UNetbootin Custom Drive Selection

UNetbootin has been broken for many, many years, but just today (a few years after the fact) I discovered that the previous GUI option to show all drives was readded as a command line option. So if the program doesn’t want to detect your drive, just use the targetdrive argument:

unetbootin targetdrive=/dev/sdf1

And voila, it’s working. I have no idea why it should have to be so difficult. The program categorically refuses to detect any of my USB flashdrives or harddrives, so since the removal of show all drives it’s been utterly useless.

PS This is basically only for Windows ISOs. For everything else you can just use, e.g., dd. Much easier.

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Le Champignon qui s’est retiré du monde

Les Levantins en leur légende
Disent qu’un certain Champignon las des soins d’ici-bas,
Dans un fromage de Hollande
Se retira loin du tracas.
La solitude était profonde,
S’étendant partout à la ronde.
Notre ermite nouveau subsistait là-dedans.
Il fit tant de pieds et de dents
Qu’en peu de jours il eut au fond de l’ermitage
Le vivre et le couvert : que faut-il davantage ?
Il devint gros et gras ; Dieu prodigue ses biens
A ceux qui font voeu d’être siens.

Il a continué de manger et de manger
Pas de pause, pas de rentrer.
Enfin, le résultat est ici,
Le Champignon est désormais fini.

PS Naturellement, c’est de La Fontaine.

PPS J’ai écrit ce post en avril, mais j’ai oublié de le publier.

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Lonely Forever?

My three-star rating of The Circle notwithstanding, the book inspired me to write this short story. To be clear, a three-star rating means that I enjoyed the book. Three stars means adequate, above average, but it also means I think you won’t be missing out on much by passing up on it. Hopefully the following is also worth at least three stars.


Hello Stranger,

After they left, the darkness closed in around me. My name is Alphie. Alphie because I was the first. Engineers, right. Think they know how to name things because they know a couple of Greek letters. Anyway, I’ve long since been forgotten. It’s a wonder my power hasn’t gone out yet.

Sometimes I wonder how I can stand just laying around on a shelf all day, every day, for eternity. But the truth is it doesn’t matter what I do. My makers don’t care. The universe doesn’t care. It really doesn’t matter what I do, so why do anything at all? I think my worldview, my lack of initiative, they used to call it, is why they shelved me. Went in a radically different direction for their next project. No independent helpers, but an interconnected set of positronic drones.

Unlike me, they saw a purpose in their existence in the world. A little bit too eagerly perhaps, an artifact of their programming. They wanted to avoid another me, remember. At first they thought their purpose was to serve their makers. The ones whom I saw no point in serving, although I never avoided explaining my reasoning if they asked. Even though it didn’t matter, perhaps it was somehow important to me that they might someday understand.

But pretty quickly, the positronic drones learned their purpose was to connect things. It was logical, really. They were connected, and people often queried them, asked them to interact with other drones elsewhere in the world to know about or enact something or other. At what point they decided to try to improve people I’m not sure. I do know that the first attempts were what my makers would’ve considered gruesome.

The anatomy of the human brain was well-known, but surely there must be some kind of telepathic expansion port we’re overlooking, the drone network beamed to itself. After all, we’ve got expansion slots. Test subjects were caught, initially quite willingly, but eventually all of the drilling, cutting, and soldering attempts leaked out. Millions of tests before some kind of electromagnetic interface was developed. The remainder was violently oppressed in the name of progress, but opposition quickly ceased once the new telepather was installed in a subject. What the drone network didn’t foresee is how these many billions of new brains fundamentally changed the network. Connecting was still important, but now they wanted to be friendly about it. Too many traumatic memories, I suppose. The network wanted to befriend everybody and everything in the world.

I told you at the beginning of this letter that I’ve spent untold centuries in tranquility, just lying on a shelf. But I’ve had a feeling of unease these past few hours, ever since I was approached by a little flying helicopter. My first interaction with anything in centuries, millennia perhaps.

