I’ve inherited a mini PHP application to take registrations and store them - like Google Forms (Q: “Hey Chris! Why don’t you just use Google Forms?” A: Privacy laws) but run on a Waterloo Engineering faculty server.
Then I realized that I know pretty much nothing about the Nexus system! Well, I know a bit. But there’s no real source of information on what all you can do with your WatIAM account in terms of the engineering computers available. At least, I couldn’t find anything. So here it is: A Practical Introduction to What You Can Do with your Nexus Account at the University of Waterloo.
Storage Space: ecfile
Yournexus account comes with a whole 2 gigs of file space just for you that you can just toss stuff into. You can access it by just logging onto a Engineering computer-lab computer (it’s maps to the N:\ drive when you log in), over SFTP if you’re a normal computer person who just wants to get things done (and the cool kids will know that that also means you can connect directly over SSH if you’re a l33t h4x0r who lives on the command-line), or through the Nexus web application if you just want to upload your resume, dammit.
Connecting via SFTP is easy, just get yo’self an FTP program (FileZilla is my homie) and use the following credentials:
server: sftp.eng.uwaterloo.ca username: <your WatIAM username> password: <this should be obvious by now>
Connecting via SSH is way hardcore, you are obviously +t3h_pwn3r3r+. From the command line, just go one ‘o these: ssh <your WatIAM username>@sftp.eng.uwaterloo.ca and then enter your password when prompted. BOOM. You’re now in, Neo.
I found out you can run PHP scripts right from your webspace, which is super-useful. Here’s the output of phpinfo(), let’s see what we can learn from it:
Server name is schooner.uwaterloo.ca. Teehee.
The server’s running Apache. Full string is Apache/1.3.41 (Unix) DAV/1.0.3 mod_perl/1.30 mod_ruby/1.2.4 Ruby/1.8.2(2004-12-25) mod_ssl/2.8.31 OpenSSL/0.9.8i PHP/5.2.8 with Suhosin-Patc
You have no control over what’s turned on or installed - this is probably a good idea, although it makes me sad. The php.ini file is at /usr/local/etc/php.ini, but there was nothing there and I couldn’t make one:
Similarly, /usr/local/etc/php gets parsed for more .ini files (and one is reportedly parsed at extensions.ini), but I can’t touch anything in there. OK, whatever, again this is probably a good idea.
All of the usual fun modules are available (GD, hash, JSON, XML, MySQL, SQLite3, PDF and more) so it’s in no way a gimped PHP installation.
Random scripts through CGI
The IST website mentions the ability to run arbitrary scripts (basically anything that the server itself - a typical FreeBSD machine - can run). The prospect of being able to run random Python, Perl, whatever scripts is awesome, but they use CGIWrap to do it and there are a few steps you have to take before you can get there.
Make a “cgi-bin” directory under public_html by FTP or SSH or whatever your fancy is. Make sure it has read permissions for users that aren’t you, I set mine (and every file under it) to 755.
Put whatever scripts you want in there, make sure they have the proper shebang at the top so we know what interpreter to use! (For Python: #!/usr/local/bin/python. For Perl: #!/usr/local bin/perl.)
Make sure your scripts are also executable, set that bad boy to 755.
It was pretty hilarious watching friends go off on Twitter and Facebook about the US presidential elections…y’know, the Canadian friends. I know why they get so excited - the US race has a lot more drama and there is a lot more money and power associated with the seat further south than up here - but I got curious about how Canadian politics compared to US. More importantly, I decided to start reading about our issues and whatnot. I took a few of the top things Obama did from the Washington Monthly column and decided to look up what Canada had as a comparable accomplishment.
We never had “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (which was almost an interim solution to people’s concerns over homosexuality in the military - sort of a sweep-it-under-the-rug solution). We banned homosexuals from being in the military since 1976, which was kind of shitty, and we decided that if we found a gay servicemen we’d investigate and release them from duty. Took us 25 or so years but we realized that was a dick move, and so it was repealed starting in 2003, and nationally in 2005 - we’ve had openly gay servicemen and same-sex unions ever since (in fact the first same-sex marriage Nova Scotia’s Canadian Forces Base Greenwood and was described as “low-key but touching,” which is goddamned adorable.)
We had an economic stimulus package that more or less did nothing, according to the Fraser Institute, although the government is going with the fact that most of the spending was “more long-term.” More importantly, though, we didn’t have a bunch of our banks collapse following the recession. Our banks are more regulated than the US ones so we didn’t need to bail out companies as the economy tripped itself up. We were hit with harder times, but we were fairly insulated from the more immediate, severe effects of the recession - in fact, you could argue that a lot of our recession was due to the US (a pretty major trading partner) being in a recession.
