A Daily Diatribe by a Pompous Git

Who is that fat bastard? A Sturm's Eye View, Guaranteed Free of Harmful, or Potentially Harmful Chemicals -- but Watch Out for the Ideas! Some of them are Contagious! 

A journal of sorts to record Jonathan Sturm's (and others') thoughts and observations on things worth thinking about. Feedback welcome, but be aware that unless you prominently say you want your communication kept private, I may publish it.

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Monday 13 January 2003

Two days of hot northerly winds starting today increases the likelihood of the February Dragon (bushfire) arriving early. Such a contrast to last year's coldest summer on record! This will be the first year for a couple of years that we will have our own tomatoes -- yum! Rouge de Marmande may not look the greatest, but they taste better than any other tomato I have ever eaten.

-oOo-

Some People Just Don't Get It!

Fellow Daynoter Dave Farquhar writes:

I was talking with two people whom I expected would be among the last to even consider dropping their long-standing practice of creating their daily writings with FrontPage and moving to a CMS approach. (Saying their names would be name dropping and it's irrelevant.) Full post.

There's no prize for guessing that one of those two is The Git! Dave, like many in the IT industry, has a passionate hatred for Microsoft. Not without some justification.

Let's suppose that you discovered that the owner of the company that manufactured your motor car was inspired to have millions of people slaughtered like so many cattle in a slaughterhouse. That he was a xenophobic maniac, as well as inspired to make the motor car affordable for everybody (except Roman Catholics, Negroes and Jews). Yes, that's right -- Henry Ford:

Henry Ford, who was so impressed by the efficient way meat packers killed animals in Chicago, made his own special contribution to the slaughter of people in Europe. Not only did he develop the assembly-line method the Germans used to kill Jews, but he launched a vicious anti-Semitic campaign that helped the Holocaust happen.

The campaign began on May 22, 1920, when Ford's weekly newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, suddenly changed its format and started attacking Jews. At the time the paper had a circulation of about 300,000 and was distributed nationally by Ford automobile dealers. At the time nativism and prejudice were very much part of the national climate, with intense racism and anti-Semitism on the rise and the nation preparing to adopt a national origins quota system to stem the admission of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe. The anti-Semitism evident in 1915 with the lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish businessman in Atlanta, was increasing with the rapid spread of the anti-black, anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic message of the Ku Klux Klan, which by 1924 had a national membership of more than four million. Full story.

Are you inspired to immediately get rid of your motor car? Like The Git you know it's all part of history and cutting off your nose to spite your face is not particularly relevant to your needs. Just as owners of motor cars manufactured on assembly lines are more concerned with the utility of their vehicles, The Git is more concerned with the utility of his computer software. If anything, The Git has less brand-loyalty than the Apple and Lunix proselytes who attempt to convince him that Microsoft are The Evil Empire sapping his manhood and presumably raping dead babies or some such nonsense.

The Git uses FrontPage because it works well enough. It has plenty of shortcomings, like the lack of AutoCorrect, a particularly stupid omission, but none of the other HTML editors The Git has tried have AutoCorrect either. Many alternatives to FrontPage lack on-the-fly spell checking that is such a boon to productivity. Most insist on the use of the bold and italic tags instead of the preferred emphasis and strong tags because the writers of those editors either don't give a fuck about sight-impaired readers, or they couldn't be bothered learning about their needs. Sure, The Git could search and replace those tags, but why should he have to? Why should he take one step forwards and two steps back?

Does the Git's preference for using Adobe PageMaker and a Postscript printer mean that he endorses Adobe's shameful persecution of Sklyarov? Does his preference for Corel PhotoPaint over Adobe PhotoShop, or FileMaker Pro over Microsoft Access have any deep political, social or, religious significance? About as much as the Holocaust had to do with your choice to own a motor car!

-oOo-

^Z writes:

When you keep a journal, you get to enjoy everything three times:

To which The Git would add that the enjoyment of reading it later can be repeated many times. This time last year, we went to see Lord of the Rings and were a week away from moving into our House of Steel.

Thought for the day:

Is it possible that an infinite God created this world simply to be the dwelling place of slaves and serfs? Simply for the purpose of raising orthodox Christians? That he did a few miracles to astonish them? That all the evils of life are simply his punishments, and that he is finally going to turn heaven into a kind of religious museum filled with Baptist barnacles, petrified Presbyterians, and Methodist mummies?

Robert Ingersoll

Current Listening:

Crowded House -- The Best of Crowded House


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Tuesday 14 January 2003

My  Friend Steve -- The Friendly Snail

The Git's friend Steve is "legally" blind. That means he is entitled to all of the perks of  a completely blind person: seeing-eye dog, permanent pension so he doesn't need to work, assistance with purchase of special equipment to ease the burden of being severely disabled. Except Steve refuses most of that assistance. Not all of it, The Git hastens to add; he's far from stupid! Steve rejects outright the term "cripple" and does things his way.

Steve was not always blind. When he and The Git first met, Steve was a bold young motor-bike rider who shared a passion for the same sort of music as The Git. We also loved drinking, movies, drinking and often enough, we went to see  the better films more than once. Our passion for film was such that along with our friends Stuart and Jane, we started The Hobart Film-makers' Co-operative. The Git's motive was a passion for helping his talented friends succeed in making film. Unlike mainland Australia, there was no place to hire cameras, sound gear, editing suites and so forth. We thought perhaps that with sufficient numbers, a co-operative might be able to afford such things.

Sydney already had a film-makers co-op, so we enlisted the able assistance of the likes of Peter Weir, Bruce Beresford and others. They were far from the household names they are today and looked as ill-dressed as we did. The Australian film industry had yet to make its resurgence. "Resurgence?" I hear you ask. Didn't you know that the world's first feature film, The Bible, was an Australian production? But it's on with the story. Steve applied for a Commonwealth Film Grant to make a film and was successful -- the first Tasmanian to obtain such a grant.

Unfortunately for Steve, his father had bequeathed him not just the genes for film-making genius, but also those that rapidly sent him blind in his mid-twenties. Steve can see a little out of the corners of his eyes. Hold a page of a newspaper up alongside the outside corner of an eye and read the headlines. That's what Steve can do. It's not much of a substitute for seeing out of the centre of your eyes, but based on those few clues from the signals that get processed from the edges, Steve achieves an awful lot. No, you can't make a film when you have so little vision. But for those genes, it might have been Steve making Dead Poets Society, or Lord of the Rings even. Maybe he would have been a lesser light, but you would have heard of him, of that The Git is certain.

For a short while, Steve became worryingly depressed -- almost, but not quite, suicidal. Then one day he decided to attend the local university. As well as earning a degree, he was active on the Student Representative Council. Following university, he obtained a job with the government, working on the telephone and making amendments to the records on a computer terminal. We believe that the 17" monitor they provided him when he started was the first 17" computer monitor in Tasmania.

