Friday, January 4, 2019

More tools for Linux, Windows, and Mac!

Once again, from the "where have you been all my life?" department, I bring you three useful programs for your computer. One is a document converter, one is an image converter, and one is a souped-up terminal emulator.

The document converter: Pandoc


The first program is a free-and-open-source document conversion tool called Pandoc. It should have been called DocMagick. Pandoc will convert a document from nearly any format to nearly any other format. It's ridiculously simple to use.

Its only drawback, if you want to look at it that way, is that it's a command-line tool. You don't click on an icon, or right-click on a file icon. No, if you're on Windows you have to open a Command.com window or a PowerShell window. On Mac OS, you have to open a terminal window. Linux? You're already there.

To convert a file from HTML to PDF, for example, you type this command:

    pandoc thisfile.html -o thisfile.pdf

All done!

Pandoc also makes slide shows in PDF, PowerPoint, and several other formats.

Pandoc supports 27 input file formats, and 47 output file formats. It has been around for 12 years. Go to pandoc.org to read more about pandoc and to download it for your Linux, Windows, or Mac OS box.

The image converter: ImageMagick


The second program is an image conversion tool called ImageMagick. ImageMagick will convert an image from nearly any format to nearly any other format - over 200 different file formats. What's more, it will process, filter, and enhance your image while it's at it. And even more, it can be used to create image files on its own.

Like pandoc, ImageMagick is a command-line-only tool (No longer true! Keep reading). Many people will prefer a GUI-oriented tool like PhotoShop. (Aside: For those who can't afford PhotoShop, there are many alternatives. I recommend Paint.NET if you have Windows, or Krita for Linux, Mac OS, and Windows.) With a GUI-oriented tool, you open a graphics file, do your editing, and then select Export or Save As to save it in a different format.

STOP THE PRESSES! ImageMagick now has a GUI! Keep reading ...

ImageMagick is not as intuitive as the GUI-oriented products, but it's still pretty easy to use. To convert a file from JPG to PNG, for example, you type this command:

    convert thisfile.jpg thisfile.png

or, if you have a newer version of ImageMagick installed:

    magick thisfile.jpg thisfile.png

All done!

To use the GUI instead of the command line, instead of using the 'convert' or 'magick' command, type this simple command:

    display

ImageMagick has been around for a long time: 28 years, according to Wikipedia. It is free-and-open-source software. Go to imagemagick.org to read more about ImageMagick and to download it for your Linux, Windows, or Mac OS box.

The terminal emulator: MobaXterm


The third program is a variation on the good old Microsoft Windows terminal emulator. If you are old enough, you will remember Procomm, Procomm Plus, and Procomm Gold, which ruled the roost for many years. When Procomm disappeared, and Microsoft stopped including HyperTerm in Windows, freeware like PuTTY and TeraTerm filled the void in the market.

I recently discovered a free (but not open-source) alternative for Windows that supersedes all of the others. Created by the French software firm Mobatek, MobaXterm is a Windows-based terminal emulator that supports direct serial connection, SSH, and much, much more. With its built-in X11 server, you can remotely log into a Linux system, run a graphical program (like, for demonstration purposes, xclock) and see it running on your Windows display.

Running the X11 server on my Windows PC has eliminated the need to run a VNC client and server. Life is much simpler.


Mobatek also offers a Professional version of MobaXterm, for a modest annual fee - they may also offer a one-time purchase price, but I'm not sure. MobaXterm can run multiple sessions at once, each in its own tab, making it easy to switch between them. The free version will save up to 12 configurations; the Professional version will allow you to save a virtually unlimited number of configurations.

MobaXterm is 10 years old and, and it is being actively maintained and improved. If you're using another Windows terminal emulator, even if you're happy with it, I highly recommend that you go to the MobaXterm website, read about it, download it, and give it a try. You won't be sorry.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Election 2020: Advice for Third-Party Candidates

Traditionally, presidential elections in the United States have been binary contests: a choice between two major political parties. The names of the parties have changed over the years, but there have always been two major political parties.

The two-party system definitely has its strengths. Other nations, attempting to duplicate the 242-year success of the American political system, have failed because their political power has been divided among many political parties, leading to fragile alliances and coalitions that eventually fail, so their governments lurch from constitutional crisis to crisis, becoming easy victims of corruption and totalitarianism.

However, the two-party system has failed the American people at times. In 1992, candidates George Bush and Bill Clinton were not adequately addressing the concerns of the people, and so H. Ross Perot stepped in as an independent candidate. In June of 1992, he was leading in the polls. He finished the race with almost 19 percent of the popular vote and no electoral votes. In my opinion, part of why he lost the race is because his message became too strident. He started sounding whiny and alarmist.

