Month: January 2015

Turning a Fixed Width Site to Variable Width Using Web Technology

I love my Y50. The 4k screen resolution gives me both a chance to see a lot more on a single page and much better and crisper text if I want to see it normal size. The only downside? Software that assumes pixel sizes.

It doesn’t really matter what I am looking at: anything that comes with predefined pixels turns into a microscopic smudge. It’s completely impossible to realize what the buttons do in the Gimp, for instance. Checkboxes are so small, it’s virtually impossible to tell whether they are checked or not.

I can deal with everything else, though. The one thing that is an eternal pain is the web. In particular: sites that define their content in pixels.

User interface design has always been caught between two extremes: on one side, the desire to make everything predictable by forcing it to look exactly as it looks on the designer’s screen; on the other, the desire to make everything work universally on all screens. The former is epitomized by PDF and iOS; the latter by HTML and … the Web.

A PDF document is many things. Most importantly, though, it’s a blob that looks the same no matter where you are and how you look at it. The part where it looks the same everywhere is very useful in certain cases – like if you want to shuttle an official document around, or if you need to ensure that elements don’t get moved out of place.


Animals (all letters)

Animals! Focus on short names…
Letter Main Candidate Secondary Comments
A  Ant  Ass  
B  Bee    
C  Cat    
D  Dog    
E  Eel    
F  Fox  Fly  
G  Gnu    
H  Hawk    
I  Ibis    
J  Jay    
K  Koala    
L  Lion    
M  Mole  Mink  
N  Newt    
O  Owl    
P  Pig    
Q  Quail  Quetzal  
R  Ram  Rat  
S  Swan  Seal  
T  Toad  Tiger  
U  Urial  Unicorn  
V  Viper    
W  Wolf  Wasp. Worm  
X  Xantus    
Y  Yak    
Z  Zebra    

The Nazi Wonder Weapon Revealed: Die Glocke

Die GlockeResearch for the new novel is almost completed. There are going to be twists and turns that will make a helicopter spin, and I decided to keep with the strength of In the Mission: a novel about a deep mystery wrapped in a conundrum, where science parallels art which parallels the otherworldly.

Somewhere in the depth of the research (and it goes very deep), I found myself mired in a strange story. It was originally reported in the year 2000. Given that it was about something in the Nazi period, it seemed very odd we could still unearth something of fundamental importance 50 years after the fact.

But people gobbled it up. By “people,” I mean UFO researchers, science fiction authors, and alternate reality scientists. Unsurprisingly, the story made its way into Ancient Aliens, the show that consistently rivals Fox News for the most outlandish interpretation possible of actual things.

This is about Die Glocke, or “The Bell.” A device whose function seems to have been lost in time. The secrecy surrounding it was so total that the only evidence of it is the report in the book, The Truth about the Wunderwaffe. In fact, there is no hard evidence of this bell at all. All we have is what the author says in his book.

The Wikipedia page on the matter is a little vague; the crackpot sites with blinking GIFs are full of outlandishness. But as soon as I read the description of the thing, I had a theory fully formed in my mind. It seemed so self-evident that I wondered why nobody mentioned it. But of course it was too self-evident for a world more interested in outlandishness.

So I bit the bullet and bought the book. It arrived today, and I started perusing. The Truth is fairly long, the English version a little too close to the Polish original, making it sometimes closer to a Google Translate rendition than an actual translation. While the writing, for that reason, sounds a little off, the research is spectacular. The author spent a ton of time putting together data on the Wunderwaffe project, and the tome is evidence of effort and care, as well as skill and acuity.


Humans: a Sexual History and the New Moon Theory

Human EvolutionThere is an interesting principle in biology, named Haeckel’s Recapitulation Theory: ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. In simple terms, that means that you can read the whole evolutionary tree leading to a species just by looking at successive development stages of the fetus. We start looking like single-cell individuals, “evolve” into bunches of cells, eventually “turn” into fish, then lizards, then monkeys, etc.

It’s not as simple as that, and the principle/theory has been refuted/rejected. But the idea has wider applications than just in evolutionary biology. In general, I’d say, the notion is that the behavior of the (averaged) individual allows reconstruction of the group’s creation/formation/development.

Humans are a weird bunch. We have all sorts of odd characteristics that make us stand out even with respect to our closest relatives, The size of our brains is what we are most proud of, but there is hairlessness, too; upright walking and long-distance running; our opportunistic digestive tract, not specialized for anything, and unable to digest anything that requires complexity; and more.

The picture that emerges is fairly clear: we evolved in a temperate climate with little seasonal variation, with a diverse food supply, none of whose components could be counted on in the long term. The ability to run indicates that we were group hunters, since we are not fast enough to outrun prey or hunters.

One of the things that is strangest about humans, though, is our sexuality. You see, life usually has two strategies: continual mating, where offspring is generated indiscriminately throughout the year; and seasonal mating, where sex happens at a specific time of the year.

