Month: January 2021

Switching from screen to tmux

January 11, 2021 perl and general scripting hackery No comments , ,

RHEL8 (Redhat enterprise Linux 8) has dropped support for my old friend screen.  I had found a package somewhere that still worked for one new RHEL8 installation, but didn’t record where, and the version I installed on my most recently upgraded machine is crashing horribly.


Screen was originally recommended to me by Sam Bortman when I worked at IBM, and I am forever grateful to him, as it has been a godsend over the years.  The basic idea is that you have have a single terminal session that not only saves all state, but also allows you to have multiple terminal “tabs” all controlled by that single master session.  Since then, I no longer use nohup, and no longer try to run many background jobs anymore.  Both attempting to background or nohup a job can be problematic, as there are a suprising number of tools and scripts that expect an active terminal.  As well as the multiplexing functionality, running screen ensures that if you loose your network connection, or switch from wired to wireless and back, or go home or go to work, in all cases, you can resume your work where you left it.

A typical session looks something like the following:

i.e. plain old terminal, but three little “tabs” at the bottom, each representing a different shell on the same machine.  In this case, I have my ovpn client running in window 0, am in my Tests/scripts/ directory in window 1, and have ‘git log –graph –decorate’ running in window 2.  The second screenshot above shows the screen menu, listing all the different active windows.

screen can do window splitting vertically and horizontally too, but I’ve never used that.  My needs are pretty simple:

  • multiple windows, each with a different shell,
  • an easy way to tab between the windows,
  • an easy way to start a new shell.

I always found the screen key bindings to be somewhat cumbersome (example: control-A ” to start the window menu), and it didn’t take me long before I’d constructed a standard .screenrc for myself with a couple handy key bindings:

  • F4: window menu
  • F5: -1th window
  • F6: previous window (after switching explicitly using key bindings or the menu)
  • F8: +1th window
  • F9: new window

I’ve used those key bindings for so many years that I feel lost without them!

With screen crashing on my constantly, my options were to find a stable package somewhere, build it myself (which I used to do all the time at IBM when I had to work on many Unix platforms simultaneously), or bite the bullet and see what it would take to switch to tmux.

tmux attach

I chose the latter, and with the help of some tutorials, it was pretty easy to make the switch to tmux.  Startup is pretty easy:


(instead of screen -q)


tmux at

(at is short for attach, what to use instead of screen -dr)

tmux bindings

All my trusty key bindings were easy to reimplement, requiring the following in my .tmux.conf:

bind-key -T root F4 list-windows
bind-key -T root F5 select-window -p
bind-key -T root F6 select-window -l
bind-key -T root F8 select-window -n
bind-key -T root F9 new-window

tmux command line

One of the nice things about tmux is that you don’t need a whole bunch of complex key bindings that are hard to remember, as you can do it all on the command line from within any tmux slave window. This means that you can also alias your tmux commands easily! Here are a couple examples:

alias weekly='tmux new-window -c ~/weeklyreports/01 -n weekly -t 1'
alias master='tmux new-window -n master -c ~/master'
alias tests='tmux new-window -n tests -c ~/Tests'

These new-window aliases change the name displayed in the bottom bar, and open a new terminal in a set of specific directories.

The UI is pretty much identical, and a session might look something like:

tmux prefix binding

The only other customization that I made to tmux was to override the default key binding, as tmux uses control-b instead of screen’s control-a. control-b is much easier to type than control-a, but messes up paging in vim, so I’ve reset it to control-n using:

unbind C-b
set -g prefix ^N
bind n send-prefix

With this, the rename window command becomes ‘control-n ,’.

I can’t think of anything that uses control-n, but if that choice ends up being intrusive, I’ll probably just unbind control-b and not bother with a prefix binding, since tmux has the full functioning command line options, and I can use easier to remember (or lookup) aliases.


It looks like the bindings that I used above are valid with RHEL8 tmux-2.7, but not with RHEL7’s tmux-1.8.  That’s a bit of a pain, and means that I’ll have to

  1. find alternate newer tmux packages for RHEL7, or
  2. figure out how to do the same bindings with tmux-1.8 and have different dot files, or
  3. keep on using screen until I’ve managed to upgrade all my machines to RHEL8.

Nothing is ever easy;)

Raccoons vs. Cake: “Oh, come on kids, …, it’s still good!”

