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IRC Chat/Communication Panel

IN PREVIOUS posts I wrote about my work desktop, one of 12 workspaces/desktops that include desktop 2 for mail and collaboration, excepting a third screen mounted on a separate machines and connected nicely with Synergy for a seamless experience. In order to shed light on how I communicate online in real-term, here is desktop 4 on my main machine. What’s out of sight here is the weather widget; the wallpapers on the left changes based on the weather. In the other two screens — centre and right — it cycles at random (slideshow). In future posts I will show my other desktops and how I arranged them for improved productivity.

How to Quickly Produce HTML-Formatted IRC Logs


ON a daily basis I must produce logs for 4 IRC channels. Over time I found more efficient ways for doing so and this post summarises some of the shortcuts and tools. It doesn’t go into specifics where these are not generalisable.

The first stage is opening a template for the post/article linking to the log/s. The post has X’s where the data goes, so that part must be completed by hand and then copied and pasted into the right fields. The way this is done depends on the site and its layout, but the important thing is, use templates. If this gets done daily, then a lot of work and many errors can be prevented.

Then comes the point where the logs themselves get produced. Logging is typically done by IRC clients, but only XChat works well for me with the script that I use since 2008, irclog2html. The first thing to do is open all the files containing the relevant logs. In my case it goes like this:

roy@roy:~$ cat ./ 
kate .xchat2/xchatlogs/FreeNode-#boycottnovell.log  

The directory and relative paths may vary and one’s favourite text editor may vary as well (I like Kate). Once all the files are open (about 200 MB in my case), open all the previous logs (if any) and scroll down to the bottom. Then, copy a portion of the last line and search for it in the full log to quickly jump to the latest log line, then extend the selection (highlight with keyboard/mouse) to grab the new log text to be converted into HTML. Once this is done, open a new tab/windows, paste the text, and save the text as a file whose name is corresponding to the channel at hand. In my case, that would be irc-log-social, irc-log-techbytes, irc-log-techrights, and irc-log.

Once all the text to be converted is put in the correctly and consistently named files, batch-run the conversion and open the resultant files in a text editor. For example:

python ./Main/Programs/ irc-log-techrights 
--title='IRC: #techrights @ FreeNode: January 22nd, 2012' ; 
python ./Main/Programs/ irc-log --title='IRC:  
#boycottnovell @ FreeNode: January 22nd, 2012' ; python 
./Main/Programs/ irc-log-social --title='IRC:  
#boycottnovell-social @ FreeNode: January 22nd, 2012' ; python 
./Main/Programs/ irc-log-techbytes --title='IRC: 
#techbytes @ FreeNode: January 22nd, 2012' ; kate irc-log.html 
irc-log-social.html irc-log-techrights.html irc-log-techbytes.html

This is basically a simple command run about 4 times, then 4 files opened. Python is needed to run and there is room for some parameters like page titles. The opening of the resultant files then makes it possible to save under date-stamped files all the logs separately, then upload them and link to them in the template post. That’s about it. If there are any questions about these very basic efficiency tricks, drop me a line. Having published thousands of logs, it is an area I’m quite familiar with.

Digital Work in the Broadband Age

Forgotten shed

AS SOMEONE who has worked from home since 2006 I can gladly say that motor vehicles are possible to avoid for those who wish to and whose work is location-independent. Spare office space too can be discarded. Both removals would be beneficial to the environment and reduce the impact of overpopulation.

I used to drive around a lot as a teenager, but when jobs become more sedentary and possible to carry out over broadband, what really is the point of driving to another office — an office like one that can be set up at home? This question is troubling sometimes, especially because of answers that are commonly given

To some people, the idea of going to work is the idea of escaping the confinements of a home, “going out” so to speak. To others it is about separation/buffer between home and work — the illusion of having two places to lodge in. Where interaction with colleagues is not necessary (or bossing over one’s shoulder) the idea of lacking the motivation to work whilst at home might only imply utter disdain for one’s work. Just changing location — putting peer pressure and supervision aside — does not provide any more or any less motivation. One can make one’s workspace more pleasant.

The reality is, many people do not work from home because the boss does not permit this. In that case, the boss needs to reassess the old myth that work should not be done remotely, i.e. not from home. People do not need physical access to paper files, for example. Everything changes, except old habits.

Helper Box

IN the middle of last year I found myself with an extra new widescreen monitor that could not be used because my graphics card only supports up to two monitors. I pondered buying a new graphics card to add a third or fourth monitor to the same box, but this turned out to be uneconomic. So instead I bought an extra box and installed Debian Squeeze on it. It would add a processor to my setup and also help stay connected when either of the machine requires downtime. Over time I learned how to properly use this “helper box”, which is connected to a separate mouse and keyboard. It is mostly used for monitoring of information that changes over time.

I decided to share the lessons I have learned about what and how to monitor things using this type of “helper box”. Here is a screenshot that can be viewed in full size by clicking it.

