Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Ahh, early summer! The daytime temperature is reaching the 30's now, and even the mornings are getting too warm for comfort. Time to start bringing an extra t-shirt to work, to fill the thermos with ice tea, pack ear plugs for noisy fans and air conditioners, and look forward to a few months of everybody complaining about the heat.

And once again, like every year, the packed-to-the-gills Kobe Port Liner air is infused with the makeup and toiletries of overly enthusiastic university students; mixed with the delicate fragrance of Eau de Salaryman (a distinctive blend of unwashed suits, stale cigarette smoke and hangovers); and combined with the stale air of a hundred sweating passengers to produce a truly unique and evocative aroma. What it mostly evokes, of course, is an intense wish for you to be somewhere else.

And I will be. This summer I will be a tutor at the OCNC summer course in Okinawa. It's held at OIST, my home institution, so I'll spend some extra time before the course working on our project. In all I'll be away in Okinawa for over a month. The summer school takes a lot of time (it's 24 hours a day for the whole three weeks) and I need to keep up my regular work, but I'm sure there will be some occasional opportunities to enjoy the balmy Okinawan seas. I might accidentally pack snorkel, mask and fins along for the trip, and I'll make sure I act very surprised when I find out. ^_^

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Lenovo X240S, and Ubuntu 14.04

I got a new work laptop this week, a small and light Lenovo X240S. It's one of their "ultrabook" machines, where weight and size is more important than performance. A lighter, smaller and newer sibling to my own T430, more or less.

Lenovo X240S
Lenovo X240S. I'm a bit short on time so it's a quick shot with my Xperia Z1, taken at my non-too-clean desk.

It's got 8Gb memory and an 128Gb SSD drive. The Intel CPU and graphics are fairly low-end; a fair bit slower than the T430, despite being two years newer, though I don't notice any speed difference in normal use. The matte 12" touchscreen is low resolution at 1366x768 but it renders colour better than my own laptop. There's a touchpad, a keyboard nipple, and the usual ports.

I installed Ubuntu 14.04, and every single thing works flawlessly. The touchscreen, the special keys and the lid camera work right out of the box, and it found our office printer without any trouble. With the lone exception of my oddball keyboard layout, I could pretty much install, restart and be on my way.

Just about all tweaks and fixes I used to do in Ubuntu are unnecessary by now. It's so polished that I really don't need to do anything. Of course I still need to install a bunch of apps and move data over; that's going to take weeks or months as I gradually find out what I need on this machine.

The keyboard is a bit cramped, and retains the dumb layout with a too-easy-to-hit print screen button to the right of the space bar. I wish they'd kept the larger Enter key too. But the feel is good and the keyboard works well overall.

The touchpad is a major regression. It's much larger than on the T430, so you easily touch it by mistake, and it lacks separate hardware buttons. Instead the touchpad surface itself buckles as you press it. But when you do, the pointer inevitably moves, and often moves right out of the area you aimed at. It seems to emulate two buttons on the bottom and only one at the top, but it's hard to tell. There's no middle button at all. You need a mouse with this machine, no question about it.

This model has a touchscreen, and it's neat. It works right out of the box in Ubuntu, and works really well. I guess this is where Canonicals work on Ubuntu Touch is paying off; it figures out when I'm moving, dragging and clicking without missing a beat. Using Inkscape is a joy, and drawing on it feels very natural. It'd be a much better input than the touchpad, in fact, if it didn't keep my hand away from the keyboard and up in the air.

I plan to separate my home and work machines from now on, but I still need to have some data available on both machines. Firefox syncs bookmarks and other things already. I've also set up Zotero to sync the biographical database through Zoteros servers, and I sync the actual PDFs through my ownCloud server at home. I still haven't decided how to handle other data, but I'll probably sync that too over ownCloud for now. A lot of it is managed by Git already, so once I update my server I'll keep it as git repositories there instead.

Overall, the big surprise is that there's no surprises. Ubuntu just works. It's now so polished that it gets out of your way, leaving you to focus on your job. The X240S is a bit better than the T430 in some ways, a bit worse in other, but overall I'm hard pressed to find any notable differences. A very non-eventful upgrade, and that's a good thing.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The EU Election — I've voted; will you?

It's time to vote for the EU parliament again. As I don't reside in Sweden I vote by post, and I've alredy cast my vote. What did I vote for? The Swedish Pirate Party.

I've cast my vote.

The EU parliament is a bit different from national parliaments. Most regular political questions are not decided there. Pensions, welfare, medical care, defence, immigration, schools and so on are all decided at a national level; the EU simply doesn't have much or anything to do with such things. Whatever your views on any of it, this election does not affect it.

What they do decide on tend to be big, EU-wide questions or the transnational aspects of national issues, especially when it affects the fundamental rights of EU citizens. Take movement within the union for instance, where the EU assures your right to move freely as a member, but doesn't regulate the national rules for work benefits, certifications or work eligibility limits, as long as the rules aren't discriminatory.

As your national politics don't map onto the EU level, there's little point in casting a protest vote or use it to show national party support. National parties aren't really affected by this vote, and their positions on national issues may not say a lot on their policy for different EU-wide questions. So just as it can make perfect sense to split your vote in local elections, it can make a lot of sense at the EU level as well.

So, why the Pirate Party? One of the major responsibilities of the EU are our fundamental rights as citizens and as humans. Traditionally that has included rights to speak or to publish, congregate and unionize, the right to travel, the right to privacy, and ethnic and gender equality. You could arguably add things like a level economic and legal playing field to the list as well.

But these rights are all increasingly exercised through the internet. The net is becoming the printing press, the town square, the trading market, the meeting hall, the library — and yes, both the quiet coffee-shop corner booth and shady alley, as well as the microphone in the wall, the concealed tele-lens and the secret registers and dossiers.

The future of the net is the future of our fundamental rights as individuals. And as events the past few years have shown us, that future is currently under sustained, serious attack. Safeguarding that future is far too important to leave to private companies, lobbyists and unelected security organizations. None of them have any interest in safeguarding these rights, and every reason to pervert or erase them. What use is your right to speak today if the net will refuse to carry your words?

The net is truly international, to a greater degree than any other system we've ever created. It's too big and too diffuse for any national organization to regulate or safeguard. This is exactly where a transnational body such as the EU can really make an important and long-lasting difference for the better.

And despite all missteps, they often do; just two months ago the parliament voted through a data protection reform that greatly limits how and when personal data can be collected by others. And they did it because parliament members from parties such as the Pirate Party worked long and hard to make it happen.

Which is why I choose to vote for the Pirate Party. The net is vital for our fundamental rights as citizens in the EU, and the Pirate Party is working to safeguard it. If the net is important to you too, then you may want to vote the same way.