Friday, December 29, 2017

4k Monitors, DPI, and Linux

A couple weeks ago, I got my first 4k monitor and hooked it up to my systems. The mac tolerates it (barely, at 30hz instead of 60.) The Linux machine... has been a struggle. So here are my collected hints. Bear in mind, my system is Xubuntu, at least for the moment.

1. Make sure you're getting the full resolution at 60Hz, assuming your video system can do that. I had to switch from a single link HDMI cable to a DVI cable.

2. The print gets really small. Set your font DPI (Settings, Appearance, Fonts). For my monitor, a 28 inch diagonal, at 3480x2160, that DPI works out to 157. There are calculators online.

3. Some applications still have tiny print? Like most especially LibreOffice, where the benighted fools took scaling //out// of the code this version? There's a trick. See, at least with XFCE's settings system, it doesn't propagate your new DPI to the X server itself, and Libreoffice gets its DPI settings from the xserver, not your desktop manager. Edit your .Xsettings or .Xdefaults file (whichever you feed to xrdb) and add this line:


(where 157 is whatever you set your DPI to previously.) Save, log out and back in, and libre office should behave itself properly.

I also have a multi-GPU setting and I keep getting kernel panics at startup (but not all the time). Some kind of race condition is happening, and I think the Nouveau drivers are being naughty (even though they're not supposed to be involved at all.) But that's a different struggle


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

E-Bikin' 3

So I've been riding every day or two for a while now. More observations:

1. Lights. It gets dark //early//. I have circuit breakers on order and lights already installed on the bike. I'll put up another post when I have everything working. Or I've set the bike on fire.

2. I finally found a situation where my brakes were a little bit inadequate. There are some fairly steep walking/bike trails around here. I'd never tried them before when I was on lung power only, and even with the boost at full power (750 watts) my legs were burning quite a bit by the time I got to the top. Then, of course, I had to get down.  On a dirt trail, 15-20MPH seems a lot faster than it does on the road. I had enough brake to slow down, but I had to use some front brake, which I normally shy away from doing. (Too many trips over the handlebars). If I'd needed to stop in a hurry, I might have been in trouble. This isn't my usual riding pattern, so it's not urgent to do the brakes. But like I said before. If the wheels give me grief and I have to build new ones, drum brakes for me.

3. When it's freezing out, wear some freakin' gloves. Even at a placid 14MPH, my fingers were going numb where they stuck out of my riding gloves. I need to investigate cold weather gear that's appropriate to biking if I'm going to keep doing this on cold days.

4. It's STILL fun. :)


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Ebikin' 2

"She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid." -Solo to Luke about the Millennium Falcon

This is my ebike. 1989(ish) Rockhopper, acquired in the late 1990s. Original (to me) parts: wheels, seat stem, brakes, kickstand, frame, pedals. Pretty much everything else got replaced, either through normal maintenance, my previous program of "making the bike comfortable for a middle aged guy whose hands (and junk) don't like being beaten on" or as part of the BBS02 kit install.

Since you asked, the seat is an ISM touring model (I think. It looks like them, anyway.)  The idea is it only supports your "sitting bones" the bottom of your pelvis, rather than pressing on your tail bone, your crotch, etc etc.  It works for me.

Biggest pains in the rear partswise: the fork and headstock bearings. 1 inch quill front ends on mountain bikes have gone the way of the dodo, for the most part. Getting a fork that fits took me a couple tries. The headstock bearings were a pain mostly because (I think) my headstock is slightly out of round at the bottom. The top race pressed in without a fuss. The bottom? Not so much. In any case, it works and it seems solid now.

Lessons learned: 1. A sledge hammer is almost always the wrong tool on bikes. 2. So is a Sawzall. 3. So is a crowbar. It's a good thing I didn't need to reuse that crank bearing cartridge, or the old cranks themselves. Nuff said.

