New Machine

Posted Sat 05 December 2009 15:05 under category tech

I picked up a new "computer" last week. A virtual one, that is. I ran into this site called prgmr which offers very low-cost, bare virtual private servers. So far, so good. Got Debian set up all the way I like it. Now just to find something fun to do with it. :-)

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*nix Tip of the Day: VMS

Posted Sun 29 November 2009 17:01 under category tips

Okay, so this is maybe a little unusual, but today's "*nix Tip of the Day" isn't about Unix/Linux/etc. at all. Instead, it is about their antiquated archenemy: VMS. First, a little bit of history:


Way back in 1970, the PDP-11 was hot stuff. Ken Thompson, Dennis Richie, Brian Kernighan, and others at Bell Labs were writing what would become Unix for the PDP-11 (well, for the PDP-7 at first, but nobody talks about that). Unix was a huge improvement over what DEC shipped with the PDP-11, DOS-11 and RT-11. This couldn't stand, so Dave Cutler at DEC designed VMS. It was a new operating system, with lots of fancy features, like networking and, uh, lots of upper-case letters.

VMS and Unix sort of battled on. Or so some people would have you think. Really, Unix won early on and VMS stumbled along with corporate financing and an obnoxiously difficult-to-use interface. It passed from DEC to Compaq to HP, from the PDP-11 to the Alpha to the Itanium. And it still lives on, churning away in scary back-rooms here and there.

Current Events

So, why do I bring this up? Well, as some of you may know, Harvey Mudd College has a few VMS machines around. The most well-known of these (to students) is thuban, which is a 667MHz DEC Alpha running OpenVMS 7.3-2. Today, I had the, uh, interesting experience of using it, and thought I'd share my impressions with my readers. You can see the proof of my VMS skills at my VMS homepage. That's right, I'm on the Internet. And on DECnet.

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Recipe to Crash a Kindle

Posted Sat 18 July 2009 18:19 under category tech


Here's a fun thing that I've just discovered:

  1. Purchase an Amazon Kindle 2 (this trick may work on other versions)
  2. Download the MobiPocket version of The Devil's Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce
  3. Copy the .mobi file into your Kindle documents folder
  4. Open the copy of the book that appears on your device
  5. Enjoy the frequent crashes and random "java.lang.integer" exception errors that pop up (even when you do not have the book open!)
  6. Fight with the Kindle for a while until you realize that it's this book, remove it from your device, and reboot the ...
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New GPG Key

Posted Fri 08 May 2009 17:29 under category tech

As you may have seen around the Internet, there was a fairly significant break in the SHA-1 hash function, which is used by default in GnuPG. This is worrisome, since GPG/PGP signatures are one of the only things I'd actually trust to verify somebody's identity online. So I've generated a new key with a 2048-bit RSA primary (for SHA256 and SHA512 support) and a 4096-bit ElGamal encrypting key (which took about 15 minutes to generate, so better be worth it). The key ID is CB8AA0FF, and the fingerprint is 5C35 D713 3E10 9A19 FFFC F58A 68E8 ...

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Posted Sun 03 May 2009 16:52 under category meta

If you were to examine the Code section of this website, you would find that it now contains actual, real live content. Amazing!

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*nix Tip of the Day: vim modelines

Posted Sun 29 March 2009 18:23 under category tips

vim logo As you may know, in the editor wars, I come down firmly on the side of vim. Vim is a lean and effective modal editor, contrasted with emacs. One of the features of Vim that I enjoy using (but did not know about until recently!) is modelines. A modeline is a small piece of text that you can put at the end of a file to give your editor an instruction. It is generally placed in a comment. For example, if I'm editing Python, I never, ever want to use soft tabs (well, I generally don't like soft ...

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