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Me on Twitter

…generated with the code from Mike Croucher on github and some post-processing of the png with graphicsmagick and pngcrush.

###Update 25.11.2015 And after debugging the source – too much was deleted from the tweets (everything after an URL, everything after the first mention of another twitter user) – the whole thing looks like this:

Upgrade & Changes

This weekend I finally upgraded the CMS from Drupal 6.something to 7.2. Drupal 7 seems stable enough now and I may migrate all my Drupal sites to the new version over the next few weeks.

Here, I tried to keep everything as close as possible to the earlier look & feel – the layout template changed quite substantially and I will certainly apply a few further changes to the CSS.

There are, however, also some more or less intentional changes.

I substituted the internal comments system by Disqus in the hope of a better integration with social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Anonymous comments are disabled. Without registering for an additional account here, comments can now be left using an existing Disqus, Google, Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo, or OpenID account. Let’s see how this works out.

Less intentional is the current lack of a tag cloud. The corresponding module seems not to work right now.

eBook: First experiences with Sony Reader

Almost three weeks ago I bought a Sony Portable Reader System PRS-505, also known as the Sony Reader, so it is time for a first assessment of the little gadget.

Though the actual purchase was a rather impulsive affair The choice was well informed. I already thought about buying an e-ink ebook reader for some time and read reviews on the web and forum post to learn about the pros and cons of the different available devices. The Sony Reader is one of the most reasonably priced devices available in Germany. It is light, it is robust, it is heavily advertised, and it is not my first Sony. I first thought about buying the irex iliad or even the professional. They have bigger screens (8 or even 10 inch), wireless, and you can write on them with a wacom stylus. If it were not for their price that is about twice that of the Sony Reader I would have bought one. But first, I needed to find out whether I would be comfortable with such a device. So for a test drive the cheaper one seemed to be the better choice.

The intended main purpose was to read PDFs when I am on the road, err, train track. Sometimes I carried more paper in my bag than clothes. Comes with the job. On this particular Friday three weeks ago, there were several PDFs waiting for me to read on the weekend. Instead of printing them all out I went buying the Reader before I went to the office.

The problem with PDFs is that most PDF pages are in letter or A4 format. Much larger than the 6 inch of the Reader what is just about the size of a standard paperback novel’s page. Fortunately the Reader can “reflow” PDFs when you increase the font size (There are three sizes: S-M-L.). Yet, there is no real zoom. The inconvenience with this reflowing feature is that you will loose your tables and formulas. Unfortunately most of the PDFs I read contain lots of tables and lots of formulas. Increasing the font size and reflowing is, consequently, not an option. At least not for me, most of the times. You could rotate the page by 90 degrees and read the upper and lower halves of a page separately. This helps a little. Most times the font is still too small.

Most times there is, however, a huge white margin that could be cropped. If you have a working recent LaTeX installation you already have a small script call pdfcrop that can do the job. Alas, sometimes it will choke on some files. Bigger ones, normally, like the ones I read. There is a solution. Since you need some software to manage your ebook collection, chances are you already have calibre installed. And with calibre comes a small python script called pdftrim that can help. You just need to tell it the amount of space it should trim off the edges of a page, all the pages. An easy way to do this automagically is let ghostscript decide:

gs -dSAFER -dNOPAUSE -dBATCH -sDEVICE=bbox  inputfile.pdf >bounding


pdftrim -b bounding inputfile.pdf

will then do as asked.

A last inconvenience I encountered were auto-rotated pages in PDFs, e.g. large rotated tables. Every page needs to be in “Portrait”-orientation for successful trimming. Pdftk comes to rescue:

pdftk inputfile.pdf cat 1-endN output outputfile.pdf

Ok, this is how I coped with the problems I had the very first weeks using my Sony Reader. Do I use the Reader? Is it comfortable to use? Does it feel “right”? Yes, and surprisingly its main use is not reading job related PDFs. I still read them during my weekend trips, yes. But the every day use is reading news on the train during my ride to the office. News that were fetched from the WWW in the morning using calibre. Calibre offers a nice selection of built-in scripts to fetch webpages from news sites like The Times, CNN, Science Daily, etc., and RSS feeds from google reader. And this is really a nice feature. No bulky newspaper but my personal selection of news from different sites.

It's things like that

I like Erfurt. The university drives me nuts, however. Yes, I said this before.

Last week I was once more in Erfurt. The idea was to hand over the keys of my old flat, and at the university to sign all the 200 something course certificates and clear my office. (This alone is insane. I have to fill out everything by hand. The grade, the credit points, the type of exam. I have to copy the content of my spreadsheet to the forms and later some poor soul has to copy the contents of the certificates – the examination office gets a xerox of each certificate – to a spreadsheet or data base.) This was supposed to be my last trip to Erfurt as a professor of the local university. Handing over the keys to my old flat was the only thing that went as planned.

I was not able to reach (phone, e-mail) anyone at the personnel department during the morning. Only in the afternoon I finally got my check out list via e-mail. So, I need some signatures certifying that everything is fine, that there is no unfinished business.

I got the signature from the library immediately. There were, however, several departments I had (almost) never dealt with before. So I wrote them an e-mail, asking for whether I can collect the signature or if there is still something I have to take care of first. The IT department answered first. And, as of today, one week later, they are still the only ones who answered. Great.