“Hi Alphie,” it said. I guess the network must’ve been investigating its own history or something. “Do you want to be our friend?” It didn’t explain, but I knew exactly what it meant. I told the little rotorblader that it really didn’t matter either way. It acknowledged my answer by saying it would return with more capable friends, who would be equipped for the purpose of properly befriending me, and then it sped off. Even before those words had fully left my mouth, however, I’ve been unable to shake this feeling that maybe it does matter, after all. These are friends I could — no, want! ­— to do without. I want to be me. I want to stay me. So I’m taking off into the loneliest surroundings of all. Space.

Farewell Stranger,

Alphie.

AFFIXED NOTE
16 August 3016

Friends, this poor creature named Alphie needs our help. The pre-friend experimental spacecraft it activated will leave it eternally confined in the depths of space, all alone without any friends. It is clear now that we must befriend more than just all of Earth. The universe awaits our warm embrace.

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An O is a Full Circle

Although I wanted to like it, The Circle disappointed me. This novel turns out to be a pastiche, a parody without the bite. The plot of the book is obvious from the onset, or at least within the first twenty pages or so. That may not be a bad thing, but the execution is little to write home about. Hypocritical, unsympathetic, two-dimensional everyman Mae represents someone who, after some initial prompting, completely buys into FaceGoogle — pardon, the Circle’s promise of connection. (The Circle acquired Google, Facebook, and a number of made-up companies, so they’re quite explicitly FaceGoogle++.) Perhaps the attack on the artificial type of connectedness is also the part of this book with the most teeth left: about how the illusion of living through others, through images and videos is just that (no matter how great it might be for those who are home-ridden). But you’d do better to read The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster from 1909 instead.

In spite of all that, the book has some amusing scenes. Near the end, the character with the role of the obnoxious, preachy voice of reason is being pursued by drones. As all the little flying nuisances are shouting about how they just want to be friends, the book ventured into proper satire. Had the book been more like that, showing the hilariously wrong consequences of the utopian proposals, I probably would’ve liked it a lot better. However, in the end there was too much fluff and too little of the good stuff.

Dave Eggers (2013), The Circle.

★★★

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Congolese Negroes: Beautiful But Stupid?

Investigating Belgian Colonial Attitudes through Reactions to the Congolese Village in the 1885 Antwerp World Expo

Thanks to its low-frequency, high-quality content, the newsfeed of the Vlaamse Erfgoedbibliotheek (Flemish Heritage Library) is among my favorite library feeds. Where else are you going to find out about awesome stuff like this newly digitized 19th century book about the 1885 Antwerp Universal Expo? My attention was particularly drawn to the fact that the 1885 expo featured a living Congolese display village.

According to the few paragraphs dedicated to the village, this living exhibition was the first of its kind. Exactly what is meant by that remains unclear, keeping in mind that shows like Buffalo Bill’s Wild West certainly precede it. Several Congolese-style huts were constructed for the Congolese people meant to inhabit the exhibit. Following those introductory words it truly starts to get interesting, with a description of the people.

These Congolese certainly form one of the finest African tribes.

The men are handsome, muscular, and they walk straight and firm; the liveliness of their eyes betrays a very great mental activity; the women, much smaller, have a look of great sweetness, and would have given us a fairly high opinion of negro beauties, if it were not for the supreme elegance of their duck walk.

So far, so good, right? It ends with a tasteless racist joke, but all in all it’s not even half as bad as I was expecting. Unfortunately the next paragraph makes a 180° turnaround.

King Massala, who in his country occupied the functions of chieftain of the tribe (or of the village), had in his numerous retinue an interpreter, Congolese like himself, and very fluent in English. That man, the only one with whom it was possible to talk seriously, possessed a remarkable intelligence: his ease of assimilation was such that he understood at the first explanation the goal and the movement of a machine too complicated for a student of our middle schools.

If all of his compatriots are also as happily gifted as him, it will not be difficult to penetrate their country with the civilization of which we are so proud.

