Notes from the Library

Fri, 31 Jul 2015

I arrived in Tucson to start the Philosophy PhD at the University of Arizona on Monday, and I now find myself in indecision about whether I should do it or not, and I’m stalling on signing the employment papers with the university. I’ve never been in a situation like this before: having travelled all the way here, I would have expected my heart to be committed to giving it a go. But it isn’t, in fact, I’m afraid and I want to go home. For my own benefit, in this blog post, I’ll try to give the best arguments I have for attending and for not attending.

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Fri, 03 Jul 2015

The GNOME keyring is very convenient; it figures out what keys you need to unlock and pops up the relevant dialogs to do so at the right times. But by default it caches them until you logoff. You can have caches of PGP passphrases expire:

gsettings set org.gnome.crypto.cache gpg-cache-ttl 300
gsettings set org.gnome.crypto.cache gpg-cache-method 'timeout'

but per this bug you can’t do the same for SSH keys.1 An alternative is to check for X11 activity using the xprintidle utility, and clear all keys when the user has been idle for five minutes. This crontab entry does that:


while true; do
    if [ $(xprintidle) -ge 300000 ]; then
        ssh-add -D 2>/dev/null
    sleep 300

I’ve got Xfce running pkill -u $USER /path/to/this/script; /path/to/this/script & as part of its startup sequence.



You can just turn off the SSH key handling of gnome-keyring-daemon though I’m not sure this works in all versions of gnome-settings-daemon in circulation. The gconf boolean key might be /apps/gnome-keyring/daemon-components/ssh.

Sat, 20 Jun 2015

Six months ago I activated the Emacs Vim Emulation Layer, EVIL, and tried to go back to the vim keybindings I used years ago, before Org-mode dragged me into Emacs like it does so many. I found that it didn’t suit me: the Emacs keybindings turned out to be more deeply wired into my fingers, and I was no longer convinced by the idea of the Vim zen cult (no hard feelings guys, you’re cool). One thing that I found when configuring EVIL was that although my configuration for the Vim emulation was complicated, I could strip out a lot of other stuff from my Emacs configuration that I was using to work around Emacs not being that great at editing text. I learnt something from this despite deactivating EVIL again, a lesson I’ve applied again this week.

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Mon, 15 Jun 2015

Joel on Software: Controlling Your Environment Makes You Happy

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Joel on Software: Things You Should Never Do, Part I

We’re programmers. Programmers are, in their hearts, architects, and the first thing they want to do when they get to a site is to bulldoze the place flat and build something grand. We’re not excited by incremental renovation: tinkering, improving, planting flower beds.

There’s a subtle reason that programmers always want to throw away the code and start over. The reason is that they think the old code is a mess. And here is the interesting observation: they are probably wrong. The reason that they think the old code is a mess is because of a cardinal, fundamental law of programming:

It’s harder to read code than to write it.

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