Very few people who know Steve outside of his immediate department at work and small circle of friends know that he is blind. He walks the mile, or two across the city to and from work most days, only taking a cab when the after effects of listening to a band into the small hours the night before takes its toll. He is a talented cook, though the more fastidious of his diners might quail at the thought of him using a finger to detect the level of liquid in the pot. Occasionally, there are accidents with the extremely sharp Solingen steel chef's knives he favours. Occasionally there are accidents at the music venues he attends. Ever notice how such places seem inextricably associated with steep and narrow stairs? But Steve is a survivor.

Steve has very few friends. Most people find his way of coping with his life -- heavy drinking -- uncomfortable. He cannot read expressions on people's faces, so he has no real idea when he is annoying them. It's funny how people can lie with their words and simultaneously tell the truth with their bodies. Not so funny for Steve. Before The Git finishes this brief sketch of Steve The Friendly Snail, he must apologise for having not a clue who came up with The Friendly Snail  sobriquet, but it fits.

Next week we are going to "see" one of our all time favourite bands -- Chain -- at The Republic Bar and Café. Beforehand, we will eat there -- the food is really very good and cheaper than most restaurants. Steve won't get to see the look of disgust on the pretty young waitresses faces when he runs his fingers lightly across the food on his plate so that he stands a fair chance of dealing with what is invisible to him. Briefly, The Git will be annoyed by their ignorance, but we won't let any of that interfere with our enjoyment of our friends' playing the best Australian blues.

-oOo-

My paean to Steve might be construed as the reason for The Git's interest in making web pages that are accessible to the visually impaired. You'd be wrong. The Git is a selfish person and has his own interests very much to the fore. You see, The Git expects to become blind himself in the fullness of time. His father went blind and the condition that caused it is highly heritable. The precursor signs are there and once a year The Git has special tests to check on the progress of the disease. It's very difficult at times to screw up the courage and make the appointment. The optometrist says that we can delay the onset of the blindness with drugs, but that it's a mistake to commence the drugs earlier than necessary. Ominous... What are the side-effects of those drugs?

Mark Pilgrim wrote Selfish Reasons for Accessible Web Authoring and someone added another -- it conserves bandwidth:

In his 26 April 1999 column on the AWARE Center, CNET builder.com's "Master Builder" Dan Shafer wrote:

As I've pointed out, there are strong, selfish advantages to be gained by making your site accessible; but, not all of your efforts apply only to those who visit your site and who happen to have a disability.

This led to a discussion on the W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative interest group mailing list, in which Bruce Bailey challenged us to list as many "selfish" reasons to produce an accessible web site. Never one to turn down a tossed gauntlet, this page is presented as a list of purely greedy, self-serving, un-altruistic motives for making your page widely accessible.

-oOo-

Mr Anonymous [actually, Brian Bilbrey as revealed by him] wrote:

However, this is my place. Since I'm not a regulated source (that means the greenie-weenies and politically correct crowd can't get in my shorts, yet!!), I really can do anything I want. Why should me doing what I want in my place be regarded as anything BUT that? It's not to do with you, or Joe that can't see, or Betty with a hearing problem -- I do this for me.

For a commerce site, it's a business decision. If what they do brings in 15% more dollars from the crowd that is fully sighted and browser compliant, vs. a less visually stimulating but accessible site that (A) brings in less money and (B) costs more money to construct because you're trying to please two masters, then their decision is "simple" too. Maybe not pleasant or nice, but I happen to believe that a person can do what they like, and live with the consequences of their choices.

The Git never thought he'd live to see the day he was referred to as a greenie-weenie, or politically correct! He certainly intends to make the most of DOMAI before it's too late :-)

-oOo-

From a different Mr Anonymous:

"The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect." -- Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web.

Thought for the day:

I heard the sound of voices singing through the church door and thought how nice it would be to be able to join in. But I knew they wouldn't want me and anyway, I can't give up thinking.

Steve The Friendly Snail

Current Listening:

Pearls Before Swine -- These Things Too


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Wednesday 15 January 2003

From Keri Beland:

"...if I really didn't care to go to the effort to make my site accessible, then why should it be my problem?"

I have to agree with you, Mr. Git. <g> My step mother Marlaina Lieberg, is blind and is currently working with the US government (through her own business Traico.com) making computer accessible for everyone. The above statement (at least to me) shows that Mr. Bilbery is truly a closed minded person. I'm no longer in contact with my step-mother, Marlaina, but that doesn't mean that I don't try to make my sites somewhat accessible (this current one is not really great for the readers as it's more graphic). If I'm designing sites for other folks you better believe I go by the rules she set for me so that the readers can do their jobs without frustrating the users.

-- Keri M. Beland keri at hiddenstar.net 
http://www.hiddenstar.net

Thanks Keri

It's not as though I was taking Mr Bilbrey to task for making his website inaccessible, rather the opposite -- it's W3C compliant. He had selectively misquoted a part of one of my emails to the [Daynotes] backchannel and I responded, to clarify what my original post actually was about. I find Mr Bilbrey's persistent hostility toward me quite bewildering and unnecessary, so I have removed myself from the Daynotes Gang [org] and backchannel mailing list.

Even though your website entry-point is too graphical to qualify very highly for accessibility by those who measure such things, it makes a fair enough fist of it -- I find the text in the graphics legible and there is ALT text to describe the graphics. The text responds to the text-size command. This seems to me so simply implemented that I find hostility towards the expectation of web designers doing so stupefying. [Note that expectation is not the same as demand].

I too aspire to do more regarding my website accessibility and will do so in the fullness of time. It is a lot wider of a topic than Mr Bilbrey restricted his remarks to. It appears that I can address the issue of usability for the disabled simultaneously with the wider issue of finding items of interest that are currently akin to needles in a very large haystack. No doubt my fumblings in that direction will be passed on to you directly by that wonderful husband of yours [he hosts this website], even if you do not follow the adventure on my pages.

-oOo-

Aesthetic versus Purpose Shopping

Mr Bilbrey's remark yesterday stimulated The Git's thinking parts, not unusual when someone disagrees with him. As The Git has found time and again, issues that are perceived as either/or, are anything but. Consider the example of e-commerce. While web-page designers might like to perceive themselves as the most important part of the business, they are not its primary purpose. The primary purpose should be profit for the business

"What then makes profit?" The Git asks rhetorically and to which he replies: "Bums on seats as we used to say in the entertainment industry". In a word, paying clients. Let's look at some of the differences between an e-commerce business and for example The Republic Bar and Café. First, just about everyone at The Republic will be paying for the privilege by purchasing drinks. When there's a chance that a significant number might be there because of the entertainment on offer, like Chain, then Tony charges $A10 to get in.

Any e-commerce site would kill to make the profit per visitor that Tony makes. The problem with the Internet is persuading sufficient owners of bums to visit and having visited, actually sit down, that is become a paying customer. In return for far less profit per customer, the lure of e-commerce is many, many more customers, potential and real.