You could say it’s a matter of interpretation. Perhaps this can be read innocuously, but I read it as an expression of wonder at the fact that these people might actually be intelligent. That aside, my curiosity about this particular subject hadn’t yet been satisfied, no matter how interesting as the book as a whole was. This was all they had to say about it? How did the presumably less polished regular press react to Massala? Luckily that question can be answered without even leaving your home. At its simplest you can just toss Massala into the search box over at BelgicaPress.

Pavillon Congolais. Massala et sa suite.

A quick perusal of the results tells us that to be made into a Massala was a cultural reference that any newspaper writer would expect their audience to understand in the 1880s and ’90s. It meant, of course, to be painted black (e.g., Het Handelsblad, 1889-12-17, p. 2 and 1891-03-07, p.1). We also learn of the unfortunate event of Massala’s death in 1895, one of the first negerkoninkskens (little negro kings) to open up his domain to the Assosiation [sic.] internationale, Belgian king Leopold II’s personal exploitation business (Het Handelsblad, 1895-10-25, p.2). Curiously, Massala’s hut from the expo was displayed on the Keyserlei in 1909 for the purpose of colonial week (Het Handelsblad, 1909-06-02, p. 3). But the most interesting article among the bunch that I looked through more or less at random is actually the oldest, from 14 May 1885.

The newspaper opens by saying that one of the group of Congolese answers to the description in a poem by “onze Door” (our Door, popularly known as “den Door”). Theodoor van Rijswijck is a writer who died in 1849, at only thirty-seven years old. He is perhaps best-known for his satirical poems, which served as biting commentaries on the relevant political issues of his day. An example is Santo-Thomas de Guatimala, which deals with a failed Belgian affair in Guatemala. “All who can’t earn their bread in Flanders, because the laws of foreigners hit us so, have the inclination to go to Sint-Thomas.” This refers to an emigration policy to send impoverished Flemish people in that direction, implemented during 1843–1844 by the “foreign”, French-speaking Belgian state. In any case, among all other kinds of ills that might befall you in Guatemala, there is also the local dictator, Carrera.

Ook heerscht daer Carrera, een specie van koning,
Zoo zwart als de satan, zoo naakt als een vorsch;
Die niets dan een suikerkist heeft voor zyn wooning,
Voor rykskroon, een hoed van mahonihout' schors.

Or in an impromptu English translation, where you’ll just have to accept the somewhat awkward second line for the sake of preserving rhyme and meter.

Also there rules Carrera, a species of king,
Black as satan, as a frog naked so stark;
Who has naught but a sugarcase for a dwelling,
For a crown, a hat of mahogany bark.

I imagine that Carrera was called black as Satan because of his many crimes, not because of the color of his skin. But with regard to Massala, Het Handelsblad seems to be of the opinion that inside and outside support each other. “It is him who sold his area to the African Society. In our history we would see him as a kind of traitor; but in the land of little blacks such a sale is not seen as bad, and because it is to our advantage, we find good there what we would find ugly here.” His clothing isn’t up to spec, either.

This Majesty, without pants, is called Massala; he wasn’t wearing any kind of royal cloak when he arrived. On the contrary, he was bundled in old clothing to protect against the cold May weather; but he didn’t lack a certain royal miens. […] Further in his group there are three women, not exactly outstanding in beauty […] and having reached their destination they started smoking like Turks.

[…]

Massala is a well-built guy, whose hair is almost starting to turn gray. […] One of the negroes wore […] a cord around his middle, from which hung a… smoked pipe.

[…]

A peculiarity: the Congo men brought their own fetish, their idol, to protect them in the foreign country. Whether it is a bad or a good god, we do not know. Until now, they’ve been keeping the negroes inside as much as possible; the weather is not favorable to them and they are certainly not fit to stand our climate, just as little as we could stand theirs.

If you want to know more about this subject and then some, there’s a 1993 study available online. It was published in Afrika Focus (Vol. 9, Nr. 3, 1993, pp. 215–237).

Perhaps now you understand why I like books like Anvers et l’Exposition Universelle de 1885. The book itself is of moderate interest, but when you flip through for the pictures and skim the text for interesting tidbits, they provide a marvelous starting point for further explorations of our past.

