Posts tagged "geek"

Getting comfy with Emacs

emacs geek productivity

I’ve been having a lot of fun with Emacs since I last wrote about it. I’m gradually starting to get comfortable with it, by doing as much as possible of my text editing (as well as other kinds of tasks) in Emacs. For example, I had to write some new lectures this Semester, and used Org mode to write them, using the built-in converter to make a Beamer PDF. I used the ability to include another file in the header to set up all the stuff needed to use the Metropolis Beamer theme, which I could then easily include in each lecture file. It was a delightful way to work. I split my frame into the org file for the lecture, a dired buffer showing the image files I wanted to include so that I could easily copy the filename into my lecture file (just move the cursor to the line in dired and hit w to copy the filename so you can yank it in your file), and a docview window showing the generated PDF file.

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Emacs from a clean slate

emacs geek productivity

I feel like this post could be subtitled “For real this time”. Let’s just say that it’s certainly not my first time down an Emacs rabbit hole. I’ve used Spacemacs, then given up because I found it hard to maintain and fix small issues that arose. Then I moved to Doom Emacs, and liked it a lot. It was more compact and less monolithic than Spacemacs, but it still required more Emacs knowledge than I had at the time to understand how all the working parts fitted together. Then I went back to Neovim, and so the bouncing between Vim and Emacs cycle began again. This time, something struck me: what if I was approaching Emacs in the wrong way, trying to make it into something it isn’t, namely Vim? What if I actually took the time to learn how to do things the Emacs Way, and built up my configuration from scratch, adding only what I needed and understood? It was a crazy idea, but it might just work…

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Using Huginn

geek coding blogging

My recent tinkering with Slipstream and has been going quite well. The convenience of automatically piping my social media activity elsewhere to Tumblr has certainly resulted in more frequent posting there, which was my main goal. While IFTTT is easy to use, it has its limitations, but I didn’t know of any alternatives. That was until I accidentally came across Huginn.

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Spacemacs on develop branch

geek software

It has been a long time since I’ve published anything, as I’ve had a frantically busy month or so at work. I’ve had barely any time for anything else. I haven’t sewn any garments for a while, and the only creative thing I’ve done with my hands is to start knitting a pair of socks, which I then had to unravel back to the start half-way down the foot when I made a catastrophic mistake. Things are getting a little quieter now and I hope to get back to my sewing projects, but the only productive, non-work thing I have done lately is to tinker a bit with my Spacemacs configuration. The first thing I did was to switch from the stable release of Spacemacs to the develop branch. This is slightly risky, because of course things tend to be in flux in development. However, the general consensus in the Spacemacs chat room is that develop is pretty stable and fine for everyday use with a bit of care. You do get the latest and greatest improvements, including a choice between using helm or ivy for completion. After trying ivy for a bit, I ended up sticking with helm, as I prefer the way it presents the completions and allows you to work flexibly with them.

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Falling down the Emacs rabbit hole

geek software emacs

It has been about 18 months since I started using Spacemacs, and I am still constantly learning wondrous new things about it, and about Emacs more generally. I go through waves of tinkering and learning, but I find myself using Spacemacs for more and more things. I’ve had a recent tinkering bout — partly inspired by some helpful resources — so I thought it was probably worth documenting what I’ve done here for anyone interested, and so that I remind myself what I did when I inevitably forget a few months down the line! This is going to be quite a long article, so whether you are an Emacs fan, or just Emacs-curious, you might want to get a drink of your choice and settle back.

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Fujifilm X100T

photography geek

Fujifilm X100T

It started while we were on holiday in Norfolk earlier in the year. Mr. Bsag had just got a (new to him) camera on eBay (an Olympus OM-D), and was trying it out as we wandered around enjoying the sun. I was using my Sony RX100, which I love, but in the bright sunshine, I couldn’t see what I was framing. The screen is quite good, but in bright sunlight you are basically holding the camera up, pointing it in what you hope is vaguely the right direction, and pressing the shutter. It is very hit and miss. Mr. Bsag’s Olympus had a viewfinder, and he passed it over for me to try. And oh, I had forgotten just how much I love pressing my eye up against that tiny window and looking out at the world through it. It’s not just that you can actually see what you’re doing at when it’s sunny, but — to me at least — it is a much more direct experience. That tiny window on the world is all that you can see, but that makes what you want to capture much more obvious.

