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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. 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. Now I have. I've already made a start on setting this up and I intend to increase the links in the future.
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Last modified on 2015-02-23 16:18

Book review: The Carfitt Crisis, by J.B. Priestley

The short story and two novellas that make up this book were published when their author was 81. In a preliminary letter of dedication to his publisher, Charles Pick, he writes that the stories were originally in dramatic form although he made many changes, and this led him to experiment in his manner of narration by "deliberately avoiding all but the barest description and refusing to offer the usual accounts, with which so many novels are overloaded, of what my characters are thinking and feeling. This severely objective method, confining itself to what my characters say and do, may or may not be welcome, but at least it is a change." [More]

Book review: C.G. Jung, by Anthony Storr

Anthony Storr was a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst whose practice was influenced by Jung although he was not an uncritical Jungian. In this book he adopts a biographical approach and emphasises how profoundly Jung's method of analytical psychology was influenced by his own psychological development.

Storr published his book in 1973, twelve years after Jung's death in 1961. Jung's contribution to our conception of human nature had so far been underestimated, Storr thought . He attributed this comparative neglect to Jung's inability to express himself clearly in his voluminous writings. In this he differed from Freud, who wrote with such clarity and conviction that he stilled criticism and was likely to over-convince the reader. [More]

Which *BSD as desktop: OpenBSD or FreeBSD?

Most people who think of trying a BSD would probably go for FreeBSD, but OpenBSD is also a possibility. I've been using both in the last few months and here I offer my assessment of the differences.

Both are easy to install, OpenBSD slightly more so. But the difference isn't important.

On OpenBSD very little needs to be done. In particular, X works out of the box. Both systems have very good packaging systems, but FreeBSD doesn't always install all the dependencies you might need. For example, I had a lot of difficulty getting LyX Beamer to work on FreeBSD because of unsatisfied dependencies that took quite a time to figure out. FreeBSD has more packages than does OpenBSD but so far I've missed only two that I needed on OpenBSD: qsf and sitecopy, both of which I compiled myself without difficulty

Sometimes things that you would think would be easy need a lot of work in FreeBSD. For example, getting xsane to work as user took me hours in FreeBSD whereas it worked out of the box with OpenBSD. The same applied to printing with CUPS. And FreeBSD gave me a blank black screen when I closed X; there is a solution to this but why did I have to spend time finding it? Suspend to ram worked automatically in OpenBSD but needed research in FreeBSD, and after a minor upgrade from 10.1 to 10.2 it stopped working again (and locked up the computer when I tried to do it).

Both OSs can work well as desktops but FreeBSD needs a lot more work to achieve this than does OpenBSD. For that reason I'd say that OpenBSD is the better choice. I have a lot more information about both OSs; please use the BSD tag below or on the right.

Right Hand, Left Hand, by Chris McManus - an update

I reviewed Right Hand, Left Hand by Chris McManus several years ago. I gave it two stars for importance and I still think it thoroughly deserves them for quality and importance. In the review I included a link to McManus's web site. I hadn't visited that for some time but now I've done so and found extensive and fascinating notes and updates on his book. They are wide-ranging, spanning, science, biology, philosophy, and literature. Well worth a visit. I wish McManus would bring out a new edition of his book to include some of this material, although, as he says, the Internet offers a unique opportunity to provide more than could easily be incorporated into a published book.

Book review: Cloning a Mammoth, by Beth Shapiro

Before reading this book I had not taken much interest in the possibility of reviving extinct species ("de-extinction"), supposing that it was largely confined to the realms of fiction like Jurassic Park, but this excellently written book has convinced me that I was wrong. Beth Shapiro explains, with admirable clarity and humour, why de-extinction matters and where the boundary lies between science and fiction. She is well placed to do this, heing professionally involved in the extraction of DNA from ancient bones for use in genetic engineering. [More]

Mark Horton gets it wrong in "Coast"

If you were watching "Coast" on BBC2 today you will have heard one of the presenters, Mark Horton, telling us that the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in 314. No, Mark, he didn't.

Constantine favoured Christianity and made it legitimate (together with all the other religions in the Empire). He played an important role in shaping how Christianity developed at this time. But it was not until the reign of Theodosius I (379-395) that Christianity became the official religion of Rome.

Book review: Hidden Gospels, by Philip Jenkins

In addition to the "canonical" texts of the New Testament there are numerous "apocryphal" writings that contain otherwise unknown sayings of Jesus or descriptions of his activities while alive. Some of these texts have been known for a long time, while others have come to light fairly recently. A notable example was the unearthing of the Nag Hammadi library in Egypt in 1945. Among the 52 mostly Gnostic texts found there was the gospel of Thomas, which is not a narrative of Jesus's life but contains sayings attributed to him.

Many scholars believe that the Gnostic texts, especially the gospel of Thomas, provide an alternative view of the early years of Christianity that is a valuable corrective to the mainstream teaching. Early Christianity, it is suggested, was much more diverse than what emerged later. It is often said that it was the influence of the Emperor Constantine that led to an "official" formulation of Christian belief and to the proscription of alternative views as heretical. Much of value is thought to have been lost at this time. [More]

Book review: Human, by Michael S. Gazzaniga

People who write about the brain in an evolutionary context tend to fall into one of two groups. Some seek for continuity between humans and other animals, while others concentrate on the differences between them. Gazzaniga belongs to the second group; he finds there is a qualitative as well as a quantitative difference separating us from other species.

The book covers a lot of territory, starting with brain anatomy and ending with the prospects for technology to modify the human brain by means of implants or genetic manipulation. On the way there is a lot about the neurological basis of social interactions, religion, and morality. [More]

FreeBSD as desktop

I've been a Linux user for many years but I'm drawn to the BSD philosophy of having a core system to which third-party packages can be added. I know that quite a number ot Linux users feel the same attraction, and some try out a BSD system although I suspect that most go back to Linux fairly quickly. The BSD system most often chosen for such experiments is FreeBSD, and here I offer my experience of using this as an alternative to Linux. As I explain in other posts here, I also use OpenBSD and I think that it may be better for the desktop than FreeBSD. Please see
my other posts for more details (use the tag on the right).

What I want in a desktop
Perhaps I should have said "What I don't want in a desktop". I don't want Gnome, KDE. or any other desktop environment. I don't want complicated window managers either, with lots of widgets or decorations. My window manager is spectrwm; if I wasn't using that it would probably be dwm or ratpoison. If you are looking for more fancy stuff you probably won't use any BSD, although I'm sure that both FreeBSD and OpenBSD can provide it on request. My computing philosophy is KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

I find that FreeBSD gives me a lot of what I want but it does have some fairly important problems for the desktop user. For details of these and how I (mostly) solved them, please see FreeBSD: Full details.

Book review: The Enlightenment, by Anthony Pagden

The term "Enlightenment" refers to a period in European history from roughly the middle of the seventeenth century to the end of the eighteenth, during which radical changes in thought occurred that had a profound influence on politics, philosophy, science, and religion. But there are major disagreements among historians, not only about the dating of this event, but also about its significance. Was it a time of liberation, when ways of thinking that had blocked progress for centuries were cast aside, or did it bring about an over-reliance on the intellect and on reason and lead to a loss of moral certainty caused by the erosion of religious faith? Pagden's subtitle makes clear that he is favours the positive view. So do I, but I have to say that I was disappointed by this book. [More]