Posts from January 2004

Slouching Toward The Middle

Published 14 years, 3 weeks ago

As you no doubt already know, I’ve been pondering liberalism and conservativism of late (feel free to tell me when it gets annoying), and the pondering if anything has deepened my uncertainty.  This all might well be an effect of the impending Preseidential election, which I studiously ignored until this month because I refuse to waste time on the process until the calendar year in which the actual election takes place.  That potential Presidents should waste the time, money, and energy to campaign for almost two years is simply ludicrous.

Anyway, one of the sites I drop by to read every now and again is Keith Burgin’s What A Butthole (apologies to anyone whose content filter just tripped an alarm).  Keith’s a conservative and makes no bones about it, and he’s not shy about holding forth.  He’s taken me to task on occasion for things I’ve said here on meyerweb, in fact, and I respect him quite a bit for that.  I may not agree with him, but I’m always glad to hear his point of view.  (I was hoping he’d have some book recommendations for me, but sadly, no soap.)  In a recent post telling Rush Limbaugh where to get off, Keith had this to say:

I have a very strong set of beliefs and a moral code . . .  Conservatism to me, is taking responsibility for your own life and the lives of your family. It’s teaching your children your moral code and being there to set them straight when they stray.

I don’t think of that as being conservative, I think of it as being a mature adult and productive member of society.  I can have and do all that and still consider myself a liberal, as it turns out.  But does that mean that one of us is wrong about what we are?  I’d say no, which I suppose shows my left-leaning tendencies.  Keith also lists five bullet points worth of his views, and as it turns out I agree with just over three of them, although when you break it down I fully agree with two points, half-agree with two more, and hold a related belief on the fifth.

I still don’t feel like I’m a conservative.  I have a strong ethical code, but I do not believe it to be the best code for everyone.  I don’t have a particular desire to return the country back to “the good old days,” largely because there never was such a thing.  I do not think change is inherently bad (how could I, in my line of work?).  Where does all that put me?  This is what I’m trying to figure out, of course, and why I was looking for good books from the conservative side of the bench.  It isn’t as though I’m going to pick a side and then become a party-line parrot.  I’d just like to know where I stand on the spectrum.  Is there a political-belief validator somewhere online?

For those who, like both Keith and myself, think that the federal government could do with less power than it has accrued, here’s an excellent if disturbing piece: Slouching Toward Big Brother.  I might quibble with a detail or two, but certainly not with the overall theme.  One line reminded me of something I said recently, and that apparently struck other people:

Security is a trade-off.

It’s all tradeoffs, really.  But some tradeoffs are far more serious than others.  My choice of font sizing is nothing compared to the choices between liberty and security.

Oh, and speaking of font sizing, check back tomorrow to see the site’s new change of clothes.

Maps and Miracles

Published 14 years, 3 weeks ago

Last week I asked for suggestions regarding a good book on the conservative perspective, and to date, I’ve had six responses.  Three were from conservatives making suggestions (none of which overlapped), two were from liberals recommending books they liked, and one was a request to share whatever I learned.  I would, except I don’t feel like I know enough to make any recommendations.  On the other hand, Valdis Krebs has created an interesting map of recent top-selling books in this area (spotted over at Brewed Fresh Daily).  Check out the white paper, which details the methodology for creating the map.  He doesn’t list Red, White & Liberal, but a quick check of its Amazon “also bought” list reveals that it links up with four red dots and one blue dot on Valdis’ map.  Interesting…

I just noticed that Matt Haughey lists meyerweb as a blog he reads, which is really rather cool.  I should return the favor, as I do drop by there every now and again.  I also notice that he has never visited Ohio, and is apparently of a mind to undertake a major road trip to fill in the voids in his lifetime itinerary.  Maybe I can get him to drop by for some tea and crumpets… or maybe some really good sushi, tasty Ethiopian, possibly some great chicken ‘n’ waffles.  Note that I’m not in any way responsible for the sites to which I just pointed; I sometimes think that there’s an inverse correlation between the quality of a restaurant’s cuisine and that of its Web site.  We can only hope the same is true of WWW2004, because the both the current and previous conference sites have been… substandard.  Sub-standards, in fact.

