Future-proof your skills with Linux, Python, vim & git as I share with you the most timeless and love-worthy tools in tech through my two great projects that work great together.

Adventures Installing Manim on Windows 11 (Not Under WSL Linux)

I recently switched from Mac to Microsoft and discovered the power of the vim command :b1. This blog post explores the importance of developing internal resilience and extracting the lessons from life experiences. I discuss the differences between the neocortex and the pituitary gland and how the neocortex can override the signals of the pituitary gland. I also share my experience of trying to get Manim to work on my Windows 11 system, and how I ultimately got it to work on Windows 10. I

Successfully Installing Manim on Windows 10 - A Journey of Resilience and Lessons Learned

By Michael Levin

Thursday, May 5, 2022

The vim command :b1 (Obi-Wan in my mind) is indeed very powerful. My process transformed yesterday. It’s amazing what just a little shift in thinking can do. Such a little shift in thinking can work for or against you. Little shifts in other people’s thinking can work for or against you too. Watch for it. Our brains are always getting rewired, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. But they are them and you are you, and you can only improve yourself. Be strong and have internal resiliency.

Eternal internal resiliency is one of the most important lessons in life. Perhaps this is one of my first blog posts for WhatsaMetaFor.io, but probably not. I’ve got a web-publishing funnel shaping in my mind. Everything starts here in my private journal, and then moves from left-to-right into my other journals with a vim copy/paste. And one step to the right exist this, MikeLev.in, a place for eternal rambling that’s both shareable and valuable enough to do some people some good. So, copy/paste. Done. Now you can read this. Now it has a search-optimized URL. Now it has been actualized and realized.

Technically, it’s a vim yank/paste (not copy/paste). That alone is so symbolic. The vi* editor that survived a half-century lives in a bizarre parallel world where copy/paste is and always has been yank/paste, and has been for far longer than copy/paste has been a thing, though I suspect it’s because “c” was already used for “change” as in cw for change-word. When it came time for copy/paste in other software, vim was not copied. Copy is more relatable and plain English. I get it. The world is not based on vim. It’s just that vim survives while everything else goes obsolete in about 10-years and fades away. Yank you very much.

Before I dive into any rabbit holes this morning, get a common .gitignore across all your sites. Now it’s easier to roll such cross-cutting features out.

Okay, done. ELTgd… Felt good, man. Every Little Thing gets done. Solid mantra. THIS is where you want the benefits of compounding returns working for you. When you make a little step forward in some project, it becomes a resonating big step forward in life if you can extract the learning and apply it forever forward in life. What I just did was drop a file into a location where I copy common templates out from across (currently) 15 websites. I did it for a few files a few days ago, but now when anything similar comes up it’s… well I guess many hundreds of times easier.

Such an act demonstrates he compounding returns of internal assets. The reason journals like this are so important to process the thoughts, and places like this and end-to-end secure notes, like available in Apple Notes, is so important for keeping pointers, tips, passwords, step-by-step instructions and such. Journals like this almost exclusively tap a human’s cognitive executive function, which is the part that lives on the surface and in the frontal neocortex part of the brain (under the forehead). This can be an issue sometimes, and here’s my current thinking. I may be wrong, but it’s my best understanding to date.

The neocortex under your forehead is different from say the pituitary gland that lives just above where the spinal cord comes into the brain, deep at the lower-center of the brain. All vertebrae animals have similar pituitary glands. It is an ancient organ that regulates cortisol which causes the release of epinephrine, adrenaline, norepinephrine and noradrenaline… the soupy mix that throws us into fight-or-flight response mode, which you can imagine is important in animals with vertebra’s carrying themselves around and occasionally having to fight or flee.

Those pituitary responses came before neocortex. But with the development of the neocortex came the capacity to override the signals of the pituitary gland, saying: “No, that’s not a real danger”, thus reducing instead of amping-up the soupy mix of fight-or-flight neurotransmitters. This is the start of self-regulation. It’s Charlie Brown noticing the football is being pulled away and taking a moment to take stock of the situation. Maybe step back. Maybe do some breathing exercises. Maybe listing out of few of the seemingly objective observations of the situation that can be made upon examination.

Journals like this provide an opportunity to do just that. They tap that executive function of the neocortex, almost exclusively… at first. Getting in touch with your inner pituitary gland motivated self comes in time with practice. That’s “channeling”. You don’t know even a fraction of the things that are going on in your body to keep you alive. They’re sending messages up to the executive function that lives in the neocortex under your forehead, but those messages are easily misinterpreted and get manifested in the real world as scan, danger, react, scan, danger, react. It has taken over. That’s being stuck.

That’s why journaling starts out so hard and then over time becomes easier. The different parts of yourself can start talking to each other and channeling becomes easier. The more objective reality gets differentiated from the more subjective reality. Journal writing will itself make the pituitary gland feel that you are under attack.

