The Too-wide Web

For some reason, computer monitors have been getting wider and wider for years. This puzzles me, since like most people, when I'm working, I tend to use tall narrow documents, both to read and to edit. Sometimes I can arrange things so that I have two panels on the screen, which restores them to a more sensible shape, but the Web is a problem. Web pages seem to have begun adapting to wide monitors by adding wider and wider margins, often filled with ads and/or navigation materials. For me, these margins are often too wide for me to use a two-panel setup (it's just a laptop) but often they leave so much width when used full-screen that the text is tiresomely long. Typesetters have a rule of thumb that you shouldn't put more than about twelve words on a line because it's hard to read. Fortunately, I found a Chrome hack that lets me solve the problem.
The RepRap wiki is too wide.

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USB Stick

My sister Margaret has a pretty awesome job: in the summers, she works for Fish and Game in Alaska, studying salmon, and (being a government job in Alaska) they pay well enough that she can spend the rest of the year repairing and sailing her boat. There seems to be a great deal of repairing, but one dictionary I had as a kid defined a boat as "a hole in the water into which you pour money". In any case, Margaret has been sailing around the Caribbean; she delivered beans to Haiti in the wake of the earthquake, and she hosted a skill-sharing conference for sailors this last winter. It's an awesome life, and I'm totally envious, but it's a little hard on consumer electronics. Just last year she lost a camera full of pictures (which I totally wanted to see!). So I thought I'd try to make her an indestructible USB stick. I think it worked out pretty well.

Broken centerboard from her dinghy, Scout

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I'm fighting off the tail end of a cold, that stage where you're all congested and just can't seem to clear your lungs. So I figured I'd whip up a home remedy that is also dinner. Simple, easy, and effective. Black beans and corn.

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NuSTAR about to launch

NASA is getting ready to launch a new X-ray satellite, NuSTAR. This satellite will observe harder X-rays than we are currently able to. More specifically, this satellite is able to produce high-resolution images of the hard X-rays that come from the decay of isotopes produced in supernovae; the ability to observe hard X-rays with high spectral resolution should also let us probe neutron star formation. Plus it may help us pin down that hard X-ray emission from anomalous X-ray pulsars that nobody understands.

If all this sounds hopelessly technical, sorry. It's still impressive to me that they're going to take this hundred million dollar spaceship, fill it with what amounts to high explosives, strap it underneath a discontinued Lockheed airplane, fly it up into the air near Kwajalein, then drop it and light the fuse. The rocket will then burn for a few hundred seconds, dropping several stages and winding up in low Earth orbit. Once there, the mast holding the mirrors will extend from its one-meter storage canister to its full ten-meter length, the satellite will extend its solar arrays, and scientists will begin debugging and calibrating the instruments. That's if everything goes well; no Pegasus launcher (which this is) has ever actually exploded, though one pair of satellites failed to exit its fairing. So there are some people chewing fingernails, and there's some real drama here. You can watch it online.

Sorry for the hurried nature of the post; I'm planning to watch it live and report on the results as soon as we know.

Edited to add: Success! At least so far. The satellite is in orbit and the solar panels work. The last big worry-point is the extension of the boom; the ten-meter beam that holds the mirrors in position relative to the cameras is currently folded into a one-meter canister. Supposedly, the scientists were reassured that "we can't give you any details, but we know how" to build such a boom, but it won't extend for another week. That'll be followed by a few weeks worth of testing and calibration. But so far so good.

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Error 451: Unavailable for legal reasons

Proposed new HTTP error code (like the well-known 404): 451 (Unavailable for legal reasons). Contains the usual hacker humour, including a thank-you to Ray Bradbury (may he rest in peace) and the following example:

HTTP/1.1 451 Unavailable For Legal Reasons
Content-Type: text/html

<title>Unavailable For Legal Reasons</title>
<h1>Unavailable For Legal Reasons</h1>
<p>This request may not be serviced in the Roman Province of
Judea due to Lex3515, the Legem Ne Subversionem Act of AUC755,
which disallows access to resources hosted on servers deemed
to be operated by the Judean Liberation Front.</p>
Of course, this particular error might have been the result of hacking by the People's Front for Judea.

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French word of the day: bidouilleurs

A brief comment about background: I was born in Montreal, which is supposedly the third-largest French-speaking city in the world after Paris and Kinshasa, but as a result of family history and linguistic segregation (which has some nasty history) I grew up speaking English. These days I work in English, like most scientists, but I speak a lot of French socially. So from time to time I come across a neat French word. I think it might be good for my general education to post little comments on them here.

There's going to be a mini Maker faire here in Montreal at the end of the summer. Neat! But what caught my eye was that it seems the French word for "maker" is "bidouilleur". So what? you ask. The French word "bidule" is a kadigan roughly equivalent in meaning and seriousness to the English "thingamajig", so a bidouilleur (or bidouilleuse!) is someone who operates on thingamajigs. Which is pretty accurate, really. 

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Fabric triangulations

D dress from Continuum Design
What with cheap and easy 3D scanning and laser cutting, I see very interesting possibilities for bespoke clothing. But I think there are some technological issues to resolve, and in particular, there's a particular mathematical problem I'm not quite sure anyone has studied. Or at least, I'm not sure how to find the work on it (suggestions welcome!).

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