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July/August 2007

Murphy’s Bye-Laws:

I’ve been occasionally dropping in at “Pint of Stout’s” place for some time now, and it finally dawned on me that every time I do, I’m rewarded with something worth thinking about. A recent gem is Colander Accuses Kettle of Not Holding Water (Also Black Adds the Pot), examining the ever-diminishing degrees of separation possible between oneself and the state (be sure to check out the comments too). Between his sporadic posting habit and my sporadic checking-in habit, I’m sure I’ve missed some good stuff—the primary question is whether to explore semi-chronologically via the archives or via the categories, which includes “left libertarian”, “philosophy and politics”, and the intriguing “retarded hyperbole”. But explore I shall!

Site overview: Spare Wordpress blog that’s very easy on the eyes, and quick to load. Pint of Stout has two co-bloggers who appear to be as reticent as my conspirators. Posting is infrequent but substantive; RSS feeds are available for the overall blog, or comments on particular items, or categories, so there’s really no excuse for not keeping up. Commenting appears to be open for all who are willing to divulge an eddress for the purpose. A wide range of subjects, stimulating content, and an intriguing sidebar of links makes Murphy’s Bye-Laws a great place for wandering around.

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The Museum of Unworkable Devices:

“A celebration of fascinating devices that don’t work“ is how the proprietor puts it; I’m also inclined to agree with his “perverse genius” description of the individuals whose works populate the page. And a very long page it is! The links in the “Galleries” section atop it go to other pages, but the ones in “The Main Gallery” take the reader to specific items further down that page. Lots of graphics help show what’s being discussed, but don’t unduly bog down loading time. Typically, an entry has a general description, followed by some discussion—but for many, figuring out the specifics of why it doesn’t work is left as an exercise for the reader. (Several have solutions and/or discussion, which is put on a different page.) A fun place for beginning as well as advanced physics hobbyists.

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Negative Calorie Foods:

I think it’s common knowledge that it takes more energy to digest celery than the celery provides; I first heard that as a kid, and pondered over it a bit, but didn’t give it another thought, aside from wondering if there were other foods like it. I hadn’t come across one, until a recent web search for weight loss tips (yes, sadly, I now need such information) landed me on this page. Now, I’m not saying I believe everything on this page—his analysis of how calories are used is unnecessarily simplistic, and many of the items he lists are also on the list of the world’s healthiest foods, so they have more nutritional value than he suggests—but regularly eating more of the foods on this list is almost certainly a good idea.

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Talent Is a Force, Not a Tool:

Another very long page (menu links take one further down the same page) rich with thought-provoking material. Whether one plows straight down the page in one sitting, or selects specific topics for reading and digesting before going back for more, it’s a pretty safe bet something will trigger a round of introspection. Simply reading Hank Pfeffer’s perspective on aptitudes—or even just the sentence from which the page title was taken: Talent is a force, not a tool. You don’t just pick it up and put it down at will – it does things to you in an ongoing way.—will reframe at least a couple of concepts for just about everyone. I found a lot of ideas that have aided my self-understanding, and hence, self-acceptance, even though I have had no time for the deep thinking this page deserves. I have also retooled my thinking regarding parenting some; and I expect that to continue as my children grow, and my grokking of Pfeffer’s ideas deepens. Definitely a page for bookmarking and revisiting.

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Html Codes for non-English characters:

Perhaps you’ve noticed that here and on my blog, I’ve started using curvy quotations marks and apostrophes instead of plain ASCII; or maybe you’ve noticed I use proper en and em dashes now, as well as correctly-rendered non-English characters in foreign words. I have long been rather a stickler for proper punctuation and spelling, but the often-unhappy renderings of non-ASCII characters—particularly those copied from Word documents and other proprietary formats—kept me from working out a solution. One day necessity led me to the first of my sources, HTMLSource’s page of special characters. In addition to spelling out why it’s a very good idea for every web document to specify a character set, it lists ways to create various symbols in one’s documents. One can find both name and number codes for various markup symbols, punctuation symbols, mathematical symbols (including Greek letters), and many of the most common non-Roman letters in both upper- and lowercase. For most foreign-language and other special needs, this page will suffice. This page is bookmarked in my Toolbar for easy access, although I have memorized the most frequently used codes just through regular use.

There are times when one needs more specialized codes—and that came for me after I traveled to Georgia and became enchanted by the beautiful language. Searching for a way to render Georgian on web pages landed me on a page that offers basic symbol codes, but also links to the numeric codes for several non-English languages, including Russian, Hindi, Arabic, Hebrew, Georgian, both forms of Japanese, Chinese, and many other Asian and Indian languages. Please note that this is not the same as having fonts for these languages installed on your machine. If you want to read a site written in Russian, for example, unless the author uses the numeric codes—which is highly unlikely, as it would be enormously cumbersome—you will still need to download and install the proper font.

I am not certain that these two resources cover every European and Asian language; but they should meet most needs quite well. If you’re looking for help with African languages, I’ve not explored that area much, but the A12N Gateway looks like a good place to start.

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