Astronomy Night Out

10:08 Sun, 30 Oct 2011

I jumped in the car and headed out last night, ready for an hour or two of astronomy. As always, am feeling a bit tired this morning.

The thing that sparked me up was an article in yesterday's paper about Venus transits. The next one is in June 2012, less than a year away, and the one after that is not until 2117. It got me thinking about astronomy in general and particularly around Perth.

Andromeda galaxy The motivation was M31, the Andromeda galaxy. M31 is about 2.5 million light years and is magnitude 3.4, visible to the naked eye in a moderately dark sky. Melbourne was too far south to see it, so I have always wanted to see it once I got to somewhere further north. Now I am in Perth where M31 gets up to about 20° above the horizon at a certain time of the year, and right now is that time.

I don't know my way around the dark areas outside Perth, so I figured I would just head north. North is easy for me, it is basically a freeway to the outskirts and then jump

Categories: astronomy, science

XEphem and Scrotwm

10:52 Sat, 29 Oct 2011

How to get XEphem and Scrotwm to work together nicely, so that popup dialogs and windows float naturally.

XEphem is a well known astronomy and ephemeris program for unix and Mac (and Windows on Cygwin or an emulator), and scrotwm is a dynamic tiling window manager for the same set of operating systems, including Cygwin/Windows.

Since scrotwm is a tiling window manager, its default behaviour is to open new windows in a full size tile. XEphem opens quite a few new windows; almost any task opens a dialog window so you can specify parameters or choose various options. This means that using XEphem and scrotwm together results in a bunch of open tiles, some of which are clearly meant to be small dialog windows and others which are meant to be quite large, such as the view of the sky. We want to change this so that the windows open as they were designed to open (and which they would if they were on a normal desktop).

Scrotwm lets you override the default behaviour of any window by using its quirks mode. You specify the window class and name and the behaviour you want. This is clearly demonstrated in its man page. Unfortunately, you can't use a wildcard, so you can't say

Categories: unix, science, astronomy

John McCarthy

10:50 Tue, 25 Oct 2011

There must be something in the water. First Steve Jobs, then Dennis Ritchie, and now we have received word that John McCarthy has died. He was 84.

McCarthy was the inventor of Lisp, the concept of garbage collection, and coined the term "Artificial Intelligence". He even (unbeknowingly) forecast cloud computing through his notion of computing as a general public utility. Although probably not recognised by the general public, he was very much one of the pioneers of computer science. He received one of the very early Turing Awards, in 1971.

At 84, we can't be too sad at his passing. Instead, we can celebrate his pioneering ideas.

Categories: unix, programming

RIP Marco Simoncelli

19:20 Sun, 23 Oct 2011

Marco Simoncelli

Marco Simoncelli has died in today's MotoGP in Malaysia.

The footage of the accident was hard to watch. His helmet came off in the middle of the accident and he was limp after that. You knew something very serious had happened.

Simoncelli was one of the characters of the MotoGP, in much the same vein as The Doctor. Any death is terrible, but Simoncelli's is especially hard because of the fun nature of the man and his flamboyance in MotoGP.

Image source: Wikipedia

Categories: sport

Dennis Ritchie

12:11 Sun, 16 Oct 2011

Sad to read today that Dennis Ritchie died a few days ago. His death did not make the popular press, unlike Steve Jobs', and, in a way, that is an indicator of his life. He was the archetypal quiet achiever.

Ritchie was the co-author of the C programming language and the UNIX operating system. Both were hugely influential on the development of almost every computing device we use today.

Ritchie had a great influence on me. I had bought my first real computer, an Amiga 1000 (after having a System-80, the local equivalent of the TRS-80), and it was written in C. I knew nothing about C and set out to learn. The first book I bought was K&R (otherwise known as The C Programming Language), and the rest is history.

The Guardian has two nice articles, a eulogy, and a good historical piece.

Categories: programming, unix

I'm Back

09:42 Sat, 15 Oct 2011

I have moved house and am back on line. The move itself took a week and was full on.

Previously, I have used removalists to come in and pack everything and move them. It was easy and trouble-free. It cost, though.

This time, I pretty much moved myself and only used the removalist for the large furniture. What a drama! For a start, I'm much older and more unfit than the last time I moved and I seriously underestimated just how physical it is to lift and carry things dozens of times. Then, the removalists themselves were a bunch of cowboys: they scored deep cuts into my sofa trying to get it through the doors, and they punched a hole in the front door while trying to get the fridge or the washing machine through. I will probably have to pay the landlord for that to be repaired.

Then I had to clean the old place and my frozen shoulders from my motorcycle accident did not like that.

All up it took about 8 days from start to finish. Still, all done now, and ADSL is up and working at the new place.

Categories: moving

Kul Sharif Mosque

15:42 Tue, 04 Oct 2011

One of the great things about the Internet is how you start off reading something and end up jumping to another interesting article, then another, and so on.

The local newspaper is running a travel series about a guy travelling by train from London to Sydney, which looked really interesting, so I jumped on his blog to read it from start to finish. Well, sort of finish because he is still going and plans to get to Perth in mid-November.

He mentions in one of his posts about Kazan and the amazing Kul Sharif mosque. Here it is:

Simply beautiful. I know nothing more than the wikipedia article, but the images on google are amazing.

Categories: general