But in a moment or two you realize that you are in front of your computer typing. This is a first and readily isolated and reproducible Charlie Brown falling on his back moment to overcome. It’s an opportunity for practice. Over time, journaling and the general recording of important thoughts and key insights that will help you later becomes easier. This is how humans work. Without it, growth would be difficult. Achieving new normals is survival. That’s why we’re not itchy all the time. It’s not instant and it’s not easy. It’s a long process that takes practice and an open mind.

In other words, get up and kick that football again, Charlie Brown! If you know Lucy’s going to pull the football away, change your timing. Back-up. Retry! You’ll get it. And we did. We got the Python math animator package Manim installed. I’m so proud of you!

After something like a marathon session of research, during which we first tried to get Manim to work in the Linux side of a Windows 11 system under the Windows subsystem for Linux (WSL), we backed off. My first inclination was that it should be possible on the Linux side because Windows 11 is known for official Wayland (and apparently X-Windows) support built-in under WSL. This is my biggest reason for wanting to allow the Windows 11 upgrade to occur on my laptop. But as usual with such things, there’s gotchas. Yes, you have to be on Windows 11 for official Microsoft graphics support of Linux, however you still have to be on the Windows Insider Track version, which is a little too bleeding edge for me, much less dumping Nat onto an experimental version. I want things to go right, not wrong.

Okay, so after I discovered the lie that there’s graphics support for WSL2 Linux under Windows 11, Nat still wanted to try to install it under Linux because she was getting used to (committing to) vim. I went along, still quite doubtful but knowing that if the components installed, I could just slam VcXsrv onto her machine like I have on my Windows 10 machine, and the manim graphics would work, albeit quite slow through X-Windows. Ever see my googly eyes YouTube video on the topic? In fact, I made two videos about Graphics on Windows 10 Linux with VcXsrv X Server. Running an X-Server on Windows is no big deal. There’s one line you have to put in your .bash_profile to make it work:

export DISPLAY=$(cat /etc/resolv.conf | grep nameserver | awk '{print $2}'):0

You know what? This post should be on MikeLev.in. It’s no big deal to talk about these experiences in public. It could probably do good for some people. Not many, but some. The venn diagram has a lot of overlapping circles, haha! Anyhoo after banging our head against the Manim dependencies on Ubuntu under the Windows subsystem for Linux, I explained to Nat my Rabbit Hole evaluation process which goes something like this:

And so we gave up on installing under Linux WSL and switched to installing Manim under Windows. Nat had as it turned out, already started the process. Following the instructions at the Manim site about Chocolatey and Scoop, she had installed Chocolatey, which is a Windows answer to a free and open source (FOSS) software repository like the Debian-based one in Ubuntu or the unofficial Homebrew hacker shit in the Mac. This is yet another major deficiency in Windows, but of course like with everything where there is an itch and the worldwide web, there’s someone scratching the itch. And Chocolatey scratches the missing FOSS-repository itch on Windows. I feel about the same about it as I do Homebrew on Mac. If it’s so great, why doesn’t the vendor support it? But whatever. A scratched itch is a scratched itch.

Another anti-Microsoft little piece of advice on the Manim site is to not use the Python that auto-installs from the Windows Store when you type Python from the Windows command-line (a.k.a. COM). What whaaa? The one good thing about the Python install story on Windows, and Manim tells you not to do it? Shit, okay. Well there’s nothing wrong with getting the download from the official Python.org except for the fact that you shouldn’t have to. But whatever. We did and installed it. Upon Nat’s prompting, we even selected “Add to path” during the installation.

So it’s installed, and we type “python” from the COM window, and the Windows Store pops again. Okay, expected because new paths that aren’t in already-opened COM. So we close and open the COM to get the new path, type python and again the Store. I’m like shit, things couldn’t really be this terrible on Windows, could it? So I do the thing I’m always remiss to do. I have Nat fire-up Windows Powershell and do the same type “python” test, and voila! Python fires-up and we have a Python 3.10 interactive console from the command-line. A few pip installs later (and one Chocolatey vim install), Nat’s doing a Python “Hello World” program.

I instruct her about blasting out the pipes with a Hello World as a first step in any new Python (or other) execution environment. We also talk about how it’s perfectly fine to have multiple instances of Python on your machine, and how it’s not only okay but expected. FOSS software is going to get embedded into and installed with lots of stuff. This foreshadows the virtualenv experience we’re about to have, because it dawns on me that if we’re using Windows, we could have just used the Python that’s already on her machine from the JupyterLab Desktop install. D’Ohhhh.

I gloss over the fact this could all probably have been done under the already installed Windows-side Python 3.8 on her machine from Jupyter and dive deep into my soul running rapid rabbit-hole evaluations on the likelihood of getting this new Manim-enabled Python 3.10 environment working under Jupyter. Yes, I’ve done the ipython “new kernel” trick under the Anaconda version of Jupyter that runs in the browser. I hope that old command-line misery is now GUI-based (graphical user interface) under JupyterLabs Desktop Advanced Settings. It should be. It is not. Momentarily crestfallen, I back-up. I retry.

