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unburden-home-dir uploaded to Sid //at 02:54 //by abe

from the Good-for-NFS-as-well-as-SSDs dept.

Most popular web browsers cause quite a lot of I/O on a user’s home directory and their cache’s also take up quite some disk space – with Google’s Chrome/Chromium you can’t even configure how much disk space should be used for the cache.

This causes unnecessary network traffic and no more makes sense if the home directory itself comes over the network, e.g. via NFS or Samba. And on laptops it spins up the disks and unnecessarily costs battery power and therefore lowers the potential battery life.

Such caches also costs scarce disk space on SSDs or flash cards as common in laptops, netbooks and other mobile devices, and often get backed up without any real use.

To take some of this burden off our NFS servers at work I started to develop an Xsession.d hook which moves off such caches to the local disk and puts in symbolic links instead into the user’s home directory when the user locally logs in.

This hook quickly became a standalone Perl script named unburden-home-dir and the Xsession.d hook just a wrapper around it. Due to some unsolved issues I didn’t feel it’s good enough for Debian Unstable, so I uploaded it just to Debian Experimental back then.

Pietro Abate’s recent blog posting about unburden-home-dir on Planet Debian gave me the right kick to make another try to solve the remaining issues.

And the mental distance gained over the time indeed helped and I could fix the remaining issues. So I added some polish to the package and uploaded it to Debian Unstable.

If you used the previous version from experimental, you have to take care of a few things:

  • Previously some configuration files sported unburden_home_dir as base name while others used unburden-home-dir as base name as that’s also the package name. Now all configuration files use the package name, i.e. unburden-home-dir as base name.
  • “Conffiles” under /etc/ should be renamed by dpkg automatically, but per-user configuration files ($HOME/.unburden_home_dir and $HOME/.unburden_home_dir_list) must be manually renamed to $HOME/.unburden-home-dir and $HOME/.unburden-home-dir.list.
  • By adding UNBURDEN_HOME=yes to $HOME/.unburden-home-dir every user can decide himself if he wants the Xsession.d hook to be used when he logs in under X. On managed workstations with many users this eases testing of unburden-home-dir with just a few users a lot.

You can follow the development of unburden-home-dir also on GitHub and on Gitorious as well as on Ohloh.



Conkeror usable on Ubuntu again despite XULRunner removal //at 00:08 //by abe

from the annoying-pissing-contest dept.

Because of the very annoying new Mozilla release politics (which look like a pissing contest with the similar annoying Google Chrome/Chromium release schedule), Ubuntu kicked out Mozilla XULRunner with its recent release of 11.10 Oneiric. And with XULRunner, Ubuntu also kicked out Conkeror and all other XULRunner reverse dependencies, too. Meh.

Sparked by this thread on the Conkeror mailing list, I extended the Debian package’s /usr/bin/conkeror wrapper script so that it looks for firefox in the search path, too, if no xulrunner* is found, and added an alternative dependency on firefox versions greater or equal to 3.5, too.

From now on, if the wrapper script finds no xulrunner but firefox in the search path, it calls firefox -app instead of xulrunner-$VERSION to start Conkeror.

With the expection of the about:-page showing the orange-blue Firefox logo and claiming that this is “Firefox $CONKEROR_VERSION”, it works as expected on my Toshiba AC100 netbook running the armel port of Ubuntu 11.10.

From version 1.0~~pre+git1110272207-~nightly1 on, the Conkeror Nightly Built Debian Packages will be installable on Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric again without the need to install or keep XULRunner version from Ubuntu 11.04 Natty.

For those who don’t want to use the nightly builds, I created a (currently still empty) specific PPA for Conkeror where I’ll probably upload all the conkeror packages I upload to Debian Unstable.


Conkeror in the Debian NEW queue //at 22:57 //by abe

from the Never-trust-a-dot-zero-release dept.

I already mentioned a few times in the blog that I’m working on a Debian package of the Conkeror web browser. And now, after a lot of fine-tuning (and I still further new ideas how to improve the package ;-) Conkeror is finally in the NEW queue and hopefully will hit unstable in a few days. (Update Thursday, 03-Jul-2008, 18:13 CEST: The package has been accepted by Jörg and should be included on most architectures in tonight’s updates.)

Those who could hardly await it can fetch Conkeror .debs from http://noone.org/debian/. The conkeror package itself is a non-architecture specific package (but needs xulrunner-1.9 to be available), and its small C-written helper program spawn-process-helper is available as package conkeror-spawn-process-helper for i386, amd64, sparc, alpha, powerpc, kfreebsd-i386 and kfreebsd-amd64. There are no backported packages for Etch available, though, since I don’t know of anyone yet, who has successfully backported xulrunner-1.9 to Etch.

