Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I just learned about Zile, which is a mini-Emacs.  It has most of the editing functionality (including multiple buffers) and works great as an editor to install on servers when you don't want to put full GNU Emacs on there.

I'm still not sure what is missing, but basically I think nearly everything is missing except basic file editing.  For example, not Text editing modes (e.g., HTML, Python) are not there.

Also, a key combination I use frequently to scroll down a page I'm reading, C-u C-v, which by default scrolls down four lines, in Zile will page down four times.  As a slight consolation, C-l will still center the line the cursor is on.

Still, for me as a 22-year Emacs user, this makes a perfect replacement for vi when you need to edit /etc/hosts or quick, little file edits like that.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving! (WKRP Turkeys Away)

WKRP Turkeys Away!   (You can advance to about the 15-minute mark if you want).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Figuring Out Chrome OS

It's interesting and amusing to read all of the press about Chrome OS as the computing world tries to interpret the meaning of this new OS.  A lot of the discussion seems a little misplaced to me.

Here's a thought that occurred to me this week.  Instead of thinking of this as a new OS, think of it as the Chrome browser without the OS!  It's the answer to this question:  If all I use on my computer is the browser, why do I need the rest of the stuff?

Indeed, why fool around with Linux, Mac OS or, heaven help us, Windows, if you only need a browser?

So Chrome OS is an attempt to get rid of most of the OS, not really create a new one.

Now, along the way, it does turn out there are some things you might want to do.  They include getting pictures off of your camera to upload and maybe printing a map from Google Maps.  So, okay, you need some bits of an OS there.  Thus, that's the hard part the Chrome OS project is currently working on.

My experience of installing or re-installing an OS goes something like this.  Install the OS.  Get security updates.  Make sure it has Chrome and Firefox.  Make sure it has Flash and that YouTube works!  That's it. The user(s) sit down and run the browser, go to Facebook and YouTube.  Occasionally they'll use Google or Gmail.  Maybe even Yahoo mail.  Done.

The most important thing that I don't think a browser-based computer would offer me right now is the key tool I use for programming:  A decent terminal.  I usually use xterm or the Mac OS Terminal program (I believe it's a descendant of the NeXT Terminal).  If a terminal runs in a browser, it has to handle SSH and fast typing.  Javascript solutions I've tried weren't adequate.  But, things are getting much faster.

Avast! You Virus!

A family member called with some version of a Vundo trojan last night.  I remembered a recent conversation with John Auty where he was talking about how excellent Avast was at handling that type of malware, especially with it's pre-boot checking.  (It reminds me of Dr. Solomon from the old days, and the Magic Bullet!).  I thumbed back through his blog posts and found where John wrote about Avast (Part 1 and Part 2).

Avast installed with no trouble (the malware was preventing AVG from installing) and, on reboot, it fixed the problem!

I've been using AVG for a while but I may have to give Avast a spin the next time I re-install or install Windows.  

The home version is free.  Recommended!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

This Is

This is is clever, funny, and worth a look.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Leonid Meteor Shower

The Leonid meteor shower will peak tonight, Monday night, meaning early tomorrow morning, Tuesday morning, around 4:00 EST.

The History of the Internet in a Nutshell

Cameron Chapman summarizes the History of the Internet in a Nutshell.  Not bad.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Timbuk2 Bag

I recently came into possession of this Commuter Bag from Timbuk2.  (Actually I think mine is the version just before this one, the laptop compartment doesn't zip all the way open like that).  It's very impressive but I also like my current Targus bag!  I seem to be blessed lately with solutions to problems that I don't have.

The Timbuk2 is notably more comfortable, the shoulder strap is the nicest I've seen on anything,  and the corduroy inside of the laptop section is nice (and functionally protective).  The new anti-TSA (hassle), open out section sounds really nice but mine doesn't have that feature.

The Timbuk2 shoulder strip has a big pad and the strap slides through it easily and freely, making adjustments very simple to do.  The strap-length adjustment (on one side) has a little fold-out lock with an attached pull string, making that easy to do, also.

But I still like the little CD case the Targus has along with the extra divider in the “paper” section, i.e., the place where I stuff papers.*  I also like the access pocket on the front and the similar pocket in the back.  I don't think the Timbuk2 has any pockets on the outside other than the water-bottle nets.  That is, unless you count the laptop section which unzips without having to open the big messenger-bag flap.