Health Care? We’ve had that nation-wide since 1962, it first started in Saskatchewan in the mid-’40s. Wait times might suck sometimes, but we don’t turn away poor people and leave ‘em to die, and the government will actually threaten to shut down clinics for taking private payments (British Colombia did it in 2006).
We were not part of the “Coalition of the Willing” and never had full troops in Iraq that needed to be pulled out - although we occasionally loaned some to help out the US. In total we had 50 or 60 members of the military participate in the conflict, including four ships that patrolled the Persian Gulf as part of a task force. We actually have a decent list of war resisters from the US, and there are MPs trying to pass laws to give them safe harbour, although we will deport them if the US forces us to and it’s a pretty big issue. We’ve concentrated most of our efforts for rebuilding the country, and sending people (like Bob Rae) to help with that.
Similarly, we pulled our troops out of Afghanistan last summer when we decided the job was done, despite US forces being at their peak. We still have 950 personnel there now as part of a NATO training mission to train the Afghani army.
Our education system is still in a ridiculous state, there’s plenty that needs to be done, and we’re not getting much better under the Harper Government (are we still calling it that?), but America’s hat definitely has plenty going for it.
People always give me shit about loving Thunderbird, and fuck them. I always prefer desktop apps over web apps, and I think store-and-sync solutions are the way to go rather than crafting entirely new UIs in requires-a-connection HTML. What can I do with Thunderbird that I can’t do using Gmail? Pay attention to five (yes, I have five) different email accounts that I’ll use - I use one as my primary account, but I have others that will occasionally get messages that I want to receive. I have three personal emails (old Hotmail, newer Gmail that Google automatically changed all of my services over to and I still receive offline GChat messages on, and a more professional-looking university account.) I also have the email account of a website I’m the webmaster for, and whatever work email I’m using right now (I switch jobs a lot, as anyone at Waterloo will tell you). It’s also becoming fairly popular to have an email for a project that you’ll do - let’s say you have a decently-popular library on Github, and two “fuckyeah<pluralnoun>” Tumblrs, and a novelty Twitter account you’re running. Plus you’re in a band that’s totally gonna make it; these are all emails that you’d probably love to make, but the overhead of creating another email account is annoying and you don’t want twelve other accounts to check - this is where Thunderbird really shines. I wish they had the same talent for pushing super-useful filter types as Gmail, or the same creativity in interfaces as other applications, but there are killer functions I can’t get anywhere else. Automatic Dropboxing or Ubuntu-One-ing of attachments over a certain size? Yes. Easy signup of custom email domains for your mom? Cool. This is some decent innovation in the space and it’s good shit when you’re on it, man.
So here’s some more shit I’d love to see.
Firstly, I’d love to see a backup function. You can already do it by Dropboxing the mailbox folders, but I think there’s more explicit and more easy ways it could be set up, and it should be set up through the application so it feels like it’s part of the same package. One of the big things I like about Thunderbird is that I own my email - I have a copy of all of it that I can access at any time, regardless of my connectivity to some external server. This is actually a huge selling point to me - it’s like having MP3s. Yeah it’s all data on a hard drive, but it’s just an audio stream with some compression, which means I can do whatever I want with it in a way that I can’t with streaming music services, as great as they are. I don’t feel like I’m free to do what I want with my Rdio music, and to a very visceral extent it’s been demonstrated to me that it belongs to someone else and I’m using it under their terms. For a few days I couldn’t listen to GOOD Music’s Cruel Summer - this is a #1 album, guys - for reasons unknown. Wasn’t told why (although it was most likely some kind of dispute with a label), didn’t know when it started and when it finished, but the shit I had access to changed on me. This is like Amazon deleting my eBooks, this is like Netflix randomly pulling A Serbian Movie, this is shit that’s out of my hands. Every act demonstrates to me that I’m not in control of my entertainment, which means I own it as much as I own books in a library.
When I use Thunderbird, I own my emails in a very visceral way. Provided my computer hasn’t crashed and I have it all saved on IMAP (see aforementioned “roll my own webmail” system), I can search through conversations I had decades ago on my first email address.