And that was it, really. While I still love the Sony for its impossibly tiny size, I really wanted to get a camera with a viewfinder again, and peer out of that little window on the world. After a lot of weighing up of pros and cons, I settled on a Fujifilm X100T, and managed to find a used, but good quality one with a lot of extras on eBay.

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Replacing TextExpander with Keyboard Maestro


If you use TextExpander at all, or follow people who do on or Twitter, you will have noted that there was something of a kerfuffle after Smile (who make TextExpander) announced that they were changing to a subscription model (and thereby increasing the price of using the software substantially). I won’t go into all the arguments (you can read a round up of various opinions collected by Michael Tsai here). Smile have since altered their position, providing a much reduced lifetime subscription cost for current TextExpander customers, and promising to maintain the current version 5 for those who preferred its features to those of the new version. I’m not a great fan of subscriptions, except for more conventional services (like Dropbox and so on) where it makes more sense, so by this point, I had already looked around for an alternative and switched. I was reminded that I already own and run plenty of applications that provide snippet expansion as one of their features: LaunchBar, Alfred, Dash, Keyboard Maestro, and it is even built into the operating system in El Capitan. After a bit of thinking, I went with Keyboard Maestro and have been very happy with the switch.

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Mobile blogging with Working Copy


When I set up this blog to use Hugo with Git hooks on my server, I had in mind that this setup might allow me to publish articles from my iPhone or iPad as well as from my computer. This would require an iOS app that would allow me to push to my own Git repository and also create files in the app. I had trouble finding such a thing until I stumbled on Working Copy.

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Using Hugo

blogging geek hugo

As I wrote about earlier, I’ve just finished moving this blog from Pelican to Hugo. I was so impressed with Hugo after setting up Slipstream to use it, that I fancied trying it here as well. Not that there’s really anything wrong with Pelican — it’s a great system, with a lot of flexibility. It’s just that Hugo has two big advantages, the first of which is particularly useful to me, as I’ve got such a large site: speed.

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Slipstream Mark Whatever

geek blogging

It seems like only yesterday that I was converting my neglected Slipstream snippets blog to a Wordpress installation. I originally did it so that I could use IFTTT to provide some of the content automatically by pulling in stuff I had posted elsewhere (like Flickr, Pinboard and so on). That was a good idea, and it worked reasonably well, but two things became apparent quite quickly:

  1. I am really bad about keeping Wordpress updated, and with all the hackers out there trying to spam Wordpress sites, that’s a dangerous game to play. I hadn’t yet been targeted, but my feeling was that it was only a matter of time. You should be able to hit a button in the Wordpress dashboard to update, but due to my particular set up, that wasn’t working and it had to be done manually, which is to say, never1.
  2. I was never really happy with the styling. Ideally, I wanted to format each of the types of post differently depending on the content. I’m sure if I was better at modifying Wordpress templates, I could have accomplished it, but that was beyond my abilities.
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Pelican 3


Well. That ended up being a long interval between posts. I’m not really sure what happened. I’ve certainly been busy, but I managed to get myself into a kind of procrastination dependency loop. I wanted to write a new article, but I also wanted to upgrade to Pelican 3 (I was previously using Pelican 2), and I somehow persuaded myself that I need to do that before I wrote a new article. I didn’t upgrade, because I was imagining that it would be a long, difficult process, and I needed time to do it properly.

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Org mode and Pandoc

geek software

In the intervening time since first setting up Spacemacs I have been getting more familiar with org-mode, and becoming increasingly impressed by its power and flexibility. Consequently, I’ve started writing by default in org-mode rather than Markdown. What I like about it is that it provides a lot of features for structuring, re-arranging and editing text. For example, text with headings, lists and so on is defined as a tree, and there are commands for moving nodes within this tree up and down, or promoting or demoting them. These nodes can also be shown or hidden selectively, and you can even ‘narrow’ a buffer to a particular sub-tree, which means that this particular section of the document temporarily appears to be the only contents of the buffer. This is wonderful in a long document when you want to focus on a specific part, but still have access to the rest of the document when needed. Table editing is also superbly easy in Org files — it’s almost worth using org-mode for this alone if you often include tables in your documents. Of course, the point of writing in either Markdown or Org format is that it is human-readable and easy to edit, but can be transformed into many other final document formats using Pandoc. Originally, I used the Pandoc mode package with Spacemacs, which is excellent and works with any source file format, but for some reason it stopped working for me. I tried everything I could to get it working again, but had no luck, so I was looking around for another alternative.