Sometimes the custom bike tools really are the best way to go. Crank pullers and chain breakers are high on this list. Get good ones. I twisted a Walmart chain breaker into scrap metal in about an hour of use. Also, if you're putting in the BBS02 kit, spring for the Bafang wrench to go with it. Feeling flush? Get the Bafang socket set instead. Lunacycle has both. Repair chain links are worth having, but the special pliers aren't. (These are the KMC type) You can set them with the shaft of a punch (press down between the rollers and wiggle until the link latches on both sides), or just get on the bike and stomp on the pedals a few times, and you can punch the shafts/rivets out of them with a chain breaker just like you can regular chain links. If you have a good chain breaker.

Special chain lube? Mm. Mine's new, and has its factory grease/oil, which is very sticky indeed. I've read that this is excellent lubrication and to leave it that way until it squeaks. After that, I have a gallon of lathe way oil for the job.  Don't ask why. It's a long story. It's the same story as why everything else is/will be lubed with lathe spindle oil, also from a gallon jug. Or one of two tubes (another long story) of white lithium grease. Will this bite me down the road? Maybe. But I'll learn something, at least.

"I am smiling a great smile. The smile of a man who f***ed with his car and  didn't break it." - Andy Weir, The Martian

Why not just buy an ebike? That, mostly.

Sunday, November 12, 2017


For some years (nearly 20, in fact) I've owned a late 1980s Specialized Rockhopper. For those too young to remember, these were early mountain bikes. Steel frames, no suspension, designed for durability rather than super-light-weight. I've been riding it, because after sitting and writing for hours at a time, my back is very appreciative of balancing a bike.

The problem was endurance. Let's face it, I'm not a small man, and I haven't been a regular biker since the early 1990s, when I was 20some years younger and there was considerably less of me. Also, I live on a pretty significant hill. So I'd get out, get going nicely (down the hill), go once around the block, and by the time I got up the hill again, my lungs basically wanted to climb out of my chest. No problem with legs, just... no wind. One trip around the block, a bit less than a mile, and about 10 minutes, and I was done for the day.

That's no way to build endurance.

So back in July, I ran across GoodTurn cycles. These guys. I took a test ride on a few ebikes, gawked at the price (they sell nice - expensive - bikes) but... I was interested. By August, I'd dragged M, my very patient sweetheart, to come rent a pair of their bikes and go for a ride.

Hint. When you rent their bikes, if you are of size, don't let them stick you with one of the ones with seat post suspension. Those things are worse than useless if the springs can't hold you up.

Still, we had a nice ride, marred only when M fell and scraped her knee. (She's fine. It was, as she says, a booboo.)

Fast forward to this past Friday, November 10th. Combine existing Rockhopper with a Banfang BBS02 750 watt kit as sold by Lunacycle (these guys) and a //lot// of replacement parts, and I have a working ebike.  I took it for its first test ride today, around the same route I'd been riding before without power. Twice. Plus, I explored my neighborhood a little, too. More hills. 3.8 miles seems like a pleasant workout. Legs and lungs are in full agreement that it's plenty for one day.

First, at no time did I feel that Colorado's 20mph absolute boost speed limit was inappropriate. (You can go faster, but you have to do it on your own power, not the motor's.) So setting the BBS02's limiter to 20 doesn't bother me. Result: my bike is a legitimate class 2 ebike. 750 watts, pedelec control + a throttle.

Second, anyone who tells you that you don't get a workout riding an ebike hasn't ridden one. A full horsepower (750 watts) isn't //that// much. It's not a motorcycle. It's a bicycle with some help.

Third, anyone who tells you that you don't need gears on an ebike lives where you don't need gears anyway. Or they weigh 150 pounds. Or they have a multi-kilowatt ebike, which is just plain illegal here. Or they're idiots. Let me assure you, I used all 7 of my remaining gears on my ride. (The BBS02 replaces your bottom bracket, cranks, and chain rings, and only provides one chain ring.)

Fourth,  I recommend a throttle. I recommend a throttle, because there are times when you need to get the bike moving, be it up a hill or across an intersection when you have limited time before the cars come to squash you, and being able to just twist for power is a godsend. Especially if you forgot to shift down when you came to a stop.