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Speaking of food, which I was, we’ve recently discovered halloumi, a truly miraculous Cypriot cheese that is a touch expensive but oh, so worth it.  You can literally put the stuff on a skewer and grill it without it melting, and the taste is if anything better than just eating the cheese straight.  The texture is amazing; the taste, divine.  If halloumi had been the manna dropped for the Israelites after they left Egypt, they’d never have left the desert.

And that leads me to a question I’ve always had, but never had answered to my satisfaction.  We’re all more or less familiar with the concept of a miracle, even though one can stretch its meaning around a bit.  But let’s take as a basis the definition that a miracle is a divine action in the mortal realm, a supernatural act of God.  Good enough?  Okay, here’s the question: what is the antonym of the word “miracle?”  The results from an online thesaurus weren’t really satisfying; they expressed either an absence of miracles, or else simple bad luck.  Neither of those is quite what I’m after.  In other words, if God performs miracles, what does the devil perform?  (Sorry, “atonal symphonies” is two words.)

Familial Extensions

Published 14 years, 4 weeks ago

Congratulations to new uncle Tantek Çelik, who correctly identified his nephew via CSS selectors, not that his accuracy comes as any surprise.  There are some great pictures to be seen as well.  Family additions seem to be in the air of late, and it’s a very welcome trend.

On that same note, today is the first day that domestic partners (either hetero- or homosexual) can register their status with the city of Cleveland Heights.  Ours is the first domestic-partner registry in America to have been created by voter approval; 55% of city voters in November cast their ballots in favor of the registry.  You can read more about the effort and aims of this registry at Heights Families For Equality, which spearheaded the drive to put the issue on the ballot.  (Equal time: Cleveland Heights Families First Initiative, the primary opposing organization.)  It’s sort of odd to have this registry launching just as the Ohio Legislature has passed a Defense of Marriage Act, declaring gay marriage against the “strong public policy” of the state.  But life is rarely consistent.

I did hear an interesting criticism of the registry this morning, which is that it may create the illusion of rights that don’t actually exist.  For example, if a domestic-partner couple assumes that the registry confers inheritance rights, then a surviving partner may be very unpleasantly surprised.  In other words, get your wills in order, and don’t rely on the registry.  This is just good sense anyway—Kat and I made sure our wills are clear on that score, instead of relying on our married status—but it’s a timely reminder to make sure you understand what rights you do or don’t have, and act to fill any gaps you discover.

I dropped by Derek’s site after linking to it and noticed a link to this amusing, if slightly strange, Presidential transcript.  The opening line has kept me chuckling all morning:

THE PRESIDENT: I need some ribs.

It’s definitely a situation where I wish there were an audio copy, or at least tonal annotations, because the whole scene reads one way if you assume the President’s tone throughout to be serious and earnest, and another if you assume it to be joking and jovial.  Personally, I assume the latter, which still makes the whole thing read kind of like a “Kids in the Hall” sketch.


Published 14 years, 1 month ago

More and more over the past few days, Carolyn has started smiling—they’re usually quick and fleeting, but more often she’s broken into wide grins that crinkle her eyes and pull her cheeks back.  When I’m holding her and she does it, I can feel a flood of endorphins surging into my body, attempting to get me addicted to her smiles.  There are certainly worse addictions to have.  We don’t have a picture yet, and when we do it will probably show up on her soon-to-be-created page.  Meanwhile, we do have a picture of her getting ready to head outdoors; A picture of Carolyn's eyes peeking out from under a snowsuit hood and over a fluffy blanket, the two of which are surrounding her in an attempt to keep the cold at bay. hopefully that will satisfy people’s picture cravings for a few days.

With the amount of time I’ve been spending in iPhoto these days, downloading new Carolyn pictures from our camera, there’s been a slowly strengthening impulse to publish my favorite pictures as a gallery of sorts.  I was getting pretty close to doing it when, fortunately for us all, Derek Powazek launched  Five minutes looking through the site woke me up and completely disabused me of any notion that a gallery of the photographs I take would be in any way necessary.  I want to order large prints of several of Derek’s photos and hang them in my office.  The same’s true of many pictures that Heather has taken, and now that the two of them are engaged (for which I humbly offer my very belated congratulations!), I foresee the formation of a photographic powerhouse of previously unimagined proportions.  How do they get their pictures to be so vivid, anyway?  The colors are just so deep and perfect; they make me want to cry when I look at my own pictures.