Interestingly the interest in Conkeror seems to have risen in the Debian community independently of its Debian packaging. Luca Capello, who sponsored the upload of my Conkeror package, pointed me to two blog post on Planet Debian, written by people being fed up with Firefox 3 already and are looking for a more lean, but still Gecko based web browser: Decklin Foster is fed up with Firefox’ -eh- Iceweasel’s arrogance and MJ Ray is fed up with Firefox 3 and its SSL problems.

Since my previously favourited Gecko based web browser Kazehakase never became really stable but instead became slow and leaking memory (and therefore not much better than Firefox 2), I can imagine that it’s no more an candidate for people seaking for a lean and fast web browser.

Conkeror has some “strange” concepts of which the primary one is that it looks and feels like Emacs:

  • The current location is shown in a status bar below the website, where Emacs usually shows buffer names. All input, even entering new URLs to go to, is done via the mini-buffer, an input line below the status bar.

  • Instead of tabs it uses Emacs’ concept of buffers. So no tab bar clutter and though easy access to all currently open pages.

  • It has no buttons, menu-bar or such. And except the status bar and mini-buffer, it uses the whole size of the window for the displayed web page. This is the main reason why I prefer Conkeror on the 7” EeePC: I don’t want to waste any pixels for buttons or menu bars and still have a fully functional web browser.

  • It of course has Emacs alike keybindings (with a slight touch of Lynx). While this may seem awkward for the vi world (Hey, they have the vimperator*, also in Debian since a few days!), as an Emacs user you just have to remember that you web browser now also expects to be treated like an Emacs. It just works:

    C-x C-c
    Exit Emacs -eh- Conkeror
    C-x C-f
    Open File -eh- web page in new buffer
    C-x C-b
    Change to some other tab -eh- buffer
    C-x C-v
    Replace web page in this buffer and use the current URL as start for entering the new one
    C-x 5 2
    Open new frame -eh- window
    C-x 5 0
    Close current frame -eh- window
    C-x k
    Close tab, -eh- kill buffer
    C-h i
    Incremental search forward
    Incremental search backward
    Go back (Think info-mode)
    Go to (Open web page in this buffer)

    (Hehe, I like the faces of vi users having read these keybindings and now wondering how to remember them. SCNR. Well, sometimes vi key bindings are a mystery to me, too. :-)

    There are of course many more and nearly all are the same as in Emacs, even the universal argument C-u and the M-x command-line are there. E.g. C-u g lets you open a web page in a new buffer, too.

  • Conkeror also has very promising concept for following and copying links with the keyboard only. Opera is very inefficient here since you have to jump from link to link to get to the one you want. In Conkeror you just press f for following or c for copying links and then all links on the currently shown part of the page show a small number attached to it. Then you just enter the number (and additionally press enter if the number is ambigous) and the link is either opened or copied to the clipboard.

    A funny anecdote about how this concept grew over the time: Early versions of Conkeror (back in the days when it just was a Firefox externsion as vimperator) numbered all links on the page, not only the visible ones. On large pages with many links or buttons (e.g. my blog ;-), this took minutes to complete. The idea to just number the visible links is so simple and important – but someone first needed to have it. :-)


*) I just noticed that there is now also muttator, making Thunderbird look and behave like vim (and probably also mutt), too. Wonder into which e-mail client the Emacs community will convert Thunderbird. GNUS? RMAIL? VM? Wanderslust? What will it be called? Wunderbird? Thunderslust? (SCNRE ;-)

Daily Snapshot .debs of Conkeror //at 22:57 //by abe

from the development-tracking-using-APT dept.

Keeping track with packaging software which is under heavy development can be time-consuming. I noticed this while packaging Conkeror, because there was quite a demand for up-to-date packages, especially from upstream themself.

So recently on the IRC channel #conkeror the idea of automatically built Debian packages came up. After a few hours of experimenting and a few days of steadily optimizing, I can proudly present daily built snapshot packages of Conkeror for currently Lenny and Sid, ready to be included in your sources.list:

deb     http://noone.org/conkeror-nightly-debs lenny main
deb-src http://noone.org/conkeror-nightly-debs lenny main

deb     http://noone.org/conkeror-nightly-debs sid main
deb-src http://noone.org/conkeror-nightly-debs sid main

The binary package conkeror-spawn-process-helper is currently only built for the i386 architecture, but other architectures may follow.

The packages probably work also on any other Debian based distribution (e.g. Ubuntu) which includes XULRunner version 1.9.

Surely they are not of the usual Debian quality, but they should do it for staying up-to-date with the Conkeror development just by using your favourite APT frontend.

