Archive for June, 2005

Hiatus

Just as I was was starting to get back in the swing of posting on a regular basis, I’m off on Vacation. Tommorow morning (well, later today) I head away for two weeks, with what will likely be very little to no net access. I’ll be back around July 11, hopefully with lots of good stuff to write about.

Near-Sighted Foresight (Part 1)

When I was in college, I think this was sometime in ’92 or ’93, I used to spend my spare time in the computer lab, which should come as no shock to regular readers. Our lab was equipped with Sun equipment (some form of Sparcs, I think), with nice (huge at the time) monitors (probably 17″). When I grew bored with programming class assignments, newsgroups, gopher, etc, I would sometimes poke around in other users’ home directories, looking for interesting stuff. I was looking for applications, not documents; I wanted to try out every app I could find, not pry into other people’s stuff. This got me in trouble once- I tried running a script I found in one of the lab assistant’s directories, and it turned out to be a password cracking program. That was unfun.

But this is the story of another occasion. While looking for interesting things to play with, I ran an X windows app that displayed a page of text in a graphical layout. Some of the words were blue and underlined, clicking them took you to another page. All of the text was seemed to be stored on some research server in Europe. I played with it for a while, but didn’t really get the point. As I seem to recall, there was the indication that these documents could link to others all over the network, but I could only find my way to documents on two or three servers, max. The information was mostly on the European server, and was uniformly uninteresting. After 15 or 20 minutes of playing with it, I moved on. Sure, it was graphical, but at least with gopher you could find stuff.

By now, most readers know that I was using a web browser. Possibly NCSA Mosaic, which would put this story in 1993. However, I’m pretty sure this was in 1992, I think the program was probably WorldWideWeb, Tim Berners-Lee’s original browser. The ‘European research server’ I remember is almost certainly the original web site of CERN.

Now, at this time, nobody knew what the web was. Version 1.0 of Mosaic was developed between December 1992 and April 1993. It would be a couple more years until the explosive growth of the web, and transformation of the web from academic curiosity to household name. I stumbled upon what would become one of the greatest revolutions in information technology in the history of the world, and I didn’t get it. Instead of inventing Amazon or Yahoo! (or even just envisioning them), I couldn’t see beyond the handful of pages I could access at the time. Instead, it would be 1996 before I had Internet access at home, and 1998 before I learned how to write a web page.

In my own defense, hind sight is always 20/20, and I really didn’t have much context to judge within. I had read no papers or newsgroup postings about what this was or what it aimed to do. On the other hand, I was a big BBS user back then, spending most of my time on a large, multiuser system, so I probably should have recognized at least the idea that this could be a platform for all kinds of communiction.

Stephenson on Star Wars

Neal Stephenson, author of the excellent Snow Crash and the unbelievably good Cryptonomicon, has written an op-ed piece for the New York Times about Star Wars, entitled Turn on, Tune in, Veg Out (via Bianary Bonsai). It’s an excellent read- both for what it says about the movies, and for what it says about our culture. Highly recommended.

Speaking of Stephenson, if you’ve never read his essay, In the Beginning was the Command Line, I also recommend it. The link points to a full-text online version. It’s a bit dated now (BeOS is dead, and OS X has changed the Mac landscape in many ways), but still an excellent read.

Incidentally, the final volume of Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, System of the World, will finally be in trade paperback this September. This means I’ll be starting the series this summer. Looking forward to it.

Better Laptop Browsing with uControl

For as long as I can remember, my Powerbook’s keyboard has annoyed me while I’m reading long texts- most commonly, when I’m reading long pages in Firefox. Due to the size constraints of a laptop, there are no dedicated page up/page down keys. Instead, the up- and down-arrow keys become page up and page down keys, respectively, when you press the Fn key. On my Powerbook, the only Fn key is on the left, between control and option. The arrow keys, of course, are on the right of the keyboard. The result is that it’s impossible to page through a document one handed. (In Firefox, this is somewhat alleviated by the fact that pressing space pages down- unless your cursor is in a form element).

Today, I finally snapped and decided to fix the problem. A quick Google and I had a copy of uControl, an open source (GPL licensed) OS X Preference pane that allows you to remap various meta keys on your keyboard (among other nifty features). Using uControl, I remapped the (useless) enter key on the right side of the keyboard to Fn, and now I can easily page up and down one-handed. Very nice when reading on the couch, Powerbook perched on my lap, frosty beverage in hand.

Unhinged

My 15″ Powerbook is an 867MHz Titanium – the last model Apple made before switching to the Aluminum Powerbook. Like many other TiBook owners, I suffered a broken hinge- 6 or 8 months ago. The Powerbook has remained usable, but I’ve been worried that the other hinge might break, and then I’d be out of luck.

So I recentlty ordered a set of replacement hinges from eBay. Apparently the originals were aluminum, but the replacements are steel, so I bought the matching set. I paid 125.00 USD plus shipping, which isn’t bad… I’ve seen them much higher. They arrived today, so tonight I replaced the bad hinge.

It went okay. The instructions the seller emailed me weren’t great- in fact, there were two sets, and they didn’t quite agree. In the end, I decided to wing it- I’m fairly adept at fixing things, and it wasn’t too bad. Not exactly for the faint of heart- there’s a bit of prying and bending of the screen’s back coverplate. But the job is done, the hinge is replaced, and it seems to work well. I think I’ll hang onto the other until the original needs replacing.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to my digital camera, so I have no pictures of the process. As I said, the instructions I recieved weren’t great, but they did outline the basic steps, and I could find no better via Google. I don’t know the source, so I won’t republish them here, but if you need a copy, drop me an email and I’ll pass them along.

One other tip- work on any Apple laptop requires very small Torx screwdrivers (T-10 and smaller), generally in a few different sizes. I’ve never had any luck finding a set locally- at least until a few months ago. My local Lowes now carries a set of “Task Force” Torx drivers, with sizes T-4 through T-10 plus T-15, for five or six bucks, if I recall. Definately worth having on hand.