DIARY 2013














Thu, Apr 25

<22:32 EEST> It's funny how things tend to have to go really bad before they are good again, and how being busy tends to cluster up: when you have something urgent going on, it is likely that you have another thing or two likewise urgent. Yet, when things don't work, they usually do work out.

It's been a busy couple of weeks, with the premiere of Tyngät in the midst. During the premiere week, Willow's keyboard started acting up, and on the previous day's dress rehearsal I mildly panicked, as the keyboard wasn't doing anything. An interesting change from the spontaneous keypresses, but did not help in particular, though it resolved itself enough for the show after a couple of reboots. To clarify the overall situation, I need to use a computer for the sounds and music, since a CD player is too slow for quick changes. I also have extra helpers like auto fade up my sleeve.

Incidentally, during the week I had been updating Leela back to life as a backup machine. It was a little tricky though; the lack of PowerPC support in some X11 packages had been one of the reasons for getting a more mainstream laptop. Some applications had a nasty habit of crashing X, even if X itself was using nothing more than fbdev, again due to lack of PPC development. Fortunately, Audacious for the sound and Abiword/Qpdfview for the script turned out stable so far, and all of the shows so far have gone smoothly with Leela.

This includes the premiere party with my usual DJ set. I had already set up an ad hoc WLAN for controlling the player with my N900 phone, so that I wouldn't have to sit in the sound booth all night, and it worked nicely on Leela as well. Another trick was a ramdisk setup for the play itself, as Willow's hard drive has an annoying lag on occasion, probably related to idle3 head parking. I'm not sure if it is really necessary on Leela, but it doesn't hurt.

In line of these glitches so far, the external HD carrying all of my party tracks crapped out during the night. It has experienced a number of issues over the years, and I am planning to upgrade to something bigger and smaller anyway, but it did ruin the mood for me for a while. Fortunately, there was plenty of music provided by others, notably Finnhits from Jan. I left for home among the last party heroes around 6 am. (The HD itself is fine, it's just the firewire-sata bridge part that has gone under.)

Next day, I filed a service call for the keyboard, as this Thinkpad is still under warranty. It took until Monday to get a reply, but from then on service was extremely prompt, and a replacement keyboard was delivered to me on Tuesday.

It worked for a few minutes, then crapped out again like the old one.

A little more testing and googling was in order. First, I found that it worked fine if it was just hanging loose, instead of its usual tight place. I soon learned of a typical fix involving a little tape; the keyboard cable was chafing against a sharp corner of the metal chassis. Since then, the replacement has been working perfectly, and I think the old one is still kind of OK as a backup with a little taping.

So, something that I might have learned anyway with a little more googling, but since the machine was under warranty, I figured I'd play safer. As a bonus, I got a somewhat nicer keyboard. It turned out this machine was originally sold with a UK model, but it had a US one when I bought it. The dedicated reader should already know that I generally prefer the UK layout, but I'm OK with US as well. Interestingly, the difference is not just a matter of software and symbols, but there is a stark physical variation around the enter key. UK and Scandinavian enter is relatively tall and narrow, taking up two rows, while the US version only lives on the home row. (Spare the cultural connotations.) It's been interesting to note how the UK/Scand enter feels easier to use, but it's probably just a matter of acquaintance; I can see my pinky reaching higher than the home row (if you know what I mean).

While all this theatre technology was going on, I was also busy with the final stretch of a math course. Yesterday was the second and last exam in Algebra, which is probably the most interesting of the three courses I've taken this spring. I see some of the math majors struggling with the course, but I have found a lot of the ideas natural due to my programming experience, Project Euler in particular. It is weird because the course is supposed to be the most abstract so far, and indeed it is, but some of the abstractions are easily learned via actual implementations (if not practical applications). My science background might suggest that analysis/calculus should come more naturally, and while it does, I guess it has lost some of my interest over the decades.

Tomorrow is another one of our shows with Tyngät, one which I'm looking forward to, since we finally have dozens of reservations. It's been a little quiet soon after the premiere, but we did get a nice review in the local newspaper. Music was not mentioned, but on the other hand I've received plenty of personal praise for that, so I can't complain.

Risto A. Paju