The script which generates those packages is also available in the Conkeror git repository at repo.or.cz.

The APTable archive is generated with reprepro. Packages and the repository are signed with the passphrase-less GnuPG key 373B76B4 which is used only for the Conkeror nightly builds. (If anyone knows a better solution for automatic builds than a passphrase-less key, please tell me. :-)

P.S.: I really like the new keybindings “<<”, “>>” and “G”. :-)


Thoughts on Gitorious and GitHub plus a useful git hook //at 11:36 //by abe

from the real-men-just-upload-their-important-stuff-on-git-and-let-the-rest-of-the-world-clone-it dept.

When I took over the developement of xen-tools, I looked around for an appropriate git hosting. I especially had a look at GitHub and Gitorious.

If you just regard the features, GitHub is definitely more targetted on single developers and Gitorious more towards projects:

At GitHub, every repository has its URL under the URL of a user page which makes it nearly impossible to have user independent, “official” repositories for projects which have more than one official developer.

At Gitorious, every hosted repository needs to belong to a project, even if it’s only a published configuration. But a project can have more than one git repository. You only seem to be able to have personal repositories if you clone some existing Gitorious repository.

So from a feature point of view, the xen-tools git repositories fit way better to Gitorious’ hosting while the git repositories with zshrc, conkerorrc and desktop configuration files defintely have a more fitting addresses on GitHub, in my case http://github.com/xtaran/$repository. On Gitorious, they are now together under a “project” called “Axel’s configuration files” at http://gitorious.org/abe which contains git repositories of my on grml’s .zshrc based .zshrc, my configuration for Conkeror and all the files necessary for my ratpoison/xmobar based netbook/laptop desktop.

I though feel a little bad for giving the project the very short “slug” name “abe” instead of “abe-config” (as I did initially) since “abe” is IMHO not a proper “project name” for my configuration files and possibly other projects would have a more reasonable claim for that project name on Gitorious. But that way it suites more its purpose: Gather some of my git repositories which don’t belong to a proper project.

But there’s another important point when comparing Gitorious and GitHub: Free Software needs free tools as Benjamin Mako Hill posted recently on Planet Debian. Despite my (probably well known) distrust against Google and therefore also Google Code, and despite knowing the history of SourceForge becoming non-free, I was not that much aware that GitHub’s software is only partially open source and therefore also not free software while Gitorious is both as it’s licensed under the GNU Affero General Public License (like StatusNet/identi.ca for example) which is basically GPLv3, but its ideas applied to hosted web applications scenario (where the GPL itself doesn’t grasp), too.

Initially I just had the xen-tools git repositories on Gitorious and all my small one-repository “projects” as copies of the repositories on my own git server on GitHub to get some more publicity for them and allow “social cloning”. After reading Mako’s article, I decided to at least have repository clones on Gitorious of all repositories I mirror at GitHub, too.

That way I force nobody to use the non-free tools on GitHub for “social cloning” one of my git repositories. And of course I have copies of my code somewhere on the net as backup. Or to say it with Linus Torvalds’ (slightly updated) words: Only wimps use tape backup: real men just upload their important stuff on git, and let the rest of the world clone it. ;-)

But isn’t that tedious to always push your code to three repositories? No, it isn’t. I just push my code to git.noone.org where I have configured the according remotes and the following post-receive hook:

read oldrev newrev refname
git push gitorious ${refname:t}
git push github ${refname:t}

The only other thing necessary is to use ssh-agent and SSH agent forwarding to at least the host you’re pushing to.


Still happy with the ASUS EeePC 701 //at 16:02 //by abe

from the Good-Hardware dept.

Recently Eric asked on the LUG Vorarlberg mailing list about netbook experience. I wrote a lengthy reply summarizing my experiences with the ASUS EeePC 701. And I thought this is something I probably should share with more people than only one LUG:

I ordered an ASUS EeePC 701 (4G) with US keyboard layout at digitec in Spring 2008, got it approximately one month later and posted a first resumé after one month in my blog.

I’m still very happy with the EeePC 701, despite two commonly mentioned drawbacks (the small screen resolution and the small SSD – which I both don’t see as real problems) and some other minor issues.

What matters

  • Very robust and compact case. And thanks to a small fan being the only moving part inside, the EeePC 701 is also very robust against mobile use.
  • Very pleasing always-in-my-daypack size (despite the 7" screen it’s the typical 9" netbook size) and easily held with one hand.
  • Black. No glossy display. Neither clear varnish nor piano laquer. Short: No bath room tile. Textured surface, small scratches don’t stick out and don’t matter.
  • Debian (previously Lenny, now Sid) runs fine on it, even the webcam works out-of-the-box.
  • Despite all those neat features, it was fscking cheap at that time. And it was available without Windows.