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geek emacs
Regular readers will know that when it comes to tinkering with text editors, I can’t leave well enough alone. I’ve used many different editors over the years, but have kept returning at various intervals to Vim. I like Vim a lot, and despite its various inconveniences, I find myself missing modal editing and the ease with which you can move around and edit text when I am using other editors. Despite that, I occasionally drop back into the comforting GUI territory of Sublime Text 2 or Textmate 2, purely because I’ve set up some fancy configuration in Vim, but forgotten to how to use it (or — in extreme cases — that it’s even there). Continue reading →

Hobonichi planner

Late last year, I decided to try a Hobonichi Planner. It was a bit of a gamble, because I haven’t used a day planner for many years. My workflow is mostly software-based: I use Calendar on Mac OS and iOS to record events, and (currently) OmniFocus for my tasks. However, for a while I have thought it would be interesting to have an analogue daybook of sorts, to plan out the current day, record what I have done, and also to jot down random thoughts. Continue reading →

Too much geekery

On Friday, I taught a session of a basic statistics workshop that a colleague and I designed for undergraduates. The idea is that we give a brief overview introduction, then the students work through our worksheet using R commander to get a feel for how to run basic tests, construct graphs, and interpret results. I originally built the worksheet (and the accompanying handbook, which contains more detail) in RStudio using RMarkdown formatting. Continue reading →


software geek
It’s nearly Christmas, and what could be more festive than writing about a command-line file manager? I’m pretty sure that I’ve tried Ranger before, but at that point it was early in its development, and I had a few issues with it. I was reminded of it again by Dr Bunsen, and decided to give it another go. It’s available via homebrew, so you can install it with a simple brew install ranger. Continue reading →

Standing to work

mumblings geek
Like many people whose work is primarily office and computer based, I spend far too much of my day sitting. Not only do I sit at my office desk at work for much of the day (when I’m not lecturing and so on), I sit at the computer for long periods at home too. I work or do my own thing on the computer at the weekends and in the evening, and I often work from home for at least one day a week. Continue reading →

Tmuxline and Promptline

geek software
Sometimes, tinkering begets more tinkering. Writing about my most recent tinkering session in Tinkering with Vim, I found myself wanting to tweak one or two things a little further. This was partly because I came across a couple of very interesting Vim plugins (tmuxline.vim and promptline.vim) that — oddly — act to alter the appearance and function of the tmux status bar and the shell prompt respectively. While I liked my previous powerline setup, a few things niggled me a little about it: Continue reading →

Tinkering with Vim

software geek
Once again, I have been tinkering about with my .vimrc and tweaking my settings. While I do still use Sublime Text as an editor, I find myself using Vim by choice much more often. Over the years I have been using Vim, I have swung from a very complex setup to a rather simpler one, as I have learned which of the ‘built-in’ features of Vim I like, and which I prefer to replace with plugins and custom settings. Continue reading →

New turntable

hifi geek
Last weekend my brother brought me a wonderful turntable. It was one that he had made himself about 15 years ago. Since it was now surplus to requirements, he asked if I would like to use it. I’ve mentioned before that I tend to do very well out of the equipment upgrades of my audiophile father and brother. In fact, my previous two turntables were also cast-offs: the first a Project 1. Continue reading →


review geek software
A few months ago, I started using a bit of software called Koken to publish a kind of portfolio of my photos. I loved it, and was really happy to have somewhere to display my favourite photos that was tailored to my own needs and — more importantly — on my own server and under my own control. I was about to write a review of it when I had to switch to nginx as a web server rather than Apache and managed to break everything. Continue reading →

A weekend of breaking things

geek software
I seem to have had a weekend of breaking things on my Linode server. One of the things you need to do regularly if you have a virtual server like those on Linode is to keep the software up to date. I run ArchLinux on Linode, and it’s pretty easy to keep it updated by running pacman -Syu every month or so. It must be pretty fool-proof, because this is actually the first time in about 18 months of running the server that I’ve broken something, but it was a pretty big something. Continue reading →

Haskell, maths and Threes

geek code
This is a long and slightly rambling story about my relationship with maths. There is a pattern to it, even if it isn’t always clear how the parts are connected. While I love almost every other aspect of playing with computers, for some reason I don’t actually play games on them very often. I’ve downloaded the odd game on my iPhone, but I rarely launch them. My last serious game addiction was to Tetris. Continue reading →