I google-up the “ipython new kernel” concept. For anyone not familiar, Jupyter Notebooks are just the .ipynb format. It’s a JavaScript Object Notation (or JSON) file-format. That is to say there are lots of things that can run Notebooks, and JupyterLabs is only one, although admittedly the first and arguably the best. Others include Google Colab, Microsoft Azure Notebooks, Binder, blah, blah, so many. It’s a ziggurat of awesome parts (stepped pyramid of dependencies) with the key lower-dependency being something called ipython, which is really just Jupyter without the web browser user interface. And so such a system can have different languages or “kernels” plugged in. While Python is the default language for Jupyter, it is by far not the only. And the difference between Python 3.8 and 3.10 is so small that I was very optimistic. I just avoid that sort of shit for myself because I don’t like bleeding on the bleeding edge.

Okay, but good news! It turns out that the way to get a Python 3.10 kernel on Standalone Desktop JupyterLab is virtualenv! So I get to kill two birds with one stone (sorry for the metaphor, but it’s still the best one). I have long avoided virtualenv’s on the new standalone Jupyter because there was no option for it under Settings. And if you had to go to the command-line to do special stuff each time you reinstalled Jupyter, you’d be doing it forever because the product is advancing so quickly with a new version every month or two. But it turns out my reasoning was exactly reversed. I was pip-installing over-and-over to re-create my environment. And just because I could do that with a single pip install of mlseo which I loaded with all my dependencies, it’s really a worse solution than biting the bullet and having some virtualenv’s sitting in your OS user folder (home) that you can just keep re-adding… as an alternative jupyter language kernel! I should try Julia.

And we had to do this virtualenv source activate stuff under Windows Powershell… or so I thought. To say such a thing is reprehensible to me because of memories of bleeding on such edges in the past would be an understatement. And indeed when it got up to the source/activate part of virtualenv, I just couldn’t make it work under Powershell. Off the beaten track is surrounded by wolves… always. And though I’m excellent at staving off the wolves, it’s something I hate. Hate, hate, hate. f-you, Microsoft. Okay, so it dawns on me I don’t have to actually activate the venv. It just needs to be there. Little realizations like this are gold, Charlie Brown.

Alright. So now everything clicks. I google “new ipython kernel” and get the page Installing the IPython kernel and the process that never really changes, kicking myself for not having done this for myself sooner. Thanks Nat for pushing me to better places. I decipher the terrible documentation that gave me a bad taste in my mouth for this process in the first place, adapt it to Windows black-slashing back slashes slash slash slash, and only with a little lost blood get the new kernel installed. Technically, Nat did all this. I was only Googling along two-finger expanding the magic incantations to fill the screen of my laptop and holding it up for her to look at.

Okay, as bad as everything Microsoft really is, and it’s really, really bad, their one saving grace is kick-ass hardware. I’m on an $800 Surface laptop. Not even one of the high-end ones or fancy ARM processor ones. It’s just a bottom-of-the-barrel what-was-in-the-store soft-touch felt keyboard model. But it has touchscreen. And I’ve never had a driver problem (sorry ARM-lovers). And the low-profile keyboard is better than Mac’s. And I use the touchscreen all the time. And that touchscreen supports a stylus whose back works like an eraser in paint apps without me even needing to change settings. And the stylus doesn’t need to be charged or have a cap that gets lost.

Yeah, I know. Mac, mac, mac blah blah blah. Yeah, I’ve had a long run of Macbook Pro’s, Macbook Airs, iMacs and the whole gambit because Unix. Before Microsoft started officially supporting Linux (Cygwin wasn’t enough), I was on Macs because Unix and the awesome hardware-build combined with Unix absolutely clinched the deal. But Apple never added an officially supported free and open software repo. I went from Fink to MacPorts to Homebrew, and never once did I not feel I was bleeding. When Microsoft canonicalized Linux by choosing Canonical’s Debian-based Ubuntu as their official version for WSL, I switched and never looked back. Actually, I did and Macs now feel off-the-beaten-track again. Windows won. Sorry, but Linux on Windows is now better than Unix on Macs because official software repos.

Shall I go on? Perhaps the biggest testament to all this is that I not only supported my wife and kid getting onto Windows instead of Mac, I’m now helping my wife as this post went into great depth about, get onto Linux via Windows. Clearly it’s still bleeding edge where it counts, the graphics subsystem for Linux on the Linux subsystem for Windows. And I had to back-up and retry. But when I did, even the Chocolatey alternative worked just about as well as I’d suspect a Homebrew formula to work.

And so success. The last step in that entire process was the fact that Notebooks created under the new virtualenv-based Python 3.10 kernel were still .ipynb Notebooks, which Manim doesn’t like. Enter nbconvert… under Powershell? Yep, nbconvert under Powershell. And only with a little bit of blood. Certainly less blood than virtualenv under Powershell. And those .ipynb-to-py files can be loaded into… vim under Powershell for final tweaking without having to go back to Jypyter.

No solution is perfect, but with enough internal fortitude, persistence, backing up and retrying, cognitive evaluation, and note-taking for later reproduction of success, then imperfect can becomes good enough. I call that a great success!