Category Archives: Tech

Commuting Kills

From WordFence.

Every year we lose up to 10% of our electricity purely due to resistance during transmission. If you’ve ever wondered why a room-temperature superconductor is sought after, this is why. Thinking about superconductivity reminded me of the problem I have with companies who don’t allow telecommuting. The way I see it, remote-workers are like work-place superconductivity: Brain power and productivity arrive instantly where they’re needed with zero transmission cost.

I decided to do the math on what the health and environmental costs are related to commuting to work every year.

Moving people from home to work is surprisingly expensive in many ways. The average commute time by car in the United States is about 25 minutes each way. The average commute time by other means is also just over 25 minutes each way. [Source: US Census Bureau and wnyc.org data from census.gov] The average number of work days per year is 261. [Source: OPM.gov]

This gives us a total time spent commuting by car (or other means) per year of 217.5 hours, or 9 days. That’s 9 days (without sleeping) per year of your life you spend in a car, train, bus or other means of getting to work. That assumes you’re the average and not stuck on the I405 in California for 4 hours per day. I worked with a friend who had that commute.

If “sitting is the new smoking” [Source: Mayo Clinic and Dr James Levine], a phrase coined by Dr James Levine which has gained a groundswell of support of late, spending 9 waking days sitting in a car and pushing pedals, or on a bus or train per year has a profoundly detrimental impact on our health.

Read the rest at WordFence.com

Basics of HTML

HTML stands for ‘HyperText Markup Language’ and it’s the lingua franca of the web. Nearly every page you’ve ever seen on the web is crafted from HTML code, excepting those built using Flash but even those are delivered inside an HTML shell.

Many users on the web have been creating blogs using tools like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, etc. and have been spared learning HTML by great graphic user interfaces like TinyMCE. However, to really master your content, you need to understand what’s happening ‘under the sheets’ so that you can make adjustments and add special formatting to set your work apart.

HTML is over twenty years old and is currently transitioning from version 4 to 5. For the purposes of this article I’ll only be discussing HTML 4 and will offer some hints about HTML 5 and its improvements.

Apple’s Hypercard program in 1980 set the stage for the invention of HTML but it was lacking in the ability to link to files on other computers. The web was just getting off the ground at that point and HTML’s creation is tied directly to the inventions that form the foundations of the web we know and rely on today.

Tim Berners-Lee, 2005

Tim Berners-Lee, starting with SGML (Standard Generalized Mark-up Language), devised a language that was independent of the tool that viewed it. The inherent simplicity of HTML is what made it such a hit and why it was adopted so swiftly and widely. One of the new elements Berners-Lee devised was the anchor tag – the ‘link’ functionality that allowed authors to ‘hyperlink’ to other pages. This was the springboard to the future.

He defined a set of ‘tags’ that when placed into standard ASCII text gave commands to rendering programs (browsers) to generate headers, paragraphs, bulleted and numbered lists, tables, etc. Here’s the basic tags that users really need to know (loosely organized by function):

h1 – 6 Headers. H1 largest. Secondary function – highlight information for Search Engine Optimization.
p Paragraph. Line height, leading and trailing margins can be assigned using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)
ul (and li) Unordered List. Bulleted lists for arbitrarily-ordered items.
ol (and li) Ordered List. Numbered lists for sequentially-organized items. Numerous numbering schemes available including lettered and roman numerals.
blockquote Block quote. Indentation for quotes or highlighted material.
br Line break. Carriage return – no extra space as in end of paragraph. Used to force content onto new line. Also can have special uses with CSS.
a Anchor. Linked item – can be text or image. JavaScript commands can also be triggered using this block element. Anchors are often combined with unordered lists and CSS formatting to create navigation structures. Anchors can also point to specific locations within a page.
div Division. A segment of a document. Divs can be given specific ids and used to apply visual formatting from CSS. These replaced tables in design methodology.
hr Horizontal rule. A non-graphic line. Thickness and width can be set.
i Italic. Current standard calls for ’em’ for ’emphasis.’
b Bold. Current standard calls for ‘strong.’
img Image. Images can be sized and made clickable to display a larger image (thumbnails). Images can also be links to other pages.
pre Allows preformatted text to be displayed as-is (for example for code segments or free-form poetry)
table (and th and td) Table. Tabulated (rows and columns) data. Table headers can be called out with th tags and table data (cells) make up the bulk of a table. In early years of web design tables were used to structure pages. This has been supplanted by CSS-based design using divs.
span Span from arbitrary location to location. Used to apply custom formatting inline.
sub / sup Subscript and Superscript. For inserting references.

