Sites I Visit

  • freshnews.orgI get my tech news through the freshnews aggregator. While not a complete picture of the world, it is enough for me. Those looking for a more extensive time waster, try

    Certainly, using an aggregator implies that someone else is selecting the stories I read and therefore outside forces are impacting my worldview.  But isn’t that always true? Are we not inherently enthralled by amusing stimulation? Those concerned about it might look here, here or here.

  • zenhabits.netLeo Babauta’s Zen Habits is exactly what’s needed when I notice the world seems a shade darker. Have you noticed that some people seem to always be angry? or negative? or depressed? or paranoid? I’m not talking here about something clinical, something requiring psychiatric intervention. No, what I’m talking about here is a person’s persistent mood.

    My persistent mood some time ago was rather negative (and my use of the word “rather” is rather charitable.) My discovery–which was actually discovered thousands of years ago and since extensively written about, yet new to me–was that while moods are deeply ingrained, they are not indelibly engrained. You are not stuck with whatever persistent mood you have. In a nutshell, the way to replace (or displace) a persistent mood is through structures and practices that support the new desirable mood and breakup the old undesirable mood.

    One of my practices is the practice of awareness. Sometimes I succeed in maintaining awareness and other times I do not. The practice stands nonetheless. The Zen Habits articles are a part of that practice.

  • itp.angellearning.comI will finish my master’s in psychology in June 2012. It is an online program (although students spend two weeks in on-campus seminars) hosted by Angel Learning. I frequently login to my account to publish my work and comment on my cohort’s (classmates’) work.

    I was skeptical of online education. No longer. I see the benefit of brick-and-mortar schools, especially at the undergraduate level. However, that precludes many adults from continuing or finishing their degrees, either undergraduate or graduate. The online format is a viable alternative.

    My interest in online education began long before I returned to school. Moodle captured my imagination and became my entry point into the practical issues of course management systems. For those interested only in (non-degree) continuing education, traditional universities participating in Open Courseware publish actual courses online. Khan Academy is nothing short of inspiring.

    Unsurprisingly, not everyone is excited about online education. Why? When in doubt, follow the money.

  • safari.oreilly.comI am not an advocate of online subscription services; they too often underdeliver. Yet I am a subscriber to O’Reilly’s online Safari book service for quite a few years now.

    I noticed one day that it made little sense to buy technical books–which I did on a monthly basis. I’d once a month wander the aisles of Digital Guru, reading chapter one of a dozen books before buying a must-have. At $40+ a book, I was spending five to six hundred dollars a year. The subscription service is cheaper and I don’t have shelves full of outdated books.

    O’Reilly has added a number of non-technical publishers–unexpected but very welcomed, especially Kogan Page, Jossey-Bass, Berrett-Koehler, and Butterworth-Heinemann. I now read several books a month; I’m now in the middle of four: (i) Art of R Programming, the why of which is a long story. R scratches an itch. (ii) Excellence in Coaching, is an edited work on coaching. (iii) The Mindful Coach, outlines Doug Silsbee’s septet model. It’s an interesting approach to developing a wide range of personal communication styles. Finally, (iv) The Handbook of Knowledge-Based Coaching, is another edited work on coaching.

  • www.yellowbridge.comI’m still on this masochistic path to learn Mandarin. The Yellow Bridge dictionary is amazing and goes a long way in easing the pain. How good is my Chinese? Well, I haven’t given up. 一步一个脚印。
  • [update 2012-02-20] pandodaily.comWhen I first heard that AOL bought TechCrunch, I felt my shoulders slump and the day darken. It was like that when Fox cancelled The Good Guys. And Firefly. TechCrunch wasn’t just news. It was entertainment. And polarizing.

    How many productive hours were lost in debate over Michael Arrington’s status as a reporter, the end of journalism, and the recklessness of TechCrunch. It was deliciously awful. The AOL buyout signalled the end. Assurances of editorial independence aside, TechCrunch lost their editorial independence. Who was surprised when Arrington got sacked? No one. AOLCrunch took a wild tiger and put it on a morphine drip. Sad.

    A new day. Sarah Lacy has (finally) left to create her own fresh online tabloid, PandoDaily. A few of the old TC bandits have joined the party yet it doesn’t seem to me an attempt to recreate TechCrunch—thankfully. Let the dead lie in peace.

    I wish Sarah and her crew well.

linkedin text too small

linkedin icon

Linkedin’s latest site redesign reduced the font-size to eye-straining smallness. When I tried to enlarge the text (OmniWeb, Safari, MacBook Pro), I found text enlargement didn’t work.


How did they disable text enlargement? And why would someone purposely make their website difficult to read?