Bookends and Pandoc

geek software
I’ve written before about both my Pandoc workflow and my use of Texts when producing various documents for work. An excellent recent article by Kieran Healy on his own plain text workflow using Pandoc prompted me to overhaul my own rather complex setup for longer documents. If you’re new to using Pandoc, or if — like me — you had an existing workflow that was in need of a bit of pruning, I highly recommend Kieran’s article. Continue reading →

Second impressions: Sony RX100 Camera

review technology geek
I wrote about my brief first impressions of this camera back in August, not long after I had bought it. I thought it was probably time to do a second review, now that I’m about 5 months into using it. First, you need to know a bit about what I want out of a camera, and what sort of photographs I enjoy taking. I would say that I’m an intermediate photographer in terms of expertise. Continue reading →

Mavericks tags and Dropbox

geek software
I updated to Mavericks (aka Mac OS X 10.9) on my laptop and desktop not long after it came out, and the process was fairly painless. I generally like the changes in the new operating system, and I find that Finder in particular is much more usable. I’m trying to manage with Finder rather than Path Finder, which I had been using as a Finder replacement. Path Finder is an amazing bit of software, but is is rather hefty and is inevitably not as well integrated into the system as Finder. Continue reading →

Zen Fibre Broadband

geek technology
Some background Since we moved into our current house about 7 years ago, we’ve used Zen Internet as our ISP1. They were recommended to us by my brother, who had been with them for a number of years before we signed up and found them really reliable, with great customer service. I’ve never regretted that decision. I don’t think that I ever remember noticing an outage in those 7 years. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have an outage of course, because it may have happened when we were not at home, but given that Mr. Continue reading →

Running back to Alfred

geek software
Sometimes I just can’t help myself from tinkering with my workflow on the computer. One of the bits of software that is essential to me on any Mac I happen to be using is a hotkey application that lets you launch applications, files and run scripts using the keyboard. Years ago, I started with LaunchBar, and from that point on any computer I used that didn’t immediately pop up a command window ready to do my bidding when I hit cmd+space felt utterly broken. Continue reading →

First impressions: Sony RX100 camera

review technology geek
Choosing a camera — like choosing many other technological tools — is a matter of balancing compromises. Digital SLRs have a great choice of interchangable lenses and superb image quality, but they are large, expensive and heavy, and you can’t really carry them around with you every day. Compact cameras, on the other hand, are usually cheaper, smaller and lighter, but the image quality is compromised, and you are stuck with a single (albeit potentially a zoom) lens. Continue reading →

iPad to Pelican

geek blogging
You may remember that I wrote about a month ago about my Hazel workflow to enable me to publish blog posts from my iPad. That has been working well for me, but it was — by my own admission — a rather gaffer-taped together solution. One minor problem was that I my iMac isn’t awake all the time, just most of the time. So the publishing workflow is most vulnerable when I’m away from home (and I most need it), and my iMac is likely to be asleep. Continue reading →

iPad to Pelican Update

geek blogging
As an update to this post, it predictably didn’t quite work the way it was supposed to. It fell at the building hurdle, but I think I’ve fixed the paths now, so this should work. Fingers crossed!

New iPad

Last week, I got an iPad for work. Though I’m a big fan of Apple products (as you all know), I hadn’t previously given a great deal of thought to getting an iPad. I have to say that now that I’ve got one, I’m fairly bowled over with how useful it is. This is probably ancient news for those of you have had one for years, but there are two main activities that seem easier or much more pleasant on the iPad. Continue reading →

Pinging FeedPress from Pelican

Back in April, I wrote about how to ping URI.LV from Octopress. Since I am now using Pelican, and URI.LV has updated its domain to, I thought I would post an update about how to do the same thing if you are using Pelican to generate your site. Just for kicks, I decided to re-write it in Python to practice, because there’s nothing like solving real-world problems to get to grips with a programming language. Continue reading →

Running Pelican

geek software
I wrote earlier today about updating this blog’s design in the process of switching from Octopress to Pelican to generate the site. As I said then, the move shouldn’t be construed as falling out of love with Octopress. I have a terrible problem with tinkering, and if a new framework or static site generator turns up, I often check it out. If it turns out to be good, that has a tendency to turn into many weekends and evenings spent wrangling HTML and CSS and other bits of code to build my site with the new tool. Continue reading →