Nice to have

  • There’s power on the USB sockets even if the EeePC is turned off but the power supply is plugged in.
  • The speakers are impressingly good and loud for their size. (But my demands with regards to audio are probably not too high, so audiophiles shouldn’t run to ebay because of this. ;-)
  • It has three external USB sockets.

What doesn’t matter

  • The small 7" 800×480 screen: I like small fonts and do most things inside a terminal anyway. And even with 800×480, those terminals are still much bigger than 80×25 characters. Only some applications and webpages have no heart for small screens.
  • The small disk size: Quite a lot of programs fit on 4 GB of disk space. Additionally I use tmpfs a lot. And music and video files are either on a external 500 GB Western Digital 2.5" “My Passport” disk (which I need quite seldomly) or much more come via sshfs and IPv6 from my home server anyway. :-)
  • The small keyboard: I just don’t have any problems with the size or layout (right shift right of the cursor up key, etc.) of the keyboard. Well, maybe except that any standard sized keyboard feels extremely large after having used the EeePC exclusively for some weeks. ;-)
  • The to 630 MHz underclocked 900 MHz Intel Celeron: It’s enough for most of the things I do with the EeePC. Also the original 512 MB RAM are somehow ok, but for using tmpfs, but no swap space at all, 1 GB or 2 GB are surely the better choice.
  • A battery runtime of 2.5h to 3h is fine for me.

What’s not so nice

  • The “n” key needs to be pressed slighty stronger than other keys, otherwise no “n” appears. So if one of my texts in average misses more “n” than other letters, I typed it on the EeePC. ;-)
  • Home, End, Page-Up, and Page-Down need the Fn key. This means that these keys can only be used with two hands (or one very big hand and I have quite small hands). This is usually no problem and you get used to it. It’s just annoying if you hold the EeePC with one hand and try to type with the other.
  • What looks like a single mouse button is a seesaw and therefore two mouse buttons below one button. This makes it quite hard to press both at the same time, e.g. for emulating a middle mouse button press. It usually works in about half of all cases I tried it. My solution was to bind some key combination to emulate a middle mouse button in my window manager, ratpoison:
    bind y ratclick 2
    And that mouse button bar already fell off two times.
  • The battery reports only in 10% steps, and reporting in percentage instead of mAh is an ACPI standard violation because reporting in percentage is only allowed for non-rechargable batteries. It also doesn’t report any charging and discharging rates. But in the meanwhile nearly all battery meter can cope with these hardware bugs. This was quite a problem in the early days.
  • Now, after approximately 1.5 years, the battery slowly fritzes: When charging there are often only seconds between 10% and 40%. Rigorously using up all power of the battery helped a little bit. Looks like some kind of memory effect althought the battery is labeled Li-Ion and not Ni-MH and Li-Ion batteries are said to have no memory effect.
  • The SD card reader only works fine if you once completed the setup of the original firmware or set the corresponding BIOS switch appropriately. No idea why.

Similar models

Technically, most of this also counts for the EeePC 900SD (not 901) which only differs in screen, resolution and disk size as well as CPU, but not on the the case. So same size, same robustness, same battery, same mainboard, bigger screen, resolution, disk and faster CPU. (The 901 has a different CPU, a different battery, and a different, glossy and partially chromed case.) See Wikipedia for the technical specifications of all EeePC models.

ASUS’ only big FAILure

Stopping to sell most EeePCs with Linux and cowardly teaming up with Microsoft after having shown big courage to come out with a Linux only netbook. Well, you probably already know, but it’s better without Windows

So basically you no more get these really neat netbooks from ASUS anymore and you get nearly no netbooks with Linux from ASUS in the stores anymore. It’s a shame.

Would I buy it again?


Well, maybe I would also buy the 900SD, 900AX (replacing the harddisk with an SSD) or 702 (8G) instead of the 701, but basically they’re very similar. See Wikipedia for the differences between these EeePC models. And of course I still prefer the versions without Windows.

But despite the low price, the EeePC 701 is surprisingly robust and still works as on the first day (ok, except battery, the mouse button bar and the “n” key ;-), so I recently bought a second power supply (only white ones were available *grrrr*) and ordered a bigger third party battery plus an adapter to load the battery directly from the (second) power supply without EeePC inbetween.

What desktop do I use on the EeePC?


