Empire baby de-luxe; remove and replace platen

There’s really only one trick; the left-hand platen knob in on a left-handed thread, so hold the right-hand knob still and turn the left clockwise (what you’d normally do to tighten a screw). Then it’s just a matter of removing various screws and bit and remembering what order they were in.

Photo of removed platen.

The platen removed. Knob, washer, wheel, platen, knob.



Dismantled platen; screws removed from ends and wooden rod slid out from inside rubber roll.



Some typing.

I’ve put a new ribbon in since I typed this and it looks better now.

Empire baby de-luxe.

Two sheets of paper, and after brake fluid treatment of the platen. Can see that caps tend to strike HiGh.

Also, return lever sometimes does not feed the paper, and sometimes brings carriage back to the second, not the first column.

Also; no bell (replaced it with an old beer bottle lid). (Thunk.)

Also; lack of ribbon tension seems to lead to loops of ribbon, especially after typing a Cap.

Also writing on some keys worn off. I think it’s had a hard life.

it is still a very nice little black machine Ser. No. 23737 Suggests 1939. Most decals faded or worn right off.

Case battered but intact.

Cannot afford to type really quickly; but given its age and the fact that I paid 12 Aussie dollars for it, complaining I am not; merely stating a few facts.

Lines pretty wobbly! It’s certainly got bags of character!

Anyway, wetted the platen with brake fluid as per a bit of Googling, let it sit and gently removed it. Softened the rubber a tiny bit, but helped a lot with gripping the paper. Much more usable now.




Add an entry to XDG/cygwin menu

How to add things to the Cygwin X applications menu if they don’t add themselves on installation?

Here’s the menu I mean (I get it when I launch XWin Server under the Cygwin-X menu in Windows):

screen shot of the menu

Cygwin X windows menu popped up from the taskbar.

Let’s use bitmap as an example. X windows comes with bitmap, the little ancient program to edit X windows bitmaps. It looks like this:

screenshot of bitmap in 'action'

bitmap, as old as it looks.

To add it to the menu, open a terminal and copy some existing .desktop file:

$ cd /usr/share/applications/
$ cp uxterm.desktop bitmap.desktop

Then edit the new file so it looks something like this:

$ cat bitmap.desktop
[Desktop Entry]
Comment=old X bitmap program

The Categories entry determines the submenu where it will appear.

Then create an ugly little bitmap (just to test) and convert it to xpm format (used $ convert bitmap_icon.png bitmap_icon.xpm) and put it in /usr/share/pixmaps under the name bitmap_icon.xpm. I used a bit of the screengrab of bitmap running — the weird X in the middle of the arrows. I also tried creating an image using bitmap itself, and yes convert can turn that into an xpm too.

Yet another screenshot.

Menu with bitmap in it.

And that’s it. Good for all applications as far as I know.

X Winning.

Installing pdfjam on Cygwin: I’m stupid (plus: manual install of man pages)


Cygwin installed on Win 10, MikTeX installed natively on Win 10; no LaTeX installed within Cygwin.

What I should not have done

Inside a Cygwin terminal:

$ cd installs/
$ mkdir pdfjam
$ cd pdfjam
$ wget http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/statistics/staff/academic/firth/software/pdfjam/pdfjam_latest.tgz
$ tar x -vzf pdfjam_latest.tgz

Copied the contents of pdfjam/bin to my userspace local Cygwin bin directory.

$ cp bin/* ~/bin

Manuals — opened the file that sets them up on Cygwin:

$ vim /etc/man_db.conf

Added this to the file at end of MANPATH_MAP section:

MANPATH_MAP     /home/darren/bin        /home/darren/manpages

Add this to end of MANDB_MAP section

MANDB_MAP       /home/darren/manpages   /home/darren/manpages

Then created my local manpages directory and copy the man1 folder in there.

$ cp -r man1 ~/manpages/

Restarted Cygwin

OK, man pages worked.

pdfjam --help


OK, tested it…

$ pdfnup filename.pdf

Nothing happened…

What worked was simpler and I should have done it first

Maybe it’s the LaTeX environment…?

Which Cygwin package has pdflatex in it?

Package search: https://cygwin.com/cgi-bin2/package-grep.cgi?grep=pdflatex&arch=x86_64

In fact, texlive-collection-binextra has pdfjam in it… can probably install that and uninstall local install of pdfjam. OK, I guess I’ll have to install LaTeX in Cygwin…

$ apt-cyg install texlive-collection-binextra

Might well install pdflatex as a dependency anyway.