Other things I would love to be able to do on Thunderbird:
Something more interesting than threaded email. Love the conversation view add-on, get somebody else to design an email experience that’s beautiful and actually makes me more productive. You know what would actually be awesome? Wave integration between Thunderbird users. Do it seamlessly and do it in the background so nobody notices until they hear that they can do all this awesome shit with what they thought were static messages.
Roll my own webmail. I’d pay a few bucks a month for a Thunderbird-run webmail client as long as it didn’t suck. Let me access my email from anywhere.
Thunderbird mobile. The email app is great in most mobile ecosystems, but I think Thunderbird could innovate. Let me sync my accounts and passwords, use add-ons, etc.
Hook into SMS, store my SMS messages, either with the app or through some kind of external service. “Desktop SMS” using this app, send and receive text messages while I’m at work without all of my shit vibrating all over the place.
I love the chat service for something like Facebook Chat because with the new messaging/chat duality that’s happening with Facebook it doesn’t quit fit both email and simple chatting. I’m not feeling Thunderbird for something as thin as MSN or google chat, but it’s actually super-convenient for “longer-form” messaging that integrates into email or similar messaging services like Facebook Chat and GChat (who sends my offline messages to my email). If it could download all of my previous messages for a specific account (not sure if that’s even possible with the Facbook messaging API) so I could see history for all contacts and search through it all…bliss. It also removes another information silo - I now have control over my Facebook messages in a way that I didn’t used to, and can search through them, read them offline, etc.
A better way to coordinate where and when I get notified of my messages. Tried setting up a desktop SMS service and I’ll get the SMS on my phone, and an email and a GChat message…both of which notify my desktop and phone. That’s five notifications (minimum - thank god my tablet isn’t here) where I need one.
Sync for Thunderbird! This one should actually be I have a home computer and a work computer (and potentially a phone, if Thunderbird happens), I hate setting up accounts I don’t remember the passwords to, and the password manager is honestly the only way I’ll find passwords for mail accounts that I haven’t set up in >4 months.
I’d also love a contacts app that synchronizes everything to everything and can combine my contacts together and keep them there. From an idea I had earlier:
A contacts organizer that rolls a little black book. Backed by some service, but also available for download and import to let my phone/email client/whatever use it. Something that separates active contacts from the people you know and just want to find out about. Something to hide “personal information” from everything else/anyone else, so you can keep notes on people to remember things about them (“so-and-so’s girlfriend, we’re all a little iffy on the relationship but who knows maybe she’s actually not a huge bitch when they’re alone together”), but hide potentially sensitive things from them unlike the “Notes” field in most Contacts solutions.
Add the ability to copy information they’ve provided (websites, other accounts, emails, birthdays, etc.) through other services to your main service. Android has a great implementation of that, mobile phones can do it really well, why can’t desktop apps? And turn that on as a synching feature. Maintain control over “primary” information. Default to what you’ve set, but keep an eye open for changes they’ve made since you made a change, have the option to permanently ignore things… keep a good record and avoid spam/jokes/whatever, but keep an eye out for actual useful data about people.
Thinking about this kind of stuff a lot because it keeps coming up within my friends (also because I am friends with a lot of hot, geeky girls - hell yes). Putting this up as background for something I’ll write up later.
The election just happened. I think the majority winner would’ve been abstain had they not originally excluded that option. I don’t know how this will turn out, but there’ll always be grumbling no matter what.
Second Pubcrawl of the winter term (when you’re back!!!) will be sponsored. Dooley’s will have free pitchers alongwith free pool. Oh hot damn.
That’s it. I’ve been so busy with school work that I haven’t had time to go out drinking and learn all the hot campus goss.
more brain dumping because oh god i just played the first few minutes of amnesia: the dark descent, and i don’t want to be alone right now… tumblr, hold me. This was written also at like 2AM after frosh week.
