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Ralsina.Me — Roberto Alsina's website

Sometimes More is More

We all hear all the time that less is more. That sim­ple is bet­ter, that com­plex is worse, that op­tions are evil, that de­faults are what mat­ter.

And yes, that is about 90% true. Ex­cept when it is false, which I know be­cause I bought a coat a few weeks ago.

This is a rather nice coat, and if you saw it with­out much care you would miss one of its best fea­tures: it has two pock­ets on each side.

Let's think about why we want pock­ets in the sides of coat­s:

  1. To put our hands when it's cold. Since this is a cold weath­­er coat, that's im­­por­­tan­t. In mod­­er­ate cli­­mates like this one, gloves are more trou­ble than they are worth, and just stick­­ing hands in pock­­ets is enough.

  2. To put stuff that is not hands in them: keys, phones, mon­ey, can­dy, etc.

For the first use case, we want the pock­ets to be shal­low an­gled, so that the hand goes in nat­u­ral­ly, al­most hor­i­zon­tal­ly. Al­so, we want the ac­cess to be un­ob­struct­ed, so no zip­per­s, which al­so scratch the wrist­s.

For the sec­ond use case, we want things not to fall of­f. So we want ei­ther a ver­ti­cal pock­et (per­haps with a flap) or a zip­per. Zip­pers suck be­cause you can for­get to zip them, and things fall of­f. Ver­ti­cal pock­ets are aw­ful to put your hands in.

So, my jack­et has two pock­ets on each side, one with a zip­per, one with­out. One for hand­s, one for things. Since it's a thick coat you don't see it un­less you know what you are look­ing for, and it's triv­ial to use: ev­ery­thing goes in the zipped one, ex­cept my hand. I can even check the con­tents of the zipped pock­et with­out get­ting my hands out of their pock­et­s.

This is one case where more is more, com­plex is bet­ter, op­tions are awe­some, and de­faults don't mat­ter. Now, if you find a place in soft­ware where that's the case, that's an op­por­tu­ni­ty.

Nikola: Filters & Bundles

Two up­com­ing fea­tures for the next re­lease of Niko­la, my stat­ic site gen­er­a­tor, due some­time in Au­gust.


Fil­ters let you post­pro­cess your out­put. Think of it like in­sta­gram for web­sites, but use­ful. You can con­fig­ure per file ex­ten­sion a se­ries of python func­tions or shell com­mand­s, which will be ap­plied in place to the out­put file.

For ex­am­ple, sup­pose you want to ap­ply yui-­com­pres­sor to your CSS and JS files:

    ".css": [filters.yui_compressor],
    ".js": [filters.yui_compressor],

There, filters.yui_compressor is a simple wrapper around the command so that it applies in-place to the output files.

If you use strings there (untest­ed), they are tak­en as com­mand­s. The "%s" will be re­placed by the file­name, the usu­al crazy shell quot­ing rules ap­ply:

    ".jpg": ["jpegoptim '%s'"],
    ".png": ["pngoptim '%s'"],

Keep in mind that the fil­ters mod­i­fy the out­put of Niko­la, not the in­put, so your im­ages, CSS, and JS files will not be touched in any way. And of course chang­ing the fil­ters ap­plied to a file will force a re­build, so you can ex­per­i­ment freely.


Hav­ing many sep­a­rate CSS or JS files is usu­al­ly a nono for per­for­mance rea­sons be­cause each one may in­volve a sep­a­rate HTTP trans­ac­tion. The so­lu­tion is to "bundle" those files in a sin­gle, larg­er file.

The rea­son not to do that is that usu­al­ly it means hav­ing a huge, un­com­fort­able thing to han­dle. So Niko­la tries to give you the best of both world­s, by let­ting you have sep­a­rate files, and bundling them (or not) on build.

There is a new option, USE_BUNDLES that defaults to False, and there are some changes in the theme templates so that it uses the bundled version when needed.

This was on­ly pos­si­ble thanks to We­bas­sets. How­ev­er, if you don't have We­bas­sets in­stalled, or you don't en­able USE_BUNDLES, this should cause no changes in the out­put.


These new fea­tures will al­low Niko­la users to im­prove their site's per­for­mance with min­i­mal tweak­ing, which is al­ways a good thing.

