Archive for February, 2004

Greasing the Weasel

Comcast has been recently been bragging in their advertising that they have “doubled” the speed of Comcast Hi-speed Internet service. Of course, what they have really done is increased the speed your modem is allowed to work at. Since all cable users on a local trunk share a connection, cable modems have “governors” in them to make sure no one takes too big a slice of the bandwidth pie.

I don’t know if the recent increase indicates that they’ve improved their equipment, that they overestimated the load such speeds would put on their pipe, or if they just aren’t selling enough broadband, but I do know I like it. I just finished downloading all 169 Megs of OpenOffice 1.0.3 for Mac OS X (w/X11) in 7:47. Average speed was around 370K per second. Faster than a greased weasel.

Uh, I’m… I’m not quite dead, sir.

Having been a week since my last blog entry, I thought I’d allay any fears (hopes?) of my demise. Not quite dead, just far too busy. I’ll try to do better next week.

Serendipity check: While thinking of a title for this post (you’ve probably noticed that I fancy myself clever in that department), I considered the old Mark Twain saw “Rumours of my death have been greatly exagerated”. I rejected it for two reasons. First, it’s overused. Second, it seems like I looked up the text for that once before, and it’s not exactly what everyone thinks. Instead I thought of the above quote from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. While Googling to check the exact wording, I stumbled across the (self-proclaimed) world’s most accurate script, a scene-by-scene script of the movie. Much of the dialog is linked to soundbites of the actual dialog. How cool is that? (The quote itself is from scene 15)

The only downside is that all of the dialog is in Real Audio format. Guess it’s time to go download that spyware free Real Audio distro from the BBC.

Time Wasted

Things have been quiet here for several days, because my time has been tight. I’ve had alot going on offline; online I’ve been working on a website design concept. Having a good photograph at my disposal, I decided to go for Eric Meyer’s complexspiral effect.

If you are using Internet Explorer, don’t bother clicking that link until you’ve downloaded a real browser (like, say, Firefox). Because IE doesn’t correctly support CSS1 (specifically, background-attachment:fixed), this fantastic effect doesn’t work. Unfortunately, the site I’m doing this design for needs to work with IE. Somehow, I had forgotten that IE doesn’t support this effect, and so I’ve spent around 6 hours over the last couple of days putting together a layout based on this effect.

Back to the drawing board.

The View from Afar

My birthday present from my wife arrived today (it was backordered)… an Orion Skyquest XT10 Dobsonian Telescope. This is a 10″ Newtonian Reflector (primary optical element is a parabolic mirror) mounted on a Dobsonian-style alt-azimuth mounting.

I’ve been an astronomy buff ever since I was a kid. We used to take family vacations to an island off the coast of Maine, where my father grew up. The view of the night sky on a clear summer’s night was breathtaking. Far from the light polution of the cities and suburbia, the sky was awash with stars. On some nights the Milky Way was so bright that it could be mistaken for a cloud at first. Ever one to need to master my environment through knowledge, I bought books on astronomy and began to learn my way around the night sky.

Last summer, we had a real family vacation… my parents, my brother and his fiance, and my family all rented a house on the island for a couple of weeks. As always, the wonderfully clear night sky rekindled my interest in astronomy. In addition to picking up a couple of new books, I picked up a magazine, and learned about the upcoming (at the time) Mars’ opposition in August, which would be the closest Mars and Earth had been to each other in around 30,000 years. After we returned from vacation, I continued to spend time outsite at night, albeit with alot of light polution. I continued to improve my knowledge of the constellations, and tracked Mars’ progress as it grew in brightness each night. Adding to my interest was my son, who at 8 years old is intensely curious and loves to learn about the planets and stars. Teaching him is as much fun as learning myself.

Since that time, my interest has continued. Over the past few months, first Saturn, then Venus, and now Jupiter have come onto the nightly scene along with Mars, which is still visible although much fainter than it was last August. Through it all I’ve lamented my lack of telescope. I have a smaller telescope my parents gave me years ago, but the eyepieces are lost. Every time I considered buying new eyepieces, I ended up contemplating a larger scope instead. It’s finally here, and it’s even bigger than I expected. Of course, tonight was cloudy, but not a total wash. The clouds were mostly high, thin cirrus clouds, so some celestial citizens were visible, if a bit hazy. I got a nice view of Jupiter, including four of the moons, and some visibility of the darker cloud bands. I spent alot of time tryng to see Saturn (I still need to better align my finder scope in daylight). When I finally found it, I giggled like a madman. When I increased the magnification a bit (100x), I was stunned. Incredible. I called everyone outside.

My first supplemental purchase will be a Barlow lens, a device that increases the magnification of any eyepiece. While magnification is not the most important feature of a scope (light gathering power is), for planetary viewing, higher magnifications are very useful. After seeing Jupiter’s clouds and Saturn’s rings at 100x, I’m reallying looking forward to a closer look. Common Barlow options include 2x, 2.5x, and 3x; any of these will make a nice improvement to my views of the planets.

Eventually, I’d like to start a second blog dedicated to astronomy. I’ve tinkered with it a bit locally on my Powerbook, and I have some ideas for how I’d like to set it up. However, I have a couple of projects I need to deal with first. For now, I have a lot of sky to explore.

CSS Development, Redefined

One of the taglines currently being used by the Mozilla Firefox project is “Web Browsing Redefined.” Today I stumbled onto a Firefox extension which redefines CSS development. Editcss allows you to edit the CSS for a web page in real time, and see the results rendered in real time. It’s a simple concept, but an absolutely amazing experience to use it for the first time. I can’t wait until my next redesign or side project to really put this thing through its paces.

The editing pane shows up in the sidebar, the same place the history window appears. This turns out to be a good orientation, since most CSS files are long lists of short rules. The extension combines mulitple CSS files in the order they are processed, commenting each section with its origin (embedded, link, include). After editing is complete, you can save the final CSS to a file.