Tie Guard are like punks, they like mohawks and pink-coloured hair. I’ve always loved the Math faculty because they’re super-into whatever it is they’re studying. It’s a fucking math faculty, you’re probably not getting into the math because of the direct jobs you can get from it (although I’m sure there are direct jobs that come out of it). I figure everyone in the math faculty is probably doing it for the love of the knowledge they get, for the purity of it. From that, I always think of Tie Guard as being members of the math faculty so crazy into their field, they’ve gone absolutely punk rock in an effort to show everyone how fucking sweet it is. Math is like the philosophy of science, sometimes you gotta get ridiculous with “Fuck you, I love this shit and I’ll defend it with my life.” Ralph Stranton wore bright pink ties because of his pride in the faculty. That was enough to make a mascot out of it, and there is a giant pink tie which must be protected. Tie Guard has a very practical role because the Tie has been stolen, then openly mocked in either the engineering newspaper or the Chevron, I forget which (look at The Spirit of WTF for more on that). The Tie needs guarding whenever it is hung up, and Tie Guard has done an excellent job of protecting it since (it also doesn’t help that the school promises to expel anyone who tries to take it again.) So Tie Guard is a vigilant watch for the Tie, and they should go nuts with that kind of mythos. Things like sleeping in shifts, things like having someone staring at it constantly. But Tie Guard also doesn’t go about it in some mystical, Night’s Watch kind of way - they’re high-tech about it. They’ve got music spun by great DJs and TVs with classic video games (there’s a bit of a legendary status about Tie Guard’s Super Smash Bros. and DDR skill.) I like this. Tie Guard is a practical watch put on by enthusiast vigilante punks who have loose organization, but they come together with a common goal - to protect the Tie, and to celebrate it. They’re hackers, whiz-kids, fashionable cyberpunk badasses who’ve gone so far around the bend with the passion for their faculty that they’ve turned the uncool into the cool with the sheer audacity of what they’re doing and how well they’re doing it. I think they should have 24-hour webcams trained on the Tie at all times, multiple security monitors and someone watching it with their own eyes as a fail-safe. Laser grids on the ground and alarm systems piped into cell phones to warn of any tripwire being snared. Live feeds streaming across the web and into custom Tie Guard apps so anyone can help out and make sure it’s all working as a backup. The Math faculty also houses the server farm so they have control over the hacker street cred - let’s see this all open-sourced, running patched-together custom Linux distros and green-on-black (or pink-on-black) colour schemes.
I’ll be honest, I’ve run into FEDS business….maybe a few times during my four years here. A lot of the time it’s because people bitch and complain about them, and then I’m reminded that we actuallyhave a student government. I recognize that they do wonderful things for the students at Waterloo - people always throw around managing things like Imprint and student clubs, and Bomber (maybe?) and Fed Hall (oh wait…) What if FEDS chose to scale themselves back? I can’t speak for other faculties, but I know I give more of a shit about EngSoc (and, hell, MathSoc and SciSog and whatever) than I do about FEDS. I know they’re also an umbrella organization for clubs that run cross-campus, and they can still be that - but what if FEDS was a <time period>ly meeting of the presidents (OK, let’s say presidents and some kind of associated caucus) of various student societies?
Yeah yeah, group meetings never get anything done, yeah yeah we don’t need to give student societies more power for their cliquey-ness, we’ll figure out the gritty details. Maybe this could help the cliqueyness, because the societies would run into other students more and see more of their needs. Who the fuck knows. All I know is I’d love to see more money go to student societies and have FEDS scaled back from doing whatever the fuck it is that they do.
Dumping my brain a bit - I wrote this at like 2AM one night just shit I was thinkin’ about sorry internet, I’ll stop talking about EDCOM soon.
It might seem like EDCOM are dicks - we’re pretty aware of it, and we’re really sorry that it comes out that way. We don’t hold any disdain for other faculties, we don’t think we’re better than them and we’re definitely not trying to snub you - we’re really just terrified a frosh will walk by us, see us talking to you, and have the illusion break somewhat. It’s actually EDCOM’s biggest fear. This past frosh week, I was doing a security rotation during the mixer night and I was stationed at the bonfire across from EV3. There was a bunch of Environment leaders and (I believe) Science leaders - some new, some old - who were asking us some questions about being EDCOM and just like how the weak was going. I liked them, they seemed totally cool, but I’m really wary about breaking the illusion so I didn’t say mucht probably came off as either taking myself too seriously, or elitist, or just a dick in general :( I wish I could apologize more and hang out with them, almost all frosh week leaders seem really cool and even if our personalities clash I still really respect what all of them do.