You’ll still get to experience some small portions of my photography, though.  I’m slowly working through the final steps of a meyerweb redesign, and you can see the wireframe if you’re at all interested.  If you hit major layout errors, you can let me know, but four things to keep in mind:

  • The font size is what it is, or at least will be what it will be.  In other words, I’m going to size fonts as I think appropriate for my site, taking into account everything I know about browsers, users, CSS, and the pros and cons of various font-sizing approaches.  Telling me that I’ve made the wrong choice will not change anything, because there are almost no objectively wrong choices in this area.  There are only tradeoffs.
  • If your browser window is too narrow in the IE/Win series, then the sidebar will likely start overlapping the content.  This is due to the bugs in IE/Win’s handling of width, so try widening or maximizing your browser window to see if any observed overlaps are fixed.  If not (and your resolution is higher than 640×480) then let me know.
  • I know that some of the sidebar content repeats, is badly out of date, or points to non-existent resources.  It’s mostly there as a placeholder so I can resolve layout issues without having to get all the data assembled first.
  • The journal entries aren’t very well laid out yet.  I’ll get there soon.

The new design will let you experience (some would say suffer through) bits of my photography because the masthead will contain slices of pictures I’ve taken.  I apologize in advance.

Left to Right

Published 14 years, 1 month ago

I had a very strange dream last night in which Bill Clinton had died of a heart attack in December 2000, just a few weeks short of the end of his presidency.  And before any far-right Republicans in the crowd start writing me mail congratulating me on having what they consider to be a pleasant dream, I should point out that his death came up because some friends and I were talking about how that event had provided an early start to President Gore’s first term in office.

Politics have been on my mind recently, probably because I finished reading a couple of political books recently.  The first was Al Franken’s Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, a Christmas gift from a friend of mine.  I was moderately disappointed with most of the book, unfortunately.  The chapters on Ann Coulter didn’t tell me much that I hadn’t already read on Spinsanity (speaking of which, they have an analysis of the book), and the stuff about Bill O’Reilly wasn’t all that interesting to me since it didn’t tell me anything about O’Reilly I didn’t already know.  Furthermore, the bulk of the book was too vitriolic for my liking, with one exception.  The chapter on Paul Wellstone’s death and memorial service was outstanding—powerfully written, largely free of authorial vitriol, and in many places quite moving.  If the rest of the book had been like that, I’d have loved it.

The second book was Alan Colmes’ Red, White, and Liberal: How Left is Right & Right is Wrong, a text that was far more balanced than the subtitle might suggest.  (Think of “How” as “The Ways in Which” instead of just dropping it.)  I liked this book much better, although I suspect Al Franken, who refers to Alan Colmes as Colmes throughout his book, might not.  Red, White, and Liberal was intelligent, passionate, and was devoid of gratuitous character assassination.  Some criticism of behavior and speech, certainly, but there was no name-calling, even with regard people who probably deserved it.

Of course, as an “admitted liberal” (which I hope will get me a lighter sentence, yerhonor) I was pre-disposed to enjoy the book, but reading it also helped me realize why I’m a liberal.  Much of it I already knew, but reading the book also brought out some things I’d subconsciously realized or decided, but never brought to the surface.  The tone of the book definitely helped.  It also made me wonder if there was a similar case being made for the conservative point of view.

So, for those of you on the right who happen to be dropping by, I’d like to make a request.  If you know of any books that lay out, intelligently and passionately, the case for conservativism in modern America, and does so without name-calling or character assassination of those on the left, could you please send me your recommendations?  It doesn’t have to treat liberals with reverence, obviously.  I just don’t have time for a book that says, in essence, “Right-wing thinking self-evidently correct; left-wing thinking is the product of morons and the media elite” for a few hundred pages.  In other words, if you were thinking of suggesting anything written by Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh, please don’t bother wasting your time or mine.  I’m looking for an author who acknowledges that liberals want what’s best for the country and happen to differ in their approach and ideals.  An author who doesn’t center the text around “the liberal media” would be a major bonus, since I don’t accept that the media is inherently liberal.  There’s too much evidence to the contrary (and note that I’m not saying the media is conservative, either), although I’m willing to read a chapter or two on why they think it is.

