Category Archives: Allure

Emacs on Mac OS X

During the weekend I spent a few hours setting up a new hacking environment for my latest curiosity, Lisp. Evidently all the cool kids use Emacs for hacking in Lisp so I invested the time to revisit my Emacs setup.

Previously I would SSH into each server on which I had files to edit and run Emacs in each shell. This forced me to maintain .emacs files everywhere and exposed me to network breaks. (I tried screen but OSX+screen+Emacs is the deadly triad of configuration hell.)

Now I use GNU Emacs for Mac OS X, a universal binary compiled just days ago from the GNU source. Instead of running Emacs on a remote server, I use TRAMP to connect and edit remote files. When I want to open a remote file, I prefix the path with /ssh:hostname: or /scp:hostname:. TRAMP can browse and autocomplete in remote directories just as well as in local directories.

I already keep my most used servers in my .ssh/ssh_config file and I use shell scripts to start master connections with logs tailing in terminal windows. Master connections cut down on TRAMP connection times. TRAMP reads ssh_config for hostname autocompletion, so I can open remote files in fewer keystrokes than ever before.

There so many benefits to using Cocoa Emacs instead of Terminal+SSH+Emacs. I don’t have to mess with Terminal’s key maps and then fix them in every remote .emacs file. I don’t even need to install Emacs on remote servers. The kill ring integrates with the clipboard and works across all remote hosts. The network can’t lag my keystrokes or kill my editing session. Frames. Menus. Scroll bars.

I must stop blogging and get back to work. But first I must thank David Caldwell for setting up emacsformacosx.com. Of all the major hacking environment shifts I’ve made, this was the easiest and most powerful.

I miss school

Matt misses school. I miss school, too. Sometimes I think about returning as a part-time or auditing student. I would definitely be a much better student now but what matters most is that I would be able to engage the teachers without fear. I used to be scared to say anything to a teacher.

I think that feeling stems from the way my second grade teacher scolded me for my precocious objection to her rule that “you can’t subtract a bigger number from a smaller number.” I went in knowing about negative numbers and I came out embarrassed and confused and unable to trust teachers.

I vowed that I would quit school as soon as I could. Fortunately I forgot about my vow until my third year in college. 🙂

Whiskey Halloween

Zoe and I had a nice trip to New Orleans for Halloween. Her friend there is the publisher of a food magazine so we ate at some excellent places and enjoyed a private Halloween party. We spent a total of 30 seconds on Bourbon Street during the crush of the night’s festivities, which was long enough for a reveler to bump into me, apologize, and plead for his life. (I wasn’t in costume. Am I really scary?)

We stayed around the corner from the Canal end of Bourbon Street. I’m a bourbon enthusiast. My current obsession is the Antique Collection, five small-batch whiskeys released once a year from the Buffalo Trace distillery. I already had bottles of all but the most difficult to find, the George T. Stagg bourbon. When Zoe and I toured that distillery this summer we found none for sale within 100 miles. When I tried to pre-order Stagg from my local store I learned that the distributor’s entire allotment was already allocated.

Bourbon hunting is a serious game. It’s like Pokemon. So when we sat down for a late dinner Friday night at Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House I had to ask for Stagg. The waiter asked the bartender and was told they were out. I shrugged and had a Sazerac cocktail instead.

On the way to lunch the next day we stopped again at the Bourbon House for a drink. This time I sat at the bar and scanned the bottles myself. I saw antlers. I was going to get my drink!

The bartender picked up on my enthusiasm and we talked about this and other bourbons. She put the bottle on the bar for my inspection and handed me the distillery’s letter of pedigree. Then she gave us the name of a liquor store in the French Quarter that might carry it.

After lunch we found the store. They had three bottles of Stagg on the shelf. I asked whether they limited the sale of rare whiskeys. Nope, just buy what you want. So I got a case (three bottles) and walked straight back to the Bourbon House to thank the bartender. She made my day and then some.