Since my department’s administrator was ill I had to reschedule my checking out regardless of the missing signatures. Everyone can get sick. And I still feel sorry for asking her for so many favors. So I decided to pay Erfurt another visit at the end of the month and left without hunting down the missing signatures.

Now, one week after I left, I am still waiting for answers to my e-mails. And this really drives me nuts. Clearly, the university’s administration is not working for the academic staff. They do not assist us. My feeling, and this is shared by some of my colleagues, too, is that the administration seems to believe it should be the other way around, the academic staff working for the administration. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. And without them nothing works; if they are ill everything is running on idle.

So, let’s hope no one is ill when I’ll try to get the missing signatures.

Twitter Support on all my sites plus LastFM2Twitter

In a strange kind of coding frenzy I installed on all my sites Twitter support. New articles can now automagically be announced on Twitter – with the users own account.

The idea came when I could not immediately sleep yesterday night. I just came back from Bremen where we painted my new flat. Yes, the move is imminent. A few days ago, I was asked to include a tweet-feed on the Julis web page I administer. I never cared much about Twitter so far. Though it seems it can drive a lot of traffic to your site as I was about to witness.

So, what the heck. I opened an account with Twitter and installed the above mentioned module. This was not the end, however. As I already said, I was in a strange kind of coding frenzy. Recently I installed songbird, before that I used Amarok and Audacious. And I am still using Squeezecenter for my Squeezeboxes… I did not like the new version of Amarok, Audacious is a bit to simplistic and had problems with submitting tracks to last.fm. Songbird seems to be fine, though. There are a lot of (useful ?) plugins. Of course it can submit tracks to last.fm and it even has a twitter plugin. Yet, this plugin submits every single track that is started, even when I skip it after a few seconds for whatever reasons. I don’t like the skipped songs to appear anywhere. I did not listen to them. The end of the story is I wrote a quick’n’dirty shell script that pulls my last.fm-recently-listened-to feed from the web, parses it and posts the tracks not already posted to Twitter to Twitter. All the necessary ingredients were rsstool to pull the feed from last.fm and bti a cli for posting tweets to twitter. There is still a lot of room for improvements but for now the script works as designed.

#! /bin/bash  
read last < /var/tmp/date.lastfm  
new=$(rsstool --since="$last" --sdesc --shtml2 http://ws.audioscrobbler.com/1.0/user/luweewu/recenttracks.rss |recode u8 |grep pubDate|head -n 1 |sed -e s/""// |sed -e s/"<\/pubDate>"//)  

for tracks in $(rsstool --since="$last" --sdesc --shtml2 --csv http://ws.audioscrobbler.com/1.0/user/luweewu/recenttracks.rss |recode u8 |grep luweewu | cut -d ',' -f 4|sed -e y/" "/_/)
 echo "listened to ${tracks//_/ } (http://last.fm/user/luweewu)" | bti --account luweewu --password XXXXXXXXX  
echo $new > /var/tmp/date.lastfm ;  

It's things like that

I like Erfurt. The university drives me nuts, however. The last few years rooms and dates for the exams were assigned at the beginning of the term. Not this winter. Oh, dates were stilled fixed and published in the university calendar at the beginning of the term. Not the rooms. And, of course, everybody (the professors that is, or, in lieu of the professors their secretaries) has to ask for a suitable room or two for the exams. Nobody told us. Since this is the first time that they did not assign the rooms when they fixed the dates you may have noticed rather late that you still do not have enough room. That for the exam you were stuck in a cubbyhole instead of a lecture hall.

So, this is what happened. My secretary fells ill (or one of her kids), and then she is under maternity protection before she took care of the rooms. The university does not even care about a replacement. They never tell you about any replacements, anyway. And I got four different secretaries during my three year stint here. I could live with not being told who the replacement is. But now, they don’t even care for a replacement. I leave in a few months.

So now, I have no secretary and a room too small for every student having a place at a table. Let alone a table of her own so that they are not tempted to cheat. And, what does the administration tell me? There is no other room at the time of the exam. None. Not in the whole university. Bollocks!

It’s things like that why I started to apply for a position elsewhere. I pity the students.

Change: An Outlook

After a year’s worth of blogging or rather keeping track what I have been reading it’s time for a change.

First and most obvious, I switch from German to English. The reason is simple. My work environment will change in a few weeks and English will – once again – become my working language. Before my stint here in Erfurt, I worked at a Max Planck Institute. Slightly more international an environment than the University of Erfurt where I had only once the opportunity to teach a pure English course. Most other interaction with students and colleagues were in German. So, it’s finally time to improve my English skills again.

The move will be the second change that will have some impact, I guess, on my blog here. I will stop contributing to Erfurtblog. It just does not make any sense to blog about Erfurt related topics when I am living in Bremen. Consequently, the posting frequency here may increase and the topics may become more diverse. Yet, there are still some books I need / want to keep track of…

Finally, I just activated a typographical add-on for drupal and changed the CSS a bit modifying the layout of this blog slightly. I am not quite sure yet whether I will stick to these tiny changes. There may be additional changes in the future, possibly even more radical than merely altering the text flow.