media which Mondo uses at boot-time.
  • Troubleshooting Boot Failures section of "Configuring a Linux Kernel" offers some advice on how to manage failures in a home-rolled kernel. It offers this advice:
    A boot failure can either be due to: kernel configuration issue, a system configuration issue, or a hardware malfunction. It's pretty easy to guess which one is the hardest to detect but easiest to resolve (hint: it's the hardware malfunction one). The other ones, well, they require a bit preparation in order to easily troubleshoot and, eventually, solve.
  • How to solve boot problems with Ubuntu after kernel upgrade: Here's a clear explanation of what happens as linux boots, and a description of some of the things that can go wrong. It didn't help me fix my problems, but I do understand the messages I get as the process fails.
  • From the same Web site, a description of Grub2. It's a little old, but this is where I found a link to Super Grub2 and Rescatux, boot problem fixes meant to be easier and quicker than using the rescue mode on the system installer.

    Update: SuperGrub2 returns this message: "not a known file system" and fails to find an OS. Not really helpful for my problem, which, to be fair, probably has little to do with Grub.

Scraps Into Yardage Into Hand-bags

2011 was my year of sewing with fabric scraps. It wasn't really a resolution, but I had eight big plastic tubs of fabric scraps, and only four tubs of fabric yardage. I ended the year with five tubs of scraps, partly because it's trimmed up and better organized, and partly because I decided to turn scraps into yardage using my serger. The serger's great feature for this purpose is the way trims and finishes the raw edges, so I don't need to cut the scraps to fit one another. I just place two pieces right-sides together, eyeball a straight stitching line, and sew. After I turned some of my denim bits into crazy patchwork hunks of fabric--incorporating a few other heavy-weight scraps for contrast--I cut the "new" fabric into hand-bag pattern pieces.

I've been carrying this bag around with me for a few months. I didn't line it, because it seemed stiff enough as is, and the serged seams inside have not frayed or become untidy. That bit of red on the outside pocket is a remnant of a Guatemalan hand-woven shirt I bought in Costa Rica.

I sewed these bags in the spring, but they seem a little plain and lack-luster. I'm waiting for embellishment inspiration.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

If I Were a Poor Iowa Kid--Oh Wait, I Was

Art of the Rural has a complete and interesting recap of the Stephen Bloom kerfuffle in "The Atlantic." I wasn't really curious about it until I read Matthew Fluharty's blog post. He includes a link to this interview with Bloom, in which Bloom characterizes his article as "satire" and "parody."



Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

I read the article, and couldn't identify what, specifically, Bloom was parodying or satirizing. What I read was, mostly, an unsympathetic description of rural poverty. Why he (and The Atlantic) thought that another disdainful description of white people at economic and cultural disadvantage would be useful and informative is puzzling. There's been so much of it, ranging from the nineteenth century Hatfield--McCoy feud's national newspaper coverage to Bill O'Reilly ranting that drunken Appalachians should move to Miami and "get a job".

The Iowa article was so mean-spirited and so much in the mood of "white-trash" bashing that it reminded me of the appalling Gene Marks article, If I Were a Poor Black Kid, on the Forbes website. (Originally published as "If I WAS a Poor Black Kid"--I guess Mr. Marks is not quite as well-educated as he thought.)

"If I Were a Poor Black Kid" unleashed a flood of angry and funny responses, including Poorblackkid.com. Similarly, Bloom's Web article is now accompanied by a variety of responses, and helped inspire this much-viewed video:


Because of the vehement response to the Forbes article, several people have suggested that it is actually an Internet troll tactic, and that the outrage has raised Gene Marks' profile and readership. Perhaps that explains why The Atlantic published Bloom's grouchy and tired critique of his adopted home. Willie Geist's NBC interview above notes that Bloom is "in hiding" because he has received harassing phone calls. I certainly hope no harm comes to his family because of his flame-bait. That kind of behavior only reinforces Bloom's clue-less disdain.

