I got married and had kids so you don’t have to

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I’m sure that the graveyard of over-optimism is littered with the corpses of parents who planned to help their children learn self-moderation by showing them the wonders of nature, but who realized too late that fields of wheat don’t stand a chance against Rocket League. I’m hoping that we can agree that computer games are good, but other things are good too, cf fields of wheat. I don’t want to have to sneak in my own gaming time after my son has gone to bed. I also don’t want to be a hypocrite; at least, I don’t want Oscar to know that I’m a hypocrite. Maybe we can play together and use it as father-son bonding time. This might work until he’s ten and after he’s twenty-five.

Robert Heaton, of Programming Projects for Advanced Beginners fame and reverse-engineering device drivers that spy on you (which I’ve talked about before), has also been blogging lately about his experience of Dadding, with the same dry/sarcastic tone you might be used to. This long post is a great example of the meandering thoughts of a (techie) parent in these (interesting) times, and it’s good enough for that alone. But it’s the raw, genuine “honesty and dark thoughts” section towards the end of the article that really makes it stand out.

The most important feature of Sublime Text

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The most important feature of Sublime Text is that it doesn’t change. In the modern world, everything changes at a crazy pace. We get new OSes and new phones every year, Google opens and closes its products monthly, many physical devices get announced, produced, and disappear in an interval shorter than the Sublime Text release cycle. I have two problems with that.

I love Sublime Text. It was the editor for which I finally broke my long, long emacs habit (another editor that “doesn’t change”). Like emacs, Sublime is simple but powerful. Unlike Atom, it doesn’t eat all the RAM in the universe. And unlike VS Code, I can rely on it being fundamentally the same today, tomorrow, and next year.

When you browse Instagram and find former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s passport number

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Everything you see when you use “Inspect Element” was already downloaded to your computer, you just hadn’t asked Chrome to show it to you yet. Just like how the cogs were already in the watch, you just hadn’t opened it up to look.

But let us dispense with frivolous cog talk. Cheap tricks such as “Inspect Element” are used by programmers to try and understand how the website works. This is ultimately futile: Nobody can understand how websites work. Unfortunately, it kinda looks like hacking the first time you see it.

Hilarious longread.

The Unexpected Solace in Learning to Play Piano

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…while I practice, I have to simultaneously read, listen, think, translate. Every synapse of my brain is so utterly overwhelmed, there is no capacity left to think about the world out there.

When Christoph Niemann published this piece about learning to play the piano during the most-lockdown-y parts of the Coronavirus lockdown, it rang a chord with me (hah!). I, too, have experimented with learning to play the piano this spring/summer, and found a similar kind of Zen-like focussed calm emerge out of the frustration of staring at a piece of sheet music and wondering why I couldn’t for the life of me get me fingers to remember to do when they got to that point.

I started out with – after following some random links off the back of finishing the last bit of work for my recent masters degree – a free course in music theory by the OU, because I figured that coming in from a theoretical perspective would help with the way my brain thinks about this kind of thing. I supplemented that with a book we got for the kids to use to learn to play, and now I’ve now graduated to very gradually hunt-and-pecking my way through Disney’s back catalogue. I can play Go The Distance, Colors of the Wind and most of Can You Feel The Love Tonight barely well enough that I don’t feel the need to tear my own ears off, so I guess I’m making progress, though I still fall over my own hands every time I try to play any bloody thing from Moana. 20 minutes at a time, here and there, and I’m getting there. I don’t expect to ever be good at it, but I’m enjoying it nonetheless.

But anyway: this piece in the NYT Magazine really spoke to me, and to hear that somebody with far more music experience than me can struggle with all the same things I do when getting started with the piano was really reassuring.

Dune (2020)

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Oh my god I’m so excited. I’m afraid they might fuck up the story even more than David Lynch did in 1984 (not that I don’t love that film, too, but in a very different way than the books). I mean: I’d have hoped a modern adaptation would have a bigger part for Chani than it clearly does. And I know nothing at all about the lead, Timothée Chalamet. If only there was something I could do about these fears?

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Yeah, that’s the kind of thing.

The supporting cast look excellent. I think Josh Brolin will make an awesome Gurney Halleck, Jason Momoa will rock Duncan Idaho, and I’m looking forward to seeing Stephen McKinley Henderson play Thufir Hawat. But if there’s just one thing you should watch the trailer for… it’s to listen to fragments of Hans Zimmer’s haunting, simplistic choral adaptation of Pink Floyd’s Eclipse.

CSS Logical Properties

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.my-element {
  margin-inline-start: 1em;
}

What this now does is instead of saying “add margin to the left”, it says “regardless of direction, put margin on the starting side”. If the language of the document was right to left, like Arabic, that margin would be on the right hand side.

This is clever. If you use e.g. margin-left on every list element after the first to put space “between” them, the spacing isn’t quite right when the order of the elements is reversed, for example because your page has been automatically translated into a language that reads in the opposite direction (e.g. right-to-left, rather than left-to-right). When you use margin-left in this way you’re imposing a language-direction-centric bias on your content, and there’s no need: margin-inline-start and its friends are widely-supported and says what you mean: “place a margin before this element”. I’ll be trying to remember to use this where it’s appropriate from now on.

Holograms on Chocolate

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This is incredibly cool. Using (mostly) common household tools and chemicals and a significant amount of effort, Ben (who already built himself a home electron microscope, as you do) demonstrates how you can etch a hologram directly into chocolate, resulting in a completely edible hologram. I’d never even thought before about the fact that a hologram could be embossed into almost any opaque surface before, so this blew my mind. In hindsight it makes perfect sense, but it still looks like magic to see it done.

