Monthly Archives: March 2010


Way back in 2004 when I was still using a multiheaded Linux box as my primary machine, I wrote a command line utility to change the background picture of my desktop. I gave it the catchy name imlibsetroot in the vein of other similar utilities, such as xsetroot and Esetroot. The main difference between my utility and these others was that mine allowed you to set different pictures on each monitor.

I posted it on my .edu account and must have made an announcement on Freshmeat, and figured no one else would ever use it. I mostly forgot about it. The program was pretty much complete, so it just sat there in “maintenance mode.” I used it regularly for a couple of years, added a single trivial enhancement/fix, and soon after that, I stopped using it when I switched to a mac.

I’ve thought about it from time to time. Mostly whenever I’m forced to deal with Apple’s horrible desktop background preference pane. Then today, while engaging in a vanity google, I found this.

Not only was there another user of imlibsetroot, but apparently he was a long time user, and fixed an actual bug, and then started hosting his fixed version himself.


What else could I do? I downloaded his version, patched my version and then emailed him a new copy.

Just in case there’s someone else out there using it and will stumble across this, I’m posting it here, along with original imlibsetroot webpage, but with a link to the newest version.

Enjoy imlibsetroot 1.2!

Update: Wed Mar 31 17:27:02 PDT 2010
I got off my ass and wrote a wrapper script for MacOSX. (I don’t think multihead is supported on MacOSX.) imlibsetroot rides again!


A Xinerama Aware Background Changer

imlibsetroot is pretty much Esetroot, but much more feature rich. This program was originally designed to set backgrounds on individual monitors in a multihead setup. Then composition was added so that it could be used with webcollage, but webcollage has its own program that does pretty much the same thing, so that was pretty much a waste of effort. Alas, I only checked how webcollage actually worked after composition was added.

Anyway, this is what I use to set my background in sawfish.

imlibsetroot requires Imlib2.


Garden for a Not Too Distant Future

Spanish art collective, Luzinterruptus latest creation, Jardín para un Futuro, No Muy Lejano (Garden for a Not Too Distant Future), is 110 clear plastic containers, each containing a few leaves and branches, along with a green LED.

The artist statement says that installation was a humorous statement about the lack of green space in modern cities; but given the frequency of their installations, I think that’s more just talk than anything.

Luzinterruptus weekly installations are a bit repetitive. For instance, “Jardín” is reminiscent of their December work, Naturaleza Contra Cristal (Nature Against Glass), where they placed green LEDs and tree clippings on the Madrid Metro elevators stations. Parallels to Graffiti Research Lab‘s LED Throwies and Goggin and Keehn’s The Language of Birds could also be made.

Yes, it’s repetitive. Yes, other people are doing the same thing, perhaps even better. But I’m a sucker for LEDs in the dark.

Time to Update TZ



In a exercise specious reasoning unseen since Lisa sold Homer a tiger repelling rock, Russia is dropped two timezones. Why? “[T]o breathe new life into business activity,” President Medvedev said. Why would this be? Well China and the United States both have fewer timezones, and they’re doing better than Russia, so obviously it’s the timezones and not the rampant corruption.

While I like timezones in general, I’ve always found the actual implementation of of the timezone system frustratingly stupid. The whole reasons why there are timezones is because the planet rotates 15 degrees per hour. The planet rotates East to West, and yet you can gain/lose an hour by moving North or South! Why is India, and the Australian Outback half an hour off? That doesn’t even make sense!

If there are 24 hours in a day, there should be 24 timezones, not 35 (formerly 37).

Medvedev ironically holds China up as an example of a country that knows how to use timezones, but Beijing has decreed that the entire country is one timezone, not three.

It’s not that hard to set up timezones. Every 15 degrees draw a line from pole to pole. Frob the line so that towns don’t fall on the boundary, and you’re done. Granted, you approach the poles, the 15 degree rule breaks down, so you’d have to just pick a timezone (say UTC+0) for convenience.

What really bugs me about the system, is that it will never be fixed, if for no other reason than misguided nationalism.

A Turing Machine

Now this is inspired. Mike Davey has built an actual Turing Machine.

A bit of background for non-CS people out there. A Turing Machine is a thought machine postulated by father of modern computing, and persecuted hero of World War II, Alan Turing. It was described as a machine that with a read-write head and infinite roll of tape that could pass back and forth under the head. Symbols could be read from the tape and then written back to the tape. What symbols, and where they were written would defined by rules that were triggered based on the symbols read from the tape.