I later found out via Google and Wikipedia that George T. Stagg is nicknamed “Hazmat” when it is more than 70% alcohol (140 proof) which is the maximum concentration allowed by the FAA on commercial flights. The 2009 proof is 141.4. Stop by for a taste but let’s not talk about how I got these bottles back home.

Butter-free grilled cheese

  • Bread slices, 2
  • Cheese slices, 2
  • Bacon strips, 4
  1. Fry bacon over medium heat. Remove bacon and set aside.
  2. Place bread slice in pan to absorb half of fat and set aside.
  3. Place second bread slice in pan to absorb remaining fat.
  4. Add cheese slice and cover for a few seconds to promote melting.
  5. Add bacon and second cheese slice and cover for a few seconds.
  6. Place first bread slice on top with greasy side up to make sandwich.
  7. Turn sandwich to brown both sides and remove from heat.
  8. Advise paramedics before enjoying.

SXSW Interactive doesn’t matter anymore (why you need a Gold badge)

It might matter to you but it’s flat to me. No more fizz, no more buzz. Nothing that didn’t already cross my reader or that won’t be here soon enough. I should be able to watch the best talks at home on video anyway. Nobody will mind if I drink beer at the Iron Cactus until it’s time to stand in line for a world premier screening at the Ritz.

I’m no Tony Robbins myself but I dread sitting on conference center chairs while geeks practice their public speaking on me. Last year I spared myself half the misery by sticking my face in a laptop. This year I am sparing myself the whole misery by keeping my butt out of conference center chairs altogether. Theater seating is ten times more comfortable and there is good service.

SXSW Interactive is a well-built structure. It provides a definite time and place where dense social networking is encouraged in many forms but it guarantees nothing. The panel schedule is a gamble akin to playing roulette. Some panels are unforgettably good. Even so, many veterans will report and I agree that most of the best events do not appear on the schedule and many are not even restricted to badge holders.

Still, I like to have a badge with Interactive privileges. I maintain hope that smarter people than myself will fill me with knowledge and inspiration. So far I am satisfied with the interactions I have shared with people face-to-face. I am having a good time this week and nothing would spoil that faster than an hour on a stiff seat in a darkened room wishing I were anywhere else.

I wanted to give it a chance. I studied the schedule but nothing grabbed me and pulled me in. It occurred to me that I should at least attend my favorite panel but it’s not on the schedule this year. My heart sank.

Surely there are others who have felt this way. I know some who stopped attending because the strain outweighed the value. I know this about myself: experiences that echo the boredom that pervaded my educational career can also summon the discontent that was my reaction to that boredom. The similarity between a panel schedule and a day in the life of myself as a high school student is enough to commence the dark reverberations.

I also know that my moods and tastes are subject to change without notice. It would not surprise me to find myself excited about panels in the future. Nor would it to learn that my attitude had been soured by a temporary condition elsewhere in my life. Surely others have recovered from similar downswings.

Unless and until I am drawn to an Interactive event, I am thankful that my SXSW Gold badge includes Film. If you need me, look for me comparing schedule grids at the Iron Cactus. Or I’ll be working at home face-to-face with visiting coworkers. It makes me extra glad to live in Austin.

Thanks to Pema Chodron

I never took a serious interest in Buddhism. Maybe because it never did anything for me, I never did anything for it. Yesterday that changed.

Zoe and I were on a flight when I got furious at a flight attendant. Mean thoughts dominated my mind and shaped my attitude. I pulled out my iPod hoping to find something with the power to calm me. I found Pema Chödrön‘s lecture, Getting Unstuck, and started at around the 35 minute mark.

Within five minutes my emotional situation was explained and my rage subsided. She had begun to explain shenpa and I saw how I had become attached to my angry feelings for the flight attendant. At that moment it was easy to let go of the anger.

Today the lesson resonates like a gong. A few minutes ago I unsubscribed myself from a blog that stokes my rage and fails to provide great enough value to offset the time spent reading. I get attached to things for the nuttiest reasons.