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Sticky: Becoming mobile-friendly

There's currently a lot of excitement among web designers about Google's announcement that they will penalise sites that don't work well on mobile devices. I've decided I need to comply with this although with less than total enthusiasm. Nearly all my pages now meet Google's new criteria (the only exception is my cycling pictures.)

The disadvantage of the change is that if you read my pages on a desktop or laptop the lines will be long (unless you adjust the width of your browser, of course). Perhaps I should have alternatives for people who are using those devices, though that would mean more complication and difficulty in maintaining both alternatives. And the variety of ways that web pages can be viewed has increased enormously, so it isn't possible to cater for all of them. Probably it's no longer a good idea to specify the width of one's lines as I did previously.

I'd be grateful for feedback on this.
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Last modified on 2015-08-15 16:13

Sticky: Changes to the blog

There has recently been a major update of the software I use for this blog (Serendipity). In the process of upgrading I had problems with the (pretty old) frontend theme I was using previously, hence this new one. It's plain and functional, which I like.

More important, it will now, I hope, be easier to search and navigate the blog. I'm particularly pleased to have the list of tags in the right-hand margin; relevant tags are listed at the end of each entry. I tend to come back to certain topics over the months and years but up to now I didn't have any easy way of linking posts on the same theme together.
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Last modified on 2015-11-25 14:55

Book review: On the Move, by Oliver Sacks

Sacks completed this autobiography shortly before his death, so we get a pretty complete account of his varied life spent mainly in the USA. As his title suggests, he travelled a great amount and not only in the geographical sense; he inhabited a surprising range of personalities. Quite early in his life he became addicted to motor cycles, the more powerful the better, and used them to make long journeys, sometimes riding all night before returning to work in the morning. For a number of years he was also an enthusiastic weight lifter and body builder; one of the chapters is called 'Muscle Beach'. And he experimented with drugs, especially amphetamines, on a large scale, to the point where he nearly died and was only saved by undertaking analysis. [More]

Book review: Hornblower and the Hotspur

Another novel in the Hornblower saga. As the book opens Hornblower has just married Maria, whom he does not love but who loves him devotedly. He has also been promoted to Commander as captain of the sloop Hotspur, with Bush as his lieutenant. Although war has not yet been declared that is certain to happen at any moment, and meantime Hornblower is to sail to Brest to keep watch on the French fleet in advance of the blockading force that Admiral Cornwallis is in the process of assembling. [More]

BBC-IPlayer now works without Flash

BBC IPlayer now offers HTML5 as an alternative to Flash. This really good news; it means that I can access the programmes directly on OpenBSD with Firefox or Chromium. You just need to visit the BBC site and opt to use HTML5 by installing a cookie.

Book review: Our Mathematical Universe, by Max Tegmark

It has been a commonplace of physicists and cosmologists since the time of Galileo that the world is described by mathematics, although some have puzzled over why this should be so. Tegmark, who is a cosmologist and a professor at MIT, takes the idea further than most by saying that the universe is not just described by mathematics, it is a mathematical object. In this book he sets out to explain his idea to a non-specialist audience, pretty much without the use of equations. Since his idea is essentially mathematical that may seem like an impossible task, but Tegmark writes clearly and informally and he does a good job of putting complex information into an accessible form.

As he explains at the beginning, he has written a very personal book. In Tegmark's words, this is "a scientific autobiography of sorts: although it's more about physics than it's about me, it's certainly not your standard popular science book ... Rather, it's my personal quest for the ultimate nature of reality, which I hope you'll enjoy seeing through my eyes." [More]

Book review: Lieutenant Hornblower, by C.S. Forester

This book is unusual in the Hornblower saga in that we see events not through Hornblower's eyes but through those of William Bush. As readers of other novels in the series will know, Bush will later become Hornblower's second in command and devoted friend, but at the start of the story he is the senior of the two. He first meets Hornblower on joining the 74-gun Renown, where Hornblower is already junior lieutenant. But although Hornblower is at the bottom of the heap his leadership qualities appear early, when the officers have to cope with a captain who is clearly insane. The captain falls down a hatch, possibly not accidentally, and becomes incapacitated, so the command of the ship passes to the insecure and incompetent first lieutenant, Buckland. [More]