I’ve purposely omitted tags for creating forms since there’s many tools for creating them and even a brief discussion of them is prohibitive here. Suffice to say forms open a whole new door into interactivity and require skills not usually considered ‘basic.’

So, as you can see, the ‘rock bottom’ basics of HTML are indeed very basic. The artistry comes in how you combine the elements. Also, the serious bang comes from Cascading Style Sheets – but that’s another article!

Cheers!

Human vs Pet Age

Human/Pet Age Analogy
Adult Size in Pounds
0 – 20 21 – 50 51 – 120 > 120
Years Feline Canine
Pet Age Human Equivalent Age
 3  28 28 29 31 39
 4  32 33 34 38 49
5  36 38 39 45 59
6 40 42 44 52 69
7 44 46 49 59 79
 8 48 50 54 66 89
 9 52 54 59 73 99
 10 56 58 64 80
11 60 62 69 87
 12 64 66 74 94
 13 68 70 79
14 72 74 84
15 76 78 89
16 80 82 94
17 84 86
18 88 90
19 92 94
20 96
Adult Senior Geriatric

Occupy Earth – HTML5 Canvas

HTML5 – the MDW logo

Cheesehead hackers

1 failed login attempts (1 lockout(s)) from IP: 208.66.135.190

Last user attempted: admin

IP was blocked

IP Address Country (Short) Country (Full) Flag Region City ISP Map
208.66.135.190 US UNITED STATES WISCONSIN MADISON 5NINES DATA LLC

Hm.

If anyone in the Madison, WI area knows the owner of 5 Nines, would you mind reminding them that the Department of Homeland Security really frowns on hackers?

Makes me really question their ‘technical specialist’s claim that they “…strive to make technology your trusted partner” – someone trying to hack my personal site’s password really makes me not trust someone. A lot.

10 Simple Words

10 Simple Words Students (And Everyone) Screw Up

from EDUdemic

OMG U Guyz, Grammar among kidz the$e days be terribllle! So does speeling! There is a big problem unfolding around the world right now. Lucky for you, The Oatmeal has spelled it out, literally. The guy behind the hit comic strip has laid out the top 10 words everyone probably misspells. Hilarious stuff. Enjoy!

1 MeV

JEOL-1000 High Voltage Electron Microscope

One of my favorite places at the University of Colorado was the High Voltage Electron Microscope lab in the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology building.

I spent a lot of time there helping my father and the techinical team while in high school, then later when I worked at CU as a lab technician I ran a project that used the HVEM – full circle!

Sitting at its console, looking into the vacuum behind the viewport at the phosphor screen, my hands on the controls for the sample stage and the magnification I literally could see the unseen on the glowing surface. Being fully aware that there were million-volt x-rays bashing around just inches from my treasured brain, held back by inches-thick leaded glass and metal added to the thrill. The click of relays and the faint chugging of vacuum pumps mixed with the curls of vapor from the liquid-nitrogen oil trap completed the atmosphere of super-super-high-tech. And I was driving!! Hard to forget being at the controls of a building-size microscope.

Heady stuff for a young man very taken with science fiction – this was science fact! I’ll never forget the faint, high-pitched whistle the high-voltage system generated. I’m sure it still echoes in the walls even though the massive machine itself has been disassembled and gone for years now.

Rayode

I regularly see posts from a local here in Longmont touting the idea that we could all have nuclear reactors (yes, reactors) in our front yards – among other whacked-out concepts. Aside from this being an astoundingly bad idea just on general terms it begs the question of what sort of other stupidity Americans would attempt if we didn’t have careful regulation of radioactives.

This advertisement should tell you pretty graphically just how stupid we as a nation can be.