January 10, 2021 Incoherent ramblings No comments ,

Life comes in cycles, and here’s an old chapter replaying itself.

When I was a teenager, we spent weekdays with mom, and weekends with dad. Both of them lived a subsistence existence, but with the rent expenses that mom also had, she really struggled to pay the bills at that stage of our lives. I don’t remember the occasion, but one hot summer day, she had saved enough to buy the eggs, flour and other ingredients that she needed to make us all a cake as a special treat. After the cake was cooked, she put it on the kitchen table to cool enough that she could ice it (she probably would have used her classic cream-cheese and sugar recipe.)

That rental property did not have air conditioning, and the doors were always wide open in the summer. Imagine the smell of fresh baked cake pervading the air in the house, and then a blood curdling scream. It was the scream of a horrific physical injury, perhaps that of somebody with a foreign object embedding deep in the flesh of their leg. We all rushed down to find out what happened, and it turned out that the smell of the cake was not just inviting to us, but also to a family of raccoons. Mom walked into the kitchen to find a mother raccoon and her little kids all sitting politely at the table in a circle around the now cool cake, helping themselves to dainty little handfuls.  What sounded like the scream of mortal injury, was the scream of a struggling mom, who’s plan to spoil her kids was being eaten in front of her eyes.

From the kitchen you could enter the back room, or the hallway to the front door, and from the front door you could enter the “piano room”, which also had a door to the back room and back to the kitchen.  The scene degenerates into chaos at this point, with mom and the rest of us chasing crying and squealing raccoons in circles all around the first floor of the house along that circular path, with cake crumbs flying in all directions.  I don’t know how many laps we and the raccoons made of the house before we managed to shoo them all out the front or back door, but eventually we were left with just the crumb trail and the remains of the cake.

The icing on the cake was mom’s reaction though. She went over to the cake and cut all the raccoon handprints out of it. We didn’t want to eat it, and I still remember her pleading with us, “Oh come on kids, try it. It’s still good!” Poor mom.  She even took sample bites from the cake to demonstrate it was still edible, and convince us to partake in the treat that she’d worked so hard to make for us.  I don’t think that we ate her cake, despite her pleading.

Thirty years later, it’s my turn. I spent an hour making chili today, and after dinner I put the left overs out on the back porch to cool in the slow cooker pot with the lid on. I’d planned to bag and freeze part of it, and put the rest in the fridge as leftovers for the week. It was cold enough out that I didn’t think that the raccoons would be out that early, but figured it would have been fair game had I left it out all night in the “outside fridge”. Well, those little buggers were a lot more industrious than I gave them credit, and by the time I’d come back from walking the dog, they’d helped themselves to a portion, lifting the lid of the slow cooker pot, and making a big mess of as much chili as they wanted.  They ate quite a lot, but perhaps it had more spice than they cared for, as they left quite a lot:

Judging by the chili covered hand prints on the back deck I think they enjoyed themselves, despite the spices.

When I went upstairs to let Sofia know what had happened, she immediately connected the dots to this cake story that I’ve told so many times, and said in response: “Oh come on kids, it’s still good!”, at which point we both started laughing.

The total cost of the chili itself was probably only $17, plus one hour of time.  However, I didn’t intend to try to talk anybody into eating the remains.  It is just not worth getting raccoon carried Giardia or some stomach bug.  I was sad to see my work wasted and the leftovers ruined.  I wish Mom was still with us, so that I could share this with her.  I can imagine her visiting on this very day, where I could have scooped everything off the top, and then offered her a spoonful, saying “Oh come on Mom, it’s still good!”  I think that she would have gotten a kick out of that, even if she was always embarrassed about this story and how poor we were at the time.

Final thoughts.

There were 4 cans of beans in that pot of chili.  I have to wonder if we are going to have a family of farting raccoons in the neighbourhood for a few days?