In modern parlance, this is a machine whose behavior is controlled not through hardwiring, but through software.

Mike Davey isn’t the first person to build a Turing machine. (There’s at least one Lego Turing Machine.) But I do think he’s one of the few that built a machine that looks like a Turing Machine.

Video after the jump.
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I’m Here

I’m Here is a new short by Spike Jonze. I’m a sucker for Spike. I’ve enjoyed his music videos from back in the day, and I’ve loved everyone of his feature length works. His work always has a very chill, and if it’s possible to use it in a nonpejorative sense, a “hipster,” feel to it.

The movie is free, but it’s set up with this lame artificial scarcity of number of viewings per day. I guess to give you that “theatrical experience” at home. That’s just what I want. An online movie being “sold out.”

This One is On Us

First there were bootleg concert recordings, now there are bootleg concert videos. This One is on Us is a fan project to crowdsourced concert films from the last Nine Inch Nails tour. I never would have thought this was possible, but with the advent of small highdef video recorders, it was inevitable. I downloaded “The Gift,” and it’s good. It’s as good as any other concert video I’ve seen.

And it’s NIN. Yay.

Trailer after the jump.
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LED Tables

Alex Schlegel‘s Day Table uses a photoresistor located in one corner, and eight ShiftBars (for a total of 24 channels) connected to an Arduino to play back the sunlight that fell on the table during the course of the day.

Macetech built this table to demo their shiftbrite RGB LEDs and a Seeeduino. It’s a 9 x 9 grid, but since each LED has its own controller, the cost quickly climbs.

While not a table, Dave Clausen‘s LED Cylinder is a good resource for discussing how to wire up set of addressable RGB LEDs, along with some good resources to parts and the like.

Recently I’ve been thinking about a LED displays. Originally, I was thinking about a full 640 x 480 display, but after doing the math, that idea quickly shrank to a more manageable 32 x 24 display. While part of me thinks that having one of these tables would be interesting, I can’t help but think that in reality they’d just be ugly and too bright.

I started to think about LED displays because my “coffee table” (It’s actually more an end table.) has a glass top and holes cut out in the back for electrical cables to pass through. What I really want is a multitouch display like either of these two guys are building. However, a multitouch is still pretty hacky and more DIY than I want right now. I like the idea of owning one of these tables, I just don’t want to build it.

Buy a Sea Platform

The federal government is selling this Spring, the Diamond Shoals Light Station 13 miles off of Cape Hatteras, NC. Two floors. 5000 square feet of living space. 360 degree ocean views. Real fixer-up-er. All bids considered.

Clearly it’s seen better days. It’s billed as a “Texas Tower”, but it’s not an offshore radar station, and being inside territorial waters, you can’t even pull a Sealand.

I guess the only practical reason for buying this would be for salvage, but I do like the idea having one of these as an ultimate fort.


MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Design has acquired the @ symbol into its collection. It is a momentous, elating acquisition that makes us all proud.


[The acquisition of @] relies on the assumption that physical possession of an object as a requirement for an acquisition is no longer necessary, and therefore it sets curators free to tag the world and acknowledge things that “cannot be had”—because they are too big (buildings, Boeing 747’s, satellites), or because they are in the air and belong to everybody and to no one, like the @—as art objects befitting MoMA’s collection. The same criteria of quality, relevance, and overall excellence shared by all objects in MoMA’s collection also apply to these entities.

No. Stop. A building, a Boeing 747, and a satellite are all physical objects. All of them can be owned. They are bought and sold everyday. In fact, not only are they bought and sold, but buildings, 747s, and yes, even satellites are currently exhibited as museum pieces. Physical objects are the traditional things museums obtain. MoMA draws a connection to their acquisition of Tino Sehgal’s The Kiss, a dance. This would be purchasing intellectual property. While I may not always agree with legalities, or even the intellectual underpinnings, of all intellectual property rules and laws, I understand them. This however, is nonsense.

MoMA says that they “have acquired the design act in itself,” which is a meaningless statement. Sure it sounds good, but what exactly does this mean? They “acquired” the moment that someone created the a-d ligature? The moment that Spanish speaker said, “Hey, this looks like both an ‘a’ and an ‘o’.” The moment Ray Tomlinson decided to use ‘@’ as a delimiter?

Fine. They want to have an exhibit about the at symbol. That’s cool. It might even be interesting. Couching your announcement in terms of purchasing and transactions is absurd. Words have meanings, and as Inigo Montoya told Vizzini, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”