I don’t have a desire to hunt down how linkedin disabled text enlargement. Even if I did find the cause, I’m sure people who could fix the problem already know yet choose to not fix the problem.

I’ll set aside my cynicism and charitably speculate an answer to the first question.

Maybe El Queso Grande–the all powerful wizard who signs off on the look and feel–is a PC type and has a low resolution monitor. In order to finish the project, the CSS designers needed to ensure that the site “Looked right on the boss’ monitor.”

A peek at the CSS shows that the font-size is hard coded to 13 pixels. {{sigh}}

Assume El Queso Grande has a Dell computer. Not a bad assumption given Dell’s penetration into the corporate market.

My display is the 15″ MacBook Pro. How does the Dell and Apple products compare?

MacBook Pro 15"
900 1440 1698  pixels
         15.4  inches

X**2 + (1.6X)**2  = 15.4**2
X**2 + 2.56(X**2) = 237.16
       3.56(X**2) = 237.16
                x = 8.16
110 pixels per inch
Dell Vostro 1015
768 1366 1567  pixels
         15.6  inches

X**2 + (1.78X)**2 = 15.6**2
X**2 + 3.16(X**2) = 243.36
       4.16(X**2) = 243.36
                x = 7.65
100 pixels per inch

Maybe they have an older desktop monitor, which could drop the density down to 90 or even 80 pixels per inch. Older CRT monitors generally had 72 pixels per inch.

We can now calculate how large (or small) the text appears on the different monitors by converting pixels to points. A point in typography is simply 1/72 of an inch. A pixel does not imply measurement.

Let’s see how much of a differnce that makes.

per inch    pixels     inches     points
--------   --------   --------   --------
   72         13       0.1806      13
   80         13       0.1625      11
   90         13       0.1444      10.4
  100         13       0.13         9.4
  110         13       0.1182       8.5

Text that is defined in pixels becomes smaller on higher resolution monitors. A lot smaller. In my case, linkedin renders at 8½ point text. That’s painful. I prefer reading 12 to 14 point text.

Fortunately for me, OmniWeb has per site settings. One of those settings allows the user to specify a user-supplied stylesheet. And that’s exactly what I did.

 * Stylesheet to override linkedin's stupid small font-size
span, div, h1, h2, h3, h4, li, p, a {
	font-size: 12pt  !important;

It’s not convenient but it works.

Quotes and Idioms

A few quotes and idioms I’ve collected.


Dùnwù zhī qián kǎnchái tiāo shuǐ,
Dùnwù zhī hòu kǎnchái tiāo shuǐ.
–Wú Lì

Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water;
After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.
–Wu Li

Note: Enlightenment does not relieve one of the details of daily life.


Mōzhe shítou guòhé.
–Dèng Xiǎopíng

Cross the river by feeling the stones.
–Deng Xiaoping

Note: We may not see exactly how to get there but we will pragmatically find our way; we will learn as we go.


yībù yīgè jiǎoyìn

one step, one footprint (idiom);
steady progress; reliable

Note: Perhaps my favorite idiom.



to paint a dragon and dot in the eyes (idiom);
fig. to add the vital finishing touch;
the crucial point that brings the subject to life;
a few words to clinch the point

Beginning Rails 3

Book Cover, Beginning Rails 3 by Cloves Carneiro Jr. and Rida Al Barazi

I read a paper some time ago–but for the life of me cannot remember where–presenting study findings on student recall and comprehension. The irony of not recalling the details of a paper on the subject of recall spurred me to examine my own recall in other areas. I may have forgotten the source but the gist of the paper… that I remember: The best way to improve comprehension and recall is to write an essay. I’ve long believed that writing develops a concept more fully (Galbraith, Torrance & Hallam, 2006) but the lost paper suggests that essay writing on a new subject internalizes the content.

Blogging is (or can be) a form of essay writing. I read a lot for both work and school. Would writing about what I read improve my recall? The lost paper seems to suggest so. With that in mind, I have decided 2011 is my year to write book reports. Since I’m writing for myself, these reports may be peculiar and I make no apology for it. I make no claim of their utility in anyone’s purchasing consideration. In fact, I may not even write about the content but rather the mechanics of the content.

My recent review of Beginning Rails 3 (Carniero & Al Barazi, 2010) dated February 23, 2011 can be found on [repeated below]. I don’t know if it’s a proper or even a traditional review. It contains my pressing thoughts upon finishing the book. Reading back over it, I can think of several essay topics that have little to do with Rails but rather with the construction of a book on Rails. That, however, is a different posting.

Carneiro, C. Jr. & Al Barazi, R. (2010). Beginning rails 3. New York, NY: Apress Publishing.

