Jan 1st: just how much of a milestone is it?

Thoughts on the passing of the old year and starting of the new year.

It’s January 1st, 2015: New Year’s Day 2015 C.E. The start of a new year if you follow the Gregorian calendar. A time of renewal and starting fresh.


It’s not really a day I use as a milestone. Other events have more significance in my life. From a work standpoint, it’s the Graduation ceremony in the Summer term that marks the passing of another academic year. In my personal life, it’s always been Homecoming events at Sewanee (or, as we called it in my more callow and younger days: “Fall Party Weekend”) that have marked off another year since Graduation forced my departure from Percy’s “Arcadia”.

So, while today may notch another click in the years component in the odometer, it’s not much more beyond that for me.


Building a minimal Linux desktop

Got some old computers around the house? I have that problem. For many moons people have been telling me to not toss those old computers, just install Linux on them. Well, that used to be good advice… But the popular Linux distributions like Ubuntu, Fedora, and OpenSuSE have evolved to keep up with current hardware. This is a really true when it comes to window managers like GNOME and KDE. The most recent versions of those packages overwhelm older machines.

So, what can you do? There are lightweight distributions like Puppy Linux and Damn Small Linux that are designed to work on less powerful machines. However, I have found these distributions to be either too limited, too buggy, or both. Some people suggest to just fall back onto using older versions of common distributions. That’s not a good solution for me given what I do for a living. So, I have to find a way to thin down the current version of one of the popular distributions.

The first question is which distribution? Almost every distribution supports minimal installs so what I suggest is to go as far upstream as possible. So that means work with Debian, Slackware, or RHEL/CENTOS. For today’s discussion, let’s use Debian. Go to the Debian web page and download the minimal net-install ISO from www.debian.org (or one of its mirrors).

Go through the standard steps of a net-install up to the point where the installer runs APT to get stuff from one of the mirrors. At this point, de-select the entry for the “Desktop Environment” packages. Complete the install and reboot.

You have the first useful minimal configuration: a base system that boots to a command-line prompt. If you’re building a server, you can stop here and start loading server things (which is a topic for another post).

As we’re building a minimal desktop machine, log-on as root and let’s do some magic with apt-get:

  • Install the X.org xserver by issuing an “apt-get install xserver-xorg-core xorg”
  • You have two options here. You can install a full desktop environment like GNOME or KDE but why didn’t you use the standard install if that’s what you wanted? Rather install one of the lightweight desktop environments like LXDE: “apt-get install lxde”. This will install a base set of packages and themes as well.
  • The other option is to go light and just install a window manager plus application packages. This is best for really old machines or if you want to get the best performance with the least overhead.

    • Install a login manager. I prefer xdm for this purpose: “apt-get install xdm”
    • You will need a window manager. The most popular of the lightweight WMs is either Fluxbox, Openbox, FWM, or JWM. If you prefer something that feels like Windows, then go with JWM: “apt-get install jwm”
    • I’d suggest installing a web browser: “apt-get install iceweasel” will do the trick if you’re using Debian Lenny

Now reboot and you should have a nice, clean, minimal Linux install with X/Windows. Use the package manager to download other stuff you may need or want.

A philosophy of teaching

The supreme end of education is expert discernment in all things — the ability to tell the good from the bad, the genuine from the counterfeit, and to prefer the good and the genuine to the bad and the counterfeit.
— Samuel Johnson

I enjoy teaching and have done it for several
years, both in academia and industry. The main subjects in which I have gained teaching experience include Computer Architecture, Computational Science and Scientific Computing, and Information Technology. I have experience teaching students at all levels, from teaching introductory class for non-Computer Science majors, to teaching upper division classes for Computer Science students, and to mentoring both undergraduate and graduate students in independent studies. I can teach these subjects with utmost ease and look forward to an opportunity for teaching these as well as other related subjects.

In a recent article in Sewanee, the quarterly magazine for
alumni of The University of the South, Dr. Joel Cunningham, Vice
Chancellor Emeritus of the University, addressed the question “What is worth learning?” In his remarks, Dr. Cunningham related a conversation he had with a recent alumnus of the University about Andrew Lytle, a noted author of literature about the American South. The alumnus recalled that Mr. Lytle took the position that the modern focus on “What do you do?” is wrong. Rather, Mr. Lytle thought it to better to ask “Where do you come from?”, “Who are your people?”, and “Who are you?”. As educators, we must, through scholarship, strive to guide
our students towards an understanding of these questions and aid our students in their search for their own answers to said questions.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching defines
scholarship in teaching as being built from three components:

  • discovery: research and performance that adds to
    a knowledge base and intellectual climate of an institution,
  • integration: drawing together and interpreting
    diverse kinds of knowledge, and
  • application: applying knowledge to practical problems.

