Back to Future with (g)vi(m)

October 24, 2015

In the 90s I was pretty happy if you sat me down with a C compiler and vi. Any programmer, at least if exposed to a Unix variant of some kind, will know about the sometimes quirky but very powerful editor, vi. At UTAS as a computer systems officer (“jack of all trades, master of none”: coding, soldering, networking, software/hardware installation), I taught vi and other Unix-related topics to academics in short courses; later, as a junior academic, I continued to use it whenever on a Unix system. It may sound a bit sad, but one of the happiest 2 weeks of employment was spent in a portable office (terrapin style) with a DEC VT220 terminal, SunOS (or it may have been Solaris by then) Unix, a C compiler and vi, with which I was tasked to write the core of a student enrolment system at UTAS, still in use for several years after I left.

I also occasionally used emacs and, on pre-OS X Macs, whatever editor the IDE (integrated development environments, although I suspect they weren’t called that at the time) provided, for example: THINK C.

On the Amiga I used an editor that came with AmigaDOS (ED or EDIT was, I think, the name), MicroEMACS, and at least one port of vi. These, especially the fairly minimalist MicroEMACS, were perfectly fine for developing my ACE Amiga BASIC compiler.

I’ve also had a go at writing a simple editor or two, including one for a PICK mainframe email system I developed as an undergraduate project.

Upon finding the need to leave UTAS (due to university funding cuts around 1996) I was offered work with a Tasmanian Internet Service Provider (ISP) as a programmer and sysadmin, when things were just getting started in that area. Being paid to code in C and learning Perl kept me happy for while, although I knew at the start that I’d want something more than to work for an ISP but it was a great opportunity. Best of all I was able to provide employment for one of my former UTAS students there after I left, giving him a start in the game. There, as always, was vi, this time on FreeBSD and BSDi Unix systems.

When I started working for Motorola (and later Freescale Semiconductor) in 1997, I found a fairly even split between use of vi and emacs there (under Solaris), along with a high degree of religious adherence to one or the other, the kind of zeal that still accompanies the adherents of particular programming languages. I’ve always had a fascination for the LISP programming language, so emacs with its in-built LISP interpreter won points on that front, along with specific modes of use in the Motorola/Freescale environment.

These days I’m a bit of a generalist when it comes to both editors and programming languages (C, C++, Java, Python, R etc), although I have my favourites and those less favoured. That’s the subject of another post, I think.

On any given day, I could find myself using vi, emacs, Eclipse, Visual Studio, PyCharm and various other IDEs. On Unix (okay, Linux systems now) or cygwin I have for many years tended to use vi (okay, vim, its now dominant incarnation) for quick editing when I want an editor now and emacs for more complex editing. Despite the power of modern IDEs, they are, like modern operating systems, often slow resource hogs, and tend to leave me a bit cold. At least some of these have emacs and vi modes for their editors. There are other newcomer editors under Windows and Unix that while fine, don’t compel me to want to use them. To be fair to IDEs though, if you need non-trivial source-level debug, they’re hard to beat. Having said that, I’ll still break out a command-line debugger when it’s appropriate.

Now, as a software engineer with CSIRO, especially in Linux high performance compute (HPC) cluster environments coding in C++, I find myself using vi or in particular gvim (“graphical vi improved”) in that context more and more again. Once more I’m really loving its power and simplicity, including tags for source code navigation, split windows, and all the keyboard shortcut goodness that have always made vi fast and productive to work with. Also better from a resource usage point of view on a HPC system.

Maybe this is partly motivated by a nostalgic streak, but mostly arises from a pragmatic approach.

Anyway, sometimes improving on the past is not so easy or at best only incremental.

Double rainbow

August 31, 2015

My wife Karen was in the front yard early this morning and called out to come have at look at this nicely defined (and double) rainbow:

As she remarked, the spectrum of colours was really obvious in parts.

Nice start to the day, followed by a quick ride and dash to the bus.

DSLR photometry of BL Tel

August 28, 2015



Today I submitted an August 22 DSLR observation of the long period eclipsing variable BL Tel to the AAVSO international database.

My observation (9.124  (0.031) V), is shown under the cross-hairs in the images: Visual and Johnson V together and V alone.



Minimum should be happening around about now (~Aug 27).

I have images from Aug 25 that I’ll process this weekend. The conditions were less than ideal, but I managed to get some data before the clouds became a persistent problem.

I hope to take some more images this weekend.

Thanks to Peter Williams for prompting me to consider making observations of BL Tel which is nicely positioned high in the evening night sky now.

