Since my first post on version control systems (VCS) and latexdiff, the whole kaboodle has become much easier for the user. Instead of looking for some python scripts to ease the generation of diffs, latexdiff itself offers this functionality. For example,

latexdiff-vc --hg --pdf -r 0 example.tex

will create a diff between the original(-r 0) and current version of example.tex handled by mercurial (--hg), and compile the resulting diff by pdflatex (--pdf).

Even better, latexdiff supports multi-file documents, the use of which is highly advisable for dissertations and books or other long documents. The workflow is simple: as usual, we create the repository and add files to it, but this time all files have to be included:

hg init
hg add master.tex file1.tex ... filei.tex ... filen.tex
hg commit -m "Initial version"

And after editing an arbitrary file:

hg commit -m "Did this or that"
latexdiff-vc --hg --pdf --flatten -r 0 master.tex

Voilà, here's your compiled diff. 😎

As a sidenote: I have seen way too many students trying to compile the active chapter of their dissertation, just to realize that only the master file including their active chapter can be compiled. Hence, they classical sequence: compile – oops, switch tabs, compile, switch tabs, edit, compile – oops, etc. etc. ad nauseum. Except for masochistically inclined witers, there's a simpler and better way.

Indeed, many specialized LaTeX editors (TeXWorks, TeXStudio) and also several of the most prominent general programming editors with a LaTeX extension (Sublime Text with LaTeX Tools, VS Code with LaTeX Workshop, Vim with Vimtex ...) respect the following magic command at the top of the active chapter:

% !TeX root = master.tex

Only Emacs with auctex needs a slightly different syntax:

% -*- TeX-master: "master.tex" -*-

After setting this command, you can just type and compile, and your focus will not be distracted any longer by the compilation cycle sketched above.


As a physicist, it is very useful to be able to perform calculations quickly, whether it is by pure mental arithmetic or on the back of an envelope. I'm immensely grateful for the training I've received in school that allows me to perform such calculations with relative ease. When I see my students struggling with even the most trivial of these calculations and having to rely on their smartphones to get a result, I get the impression that the education system is dismissing these skills as obsolete in our digital age. A big mistake, if you ask me.

Don't get me wrong: when I need accurate results, I also resort to calculators or calculator apps on Android or Arch. And as an added benefit, some of them handle not only numbers, but also the units. This is really helpful, because converting numerical results from all sorts of obscure units to SI is often necessary when consulting older references, and it's as tedious as it is frustrating - just look at the Wikipedia page of the cgs system.

Apart from Mathematica, I know of three command-line programs (one of which, namely, qalc, is also available with a graphical user interface) for doing calculations with units: the veteran units, the modern qalc, and the new and hip insect. Here's an example of these three tools dealing with the conversion of the surface tension (in N/m) of water to surface energy (in eV/Ų), which for a liquid is one and the same despite the different units.



This blog runs on a very affordable vServer hosted by netcup. For such low-end servers, no uptime guarantees are given by any hoster. Nevertheless, I always get mails whenever the server is down either for maintenance or because its temporarily out of order, and my feeling is that this happens only rarely. But just out of curiosity, I'd like to know what the actual uptime is.

A two page article in c't 26/2021 introduced me to uptime-kuma, which seemed to fit nicely what I was looking for. The only part I didn't like was the statement “Der einfachste und schnellste Weg Uptime-Kuma zu installieren, führt über Docker und Docker-Compose” followed by an installation procedure that I would call anything else then simple and fast. Fortunately, this statement applies only to the distributions favored by the c't. On Arch, the following two commands install and start uptime-kuma as a service:

yay -S uptime-kuma
systemctl enable --now uptime-kuma.service

After configuring the services to monitor and a day of collecting data, their uptime status is displayed on https://localhost/3001 as shown below for the web and IRC servers on




20th anniversary

I've missed it by a few days, but nevertheless: the first version of Archlinux (Homer) was published 20 years ago. The German computer magazine iX published a well-deserved tribute.

It took some time for me to discover this unique Linux distribution, but when I did in 2009 (a shocking 13 years ago), I was sold. Since more than 8 years, Arch runs all my desktops and notebooks, and only servers are still powered by Debian.

To the next 20 years! And in any case: happy anniversary, happy anniversary, happy anniversary, HAPPY anniversary!

Too many meetings

The number of meetings I'm requested to attend has increased by roughly a factor of five over the last two decades. Instead of five meetings per week I'm currently having five per day on average. It thus doesn't come as a surprise that I depend on an electronic calendar to organize and get reminded of all these appointments.

On my desktops, I'm using the integrated calendar of evolution since seven years. Over the time, this implementation of a PIM for the Gnome desktop has proven itself to be reliable and stable, in contrast to Kontact, its KDE counterpart I've tried to use before.

In any case, having a calendar on my desktops is not sufficient anymore, as future appointments are typically arranged after Zoom meetings that I usually attend with my notebook. And even that is not enough: I may want to check my appointments on a whim in the middle of the night, where only my smartphone is immediately accessible. In either case, I do not need a full-blown PIM, but just a calendar client synchronizing with both owncloud/nextcloud and zimbra.

On Linux/GTK, I thought that gnome-calendar would be the natural candidate with this functionality. To my surprise it's straightforward to add an owncloud/nextcloud account with the associated calendar, but zimbra is not part of the online account collection of Gnome, nor is a generic CalDAV server. I found that almost impossible to believe, but it's in fact a longstanding bug (eight years!) that has still to be acknowledged and addressed by the developers. Fortunately, there's a simple workaround: after installing evolution and adding the zimbra CalDAV server there, it also shows up in gnome-calendar. Apart from this issue, gnome-calendar delivers exactly what I wanted.

This entire affair is a whole lot easier on Android. Davx5 available on F-Droid provides a convenient backend for any number of CalDAV servers, and any calendar app will serve as frontend. It works just as well as gnome-calendar on my notebook, but without any unexpected obstacles during the configuration of the calendars.

I'm now reminded of outstanding appointments wherever I walk and talk. That's progess! Or is it?

Upgrading virtualenvs in fish

Python major version upgrades such as the one from 3.9 to 3.10 a few weeks ago require rebuilding any virtual environments created earlier. The generic one-liner I gave in an earlier post works in all shells, but as an avid user of the fish shell, I'm of course employing virtualfish for managing my virtual environments. And upgrading them in fish is even easier than with the one-liner above:

vf upgrade --rebuild

Prior to that, one also needs to rebuild the virtualfish for the python version upgrade:

yay --rebuild -S virtualfish

Afterwards, one can see to the update of the content of the virtualenv as documented in my earlier post. Compared to the entire recreation of the virtualenv, this whole procedure is as painless as fast – which makes the whole concept of virtualenvs an eminently practical one.