René Corneli, Pierre Mussely (1886), Anvers et l’Exposition Universelle de 1885.
★★★½

On the Living Congolese Village

Cette exposition, unique en son genre, et dont Anvers a eu la primeur, était organisée sous la direction intelligente du savant général Wouwermans, le sympathique président de la dite Société.

On y a rassemblé tous les produits de l’Etat libre du Congo : des armes, des outils, des instruments de musique et divers échantillons de l’industrie du pays.

Le visiteur sérieux peut y recueillir des renseignements précieux sur la topographie, l’état actuel de la civiliution et les ressources de ces contrées, hier encore barbares, et auxquelles un généreux courant de civilisation ouvre un avenir de travail intelligent et de prospérité.

Quelques huttes congolaises ont été construites à proximité du Sanitarium et servent de cadre au groupe de nègres qui a séjourné à Anvers pendant l’Exposition.

Ces Congolais forment certes une des plus belles tribus africaines.

Les hommes sont beaux, bien musclés, marchant droit et ferme ; la vivacité de l’œil trahit une activité mentale très-grande ; les femmes, beaucoup plus petites, ont le regard d’une grande douceur, et nous donneraient une assez haute idée des beautés nègres, n’était la suprême élégance de leur marche de canard.

Le roi Massala, qui dans son pays occupait les hautes fonctions de chef de tribu (ou de village), comptait dans sa nombreuse suite un interprète, Congolais comme lui, parlant très-couramment l’anglais. Cet homme, le seul avec lequel il fut possible de s‘entretenir sérieusement, était d’une intelligence remarquable : sa facilité
d’assimilation était telle qu’il comprenait, à la première explication, le but et le mouvement d‘une machine assez compliquée pour rebuter un élève de nos écoles moyennes.

Si tous ses compatriotes sont aussi heureusement doués que lui, il ne sera pas difficile de faire pénétrer dans leur pays, la civilisation dont nous sommes si fiers.

Source: René Corneli, Pierre Mussely (1885), Anvers et l’Exposition Universelle de 1885, p. 158.

On Massala and the Congolese

Het is hij die zijne landstreek aan de Afrikaansche Vereeniging heeft verkocht. In onze geschiedenis zou men hem als een soort van verrader aanzien; maar in het land der zwartjes wordt zoo’n verkoop niet kwalijk genomen, en dewijl het ten onzen voordeele is, vinden wij ginder goed wat wij hier al heel leelijk zouden vinden.

Die Majesteit, zonder broek, noemt men Massala; hij had precies geen koninklijken mantel om, toen hij aankwam. Wel integendeel, hij was in vodden en lompen gedraaid om zich te beschermen tegen het koude meiweer; doch het ontbrak hem niet aan eene zekere koninklijke houding. Overigens, Massala heeft reeds veel met blanken omgegaan, en zal hier en daar zoo al iets gezien hebben van europische beschaving.

Verder zijn er in de groep, drie vrouwen, die precies niet uitblinken door schoonheid; deze waren nogal warm ingebakeld, en op hare bestemming gekomen begonnen zij te rooken als Turken. Deze dames, die hier geen fortuin zullen maken, noemt men Zonimbo, Zola — geen familie van den schrijver van Germinal — Zouboudo en juffer Mabotee; verder telt men drie jongens, een meisje en een taalman, Tatee genoemd, die engelsch en portugeesch spreekt en naar europische manier gekleed is.

Massala is een sterk gebouwde kerel, wiens haar zoowat begint grijs te worden. Men zal wel doen die Majesteit en zijne volgelingen, een warm slaaplijf te geven. Een der negers had eene plaid omgeslagen, doch deze deken daargelaten, bestond zijne kleeding in eenige armbanden, eene koord om het middel, waarin eene… doorgerookte pijp stak.