So, back to The Republic Bar and Café. As you may have gathered, The Git is very fond of visiting The Republic, which is why he chose it as his example :-) Tony has competition from other bars in the fair city of Hobart, so he differentiates his business in a variety of ways. One, obviously, is that he hires classy acts like Chain from time-to-time, as well as providing a venue for local musicians and other performers. Mostly, he sells sufficient drinks to cover the cost of the lesser artists, so there's no cover charge. Just in case, he also provides excellent, restaurant-quality food at around 2/3 the restaurant price. You don't get the fancy expensive-to-launder table-cloths, or other refinements of a fancy restaurant, but that's fine if all you have in mind is a great night out, getting pissed [drunk] and listening to music (or poetry, or humour).

The e-commerce site also needs to differentiate itself from its rivals to garner more customers. The problem is, most of them aren't. What we see is web-site designers competing with each other. This is not the same thing as e-commerce businesses competing with each other for customers. To make this clearer, let's shift our focus from the business to the customer. Possibly, this is where The Git should have started this piece, but then he wouldn't have had the opportunity to visit The Republic so many times in one story.

When The Git goes shopping, he has usually done some preliminary research on what his needs are. For an example of this, here's a piece he wrote about the purchase of new music reproduction equipment in October 2000. Shopping for The Git is a utilitarian process, better gotten over with as quickly as possible. But that kind of shopping is The Git's and it would be a mistake to believe that it's the only kind. Some shoppers, most notably women, shop for aesthetic pleasure, for lack of a better term. They often refer to it as "therapeutic shopping". The Git finds nothing at all therapeutic, or aesthetic in shopping and completely fails to understand it. He presumes that therapeutic shoppers find his approach similarly bewildering.

Most e-commerce sites appear to be designed with only the aesthetic shopper in mind. One is presented with lots of graphics depicting the goods, presumably as some sort of substitute for being able to fondle them. The Git's guessing here -- he doesn't often fondle the goods he's about to buy. If he were purchasing the services of a sex-worker, he'd make an exception, but he has been led to believe that sex-workers require up-front payment before fondling the goods. So it goes... When The Git purchased a hundred music CDs from CD-Now, the ordering of each one was slowed down by the website presenting him with a picture of each CD cover. The page load time would have been much quicker if that graphic wasn't there. The Git didn't need to see those covers -- he had a list of albums he wanted to purchase. 

Presumably, CD-Now paid good money for those graphics to arrive at the Git's computer screen. The Git paid for his Internet access by the megabyte at the time, so he paid (an admittedly small sum) to see them. The payments in both instances was a complete waste of money for both of us! Not to mention clogging the Internet pipes. It seems to The Git that a simple text label to optionally view the CD cover would make more sense. What makes even less sense, is that this unnecessary graphic traffic is mostly generated by people who aren't even paying customers!

Some websites The Git has visited have presented a Flash image at "the front door" as a sort of barrier to entry. Mostly, he remains clueless as to what was on offer, because he chooses not to have Flash installed on his computer. Other sites present image-maps. The better ones provide text labels, so that The Git doesn't have to wait for his slow connection to load the pictures before he can make progress to where he wants to go inside the website. All too often, the designer expects the prospective client to wait for the download to complete and The Git is certain he is not the only one who goes elsewhere rather than wait. Other sites demand that one has JavaScript capability and The Git notes that some 13% of this website's visitors do not have JavaScript.

You will have noted that The Git has not mentioned visual disability so far in this story. Yet if these websites were designed with that in mind, they would simultaneously be far more useable for people without disability. Furthermore, they would need to spend far less on useless graphic traffic if that were optional instead of mandatory. While some of these design nightmares can be construed as "fuck off if you are blind", they also send a not dissimilar message to many other prospective customers. Hint: having purchased from CD-Now what was unavailable locally, The Git has made all of his subsequent purchases from Aeroplane Records where there is no such impediment to purchasing.

Mr Bilbrey and others would have this debate about accessibility as only being about freedom to do what one wills. The Git would go further perhaps than Mr Bilbrey and say that Tony at The Republic Bar and Café should have the freedom to bar entry to Aborigines, for example, from his business. That doesn't mean that The Git believes he should. And The Git knows Tony well enough that he's not so brain-dead to ever even contemplate doing so. Not only would that eliminate Aboriginal bums on seats, it would eliminate their friends' and sympathisers' bums as well -- The Git included! The Git will argue passionately for people's freedom to do what they will, providing it doesn't directly harm others, but he will also argue passionately in favour of common-sense and morality.

Mr Bilbrey and his ilk seem unable to see their passionately anti-Microsoft attitude as contradicting their shrill demand for the freedom of website designers to design for only a fraction of the potential audience, as if The Git ever even hinted that they not have that freedom. Microsoft, it seems to The Git, is treating its customers as The Enemy and that is entirely sufficient to ensure the ultimate downfall of the company. Websites that treat the needs of a significant fraction of their visitors as irrelevant, in a practical sense differ very little from Microsoft. They are, if they are businesses, ripe for conquest by entrepreneurs who place their focus where it belongs -- on the customers' needs, regardless of skin colour, creed, screen resolution, or any other prejudicial criteria.

-oOo-

Mission improbable: finding firms honest enough to admit customers come second

By Sherrill Nixon, Workplace Reporter January 14 2003

Anyone who has spent more than five minutes listening to music broken only by "your call is valuable" messages knows it - mission statements that boast of customer service do not reflect reality.

What is even more disconcerting is that most managers know it, too, according to an international study by a New Zealand academic.

Three out of five bosses admit that the customer-service-is-a-priority line in their mission statements is mere propaganda. More truthful statements would espouse such values as "meeting expense budgets", "getting good returns on investment" or simply "making profits", they say.

...

Dr Wright said there were four reasons for less-than-truthful mission statements - the fact they are mere PR statements in some cases, companies not knowing or finding out what customers want, a lack of resources and inappropriate performance appraisal systems.

He found that nearly one third of the companies made no attempt to find out if their customers were happy unless sales were falling, while every manager reported inadequate resources, particularly in skilled staff or IT systems.

Most bosses also had no personal incentive to boost customer satisfaction because it was taken into account in less than one third of their performance appraisals.

Dr Wright said mission statements, on which some companies spent millions of dollars developing and promoting, could be useful in motivating staff if they honestly set out a company's objectives.

"If you get a mission that says customer service [is our focus] but at the same time you are cutting back on staff training and the number of staff you have got, then you are giving staff conflicting messages," he said.

Full story

-oOo-

The Git recently made a new friend, Dennis. He's the one who lent The Git his first Terry Pratchett novel. Yesterday, Dennis made up for adding to The git's distractions somewhat. He needs an extra hard disk in his slightly antique computer and The Git has a spare 2GB drive gathering dust. Denis is even shorter of cash than The Git, so I offered him the option of trade. His down-payment consisted of five vinyl LPs: Neil Young, Harry Nilsson, Australian Crawl, Jimmy Buffet and Van Morrison, and a Jimmy Little EP. All in reasonable condition.

Thought for the day:

My land is bare of chattering folk; 
the clouds are low along the ridges, 
and sweet's the air with curly smoke, 
from all my burning bridges

Dorothy Parker

Current Listening:

Van Morrison -- Wavelength


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Thursday 16 January 2003

From my InBox:

Mr Git

Your comparison between Airplane Records and CD-Now is grossly unfair and inaccurate. What's more, Airplane Records not only don't sell records online, their website violates the guidelines you say should be compulsory.