Typically, the strategy picked indicates the environment in which the life form lives. If there is strong seasonal change, it is advisable to time pregnancy and birth so that it matches availability of food and environmental protection. If there isn’t, then it is smarter to have any sexual encounter be a chance for reproduction, since you don’t know whether there is going to be another day.

Humans, though, have the strangest method: our females are fertile for a few days every month, and infertile otherwise. That seems to be the stupidest combination possible: it limits the chance to reproduce without giving any obvious advantage in timing of offspring.


Speedtesting Your ISP, Command Line Version

I currently pay an obscene $66 for 25 MBit/sec Internet. On top of that, I had to pay a mandatory $99 equipment fee for an enormous modem, and another $99 fee for mandatory installation.

Just as I was done with my first year promotional price and things “reverted” to the “regular” price of $66, I received a message. I had been underbilled, apparently, but I was lucky and they were not going to backcharge me. But from now on, I had to pay the “regular” price of $74.50.

At the same time, performance of my Internet connection started getting really random. At times, things would load just fine. Most of the time, though, there were sudden hickups and slowdowns. For instance, I would get all tiles on a Google Maps page – but then the last five or ten or twenty wouldn’t load for minutes.

You may have heard of It’s been around forever, and it’s a fairly reliable indicator of Internet connection speed. It also collects information about Internet providers and gives you an idea of what everybody’s paying around you. It’s also getting a little heavy on the commercialization now, so I don’t know how long I would continue using it, since its utility is paired with the simplicity of the thing it does.


PSA: Don’t Swim or Surf After a Storm!

[Note: If you want to find out current water quality information, head over to]

I recall my first days of surfing. I was young(er than now), dumb (as much as now), and certainly had no idea what I was doing. I would go out on a closeout six foot day, paddle until exhaustion, and give up as soon as my stubborn self had reached the lineup. Literally: I’d be sitting there after 30 minutes of non-stop paddling, and just wait for the next large wave to push me back ashore.

Christmas Day of 2011, I was in the water for an early session. It wasn’t bad, as the waves were nice and the lineup not crowded. I got out after a good two hours, got into the car, and drove home. There, my famished self had some lunch. Finally, I went out with friends for a Christmas dinner.

The next morning I woke up with sores in my mouth. Nothing tragic, just big pimples on the roof and sides of my mouth. They cleared up after a few days. So I thought nothing of it.

Today, I know those were surfer sores, the kind of infection you get when you decide to surf in dirty water. We get that here after a “storm,” which in San Diego means any rain beyond a mere drizzle. The sewage plants and storm runoffs are typically combined, so that whenever there is atmospheric water coming down, pipe water tags along with it.


Why I Gave Up On Facebook

DislikeYou probably noticed if you follow me on Facebook: I’ve barely been on there in the past two years. I’ll log on, once in a while, mostly because I remember it’s someone’s birthday and I wish them well on the channel I know they use. But for myself, I am over it. Why?

There was a time when Facebook was cool. That was, of course, before I was on it. It’s when you had to have a .edu address to be on it, it was when college students from Ivy Leagues got an account and nobody else.

I was in the first wave of externals, before the thing exploded into becoming the social hub of the known universe. When people were trying to figure it out and were excited about the ability to share with those they loved or at least cared about.

Then something happened: Facebook wanted to grow, and it wanted money. The relentless pursuit of both is what killed it for me, as Facebook’s wish to grow and make money started getting at odds with my interests, desires, and passions.

First came the desire to grow. Trying to avoid the fate of sleep towns like Orkut and later Google+, Facebook made it way too easy to overshare. Some of it was just poor design, like the option to send messages (and especially game invitations) to All Friends. Some of it was downright shady, like updating the privacy policy and then changing the default sharing options to an ever-wider audience.


What Auxiliary Language Should You Learn and Why

As you may know, among the many languages I speak there is Esperanto. When the average American hears the name, the reaction is probably either Huh? for those that never heard about it, or the general notion of a failed project for those who have.

Also, in general, you’ll find that those that have an active opinion will say that nobody needs a made-up language as a form of communication any longer, since everybody speaks English. Those that do not speak English should just learn it!

So, let me back up and talk for a moment about the two reasons auxiliary languages (like Esperanto) were created. One is that they are nobody’s language – they don’t belong to a particular nation or group. As a result, they remove the inherent superiority of the group that owns the language (i.e. is native in it).

The far more important reason, though, is that auxiliary languages are generally easier to learn. They certainly were designed to be easier, and they generally use regularity and predictability to ensure that you’ll know what they mean.

Each auxiliary language has a slightly or largely different approach to ease of learning and understanding. Some focus on being understandable to a complete novice, others on being easy to parse for people that have had an introduction. Some focus on being easy to learn for a speaker of a particular language or groups of languages; others focus on being fair to everybody.