In part, he had to sound this way to make himself heard, and that's one of the biggest obstacles that third-party candidates face: the two major parties get the lion's share of the attention.

The Third-Party Tautology

Why don't people vote for a third-party candidate? Because third-party candidates never win.
And why don't third-party candidates win? Because nobody will vote for them.

A third-party candidate will have to break this tautology in order to win. He or she will have to convince the voters that he or she has a real chance of winning, so that they will take a chance and vote for him or her.

What does a third-party candidate have to do to win?

In order to have a chance at winning an election, a third-party candidate needs to do all of these things:

1. Start early.
2. Raise a lot of money. Money fuels campaigns, and converts into votes. Unfortunate, but true.
3. Appeal to a wide range of voters, not a narrow "base".
3. Offer a well-rounded platform, one that avoids extremes or whininess, but addresses and corrects the deficiencies in the Democratic and Republican platforms.
4. Don't focus on a single issue or philosophical point. The USA is a complex nation, with complex needs and complex priorities. A candidate needs to address that complexity head-on.

Election 2020: Advice for Republicans

Here at the end of 2018, and the beginning of 2019, the whole nation is waiting to see whether Donald Trump serves his full four years in office, or whether he leaves office in disgrace, one way or another. Personally, I'm hoping for the latter.

If he leaves early, Mike Pence will be the new president, and he will serve until the 2020 election.

Donald Trump has left such a foul taste in the mouths of the American voters, that it is unlikely the Republican Party will win the presidency in 2020. By their actions, the leaders of the Republican Party have shown that they are easily bought off, bullied, fooled, and manipulated by people like Trump. To put it crudely, Americans are tired of this shit.

And they are going to make sure it doesn't happen again. Right now, a Republican candidate for president stands to lose the 2020 election simply because he's a Republican.

If the Republicans intend to win the 2020 presidential election, they need to give the American people a candidate who is electable.Here's my shopping list for the 2020 presidential candidate:

1. First, I don't care if the candidate is male or female, black or white or Hispanic or Asian. Race and gender do not qualify (or disqualify) someone for the office. But making a campaign issue of their race or gender will cost them a lot of points, in my book. So will any reference to their opponents' race or gender.

2. Second, they need to be knowledgeable. They need to know enough about the areas that matter, to be an effective chief executive. They need to be competent in talking and making decisions about:
  • Domestic policy
  • Foreign policy
  • Waging wars and making peace
  • Economic policy
  • Science
  • Environmental issues
  • Contemporary urgent medical issues
  • The law
  • The Constitution
  • The life of the average, working-class American

3. Related to that, they need to be well-informed and open-minded. Presidents can't possibly know everything, and so they need to get good information from others. I need to know where they will go to get advice. If I suspect that they're going to rely on yes-men, self-serving cronies, party hacks, and Fox News, then they have lost my vote.

4. Speaking of which: they need to completely ignore Fox News, and whatever its left-leaning equivalent may be. For a U.S. President, Fox News should be totally irrelevant. Domestic and foreign policy should not be dictated by a television station, newspaper or website.

5. They need to have integrity. They need to someone of sound character and good moral judgment.

Integrity, character, and morals are timeless, universal concepts. They are independent of religion.

In fact, I don't care what religion they profess. I don't want to know about it. There are, or should be, no religious criteria in a presidential election. To me, religion should be no more a factor than race or gender.


6. They need to be savvy, not naïve, in the ways of the world. Past presidents (Carter, both Bushes, and Trump) have been easily manipulated by foreign leaders and domestic actors because of their naïveté. Other presidents (Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Reagan at the beginning) were so savvy that they had the world by the balls.

7. They need to have class. Class must not be equated with coolness, popularity, beauty, social or economic status, and so on. Class is difficult to define, but easy to recognize. Mr. and Mrs. Obama had class. Trump has absolutely zero class. Hillary Clinton has never had class, and doesn't seem to care.

8. They need to practice true statesmanship and true leadership. The last true statesman and leader we had was ... hmm ... Ronald Reagan, back when his mind was still intact. No, that's not true. Obama was both a statesman and a leader. That's still being debated, but I think that in 20 years, that will be the universal consensus.

9. They need to put the entire country's interests above their own interests, above their party's interests, above their friends' and cronies' interests, and especially above the interests of the rich and powerful and self-serving.

10. They need to have vision. They need to take a long-term view on everything they do: not to next year, not to the midterm elections, not to getting re-elected or to setting things up for their party after their eight years are expired. The United States will be around long after they have left office, and their vision needs to be one that will leave the nation better off for their having served.

11. They need to remember that they are public servants, not rulers.

If the Republicans don't put up someone who meets all of these criteria, then I won't vote for him or her.

Election 2020: Advice for Democrats

The 2020 presidential election is just around the corner. Here is some advice for Democrats.