I use ratpoison as window manager, uxterm, urxvt, and yeahconsole as terminal emulators (running zsh with grml based .zshrc even as root’s login shell :-), wicd-curses as network manager and xmobar (previously dzen2) with i3status as text-only panel. Installed editors are GNU Emacs 23, GNU Zile and nvi. (No vim. :-)

And of course a netbook wouldn’t be a netbook if it wouldn’t have a lot of network applications installed. For me the most important ones are: ssh, scp, autossh, sshfs, miredo, conkeror, git, hg, and rsync.


abe@debian.org //at 02:02 //by abe

from the finally dept.

On Wednesday I got DAM approval and since Saturday late evening I’m officially a Debian Developer. Yay! :-)

My thanks go to

  • Christoph Berg (Myon) whom I know for more than a decade since we studied together, and who’s career in Debian was way faster than mine, but who on the other hand probably knows me better than nobody else in Debian — which made him the perfect advocate;
  • Bernd Zeimetz (bzed) whom I know from my times at DaLUG and who was the friendliest Application Manager I could imagine — he’s probably also one of the fastest (8 days from application to AM report :-);
  • Luca Capello (gismo), who was the most demanding but also most inspiring sponsor I ever had and who became a very good friend after we found each other over my package conkeror.
  • Arne Wichmann (Y_Plentyn) for being my first drop-in center for Debian questions (like “can I directly dist-upgrade from 2.0 to 3.0?” :-);
  • Martin Zobel-Helas (zobel) who was always encouraging me to continue exploring new sides of Debian;
  • Gerfried Fuchs (Rhonda) just for being there (and for being a package maintainer with good relations to upstream ;-);
  • my coworkers at the IT Services Group of the Department of Physics at ETH Zurich, who always found new challenges in Debian for me to solve;
  • … and all those others who offered to also advocate me (e.g. Otavio Salvador) or sponsored my packages so far (or at least offered to do so), e.g. Alexander Wirt (formorer), Martin F. Krafft (madduck), Robert Jördens (jordens), …

As Bernd cited in his AM report, my earliest activity within the Debian community I can remember was organising the Debian booth at LinuxDay.lu 2003, where I installed Debian 3.0 Woody on my Hamilton Hamstation “hy” (a Sun SparcStation 4 clone).

I wrote my first bugreport in November 2004 (#283365), probably during the Sarge BSP in Frankfurt. And my first Debian package was wikipedia2text, starting to package it August 2005 (ITP #325417).

My only earlier documented interest in the Debian community is subscribing to the lists debian-apache@l.d.o and debian-emacsen@l.d.o in June 2002.

I though remember that I started playing around with Debian 2.0 Hamm, skipping 2.1 (for whatever reasons, I can’t remember), using 2.2 quite regularily and started to dive into with Woody which also ran on my first ThinkPad “bijou”. I installed it over WLAN with just a boot floppy at the Chemnitzer Linux-Tage. :-)

Anyway, this has led to what it had to lead — to a new Debian Developer. :-)

The first package I uploaded with my newly granted rights was a new conkeror snapshot. This version should work out of the box on Ubuntu again, so that conkeror in Ubuntu should not lag that much behind Debian Sid anymore.

In other News

Since Wednesday I own a Nokia N900 and use it as my primary mobile phone now. Although it’s not as free as the OpenMoko (see two other recent posts by Lucas Nussbaum and by Tollef Fog Heen on Planet Debian) it’s definitely what I hoped the OpenMoko will once become. And even if I can’t run Debian natively on the N900 (yet), it at least has a Debian chroot on it. :-)

I'm going to FOSDEM, the Free and Open Source Software Developers' European Meeting A few weeks ago, I took over the organisation of this year’s Debian booth at FOSDEM from Wouter Verhelst who’s busy enough with FOSDEM organisation itself.

Last Monday the organiser of the BSD DevRoom at FOSDEM asked on #mirbsd for talk suggestions and they somehow talked me into giving a talk about Debian GNU/kFreeBSD. The slides should show up during the next days on my Debian GNU/kFreeBSD talks page. I hope, I’ll survive that talk despite giving more or less a talk saying “Jehova!”. ;-)

What a week.

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Hackergotchi of Axel Beckert


This is the blog or weblog of Axel Stefan Beckert (aka abe or XTaran) who thought, he would never start blogging... (He also once thought, that there is no reason to switch to this new ugly Netscape thing because Mosaïc works fine. That was about 1996.) Well, times change...

He was born 1975 at Villingen-Schwenningen, made his Abitur at Schwäbisch Hall, studied Computer Science with minor Biology at University of Saarland at Saarbrücken (Germany) and now lives in Zürich (Switzerland), working at the Network Security Group (NSG) of the Central IT Services (Informatikdienste) at ETH Zurich.

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