Fifth, having built my own ebike, I have to say this. If all you want is an ebike, and you don't already have a bike you're fond of, you're probably better off buying a pre-built one. In the intervening months, the prices of ebikes have dropped dramatically, to the point where, for the cost of a good steel bike to start from, plus the kit, you can buy one.
I'm also not at all sure I'd build one around an 80s bike again either. The 1989 Rockhopper has been an unending pain in the ass to find parts for. Bikes have evolved hugely in the intervening years, both in terms of improvements and manufacturing convenience. 1 inch quill headsets, 130 (or so) mm hub widths, 26 inch rims, 7 speed cassettes, and so on cost me a lot of time and difficulty in replacements that I wouldn't have had with a newer bike. And to be honest, I'm still lucky. My Rockhopper was put together out by my old trainer in Colorado Springs (Hi Jeff!) who was (probably still is) a mountain bike racer. So I have far, far better rims than the stock ones, and they hold up under my weight and the added weight and stress of the motor and battery.  Everything was put together well, greased, done with the right tools, and so on.  (Note the past tense verb. As a bike mechanic, I'm still a hack.)

Now. In fairness to myself and the bike, I also have to say I didn't //just// want an ebike. I wanted a project I could tinker with mechanically. It was this or a dead VW engine, and the bike takes less garage space. I wanted to mess around with electric vehicles. It was this or a Tesla... haha no. It was this or do without.  Also, many ebikes have weight limits, and the moment I sat on one of them, I'd have voided the warranty.   So building my own was (probably) the rational choice. And I have to say I'm pretty proud of the result. It looks ghetto, and it is, but it does the job quite well so far.

Suppliers: I'm somewhat ambivalent about Lunacycle. On the one hand, they're selling the Bafang kits for the same price you can mail order them from China, and they've (presumably) paid the import duties and they (presumably) support the warranty. They also carry spare parts. Awesome. On the down side, when my charger was backordered, they didn't bother telling me, nor have there been //any// instructions or documentation, including about the warranty. Also, while my order was in progress, they started a promotion for a free upgrade to a color display. They didn't upgrade me and didn't tell me. I got what I ordered, so I don't feel like I was ripped off or anything, but it would have been nice if they'd thrown one in.  I'm sure that in person they're a great, knowledgeable ebike shop, but their mail order business is probably swamped, and as a result it comes across as sketchier than it probably is. Still. Way more comfortable than ordering from China for a $750 kit. If I wind up building another ebike, I'll probably pony up to them again. At least I know them.

***Correction. The documentation section on Lunacycle's website is here:***

 I'm also a little ambivalent toward my local bike shop. Some of the guys there have been great, and no lie, I've cadged a lot of knowledge hanging out there and talking to them. On the other hand, there have been times when I felt like I was being suckered a little. They assured me, for example, you can't hook a Sram 7 speed shifter to a Shimano derailleur, so I had to change the derailleur. I did, and it was only 25 bucks,  but I've seen articles online suggesting it might not have been necessary. Their tools are a little pricey, compared to what I can get them for online. I'm not impressed at all with the truing job they did on my wheels. The front is ok, but it wasn't bad to begin with. The rear... well I took it in with a popped spoke and so badly out of true it was rubbing hard on the brakes. They fixed it, and it's way more true than it was, but there's a significant hop in it, and it still wobbles a little. It's usable. For now. If they couldn't get it all the way true, it'd have been nice if they'd told me. In fairness to them, I looked at the work order, and it does not say anything about //truing// the rear wheel, only replacing the spoke, so maybe that was a service I needed to pay extra for. I don't know. I think in the scheme of things they'd really rather sell me a new bike than help some middle aged fat guy (me) learn to fix his own ride, and sometimes it shows. It depends on who you get.  Still, most of the stuff they've sold me has worked, even though they don't have much that fits my bike. (They tell me 7 speed rear ends are pretty much extinct. The Internet says otherwise. I realize they do have to be choosy with what they carry parts for though. In the real world space is limited.)
I wonder if maybe I'm just cross-threaded a little with the biking community, that it's a more rough-and-tumble kind of business than I'm used to dealing with.