The Minimal Server

I was a sysad­min for a long time. I did that for mon­ey, so I nev­er re­al­ly want­ed to spend time do­ing the same thing in my own time, which lead to a se­vere case of cob­bler's chil­dren walk­ing bare­foot in my pri­vate serv­er.

So, to­day at lunch, I de­cid­ed to clean up my garbage. So this is what I end­ed up with, which is the min­i­mal serv­er that is good enough to be gen­er­al­ly use­ful for me.


This is a cheap VPS pro­vid­ed by the nice folks at who are not giv­ing me any­thing to speak nice things about their ser­vice. How­ev­er, I will do it any­way:

  • Crazy cheap ($5.50 but I have a 20% dis­­­count for life)

  • Good amount of mon­th­­ly band­width

  • Lots of disk space

  • Good up­­­time

  • Fast net­­work

  • Very cheap

  • De­­cent per­­for­­mance


I had Cen­tOS 5 in­stalled, and it stays. If burst ev­er starts of­fer­ing Ubun­tu Pre­cise, I may switch. Or, since this work­s, I may not.

What's good about Cen­tOS? It's sta­ble and bor­ing.

What's bad about Cen­tOS? It's too bor­ing. Lots of cool stuff just is­n't pack­aged.

Web Server

I need to serve a bunch of do­main­s, but I have a pe­cu­liar­i­ty: they are all stat­ic sites. I wan­t:

  • Low re­­source us­age

  • De­­cent per­­for­­mance (that most­­ly in­­­volves sup­­port­ing ranges and con­­tent ne­­go­ti­a­­tion)

  • Sta­ble

  • Sup­­port di­rec­­to­ry in­­dex­es

  • Easy con­­fig­u­ra­­tion

  • Vir­­tu­al do­­mains by name

Al­most any serv­er works well for this. Even Apache, ex­cept for the easy con­fig­u­ra­tion bit. I end­ed up with gatling be­cause it fits those cri­te­ria fair­ly well.

  • It us­es about 1.4MB of RAM , which is al­ways nice in a VPS

  • It's pret­­ty fast

  • Has not crashed in 2 hours?

  • Sup­­ports in­­dex­es

  • Here's the con­­fig­u­ra­­tion: "-c /s­rv/www -P 2M -d -v -p 80 -F -S" (yes, there is no con­­fig file at al­l)

  • Vir­­tu­al do­­mains are just fold­ers and sym­links in­­­side /s­rv/www which is the eas­i­est pos­sil­ble way to do it.

  • It sup­­ports re­­verse prox­­y­ing for when I want to try a python web app I am work­ing on.

Mail Server

No, I don't want a mail serv­er. I have gmail and/or a re­al mail serv­er for that. I want to get the mails from cron. For this, I used ssmtp and an ex­tra gmail ac­coun­t. It work­s, and here's the whole con­fig:

The best I can say about this con­fig­u­ra­tion is that it work­s, and does­n't in­volve run­ning a dae­mon.


For when I need to be in two places at the same time: Open­VPN rules, and there is no ar­gu­men­t. I have a squid run­ning oc­ca­sion­al­ly, and there is a Quas­sel core for IRC stuff. I in­stalled mosh to make ssh less painful, rsync han­dles file de­ploy­ment and back­up stor­age, cron sched­ules stuff, and that's it.


Plen­ty of free RAM and CPU (yes, that's the full process list):