Courtesy of spuzzlightyear at LiveJournal

Read more scary stuff here – these were ‘doctors’ of the time .

Vanadium nitrogenase

From Slashdot: Gasoline from thin air

An enzyme found in the roots of soybeans could be the key to cars that run on air. If perfected, the tech could lead to cars partially powered on their own fumes. Even further into the future, vehicles could draw fuel from the air itself. Quoting: ‘The new enzyme can only make two and three carbon chains, not the longer strands that make up liquid gasoline. However, Ribbe thinks he can modify the enzyme so it could produce gasoline. … [Perfecting this process] won’t happen anytime soon… “It’s very, very difficult,” to extract the vanadium nitrogenase, said Ribbe.’

Gaming no fun anymore

From those wonderful folks at Slashdot (News for Nerds. Stuff That Matters):

Frustration and Unhappiness In the Games Industry

Gamasutra’s Leigh Alexander recently wrote an editorial about the atmosphere of irritation and dissatisfaction that pervades all aspects of the video game industry. Developers are often overworked and unfulfilled, gamers have no qualms about voicing their disapproval (sometimes quite warranted, sometimes not), and the media, in trying to please both groups, often fails to satisfy either. Why is there so much strife in an industry ostensibly focused on having fun? From the article:

“More and more developer sources I talked to suggested that fatigue, hostility, being at odds with one’s employer and questioning one’s career course is frighteningly common in the game industry. That being the case, it seems natural that elements like emotional detachment, anxiety and a lack of fulfillment make their way, even subtly, into the products the industry creates and into the ecosystem around the industry and its audience. ‘Because of the secrecy and competition, a lot of development teams end up having a siege mentality — batten down the hatches and refuse to come up for air until the game’s done,’ says [an] anonymous developer. ‘Game development has a way of taking over your life, because there’s always more that can be done to improve perceived quality. I’ve seen a lot of divorces in my time in the game industry. I feel like it’s much greater than average, but I have no statistical evidence.'”

I think the problem is this simple: greed. The people running the companies aren’t in it to have fun – they’re in it to make money and live out their vicariously violent fantasies. Fun, craftsmanship and contribution to society are a far-distant second. It’s one of the reasons I don’t play video games – I don’t want to support a morally-bankrupt industry that causes people so much pain.

Young brain again

Seen at Slashdot:

German neuroscientists made a breakthrough in ‘age-related cognitive decline’, a common condition that often begins in one’s late 40s (especially declarative memory — the ability to recall facts and experiences). Their new study identifies a genetic ‘switch’ for the cluster of learning and memory genes that cause memory impairment in aging mice. By injecting an enzyme, the team ‘flipped’ the switch to its on position for older mice, giving them the memory and learning performance they’d enjoyed when they were young. Now the team ultimately hopes to recover seemingly lost long-term memory in human patients.” The video, which explains the gene flipping mechanism, is worth a watch (2:18).

Steve Austin Lives

Solar Powered Augmented Reality Contact Lenses
ByronScott writes “Want eyesight that could put your neighborhood cyborg to shame? Well, University of Washington professor Babak Amir Parviz and his students are working on solar powered contact lenses embedded with hundreds of semitransparent LEDs, letting wearers experience augmented reality right through their eyes. If their research proves successful, the applications — from health monitoring to gameplay to just plain bionic sight -could be endless.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Geekspeak March 2010

logo_geekspeak

How I learned to stop worrying and love writing on the web

All my life I’ve kept journals ― at first loose pages in a three-ring binder (remember THOSE?), which led to spiral-bound notebooks, hard-bound journals and finally as electronic files. Once I made the jump to the computer I thought, “Great! Now I’m really saving time and space.” But the further I got down the digital path, the more I realized I’d traded one set of limitations for another. Paper has a lovely random-access nature to it. You can leaf through a book and find an entry quickly, but not so with digital files. Folders of word-processor files are overwhelming and I didn’t dare keep it all as one big file. One mistake and I’d lose everything! So… what to do? About that point I started working on the web and fell in love with HTML and hyperlinked text. Now I was cookin’! Off I went building websites, linking pages and cranking out tons of content. Ultimately, I found the biggest obstacle to finding things was navigating to them. My navigation schemes got more powerful but were harder to maintain. There had to be a better way. That way turned out to be Web Content Management Systems (WCMS).