Next steps:
Build my own truing stand. I have an extra fork (Steering tube was too long. Threaded, quill front end. Long, unpleasant story). They tell me that because my wheels are under a lot of stress, they'll need spoke tightening and truing a lot more regularly than they would otherwise. At 25 bucks a whack even if I don't break any spokes, that'll get expensive fast. Other than the stand, the tools are cheap. This is something I need to learn to do for myself. Also, if these wheels really do have that much trouble doing the job, I can hand-lace my own mix of components to make stronger ones.
Think about brake improvements.  The Ebike world would have you believe that rim brakes are simply inadequate for an ebike, let alone one with the payload mass my bike deals with. That hasn't been my experience.  All I can figure is these guys are going a //lot// faster, and since kinetic energy = 1/2 mass * velocity^2, the kinetic energy of their higher speed (that the brakes have to handle) quickly goes higher than mine, even with my higher mass. But if I do need better brakes, I've been looking at Sturmey-Archer drum brakes. Disk brakes... on a bike... I dunno. If you get the rotors dusty or oily your brakes malfunction. Badly.  (This is probably what made M fall on her rented bike. The disk brakes were grabby.) Drum brakes are all internal. Even if you ride in the wet (which I have no intention of, but you never know) the brakes will work as advertised. What the tires do is a different kettle of fish.
Lights. I can't even find my tail light, and my headlight is about the size of my thumb. I have a 48 volt battery with 13 amp-hours of current available. I didn't use a measurable amount in my 3.8 mile ride. I can afford to run some bigger, brighter lights.
If the system is fused anywhere, nobody's said anything about it. There are probably polyfuses in the controller, but if I tap the battery directly for lights, that does me no good. The ebike community seems not to be big on fuses anyway. I'm big on not having electrical fires between my legs. I have a 3d printer and I know where to order the connectors (Mouser) and automotive blade style fuses rated for 48 volts. There will be a fuse box.
Riding buddies I know guys at the gym who have ebikes. I know guys at the gym who may want one soon. And of course, there's my bestest buddy for all things, M.  I want to ride with others. I want this to be social.


That's where I am

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Why I Will Be Dumping Scrivener Shortly

Scrivener, you have failed me for the last time. Your complete incompetence saving to network drives is unacceptable. Your lack of a real Linux version is unacceptable. Your miserable compiling setup is unacceptable. Your IOS version is idiotic, hard to use, and unacceptable.  I have a day and a half's re-writing to do because of you. You and I are through.

*breaking neckbone sound*

Apology Accepted, Scrivener.

Seriously. If you have the chance to use Scrivener, DON'T. You will, unless your data setup is "a mac with no network connection," lose data. Don't think Dropbox can roll things back. It can't.  Time machine may get it, or it may not. (In my case I was on my Linux box running it in Wine.)  Scrivener may make backup files, or it may not, for no apparent reason. An unreliable storage venue for my text? Hell I have Microsoft Word for that.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Every year, Apple pisses me off a little more.

//rant on//
A few revisions ago, Apple nerfed the Disk Utility. It was a perfectly good, powerful utility that let you repair permissions (which, contrary to what they swore, they never got quite right), format drives in at least a few industry standards, and so on.

No longer.

Today, I discover that the tool is wholly incapable of putting a FAT32 format on an SD card. Seriously.

Apparently it's a bug, but we're not talking an official beta version of the OS here, nor are we talking public alpha testing (aka first released version - like 10.12.0) we're talking a mature, stable version of MacOS X.

Every year they piss me off a little more. I've looked at the iPhone X. No home button? Nope. Facial recognition? Fuck no. I wear a hat now and again. Sometimes with a hood if it's cold. Sometimes I need to shave. Sometimes I don't. (I predict the iPhone X will be Apples Galaxy Note 7 minus the explosions and fire.)

It's not just the phone, though. They keep pouring useless crap like Siri into the desktop OS, rearranging things for no good reason, and violating the fundamentals of UN*X operating systems: root access can do anything. I'm tired of jumping through added security hoops that don't do anything but get in my way (gatekeeper, looking at you here.) I'm tired of a computer that can't ever seem to share monitors correctly. The list goes on and on.