Monday, January 09, 2012

The Long and Short of Writing Practice

Via Mirabilis.ca: A long sentence is worth the read --by Pico Iyer.

Not everyone wants to be reduced to a sound bite or a bumper sticker. Enter (I hope) the long sentence: the collection of clauses that is so many-chambered and lavish and abundant in tones and suggestions, that has so much room for near-contradiction and ambiguity and those places in memory or imagination that can't be simplified, or put into easy words, that it allows the reader to keep many things in her head and heart at the same time, and to descend, as by a spiral staircase, deeper into herself and those things that won't be squeezed into an either/or. With each clause, we're taken further and further from trite conclusions--or that at least is the hope--and away from reductionism....

Years of writing technical and scientific papers matched with my current practice of Web writing have coached me to appreciate the short and succinct, but my own prose runs to the baroque and confusing. I look forward to Sherry's and Dave's 140-character word snapshots, and I spent some time considering joining the River of Stones project, but my trite attempts seem more like "sound bites" and "bumper stickers" than Fiona's mindful writing practice:

A small stone is a very short piece of writing that precisely captures a fully-engaged moment. There are no strict rules for what makes a piece of writing a small stone, as there are for forms such as haiku. The process of finding small stones is as important as the finished product--searching for them will encourage you to keep your eyes (and ears, nose, mouth, fingers, feelings and mind) open.

I truly appreciate well-written instruction manuals, field guides, taxonomic descriptions, and crochet patterns. I reread Elizabeth Zimmermann's knitting books just for fun as often as I refer to them for techniques. They are special because they offer a little more than bare-bones instructions, but not so much blather that you lose track of the procedure. (I'm afraid my own instructions are blather-heavy.) I'm skilled with observation of detail, but haiku writing appears to be contrary to my nature. Pico Iyer gives me hope for when he says "...[T]he promise of the long sentence is that it will take you beyond the known, far from shore, into depths and mysteries you can't get your mind, or most of your words, around."

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Textbook Troubles and Dr. Feynman

Sometimes I teach undergraduate college classes. As an adjunct faculty member, I don't pick the textbooks or write my own syllabus, so I'm painfully aware of how much textbooks cost, and how frequent production of new editions keeps the students buying new rather than used books. There's talk about how e-books will save students money, but in my experience, the e-books cost just as much as physical books. I was heartened to read this: Steinberg Proposal Slashes Textbook Costs for California College Students:

At a time when the affordability of higher education is at the forefront of national debate, this legislation would create Open Educational Resources (OER) in California, where undergraduate students would be able to have free access to the 50 core textbooks required for lower-division coursework via computer or mobile device through a digital open source library, with the option of buying a printed version for around $20. The legislation would also require publishers selling textbooks adopted by faculty for the most widely-taken lower division courses to provide at least three free copies of those books to be placed on reserve in California public college and university campus libraries.

If college textbook highway robbery were not aggravating enough, there's always the topic of K-12 textbooks in public schools. I enjoyed re-reading Judging Books by Their Covers:

In 1964 the eminent physicist Richard Feynman served on the State of California's Curriculum Commission and saw how the Commission chose math textbooks for use in California's public schools. In his acerbic memoir of that experience...Feynman analyzed the Commission's idiotic method of evaluating books, and he described some of the tactics employed by schoolbook salesmen who wanted the Commission to adopt their shoddy products. "Judging Books by Their Covers" appeared as a chapter in Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman...(1985).