What’s a WCMS?

It’s a system for organizing information on the web by applying a navigation scheme/appearance to it. The navigation scheme/appearance is called a ‘theme’ and can be changed, essentially redesigning the site. The core of the WCMS is expandable via software plug-ins that add new features or change the behavior of core features.

What’s a blog?

First, it’s a neologism and a portmanteau word created from “web log,” which is a system of posting material organized by date and subject category. Readers are generally allowed to leave comments and some sites moderate user remarks while others just allow everything but investigate reports of bad behavior. So blogs now are very common and have spawned other forms of social media such as Facebook. There’s a lot of CMS systems out there – the ones that I considered using were Drupal, Joomla, MoveableType and WordPress.

Who needs a WCMS or a blog?

First, a brief overview: WCMSes create both pages and posts. The pages are what most people consider the website and there are parent and child pages, so information can be organized by the user rather than by date and category. So pages are the part of the site that’s more-or-less static and has fixed relationships, while the regular articles/announcements/etc in categories are the blog posts. CUAlum.org has blog postings in these categories:

Posts enable, for example, your company’s event team to announce upcoming events, the communications team to publish their newsletter, the travel group to publish their upcoming trips and so on. It’s just dated material in categories. All these groups can enter new posts or update their information pages at the same time. It’s all done through the web. You surf to a page, enter credentials and step behind the curtain where you can edit the site’s content or appearance. Heady stuff.

RSS – Really Simple Syndication

One of the features of WCMSes is RSS. Sorry for the series of sequential sibilants. It’s for a website that has an audience (however small!) that wants to know when there’s something new to read. E-mail was the usual way until some bright person thought up aggregation and suggested that site operators have their CMSes produce a file ― the RSS file ― containing a standard list of the latest posts in their blogs. Then browsers like Firefox and aggregating programs can collect new post listings, alerting the faithful that the Wall Street Journal has a new article or their favorite cartoon superhero has a new adventure. It’s more of a user pull method than a provider push using e-mail. You get the news faster and have the ability to monitor many news sources at once. It’s created a whole new breed of netizen: the news junkie. So if a friend tells you about a great new way to get your news, beware. You may be on the road to news addiction! Here’s a little taste of RSS to help you get hooked started:

Note, you might want to investigate an RSS ‘aggregator’ like NetNewsWire for the Apple Macintosh or FeedDemon for IBM-PC. While your browser can aggregate RSS feeds, these programs provide some great features. I encourage you to check them out. So, ’til next time, keep your passwords obscure and your cache files clean when I’ll be talking about webcams. Doug Wray is the webmaster for the CU-Boulder Alumni Association.

Death Chemistry

From Bifurcated Rivets and orginally from Corante:

Things I Won’t Work With: Dioxygen Difluoride


Posted by Derek

The latest addition to the long list of chemicals that I never hope to encounter takes us back to the wonderful world of fluorine chemistry. I’m always struck by how much work has taken place in that field, how long ago some of it was first done, and how many violently hideous compounds have been carefully studied. Here’s how the experimental prep of today’s fragrant breath of spring starts:

The heater was warmed to approximately 700C. The heater block glowed a dull red color, observable with room lights turned off. The ballast tank was filled to 300 torr with oxygen, and fluorine was added until the total pressure was 901 torr. . .

And yes, what happens next is just what you think happens: you run a mixture of oxygen and fluorine through a 700-degree-heating block. “Oh, no you don’t,” is the common reaction of most chemists to that proposal, “. . .not unless I’m at least a mile away, two miles if I’m downwind.” This, folks, is the bracingly direct route to preparing dioxygen difluoride, often referred to in the literature by its evocative formula of FOOF.

Well, “often” is sort of a relative term. Most of the references to this stuff are clearly from groups who’ve just been thinking about it, not making it. Rarely does an abstract that mentions density function theory ever lead to a paper featuring machine-shop diagrams, and so it is here. Once you strip away all the “calculated geometry of. . .” underbrush from the reference list, you’re left with a much smaller core of experimental papers.