Bear in mind that, due to my temperament and experiences, I am going to be a tough sell on the right-wing point of view.  That’s okay.  I think it’s important that I at least understand it, and I want to get my information from someone who has that view and can argue it well without demonizing the left.

(Addendum: a commitment to factual accuracy is very important in any recommended book, so please take that into account when suggesting something.  I can accept occasional errors, as will any reasonable author, but not a consistent and cavalier disregard for the facts and their context.)

Drifting Thoughts

Published 14 years, 1 month ago

It snowed all day today.  For the most part, the flakes drifted gently and steadily downward, but every now and then a burst of wind and snow would blur everything around the house.  At those moments, white streamers of blown snow curled from the edges of rooftops all up and down the street.  It was a beautiful day, and every time I looked outside I couldn’t imagine living anywhere that such a sight would be impossible.  To me, winter is profound in a way no other season quite manages, and I’m not sure that I could be truly happy without it.

But of course the price of such beauty is the clearing of driveway and sidewalk, and just as twilight approached the snowfall tapered off, so I went out, shovel in hand.  The fading light, as filtered through the overcast skies, was a pale indescribable bluish gray, subtly erasing shadows and imparting the faintest hint of extra radiance to everything around me.  As I worked, the light faded to a pale red, and then to dull orange, the mark of sodium-vapor streetlights all over the city scattering off of the ever-present cloud cover.

In a strange sort of gloomy synergy, the sun over northern Ohio disappears behind a persistent cloud cover just as Daylight Savings Time elapses, and doesn’t return until the clocks spring forward.  So not only do we have the earliest sunset times, but also the shortest days of the year, right at the point where the sun is almost perpetually absent.  From October to May, we are one of the least sunny cities in America—but for the rest of the year, we’re one of the sunniest.  The phrase “you can’t appreciate the light without the dark” takes on special meaning when you live here.

As is so often the case, the snow deadened all noise, so that the neighbor running his snowblower a few houses away sounded like he was half a mile distant.  After a while, the snow’s muffling quality worked its way into my heart, quieted my thoughts.  It always does.

With night finally upon me, as the wind gusted and I paused to pull my Webmonkey hat down to better cover my ears, a sharp scent flared my nostrils.  Someone nearby had lit a wood fire—a strangely autumnal scent in the cold winter air.  I took a few deep breaths, enjoying the odd mixture of seasonal sensations.  Then I bent back to my work.

I don’t have any profundities that came out of all this; I didn’t gain some deep insight into myself, my life, or my fellow man.  All I got was a cleared driveway and piled snowbanks, a slightly sore back, and a hot dinner waiting for me when I was done.  It seemed like enough—like more than enough.  So I decided to share some of it.

Too Darned Cute

Published 14 years, 1 month ago

As promised, here’s a picture of Carolyn.  A closeup picture of a baby girl's face in profile, looking off to the left with an expression not unlike wonder.  Or perhaps hunger. She’s six weeks old today, and though the picture is from a couple of weeks ago, she’s no less adorable.  The yellow cast to the picture is due to my penchant of shooting with no flash and a built-in “Vivid” filter on the camera.  I’ve switched it off recently, and although non-flash pictures still come out yellowish, it isn’t as pronounced.  Overall, it’s fine with me.  I like having warmer tones in my photographs.

I noticed a pointer to “What is Mac OS X?” over on Simon’s site, and eventually got around to following the link.  A lot of good information can be found there, there’s no doubt— I particularly enjoyed the startup sequence breakdown, the mere appreciation of which would seem to firmly establish me as a total geek— but as Simon says, the site’s design seems… familiar, somehow.  Almost like I’ve seen something very much like it before.

Actually, a few people wrote to inform me of the “design theft;” apparently the site got some major exposure by being mentioned on Slashdot recently.  I’m flattered that people recognized it as being a design I came up with, and I’m grateful that they took the time to let me know about it.  However, this isn’t really theft, so please don’t report it to Pirated Sites.  As I state in my newly established FAQ, meyerweb designs (but not the images used in them) are freely available for non-commercial use.  Credit is not even required, although it’s always appreciated.  I always meant to get around to explicitly assigning them to a Creative Commons license, but since I’m planning to redesign soon and will retire most of the themes when I do, it may not happen.  Or, then again, maybe when I retire them I’ll license them.