Some experiments in youtube mathematics videos

January 3, 2021 math and physics play No comments , , , , , , ,

A couple years ago I was curious how easy it would be to use a graphics tablet as a virtual chalkboard, and produced a handful of very rough YouTube videos to get a feel for the basics of streaming and video editing (much of which I’ve now forgotten how to do). These were the videos in chronological order:

  • Introduction to Geometric (Clifford) Algebra.Introduction to Geometric (Clifford) algebra. Interpretation of products of unit vectors, rules for reducing products of unit vectors, and the axioms that justify those rules.
  • Geometric Algebra: dot, wedge, cross and vector products.Geometric (Clifford) Algebra introduction, showing the relation between the vector product dot and wedge products, and the cross product.
  • Solution of two line intersection using geometric algebra.
  • Linear system solution using the wedge product.. This video provides a standalone introduction to the wedge product, the geometry of the wedge product and some properties, and linear system solution as a sample application. In this video the wedge product is introduced independently of any geometric (Clifford) algebra, as an antisymmetric and associative operator. You’ll see that we get Cramer’s rule for free from this solution technique.
  • Exponential form of vector products in geometric algebra.In this video, I discussed the exponential form of the product of two vectors.

    I showed an example of how two unit vectors, each rotations of zcap orthonormal \(\mathbb{R}^3\) planes, produce a “complex” exponential in the plane that spans these two vectors.

  • Velocity and acceleration in cylindrical coordinates using geometric algebra.I derived the cylindrical coordinate representations of the velocity and acceleration vectors, showing the radial and azimuthal components of each vector.

    I also showed how these are related to the dot and wedge product with the radial unit vector.

  • Duality transformations in geometric algebra.Duality transformations (pseudoscalar multiplication) will be demonstrated in \(\mathbb{R}^2\) and \(\mathbb{R}^3\).

    A polar parameterized vector in \(\mathbb{R}^2\), written in complex exponential form, is multiplied by a unit pseudoscalar for the x-y plane. We see that the result is a vector normal to that vector, with the direction of the normal dependent on the order of multiplication, and the orientation of the pseudoscalar used.

    In \(\mathbb{R}^3\) we see that a vector multiplied by a pseudoscalar yields the bivector that represents the plane that is normal to that vector. The sign of that bivector (or its cyclic orientation) depends on the orientation of the pseudoscalar. The order of multiplication was not mentioned in this case since the \(\mathbb{R}^3\) pseudoscalar commutes with any grade object (assumed, not proved). An example of a vector with two components in a plane, multiplied by a pseudoscalar was also given, which allowed for a visualization of the bivector that is normal to the original vector.

  • Math bait and switch: Fractional integer exponents.When I was a kid, my dad asked me to explain fractional exponents, and perhaps any non-positive integer exponents, to him. He objected to the idea of multiplying something by itself \(1/2\) times.

    I failed to answer the question to his satisfaction. My own son is now reviewing the rules of exponentiation, and it occurred to me (30 years later) why my explanation to Dad failed.

    Essentially, there’s a small bait and switch required, and my dad didn’t fall for it.

    The meaning that my dad gave to exponentiation was that \( x^n\) equals \(x\) times itself \(n\) times.

    Using this rule, it is easy to demonstrate that \(x^a x^b = x^{a + b}\), and this can be used to justify expressions like \(x^{1/2}\). However, doing this really means that we’ve switched the definition of exponential, defining an exponential as any number that satisfies the relationship:

    \(x^a x^b = x^{a+b}\),

    where \(x^1 = x\). This slight of hand is required to give meaning to \(x^{1/2}\) or other exponentials where the exponential argument is any non-positive integer.

Of these videos I just relistened to the wedge product episode, as I had a new lone comment on it, and I couldn’t even remember what I had said. It wasn’t completely horrible, despite the low tech. I was, however, very surprised how soft and gentle my voice was. When I am talking math in person, I get very animated, but attempting to manage the tech was distracting and all the excitement that I’d normally have was obliterated.

I’d love to attempt a manim based presentation of some of this material, but suspect if I do something completely scripted like that, I may not be a very good narrator.

New version of classical mechanics notes

January 1, 2021 Uncategorized No comments , , , , , , , , ,

I’ve posted a new version of my classical mechanics notes compilation.  This version is not yet live on amazon, but you shouldn’t buy a copy of this “book” anyways, as it is horribly rough (if you want a copy, grab the free PDF instead.)  [I am going to buy a copy so that I can continue to edit a paper copy of it, but nobody else should.]

This version includes additional background material on Space Time Algebra (STA), i.e. the geometric algebra name for the Dirac/Clifford-algebra in 3+1 dimensions.  In particular, I’ve added material on reciprocal frames, the gradient and vector derivatives, line and surface integrals and the fundamental theorem for both.  Some of the integration theory content might make sense to move to a different book, but I’ll keep it with the rest of these STA notes for now.

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