The truth of the matter is EDCOM is scared. EDCOM is terrified of losing our role in frosh week and we know there are a lot of people who want it to happen. As far as I know, a large majority of people in engineering love EDCOM, it’s been a tradition since the mid-80s to have them and have looked fairly similar since the mid-90s. As a frosh, I loved EDCOM because EDCOM is something you know can’t be real - having this weird group of goth-soldier leaders run all the events of engineering frosh week is completely absurd - yet it becomes a fun game to play and to try and figure out what’s going on, all while working within the framework. At the end of frosh week I sent an email to my mother, it went like this:
The event was actually held, planned, and sneeringly overseen by the EDCOM, the education committee of the FOC (Frosh Organization Committee, yes everything is an acronym), who ‘broke in’ to a large presentation, smashed up a computer supposedly running the video show with a sledgehammer (yes, seriously…!) and generally leered at us while wearing army pants, skull-and-wrenches hardhats, combat boots and chains as belts and weilding…well any number of bludgeoning tools. Wrenches, sledgehammers, bats, golf clubs…I saw a chair leg with nails in it. They were overseeing/leading everything about the events except the teams themselves, and were only to be addressed by “YES SIR EDCOM SIR”, or MA’AM, whatever the case was. They also had mohawks, shaved heads, etc. They were 4th year students, to be our TAs. Badass.
They informed us of the seriousness of the situation, and that (“SILENCE, FROSH”) when Engineers screw up, people tend to die. Thus, don’t take what you’re studying lightly, you could end up with the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Then they told us that we had 1,668 days until we earned our Iron Rings, and of the festivities that usually accompagny that time…not the ceremony itself, mind you, but the pranks, etc. Intense. March 30th, 2013. Mark your calendars.
In order to earn our hardhats, we did the following:
Slide down a 60ft waterslide, with EDCOM at the top hosing us down with cold water.
Walk through a pit of mud made inside one of the decorative fountains…by stepping only on Bigs. Lying down. In the mud.
Fire wet sponges at a hidden oppposing team with a catapault made of 4 bungee cords attached to a funnel, held/operated by Frosh
Use teamwork to put more frosh on two 4’ x 4’ pieces of plywood for 5 minutes straight; we won with 84 (!) by putting smaller frosh on bigger frosh’s shoulders (like mine) and squeezing frosh in between the bigger frosh’s legs…then finally tossing random frosh on top where we could. Frosh are expendable.
Use teamwork to build the tallest tower or Frosh…we won again by making a 3-frosh tall tower, whilst waving our pirate flag. Bigger frosh in a ring on the bottom (me), etc. Between this and other Frosh structures I was involved in (see below) I actually gave myself new stretch marks across my shoulders from working so hard. Seriously.
Form a Frosh conveyer belt by linking arms and passing Bigs along the 80ft length into a kiddee pool (aptly named “The Pool of Fun” by straight-faced EDCOM. Don’t laugh.); before the other team does.
Most likely something else I’ve forgotten.
Cheer upon EDCOM request.
Amuse EDCOM when bored (“FROSH. DOES ANYONE KNOW A JOKE.” “FROSH. SWORDFIGHT. YOU TWO, PROVIDE SOUND EFFECTS. NOW MOO THE SOUND EFFECTS.”)
Form Frosh-based structures for EDCOM’s amusement - a chair for an EDCOM member, a frosh pyramid, spelling EDCOM out with Frosh.
Recite and pledge the University of Waterloo Engineering Frosh Pledge, with all your standard tenets of honour and dignity and safety. EDCOM believes in safety.
It gives the week a kind of surreal quality to it and it’s so much fun for everyone to do. EDCOM loves it because we get to joke around with all the leaders and be part of something almost magical with the frosh (playing around with the “There’s no way this is real.” line in people’s minds is a hell of a lot of fun). You also get to giggle delightedly whenever the things you’re doing work out perfectly fine - there’s an insane amount of pride that comes from knowing that you’re helping people build relationships that will most likely last a lifetime. The other leaders love it because they know us underneath and know that we’re trying really hard not to laugh the whole time - the more jokes we all crack while keeping a straight face, the more fun everyone’s having. It’s a giant game - people who know the rules and the referees have fun messing with those in charge, and people who don’t have fun in this weird framework we’ve built up.
Background: I was EDCOM during the past two Frosh Weeks at Waterloo (2011 and 2012), and before that a Huge (Dark Brown), a Big (Light Brown) and a Frosh (Light Blue).
Also, if you’re an incoming engineering Frosh who hasn’t done Frosh Week yet, stop reading. Stop reading, Frosh. I can see your eyes moving. Stop it.
I started thinking about how much I hated what Frosh Week was becoming, how it seemed like there was a constant battle for the things I loved and it was under attack…then slowly realized I loved it. I’ve seen Frosh Week evolve over five years - practically nothing in terms of its existence, but more than enough in terms of culture - and it’s completely changed on me. I thought it was changing for the worse, but it’s not - I was just trying to hold on to my own nostalgia, instead of letting it develop naturally. Frosh Week isn’t mine, every year is different in its own way, and it’ll change regardless of whether or not I like it, so why shouldn’t I embrace it? And you know what, I love the faculty pride that’s come up, I love that there are a bunch of people reminding us that, though we might not see each other as often, we are all part of One Waterloo. It’s a different direction than what I was used to, but it’s not bad, I just was against it because I didn’t know it. It was “different.”
