Thursday, October 28, 2010

Installing XMonad on Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat

I installed Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat (in Parallels on my Mac) to try out XMonad, the tiling window manager. XMonad is a candidate if I move off the Mac. I am slowly increasing my keyboard use and relying less on the mouse and XMonad is a further step in that direction.

I have never installed or used Xmonad before and after too much time stuffing around with the usual linux problems, these are the steps I followed to get a simple, initial installation working on a fresh install of Ubuntu.

  1. Install Haskell, XMonad and dmenu.
    $ sudo apt-get install haskell-platform xmonad dwm-tools

    Originally, I installed Haskell and then tried to install XMonad via Cabal. Unfortunately the xmonad-contrib package failed to install due to dependency issues.

  2. Set XMonad to be the window manager for Gnome.
    $ gconftool-2 -s /desktop/gnome/session/required_components/windowmanager xmonad --type string

    Found this at Xmonad/Using xmonad in Gnome. Don't log out or restart X now. If you do, you will find XMonad workspace 1 broken. It seems to consist of two Gnome panels tiled to fill the screen but hidden behind the desktop and any further windows you create are also hidden. The next step fixes this.

  3. Create a simple Xmonad configuration file.
    $ mkdir ~/.xmonad
    $ touch ~/.xmonad/xmonad.hs

    Set the contents of xmonad.hs to
    import XMonad
    import XMonad.Hooks.ManageDocks

    main = xmonad $ defaultConfig {
    manageHook = manageDocks <+> manageHook defaultConfig,
    layoutHook = avoidStruts $ layoutHook defaultConfig

    Apply the configuration.
    $ xmonad --recompile

    This configuration was found at Xmonad/Config archive/John Goerzen's Configuration.

  4. Logout and back in again. You should see a standard looking Ubuntu desktop with the menubar across the top and the normal panel along the bottom. See the tour to get started with the XMonad commands.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Yesterday I received a letter from lawyers representing a doctor named in my post Tony's letter to the Medical Board of Queensland. They claim the letter contains defamatory statements and demanded I remove the post.

At the time I posted this blog entry, Tony was missing and left a public message of possible self harm. People were looking for him, his family was worried and many people in the programming communities Tony frequented online feared for his safety. I published Tony's letter at that time for those people online that had seen and were discussing his message, but had no awareness of the real situation.

I do not wish to remove the blog post as it captures a small part of the prolonged trauma Tony endured in engaging with the medical system. I have no reason to doubt that all the practitioners Tony saw genuinely believed they were doing the right thing. This does not change the experience of the patient though. It can be a demoralising cycle of slowly progressing from generalists to specialists, booking appointments weeks/months into the future meanwhile enduring symptoms, bearing the financial burden, deciphering sometimes poor communication, having to evaluate practitioners and their advice and decide next steps in the face of enduring pain.

I am disappointed that one of the doctor's involved has resorted to this level of legal involvement against me. Instead of attempting to censor, he could have simply written a rebuttal. I defy anyone that claims the medical system (as a whole) handled Tony's case well. Therefore there is room for improvement that is better served by reflection and constructive criticism rather than a legal approach.

I am not a lawyer and have no experience with defamation law. I have removed the doctor's name from the blot post in an attempt to avoid legal confrontation.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Why are helmets mandatory for cycling?

The issue of mandatory helmet laws for cycling has been growing in public awareness. This is possibly due to recent court cases and research, the proported lack of take up of the Melbourne Bike Share and the brand new Brisbane CityCycle program.

Proponents of repealing mandatory helmet laws generally focus their discussion on practical issues. They cite the lack of compelling scientific research regarding helmet efficacy in preventing serious brain injury, the deteriorating overall physical health of society and improving sustainability through lower impact on the environment. My question is should they be required to do that?

Supposedly Australia is a free, civilised country. We value our individual freedom. This freedom includes daily choices concerning how our own actions affect our own good, balancing our own personal risk against convenience, benefit and enjoyment. We make these choices whenever we drive our cars, fly in an aeroplane, jump out of an aeroplane, take up smoking, drink varying volumes of alcohol and go swimming.

By definition mandatory helmet laws restrict individual freedom. The cyclist is unable to make the choice of balancing personal risk against convenience, benefit and enjoyment. It does not matter what type of bike is being ridden, the speeds, riding surface, distance travelled and presence or absence of vehicles.

So my question is why isn't the government required to justify the presence of mandatory helmet laws, since they are exercising power over individual freedom, against some people's will? Such a justification would necessarily be in terms of preventing harm to others, otherwise it impinges on the individual freedom we as a society also claim to value. If no such reasonable justification is available then repealing the laws is the sensible and rational course of action to take.