Category Archives: About this Blag

Poll: What’s Broken?

It occurs to me that I need a book I don’t have at hand right now in order to finish the post I had hoped to complete today, so in lieu of something which requires actual work on my part, I’ll pose a question to my Gentle Readers. By reading this now, you’re kind of by definition a “person who reads science blogs,” and most likely you read others besides mine; many of you might have homes of your own on the Interblag. I figure, then, that the people passing through here have perspectives from both sides, producer and consumer (a division we often try our darndest to narrow). So, then:

If you could fix one thing about the science-blogging experience, what would it be?

PHP Puzzlement

Did the meaning of the character sequence \f in PHP change overnight? I just had a bizarre error in my LaTeX rendering plugin, which I ended up fixing by adding a whole bunch of extra backslashes. LaTeXrender works by generating a LaTeX document from a formula in a webpage and then passing that document through the LaTeX interpreter, converting the output into an image which is placed in the webpage. This means that the peculiarities of LaTeX and of PHP must both be respected, and because both languages use the backslash character for special purposes, extra backslashes appear when those purposes collide.

For example, \n in PHP (and in C) stands for a newline character (yes, we are still slave to the teletype). So, if you want your PHP program to output a character string containing the LaTeX command \newline, you have to write \\newline. The first backslash “escapes” the second.

Suddenly, LaTeXrender started spewing out garbage: big blocks of image with bits of LaTeX commands inside, wrapped around a formula in the middle. Something must have started going wrong with the text being passed to LaTeX. How did I, the seasoned LaTeX guru and MIT graduate, solve this conundrum?

I threw backslashes at the problem until it went away.

No, seriously: all LaTeX commands starting with \f, like \formulabox or whatever, needed an extra backslash. I changed every instance of \f in the PHP source code to \\f, and now the plugin works again. Why this is necessary today but wasn’t necessary yesterday. . . I leave that as an exercise for the interested reader.

This is why I don’t have a nice post about the Dirac Equation for you today.

Status Update

You’re listening to Radio Sunclipse, first on your RSS dial! It’s currently oh-jesus degrees in the Greater MIT Metropolitan Area, with a wind-chill factor of “Why is the nitrogen freezing?” And I managed to lose my gloves on the subway.

So, the endodontist tells me that my decrepitude is in an intermediate state, on the borderline between merely needing elaborate work and requiring the complete excavation and subsequent cyberization of my aching tooth. Man, when the technology arrives to upload ourselves into pure AI form — I figure it’ll be about when Ubuntu reaches the “zesty zebra” release — I’ll be the first in line. apt-get install blake, all the way.

Won’t those be wonderful times? Geek culture will coincide with athletics, because your performance will depend on how much you can overclock yourself, and it’ll all be about leveling-up as quickly as possible. Hipster sophisticates will be angling for the android bodies Designed In California; meanwhile, Cosmo Girl will be touting the new iHuman Air. It won’t have an optical drive or an Ethernet port, but as long as the damsels still have a place for a USB plug, their boyfriends will be happy. Your mind will be able to spawn any sort of sub-process you want, from a simple arithmetic program to a full-fledged molecular dynamics simulation, so math teachers won’t have to worry about calculators eroding manual mathematics skills anymore, and the computerized proof of the four-color mapping theorem will be fully intuitive! Best of all, because they use so few mental faculties, professional creationists will be kept as the new virtual pets.

Anyway, thanks to my tooth problem and the small matter of having to do some science-type research this week, it’s time for playing some “golden oldies.” I’ll be converting a pedagogical paper I wrote a few years ago into blag form, which should yield two or possibly three posts on pushing the supersymmetric quantum mechanics I’ve described recently into the relativistic regime.

Hiatus, Interrupted

UPDATE: My current comment policy, whatever that may be, can be found here.

The Gentle Reader may have noticed a notice at the foot of the discussions on this site, saying something like “Comments for this post will be closed on 22 March 2008.” This is a new anti-spam measure, implemented with Comment Timeout and intended to keep my Akismet spam bucket from filling up six pages overnight. Discussions will be closed after about sixty days of inactivity (I will probably tweak the figures when I feel like procrastinating and have exhausted the potential of changing my desktop background image). So far, closing the older discussions has cut my spam intake by, roughly estimating, an order of magnitude, which makes me pretty happy.

Brief Blog Break

I have more to read, write and process than I can handle right now, and something will have to be sacrificed. Consequently, Sunclipse is going on hiatus until next week. I leave you today (imagine my Charles Kuralt voice speaking these words) with this thought-provoking quotation from presidential candidate Mike Huckabee:

I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution. But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living Allah. And that’s what we need to do — to amend the Constitution so it’s in Allah’s standards rather than try to change Allah’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view.

Quotation guaranteed accurate.

Blagging Behind: Software Issues

First, earlier this afternoon, I tried upgrading to WordPress 2.3.2, being that it’s an “urgent security release” and all that. In the process, it incinerated my categories, and nothing I could do would convince it to create new ones. I had to pull out the MySQL backup I’d made before the upgrade attempt and downgrade to the 2.2 branch again.

Second, Technorati seems to have dropped forty-odd days’ worth of blog reaction data. I think that’s a glitch on their end — hooray for any mistake it’s not my responsibility to fix!

A Meme for Year’s End

Tyler DiPietro tagged me with a meme, in obedience to which I’m supposed to answer a series of questions about my personal behavior. I said I would do this if I could answer the questions in a way which wasn’t terminally dull; if you see this post, then I’ve succeeded, at least in my own estimation. If you don’t see this post, then I failed and I didn’t want you to know.
Continue reading A Meme for Year’s End

Status Report

I caught a cold.

This happened on the same day that I was drafted into helping write a response to a comment on a paper my colleagues had published in Science some months ago.

The post I have closest to completion is full of equations, too, so I won’t mind if it’s not your thing. . . .