And a hard core it is! This stuff was first prepared in Germany in 1932 by Ruff and Menzel, who must have been likely lads indeed, because it’s not like people didn’t respect fluorine back then. No, elemental fluorine has commanded respect since well before anyone managed to isolate it, a process that took a good fifty years to work out in the 1800s. (The list of people who were blown up or poisoned while trying to do so is impressive). And that’s at room temperature. At seven hundred freaking degrees, fluorine starts to dissociate into monoatomic radicals, thereby losing its gentle and forgiving nature. But that’s how you get it to react with oxygen to make a product that’s worse in pretty much every way.

——–

Holy shit. Read this. Here’s an excerpt:

“…gas mixture was heated to 700°C and was then rapidly cooled on the outer surface of stainless steel tubes. The tubes were refrigerated by a liquid oxygen..”

Children starve and die while we make these horrors? I lose hope for mankind.

The Future will be Padded

This is the inaugural posting of GeekSpeak, a monthly snapshot of web technologies (existing and brand new) as well as advice on how they can benefit you as a netizen.

This month I’ll be discussing the new Apple iPad and my thoughts on it.

When I was growing up information came in only a few channels: word of mouth, print and broadcast (tv and radio). The “information superhighway” wasn’t even a rude trail in the forest yet.

By the time I graduated from college the internet had appeared along with some new information channels: websites, e-mail and chat rooms. Computers went from being rare curiosities to commonplace fixtures.

With the rise of the internet came the decline of newspapers and magazines, rudely shoved aside by news sites and a wave of web logs (blogs). Consumers of this “new media” insist on up-to-the-second information and use specialized monitoring programs (feed readers and aggregators) to watch scores of sites for any tidbits that might appear.

For content-hungry consumers the smartphone isn’t quite enough (too slow, too small) and a laptop is too much (too bulky, too heavy). Apple’s “Air” portable sought to address those issues with an ultra slim design and improved battery life but was just slightly wide of the mark. Users wanted something compact, fast enough for general use and light enough to take everywhere – and I mean everywhere – remember the shower radio?

Enter the iPad.

A tool for web browsing, email, video and data entry, the iPad is a LCD touchscreen with a proprietary Apple chip driving it. The iPad eschews ungainly hard disk drives, using compact chip-based “flash RAM” instead. The all-solid-state storage has some excellent advantages: size, higher efficiency (i.e. longer device battery life), superior durability (no head crashes) and fast read/write speed. The primary drawback is price – roughly 10x the price of hard disk storage – so the advantages come with a hefty price tag.

However, once past the wallet-clubbing troll you’re over the digital bridge into a world where all the major newspapers are literally at your fingertips. A tap opens a story, a pinch-open gesture enlarges and a hand-swipe pans or scrolls. Video and music are simple and fun. You can video conference with a friend while you’re riding the bus to work thanks to the device’s 4G network connection. In short, it’s lighter than a laptop, nearly as fast (faster in some cases) and big enough to read like a folded-up newspaper – and no ink stains!

Oh, did I mention e-books?

Apple’s online store lets users download music, e-books and video effortlessly. Hear of a great new novel on a website? A few taps, pinches and swipes and you’ve got it in your hand. Love the book? Drop the author a kudo via e-mail. Did I mention you’re still on the bus? Reach your destination, drop the iPad into your briefcase or messenger bag and it will sleep (power save) on its own, ready to jump back to  work when you pull it out at coffee time or lunch.

We may just be seeing the beginning of the end for paper-based content.

My only question is: where’s all the content for this brave new world coming from?

We’ll talk about that next time when I discuss blogging software and content management systems.

Till then, keep geekin!

Others declare me a guru

This is truly funny and sweet. Just recently someone using a pseudonymous sockpuppet to mock me said I was a self-proclaimed guru. It was a direct slam against the text on my about page. I ignored it because it was clear they simply didn’t read the whole page.

Then, today, one of my students and a local journalist, Bob Wells writes an article about two other WordPress experts and I!

WordPress gurus speak

Thanks Bob! You da man.

Go give the Boulder Reporter a lookee see!