Spring Clean Design

blogging geek
I’ve been pretty busy over the past few weeks for one reason or another. Exam marking and other administration has been very intense, and Mr. Bsag had to go in for planned surgery on his foot, which generated a bit of domestic upheaval. Things have calmed down a bit more now, and I’ve had time to finish my spring clean of this site. If it has worked, things should look a bit different around here. Continue reading →

Learning Python again

For the past month or so, I’ve been having another go at learning Python, partly prompted by the fact that Sublime Text editor plugins are written in Python. My first attempt was probably about 14 years ago. I had some (self-taught) programming experience with BASIC, Arachnid and Pascal, but hadn’t encountered an object-oriented language before. At the time, I managed to learn the basics, but never really got to grips with object-orientation, and so I was consequently not getting the most out of the language. Continue reading →

Ping URI.LV from Octopress

If you use Octopress and the excellent URI.LV service (as I do) to manage and track your feeds, and you have a Premium account, you might be interested to know that you can use the new API to notify URI.LV immediately when you have updated your content. I have posted instructions on how to do this as a Gist. Enjoy!


RSS reader applications and frameworks are in a period of flux. As you’ll know if you read the technology news, Google announced recently that it would shut down Google Reader on 1st July 2013. While it’s probably true that the number of people using Google Reader’s interface directly (and therefore seeing the advertisements) has declined, most of the current feed reading software depends on Google Reader as its syncing mechanism, or indeed for the entire back end. Continue reading →

Leaving Feedburner

Like many other bloggers, I’ve decided to move my site’s RSS feed away from Feedburner. Now that Google has decided to shut down Google Reader, Feedburner will certainly be next. I could have just reverted to advertising the original feed and setting up a redirect from Feedburner, but I did quite like having statistics on the number of subscribers. I’ve therefore set up a feed at URI.LV, which offers statistics and some other nice features, and has clear instructions on migrating away from Feedburner. Continue reading →

Rhodia dotPad

The last notebook I used as a refill in my Gfeller notebook cover1 was a Leuchtturm 1917. There’s a lot to like about the Leuchtturm notebooks. The pages are pre-numbered, and there are a few pre-printed ‘Contents’ tables at the start of the notebook where you can write the page numbers of particular topics once you’ve finished the notebook and are archiving it. They even provide neat white labels for the front and spine so that you can file them neatly on your shelf. Continue reading →

Slate and Alfred 2 workflows

I’ve been having a bit of fun recently playing around with a couple of computer workflow improvements. As regular readers will know, there is little that I enjoy more than tinkering with my setup, and since I enjoy reading about other people’s set ups, I thought I would write a bit about what I’ve done. Slate The first object of my tinkering was Slate. For some time, I’ve used an application called Moom for resizing and moving around windows on my computer. Continue reading → widget

code geek
As some of may know, I joined (a platform for messaging) when they were raising money before launch, and I’ve been a fairly active poster on the service. I don’t post often on Twitter now (perhaps as a consequence of hanging out more at, and so I’ve been slightly irritated by the fact that I couldn’t find a pre-built widget to show my recent posts on the sidebar of this blog in the same way that I can show my tweets. Continue reading →

New tamper for Miss Silvia

geek coffee
I’ve been having some fun with my coffee setup recently. I’ve been really enjoying perfecting my technique with my Rancilio Silvia, but even though I have been producing much better espressos than when I started and have also improved my consistency, I was sill having problems with the stream ‘blonding’ too early. I suspected that poor distribution and tamping was part of the problem. My extractions often started off slow and steady, with a lovely stripy colour like dark chocolate and caramel melted together, but well before I had got the right volume collected they would suddenly turn very pale and start gushing. Continue reading →

Pandoc workflow

geek software
I’ve written here before about how much I enjoy using Pandoc, but I thought I’d write a bit more about my new Pandoc-based workflow. For those of you unfamiliar with it, Pandoc is a brilliant tool for converting from a wide range of markup formats to pretty much any other format. It has matured really quickly into an extremely full-featured and capable system, and can handle tables, images, and mathematical formulae as well as in-text citations and a properly formatted reference list. Continue reading →

Music in the cloud

music geek
iTunes Match Warning: Hifi geekery ahead I’ve been pondering for a while how best to handle my digital collection of music. I have a lot of CDs and a small but growing collection of vinyl, but I also have a lot of music in digital format. Some of this has come from buying music through the iTunes or Amazon stores, but most is from my CDs that I have ripped, or from Apple Lossless format downloads from my Society of Sound membership. Continue reading →