The Democratic Party lost the 2016 presidential election because they nominated a candidate who was unelectable. They didn't lose because of the vagaries of the electoral college. They didn't lose because of third-party voters. They didn't lose because their candidate was a woman. And they definitely, most certainly, didn't lose because the Republicans put up a better candidate.

They lost because Hillary Rodham Clinton was unlikeable. Objectionable. To her credit, she was transparent — she was transparently greedy, power-hungry, even Machiavellian. She was elitist. She didn't hide the fact that she didn't care about the Little People. She only cared about people with money, power, and status, and she never tried to hide that fact.

And, to put it bluntly, she was a jerk. She treated everyone else like the dirt on her shoes. Maybe some people like to be treated like that, but most Americans do not.

(Don't bother telling me that the Republican candidate was the same, or maybe even worse. We already know that.)

If the Democratic Party wants to win in 2020, they had better put up somebody who is electable. Here's my shopping list for the 2020 presidential candidate:

1. First, I don't care if the candidate is male or female, black or white or Hispanic or Asian. Race and gender do not qualify (or disqualify) someone for the office. But making a campaign issue of their race or gender will cost them a lot of points, in my book. No more of this "Vote for me because I'm a woman" crap, or the after-the-fact lament, "They didn't vote for me because I'm a woman." (By the way, Clinton said both of those things.)

2. Second, they need to be knowledgeable. They need to know enough about the areas that matter, to be an effective chief executive. They need to be competent in talking and making decisions about:
  • Domestic policy
  • Foreign policy
  • Waging wars and making peace
  • Economic policy
  • Science
  • Environmental issues
  • Contemporary urgent medical issues
  • The law
  • The Constitution
  • The life of the average, working-class American

3. Related to that, they need to be well-informed and open-minded. Presidents can't possibly know everything, and so they need to get good information from others. I need to know where they will go to get advice. If I suspect that they're going to rely on yes-men, self-serving cronies, party hacks, and Fox News, then they have lost my vote.

4. Speaking of which: they need to completely ignore Fox News, and whatever its left-leaning equivalent may be. For a U.S. President, Fox News should be totally irrelevant. Domestic and foreign policy should not be dictated by a television station, newspaper or website.

5. They need to have integrity. They need to someone of sound character and good moral judgment.

Integrity, character, and morals are timeless, universal concepts. They are independent of religion.

In fact, I don't care what religion they profess. I don't want to know about it. There are, or should be, no religious criteria in a presidential election. To me, religion should be no more a factor than race or gender.


6. They need to be savvy, not naïve, in the ways of the world. Past presidents (Carter, both Bushes, and Trump) have been easily manipulated by foreign leaders and domestic actors because of their naïveté. Other presidents (Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Reagan at the beginning) were so savvy that they had the world by the balls.

7. They need to have class. Class must not be equated with coolness, popularity, beauty, social or economic status, and so on. Class is difficult to define, but easy to recognize. Mr. and Mrs. Obama had class. Trump has absolutely zero class. Hillary Clinton has never had class, and doesn't seem to care.

8. They need to practice true statesmanship and true leadership. The last true statesman and leader we had was ... hmm ... Ronald Reagan, back when his mind was still intact. No, that's not true. Obama was both a statesman and a leader. That's still being debated, but I think that in 20 years, that will be the universal consensus.

9. They need to put the entire country's interests above their own interests, above their party's interests, above their friends' and cronies' interests, and especially above the interests of the rich and powerful and self-serving.

10. They need to have vision. They need to take a long-term view on everything they do: not to next year, not to the midterm elections, not to getting re-elected or to setting things up for their party after their eight years are expired. The United States will be around long after they have left office, and their vision needs to be one that will leave the nation better off for their having served.

11. They need to remember that they are public servants, not rulers.

If the Democrats don't put up someone who meets all of these criteria, then I won't vote for him or her.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Perception Matters Most

In today's world, perception matters more than anything else. Your most benign intentions, and  your most innocent actions, will be misinterpreted and used against you. It's sad, but it's true.

Perception is not reality, but perception matters most.

When in a public place, a bus, an airplane, et cetera:


Think twice about approaching a woman who doesn't know you. Then think about it a third time. Then don't do it.

Why? Even if you only want to introduce yourself or make light conversation, such innocuous advances may be perceived as a threat. It's better just to leave her alone.

Especially leave her alone if she has earphones on and is doing her best to ignore the world around her. That's a giant Do Not Disturb sign, gentlemen. Respect it.

(NOTE: The section above was written for men. The rules are different for women. I don't know why, and I don't care why. Perception is what matters most.)