[Mostly deleted]

The Git didn't compare Aeroplane (note the spelling) Records with CD-Now. He wrote: "The Git has made all of his subsequent purchases from Aeroplane Records where there is no such impediment to purchasing." He did this by practising the almost forgotten art of walking down the steps at 51 Victoria Street, Hobart, peering briefly into the Adult Bookstore to the right, but turning left when he noticed no obvious sign of interesting prurient activity through the door. Once inside Lin Stanton's shop, he asks Lin about several recordings that he currently seeks and Lin either says, "Yes, I've got exactly what you want," and gets what the Git seeks, or says, "No, I'm sorry, but do you like NameOfSimilarBand?" Sometimes The Git does, sometimes not. The Git then peruses the likeliest spots to find something that it has not occurred to him to ask about.

Actually, Aeroplane Records do sell records on-line, but mostly their sales are one-off copies, not one of several thousands in stock. This is a common characteristic of the second-hand business. The two businesses are not directly comparable. You are correct that the website sucks, but The Git has yet to discuss this with Lin. My bad! But when The Git is at Aeroplane Records, he finds it difficult to discuss anything but music, a passion he shares with Lin Stanton whose knowledge is awesome.

Note that the record industry has deleted almost every title of interest to The Git from the back catalogue in the interests of "efficiency" and being able to tell lies about the cause of the subsequent decline in record sales.

Addendum 19 January 2003. And for the record, The Git has never said that anything should be compulsory -- other than dying.

A Hypothetical Online Music Store

Consider the home page for a hypothetical rival to CD-Now. It has two text links. One says: "I want to enjoy an unparalleled 'user experience' and maybe, just maybe, buy something at the end of it". The other text link says: "I just want to buy something". Perhaps at the end of making your purchase using the second link, the website would generate a message saying: "Thank you for conserving our bandwidth. As a thank-you, please choose a free title from the following list of CDs to include with your order. Alternatively, you can have $X credited towards your next purchase from us".

Where would you rather shop? CD-Now that provides only "an unparalleled user experience", or one that also includes an efficient way to shop? The Git remembers when supermarkets required every shopper to stand in the same queues at the checkout regardless of the amount of goods they were purchasing. Now there are Express Checkouts for those purchasing very little. The people who use the Express Checkouts used to shop at the corner store instead. Maybe when there are no corner stores left, they will take the Express Checkouts away.

Consider the difference in bandwidth required for the first approach compared with the second. The Git just went to CD-Now and looked at the page for ordering Neil Young's Decade [BOX SET]. Attempting to do a File, Save as... crashed IE. Twice. Except it wouldn't have served the purpose of the experiment, he would have been using OffByOne his favourite new browser! So, The Git copied the information to the clipboard and created a facsimile. Then he copied the text only and deleted everything that he considered inessential to the act of purchasing and linking to "the user experience". Here are the words with possibly a few more than are needed, but doubling the number doesn't really affect my argument:

Popular Music- Artist Name- Album Title- Song TitleUsed MusicClassical MusicMusic DownloadsAll Products Classical Power Search

Decade [BOX SET] Neil Young

List Price: $29.98

Price: $26.99 & This item ships for FREE with Super Saver Shipping. See details.

You Save: $2.99 (10%)

Availability: Usually ships within 24 hours Also available for in-store pickup.

See more product details

Help | Shopping Cart | Your Account | Sell Items | 1-Click Settings | Join Advantage

Conditions of Use | Updated Privacy Notice © 1996-2003, Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates

The difference in file-size is 925 bytes for the text version versus 171,662 bytes for "the user experience" that Mr Bilbrey claims "brings in 15% more dollars from the crowd that is fully sighted and browser compliant". To be fair, he speculates. But then I speculate that forcing everybody, purchasers and tyre-kickers included, to download 171,662 bytes versus allowing purchasers to download 925 bytes might be part of the reason that so many of the dotcoms are not making a profit.

A Comparison of Style Sheets

Since so many of The Git's readers are non-technical, or uninvolved in website creation, we will restrict the discussion to "virtual" code. The Git is, despite all appearances to the contrary, a fundamentally lazy person (a.k.a. a Fat Bastard). He continually asks himself The Lazy Fat Bastards' Question: "What is the worst thing that can happen if I don't do that?" Surprisingly often the answer is: "Nothing very much," and this leads to lots of time for doing Very Important Things, like fornicating, reading and watching the Welcome Swallows feed their young on the front deck while drinking his late afternoon Chardonnay and water. Thinking things through even.

The style sheet for The Git's website contains only one statement of any importance: "If the reader has the font Zapf Elliptical available, use that for body text". That's it!

A reader whose name The Git will omit (he's sure the reader doesn't deserve some of the email The Git has been receiving of late) wrote:

But please don't misinterpret anything above as a complaint about the prolific (but never prolix!) Ephemerides entries of late ... I always enjoy them, esp. your pointed remarks about HTML-nazi web page designs that sacrifice universal readability for an illusion of control over the victim's browser display (^_^) ...

[Emphasis is The Git's]

What's in those "HTML-nazi" web page designers style sheets? Line after line of declarations of text size and line spacing (leading) in pixels for many, many paragraph styles. The Git just looked at one that contains 50 lines. There are five other Cascading Style Sheets (as they are called) associated with it. Making a bunch of these style sheets can be hard work. For instance, declaring a new style as being 90% of the size of the same style in another style sheet will be respected by some browsers, but not others. But The Git doesn't want to go there today. Suffice it to say that all of this effort is to produce a "perfect" result on the designer's machine, assuming the reader will use same version of web browser the designer is using. Consider the following statistics of screen resolution culled from readers of The Git's website:

Unknown 1% 1152x864 7%
640x480 1% 1280x1024 13%
800x600 28% 1600x1200 2%
1024x768 45%

From that, we can choose as our target the 45% of users with 1024x768. But consider the following information about OSs:

Win 98 33% Win 95 4%
Win 2000 30% Unknown 4%
Win NT 13% Linux 3%
Windows XP 5% Mac 2%

 Now we can choose a percentage of that 45% of readership as our target for "perfect" reproduction of what's on the the design-Nazi's screen. Let's be generous and say that there's not likely to be much difference between Win98 and Win2k. That's near enough to two thirds of our original 45%, leaving 30%. But then there's browsers:

MSIE 5.x 44% Netscape 5.x 5%
MSIE 6.x 22% Opera x.x 5%
Netscape 4.x 11% MSIE 4.x 1%
Netscape comp. 6% Netscape 6.x 1%

 Browser differences are much more important than OSs, so we are going to target MSIE 5.x, or 44% of our remaining 30%. We now have 12% of the readership left. But wait, there's more! We haven't considered colour depth yet:

16M(32bit) 38% 256(8bit) 3%
16M(24bit) 19% 16(4bit) 0%
65k(16bit) 37% Unknown 0%

There's no visible difference between 32 bit and 24 bit colour so we will aggregate them to make 57%. But that's 57% of 12% so we now know that our target is something of the order of 7%. But wait! There's more! Even though we have used all the above to refine our target for the "perfect user experience", some of our users might have set their IE 5.x to ignore the font-size settings in the style sheet. So instead of our imagined "perfect user experience", they might be seeing the adjacent lines of text with ascenders and descenders overlapping. But wait, there's more! A screen resolution of 1024x768 might be on a 14", 15", 17", 19", or 21" monitor! What does that do to the idea of setting type in pixels?