It's like they've forgotten how to be a computer company.  One day, my biggest reasons to use a mac (supporting family members with macs and writing for commercial presses that think Microsoft Word is //good//) will end, and if this mac is still around, it'll become a respectable Linux box like all the rest of my computers except my phone and my iPad. If there were a viable option for those, I'd consider it when my phone comes up for replacement. (No, Android is not viable. It's much, much worse. I've tried it. Apple is at least picky who it lets shaft you. Android pimps you to everyone who walks by.)

I don't know what the solution is, but I'm slowly losing patience with Apple. Tim Cook needs to go. His minion Johnny Ive, who is very talented but needs a firm hand to rope him in to practicality, also needs to either go or get that firm hand. (Upside the head a few times, while tempting, is probably excessive.)

Can't stand Windows for long term use (though 10 isn't //bad//.) Slowly but surely reaching the same point with OS X. Don't really want to go Linux completely – I did the alternative platform thing with BeOS. I //like// being able to buy commercial software. I don't know what the answer is, really. But something's gotta change.
//rant off//

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Scrivener Important Safety TIp

If you are running Scrivener in Wine under Linux, make sure to upgrade to wine 2.0 at least.  Yes, this means ripping out the old version Ubuntu gives you and going to winehq and installing their version. Yes, this means you'll have to create some menu items by hand.

Scrivener appears to run in Wine 1.6, but it's got some severe bugs. Most important is a data-loss bug when syncing a project you created in IOS wine to the desktop over Dropbox. In Wine 1.6, Scrivener will report a conflicted version. If you tell it to correct the conflicted version, it will remove the conflicted file, then crash without writing the repaired version. How, exactly, this became a "total loss of document" I don't know. Probably user error.  But still.  Under wine 2.0, Scrivener behaves properly and can sync new documents from IOS over dropbox without drama.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Writing and Politics

For some time, I've been aware of the whole SJW vs Sad Puppies debate. Here's how the whole business seems to me.

First: it's artificial. If I understand the story right, the whole argument was started in the first place by one particular author to get his books on the Hugo ballot. Apparently it worked. I think that's disgusting.

Second: as with all artificial political polarization, neither side has a monopoly on trolls, bad behavior, or dumb ideas.

My take: As was said in War Games, the only way to win is not to play.

So I will go on as I have been going. I will include non-white characters in my stories because they fit in my stories, because their presence in the story implies background that might not otherwise be there, or because the character grabbed me by the throat and insisted. They do that sometimes. My characters may or may not be cisgendered for those same reasons. I will refrain from writing some demographics in worlds too close to the real because I do not feel I understand their cultural experience well enough to get it right. Disabilities are somewhat easier for me to imagine, so I will do my research and use as needed, or as the character demands.  I will write male or female characters, including as narrating characters, as I or they see fit. 

If you identify as a Sad Puppy or an SJW, and my work offends you?  Easy. Don't read it. It's ok to put it down.* There's more science fiction out there than could be read in one lifetime. No-one covers what you think is burningly important? Well, paper's cheap. Write your own. Set the world on fire, if you can, and I will cheer you on because you made it, even if your work's not my thing. I won't tell you what you should read or write. I ask only that same courtesy.


*Harlan Ellison has written stories where I hated everyone in the story, hated the narrative voice, and hated what was obviously about to happen. I still couldn't put the damn thing down, or forget it once I got to the end. I hope to have chops like that some day.

Friday, March 17, 2017

EBooks on Sale!

Beginning March 19th, I'm having a sale. From the 19th to the 23d, Looking Glass and Irreconcilable Differences will be free. Brass and Steel: Inferno will be available on a sliding discount: two bucks off the regular $2.99 price, then one buck off after a few days. Please do tell your friends. I'm trying the waters of Amazon's promotional mechanisms, and I'd like to get a sample of what they can do for me.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Farewell to Shipman

Farewell to John W. Shipman, software artist, musician, alpha nerd, friend, and communicator. He passed away on the 31st of January 2017 after a brief illness.

Shipman is the guy who turned me on to LaTeX, the free, open source programmatic typesetting system I use to set my dead-tree books, among many other things.

He could talk about food, 1960s concerts and trekking across New Mexico in a Volkswagen to see them, and tell stories about all of the interesting, quirky people he'd known through his life. Many of whom we had the pleasure of meeting while visiting him in hospice or at his memorial service. He had dozens, if not hundreds of friends there.