In case reading this makes you nostalgic for Dr. Feynman (as it did me), here are links to some fine Feynman videos: The Richard Feynman Trilogy: The Physicist Captured in Three Films | Open Culture.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

New kwinrc Fixes KDE 4.6 Desktop Effects

To my great surprise, I've got KDE 4.6 Desktop Effects working again. My recent desktop environment problems had led me to reinstall Debian testing and upgrade to unstable (sid). The newly-installed KDE Desktop Effects were working properly until I copied all my /home/rebecca files onto the new installation and restarted. I tried to adjust them using the GUI panel:

System Settings > Desktop Effects > Advanced


No luck. I couldn't revert to a clean install. I was just going to live with it because I didn't care about the missing desktop effects at all, but I really hate it when I don't know why something does or doesn't work, so I have looked sporadically for answers, and this morning, I found this: [SOLVED] KWin effects not working (ATI, catalyst, KDE):

I have had something like this happen a few times, too. Removing ~/.kde/share/config/kwinrc always seems to fix it.

I renamed the kwinrc file, moved it to an out-of-the-way directory, and rebooted. A new and much shorter kwinrc file was generated, and I haven't found any other KDE attributes changed. Here's the difference in file size between the new kwinrc file and the old, renamed file:


rebecca@hecate:~/.kde/share/config$ wc -l kwinrc
23 kwinrc
rebecca@hecate:~/.kde/share/config$ wc -l /home/rebecca/xxx
166 /home/rebecca/xxx

I haven't yet figured out what those 143 lines in the old file did, but the problem must be in there somewhere. Something to occupy my idle hours, I suppose.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Closet Sachets--Upcycled and Emblematic


Sometimes I don't know what my New Year's resolutions are until the year is over. 2011 was a year of going through my old stuff, sorting, deciding what to discard and what to work with going forward. That was most obvious in my fiber activities, but I think my sorting, sewing, spinning and knitting projects symbolized some internal housekeeping processes best left unblogged. Perhaps Pincushion of My Ancestors, Slipcovered and Starched was a foreshadowing of my 2011 theme.

Whether or not they are emblematic of my soul, here are some sachet bags I made out of stained or unusable kitchen towels my grandmother and her friend embroidered back in the early 1950's. To pretty for rags, too damaged to display, I inherited a substantial collection of such linens.

I finished and photographed these in the early spring. Then I stuffed them with dried lavender flowers and stuffed them into my dresser drawers, where I see them whenever I change my socks.

The black-eyed-Susan-embroidered bags represent my first attempt at crocheting lace borders onto a sewing project. I'm not ready for delicate hankie crochet, but I'm moving toward that goal. The pale green and yellow crochet threads are leftovers given me from a friend's attic stash, so these represent totally upcycled projects.



Thursday, January 05, 2012

Debian Wheezy to Sid--Are You Sure It Won't Blow Up?

Yesterday's post reporting a successful switch to KDE was a bit premature, at least on my desktop machine. The laptop is still OK (I hope).

After a few days, all the "Desktop Effects" quit abruptly, perhaps after an update. (I was running Debian testing, which has daily updates.) I tweaked and adjusted, and eventually some of them started working again, perhaps because I switched compositing type from OpenGL to XRender. This change is located:

System Settings > Desktop Effects > Advanced

KDE has changed so much since I last used it that I have much frustration in locating these sorts of things.

More updates, including a kernel update, ensued, and I had a flashback to my Mysterious Errors and kernel panics of a year ago. Restarting the computer produced either a grub rescue > prompt, a "can't find the file" message after selecting the kernel on the grub menu, or a kernel panic. In every case, I was able to boot from a Debian net install disk using "rescue mode," re-install grub thus:

# grub-install followed by #update-grub

I could then remove the CD and reboot successfully once. Every time I restarted the computer, I had to go through this song and dance. As I said last January,

After I...powered up, the little darlin' booted right up....I really hate it when I don't know what was wrong, or why it's running now. Did something reset while it was powered down? Did jiggling the cables do the trick? Was it dust? And what's with all the update-grub/reboot iterations? Why do I always have to do that over and over again? And why does none of this ever happen with my Linux laptop?

