We have a winner

Oh, I love my wife. While all the rest of you were ignoring my pained cries for help on the virtual dekstop front, she was coming up with the goods. Ladies and gentlemen, we present VirtuaWin, which is wonderful because:

  • I can set the number of desktops to anything up to 9. Not dynamically, but that’s OK.
  • I can configure hotkeys for various features and in particular I now have my beloved Alt-1, Alt-2, etc. – joy. Also a hotkey for making a window sticky/unsticky.
  • I can install a third party extension module to display the (configurable) desktop name when I switch, which means…
  • I can turn off the system tray icon, so that most of the time the app has no graphical presence whatsoever.
  • It handles Excel correctly.
  • It’s free, and it’s GPL.

Those are the reasons why it rocks my world. It has many other options though, so if the above doesn’t sound good to you, lose not heart. For instance, if you like to flip between desktops by putting the mouse to the side of the screen (I don’t), you can tell it to do that. Similarly dragging windows between desktops. Etc. And generally it just “feels” very robust and well engineered. I’m very impressed.

Oh, it’s lovely. Happy Andy.

Virtual desktop woes

Are there any decent virtual desktop programs for Windows XP? I need the following: a) it must be discreet – preferably no graphical presence, although if it puts something in the taskbar/notification area which I can hide, that’s OK; b) it must have hotkeys for switching between desktops, and preferably they will be configurable (I want to use Alt-1, Alt-2, etc. as in Ion on Linux); c) when I switch away from a desktop and then back again, it should restore everything as it was when I left it; d) it’d be great if you could dynamically create and dispose of desktops, as in Ion, but I expect that’s asking too much and I’ll have to be happy with a fixed number (say, 4).

Now, I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Unfortunately, it seems almost impossible to find anything to satisfy just a), let alone anything else.

I used Microsoft’s very own Virtual Desktop Manager “Power Toy” for a while (can configure it to show only one small icon in taskbar – acceptable), but it fails badly on c) – open Excel, switch to a different desktop, switch back and viola – Excel’s toolbars and menus have disappeared, never to return. Googling for this issue led to a couple of mentions, but no solutions.

So I tried Jeremy Stanley’s VDM, which satisfies a) perfectly (-h on the command line hides it completely), and more critically avoids the Excel problem provided you also specify -a on the command line. Unfortunately you can’t reconfigure the hotkeys (it’s Ctrl-Alt-n instead of Alt-n, boo hiss), and worse, it doesn’t always restore windows to the right depth order, so you often end up with the wrong window on top. Alt-tab boredom. More boo hiss.

Someone must have solved this problem properly?

ASCII banner generator

Something I want to bookmark: ASCII banner generator.

A what?

A belated pumpkin.

It’s ten to two, and that’s what Dave is.

Candygram for Gimbo!

Candygram, “a Python implementation of Erlang concurrency primitives”. Ooooooh.

With Candygram, developers can send and receive messages between threads using semantics nearly identical to those in the Erlang language.

Interessant. Very informative FAQ.

Let’s hear it for Firefox

I finally ditched Opera in favour of Mozilla Firefox and (about two weeks later) I can definitely say it’s absolutely fantastic. Earlier Mozilla versions have always seemed too slow and clunky for me, but Firefox is definitely up to speed, looks good, and works well.

I’m particularly impressed by the extensions mechanism… I’d heard that Mozilla was not so much a browser as a platform upon which programs (e.g. browsers) can be written, and that seems to be borne out here. From what’s available, it seems that it’s fairly straightforward to write extensions which range from fairly trivial UI tweaks (e.g. close tab with double-click) to complex apps in their own right (e.g. the Sage RSS aggregator, or the Mozilla Calendar extension). This wide range (and the fact that these things seem – mostly – to work), speaks to me of good design.


Seems to be a bug in the Linux version (or at least mine), where the fabulous add search engines feature, allowing me to have a single box in my address bar which can do google, wikipedia, imdb, etc., etc. searches, doesn’t work. I can go through the motions to add searches, but nothing happens. Works in Windows. Bah. Like the question of whether the Pope is a Catholic, I’m looking into it. (Update: fix here, namely change permissions of /usr/X11R6/lib/firefox/lib/mozilla-1.6/searchplugins/ .)

The window giving me a view of which extensions I’ve all ready installed is horrendously slow. No idea why, but this seems to be one part of Firefox which has inherited the speed problems I used to see everywhere on Mozilla. It just takes forever to scroll, basically.

Not many annoyances.

Some groovy tips: a whole thread of tips here, which included a pointer to a load more tips on texturizer.net, including one of my wishlist items: remove the close button from the tab bar (since it’s redundant). Change the width of the Search Bar – yay!

So yeah, Firefox. It’s good.

PS: Oh, except that I really miss Opera’s wand feature (for automatically filling in userids, passwords, etc.). Nothing I’ve seen so far in Firebird comes close.