One of the things about how Waterloo seems to do its Frosh Week is that it’s all about the lore. It’s where the mythos and the tradition are established - it’s the front line of defense for the indoctrination of the culture of a faculty and a school. Many of the traditions don’t impact life after Frosh Week, but they serve the purpose of uniting everyone under a common story and letting everyone be proud of the reasons behind the traditions. For example, within the lore of frosh week there’s the weird group called EDCOM. EDCOM will occasionally brush up against other faculties’ leaders, but for the most part I (for one) try to avoid doing to much with other faculties in the EDCOM persona because it complicates the story. EDCOM is a hard sell on its own, you start getting other hierarchies with other leaders and weird mini-civilization clashes and it starts to become obvious how made-up the whole thing is. So it’s important to come up with a solid story for what’s happening during Frosh Week; it’s the line between something genuinely fun and something incredibly boring.
EDCOM is, attheveryleast, afairlycontroversialtopicfor many, but its lore is surprisingly straightforward. The mythos of EDCOM, as it sits in my head, is like an army platoon. The idea of being hand-picked by the Dean of Engineering, the best-of-the-best-of-the-best, able to bench-press 300 lbs. while still being in the top 3% of their class…it draws from the stereotype you imagine when you think of the army. EDCOM borrows a lot from army movies and tropes, things like the outfit (avators and, hell, look at the entire lower half of the outfit), not laughing at anything, and yelling at Frosh to try to make them the best they can be (the official guideline is EDCOM is bitter and sarcastic, not actually angry.) There’s also some more random things brought in - EDCOM steals heavily from goth, punk, and metalhead culture for some of the more embellished flourishes in the costume, especially with regards to the makeup and hair. Because of this detachment from the “average student,” EDCOM is on a different plane than the normal world, wearing the same clothes all the time, all haveing the same legal name (“EDCOM”), not understanding concepts like “joy,” or genuinely believing that the the math community has accepted that the number “EDCOM” is the only number larger than infinity, or that an EDCOM handshake would be so destructive to the human wrist that they have been barred by school administration from administering it. The fact that the mythos is actually fairly solidly-established is essential to the image, because you don’t have trouble imagining what EDCOM does during the rest of the year (we were actually trying to make a video showing, say, EDCOM TAing classes, etc., EDCOM growing up, etc.), so your mind doesn’t immediately think about how they really shouldn’t exist. This is also how EDCOM can do things like, for example, dress up for Monte Carlo and it’s hilarious, instead of strange - it expands the mythos and doesn’t contradict anything. EDCOM thinks that’s what good clothing looks like; some of them straight-up don’t get what “fancy” clothes are and just throw a weird tie on, some of them get it but make it more ‘EDCOM’ by burning the lower-half of their dress shirt. It fits in your mind and doesn’t jar when you see them, which is what makes the whole thing fun. If you could easily tell it was a bunch of engineering students who’ve put on a silly costume and a straight face to run team-building events without people coming up and bothering them, the whole thing would be lame. We dress up this life to be larger than it is, and when you do that it’s important that nothing reminds you that it’s an act. In the back of your mind you know it’s a game, you know it’s highly unlikely the Dean of Engineering could find one engineering student who could bench-press 300 lbs., let alone that there’s 40 of them and they also happen to be the best in their class. You know this whole thing is retarded and life doesn’t work like that, but the game has been laid out to you and it makes sense and it’s hilarious when it all works, so you play along and you have a blast. This is why people come out of Frosh Week honestly having enjoyed being yelled at, (like me - I can show you the email I sent home re: frosh week). This is why yearafteryeara froshwritesan articlesumming up the week for everyone and it’s always positive to EDCOM - if you get everything right and work hard to find the perfect balance as to not legitimately scare anyone, people love it.