OK, ran that; at least it threw an error — it wanted pdfpages… texlive-collection-latexrecommended

Installed some stuff via Cygwin setup-XXX.exe; main LaTeX packages like texlive-collection-latexrecommended and so on. Still it did not find pdfpages…

Was LaTeX initialised correctly?

$ texconfig-sys init

And yes, now pdfnup worked.

$ pdfnup --batch --suffix 'twoup'  2-13_cutepdf-crop.pdf

So for whatever reason (and it is not unreasonable) the pdfjam that was running in Cygwin did not like the pdflatex stuff installed native to Windows by MikTeX. Since the computer in question has a wired connection to an office network, the big downloads associated with this ‘blunt instrument’ solution of basically installing LaTeX on Cygwin did not matter, but they might on a more constrained network.


On the other hand, I now know how to manually install man pages.

Not enough devices showing in GSview: ini files

I installed GSview in userspace, since I did not have admin on the computer. And when I went to use its convert/print functions, I only had a couple of printers available.

Usually, there are heaps of devices, to print to pcx, pdf, ps, tiff, you name it.

My local install was in


and when I looked at


it was empty!

But it doesn’t use that one, it uses the file in my account root, which on Windows is:


So to get all the devices, I had to manually find printers.ini


and copy all its contents into C:\Users\username\gsview64.ini, replacing the fields that the two files had in common.

Now, it works.

Yay. The red arrow points to the many print options now in the Convert dialog.


Most helpful.

Inkscape windows moving offscreen when opening files

So I open Inkscape in Cygwin (current Cygwin, current Cygwin Inkscape packge, circa March 2018) and it’s fine, but then I open a file and it relocates the window off the top left of the screen.

Screen shot of the window in the wrong place.

Inkscape window moves itself to off the top-left when opeining a file via Inkscape dialog…

This happens whether I launch from the XDG menu or from a terminal (mintty or xterm does not matter). I launch Inkscape, and it’s fine, then I use the Inkscape dialog to open a file and, whoosh, the Inkscape window relocates off the top-left and I can’t get at the menus or drag it back.

Now, I’ve got 2 monitors, and the right-hand one is taller than the leftt, and I suspect it’s putting the window at the top-left of where it would be if the left-hand monitor was a big as the right.

Just a guess.

Anyway, can’t drag it back.

Tried wmctrl, just to get window properties:

$ wmctrl -l
Cannot get client list properties.

A-ha! Perhaps the problem is because I am not running it through a window manager… what if I do?

Launched FVWM and launched Inkscape from a terminal inside FVWM…

Yep, that fixed it. Still goes to top-left, but now it’s top-left of the FVWM desktop, which I can see.

I mostly use Cygwin by running XWin Server, which then sits in the Windows tray and lets me run X applications without needing a window manager. But I am guessing Inkscape tries to get some numbers from the WM, and if there isn’t one…

So, with FVWM running:

$ wmctrl -l
0x01000023  0 BIO-C-15 ~
0x00e0000b  0 BIO-C-15 cycle.emf - Inkscape
0x00c00023  0 BIO-C-15 ~

Yep, it’s working now.

Why does it relocate the Inkscape window?

Anyway, I can use it now.


A minor reason to use Bing

Something that has always annoyed me about google is that you can’t copy the URL from the search result.

An example of what I mean. Let’s say I google ‘Empire aristocrat’. I get a list of results and I right click on the first one and copy and paste it. I get this:


What a useless load of garbage. The real URL is in there, but so is a lot of Google’s cruft, in there for their own self-serving purposes that I don’t and in fact refuse to understand.

Here is the same search result dug up in Bing. It came up second rather than first. Right click, copy and paste:


So Bing actually gives me a usable URL. Handy for collecting URLs for reference, or making a copy to send to someone in an email or whatever.

Now, no doubt Microsoft is tracking me in some way when I use Bing, but the cruft around the google link makes them look pretty suspicious — and compared to Microsoft! Wow!

It’s a measure of how much better Google’s search is that we still use it, because they suck in so many other ways.

Now, clearly I am ignorant of the details behind all this, but the fact that someone needed to set up a website to clean Google’s URLs (https://urlclean.com/) says something ungood about their habits.


