Archive for August, 2004

Colors Rotated

Friday, August 20th, 2004

Math link of the day: a tribe who can’t count (thanks to Seema)

You may notice a subtle change in the blog design. I think I’ve finally tamed the wild, CPU-eating color switching script. It was especially slow on pages with lots of entries, like the category and monthly pages. Links are no longer colored.

Depending on your browser, it may take time or effort for the cached versions of the stylesheet and script to be replaced by their replacements. Color rotation should happen faster with the new version.


Thursday, August 19th, 2004

Font link of the day: Olympukes, for Seema

Once upon a time in America, you could walk into a church and get married. It wasn’t quite kidnapping a bride, but it was a reasonably unregulated process. Today in America, you need a blood test and a license to get married. Obviously the Pilgrims weren’t doing blood tests, so where did they come in?

I used to think that it was a simple public health measure to prevent the spread of syphilis (and nowadays AIDS) to the innocent spouse, but that’s not it. The truth is we’ve inherited our heavy regulations from the eugenics movement of the early 20th century. (If you had no idea, here’s a site about eugenics and the law in Vermont.) Eugenics supporters lobbied legislatures for pre-marriage health certification to keep the unfit from marrying, and therefore (to some extent) from reproducing.

So when you take that blood test, remember what it’s really for. Are you fit or unfit?

Mac Follies

Wednesday, August 18th, 2004

Crazy rumor of the day: Arlo Rose Working On Doomsday Widget

Here’s a link dump of the nifty and the novel in Mac software:

  • ~stevenf describes CocoaBooklet, an app for printing booklets.
  • Mac the Ripper, an all-in-one DVD ripping utility, is up to version 2.0.1.
  • SafariSpeed will do that speeding-up-Safari hack for you.
  • Bookpedia will catalog your books. (Well, you’ll catalog your books, unless you happen to have a bar code scanner handy.)
  • Have you been waiting for the reincarnation of HyperCard? It’s no longer necessary to drink that poison Kool-Aid - HyperNext is here!
  • iGetter is download manager for the Mac, for those of you who don’t use wget.
  • Mike Matas has cool icons that come with a copy of his CatScan.

DNS Follies

Tuesday, August 17th, 2004

Weird link of the day: Innovation in India

I was waiting for a DNS entry to percolate down to my little mac, but then I thought, why wait? So I followed this macosxhint to get my mac to contact the one DNS server that already had a clue. It wasn’t really necessary, but it worked.

To check if a domain is having DNS troubles, try Quick Check. When Quick Check verified that the domain was one with the net again, I undid my DNS hack above. No harm done.

I love Quicksilver, but when it crashes, it drags the Finder down with it. Apparently I have it cataloguing too much; I followed the advice in this forum thread to turn off automatic rescanning of the catalog, and QS hasn’t crashed since.


Monday, August 16th, 2004

GNXP post of the day: Free MAT

While I was away, Today’s Translations cited this BBC article about the world’s most untranslatable words. TT also gave the top ten list:

The Ten Foreign Words That Were Voted Hardest To Translate

  1. ilunga [Tshiluba word for a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first
    time; to tolerate it a second time; but never a third time. Note: Tshiluba is
    a Bantu language spoken in south-eastern Congo, and Zaire]
  2. shlimazl [Yiddish for a chronically unlucky person]
  3. radioukacz [Polish for a person who worked as a telegraphist for the resistance movements
    on the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain]
  4. naa [Japanese word only used in the Kansai area of Japan, to emphasise statements
    or agree with someone]
  5. altahmam [Arabic for a kind of deep sadness]
  6. gezellig [Dutch for cosy]
  7. saudade [Portuguese for a certain type of longing]
  8. selathirupavar [Tamil for a certain type of truancy]
  9. pochemuchka [Russian for a person who asks a lot of questions]
  10. klloshar [Albanian for loser]

The Ten English Words That Were Voted Hardest To Translate

  1. plenipotentiary
  2. gobbledegook
  3. serendipity
  4. poppycock
  5. googly
  6. Spam
  7. whimsy
  8. bumf
  9. chuffed
  10. kitsch

I should note that translation of saudade(s) is complicated by the difference in usage between the singular and plural, as explained here (in Portuguese).

People who weren’t who they were

Sunday, August 15th, 2004

I’m a long-time fan of the Earl of Oxford as Shakespeare (although the Kit Marlowe theory also has its appeal). Edward de Vere died 400 years ago, but the mystery remains: who wrote Shakespeare? And if we can’t figure Shakespeare out, how can anyone ever have hoped to find the “historical” Jesus, at five times as many centuries past?

The history of the Portuguese Age of Exploration is relatively well-documented. Under the Infante Dom Henriques (Prince Henry the Navigator) Jo?o Gon?alves Zarco discovered the islands of Madeira around 1420, either Diogo de Silves or Gon?alo Velho discovered the Azores in 1427, and various expeditions explored the West African coast, reaching Cape Verde around 1460 and S?o Tom? e Pr??ncipe around 1470. Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, Vasco da Gama established the sea route to India in 1498, and Pedro ??lvares Cabral claimed Brazil in 1500 (although its borders had already been established by the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494). In 1519–1521, Fern?o Magalhaes (Magellan) sailed west for the Moluccas; though he died along the way, he had already made it to a longitude he’d been to before, making him the first man to circumnavigate the globe—not the Spaniards who turned pirate after his death and limped home with 18 out of the original 270 crewmen.