Of course, not everyone does. There’s rumours every year that the EDCOM tradition is under attack by the school administration, that we are going to be barred from showing the things we grew up loving with the next group of students. The people in charge of running a safe, fun, exciting orientation week probably don’t like the idea that there’s a bunch of upper-year students with some kind of superiority complex, dolling themselves up to look terrifying, and yelling at first year students. This is a failure of the story, not specific malicious intent - it means we haven’t told it well enough, or strongly enough, or maybe whoever’s in charge just hasn’t heard it. It also doesn’t help that every so often, someone screws up badly and one EDCOM gets ticketed for public intoxication, or an EDCOM gets caught performing a prank, or one EDCOM doesn’t quite understand the character and yells at the wrong Frosh, making them scared of EDCOM in a negative way. These aren’t just failures of planning or dumb fuck-ups, these also break the story that everyone’s worked to build, which is the worst part. It snaps you out of the dream world we’ve built for you and reminds you that it’s all a stupid lie. Once the story becomes damaged, the characters have no purpose and should be removed - which is exactly what is happening. There’s so much push back from the students every time it happens that to outright ditch some traditions would be crazy, but you could definitely de-fang them, take away token responsibilities and cleaning up certain parts of the story here and there until it’s castrated and no fun anymore and everyone who remembers how cool it used to be is long gone.
When I saw Cross-Campus FOC, and the new Cross-Campus leaders and Warrior Crew, I wasn’t really sure what to think. Why did we need frosh week leaders that weren’t part of any specific faculty? Outside of the cross-campus events (this year, instead of being specific-faculty mixers most of the non-faculty events were open to all frosh. This was a good idea.), what was their role going to be? Were they just people who were rejected from other faculties’ leaders? It wasn’t so much that it wasn’t a good idea, they just had no traditions, no mythos, no story. Who the fuck were they? I’ll be honest, I didn’t like them at first, and I liked them even less when they started running events. It wasn’t that they screwed up anything major, it was all the little things that were piling up. Replacements didn’t arrive, supplies weren’t there, corner-cases weren’t thought out. During move-ins, some engineering students (who had traditionally been in some way involved with running move-ins, if I recall correctly) ended up going over and helping to direct the traffic which was backing up all over. Food ran out. Security shifts were badly-planned and on weird routes. They were inexperienced, they didn’t know what to do - in short, they were a new group in orientation week and doing exactly what a new group would do.
Yes, they should have probably had some more experienced people there as well to help iron out the kinks, but that type of shit happens every year. What I was afraid of was change, and I didn’t realize the most important thing: Frosh Week is not mine. It’s not mine to protect, it’s not mine to save and it’s sure as hell not mine to control. When I realized that, I realized I absolutely loved the idea of an effort to have some University of Waterloo pride, have some cross-campus spirit. Hell, I’ve complained about the lack school spirit before, and here I am, complaining again when somebody tries to start some school spirit. So, Warrior Crew and Cross-Campus Leaders; I’m sorry. I welcome you guys, I really hope you make it because god knows we could use a hell of a lot more pride in our school. I hope it doesn’t come at the cost of pride in our faculties, and if anyone at the SSO is reading this I urge them to remember that moving resources from the faculties to cross-campus positions can definitely have that impact, but it’s not up to me to control the idea. What is up to me is whether I include them in the existing University of Waterloo Frosh Week story, whether I begrudgingly accept them, forgive their shortcomings and help them find their place in the greater story, or whether I break character, bitch that they’re not “real leaders” and try to hold back something that could honestly be a step forward.
Warrior Crew is going to have an uphill battle. They have no mythos, they have no lore, they have no traditions - unless they want to start giving everyone those colourful propellor hats and making the official Frosh Week cheer “I’M A DIRTY ROTTEN DEAD HORSE AND I STINK!” (both of which were honest-to-god traditions in the mid-’60s). This means they have no raison d’etre and nothing that really propels them forward - no one is thinking back and saying “Oh man, we HAVE to do the Warrior Crew <thing> again next year!” - yet. They have to find their place in the larger story, they need their own story that makes sense, and everything has to fit properly. If we get petty power-struggles, if we get cross-campus-for-cross-campus’s-sake, if the drive to keep our traditions overpowers the story that once drove them; that will be the undoing of all our hard work. But if we keep the story going, if we extend our traditions and fill in the blanks where we can to round out the ridiculous characters that take part in it, we can continue to make this whole thing bigger than a bunch of 20-year-olds with God complexes playing dress-up, and tell our story to a whole new audience next year.
Great quote on Figure in the piece, saying it “champions the idea that systems which function under a chaotic set of ambiguous possibilities are essential for creating truly unique compositions.” Wish more programs did the same.
Interesting story happened today - what are the responsibilities of white hats vs. grey, etc. IMO Github and Homakov did the right thing, if your concerns are being ignored and you think they’re still valid, you escalate them.