Primitive cultures

April 29, 2015

In Star Trek: The Voyage Home, Captain Kirk amusingly refers to late 20th century America as a primitive and paranoid culture. The same could be said for many countries then and now, some more than others of course, especially in recent times.

Like many (but not all, that’s for sure) in Australia, I’m saddened and disturbed by today’s executions. In comments about the event I’ve seen people conflate two distinct issues:

  1. The Law
  2. Morality

The (flawed) legal machine that eventually led to the firing squad has nothing to say about morality. There’s no ethical content to be found in The Law. Ethics must come first to inform The Law.

In my view, the death penalty is the sign of a primitive culture or at least some aspects of that culture.

Back in the Star Trek universe, a rare culture might be thought ready to join the club (Federation), but many are thought to be too primitive in one sense or another at a particular point in time.

At the moment, I think of the country in question as being like one of those primitive cultures: not yet ready to join the club due to an inability to see the moral harm of the death penalty and an unwillingness to engage in rational conversation about it. I’m sure there are many individuals in that country who do see the problem which is why it’s important to distinguish a country’s citizens from those who purport to run it.

If we didn’t worship the almighty dollar so much and had the strength of our convictions, we might consider imposing economic sanctions, declaring the country unfit to join the club suggesting: “perhaps one day when you have grown up and apologised for your barbarism, we will consider trading with you again”.

Of course, sanctions are not without harmful effects, at least on ordinary people.

There’s no simple response, but there must be one, and it must be clear.

April 4th 2015 Total Lunar Eclipse from Adelaide

April 5, 2015

We were mostly clouded out here in suburban Klemzig. I took images during small breaks in the cloud. This one was taken at 22:11 ACDT, 16 minutes before the start of totality.


Canon 1100D, ISO 800 for 3 seconds at prime focus of Meade LX-90 8″ SCT

Unfortunately totality was completely clouded out here. There are plenty of better images by others, e.g. by Jarrod Koh and Paul Haese.

Another Nova Sgr 2015 No. 2 update

March 30, 2015

I’ve made 10 observations of the nova since March 19, mostly visual, 3 DSLR, one of which has yet to be processed.

The (rather noisy) light curve is starting to show the kind of early oscillations that seem to be common in novae and certainly the last two bright novae I’ve seen. The red fit “line” helps to make this more obvious.


The cross-hairs are over my most recent observation early this morning.

Nova Sgr 2015 No. 2 update

March 25, 2015

I made visual and DSLR photometric observations of the nova on March 21 and 22. The image below shows the nova before sunrise on March 22.


The light curve shows my most recent submission under the cross hairs.



It appears that the nova has peaked but these objects are unpredictable so we may see some fluctuations yet. The local weather has made observations difficult for the last 3 days.

Nova Sgr 2015: first observation

March 19, 2015

The conditions at 6am today were not ideal: lots of intermittent cloud, or more accurately, intermittent gaps.

I estimated the nova to be at magnitude 4.9. It was substantially brighter than the 53 comparison star and may even have been brighter than the 47 comparison star (AAVSO chart ID 14582KC).


I marked the observation as “uncertain” (comment code Z on WebObs) and added the comment:

7×50 binoculars;AT LEAST mag 4.9;may have actually been brighter than 47 comp;intermittent cloud

Tomorrow morning, whether permitting, a brighter comparison star may be needed assuming this thing keeps brightening. Getting up early enough to make a DSLR observation would be nice too.



Nova Sgr 2015

March 18, 2015

There’s a bright nova in Sagittarius (PNV J18365700-2855420 where PNV = possible nova candidate, its discovery designation).

Like the last bright southern nova (Nova Cen 2013), this one was also discovered by John Seach in NSW.

The nova was discovered on March 15 so it’s early days yet. There are 35 observations in the AAVSO International Database.


I tried to get out to observe it this morning but it was cloudy. When the weather clears I’ll make visual and time-permitting, DSLR observations.

My first DSLR photometry observation

February 3, 2015

After more than 5 months of gearing up to do DSLR photometry and two AAVSO CHOICE courses later, I submitted my first DSLR photometry observation yesterday: R Car, magnitude 5.054 with an error of 0.025.

First Submission

With a visual observation, the best I could have said that it was magnitude 5.1 with an error of a tenth of a magnitude. With DSLR photometry I can get down to a hundredth of a magnitude. A CCD could do better (a thousandth) but for ten times the cost, or more.

Yet another step in the evolution of my hobby. Thanks to Mark Blackford for sharing his considerable experience.





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