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Uncertain Principles

Physics, Politics, Pop Culture

Thursday, December 04, 2003

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.

I'm nowhere near as prominent. Though I do top the search results for my surname, I have the disadvantage of sharing my first name with an African nation. That's a little hard to compete with.

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 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.

Posted at 8:34 PM | link | follow-ups | 5 comments

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...

Posted at 3:39 PM | link | follow-ups | 6 comments

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

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.

Posted at 9:54 AM | link | follow-ups | 2 comments

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