When in an important meeting:


Don't take notes on your phone. Don't do research relevant to the meeting on your phone, unless you first announce that that's what you're doing - and then make it brief. Take notes using a pen and a paper notepad.

Why? In today's world, people perceive you with your head down, working on your phone, as "playing with your phone". It doesn't matter what you're really doing. The perception is what counts.

On the other hand, if you take notes with a pen and a paper notepad, people perceive you as paying attention and taking things seriously. Just accept the fact that you'll just have to transcribe the notes later.

When in a job interview:


It's good to be prepared, and it's good to be confident. But watch what you say. In fact, it's good practice to say as little as possible. Demonstrate that you're qualified for the job, but don't get carried away.

Why? The interviewers may perceive your your display of preparation and confidence as arrogance. Don't overdo it, and never, never, show all of your cards.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

I like Swiss things

I like Swiss things. They're high quality, very impressive, and not always expensive.

- Swiss chocolate (especially Toblerone, but not just Toblerone)
- Swiss yogurt
- Swiss cheese (not just Ementaler and Gruyère)
- Swiss watches
- Swiss Army knives (both Wenger and Victorinox)
- Swiss airplanes (Pilatus)
- The Swiss postal service
- Swiss railroads and trains
- The Swiss armed forces and military infrastructure
- Swiss mountains, Swiss lakes, Swiss cities, Swiss people
- Swiss computers

On that last one, you're going "WHAT?!"

Where I work, we were looking for a single-board computer for a new project. Single-board computers, or SBCs, have gained popularity, thanks to names like Arduino, BeagleBone, and of course the great Raspberry Pi. But those are all hobby computers. We needed something with real horsepower.

We evaluated about a dozen different SBCs. Most of them were from Hong Kong or Shenzhen, China. Even though they had impressive specifications, we had serious concerns about their quality, reliability, engineering design, and workmanship. In addition, our SBC may have ended up in some government or military projects, and we had serious national-security concerns about designing something made in China into U.S. military equipment.

One of the last SBCs we evaluated, technically a system-on-module (SOM) and not an SBC, was from Toradex. When you go to the Toradex website, you see that they're based in Seattle. But when you dig a little deeper, you find that although Toradex USA is based in Seattle, the parent company is based in Switzerland.

Yep. All of our worries about quality, reliability, engineering, workmanship, and sourcing, just evaporated. The End.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

An incident at the airport

I saw something at the airport yesterday that continues to bother me, even though it shouldn't.

Actually, I saw a snapshot of the incident.

No, I saw a snapshot of the aftermath of the incident.

I wish I could fill in the rest of it. It would put my mind at ease.

I was on my way home from a business trip. It was about 8 p.m. local time, and I was dressed in a suit and tie.

I got off the airplane and was making my way up the concourse towards the train. On the far end of the food court, I noticed a policeman standing there, looking large and menacing and in control, his gaze focused intently on someone in front of him

As I got closer, I saw that the "someone" was sitting on a bench less than 3 feet away from the officer.

As I walked past them, I couldn't keep from staring. The "someone" was a man in his 30s or 40s, slight of build, with well-groomed, dark hair. He was wearing a suit and tie, just like me, so I concluded that he was also traveling on business. He was also on the concourse, which meant that he had a ticket to fly somewhere —  although he could have been returning from somewhere, like me.

I hazarded a closer look. He was sitting crookedly and rather uncomfortably on a bench, and his hands were behind him, so I concluded that he was wearing handcuffs. He was looking at the floor some distance away, and he looked like he was trying really hard not to cry, as if he were very unhappy to be there.

I had places to be, so I kept walking. I tried not to slow down. A few paces beyond that sad tableau, I passed a second policeman, holding the arrestee's ID and saying into his radio "... and the birthdate is oh five, oh six, ..."

It really was none of my business, but it's hard not to watch a train wreck. Part of my brain kept chewing on what I had seen. In no particular order, these are the thoughts that passed through my brain:

He's going to miss his flight. He's going to spend the night in jail. Somebody's going to have to fly out here, from somewhere else, to bail him out.

What did he do? It must have been pretty bad, and/or it must have unfolded over time, because policemen don't magically appear in a food court on an airport concourse. Maybe one of the food court employees called the police while it was happening.

Had the guy been drunk? Abusive? Irrational? Is that why they called the police on him? He was wearing a suit, so he wasn't just some rowdy tourist. He was a businessman, traveling on business.

Or was he disruptive on an airplane, and the flight crew called ahead, so he was arrested when he disembarked? I doubt this, because I would expect that arrest to happen near the boarding gate, not in the food court.

Oh, that sad look on his face. It breaks my heart. Whatever happened, his business trip sure didn't end the way he expected it to.

I wonder what will happen when he gets home? And I wonder what other pieces of his life will fall apart, as a result of this incident?