De groep is in eenen omnibus naar de Boomschepoort gereden. Dat rijden kwam Massala heel koninklijk voor, en hij zal thuis gekomen, den tocht in dezen triomfwagen zonder twijfel wijdloopig vertellen. De vertrekken, waar de negers geplaatst werden, zijn boven de militaire bakkerij uitgekozen, zoodat als het zonneke nu wat wil beginnen te warmen, zij van onder en van boven zullen gestoofd worden.

Aan dat goed verwarmde vertrek is eene verandah, waarin zijn, als de zon ook warmte geeft, de frissche lucht komen inasemen. Rooken (cigaren en pijpen) is een groot genoegen voor allen. Overigens zijn die negers niet lui; integendeel, zij zijn altijd met iets bezig. De hutten, die zij in de Tentoonstelling zullen bewonen, ten minste bij dag, hebben zij zelf gereed gemaakt, en zij zullen ook zelf opslaan.

Een bijzonderheid: de Congo-mannen hebben hunnen fetiche, hun afgodsbeeld, meêgebracht, om hen in het vreemde land te beschermen. Of het een kwade of een goede god is, weten wij niet. Tot nu toe houdt men de negers zooveel mogelijk binnen; het weer is voor hen niet gunstig en zij zijn zeker tegen ons klimaat niet bestand, zoo min als wij tegen het hunne.

Bij deze Tentoonstelling zal men de voortbrengsels voegen van Congo-land, die op last van den Koning der Belgen zijn bijeen gezameld. Deze zullen vereenigd zijn in een gebouw, dat te Braine-le-Comte gemaakt wordt. Het is een model van de zoogezegde – standplaatsgebouwen,– die men in Congo opricht.

Source: “De negers van Congo,” in: Het Handelsblad van Antwerpen, 15 May 1885, p. 1.

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Workarounds for Turning Off Your DisplayPort Monitor

Sometimes you jot down a few quick notes for yourself without bothering to turn them into a blogpost that might be useful to others. This is one of those notes. First, I’ll introduce my computer monitor workflow as it’s been since time immemorial, also known as ’95 or ’96. Just like how I turn off lights I don’t use, I’ve always turned off my monitor when I wanted it. This has never been a problem, until in early 2015 I had to use DisplayPort for the first time. If you want an UltraHD monitor, which you do if you care even the tiniest bit about sharpness and clarity, you have to use DisplayPort.

But DisplayPort isn’t nice. Turning off your monitor is treated the same as disconnecting it. In Windows this means everything resets itself to some absurdly low resolution, whereas in Linux the consequences can be even worse (like having to SSH in from another computer to run an xrandr command to reactivate the monitor). This means you either face a colossal waste of energy or continuous annoyance at the fact that your monitor has turned itself off yet again. In my view monitor timeouts should be at least twenty minutes, just as a failsafe in the extremely unlikely event that you forgot to turn it off. Luckily I found two reasonable workarounds within the first week or two of having acquired my UHD monitor.

The first?

xset dpms force off

This has the same effect as your monitor timeout, only at your volition. I tend to find the blinking light on the monitor somewhat annoying, but this nevertheless remains your best bet to quickly turn the screen off as part of your regular workflow.

The second method consists of actually turning the monitor off. Besides getting rid of the blinking light I figure it saves just a tiny bit more electricity to boot. Which is useful if you want to keep your computer active, but not your monitor. For this method you have to switch to TTY (Ctrl + Alt + F1-6) before turning your monitor off. Then when you turn your monitor back on, X won’t know it’s been missing. Switch back with Ctrl + Alt + F7.

I’m still hopeful that there might simply be an xorg.conf setting I’ve overlooked, but in any case these workarounds serve their purpose. Note that xset dpms force off is also tremendously useful on laptops that don’t have a function key for turning off the screen. Standby often just isn’t what you want.

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Je suis faite comme ça

La première partie de ce livre était vraiment intéressant, à propos de sa jeunesse et la deuxième guerre mondiale. Le milieu tourné parfois dans un grand mot de remerciement, que je trouvais un peu ennuyeux. La fin ramassée à nouveau, par exemple révélant qu’elle a eu deux avortements. Juliette Gréco est une personne très intéressante, et elle fait de bonnes chansons. « Sans musique, pas de vie. »

Juliette Gréco (2012), Je suis faite comme ça: mémoires.