Book review: Mr Midshipman Hornblower, by C.S. Forester

This novel describes the beginning of Hornblower's distinguished naval career. At the age of 17 he joins the battleship Justinian moored at Spithead. His introduction to naval life is not auspicious; he encounters a bully who makes his life miserable. But he challenges the bully to a duel, though neither is injured thanks to a ruse by the captain. He is then offered a transfer to another ship under an active captain, Pellew of the Indefatigable, and his career takes off. [More]

Book review: Leaving Alexandria, by Richard Holloway

Richard Holloway was Bishop of Edinburgh in the Scottish Episcopal Church (part of the Anglican Communion) from 1986 to 2000 and Primus (presiding bishop) from 1992 to 2000. He resigned in 2000 in somewhat acrimonious circumstances and in this autobiographical book he tells the story of his life up to the point of his resignation.

The 'Alexandria' in the title of the book refers not to Egypt but to the town in West Dumbartonshire in Scotland where Holloway grew up. In his early life he would have seemed an unlikely candidate for a bishopric. He came from a working-class family and grew up in relative poverty. His parents were not churchgoers - indeed his father disliked religion. But Richard met the local Rector who invited him to go to church, and when he did so he was instantly smitten. [More]

Annoying email from Crucial

A couple of weeks ago I bought a memory upgrade for my Thinkpad Z61m from Crucial UK. It arrived the day after I ordered it and installed and worked perfectly so thank you Crucial. Today they sent me an email asking me to review the product: "it's easy - just click on the link." Oh yes? I couldn't see the link either in my standard email program (mutt) or in Firefox. I also tried viewing it as text with an editor but it was so incredibly complex that I could make nothing of it.

I really would have liked to give them a good review but I can't. So Crucial get full marks for me for their product and service but zero for their post-sales communication skills. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

Book review: Identically Independent, by Tim Spector

The idea that practically everything about us - our appearance, personality, tastes, health - is determined by our genes is widespread today. One could almost say that genetic determinism is the scientific equivalent of astrological determinism. One reason we tend to believe this is evidence from twin studies. Comparison of pairs of 'identical' (monozygotic) twins with non-identical (dizygotic) twins allows us to estimate the contribution of genetic factors, since identical twins have the same genome whereas non-identical twins do not. This research has shown a strong hereditary element in many characteristics.

What has attracted even more attention in the media is cases of identical twins who were separated at birth and brought up in different families. When reunited the twins often seemed to be uncannily similar, even down to trivial matters such as the kind of dog they have or the names they give to their children. [More]

Book review: The Commodore, by C.S. Forester

This book follows Flying Colours, at the end of which we saw Hornblower welcomed back to England as a hero after his escape from France. Knighted and newly wealthy, he was reunited with Barbara Wellesley, the woman he loves, who had been widowed during his absence; she had taken care of his young son Richard following the death of Hornblower's wife.

At the start of this story Hornblower has been married to Barbara for several months and is the squire of the village of Smallbridge, a position that he doesn't enjoy. He is therefore delighted when he is summoned to the Admiralty and offered the appointment of Commodore to take a squadron of ships to the Baltic. His new command comprises the seventy-four-gun Nonsuch, two sloops, two bomb ketches, and a cutter. [More]

Book review: The Making of Modern Chinese Medicine 1850-1960, by Bridie Andrews

Most Westerners today probably think of Chinese medicine largely in the context of acupuncture, but that was never the only or even the main form of treatment in China. In this book it receives attention in only one chapter (Chapter 8). The main theme is the complex relations between traditional Chinese medicine and modern "Western" medicine. Andrews finds that the differences between the two have been considerably exaggerated. [More]