By now The Git thinks you get the picture, so we will cease our paring away from our readership base without considering the 10% of the male population that are colour-blind etc.

Illusion of Control

The Git first read about the "illusion of control" in relation to HTML publishing in an email from Bo Leuf back in 2000 when this website first started up and The Git was ranting about the difficulty of the transition. The rant went on and off for several weeks if The Git recalls correctly and he was very frustrated, even angry at the time. Oh, and the email quote above was not from Bo, so don't bother harassing him. Harass The Git instead!

The words "illusion of control" had little meaning at first -- just a tiny bit of a Zen, or Taoist feel to them.

A Taoist story tells of an old man who accidentally fell into the river rapids leading to a high and dangerous waterfall. Onlookers feared for his life. Miraculously, he came out alive and unharmed downstream at the bottom of the falls. People asked him how he managed to survive. "I accommodated myself to the water, not the water to me. Without thinking, I allowed myself to be shaped by it. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with the swirl. This is how I survived."

Thank you water :-)

Thought for the day:

A hallucination is a fact, not an error; what is erroneous is a judgment based upon it.

Bertrand Russell

Current Listening:

Kitaro -- Ten-Jiku


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Friday 17 January 2003

From the InBox:

Jonathon,

I went to Hobart Matriculation College with a Jonathon Hodgkinson back in the 70's. He would be about 45 by now. Could this be the same one you've given thanks to (before he died)? He lived in Darwin briefly before Cyclone Tracey went through.

Curious and once a friend of his.

Karen

The very same. He collapsed with a blood clot in his brain about ten years ago on the first day of a new business venture. He remained unconscious for two of the most fearful weeks of my life, then died. I met him a few days after he returned to Hobart from Darwin when he came to work for me. There was a longish period when we lost touch and then he came to live a few hundred yards away from me in Franklin. Our reunion was a joyous event and I deem it a great privilege to have been his close friend.

Jonathan

This is terrible! Please allow me to confirm: he had a brother named Nicholas and they once lived in the old school house in Nieka (I think that is how you spell it) - near Fern Tree. His father was also an architect. I could go on, but if you confirm this much, I guess it sadly must be him.

I've been living away from Tasmania for quite some years now and I do not frequently get news from home. I have just recently lost a close friend in Tasmania (whom Johnathon also knew), which prompted me to see if I could find any of my other former mates. Hence landing on your site.

Thank you so much for replying. Very sad news - he was such a fun guy (sense of humour/absurd etc).

Karen

-oOo-

Jonathan came to work for me selling paintings in the mid 1970s. He was, as his school-friend Karen says, full of fun. There's hardly a day goes by that I don't think of him. 

I will skip over the 1970s. As the saying goes, if you can remember the 70s, you didn't really live them, but the two Jonathans lived them to the full. For a decade, they lost touch. Then about twelve years or so ago, we started receiving strange telephone calls from a young girl:

"Can I speak to <girl's name>?

"Sorry. You must have the wrong telephone number."

"Is that Jonathan?"

"Yes."

"Can I speak to Lynne then?"

"Sorry. You must have the wrong telephone number. This is xxx 3461."

"That's the number she gave me!"

"Well we are completely out of <girl's name>s and Lynnes today. Perhaps if you call back another time, we might have some in stock. Do you have any colour preference?"

"Oooohhhh!...

This was repeated with some interesting variations for about two weeks. Then one day, I was sitting at the bar of one of Franklin's watering holes, the bottom pub on this occasion because it's the closest. As I recall, it was a stinker of a hot and humid day like today and cold beer seemed like the ideal anaesthetic for market gardening-induced aching muscles. Then in walks Jonathan to buy two takeaways from Nonie!

"Jonathan!" cried Jonathan.

"Hello! Banana!" rejoined Jonathan.

While we leave the two Jonathans getting reacquainted (a.k.a. drinking lots of beer), we ought to distinguish between the two. This is made slightly more difficult by the fact that the first thing they do is inform Nonie, the publican, that they have swapped names, each having accidentally walked off with the other's some ten years previously. It might be thought that using their second initials might help. Jonathan P (for Philip -- me) and Jonathan P (for Peter -- him), but that won't work! You might think that Philip and Peter might be acceptable, but that would be true only if you found having a black eye acceptable as well. "Surnames? Fuck off!" they would cry, both having been born in UKLand where that's what you were called at school. Although he hadn't been spawned yet, we'd better call the writer Jonathan, The Git.

Our two Jonathans are now suitably merry and deciding where to take a carton of beer to get even merrier. Jonathan's abode, or The Git's. We plump for Jonathan's as the closest and therefore least likely to cut down the drinking time. As if three minutes makes that much of a difference. Jonathan has moved into the house next to Ashley Schreck's on the corner of the road leading to the farm. After Jonathan's all-new and improved wife, Lynne recovers from meeting the other infamous Jonathan by taking several stiff drinks in rapid succession, we realise there's a Very Important Person missing: Mrs Git.

The Git picks up the telephone to call Mrs Git and looks at the dial. The telephone number is xxxx 3416, almost identical to his own, thus explaining the mystery phone calls of two weeks past. Lynne has a teenage daughter (whose name escapes The Git -- he only met her the once) who obviously handed out the wrong telephone number.

The two Jonathans proceeded to invade the kitchen and indulge their second favourite passion -- cooking! The Git cannot recall what they prepared on that occasion, so we will let yesterday evening's favourite stand in its place.

Kóta Piláfi

1 roasting chicken, cut into serving pieces 100 gm or so of butter, NOT margarine!
1/3 bulb of garlic cloves, crushed 1 cup of basmati rice
1 tablespoon tomato paste 2 1/2 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste

Yesterday's chicken was a nice, plump, Light Sussex that was fed on real food, though the dish is one that works quite well with crappy supermarket chickens as well.

Grease the roasting pan with olive, or sesame oil so the chicken doesn't stick. Smear the surface of the chicken pieces with the tomato paste and dot with the butter. Cook in a pre-heated moderate (150°C) oven for one hour, turning the chicken pieces once. Parboil the rice for ten minutes and drain. Add the chicken stock, salt, pepper and crushed garlic to the rice, stirring thoroughly. Remove the chicken pieces from the pan and put in the rice/stock mixture ensuring the rice is evenly spread. Place the chicken pieces on top of the rice, cover with aluminium foil and return to the oven for a further thirty minutes for the rice to cook. Remove from the oven, replace the foil with a tea towel and leave for five to ten minutes in a warm place before serving.