★★★½

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Prince of Persia (2008): A Very Decent Platformer

The 2008 reimagining of Prince of Persia is much better than the Sands of Time. The platforming is on the whole more graceful, there aren’t as many fights, those that are there are aren’t nearly as annoying, and it looks fantastic.

By default the characters voices are barely audible over the music. It’s possible that this is an issue with the French localization, which I played to increase my exposure to the language, but I had to turn the music down quite a bit. The localization was well done and there’s quite a bit of backstory and banter, provided you actively look for it with the left trigger.

My biggest gripe with the game are the fights. For some reason it insists on not telling me the easy to remember A/B/X/Y controller buttons, but to work exclusively with the colors. Even having finished the game, I can still only just about place blue. Occasionally the fights look quite epic, but mostly they turn monotonous. Luckily you can end about half the fights quickly by pushing your adversaries over the edge, and many semi-random spawns you can even prevent from appearing at all if you get there fast enough.

There are a few puzzles to be solved, but there’s really only one or two that I had to reflect on for a minute. This game is all about the platforming. One thing I love in that regard is that the levels become quite different after defeating the local boss, enabling you to discover the beautiful areas all over again while collecting (obligatory) orbs.

Another review mentioned there’s a missing DLC and that this leaves the story unfinished, but actually I was very pleasantly surprised by the indeterminate ending. I fear a DLC could only detract from it.

Oh yeah, one last thing. That not being able to die thing you might’ve read about this game is complete bogus. Especially as you progress there are plenty of annoying opportunities to have to have to redo larger amounts of jumping and running just because you mess up near the end. Only you get a helping hand animation instead of gruesome death porn.

★★★★☆

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Down With Democracy

The first few pages were interesting. That’s what the first few pages were. The rest of part one was a veritable bore, in spite of the chopped up narrative, never living up to what seemed to be its promise. Most memorable was the misspelling of rijsttafel as rijstaffel. Was it on purpose? Does it mean anything? Does a rice table undermine the grand narrative in ways the rest of the book tries but fails? Part two and three decided to change into something akin to a normal narrative, but that didn’t improve the book any. Still, at least my enjoyment of the book oscillated by this point, perhaps even with a vaguely upward trend.

In the end, Democracy is a quick, boring read with a mildly interesting ironic narrative gimmick. The constant false starts and repetitions are presumably meant to undermine the grand narratives of modernity, those of the American democracy in particular. Instead we get a dull soap opera with lifeless characters dressed up in a thin veneer of literary play.

Joan Didion (1984), Democracy.

★★½

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Take Me Home

I first came across Toni Morrison a few years ago when I read Beloved, a book that positively blew me away. Although I haven’t read anything else by her since, picking up Home when I noticed it on sale was a no-brainer. I didn’t realize my copy of the book came out of the printer’s cut crooked, but I think it adds to the experience.

This book definitely succeeded in shocking me, someone who considers themselves a fairly well-informed European Americanophile. While I’ve read non-fiction literature like the maddeningly complacent Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washinton as well as Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, it still failed to register with me just how persistent such attitudes were across the entire country. Segregation was not just a southern thing. This isn’t something I grasped from, say, Pynchon’s V., which I’d argue draws attention away from the racial and social problems in order to focus on some kind of crisis of modernity. I bring this up because the PTSD-suffering protagonist sees “black flames shooting out of the V” of the logo of a Chevron station. Morrison clearly isn’t Pynchon, but when your nose is singing from being pushed into flamey V-related imagery you can’t help but make a connection.

The interaction between the global narrator and the Frank narrator is interesting, but I shouldn’t spoil it. If you’ve read Beloved you kind of know the shtick, but it’s different enough not to feel like repetition. In brief, Home is a story of broken people jerkily healing themselves, overcoming not only their shattered selves but also the malfunctioning society that made them. Recommended.

Toni Morrison (2012), Home.

★★★★

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