What’s shown here are 7 main components (some of which are hidden). The top left shows the tracking of one IRC channel in real-time, the bottom left shows another (singleton requires different IRC clients to be used). The bottom right displays the “top” output of Web servers (also enabling intervention in case things go awry)). This uses a KDE plasmoid that generally looks quite good and will appear in all workspaces. The same goes for the browser plasmoid at the top right (usually pointing to JoinDiaspora and updating/refreshing once in 5 minutes – there is an option for that). Weather forecast is displayed using another plasmoid and hidden behind the IRC windows are two folderview plasmoids that over SSH connect to the main box and thereby enable simple sharing of files — including text — across the two boxes. The main panel displays the time and date, but very little of interest apart from that. The wallpaper changes based on the current weather (it is a feature of Plasma desktop).

Moving one’s head to this box leads to absorption of a lot of information, which is worth the electricity cost.

Office Suites — A Rant

WHAT is all that nonesense that we find in the news about “ lacking a mail and collaboration” component? Office suites are made to produce files, not to communicate directly with people. The instant messenger and the mail clients might be suitable for integration. The FTP client and the file manager also. But just as the Web browser (page renderer) never belonged next to/inside a file manager, the mail clients (e.g. Thunderbird) should remain separate from tools that are used to put together and manage complex data.

We don’t need another emacs (program as an “O/S”). Separability facilitates choice and integration can be achieved through standards. Do not borrow Microsoft’s example of integrating the Web browser with the O/S just as means of pushing Netscape out of the market. Don’t repeat mistakes by assuming that one giant framework of programs can replace a personalised collection of pertinent tools.

WYSIWYG – Fine Layout, But What Happened to Content?

Internet Explorer 7 screenshot

THE “what you see is what you get” paradigm is a fine idea. This term, abbreviated WYSIWYG (and sometimes pronounced Wisi-wig), aptly describes the way we print our documents. From a particular image on our monitor we are able to produce paper replicas. But should the same paradigm be used for composition of our documents? Should layout itself be manipulated and controlled by the user in real time? Scott McNealy weighed in.

Scott McNealy, who used to like to style himself “chairman, president, founder, chief cook and bottlewasher” of Sun Microsystems, is not known for his affection for Microsoft. Quite the opposite. Speaking to the National Press Club of Australia way back in October 1996, he pronounced that “when the anthropologists look back on the 1980s and 1990s and do the archaeological digs, and get their callipers and brooms and microscopes out, they will blame the massive reduction in productivity during the 1980s and 1990s entirely on Microsoft Office.”

Indeed, there is too much emphasis on presentation at the writing phase. Instead of creating high-quality content, the writer can often be distracted by the desire and ability to turn text into its form in ‘output mode’. This is wasteful. It’s a case of jumping ahead too early and, in fact, spell checkers and grammar checkers which involve false positives lead to similar distractions. The composition, if done properly, should be a staged process. At each stage, full attention should be given to the task at hand.

Writing of good material can be handled in plain-text mode, only later to have the mind occupied with structural layout (as opposes to structure, which requires shallow preparation and planning, without diving in). A similar issue comes up when people prepare presentations in a way that concentrates on looks rather than delivery of concise and important messages. Here is one among many writings on the dumbing-down effect of tools like Astound, PowerPoint, Keynote, KPresent, and Presenter.

In August, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board at NASA released Volume 1 of its report on why the space shuttle crashed. As expected, the ship’s foam insulation was the main cause of the disaster. But the board also fingered another unusual culprit: PowerPoint, Microsoft’s well-known ”slideware” program.

Identifying Personal E-mails and ‘Botmails’


STUDIES which analyse large volumes of communication have always been interesting. For instance, most of the E-mail traffic nowadays is identified as SPAM; and over 80% of it is said to come from compromised Windows PC‘s. However, for a change, this is not what I wish to discuss today. I don’t want to have yet another bite at the effects Windows has on the WWW. It leaves me bitter.

Earlier today I read that only 37% of all E-mail at the ‘average’ office are personal E-mails. The rest are not. Some E-mails these days are invoked from a system rather than a human. Typically these are less interesting, less urgent, or can be altogether ignored. Some of that is mass mail, automated and despatched using address databases.

It is sometimes hard to discern between a personal message–one to which a response would be polite–and one which is targetted at a wide audience and whose content is carefully doctored to appear personal. I would like to recommend and promote a personal tip of mine. It is a little method I thought about for detecting and telling apart computer-generated from human-generated mail. When entering your name (e.g. at registration stage), for example, always append extra spaces that serve no purpose but preserve the integrity of the name. Having done so, you challenged the wisdom of the bot. Before punctuation, for example, you can see if a human inserted the name properly. A naive algorithm will not bother to crunch spaces, so the automation deems self-evident.

In other circumstances, having the recipient’s addresses within sight may help. Full headers can be very informative and various Thunderbird extensions even simplify text with representative figures (e.g. routing information as a series of flags, mail client name as an icon, signature as an icon, etc.). It makes the information easier to digest and it adds a wealth of knowledge that is often missed. Lastly, never discount the BCC tricks. A seemingly personal message can reach anyone ‘on the same wagon’.

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Original styles created by Ian Main (all acknowledgements) • PHP scripts and styles later modified by Roy Schestowitz • Help yourself to a GPL'd copy
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