Notes: If the chicken stock is made with a stock cube, you likely won't need salt. The Greek who taught me this dish poured boiling water over the chicken pieces first. The Git has no idea why and always forgets, but the dish is still delicious. When using an ordinary supermarket chicken, The Git uses more tomato paste and the rice becomes the best part of the dish. Also, the original version of this dish probably had the chicken cooking for the first part longer and at a lower temperature. Maybe it was a boiling fowl. Whatever, the chicken was falling off the bone. Boiling fowls don't seem to exist here any more, hence the change to the recipe such that the chicken is tender, but not disintegrating.

Serve with fresh, stir-fried vegetables: cabbage, carrots, English peas and mange-toute peas yesterday. Best served with a cold Chardonnay, or three and lots of loving laughter.

-oOo-

The Starry Environmentalist? 

The cases of Björn Lomborg and Galileo by Jonah Goldberg.

There is no realm of modern culture that has institutionalized the concept of "lying for justice" more than environmentalism. Even the hothouse world of racial politics, with its fringe of Tawana Brawley believers and Afrocentric gobbledygook, comes a not-too-close second to the generalized deceit of the environmental movement. After all, the closer racial activists get to the mainstream, the more difficult it is for them to lie. When was the last time you heard Julian Bond claim Aristotle was black?

Meanwhile, the reverse is often -- though certainly not always -- the case with environmentalists. At professional conferences, in industry publications, and in the clubhouse of environmental policymakers, it is taken as a given that "raising awareness" trumps "explaining the facts" if, that is, increased "awareness" might hasten desirable policies while explicated facts would merely result in continued "pointless" debate. Moreover, mainstream journalists not only know about this doctrine of deceit, they encourage and amplify it, exaggerating already hyped scare-scenarios and downplaying any news of environmental improvement.

As with all ideologies and movements which alternate between apocalyptic and utopian visions, the scaring of children is a particular priority. In one textbook, for example, children are told that, in the future, earth's natural resources "will become so depleted that our very existence will become economically and environmentally impossible." This, it warns, will cause "famine, disease, pollution, unrest, crime and international conflicts." University of Rochester economist Steven E. Landsburg, writing in his wonderful book, The Armchair Economist, about the "naive environmentalism" taught at his daughter's preschool, summed it up well: Schools offer "a force-fed potpourri of myth, superstition and ritual that has much in common with the least reputable varieties of religious fundamentalism."

An interesting story if only for the insight into the mythology about Galileo perpetuated by most scientists.

The story we all learned is that Galileo was condemned for advocating Copernicanism, which held that the Aristotelian view of the sun circling the earth was wrong. And ultimately, this much is true. But, we're also told that the moral of the story is that Christianity is an enemy of science and that science can only thrive when Christianity and other chaotic superstitions are kept safely in a Pandora's box, far from institutions of reason. And this is almost exactly and perfectly wrong.

It is simply a lie to say that Galileo and the Church were enemies.

... 

Regardless, I bring all of this up to make one irrefutable point: Galileo's greatest and most-enduring enemies were not the orthodox clerics of the Church, but his fellow scientists. This was not a case of a superstitious, bureaucratic Church snuffing the light of reason. It was a case of petty and jealous men trying to use the Church to kneecap a whistleblower. If Galileo's way of things won the day, a lot of people would have looked like fools and, possibly, lost their jobs. And, this had less to do with Copernicanism or heliocentricity than with the fact that Galileo represented the introduction of mathematics into the world of physics. Needless, to say, if you were a physicist who didn't know jack about math and, all of a sudden, this guy was going to make math a requirement, you'd be bummed.

This is undoubtedly how Galileo himself saw his plight. As Nisbet notes, the earliest and perhaps most-enduring constraints on Galileo's research was his fear of ridicule and opprobrium from the scientific community. In 1597, Galileo wrote a letter to Kepler admitting that he believed Copernicus had it right, but he was afraid to admit it publicly for fear of being ridiculed by Aristotelian scientists -- not persecuted by closed-minded clerics.

Full story

-oOo-

Last week, The Git was taken to task for being "unprofessional" by writing about things that had nothing to do with computers. This week, it's the opposite. Ah well! As my grandfather used to say: "You can't please all of the people all of the time, but you can jerk the rest off!"

Matt Beland has installed SWISH-E to use as a local search-engine, so we will be implementing that instead of the more familiar Google. It will be more up-to-date and presumably much quicker. And Matt has given us the go-ahead to implement Movable Type.

Meanwhile, The Git and son go today to the university to enrol. Hopefully that's more fun than splitting firewood, which is what The Git was doing for recreation yesterday on a warm and humid day. The iburoprofen is keeping the arthritis and sciatica under control. Now all The Git needs to do is get fit again!

Thought for the day:

To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die.

Thomas Campbell

Current Listening:

Steely Dan -- Can't Buy a Thrill


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Saturday 18 January 2003

Enrolment day at the University Union Bar, went quite well. The Git was going to do one of the computing units that son Thomas is doing and Thomas is doing philosophy as his compulsory non-computing unit. Sadly, the lectures for the computing unit The Git wanted to do coincide with the philosophy lectures, so he decided to do geology instead for his science unit. Thomas doesn't really need to go to any of the computer unit lectures that coincide with philosophy -- his skills already exceed those demanded he achieve. Were he a mature-age student instead of fresh out of matriculation college, he could have been granted recognition of prior learning. He is not amused.

The Git notes in passing that Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was renamed to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for the US market. Perhaps if The Git was an American he would be studying black magic, rather than philosophy.

What did amuse The Git was watching the enrolling students have their course details written out for them by the representatives of the schools! Presumably it's possible to graduate from college without possessing the ability to write, or fill in forms or something.

While standing in line to have the faculty give the stamp of approval on his course enrolment form, The Git earwigged the conversation occurring behind him:

He: Have you got a computer?

She: I just bought one from Harvey Norman. [HN is a major department store here]

He: Oh, you paid twice what you needed then! They are just a rip-off! You could have bought one from me for $500!

She: I've got fifteen months to pay and the warranty doesn't expire until I've finished my degree.

He: I'm a fully qualified computer assembler! It cost me $800 to qualify, so I know what I'm talking about.

She: It's a Compaq, has a 19" monitor and it's black and silver so it matches my décor.

The Git has by this time turned around to see the expressions on their faces. The beautiful and witty young lady has a delightfully wicked smile on her face as her remarks fly over the head of the egotistical young man.

The Git (to she): What are you studying?

She: Women's Studies.

The Git: Me too!

She: But you walked past that school.

The Git: Studying pretty young women is a lifetime hobby of mine.

She: laughs

He (to she): Are you a feminist?

She: No.

He: I hate feminists, too.

She: I didn't say I hate feminists. I just said I'm not a feminist.

Sadly, at this point The Git's turn to have his form approved and signed came. The Arts Faculty person evinced some surprise that it was completely filled in and correct. The Git pointed out that it wasn't entirely correct. His birthday that was printed out by their computer was incorrect -- they have it as September 4, rather than April 9. She suggested that The Git check with admin later to make sure it has been corrected.