It’s a simple story encompassing every important sea expedition of Western history, all in the space of 100 years, all undertaken by Portuguese nationals. You may think that there’s one missing, that some Italian named Columbus discovered America. The usual answer to this claim is that the Portuguese discovered Brazil before 1492 but kept it a secret. But there are more radical answers to the Columbus Question. Some Portuguese scholars claim that Crist??v?o Colom (or Cristof?m Colon) was the Portuguese pseudonym of one Salvador Fernandes Zarco, a native of the city of Cuba in the Alentejo and grandson of the Zarco who discovered Madeira. Most of the information about Colom is only available in Portuguese: Cuba, em portugu?s antigo coba? significava torre? e n?o tinha qualquer significado noutro pa??s. But here’s an English version.

I don’t expect any non-Portuguese readers to buy the Colom story; I just find it fascinating that we can have such exotic doubts about the identities of people who were well-known in their own day. The true identity of Shakespeare is supposed to have been known to many of his contemporaries, and Salvador Fernandes Zarco’s grandfather had been a governor of Madeira for forty years before “Columbus” married the daughter of another governor there. It’s hard to imagine that people didn’t know these things, but easy to believe they didn’t feel it necessary to write down that Colom wasn’t some random Genovese shipwrecked on the Portuguese coast at 25, never to return to Genoa, as the official version goes.

In both stories we have two lives glued together: that of the actual man who did the deeds (whether sailing or writing plays) and that of some random schmo with the right name and paper trail. Shakespeare’s case is supposed to have been a matter of genuine deceit, whether because Marlowe was playing dead or a nobleman (Oxford or Bacon) was preserving his reputation. Colom’s case looks like later Italian self-deception.

It’s also harder to correct; Oxford, Marlowe, and Bacon were all Englishmen (and Marlowe not even a nobleman), so national dignity isn’t at stake in the Shakespeare Question. But if Colom was Portuguese, that puts all the descobrimentos squarely in the hands of the Portuguese navigators—a logical conclusion, but not one likely to be popular with Italians or Spaniards.

Pretty PHP Fonts

Saturday, August 14th, 2004

Look-and-feel link of the day: Firefox - Switch

I was going to redecorate with pretty fonts (possibly Tengwar), as described in dynamic text rendering at A List Apart, but I ran out of web design energy. If you want to try it at home, here are some useful links I found in the comments:

Teeny Weeny Fonts

Friday, August 13th, 2004

Freebie of the day: Westciv’s CSS Level 1 course

I’ve joined a few new writing mailing lists lately. As a result, the number of HTML emails I get in teeny weeny fonts has skyrocketed. I don’t know whether it’s AOL’s fault, Yahoo’s or the ever-culpable Microsoft’s, but tonight I got annoyed enough to do something about it.

Once again, macosxhints came through with a solution: using a local stylesheet to control Mail. Don’t follow the directions there without reading all the way through to the comment that shows the simplest way to do it. Or follow my summary here:

First, you need the stylesheet. Save the following in a plain text file called, say, mail.css:

font[size="1"] {
    font-size: 10pt;
font[size="2"] {
    font-size: 11pt;
font[size="3"] {
    font-size: 12pt;

Adjust the font sizes if they’re still too small. If you know CSS you can tweak to your heart’s content—put in a nice background watermark that says Munged by Microsoft, De-munged by WebKit, for example. I’ll skip that step, though.

Put your mail.css file in a safe place and note the path. For example: /Users/jemimap/Documents/mail.css

Quit Mail. Open the Terminal. Cut and paste the following line into the Terminal and hit return:

defaults write WebKitUserStyleSheetEnabledPreferenceKey -bool True

Cut and paste the next one the same way, but change the path to match where you put mail.css:

defaults write WebKitUserStyleSheetLocationPreferenceKey '/Users/jemimap/Documents/mail.css'

Terminal won’t give you any feedback when you hit return, but it’s now safe to quit the Terminal and open Mail. Your mail should now be de-munged.

Be a Spammer

Thursday, August 12th, 2004

It’s all Seema’s fault.

border="0" alt="You are Luisa Estrada. You are the wife of the former President of the Philippines. You wish me to go to Amsterdam to help you collect $30 million which you siphoned off. You enjoy reading, and stealing money from the poor.">
Which Nigerian spammer are You?

NetInfo Not Informative

Thursday, August 12th, 2004

Control key utility of the day: Capslock to Control.

Long ago, I set up Apache on my mac to handle a subdomain of for testing the site. I followed some of these instructions at Evolt—mainly the netinfo stuff. Yesterday, I added a new virtual host, but the netinfo instructions didn’t work this time. Apparently the lookup order has changed (for no good reason) in Panther; MacWrite explains the new hosts-file regime.

The article mentions several ways to handle the change. Since I’d already added my info to NetInfo, I decided to change the lookupd order so that NetInfo (NI) would come earlier. That involves making an /etc/lookupd directory and inserting a hosts file into it that says:

LookupOrder Cache NI FF DNS DS

That may mess other things up—who am I to question Apple’s new lookup order, anyway?—but at the moment it’s working.