Spam of the Week
Back at the DC blogfest I attended, Matthew Yglesias was bragging about topping the Google search results for his first name, despite competing with Matthew Sweet, Matthew Shepherd, and a book of the Bible.
It never occurred to me, though, that I might be able to make that work for me. Until, that is, I checked my email today:
am contacting you to invite you to list your site steelypips.org/library/Reviews.html into our regional directory [address deleted because I don't link to spammers], under "Chad" section. Our goal is to create a relevant regional directory for Chad. We have prepared a simple submission page and your link will be up in maximum 24 hours.
Thank you, Mr. Anonymous Spammer Dude. It's only a matter of time before the hits come flooding in, and my traffic rivals Matt's. I'm not sure exactly how my reviews of various genre fiction novels will help misguided vacationers, invading Lybians, or whoever else wants to read about the Republic of Me on the web, but maybe it'll give them some ideas of what to read on the flight to N'Djamena.
Open Source and Me
So, I've just managed to kill almost an entire day installing MiKTeX and WinEdt, in order to be able to work on these papers. This brings my lifetime record to 4-16 at successfully installing and running free programs written by German Unix geeks.
The really stupid part is that this is actually the third time I've installed this particular set of items. I got it to work on my home computer back when I was at Yale (it still works, provided I don't try to do anything rash like moving files from one directory to another), but I blew an afternoon on trying to get it running when I first moved here, to no avail. As I had no particular need for it then, I just gave up. Now, though, I need it, and it's eaten another day of my life.
Which is not to say that it's bad software-- on the contrary, they're both very nice packages, and WinEdt did manage to find all the TeX widgets on its own (thank God), meaning I can actually use it to generate spiffy-looking PDF files, should I choose to do so. It's just not really set up to be used by people who aren't already Unix geeks.
For example, the latest version of MiKTeX has a very slick feature which allows it to automatically download and install new packages used in your documents. It's a wonderful feature. Unfortunately, it requires you to run the MiKTeX Package Manager, and choose a download source. Failure to do this will be greeted by the oh-so-clear error message "The package repository has not been specified" on attempting to compile the document, followed by a bunch of TeX gibberish (and some bad thesis-writing flashbacks on the part of your humble correspondant...). You can, of course, find what you need to do from the manual (albeit indirectly). The manual, happily, is included with the distribution, and, obviously, is found in the folder "C:\texmf\doc\miktex\" (where else?). There aren't even "README" files in the MiKTeX folder to point you in the right direction in the huge swarm of cryptically-named folders in the directory structure.
(There is, I discover now, a link to it two directories down in the Start menu item it creates on installation. Of course, this is no help if you launch the program via the desktop shortcut it helpfully creates...)
It's also presumably obvious to somebody exactly which of the dozens of directories it creates is the proper place to put new document class files (the FAQ item helpfully suggests a folder that doesn't actually exist), and likewise that you need to refresh the file name database before a new class will work, once you've got it in the right place. I'm not sure who it's obvious to, but it must be obvious to somebody. Me, I found a solution (possibly not the optimal one) by trial and error (I did remember the "refresh the file name database" thing from the first time I wasted a day installing the program, but it took a little while to figure out how to do it, and then a couple of different file locations before it actually worked).
I've been known to rail against the extreme idiocy of Windows, and I continue to think that it's an amazingly stupid system in many ways. However, there's got to be a middle ground between that and the you-must-have-a-CS-degree-to-make-this-work paradigm that open source works off.
And now, having killed most of the afternoon on this crap, I've completely forgotten what it was that I was trying to do in the first place. But hey, when I figure it out, I can write it up in LaTeX...
My OS X copy of teTex installed without a problem and the free TeXShop does a quite nice job of compiling all my papers....
Aaron, 12.04.2003, 7:08 pm [link]
Much of the pain can be alleviated by a good package manager, like Debian or Fink on Mac OS X. But... guess what... Fink itself can be a little cryptic to set up if you're not familiar with Unixisms. The first steps are usually the worst ones.
That's the thing-- I'm not completely unfamiliar with Unixisms. I did guess that "doc" would probably be the directory containing documentation, but there are twenty-odd subdirectories there, most of which contain nothing useful. And once I did find the relevant files, it wasn't particularly obvious where in the manual to look for help.
(Strictly speaking, the manual didn't actually provide any help, beyond cluing me in to the existence of the Package Manager. It wasn't until I fired up the Package Manager and poked around a little that I discovered it needed to be configured to download new packages...)
It really does end up coming off like something of a hazing ritual-- if you don't know the secret handshake, you're probably too stupid to knownthat you need to run an executable buring in one of a hundred cryptic subdirectories in order to initialize the system, and should just use Word like the rest of the sheep.
It's sort of illustrative of an attitude that pervades a lot of geek-think, and that gets on my nerves (even as I sneer at social scientists). On the bright side, recognition of this attitude has freed me from feeling like I ought to care about anything computer nerds have to say about political systems...
To be fair, it went more smoothly this time than the last time I tried it. Of course, the last time I tried it, I gave up after an hour or so...
The problems I had mostly stemmed from having downloaded the bare-bones TeX package, I think-- I ended up needing to install RevTeX (twice, as the Package Manager apparently didn't like where I put it, and downloaded a new copy) and some other stuff. That might've been avoided had I just taken the gigantic every-TeX-package-known-to-man installation from the beginning.
Heh, you beat me to it.
Seriously, TeXShop is awesome. Highly recommended for anybody who needs to use LaTex and owns a Mac. (Also recommended for those who use Windows, but since that would require buying a Mac, it might not be worth the money.)
Pam, 12.08.2003, 2:00 pm [link]
COMMENTS ARE CLOSED.
Please visit Uncertain Principles' new location at ScienceBlogs to comment.
All Die, Oh the Embarrassment
Posting has been and will continue to be light, because I have a ton of stuff that I need to do-- I've got a student working in the lab over the December break, two papers I'm trying to write (one a long-distance collaboration), I have to prep my classes for next term, and arrange colloquia for the remainder of the academic year. I'm swamped.
Anyway, blogging's days are numbered. Chuck Klosterman foretells the future in Spin (Yeah, yeah, yeah. Bite me. Also, the article isn't on their web site yet-- I'll check back later, and fix the link if it shows up...):
September: Every blogger in the world agrees to simultaneously blog about the new Radiohead B-side ("Oxyacetylene Otter") on the third anniversary of the September 11 attacks to prove that the terrorists have (still) not won. Unfortunately, the agreement accidentally inspires a flash mob. Blogging ends forever. The terrorists win.
Which pretty well sums it up. Enjoy it while you can.