Anyway, I do get some nice namechecks from Amit, the site’s proprietor, on his About page.  One correspondent said he thought Amit was claiming to have come up with the designs himself, and I suppose one could read the text that way, but I didn’t.  As far as I’m concerned, Amit is welcome to use the design for his site so long as he doesn’t try to sell the design or otherwise make money off of the design itself.  And that goes for anyone else.

Fractional Styles

Published 14 years, 1 month ago

At the Web Design Meetup last week, Warren expressed annoyance that there are a limited number of fraction character entities.  I pointed out that you can use MathML to represent any fraction you like, but of course it requires a browser that supports MathML.  Those are kind of rare.

So absent MathML, it’s easy to get a nice presentation of, say, one quarter (¼, a.k.a. character entity &#188;), but how do you get a similarly nice rendering of thirteen thirty-seconds?  As it turns out, you can at least get close with a bit of structural massaging.  (That sounds so much better than “structural hacking,” doesn’t it?)  Here’s what I came up with:

span.frac sup, span.frac sub {font-size: 75%;
  vertical-align: baseline;
  position: relative;}
span.frac sup {top: -0.5em; left: 0.15em;}
span.frac sub {left: -0.15em;}

17 <span class="frac"><sup>13</sup><b>/</b><sub>32</sub></span>

That results in the following, which I recreated using inline styles just to make life easier when I archive this post:

17 13/32

Not too bad, at least in Safari, Mozilla, and IE5/Mac, but not great.  In his own efforts along these lines, Warren uncovered the fraction-slash character entity (&#8260;), which could help improve the result.  I also notice that my numbers are bigger than the numbers in the original entity.  So I adjusted my styles, with the following result.

span.frac sup, span.frac sub {font-size: 60%;
  font-weight: bold;
  vertical-align: baseline;
  position: relative;}
span.frac sup {top: -0.5em; left: 0.1em;}

17 1332

So let’s compare the one-quarter entity to the styled version.

¼   14

There are font-family differences, I admit, but they’re pretty close to each other in the browsers I mentioned before.

The problem, really, is the markup involved, but I don’t see how one can really reduce it any further.  MathML’s representation of fractions isn’t noticeably less weighty, really, not even counting possibly required namespacing, which I’m not going to include here:


I suppose that if I wanted to show arbitrary fractions a lot, I could represent them in MathML and then transform the math markup into HTML before delivering it to browsers.  I don’t have a lot of need for such fractions, at least not so far, but it was an interesting exercise.

Now for a little cleanup with regard to previous posts.

  • Chuq pointed out that iLife was never totally free, but that Apple was allowing updates to old versions at no cost.  In my case, iLife appeared to be free because it came installed on my OS X laptop, so I never overtly surrendered money for the product.  I suppose the cost is somehow built into the cost of the operating system.  Regardless, I still think that there was a bit of baiting and switching in letting people download major upgrades at no cost and then closing the gate.  I guess what I want is consistency; I didn’t realize I was benefitting from lax license enforcement, if that’s what it was.  I thought Apple was just making decent tools available for free to Mac users in order to draw more people to the Mac.  That would make some business sense, even if it isn’t what they were doing.  After all, I haven’t heard any plans to charge for upgrades to iTunes, and I don’t expect that I will.  Apple may be many things, but grossly stupid isn’t generally one of them.

    At any rate, I’d still be interested in paying for just an iPhoto upgrade, especially since I looked at some programs readers e-mailed me to suggest, and they were all either not what I wanted, or too darned expensive.  I imagine there are people who would pay to download GarageBand as a standalone, for example.

  • It turns out that there are a number of demonstrations of using behaviors to get PNG transparency in IE/Win.  Here are a few that people sent me:

    I’m sure there must be others.  Google could tell me, but I feel overloaded already.

Carolyn turns six weeks old tomorrow.  I’ll have to find a good picture to post, especially since so many people have asked for them.  She’ll get her own page sooner or later, but I’ve had other and much more pressing things on my plate.  As long as I have it ready by the time she wants to start blogging…