Grump out.

Back up old Toshi: Making a disk image of a hard drive on an old Windows XP laptop

Toshiba Satellite A40 was a fine machine in it’s day, which coincided with the prime time of Windows XP. 15 years later it’s still responsive and works perfectly, though there’s one dead line of pixels on the screen and it’s on its second HD.

Task was to back up the HD. It’s a 40 GB IDE drive, the second after the first failed. First booted into XP and connected up a USB HD and just copied everything off. But wanted to make a disk image as well.

Photograph of the computer with terminal window open.

Toshiba Satellite A40, running LegacyOS live disk.

(1) Downloaded and burned LegacyOS 2017 live disk.

(2) Held down ‘ESC’ while Toshi booted, and in BIOS made sure CDROM is before HDD in the boot order; only change I made.

(3) Put Legacy live CD in drive and exited BIOS (saving changes). It booted off the CD no worries. Chose Xorg not Xvesa during Xorg setup; 1024 x 768 resolution x 16 is fine.

(4) Plugged in USB hard drive, opened a terminal and ran gparted just to see what all the disks were called; old hard drive was /dev/hda1 (‘h’ means IDE drive), USB HD was /dev/sda1 (‘s’ means SATA); also shows USB HD it to be NTFS and 1 TB where the old disk is 40 GB.

(5) Mounted USB HD:

$ mount -t ntfs /dev/sda1 /mnt/data

(-t tells it the file system on the mounted drive is NTFS, and it’s to be found at /dev/sda1 and attached to a directory at /mnt/data, which was already there in Legacy and ready to use. Great).

(6) Checked the USB HD was there:

$ ls /mnt/data


(7) Ran disk dump command

$ dd if=/dev/hda of=/mnt/data/toshi.img bs=64K conv=noerror,sync

(the input file system is at /dev/hda and must not be mounted, the output file is to be written to the USB HD as toshi.img and the other stuff just helps smooth the process).

(8) While it was going, went to the directory on the USB HD and noted down the details of the image file; basically this info here.

(9) Waited a looooong time.

(10) Done.


International Grant of mystery

Grant & I by Robert Forster

I’m an unusual Go-Betweens fan, if fan is the right word, precisely because fan may not be the right word. I am not rabid. I an not devoted. I just kind of like some of what they‘ve done over the years. If I was to believe the clichés in a lot of the writing about the band, that‘s not how it works. I picked up their CDs in a box. which was most excellent value, and I‘ve got a copy of Bellavista Terrace, and I’m pretty happy with that.

Anyway, Robert Forster‘s book is very easy to read. It evokes the days spent shaping the songs, and playing them, and living on not a huge amount of money.

bitmap image of the cover, showing Forster and McLennan.

Cover of Grant and I

As the title might suggest, it focuses on the relationship between Forster and Grant McLennan, it is really the story of a partnership. In places, it reads like Forster is trying figure out McLennan, a man who he knew for almost 30 years but who, we come to wonder, perhaps nobody knew. Forster tackles the subject with an and pretty analytical eye that is perhaps possible when so many years have passed.

As a rock n roll memoir, it’s pretty good, though I have not read the genre extensively. There’s no hint of a ghost writer — not surprising, given,the
quote on the back cover: ”It was our long-time predicament — Grant had too many melodies, I had too many words.“

With that title, you’d be entitled to wonder: do the other band members get the attention they deserve? And: I don’t know. This it not a biography of the band — the title tells us that — but it is the story of two men and the band they were in.

As always with these books, I would have liked to see the creative process better explored. How was a song shaped? Who brought what to it? There is a bit of that, but for me the act of creation rarely gets enough attention in books by creative people. I have sometimes wondered what makes for a song writing credit. Neither Jagger nor Richards ever told Charlie when to hit his drum, I‘m guessing. When asked about song writing credit within the Stones, Bill Wyman noted that ‘Under My Thumb’ isn’t much of a song without Brian’s marimba part. I mean, in some sense doesn’t the drummer write the drum part, the bass player the bass part? Is a song the words and the melody? The chord changes? It’s pretty clear that ‘Cattle and Cane‘ rises so high largely because of the drums. Yet …

Some bands (R.E.M., the Manics, Radiohead, Bluetones, late Clash and many more) attribute all the songs to everybody. Now, I am not a musician (clearly, I hear you say) so I guess maybe there are good reasons for bands dividing credit up how they do. Townshend brought fully formed demos with guide vocals, bass lines and drum tracks to the Who; he was clearly the songwriter.

