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Hacker's Diary

A rough account of what I did with Emacs recently.

November 30
Egad. I've been a bit short on updates here, have I not. Here's some nerd grumbling:

My home office setup uses an old-ish Dell 105-key "Windows" USB keyboard connected to the office Mac. The office Mac uses Apple's funky interpretation of the UK keyboard layout, i.e. shift-3 is £ rather than #. Tools I use on a daily basis: Emacs, Microsoft RDP connected to XRDP running on a Redhat-ish Linux, and AWS Workspaces Client connected to a Windows machine of some (recent) species.

EVERYONE has different ideas about the keyboard.

In particular, everyone has different ideas about how I type "#", which, as you might expect for a Python programmer, is pretty annoying.

Firstly, I've got the Dell keyboard mapped "correctly" in as much as pressing a key on the Dell keyboard is equivalent to pressing the same physical key on the Mac's built-in keyboard. This means, of course, that the Dell keyboard's keycaps don't necessarily reflect the effect they have on the Mac. Fine, muscle memory works ok, I only occasionally get it wrong and I know where to go to find the keys I want, mostly. In this part of the setup, "#" is AltGr-3, or Right-Option-3 in MacSpeak.

Emacs, I dunno. I reconfigured it years ago so that it unequivocally interprets a whole variety of things involving "3" and the modfier keys as "#".

Microsoft RDP talks to XRDP about the keyboard setup, they decide on something that's not correct, and the net result is that "#" is obtained from a key next to the Return key when you're at the xrdp-sesman screen; once past that I've got a fairly comprehensive keyboard remapping file that fixes up ALL THE THINGS (actually just MOST OF THE THINGS, specifically the things I care about remapping), putting "#" back on shift-3 where it belongs. This is an odd sort of setup so I'm ok with it being a little weird.

AWS Workspaces correctly interprets the Dell keyboard as the Mac sees it, i.e. AltGr-3 gets me a "#" key. Once it's connected to the Windows instance, though, "#" becomes... shift-3. I have no idea what's going on here.

I'm not clear on why each of these things has its own special way of interpreting the keyboard; my caveman-like brain figures the OS should tell everyone what the setup is, and everyone would behave identically thereafter.

One final twist for the OS-level configuration: if you use the System Preferences to swap around the left-hand Option and Command keys so that they're in the same position as the Mac keyboard, it won't work. It swaps both sides, so your bottom row is Fn, Ctrl, Option, Cmd, Space, Option, Cmd. In order to make it Mac-like, where both Cmd keys are directly adjacent to the spacebar and the Option keys are the next key out from that in opposite directions, you need to manually reconfigure the keyboard with some USB HID commands. I've got this set up on a LaunchAgent which runs when a USB keyboard is detected; if it's one of the three keyboards I plug into regularly (home, office standard, personal office keyboard), it automatically reconfigures things so the Option and Cmd keys are correct. Just to make this a little extra difficult, it doesn't appear possible to configure it to run when it sees any USB keyboard: I have to specify the Product and Vendor IDs of the keyboards, and the relevant launchd hook only accepts one at a time, so I've actually got three of these agents set up, all identical except for the IDs that trigger them.

For good measure, my home Mac - a much older beast with the same pretend-UK keyboard layout - reliably gives me a "#" from Shift-3 at the OS level. This appears to be because I told it to use a US keyboard layout, but every other key behaves the way its keycap says it should.

November 15
Another one that's been on the list for ages: They Shall Not Grow Old. Filmed, as the closing credit says, on location on the Western Front, 1914-1918. The switch from black-and-white Pathé newsreel style to colourised, stablised, speed-corrected widescreen is almost physical in its impact, but the rest of it: I think if you've read "All Quiet On The Western Front" or otherwise encountered any WWI "deglamourised" history, none of it will really come as a surprise. The footage is fairly grim in places, so be warned of that if you plan on watching this - and it's a different sort of grim to, say, Saving Private Ryan where something, maybe, at the back of your head is reminding you that it's a recreation. This isn't a recreation.

November 14
Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary is something I've been meaning to watch for ages, and it was worth watching - certainly a good deal more palatable than the recent trend for doing such things as "Oral Histories". Lots of good bits and laughs, including the Tim Allen / Steven Spielberg / Alan Rickman story that the director was persuaded to tell. I think the most interesting thing about it is that no-one seemed to have a coherent story about Rickman - he hated Tim Allen, but there's a still of him literally doubling up laughing with Allen; he was aloof, except he wasn't; he told one of the producers with a pained expression that "it was fun intermittently". Whatever the truth of the matter is, it's hard to see anyone else selling the role as well as he did.

November 13
Work laptop has been running the Ventura point release for a couple of days without crashing but, well, I'm not using it so it could just be teasing.

November 10
And now we're done with Vikings Season 5 Part 1, and it looks like Season 6 - the final season - has been added to our available viewing, so that's nice.

Social Media Bird Site continues to be an ever-growing trash fire. I may be inclined to put my account to sleep.

November 7
Crashing Ventura macOS somewhat improved by reseting the PRAM, but this annoys me on two counts: firstly, it's an opaque fix - there are any number of things stored in PRAM, and who knows which of them was at fault? - and secondly, it smells of failure to invalidate cached data from the previous OS install.

If you're part of the exodus to Mastodon, @waider@octodon.social.

November 4
Got our Smart Meter installed. Cramped location and a lack of advance surveying meant the installer got a "surprise, you're hosed" experience which meant that 45 minutes without electricity became about 2 hours without electricity. Now we just have to wait for ESB Networks to roll out their provider-independent gateway (apparently this month!) so we can access the data without having to actually get on a (potentially) more expensive tariff to do so.

Work laptop has had a full OS reinstall, to no avail. USB definitely seems to be the source of the problem but nailing it down any more clearly than that appears difficult to impossible. This weekend I'll be applying the magic "reset NVRAM, reset SMC" fixes, and then contemplating how best to roll back to the previous OS.

Rebooting the house means one of my "smart plugs" which had stopped publishing data is back publishing data again and, er, jeez. Power drain city. (it's the one all the computer toys are plugged into.)

November 1
I upgraded the work laptop to Ventura and, well, it's been constant rebootsville since. It looks like maybe something in USBland is unhappy but so far no diagnosis. Of particular concern/interest is that once the OS starts booting properly, my USB hub appears to go through rapid, recurring power-cycles.

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No, Vember!