[root@burst1 ~]# ps aux
root         1  0.0  0.1   2156   664 ?        Ss   22:01   0:00 init [3]
root      1135  0.0  0.1   2260   576 ?        S<s  22:01   0:00 /sbin/udevd -d
root      1518  0.0  0.1   1812   572 ?        Ss   22:01   0:00 syslogd -m 0
root      1594  0.0  0.1   7240  1032 ?        Ss   22:01   0:00 /usr/sbin/sshd
root      1602  0.0  0.2   4492  1112 ?        Ss   22:01   0:00 crond
root      1630  0.0  0.1   5684   716 ?        Ss   22:01   0:00 /usr/sbin/saslauthd -m /var/run/saslauthd -a pam -n 2
root      1631  0.0  0.0   5684   444 ?        S    22:01   0:00 /usr/sbin/saslauthd -m /var/run/saslauthd -a pam -n 2
root      1636  0.0  0.2   3852  1372 ?        S    22:01   0:01 /opt/diet/bin/gatling -c /srv/www -P 2M -d -v -p 80 -F -S
root      1677  0.0  0.2   4284  1232 ?        Ss   22:02   0:00 SCREEN /root/quasselcore-static-0.7.1
root      1678  0.0  2.1  36688 11148 pts/0    Ssl+ 22:02   0:03 /root/quasselcore-static-0.7.1
root      3228  1.0  0.7  12916  4196 ?        Ss   23:28   0:13 mosh-server new -s -c 8
root      3229  0.0  0.3   3848  1588 pts/2    Ss   23:28   0:00 -bash
root      3275  0.0  0.1   2532   908 pts/2    R+   23:48   0:00 ps aux
[root@burst1 ~]# w
 23:49:03 up  1:47,  1 user,  load average: 0.00, 0.01, 0.00
USER     TTY      FROM              LOGIN@   IDLE   JCPU   PCPU WHAT
root     pts/2   23:28    0.00s  0.01s  0.00s w
[root@burst1 ~]# free
             total       used       free     shared    buffers     cached
Mem:        524800      49100     475700          0          0          0
-/+ buffers/cache:      49100     475700
Swap:            0          0          0

All things con­sid­ered, fair­ly hap­py with the re­sult.

Wild Cards (Wild Cards, #1)

Cover for Wild Cards (Wild Cards, #1)


I liked this book enough, but the idea of it be­ing part of a 20+ book se­ries is daunt­ing enough that I may not con­tin­ue it.

Christians say the funniest things!

This is a re­sponse to a re­sponse to this we­b­com­ic ti­tled "How to suck at your re­li­gion". While Oat­meal's com­ic is crass and paints things in broad terms, it's a freak­ing we­b­com­ic. So it's sup­posed to do that. But­the re­sponse is so full of phal­la­cies (and lack­ing in we­b­comic-­ness) that it may de­serve a re­sponse.

I have promised not to be a troll (any­more) so I will try to an­swer in a sen­si­ble man­ner.

Here's the ar­ti­cle I am re­ply­ing to go read it if you wan­t. I will not re­ply to all of it, but will in­stead cher­ryp­ick a cou­ple of para­graph­s.

In re­sponse to the "forc­ing dog­ma" pan­el:

So... re­li­gion is fine, un­less you ac­tu­al­ly be­lieve in it? Should par­ents not pass their po­lit­i­cal, eth­i­cal or moral views on to their chil­dren as well? What parts of par­ent­ing would be left if par­ents were to avoid pass­ing their views on to their kid­s? The irony here is that si­lence is it­self a state­men­t. Avoid­ing any men­tion of God to your kids sends as clear a mes­sage as talk­ing about God: specif­i­cal­ly, it tells your kids that God's ex­is­tence is ei­ther un­true, un­known, or unim­por­tan­t. Be­cause if you knew Him to ex­ist, sure­ly you'd share that knowl­edge, right?

Let's start from the top: you don't know god ex­ist­s. You have faith that he ex­ist­s, but you don't know it for a fac­t. If you knew for a fact that he ex­ist­s, you could not pos­si­bly have faith be­cause faith ex­cludes cer­tain­ty. As your bible says, faith is "the sub­stance of things hoped for, the ev­i­dence of things not seen."

So, do I tell my son god does­n't ex­ist? Nope. I tell him I think he does­n't ex­ist, and that I have nev­er seen r heard of any re­li­able ev­i­dence or da­tum that points to­wards his ex­is­tence, but al­so that some peo­ple do be­lieve he does ex­ist. I told him that be­cause I feel that's a hon­est an­swer. If your hon­est an­swer is "god ex­ist­s", then bul­ly for you, but from the point of view of a non-­be­liev­er you are telling your son a lie, or at best a half-truth. And if you re­al­ly don't know he ex­ists for a fact then you are just ly­ing.

Now, are you sayin that you know god ex­ists fac­tu­al­ly? Based on what? That's the usu­al slip­pery slope for this ar­gu­men­t. The re­li­gious are the ones mak­ing state­ments of fact based on tra­di­tion. To the rest of us, they just seem to be play­ing loose with what "fac­t" mean­s, or what "god" means or what "know" mean­s.

So, no, don't avoid men­tions of god, just avoid ly­ing to your kids if you can.