Dell monitor

hardware geek
For several years, I’ve used a 20” iMac at work — one of the older model, plastic shell models, which was the first of the iMacs to have an Intel chip. It has served me well, but it’s starting to get rather long in the tooth. It’s slow, a bit unreliable, and cannot be persuaded to run Mountain Lion. Since I already had a MacBook Air 11” that I used for my portable computing needs, I thought that I might was well switch over to that as my full-time computer: it’s easily fast and powerful enough. Continue reading →

On rabbit holes

mumblings geek
What follows is deeply geeky and probably only of interest to me and about three other people. It’s also a bit of a rant at my own tendency to fiddle. You have been warned! Sometimes you just need to leave things alone. Yesterday I decided that I’d have a go at replacing rvm with rbenv. Both are collections of shell scripts that allow you to manage multiple versions of ruby, which you may need to do if you deal with applications, scripts or APIs that require a specific version. Continue reading →

Happily Hacking with my Happy Hacking keyboard

geek hardware
I’ve been meaning to write this review for quite a while, but I’ve been trying to think how to go about it. How do you describe a tactile experience? It’s intangible. No, that’s completely wrong — the whole point is that it’s very tangible: it’s just extremely difficult to put that physical experience into words. Perhaps I should start with a bit of history about my preference for keyboards, and work my way up to the difficult bit. Continue reading →

Moving from Tumblr

blogging geek
Since I moved my stuff to Linode, I’ve been on a bit of a digital self-sufficiency drive. I’ve tried as much as possible to move all my stuff (at least the stuff that I put some effort into creating) to my own VPS, and keep it in a format that I can easily move somewhere else or use again. Where that isn’t possible or too much trouble1, I’ve tried to move to services that do the old-fashioned thing of charging money for services or products, rather than providing something ‘free’, while exploiting the ‘customer’ for advertisement revenue or whatever. Continue reading →

Moving my virtual home

geek mumblings
If you read tech blogs, you may have seen the news that Joyent recently announced that they were ending their Lifetime shared hosting. Several years ago, they offered customers the opportunity to buy a Lifetime account, which — we were assured at the time — would exist for as long as the company did. It was a big lump sum for me at the time, but I liked the company (then called TextDrive), and since the whole business of looking for a good hosting company was both difficult and tedious, I thought it would be a good deal: a chunk of money up front in return for being able to forget about hosting problems. Continue reading →


review geek
A while ago, I mentioned that I’d moved to using Bookends for my paper-handling and referencing needs. I’ve been really impressed with the software and thought it might be nice to do a review. If you have scrolled down, you will already have seen that this review is a bit of an epic. Reference managers are a niche product to start with, and even if you already use one, the chances are that you will feel this is a deeply nerdy and over-detailed review. Continue reading →

Crafted software

mumblings geek
Some tools can change the way that you see the world. Whenever I watch a time-lapse film of plants growing, I marvel at the fact that it allows you to see movement of plants that is otherwise invisible to us as humans because we live at the wrong rate. Our un-augmented senses and brains can’t get to grips with the pace of plants unless we speed up time using film. Recently, I’ve been thinking a bit about the tools I use. Continue reading →


geek mumblings
A couple of days ago, I had a brief conversation with HelgeG on Twitter about razors. He was thinking of replacing a cartridge razor with a safety razor. I heartily recommended it, having switched (for leg shaving purposes) from cartridges to a double-edged safety a while ago. That reminded me that I had meant to blog about it at the time, but had forgotten to do so. Cartridge razors had annoyed me for some time: they are very expensive for what they are, the blades seem to go blunt after only a few uses, and they don’t even provide a very good close shave. Continue reading →

Living with Vim

geek software
I’ve written here before about how I initially got into using the Vim text editor, and how I keep cycling back to it on a tour of OS X text editors. More recently I’ve noticed that I’ve been less tempted to try out the latest shiny new text editor, and I’ve been sticking with Vim for everything. I used to find prose writing a little hard-going with Vim, so I would open Textmate or BBEdit for that kind of editing, but I seem to have hit upon (with a lot of help from the Internets) a set of customisations and settings that allow me to work very comfortably with any kind of text in Vim. Continue reading →


hardware geek
I haven’t yet written about the other item I bought with my birthday money: a Fitbit wireless tracker. It’s really a kind of fancy pedometer that tracks the number of steps you’ve taken, the number of flights of stairs you’ve climbed (it has an altimeter), and various other estimated measures like calories burned and distance travelled. There are a couple of reasons why I really wanted to get one of these units. Continue reading →