Galbraith, D., Torrance, M. & Hallam, J. (2006). Effects of writing on conceptual coherence. Proceedings of the 28th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, 1340-1345. Retrieved on March 4, 2011 from

I found Beginning Rails 3 to be a gentle introduction to rails. I came from a C/java background and comfortable with ruby, sql and bash.

Intro: Ch 1,2,3 contain the obligatory ‘getting started’ material. Fortunately the material is easily digestible and relatively brief. I wanted to build the sample application as I read the material and went through processes of updating rails (on OS X) and getting the first app running. Everything here worked on my laptop as described in the book.

Models: Ch 4,5 walk through just enough ORM to carry the reader through the rest of the book. The authors didn’t get wrapped up in sidebar discussions of ActiveRecord outside the scope of the sample project. I liked using the rails console to learn the minimum basics of creating and using models.

Controllers/Views: Ch. 6,7 walk through building the ‘web side’ of the app based on the models from the previous two chapters. A good understanding of the models before building the controllers and views made the exercise much easier to follow and anticipate.

Samplers: Ch 8, 10, 11 are sampler chapters each of which could warrant an entire volume. A consistent theme throughout the book is ‘just enough’ and these sampler chapters give the flavor if not the feast. The chapter on ajax replaces prototype with jquery (thank you) and ajaxifies a single form. It’s enough to get started. The chapter on internationalization gives just one approach to creating a multilingual site. It’s an ugly problem and this book should only be viewed as an introduction–a good introduction but an introduction nonetheless. The same can be said for the chapter on testing. For someone just getting into rails, the material on writing tests is enough without being overwhelming.

Skipped: I read but skipped working the tutorial for Ch 9, 12, 13. The material seemed simple enough and I felt the other chapters gave me an adequate base of understanding to start working on a simple app of my own.

These guys really worked to keep their code clean and in sync with the book. I kept getting a warning (Object#id will be deprecated; use Object#object_id) on a partial when working through the chapter on testing. It turned out that the error was upstream (a case of id vs. :id). I downloaded the chapter source and diff’d against my work. Aside from some whitespace differences (and typo’s on my part), the files matched.

This is where I’d normally offer my suggested revisions. I really don’t have any. This is, after all, *Beginning* Rails 3. No book can cover everything. Nor should it try. So, what’s next? Speaking for myself, the next book to read is on test development.

A New World

January, 2011. A month of reflection and choices. My world will never be the same.

Speak a new language
so that the world
will be a new world.

What in Hell Happened to 2010?

2010 sucked.

Don’t get me wrong. There was a lot good happened in 2010. But as a vintage, it sucked. Big donkey balls.

At 2010’s wake, we make New Year’s resolutions in hopes that doing so will wash the taste out of our mouths. It’s what we do. Like paying taxes in April. Creatures of habit, that’s what we are. One of those habits is making resolutions at year’s end.

Sometimes a resolution is vague…as in, “I will lose weight.” But being the innately masochistic sufferers that we are, a resolution usually details the burden…as in, “I will wake at 5am and work out at Gold’s Gym for 2 hours every workday morning.”

In either case, we are liars and know it. Still, we make the resolution. And still yet, we can’t get that donkey ball taste out of our mouths. But for a short while, we live the fantasy that we are doing something about our pathetic lives.

2010 sucked and my mouth tastes of donkey balls.

Such is the nature of being human, its essence intrinsic in our art. Maybe that’s why Country Music is so popular. It’s raw, authentic and touches on a universal truth: Life is Suffering.

I’m not making resolutions this year. No empty promises to the gods in hopes they shine a little fortune my way. Nope. This year, I’m going tactical. Search and destroy: looking past; looking present; looking future.

What does that mean? It means, I will not make a list of habitual patterns of behavior and how I will change them. What I will do am doing is practicing awareness of my life: lived, living, and to be lived.

  • Which relationships are toxic?
  • Which relationships are neglected?
  • Which loose ends need attention?
  • Which loose ends can I write off?
  • What dreams have been tabled?
    • For more than a year?
    • For more than 2 years?
    • For more than 10 years?
  • Where do I compromise?

Stuff like that.

Aristotle noted that, “We are what we repeatedly do.”

It’s a chicken and egg dilemma but Ari gets it right. We are creatures of habit.

Look, life happens each moment and in each moment we handle life. Spouting resolutions at years end doesn’t change a thing. It’s the myriad small changes at each moment during the year that alters a course. All we really have is now, the present moment. But that’s all you need. In each moment, you can see your whole life.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour… –W. Blake

To bend what you do in any moment is to bend the universe. It’s in each single moment that habits are broken and entire new worlds are born.

The closest thing I have to a resolution this year is to practice standing in each moment, eight sides open.