May he who watched birds now soar with them.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Scrivener on Linux, Revisited

So I finally got Windows Scrivener to work on Linux in Wine.
The trick seems to be you must configure Wine to use windows later than windows xp. I have mine pretending it's Windows 10. You may also need the latest version of Wine - wine-staging - but I'm not clear if that's actually required or not. I have it, because I tried it first.

Now I just have to get a Wine for Windows license. I wonder if they'll sell me an upgrade to the dual platform license?

[edit] They did. Also, the Ubuntu standard installation of Wine works fine. Make sure you're using at least wine2.0. Sure would be nice if Ubuntu would get with the program and keep Wine up to date. Just set it to run as Windows 8. Also, I now use this script  to enable font smoothing in Wine, which makes it look less horrid.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Comcast ghost voicemail

I use Comcast for my internet/tv/phone provider. Recently, it started giving me the dialtone pulsing, indicating I had a voicemail. When I checked from the website and the phone itself, there was no voicemail. Doing a little digging, I found that this is a frequent problem for Comcast users.

The solution turns out to be pretty easy. Go to your comcast voicemail screen on the website, here:, and click refresh.  That's all you have to do. Why the boneheads at Comcast couldn't be bothered to post that in their forums, I'll never know.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Manuskript: an open source Scrivener replacement

 I like Scrivener. I use it constantly for writing.  Unfortunately, they dropped support for Linux in 2015, and while the old Linux version still works at the moment, it's only a matter of time until they introduce an upgrade to the main line (OS X, Windows, and IOS) that breaks compatibility with the Linux version.

Scrivener supposedly runs in Wine, but I've not managed to get it to do so thus far.  Plus, wine apps tend to be a bit on the flaky side. If you want to see an enraged author, have an app crash in a way that it didn't manage to preserve a backup first. It's painful.

Right now, and for the forseeable future, my solution to this is to maintain my mac, and instead of my Linux laptop for remote writing, use my iPad. (I have a keyboard for it. I can't imagine writing anything longer than a tweet -- and that only under duress -- with the on-screen keyboard.)

Scrivener isn't perfect. Its document compiler in particular is a turd.  You can make a lot of different formats with it, and most of them are almost right, but the control setup is horrific, poorly documented, and poorly supported. I've yet to make markdown or tex output work remotely correctly.  Also, its editor is a turd. Most editors allow you to create styles that are then remembered throughout the document. Thus, if you change a style, you change every instance of your use of that style. Not so with scrivener. You can create styles, alright, but they're not made part of the document(s) the way they should be. They're done as formatting on the fly. If you want to change something, you have to go back through every document and change it manually.

You can use external editors, but of course you can't have the system default to using one. It's little irritants like this that annoy me with my favorite tool.

The game has now changed.

Given the absence of Linux support, and the fact that Scrivener is in no way open source, the inevitable open source clone has popped up. It's called Manuskript.  I've just messed with it for a few minutes. It's... not horrible.  A little clunky in spots, yes. It's young yet.  I've not yet tried its document compiler, which for me makes or breaks it. I haven't looked to see if it fixes all, or indeed any of my annoyances with Scrivener, and it won't import/export Scrivener files that I've seen, but it exists. And it's free.

I'm not ready to switch... there's no real need. I have my writing needs taken care of with my mac and ipad for the time being. But I will certainly keep an eye on Manuskript. Geez, that and myHDL almost make me want to learn Python.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Plants vs Zombies Heroes

It's a nicely done game, fun play once you get the hang of it (I've never played collector card games before,) but as is typical of Electronic Arts games, you reach a point where it's nearly impossible to win without giving in to the constant touting to buy cards for real money. The boss of the last free mission has cards that are simply unbeatable with the default decks.  When I played RPGs we called that twinking.

So to heck with them, and to heck with the entire PVZ family of games. What was once a fun, standalone game from a good company (PopCap) is now a disgusting money grub. Oh, and Heroes won't respect your IOS device's landscape mode either.  Garbage. Complete garbage.


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