Kaweco Classic Sport fountain pen

pens geek
It was my birthday recently, and I was lucky enough to be given gifts of money by a few lovely friends and family. One of the things I bought was a Kaweco Classic Sport fountain pen. I know, I know: another fountain pen? Wasn’t I raving about the Lamy 2000 only recently?1 Well, I haven’t fallen out of love with my Lamy — far from it. I use it every day, and each time I pick it up and write with it, I love it even more. Continue reading →


geek software
There are some categories of software that I tend to play around with a lot, switching frequently from one application to the next. The category of text editors is one (though recently I have settled fairly comfortably on vim/MacVim), and email clients is another. I think that part of the problem is that these are applications that I use very frequently, for which I have rather exacting and complex requirements. Put simply, I try a variety of applications and tend to encounter a kind of ‘Goldilocks’ situation: the application is too simple, or too fussy and complicated, and it’s difficult to find one that’s Just Right. Continue reading →

Moving Comments From ExpressionEngine to Disqus

This may be of some use to anyone else who is thinking of moving comments from ExpressionEngine to Disqus (or to me, if I ever have to do it again!). Over the past few days, I have been moving comments from the Tracks site (which used ExpressionEngine) to Disqus. I had some difficulty trying to get a format exported from ExpressionEngine which I could use to import comments into Disqus, and eventually settled on the code above after looking at Disqus’ own import format and trawling the ExpressionEngine forums to adapt other solutions which exported to Movable Type format. Continue reading →

Default Folder X

software geek
Before I upgraded to Lion, I had a bit of a digital clear out. I uninstalled various bits of software that I had idly installed at various points to try out and then abandoned. I tidied up my directory structure and carefully considered whether or not I needed all the applications I have installed. To some extent, I had already gone through the same process when I got my MacBook Air. Continue reading →

Pseudonymity and the Internet

geek blogging
Over the past few months there has been a resurgence of arguments about anonymity and pseudonymity1 on the internet, sparked off by Google Plus’ faintly ridiculous policy of requiring ‘Real Names’, where their idea of a Real Name is somewhat narrow and excludes many names real people have on their birth certificates. As someone who has participated and interacted online under a pseudonym for nearly 9 years, I obviously have a keen interest in this debate. Continue reading →

Octopress Tweaks

geek blogging
After getting some feedback about the new design (the consensus seemed to be that the fonts were TOO BIG), I’ve tweaked the design and structure slightly. I’ve added back the link under each post’s title that shows how many comments there are, and which links to the comment thread itself on the individual article page. Previously it wasn’t as clear as it might have been that there was any way to comment, unless you visited the individual article page. Continue reading →


geek software
I’ve been really busy for the past couple of weeks, so I haven’t had the chance to blog about Lion. I didn’t think I would even have the time to install it, but geeky impatience overcame caution (and sleep) and I took the plunge. I decided to install on my new MacBook Air1, as it is the newest Mac I own and closest to the stock configuration, so I thought it would probably be the least troublesome. Continue reading →


geek blogging
Yes, it’s not just you — things do look a bit different around here. I’ve been tinkering again1. A week or so ago I noticed Octopress. It’s not a full-blown static blog generator, but a framework around Jekyll designed by Brandon Mathis. I looked briefly at Jekyll when I converted to nanoc recently, and thought that it wasn’t flexible enough for my needs. It turns out that I didn’t really understand how to adapt it for my needs, because it’s working really well for me now. Continue reading →

The Agony Of Word

geek mumblings software
I really dislike Microsoft Word. It’s a necessary evil in academia, where .doc or .docx is the editable format of choice, but I avoid it wherever I can. It’s true that things have got slightly better since I upgraded to Office for Mac 2011. Office at least looks like a proper OS X application now, and some of the annoyances and downright bugs have been removed. But it makes things unnecessarily complicated and has a nasty habit of biting you just when you are most in need of having a fully-functioning word processor. Continue reading →

Vim And The Wonder Of Vundle

geek software
I’m on holiday, it has been beautiful weather outside and I have (mostly) been indoors tinkering with my .vimrc. What a waste, you might be thinking. You might be right, but I’m happy enough. You see, I’ve had another enormously stressful month and a half, and so I’ve been self-medicating with geeky ephemera, and it has been fun. I have fallen back in love with vim (or more precisely, MacVim) recently, and have been using it for everything, slowly getting to know vim’s many interesting features and shortcuts. Continue reading →