The Git recalled with some fondness the last time he had been in the Union Bar. He was there to listen to the loudest jug band in the world around 30 years ago. The Git shared a "funny cigarette" with Mic before he went on stage and marvelled at his ability to perform when he must have been completely off his face! Overhead, an extremely pornographic (and at the time, illegal) movie was played. Now they are legal, but it's doubtful they would be shown there in these PC times.

-oOo-

Now Corporations Claim The "Right To Lie"

by Thom Hartmann

While Nike was conducting a huge and expensive PR blitz to tell people that it had cleaned up its subcontractors' sweatshop labor practices, an alert consumer advocate and activist in California named Marc Kasky caught them in what he alleges are a number of specific deceptions. Citing a California law that forbids corporations from intentionally deceiving people in their commercial statements, Kasky sued the multi-billion-dollar corporation. Instead of refuting Kasky's charge by proving in court that they didn't lie, however, Nike instead chose to argue that corporations should enjoy the same "free speech" right to deceive that individual human citizens have in their personal lives. If people have the constitutionally protected right to say, "The check is in the mail," or, "That looks great on you," then, Nike's reasoning goes, a corporation should have the same right to say whatever they want in their corporate PR campaigns.

They took this argument all the way to the California Supreme Court, where they lost. The next stop may be the U.S. Supreme Court in early January, and the battle lines are already forming.

For example, in a column in the New York Times supporting Nike's position, Bob Herbert wrote, "In a real democracy, even the people you disagree with get to have their say."

True enough.

But Nike isn't a person - it's a corporation. And it's not their "say" they're asking for: it's the right to deceive people.

Corporations are created by humans to further the goal of making money. As Buckminster Fuller said in his brilliant essay The Grunch of Giants, "Corporations are neither physical nor metaphysical phenomena. They are socioeconomic ploys -- legally enacted game-playing..."

Corporations are non-living, non-breathing, legal fictions. They feel no pain. They don't need clean water to drink, fresh air to breathe, or healthy food to consume. They can live forever. They can't be put in prison. They can change their identity or appearance in a day, change their citizenship in an hour, rip off parts of themselves and create entirely new entities. Some have compared corporations with robots, in that they are human creations that can outlive individual humans, performing their assigned tasks forever.

Complete story

Which kind of complements this:

Lexmark Sues To Shut Down Competitor With DMCA

If there ever were a law which had nothing but bad or unintended consequences, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act would likely be it. Since it was signed into law, corporations have attempted to use it to suppress security advisories, deter the publication of scientific research, and eliminate consumers' fair use rights. The DMCA makes it illegal to make an end run around any restriction a manufacturer places on the use of something that's copyrighted -- including, for example, creating a device that lets you skip the commercials on a DVD. Now comes Lexmark, which has hit upon yet another questionable use of the law: preventing third parties from selling remanufactured laser printer and inkjet cartridges. Lexmark recently filed suit against Static Control Components, a company which supplies replacement parts for laser toner cartridges, claiming that it was violating the DMCA by making it possible to sell reconditioned cartridges.

Here's why. Each Lexmark printer cartridge contains a built-in chip that identifies the cartridge as "genuine" and records when the toner has been exhausted. The printer won't work with a chip from a used-up cartridge (even if the toner is replenished) or if the right chip isn't there. Static Control sells replacements for Lexmark's chips, allowing cartridges to be refilled so long as they're "re-chipped" at the same time.

Lexmark claims that by providing a replacement chip, Static Control is violating the DMCA, because it is providing a device that circumvents a technological measure that controls access to copyrighted material. (In this instance, Lexmark claims that the copyrighted material is the internal computer code which makes the printer work.)

Since many common products -- from toasters to cars -- contain embedded processors that run copyrighted computer code, Lexmark's suit -- could have far reaching effects. Anyone who explained how to alter a common household device to make it more functional could be accused of a crime. Worse still, manufacturers could make it illegal for you to use third party supplies or replacement parts in virtually any product, from cars to copiers to computers.

In short, the worst consequences of this ill-advised law may be yet to come.

Full story and links

And more on the Björn Lomborg saga:

Thought Control 

Jan 9th 2003 From The Economist print edition

The scourge of the greens is accused of dishonesty

THE Bjorn Lomborg saga took a decidedly Orwellian turn this week. Readers will recall that Mr Lomborg, a statistician and director of Denmark's Environmental Assessment Institute, is the author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist", which attacks the environmental lobby for systematically exaggerated pessimism. Environmentalists have risen as one in furious condemnation of Mr Lomborg's presumption in challenging their claims, partly no doubt because he did it so tellingly. This week, to the delight of greens everywhere, Denmark's Committees on Scientific Dishonesty ruled on the book as follows: "Objectively speaking, the publication of the work under consideration is deemed to fall within the concept of scientific dishonesty."

How odd. Why, in the first place, is a panel with a name such as this investigating complaints against a book which makes no claim to be a scientific treatise? "The Skeptical Environmentalist" is explicitly not concerned with conducting scientific research. Rather, it measures the "litany" of environmental alarm that is constantly fed to the public against a range of largely uncontested data about the state of the planet. The litany comes off very badly from the comparison. The environmental movement was right to find the book a severe embarrassment. But since the book was not conducting scientific research, what business is it of a panel concerned with scientific dishonesty?

One might expect to find the answer to this question in the arguments and data supporting the ruling -- but there aren't any. The material assembled by the panel consists almost entirely of a synopsis of four articles published by Scientific American last year. (We criticised those articles and the editorial that ran with them in our issue of February 2nd 2002.) The panel seems to regard these pieces as disinterested science, rather than counter-advocacy from committed environmentalists. Incredibly, the complaints of these self-interested parties are blandly accepted at face value. Mr Lomborg's line-by-line replies to the criticisms (see www.lomborg.com) are not reported. On its own behalf, the panel offers not one instance of inaccuracy or distortion in Mr Lomborg's book: not its job, it says. On this basis it finds Mr Lomborg guilty of dishonesty.

The panel's ruling -- objectively speaking -- is incompetent and shameful.

The Git can only agree! He has read quite a few articles about The Skeptical Environmentalist and many*, whether for or against, clearly indicate that the writer has never read the book! Here you will find The Git's thoughts after reading it.

* For some of my Merkin readers. Many only means a large, imprecise number. It does not mean all, or even most

Thought for the day:

I picked up a magic 8-ball the other day and it said "Outlook not so good." I said, "Sure, but Microsoft still ships it."

Anon

Current Listening:

Captain Matchbox -- Wangaratta Wahine


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Sunday 19 January 2003

On this day a year ago, we moved into The House of Steel. There has been no significant rainfall for a month, but we have ~80% of our freshwater storage intact. Only a tenth of a hectare of the gardens receive irrigation, so we have more than 95% of the dam capacity.