Languages for pi-calculus

Ignore this post unless you’re me and it turns out that yes, I have ended up looking into this (which I might or might not)…

Via this discussion at lambda, some stuff about programming languages supporting the pi-calculus, in particular a PDF paper on PiLib: A Hosted Language for Pi-Calculus Style Concurrency, and Pict, “the canonical example of a Pi-Calculus language”.

I say Piraha, you say Piraha, Piraha, Piraha, …

Linguistic determinism gets a boost [lambda]. And here’s the sound-bite everyone’s gonna be biting:

Hunter-gatherers from the Piraha tribe, whose language only contains words for the numbers one and two, were unable to reliably tell the difference between four objects placed in a row and five in the same configuration, revealed the study.

SCons – python-based Make on steroids


an improved, cross-platform substitute for the classic Make utility with integrated functionality similar to autoconf/automake and compiler caches such as ccache

… written in Python.

The Catcher In The Why God Why?

I just finished reading The Catcher In The Rye. Jesus, what a waste of time. What a depressing, annoying, tiring waste of time. I swear to God, that book has dragged me down – I’ve been in a terrible mood for days and I’m sure it’s that jerk Sallinger’s fault. Man, I hate that guy.

Handling .tar.bz2 tarballs in python

I’m sure this will come in handy at some point in the future: how to handle .tar.bz2 tarballs in python. I’d probably have just used popen2() and called tar and bzip2 directly otherwise…

Gimboland tidying

I’ve been tidying up. I’ve ditched a lot of the cruft from the sidebars that was no longer really desired, and in so doing consolidated them to one – the dual sidebar look was starting to feel confining. :-)

I’ve also done lots of behind-the-scenes work and – finally, finally, after months and months and months of frustrated desire – fixed the images section. Hurrah. Next thing is to go through and delete old images I don’t want any more (probably quite a few), and upload lots of new ones, so expect more images on the front page from now on too.

Related to that, I really want to integrate the wedding images into the rest of Gimboland, but to do so satisfactorily will require implementing tracks in my own image management code. Shouldn’t be too bad, ho ho ho. Plus I think it’s time I brought the trek images into the fold too, and started decommisioning andys-trek.co.uk (in fact, the images are still broken over there – sigh).

Some pesky student had pointed out that many pages here were no longer compliant HTML, in defiance of the logos in the sidebar – so I’ve fixed that too…

What else to do? Well, I’d still like to generally revamp the overall style of the pages, and comments would still be nice. Anyone know of a nice open source commenting system I can plug in without having to jump through too many hoops?

PSF seeking grant proposals.

Note to self: The Python Software Foundation is seeking grant proposals. Ooooooh. Being paid to do cutting edge research work in python – the Gimbo academic dream! Pesky MPhil will have to be dealt with first, however, methinks…


There is no easier way to deal with your sock angst – what a fantastic idea! [act]

Captain Corelli’s World O’ Greece

So here I am reading Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (as I mentioned) when all of a sudden I turn on the TV and it’s all Greece this, Greece that, Greece Greece Greece for some unknown reason – who knew?

iPod vs cassette

iPod vs Cassette – a comparative study [bash].

It’s nothing, really. Just chop it off all ready – I have nine more.

A funny thing happened to me on Tuesday night. Wait. Painful. I mean painful.

My weapon of choice for the evening was a nice wooden breadboard with a sharp triangular edge (i.e. a trapezioid cross-section), which I managed to drop vertically onto my right foot from the worktop (about three feet?) at about 9:30, causing much gnashing and wailing of teeth.

Only when I took my sock off did I realise that it wasn’t just bloody painful, it was also just bloody bloody. Yuck indeed: split nail, split skin, lots of the red stuff, etc. Basically the sharp edge of the breadboard had thundered into my big toe right at the base of the nail, where it could do the maximum damage.

I don’t immediately fall into a swoon at the sight of my own blood, but it was a bit distressing and, as I said, bloody painful, so I sat on the floor and concentrated on Keeping My Shit Together. Fortunately there was a nice young lady on hand to ply me with ice and sugared water, and then drive me to casualty, where we had a nice wait for three and a half hours before the very amiable doctor Laura called my name. She and the nurse generally agreed with my diagnosis of “ooh, that looks nasty”, but displayed their greater medical expertise by not merely looking on, nodding, and chewing their lips thoughtfully, but also suggesting that a) I should get it x-rayed in case it was broken, and b) they should pierce the nail with a needle to let the blood out from underneath.

a) was sensible but annoying because the particular hospital we’d gone do doesn’t have radiology, so this would mean a trip to the one on the other side of town tomorrow, and more waiting around. On the other hand, at least that wouldn’t be late-night waiting around, so hey, small mercies.

b) was exciting and worrying – sounded painful. Off they went in search of the apparently elusive needle necessary for this trick, and when they came back I was suprised to see an implement that looked to my untrained medical eye less like a needle and more like an electric toothbrush. By that I mean it was a hand-held white plastic device of that approximate size and shape – though I should make it clear that there was, at least, a (very small) sharp piece of metal on the end, rather than the less worrying but admittedly less effective (for this purpose) head of bristles one might otherwise expect from my previous sentence.