Scholarship of discovery means we strive to create a sense of discovery and wonder in our students whether we are in the classroom or the laboratory. The experience goes beyond classroom and laboratory; for as we enable our students to absorb concepts through experience, they provide us with new insights into the subject. This inspires us to teach in more creative
ways by exploring alternative approaches.

By fostering a sense of discovery in our students, we build
enough foundation and kindle enough appetite in them that they
realize that they are capable of scholarship of integration upon their own volition. Today’s students pull information from many sources and it is my task to incorporate traditional teaching tools, hands-on experience in labs, and non-traditional teaching tools from the Internet such as social media to provide the best possible learning environment. In particular, complementing the in-person classroom experience with an on-line presence and research opportunities helps the student link coursework with practical real-world experience.

Effective learning requires the student to be able to apply knowledge taught in the classroom to practical situations. I accomplish this by highlighting how the subject being taught plays an important role in our daily lives, the applicable commercial products and specific companies producing hardware/software in that area, and promise and challenges of that subject in the coming years. Laboratory exercises, programming assignments, and classroom lectures in my classes are designed with the
objective of linking material in the classroom environment to practical application. This fosters independent, logical, and analytical thinking into my students so that they learn how to solve problems on their own. As my students devise their own approaches and bring novel ideas in being, I learn from them in turn.

In higher education, we have two goals towards which we must
strive. First, we must be able to answer Mr. Lytle’s questions for
ourselves so that we can answer without thought or hesitation: “This is who I am!”, “These are my people!”, and “This is me!”. Then, we have to answer to the most difficult challenge: coaxing, convincing, and with just a little bit of forcing those whom we teach to be able to answer those sorts of questions for themselves with the same sort of verve and elan that we expect of ourselves.

It’s gumbo weather

Fall is starting to arrive here in South Louisiana… the temperature is finally dropping into the 70’s during the day and everyone is breaking out the winter clothing. Hey, it’s South Louisiana – you have to be careful to avoid splashing hot oil on your legs when you’re wearing shorts while you’re frying your Thanksgiving turkey.

People down here describe this weather as being “gumbo weather”. So, in that spirit, here’s my favorite gumbo recipe. It’s adapted from one that John Folse included in one of his cookbooks. It’s a bit complicated but mais, cher’, it’s good. If you can’t get good oysters, feel free to use shrimp.

Duck and Sausage Gumbo

4 (1 ½ pound) mallards or similar ducks
4 ½ qt. water
3 ribs celery, cut into chunks
1 carrot, cut into half
15 peppercorns
4 bay leaves
1 ¼ t. salt
1 t. dried thyme
¼ t. garlic powder
¼ t. red pepper flakes
¾ c. all-purpose flour
¾ c. vegetable oil
2 c. chopped onions
2 c. chopped celery
1 c. chopped green bell pepper
2 carrots, sliced
1 T. chopped garlic
1 lb. andouille or similar smoked sausage, cut into slices
2/3 c. oyster liquor
1/3 c. port
2 bay leaves
½ t. freshly ground black pepper
¼ t. cayenne pepper
2 doz. Oysters
½ c. chopped green onion tops
¼ c. chopped fresh parsley
steamed rice
File’ powder


Combine the ducks and all other ingredients in a stockpot. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 3 to 4 hours or until the ducks are tender. Remove the ducks and chop, discarding the skin and bones. Strain the stock into a container discarding the solids. Chill until the fat has congealed on the stock. Remove the fat and reserve for other purposes (Potatoes fried in duck fat, while quite deadly from a coronary aspect, are quite tasty).


Make a roux with the flour and water in a large heavy pot. Add the vegetables and garlic. Cook until vegetables are tender. Add 3 quarts of the duck stock, reserved duck meat, the sausage, oyster liquor, port, bay leaves, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour. Stir in the oysters, green onion tops, and parsley. Cook for 10 minutes longer. Remove and discard bay leaves. Ladle the gumbo over steamed rice to serve. Sprinkle with file’ powder if desired.

Welcome to my web site!


This collection of pages is a reflection of my personal interests and experimentation. I tend to use these things two ways: trying different funky HTML things and as sort of an extended “Bookmark” file. So, pardon the mess and feel free to use this page as jumping off point to lots of neat places