I'll probably end up using them both somehow, though I'm not sure how yet.

Anyway, if you are looking for a laptop bag, I highly recommend both of these.

* I know I said I'm paperless.  Typically I stuff legal pads**, magazines or something like that in there.

** Okay, fine.  Legal pads are paper, too.  But sometimes you just need something to write on.  I don't have to keep the paper!

Colorful Web Sites

Nice-looking web sites are something I always hope for and rarely encounter.  I'll repost this interesting post for what it's worth, though most of these are retina-melting, IMHO.  That said, here are some that I do like.


Okay:    This approach to handling what happens when users (incorrectly!) make their browser window too wide is brilliant!  (I think some other sites here do the same thing).

Posting from iGoogle

So I added the Blogger gadget to iGoogle and this is posted from there. Very convenient.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Interview with Mike Hood

I thought I had posted this before but I can't find it, so here it is now.

This is an excellent interview with Mike Hood on David Levy's show, Let's Talk Stars from 2005.

Some of you know that Mike was my mentor in the planetarium world.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Astronomical Seeing Demonstration

This is actually a demonstration of video filtering software, but it also serves as an excellent demonstration of seeing effects when viewing the moon.

Podcast Interview on Mt. Wilson and the Station Fire

Here's a podcast, via Sky and Telescope, of an interview with Hal McAlister on Mt. Wilson and the fire.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

LaTeX Equations Via Google Chart

This blog post by Ryan Moulton shows how to embed LaTeX equation images using the Google Chart API.

Hey!  It works!

Facebook Username

Hm, so to create a username for your Facebook account, you go to, and apparently you need to let them send a code via SMS to your cell phone.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Ten Apps for Android

This is a pretty good list of Android apps in this article by JR Raphael in PC World.

(And I post this in spite of my annoyance with article titles that begin with an integer!)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Out of Memory

Alas, when I run Twhirl and a few Chrome tabs, 392 MB is no longer enough memory on my main desktop, Windows XP Dell.  It looks like I need at least 512 MB to prevent excessive paging, and I may go ahead and up it to 1-GB!

Best Use for Facebook

The best use for Facebook:  Finding people with whom you can share memories from 30 years ago, when you can't remember what you did yesterday or what you were planning to do five minutes from now.

Based on a message from Da. Grimsley.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Google Wave

I've been using Wave for a while and I'm late in summarizing some of my thoughts.  Here's a quick shot stolen from a message I wrote to a friend.

The best source of inside info on Wave is who is the project manager and one of the original creators. He tweets pretty from time to time about what's going on.

I'll try to summarize my wave story quickly! 8-)

1. I already had strong opinions about email (and more here), that it scales horribly, that corp communication should be on a BBS-style forum and topic system and *not* email, with one copy of each message in a closed system.

2. So, from the above perspective, Wave got this perfectly right on the back end. I found that very exciting.

3. The front end is innovative, clever and fascinating.

4. The user interface is highly interactive which is at least entertaining but I worry about it's scalability and performance demands.

5. Wave lets you move smoothly and effortlessly between editing a shared document, asynchronous email-like communication, and real-time live chat, even in the same wave. Also throw in update-like blogging. I've kept an update wave, which is like a blog, going on a particular thing I'm working on for a while. Commenting, going back and making changes, inserting images, links and such, are all natural and built-in.

6. It's weird when you are typing a message, like you would email, and someone pops in and starts typing a response while you are still typing. At that point it becomes a spontaneous, real-time conversation. This is fun, entertaining, and slightly disturbing at first, but I think highly conducive to better and more immediate communication.

7. My big epiphany is that you can use public tags like a forum topic or email list. Tag a mesasge with your group name, or project or some such, in order to “post”  it to that group. Creating a saved search for that tag, giving the search a name and a colored label, makes all of those waves easy to see and find. The fact that a wave can have multiple tags makes this even more useful.

8. Federation breaks my idea of a closed system, but they seem to have done it extremely well so that boundaries, privacy and security are all properly honored. This is all just starting to be tested, though.

More to come….