Last year, the problem mysteriously resolved after a few tries, but this time, I started getting more and different error messages that I couldn't figure out. Googling showed me that I wasn't alone in my troubles, but I couldn't find a solution that worked for me. I made two fresh back-ups of my home directories, and resolved to choose "Install" rather than "Rescue Mode" at the next reboot.

The re-install ran without any problems, and, while I'll have to reconfigure my localhost installations of Wordpress and Drupal (they needed work anyway), this fresh install is now scoured clean of all the Gnome, XFCE, icewm, sawfish, awesome, metacity, etc. libraries and programs, which I'm not using but which require updates anyway.

Last time I installed testing, I tried without success to upgrade to sid, that is, Debian unstable. This time, it worked for me, and I am now typing on cutting edge Debian. The Debian GNU/Linux FAQ--Choosing a Debian distribution recommends sid over testing:


There is no perfect answer but only a "wise guess" could be made while deciding between unstable and testing. My personal order of preference is Stable, Unstable and Testing. The issue is like this:

  • Stable is rock solid. It does not break.
  • Testing breaks less often than Unstable. But when it breaks, it takes a long time for things to get rectified. Sometimes this could be days and it could be months at times.
  • Unstable changes a lot, and it can break at any point. However, fixes get
    rectified in many occasions in a couple of days and it always has the latest
    releases of software packaged for Debian.

Raphael Hertzog also reassures me that "Unstable is a quickly moving target and it's not for everybody. But you can use it and your computer won't explode" in his blog post 5 reasons why Debian Unstable does not deserve its name

Now, it's back to fiddling with my brave new Debian. I wonder how long before I break it?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Return of the KDE User

The last few weeks I've been shopping for a new Linux Desktop environment. I never do this voluntarily, but my distro, Debian testing (Wheezy) has upgraded to Gnome 3, and the transition has not been smooth. On my desktop machine, Gnome 3 hangs at shutdown (and sometimes at start-up), and the Gnome display manager, gdm3, doesn't work well on my laptop.

I've been using Gnome because at the end of 2009, updates to KDE 4.4 messed up, along with Xorg, probably due to a poor fit between my video chip and the open source driver. I used Kubuntu for a while, but eventually had so many problems that I reformatted my hard drive and installed Debian testing, complete with the default Gnome desktop. I had preferred KDE, particularly for Digikam, the photo management program par excellence, but it was just too much work to keep the KDE eye-candy functioning, and it was easy enough to install "Digikam + dependencies." This produced an unattractive redundancy of libraries, but there's plenty of room on the old hard drive, so what the heck.

Anyway, word on the Web has been that Linus himself has switched to Xfce because Gnome 3 and KDE 4 feature too much "crazy crap," so, even before Gnome 3 hit Debian testing, I installed Xfce on the desktop machine and the laptop, and tried it out. Xfce seemed fine, but I also auditioned some of the window managers, and revisited icewm, which I previously have run happily on pokey old hardware.

When the Gnome3 update finally happened, I discovered that the new Gnome display manager caused all sorts of problems, especially on my laptop, which is also used by a (reluctant) Linux novice. (The Mac mini he used to use bit the dirt a few months back.) I needed an easy-to-understand log-in screen, and the KDE display manager fit the bill best.

What with all the KDE stuff I was using, I gave the KDE 4.6 environment a whirl, and all the compositing features that used to mess up my desktop machine now work perfectly. They also work fine on the laptop. Most of the fancy "plasmoids" and "Activities" seem useless to me so far, but I can ignore them easily enough.

If I were a real, nuts and bolts Linux gal, I'd select a window manager like icewm or sawfish, edit my .conf files to get exactly the user experience I want, and never be bothered by all these fancy-schmancy desktop environments. My ideal user experience would resemble the 1998-era Sun Workstation I used so happily at The Institute. A few terminal windows, Xclock, an Emacs window, and a browser--I'm in business. Too bad I have this yen for shiny visual effects and big chunks of software that install themselves and never make me figure out where the .conf files are. Shallow and lazy--that's me.