In the end, it was nothing. Clearly the needle – spring loaded, triggered, and instant in its action – was the result of years of careful observation and design, so suited was it to the task of rapidly piercing the toenail and leaving the piercee feeling pleasantly suprised that the whole experience wasn’t nearly as bad as expected. By way of comparison, I’d say it was marginally less noticeable than that pin-prick they do on your thumb when you go to give blood, so they can test you’re not in fact a gene-stealing alien come to take over the planet. Thus, designers of medical implements, we salute you.

Once it was cleaned up it didn’t look half bad – a bit messy but much more back to normal. Unfortunately I didn’t have the presence of mind to photograph it between cleaning and dressing, so you’ll have to take my word for it. However, in case anyone’s interested (hi Mum!), here are the photos I took before the whole procedure, while waiting, in glorious Zoom-O-Vision:

Both feet forward

Right foot

Right foot - close up

Right foot - Extreme Close Up!

Good thing: during the time spent waiting I managed to scream through a large chunk of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which I’d just recently started. I’d put this book off for ages, dismissing it as “the book of the film, which I hadn’t seen though was supposed to be quite good, but I don’t know, it looked a bit schmultzy from the trailer”. I was surprised to learn recently that People Who Know thought different and maybe I should read it after all. And it’s fab – nearly finished now. :-)

Bash used the time well too, ever working, ever working:

Ever on the job

To conclude, I went to the other hospital yesterday and ploughed some more through the book, before learning that no the toe wasn’t broken, and I should just be nice to it, basically. They dressed it again, and now I am muchos swaddled in white linen a la:

Very big toe due to enormous bandages

What an exciting life I lead, eh?

Jesus M. Christ

Now that’s comedy [act]. I stopped reading Penny Arcade ages ago — too many references to computer games I didn’t and never would know about. But that’s class. Oh, go on then… Just one more.

Bluetooth security flaws

Your Bluetooth phone is a security risk [risks]

Then, German researcher Herfurt developed a program called Bluebug that could turn certain mobile phones into a bug to transmit conversations in the vicinity of the device to an attacker’s phone.

Yay technology.

Diary update

Um, yeah, so I guess I’ve been chilling out, making a bit of music, enjoying the sun, doing a bit of work, and generally trying to make the most of not feeling like my life was an avalanche about to crest over me as I desperately hurled myself downhill… It’s been nice.

But where, my fan has been writing to me in his drove to ask, are the URLs about “unknown links between Cartesian geometry with imaginary numbers, recursion in Ruby and Banco Di Gaia?”. Well, I dunno, they’ll be back soon. In the meantime, a short precis.

The students have (mostly) gone home and the Computer Science department is a ghost town – lecturers are on holiday, at conferences, or (like me), ahem, working from home. It’s nice – a time to forget about teaching for a while, and get some research done, burying myself in books and papers. Soon enough it’ll be time to think about other people’s education again (resit exams in about three weeks, for instance), so I’ve been making the most of it. Plus the weather’s been really excellent…

My parents came and visited for a few days, which was most pleasant, and the first time they’d seen our house in Mumbles. We had a relaxed time, walking and driving around, eating and drinking, talking and reading, and basically Not Doing Much. They also brought us a television – since we moved here in March this has been a TV-free zone, which has been excellent. However, there were times when we missed it (Bash for the news, me for occasional brainless Sunday mornings) so when the parental units offered us their old one we gratefully brushed the gift horse’s teeth and took it home, there to feed it hay.

Bash and I have been exploring Mumbles a bit more lately, finding some excellent paths, walks, etc. – knowledge which we put to good use on Saturday when a possee (nay, pouch) of eight of us headed up to Mumbles Hill, there to lie in the sun, throw apples around, contemplate navels, and in Jo’s case, commune with nature by destroying then apologising to it. The weather was perfect and the view incredible – you could make out the cliffs on the north coast of Devon to the south, and to the east you could see Wales and England getting closer and closer to each other as the Bristol Channel narrowed to the horizon. It was Wow. Of course, all of this is utterly meaningless to anyone who wasn’t there I guess, so I’ll stop now.

We saw “I, Robot” yesterday. It was quite good, apart from Will Smith, who played his usual arrogant-misbehavin’, sytlish-dressin’, rule-bendin’, fast-machine-ridin’, wise-crackin’ gung-ho screen self. Very annoyin’. The robot/robot fight scenes were good though, and reminded me of “Robot Baby Rampage”, a fictional computer game envisioned by some of my buddies once upon a time.

Random update ends.