New theme, de-tagging, tiddlers

September 25, 2007

Obviously going through a mid-blog crisis. Decided to have a makeover. Luckily here at WordPress Central, this is a drink on a stick, as they have a whole bunch of pre-made themes to pick from. This one is called “Contempt”. This ought to be the name of a theme used by an arrogant twenty something, but it looks ok, so it is being put into action by your friendly neighbourhood fifty something. If you spot me doing that comb-over thing, please take me out and shoot me.

Next up is de-tagging, or rather de-categorisation. A short while back I whinged about bloggers overtagging. Now those nice WordPress folk have admitted they had confused tags and categories, and actually we can have both. (I do like Matt’s Hat.) Sooooo….. I guess I am going to go back over all my posts and categorise them properly into a mere handful of categories, and also add free-form tags. Life will be briefly a pain in the arse and then will make more sense.

I would have done this yesterday, but spent the whole evening playing with TiddlyWiki. This is absolutely fantastic. Its one of of a new breed of “personal wikis” which run on the client rather than a server, and so can be used as an interlinked note taking system. It is entirely self contained inside a single html file, containing the javascript to make it work as well as the user content, and so only needs a standard web browser to work. You can even take your wiki with you on your USB stick, plug it into the nearest PC, and carry on working. Finally, rather than being made up of several pages, it is made up of distinct snippets called “tiddlers”, which are assembled on a single page which grows and shrinks as you open and close the tiddlers. Its very intuitive. Basically its Hypercard for the web. Brilliant. Furthermore there are lots of examples on the web, which you download as templates and just start editing. I have been using “Twiddly Wiki for the rest of us

Yes I know trendy young things have known about this for two years, but hey I still got my own teeth.

World’s most boring blog

August 28, 2007

OK, straight to the point. Here it is. The Virtual Observatory Status Blog.

Its the creation of my colleague John Taylor. He works like me in the Virtual Observatory (VO) world, a software engineer on the VOTECH and AstroGrid projects. He produced a monitoring service called VOMon for VO services. This is very handy for techies but of zero interest to end-users. He also publishes changes through an RSS feed and an associated blog set up at BlogSpot. The result is a blog but not as we know it Jim. Its maybe the kind of blog educated robots would find titillating gossip. But for 98% of carbon based life forms its less fun than chewing your own foot off.

Of course I need to point out that we all hate John, because not only is he young talented and good looking, he is now leaving us to work for Google.

I could also point out that some VO geeks would claim that there are some real blogs by VO project members that are even more boring. I could. But as a responsible manager of course I won’t.

We tend to think that its easy to make astronomy fun, but John proves it ain’t always so. In similar vein, its worth remembering that the webcam at the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope on Hawaii was once named “World’s most boring Webcam”. It was either pointing out the window .. and the result was kinda .. well, black … or pointing at the observing astronomer, resulting in a still image of an astronomer typing at a computer terminal, refreshed every two minutes with slightly different finger positions. Gripping.

Here is a Guardian Article with some more recent boring webcams.

(There is a slightly better range of JCMT cams now …)

Guest blogging, insulting engineers, and insulting particle physicists

April 21, 2007

Yesterday I had the honour of providing a guest post on the popular //engtech site, which I have had on my own feedlist for a while. The guest post has a link to my own site. This has made my page views zoom up temporarily, even more than when I got a nice link from the Astronomy Blog. Even better – gasp – this afternoon the guest post is on the WordPress “top posts of the day list”. Crikey. This could turn me into a stats junkie.

//engtech is a pretty geeky site of course, so I wrote something about the differences between scientists and engineers. Its called “How I learned to shoot the engineers and ship the product”. Basically it was meant to be funny, and I thought was equally rude to both tribes. Hopefully most of //engtech’s readers agree, but I had some rather prickly comments indicating that some read it as “arrogant scientist mocking dumb engineers”. Oh dear. One does have to watch one’s tongue out here in cyberspace. I also had someone complaining that using the words “shoot” and “engineer” so soon after Virginia Tech was tasteless. Again, err, sorry .. I think ?

Talking about being rude to other tribes, Simon White has a nice paper up on astro-ph just now, all about how particle physicists are a malign influence on the health of astronomy, pushing us to expend all our resource on a handful of “fundamental” issues like dark energy, rather than explaining the wondrous diversity of phenomena in the Universe. I won’t go further into this, as Sean at Cosmic Variance has already written a post all about it. But I would just note that if this had been written by some dumb observer like me, you would see it as sour grapes. But coming from a mega-brain like Simon, you gotta take it seriously.