Anyway, I did not quite get a sense of how they put a track together, though the division of credit suggests the Townshend style more than the Radiohead. I just hope it’s fair. (I believe there was some court action on that front by non-Forster/McLennan members of the group at some stage, so maybe those contributions were as substantial as, listening to the records, they seem.)

As I read I wondered at the absence of drugs — perhaps he was just being discrete — and then very late we get a mention of Hep-C and a kind of brief admission. And, much as I like the book, it does have a kind of ‘but it was all a dream’ quality — we need to reassess all that went before. When someone acted weird, or whatever, or argued, or whatever — was it really because of what the chapter suggested at that point in the book, or was is related to drug use? What pressures did that create inside the band?

I’m not that interested in drug use itself – it it was one of the more boring aspects of Keith’s Life — but in a book where personal relationships play a major role, drugs have to feature if we’re really to get a sense of the dynamics. They also have an impact creatively, good and bad. I don’t want drugs to play a major part, but I do want to know what part they played… or I would, as a reader who bought the book in order to find out more about Forster and the band, keeping in mind that Forster wrote the book, which implies a desire to tell.

All that sounds negative, but it’s really good. He evokes places economically and effectively, like a good novelist, and he’s reflective and analytical. There’s no sense of complaint when he looks at why they never became big stars, and not regret. The integrity with which he approached his music is quite apparent.

In summary: Well written, interesting, somewhat enlightening yet perhaps played just a little too close to the chest. Forster has thought hard about music and has a lot of interest to say, and on balance still a worthwhile read.


Dillo on Debian; some weirdness

Dillo does not work on my new Debian install. Sometimes fails to render pages — just get a blank pale yellow screen.

Installed using apt-get but it either does not respond or gives a blank screen

In the end:

$ sudo apt-get --install-suggests install dillo

Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree
Reading state information... Done
The following NEW packages will be installed:
0 upgraded, 1 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
Need to get 0 B/495 kB of archives.
After this operation, 1,540 kB of additional disk space will be used.
Selecting previously unselected package dillo.
(Reading database ... 289576 files and directories currently installed.)
Preparing to unpack .../dillo_3.0.5-3_amd64.deb ...
Unpacking dillo (3.0.5-3) ...
Processing triggers for mime-support (3.60) ...
Processing triggers for desktop-file-utils (0.23-1) ...
Processing triggers for menu (2.1.47+b1) ...
Processing triggers for man-db ( ...
Processing triggers for gnome-menus (3.13.3-9) ...
Setting up dillo (3.0.5-3) ...
Processing triggers for menu (2.1.47+b1) ...
W: APT had planned for dpkg to do more than it reported back (0 vs 6).
   Affected packages: dillo:amd64

And, yep, same issue.

Looked at that warning message (‘APT had planned for dpkg to do more than it reported back (0 vs 6)’), so then went:

$ sudo dpkg -i /var/cache/apt/archives/dillo_3.0.5-3_amd64.deb

and it seems to work better than before… makes no sense since apt-get just calls dpkg, but…?


$ uname -a
Linux lauequad 4.9.0-6-amd64 #1 SMP Debian 4.9.82-1+deb9u3 (2018-03-02) x86_64 GNU/Linux


Physics in Focus for Year 11 second edition

It’s good when a book sells out its first print run then goes to a second edition. I recall someone telling me once that first editions should not be collectors items since every book has one but few go through multiple editions.

Regardless, I’ve seen the cover of the second edition of Physics in Focus for Year 11 , a textbook for high school physics students in New South Wales. It looks a lot like the first edition, but the cover says ‘Updated Feb 2018’ and ‘2nd edition’. The book complies fully with recent changes to the syllabus documents put out by the education authorities in the state. I wrote less of it than any of the other authors, so I cannot claim this is my doing, but it is still nice to see.

Bitmap image of the cover.

Cover of the second edition of Physics in Focus for Year 11, out now from Nelson/Cengage.

I am reliably informed it has just gone to the printers. The website may not even be updated yet.

There are older texts with the same name out there; anything in a different cover no longer reflects the current state of the syllabus, at least in NSW.