To the future occupants of my office at the MIT Media Lab

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Hi. My name is Ethan Zuckerman. From 2011-2020, I enjoyed working in this office. I led a research group at the Media Lab called the Center for Civic Media, and I taught here and in Comparative Media Studies and Writing. I resigned in the summer of 2019, but stayed at the lab to help my students graduate and find jobs and to wind down our grants. When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, I left campus and came back on August 14 to clean out my office and to leave you this note.

I’m leaving the note because the previous occupant left me a note of sorts. I was working here late one night. I looked up above my desk and saw a visegrip pliers attached to part of the HVAC system. I climbed up to investigate and found a brief note telling the MIT facilities department that the air conditioning had been disabled (using the vice grips, I presume) as part of a research project and that one should contact him with any questions.

That helped explain one of the peculiarities of the office. When I moved in, attached to the window was a contraption that swallowed the window handle and could be operated with red or green buttons attached to a small circuitboard. Press the green button and the window would open very, very slowly. Red would close it equally slowly. I wondered whether the mysterious researcher might be able to remove it and reattach the window handle. So I emailed him.

I’m reminded of that time eleven years ago that I looked up the person who’d gotten my (recycled) university username and emailed them. Except Ethan’s note, passed on to the next person to occupy his former office at MIT, is much cooler. And not just because it speaks so eloquently to the quirky and bizarre culture of the place (Aber’s got its own weird culture too, y’know!) but because it passes on a slice of engineering history that its previous owner lived with, but perhaps never truly understood. A fun read.

Bodley and the Bookworms – Scan and Deliver

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You know that strange moment when you see your old coworkers on YouTube doing a cover of an Adam and the Ants song? No: just me?

Still good to see the Bodleian put a fun spin on promoting their lockdown-friendly reader services. For some reason they’ve marked this video “not embeddable” (?) in their YouTube settings, so I’ve “fixed” the copy above for you.

7 things we know about the nun reading ‘Boys’ Life’ in ‘Airplane!’

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A nun reading Boy's Life and a boy reading Nun's Life

It’s one of the best visual gags in a movie filled with them.

In the classic 1980 comedy Airplane!, two passengers are seen reading magazines. First, we see a nun reading Boys’ Life. Moments later, there’s a boy reading Nuns’ Life.

The scene is over in seconds, but the memory of this joke lives on. That’s especially true for those of us who have been reading Boys’ Life since we were kids.

Here are seven things you might not know about this bit of visual humor.

Of the many things I love, here are two of them:

  • The Airplane series of movies.
  • People who, like me, get carried away researching something trivial and accidentally become an expert in a miniscule field.

This fantastic piece takes a deep dive into a tiny scene in Airplane. What issue of Boys’ Life was the nun reading? What page was she looking at? What actual magazine was the boy reading within the Nuns’ Life cover? These and more questions you never thought about before are answered!

WHAT THE BEC?! (#01)

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Just another vlog update from comedian Bec Hill. Oh no, wait… this website is now T-Shirt Famous! (for a very loose definition of “famous”, I guess.) For a closer look, see Instagram.

This isn’t the silliest way I’ve put my web address on something, of course. A little over 17 years ago there was the time I wrote my web address along the central reservation of a road in West Wales using sugar cubes, for example. But it’s certainly the silliest recent way.

Anyway: this t-shirt ain’t the Million Dollar Homepage. It’s much cooler than that. Plus the money’s all going to Water Aid. (If you haven’t claimed a square yourself, you still can!)

DanQ.me on a t-shirt as drawn by comedian Bec Hill
I was pleased to see that Bec even managed to get the blue kinda-sorta on-brand.

On Bec Hill related news, did you see that she did a third “when you listen to music when you’re hungry” video? You should go watch that too. It’s avocado-licious.

Lindsey Stirling/Johnny Rzeznik String Session

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One of the last “normal” things I got to do before the world went full lockdown was to attend a Goo Goo Dolls concert with Ruth, and so to see two musicians I enjoy team up to perform a song and share some words of hope and encouragement for a better future beyond these troubled times… feels fitting and inspiring.

Also awesome to see that Stirling’s perhaps as much a fan of Live in Buffalo as I am.

Fun diversion: I never know how to answer the question “what kind of music do you like?”, because I increasingly (and somewhat deliberately) find that I enjoy a wider and wider diversity of different genres and styles. But perhaps the right answer might be: “I like music that makes me feel the way I feel when I hear Cuz You’re Gone recorded from the Goo Goo Dolls’ concert in Buffalo on 4 July 2004, specifically the bit between 4 minutes 10 seconds and 4 minutes 33 seconds into the song, right at the end of the extended bridge. It’s full of anticipatory energy and building to a wild crescendo that seems to mirrors the defiance of both the band and the crown in the face of the torrential rain that repeatedly almost brought an end to the concert. Music that makes me feel like that bit does: that’s the kind of music I like. Does that help?”

The Perfect Art Heist: Hack the Money, Leave the Painting

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Thieves didn’t even bother with a London art gallery’s Constable landscape—and they still walked away with $3 million.

This comic is perhaps the best way to enjoy this news story, which describes the theft of £2.4 million during an unusual… let’s call it an “art heist”… in 2018. It has many the characteristics of the kind of heist you’re thinking about: the bad guys got the money, and nobody gets to see the art. But there’s a twist: the criminals never came anywhere near the painting.

A View from Hampstead Heath, ca. 1825, by John Constable

This theft was committed entirely in cyberspace: the victim was tricked into wiring the money to pay for the painting into the wrong account. The art buyer claims that he made the payment in good faith, though, and that he’s not culpable because it was the seller’s email that must have been hacked. Until it’s resolved, the painting’s not on display, so not only do the criminals have the cash, the painting isn’t on display.

Anyway; go read the comic if you haven’t already.