This next sec­tion is prob­a­bly the worst, be­cause it's just an in­co­her­ent ar­gu­men­t. A kid asks, “Dad, what hap­pens to us af­ter we die?” The au­thor com­pares pro­vid­ing the Chris­tian an­swer to this ques­tion with cor­rect­ing your kid for hav­ing green as a fa­vorite col­or. What?? That just is­n’t a co­her­ent ar­gu­men­t. In what world are those two ideas par­al­lel, or even com­pa­ra­ble?

Ac­cord­ing to the we­b­comic, good par­ent­ing is to pre­tend to be ag­nos­tic, and say that “no one re­al­ly knows for sure.” Of course, if the Res­ur­rec­tion is true, that claim is false. So to be a good par­en­t, you ap­par­ent­ly have to de­ny the Res­ur­rec­tion and em­brace ag­nos­ti­cis­m, treat­ing be­liefs about the af­ter­life as mere mat­ters of per­son­al pref­er­ence like hav­ing a fa­vorite col­or. This is just… stupid. There’s just no oth­er way of de­scrib­ing it. Imag­ine if we treat­ed ev­ery­thing that way. “Dad, what’s 3 x 3?” “No one re­al­ly knows for sure. What do YOU think 3 x 3 is?”

So, com­par­ing life af­ter death with col­or pref­er­ence is stupid and in­co­her­en­t, but com­par­ing it the chris­tian be­lief of res­ur­rec­tion with ba­sic arith­me­thics is a-ok? That must have tak­en some ef­fort to write with a straight face, I'm sure.

So, let's go slow­ly on this one. Be­liefs about the af­ter­life are, like most oth­er be­lief­s, prob­a­bly not a per­son­al pref­er­ence, but just some­thing you have, be­cause of, in most cas­es, in­doc­tri­na­tion ear­ly in life, peer pres­sure, and just be­cause you live in a so­ci­ety where that be­lief is nor­mal and ap­proved of.

But what is it your be­lief in the af­ter­life is not?

  • It's not in­­her­ent to "y­ou". If you were born in an­oth­er place or time, you would prob­a­bly be­lieve some­thing else.

  • It's not undis­­put­ed. Be­­cause there ex­ists a ma­jor­i­­ty of peo­­ple who don't be­lieve the same thing, ei­ther by de­­tails or en­tire­­ly.

  • It's not unique. Be­­cause oth­­er re­li­­gions have had sim­i­lar res­ur­rec­­tion be­lief­s.

  • It's not re­li­able. Even if we were to ac­­cept ev­ery­thing the bible says as true that would not mean we know what will hap­pen to you or to me af­ter we die. We would have a tes­ti­­mo­ny about what hap­pened in a few days in the af­ter­life of a spe­­cif­ic per­­son, at a point in the past, as told to some­one by some­one. Is that the same as know­ing what will hap­pen? No it's not.

Let's com­pare that to 3x3 as the au­thor at­tempt­ed:

  • If I was a chi­­nese in the 12th cen­­tu­ry: 3x3 is 9.

  • There is no group of peo­­ple that be­lieves 3x3 is 8 or 10.

  • There has not been in the past any re­al dis­­a­gree­­ment about the val­ue of 3x3. We have not achieved that re­­sult via a grad­u­al im­prove­­men­t.

  • We re­­ly on 3x3 be­ing 9 ev­ery day in our lives. If you drive a car, use a phone, or zip your pants, you are agree­ing 3x3 is 9.

  • We don't ex­pect 3x3 not to be 9 in the fu­­ture.

No­tice any dif­fer­ences? Yes, me too.

Per­son­al­ly, I con­sid­er your faith in god more akin my lik­ing Queen (the band, not the ruler). I was ex­posed to Queen at the right time, it was ap­proved by my peer­s, and I like it. On the oth­er hand, I un­der­stand that Queen is not ev­ery­one's cup of tea, and I don't claim Queen to be the "right" band.

The whole "if the Res­ur­rec­tion is true, that claim is false" line of thought is not log­i­cal. If my cat had wings, then the claim that winged cats are awe­some is false. But my cat does­n't have wings. Does it make the winged cats less or more awe­some that he does­n't? It's not that it's not right, it's that it's not even wrong.

Al­so, Oat­meal, shame on you about Galileo, re­al­ly, look it up ;-)

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