I’ve been using Vim quite a lot recently, and I’m enjoying the experience a great deal. However, I have found it difficult to settle on a colour scheme that I really like. While there are a few Vim colour schemes that I quite like (Wombat, Two2Tango, Mayansmoke, for example), there was always some niggling thing that irritated me a little bit about each of them. One problem is that a lot of colour schemes fall into one of two extreme groups: they are either very colourful and bright (to the point of looking like an explosion in a sweet factory), or they are very low contrast, which is restful but ultimately makes for strained eyes. Continue reading →


life geek
Wow. Has it really been nearly two weeks since I last wrote here? I seem to have been on a never-ending stress treadmill at work, lurching from one deadline to another, never quite catching up with myself. Just to add to the stress, I’ve also had one of those periods when all sorts of things broke or needed sorting out (including my own body, unfortunately). So, I’ve had 3 rather frustrating trips to the doctor (I’m not ill, just in need of a bit of routine maintenance, but there have been…snags). Continue reading →

Sharing iTunes

geek software technology
For a while now, I’ve been wondering how best to handle sharing the collection of digital music I’ve built up with other computers in the house. This collection is mostly composed of rips of CDs that I own, but there are also a few albums that I’ve bought via the iTunes store or Amazon. I keep the main collection on the Mac mini in the living room, and that also serves as the library which the Squeezebox Server serves up to the three Squeezebox music players I have scattered around the house. Continue reading →

Making An Impact

science geek
Those of you who follow my ramblings on Twitter as well as on this blog will have witnessed me get very over-excited by an online comic called 2D Goggles, or The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage. This elicited high levels of geek squee from me because it combines: a) Ada Lovelace, one of my scientific heroines; b) Charles Babbage (see a), substituting hero for heroine); c) Victorian steampunkery; d) Brunel (swoon); and best of all, e) copious interesting historical notes by the author of the comics, Sydney Padua, following each part, with some fascinating information about Lovelace, Babbage and the whole scientific and engineering ‘scene’ of the 19th Century. Continue reading →

Vim and Zsh, Oh My!

geek code software
Is there such a thing as too many text editors? I ask, because I seem to be perpetually cycling between a set of editors, unable to settle for once and all on one of them. On a fairly regular basis, I use BBEdit, TextMate, and MacVim, and now I find that my head has been turned once again by a brand, shiny new text editor, Sublime Text X. Certainly I find that different kinds of editors tend to suit a particular kind of task (writing HTML, or Ruby or plain text, for example), but I can’t help thinking that I would be a lot more productive if I could just become an expert in the One True Text Editor (in fact, any One True Text Editor), and be happy with that. Continue reading →


technology geek
I’ve always been a voracious reader. I constantly had my nose in a book when I was younger, and when we went away on holiday, I spent ages agonising over which books to take. They were pretty heavy but the obvious danger was that if I took too few books, I might – oh, the horror! – run out of books to read. That catastrophe had to be avoided at all costs. Continue reading →


blogging geek code
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve switched to using nanoc to generate this blog, so I thought I would write a little bit about why I chose it and how I switched. There are many static site generators out there, but when I looked into them in a bit more depth, nanoc stood out because of its flexibility. I also really like that fact that it was written in Ruby and that you could choose which templating system to use. Continue reading →

Just Shift It

geek mumblings
I’m one of those people who finds the Caps Lock key on the keyboard more of an annoyance than a useful feature, so I have recently remapped my Caps Lock to Control. This is now surprisingly easy to do on Snow Leopard: launch System Preferences, choose Keyboard and click the ‘Modifier Keys…’ button. I’m quite happy with this as I’ve got a more comfortably-placed Control key, and if I ever need to do a run of all caps characters, I can easily type lowercase and transform to upper case afterwards in most applications. Continue reading →

Soothing Tasks

geek life
I’ve had a very difficult month or so for one reason or another. Nothing earth-shattering, really, just the accumulation of a lot of small problems and set-backs, plus a health scare which turned out to be nothing to worry about eventually, I’m glad to say. In the midst of all this, I noticed something about myself, which I should probably have realised a long time ago: I find solving geeky problems soothing. Continue reading →