When we moved in, The Git was somewhat worried about water as we now run the toilets from the freshwater supply rather than the dam and he thought that might adversely impact our drought resilience. Well, the drought has arrived in earnest and we have ~35% more than our previous maximum capacity. Hopefully, that's considerably more than we need to last us through the breaking of the drought.

The Git's real fear is being forced by Council to connect to the municipal water supply. Hapless clients of the council have been complaining for years about poor water quality. It takes a nosedive during droughts. And floods! Ours remains excellent almost to the last drop.

We used something of the order of 6-7 tonnes of firewood, to feed the stove over the twelve month period. Given that last summer was the coldest on record, we should expect to not need any more than that on average. As well, this summer sees us firing up only on alternate days to keep the hot water topped up. The Git plans to split most of the three tonnes that will join the other three, or four already split and stored. That will occupy the morning and he plans to take the afternoon off to celebrate.

-oOo-

Bo Leuf writes:

FYI -- FP messed up your recent Lomborg link as "http://www.sturmsoft.com/Writing/Old_ephemerides/www.lomborg.com"

Thanks Bo... that looks more like The Git messed up the link, though :-)

When FP screws links, it's usually to turn relative links into local absolute links.

-oOo-

An interesting post over at Ars Technica:

The evolution and devolution of flight 

Posted 1/16/2003 - 8:50PM, by Fred "zAmboni" Locklear 

Browsing through the news turned up two interesting discoveries which will have scientists reevaluating evolution in general and the evolution of flight specifically. First up, avian ancestors may have needed to learn how to climb, before they learned how to fly. Two competing theories on the origins of avian flight believe it evolved from the ground up (cursorial) or from the trees down (arboreal), but it may end up being "both and neither." One problem scientists had with prevailing theories is they could not reconcile the evolutionary advantage of proto-wings that were too small for flight. They have one now.

Young partridges who learned to lift themselves off of the ground with their wings where observed frantically beating their wings while running up and over obstacles. Why not just fly over them? Getting off of the ground may have been a bit too scary for the fledgling aviators and they decided to use their wings in a different way. Videotapes of the chicks showed their wings were rotated 90 degrees from a beat that would give them lift. It turns out the beating wings were giving the chicks downforce and more traction for their claws, helping them climb steep inclines (Videos of some partridges in action can be found here). Clipping a chick's feathers enough to prohibit flight still gave them significant downforce for climbing. This type of action may have given dinosaur ancestors of the partridge an evolutionary advantage. Lacking enough feathers for flight, the dinosaurs could have used a similar motion to evade predators by running up nearby trees. A later evolutionary lengthening of feathers may have then allowed the dinosaurs to fly.

The other discovery was unearthed in a study of flying and flightless stick insects. Scientists have long thought that complex features may disappear, but they shouldn't reappear down the evolutionary chain. This idea was challenged last year when a 7 million year old skull was unearthed in Chad which showed a puzzling combination of modern and ancient features. The skull was from a period where humans had not diverged from chimpanzees and the modern features may have been lost along the way only to be regained later. Now comes more evidence for devolution and re-evolution in the form of stick insects.

Using DNA analysis, scientists at BYU worked out the family tree for 14 subfamilies of stick insects. They found all of the subfamilies were descendent from a common 300 million year old ancestor which had already lost its wings. The family tree showed that stick insects had re-evolved wings at least 4 times since then. The study suggests that features that may have been lost in evolution may not disappear forever. You never know...maybe that annoying appendix we have may have some function in future generations.

-oOo-

Regular reader Mark Zimmermann writes:

Crumbling Customization 

There are some nice parallels between classical artists and web page designers. For many centuries painters have experimented with pigments, solvents, binders, carriers, canvases, papers, woods, brushes, and just about every other aspect of capturing images on surfaces. They've tried the most bizarre chemical concoctions imaginable (and in some cases, unmentionable). They've varied the physical processes of drawing and painting, and have explored countless possibilities for how to treat their works to preserve them when finished.

And, like mutations in genes, most artistic experiments are failures. Colors fade; layers crack and peel off; lacquers become opaque; mold, mildew, and insects chew into materials. Catastrophic deterioration sometimes becomes apparent within a few years, in other cases only after decades have passed.

Just so, the results of hyper-customization in web page creation. A designer can craft a lovely layout, with meticulous control of font and color --- and it only works with a particular browser, on a particular display size and resolution, under a particular operating system. Try to see it with a different configuration, and it's ugly or even unreadable.

And just wait until next year's "upgrade" to see how ephemeral and short-lived are style-sheet-nazi attempts to dictate the viewer's experience ....

The Git's favourite painting medium is egg tempera, noted for its durability and other qualities. You can buy egg tempera paints, but that puts your work in the hands of someone whose primary purpose is profit, not durability, or other considerations. Home-made egg tempera doesn't need preservatives. You make it on an as-needs basis -- a day's supply at a time, the same way it was made during the Renaissance. 

First, an egg yolk is separated from the white and washed clean of any trace of the white. The Git likes to do this with his hands, rather than a separator, allowing the cleansing water to run over the yolk and between loose fingers. Once the yolk is clean, he holds it above a suitable container by pinching the top of the yolk between thumb and forefinger. Poor quality (factory-farm) egg yolks will often rupture under the strain of this and The Git deems them unfit for either paint or food. Then the bottom of the yolk is cut with the point of a sharp knife and the yolk allowed to drain into the container.

A little of the yolk is mixed with sufficient pigment and a little water for current need, and used on a surface prepared with rabbit-skin glue. It's a very fast-drying paint, so it's most suited to works where lots of subtle blending are not called for. Egg tempera paintings consist of many, many layers, the colours underneath affecting those layered on top and it is this that is used to produce subtle shading and soft edges. No reproduction can ever capture the depth and transparency this creates, so beloved by Botticelli and more recently Andrew Wyeth. Few have the patience for a painting technique in which the decision to finish is so difficult to decide.

A couple of weeks after the painting has been finished, a process that can take months, one takes a piece of clean cotton cloth and buffs the surface of the painting and it takes on an amazing and subtle sheen, quite unlike the surface of any other paint film.

Having said all that, please do not think that The Git despises those who would use commercial egg tempera, or any other art medium. For some, the process described above that so delights The Git and is at the very core of his reasons for painting, is irrelevant. For them, the end result is what delights them. Or the thrill of exhibition. Or even a way to get into the pants of pretty young girls. Artists are soooo sensitive, you know ;-)

"It is not simply about reconnecting with the past through a painting technique, it's about connecting with the whole craft, culture and experience of the time. It's an appreciation of the handcrafted aesthetic." -- Tom Somma

-oOo-

Website of the Week: This truly is Utopia!

Thought for the day:

Without freedom, no art; art lives only on the restraints it imposes on itself, and dies of all others.

Albert Camus

Current Listening:

The Folger Consort -- A Distant Mirror


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f The Daily Diatribe.

Check out: 

Franklin & Friends, a website devoted to the village where the author lives: its culture, inhabitants, and more.

The DayNotes Gang for more daily musings on Life, the Universe and Things Computerish.

© Jonathan Sturm 2003