Yesterday, I shared an anecdote involving a school I once attended with a list. This anecdote eventually became the basis for a blog post. Traffic was fairly normal for the first few hours until it found its way onto hackernews.
All I have today are links, apparently. Paul Graham shows something cool with a startup he’s funded - Stypi, a text editor that can play back what you type, including all the mistakes you made along the way. The really cool part about it is what you can get when you see how people (including yourself) type or write - in that way it’s a bit of a cool feature, maybe not quite an entire product on its own. If it could be built as a plugin to LibreStarOpenOffice, gedit (or whatever the hell you use for coding) or something else, I’d totally buy/download it. The fun comes where you look at how people type - apparently, in stuttering starts. It’s probably a consequence of the fact that [shift + home + backspace] (or its programming cousin, [Shift + D], or [dd] if you’re on vim) is a fairly familiar key combination to most people, so it’s easy to clear and start out. In fact, most of the sentences that are re-typed are style/grammar variations on the original - what’s the betting that if moving the cursor around to actually delete the part that you don’t care about was more easily used than deleting the whole line and typing things out in the first place, we’d have a different style of writing?
PS - Maybe it’s best you don’t watch the video. Now I can’t stop noticing how I type things out…
An excellent rant on (OK I’m just repeating the title here) the future of interaction design, specifically aimed at this and that. The human body has so much bandwidth, and we’re all obsessed with just the tip.
UI concept idea - “sweep.” To get all of this crap off of my desk (while saving sessions, files, etc. and making sure nothing is lost) so I can start something completely new. Maybe even start me out with a blank slate - sweep to Text Editor (yeah, you heard me, vim- and emacs-heads), sweep to OneNote, sweep to Eclipse with a new Android project. Get this crap out of my way so I can start doing something new.
Excellent summation of the position by vivekhaldar. I disagree with his assessment of course, but the argument is excellent and I love him pointing out that GUIs are normally used for operation and limiting things within the metaphors.
It makes me think. He’s right, of course, GUIs are severely limited by their metaphors by their design - the folder icon tells you what you can do with it, and that you can do nothing more. The trick here, of course, would be to allow extension of the visual metaphors beyond what’s programmed in. What happens when you drop a folder onto the trash can? You throw it out - in both the computer and real life. What happens when you throw a folder onto the metaphor of a note-taking ability? No idea - what happens when you throw the folder on the Tomboy icon? No idea - should Tomboy try to open the folder? It probably doesn’t know how to. The GUI that has a system for figuring that out - and, believe me, someone will come up with a system to do that - will go far.
The goal of these interfaces is to make you operate something, and operate it efficiently and safely. The grooves and clicks and limits constrain the range of motion and the number of choices. The visual look heavily hints at how to actively use it….
Verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry cool jump on the old-school Unix terminal. I’ve never liked it, to be honest, and I’ve only ever begrudgingly appreciated its selling points. I’ve always seen it as something that’s been appreciated for all the wrong reasons, people loving it (and, for some reason, hating GUIs) because of things that it does right, and glossing over the things that it does wrong. My go-to line is “until I output raw strings, I won’t use them as my main method of input.” In my experience, people will praise the command line for some of these reasons:
Scriptable - you can automate things, because computers can’t mis-type things on a friday afternoon before a long weekend. In fact, you can save commands as bash files and just run them.
Familiar - for programmers, the command line is exactly like programming. Plus, half the OS functions have the same name and arguments (Perl is huge on that).
Classic - It’s been used for years, people would have given it up if it wasn’t good.
Cheap - almost no resources required, so if you have a cheap computer or one that’s running a billion things, it doesn’t cripple it.
Powerful - because most unix systems use text-based files for documents, spreadsheets, config files, books, websites, etc, they’re easy to process in scripting languages like Perl or Python. You can take a .docx book, strip out the formatting, get word counts into a CSV, do some math, then pipe it to “speak” and have it say the results to you.
Useful - because you can just always keep a terminal open and edit code, check the status of files and commit code in a CVS, do OS manipulation of files & permissions, chat, etc.
These are all great reasons to love the command line. But, they’re not exclusive to the command line, which is why I’m wary of people who associate text with these things - they’re what GUIs lack, but that’s not because of the nature of a GUI, it’s because (for whatever reason) GUIs have tended to suck in these areas. TermKit is one way that they don’t, and Steve Wittens is a gentleman and a scholar for having come up with it. Let’s see where this idea goes.