September 11th, 2007


Making Windows Work

It's time for a confession: when I was first introduced to computers, everything that went into them went in on punch cards, and there was not only a question of what computer language to use, but how to get the JCL to process the cards properly. As an undergraduate, the closest I came to seeing a screen edit were the terminals to the PDP-11, which were teletypes. Not an impressive editing medium.

It was into this mess that a friend introduced me to Unix, and the emacs editor, and I became a convert. Though I am still a novice (I have only been using it for a couple of decades, and I never program in lisp), I like the keyboard tricks that enable me to touchtype and move around the page. When the IBM PC is invented, they sensibly put the control key where it was meant to be for these tricks to work properly: they put it above the shift key next to the asdf line. Once microemacs was available, I was good to go: creating text first, then importing it into Wordperfect, and making it pretty so I could print it.

This whole process has become harder over the years on IBM PCs. First, the "caps lock" key, which belongs on typewriter keypads, not computer keypads, was introduced. Then the wordprocessing programs got more and more elaborate, trying to tempt me to do my composition in them: but they rarely accepted the emacs keystrokes. I learned the Wordperfect keystrokes, then learned the WORD keystrokes. But both of these started to use function keys and the mouse: innovations that meant that I wasn't resting with my hands on the keys.

Finally, delightfully, happiness again. Xkeymacs is a little utility to make my keystrokes work in firefox and notepad and all those other editors that don't accept emacs control codes. And, today, I came across the instructions to change the keyboard so that capslock goes back to being the control key. Result? My web browsers are suddenly emacs compliant. I can type with my hands resting comfortably on the home row, rather than getting repetitive stress injuries.

And, as evidenced by this post, I'm suddenly comfortable enough typing that I write more. Not bad for a couple of technical fixes.

Edison International: Power Outages and Gatekeepers

The power went out. It's the hot season (fall is hotter than spring and early summer in Southern Cal -- the result of several months of warming the earth), and airconditioners were going wherever available, and the power went out.

Actually, that's one of the reasons I have a laptop rather than a desktop computer: the laptop will keep running even as all the peripherals die, so I can shut down with care.

But the power dying brought up another problem: calling Edison International (used to be Southern California Edison). Here's the catch: they have those classy 800 numbers inviting you to call. THEY HAVE NO OTHER TELEPHONE NUMBERS. What does that matter? Well, if you've moved from out of area, and didn't get local telephone service because it would be another bill to pay on top of the cell phone you need these days, you won't be able to call them. The telephone company will just say, "Sorry, this number is not available in your area." You won't get through. 411 can't do it for you.

So you hope one of your neighbors has a phone installed, or doesn't have your problem. And think about gatekeepers. Unavailability. Community Service.

Be inspired.