This old URL hasn't been updated for a while, but I'm still putting out new stuff! Check out the shiny new domain at

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Looking up...

I really don't post on this blog as often as I should.  Life is looking up, and things seem to be falling into alignment.  Huzzah.

Monday, September 22, 2008

LyX: LaTeX made easy

I have to admit, that when it comes down to it, I'm pretty lazy.  I hate having to do work that I don't really need to do, and will take the easy way out.  Unfortunately, that doesn't quite merge with LaTeX (for the uninformed, that's pronounced "Lay-Tech," not like the plastic-y stuff).
One day I stumbled upon a very nice application that merges the lazy approach of a typical word processor with the good-looking output of a LaTeX document: LyX (which is pronounced "licks").  Its a classic example of a program that does one thing and does it great.
Main window (and this blog post!)
That said, it isn't perfect.  Some common actions require some pretty arcane key shortcuts (Command-M puts you into math mode).  Math mode still uses standard LaTeX "\" macros, so new users of LyX should have such a document nearby (I'll post a few at a later time).  The given interface for some of the common symbols is pretty awful, as well.  Just take a peek:
Ugly toolbars
Also, it looks like it uses the GTK+ toolkit, which is pretty renowned for giving pretty poor results across all platforms.  It also rigidly enforces structured document formatting, as the back-end processor will handle everything.  Then again, this last point is one of the appeals of LaTeX.

That said, even with these issues, LyX is a great entry point for technical papers.  I've been using it for all my notes this semester, and it has performed admirably.  It provides a good range of export options, from plain-text to PDF, that make distributing/sharing documents easier.  "Easier," not easy, since collaboration is impossible without everyone using LyX, as its save files are plain-text and very similar to TeX source files.  It also has some pretty awesome-looking output:
LaTeX output

LyX, ultimately, is a great program for math and science documents, but enforces too many restrictions for casual users.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Oof.  Yet again, I've waited too long to add a new post.  I am writing one, and it is coming along quite nicely.

I lied.  I'm writing two.  One on LyX, an excellent LaTeX based word processor, and another on the dorm room workspace and some changes I've made (no new materials!).

Friday, August 15, 2008

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Website Redesigns

Facebook and Google recently announced major overhauls of their interactive homepages, and Google's page comes out with the better result.

Facebook's new site is available to the general public at, and once you visit the link the entire site overhaul is available, along with a link to revert back to the previous version of the site. The redesign doesn't add much in terms of raw features, but I did notice a "Comment" link available for a status change. Facebook Chat is still integrated, and continues to maintain any current chats between tabs and while navigating around the site. Unfortunately, my sidebar Facebook Chat bookmark broke, and I haven't yet found a way to fix it.

While the reorganization is nice, and the AJAX-ification makes life easier for navigating the site. Applications, which quickly crowded profiles and made navigation messy, are now on their own "tab" of the profile page, and the rarely used "About Me" information also receives its own tab. While the re-organization is nice, I did have a few issues switching between tabs.

The worst, though, is that there is a large amount of wasted space on larger monitors. With the new wider layout, Facbeook is no longer limited to the center of the screen, but the wider layout doesn't contract as the window is narrowed. As a result, there's a gap in the middle that makes the site unweildy.

Google's interactive homepage, iGoogle, was also throughly redone, and now features a more intelligent integration of Google's technologies. Chat is available both in a tab and in a bar along the bottom, so quick conversations are always at hand. Also, GTalk is still accessible from Google's own desktop client and third party clients, so the chat interface is redundant if you choose to make it so. The tabs also now list all their content, and when the title is clicked on in the left navigation bar, it brings up the box with expanded information and filling the full screen. As an example, GMail lists only a few messages from the inbox while on the page view, but when in fullscreen view the standard GMail is available inside of iGoogle. RSS feeds come up in a view very similar to Google Reader, and the Weather view goes on steroids.

iGoogle is a great update, but its not fully available to the public, and still has a few issues. Some RSS feeds don't come up properly (missing some links, feed titles, etc.), and sometimes are handled by the box view instead of the Google Reader view when in full page view. Also, a few issues exist when moving boxes between columns.

The new Facebook and the new iGoogle are both welcome redesigns, but neither is quite ready for prime time. iGoogle has some bigger issues, but is still in a closed beta (a signup is required, and is really designed for developers). Also, its the better redesign. Facebook is in open beta, and only has a few niggling issues until everything is ready for public release.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

My Home Workspace

After my last post (and the significant gap between it and now) on a home dorm room workspace, I thought a good start would be to evaulate my home workspace.

For starters, here's my (admittedly messy) desk at home. 

To be honest, it's not even a very good picture.  I have a nice, high-back desk chair, a widescreen LCD at hte center of my desk, a full keyboard, and my Mac to the right, on top of my unused printer.  Out of frame to the left is my tower desktop, for when I need Windows or blow off some steam (and take out some Team Fortress 2 punks).  The desk itself is rather small, and the room is in pretty good shape beyond the desk area.

I'm comfortable with this style and layout, although it is a little cramped, but it provides a good basis for a dorm room layout because it is compact and because I can't make any permanent changes without angering my parents during my summers at home.

  •  Keeping the tower to the left of the desk keeps it both out of the way and easily accessible.  As a bonus, its flat top is a nice place to keep blank CDs, headphones, and the power adapter for the Mac.  Here's a photo:

    Tower, with some stuff on top of it.

  • The laptop can't stay where it is.  I don't use the printer over the summer, but for school I'll be generating a decent amount of paper with all the fun papers and source code I'll be writing.

  • The plastic drawer and cabinet come through once again.  I don't know where I'd be without those two bits of storage.  They're dirt cheap, reasonably durable, and easy to find.  Staples has a good collection of plastic storage boxes here, in their online store.  

So there's my starting point.  Next I'll start to finalize a plan, followed by a suggested parts list.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Ideal Dorm Room Workspace

When it comes to getting organized and taking control of the myriad day-to-day tasks everyone has to deal with, Lifehacker is one of the best resources around.  Recently, this blog ran an article on completely revamping your workspace, starting with clearing everything out, building/repurposing furniture, getting everything organized, and finally installing the finishing touches. 

Reading over this article kicked my mind into gear.  As a student, I face a number of challenges that make setting up an ideal workspace even harder.
  • No changes can be permanent.  Since it's just a dorm room, I'll need to clear out come the end of the year.
  • I can't cause any damage.  Anything that involves an irreversible change is considered damage.  So bolting something to the side of my desk is out, because there's no way to repair the screw hole.
  • Speaking of desk, I can't choose most of my own furniture.  My bed, desk, and dresser are all chosen for me by the school, and are the same as everyone else's.  I can, however, bring my own desk chair.
With these challenges in mind, I can start planning everything out and creating a good workspace.

Here's a few of my initial ideas:
  • I have two computers, a desktop and a laptop.  The desktop requires an external keyboard & mouse, but something like a door-mounted letter tray attached with stick-on hooks would work as a place to keep them off my desk.
  • Depending on the shelving that's put over my desk, and any rotation software on the laptop, I can velcro the laptop to the underside of the shelving and save desk space.
This is just an introduction.  I hope to add ideas, and maybe remix old ones, for the rest of the summer.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Dyson Vacuums vs. *NIX Operating Systems

After seeing a commercial for a Dyson-brand vacuum cleaner, my mind was kicked into gear as to why the uptake in *NIX operating systems on the desktop (specifically, all flavors of Linux and Apple's OS X) has been so slow when compared to Microsoft Windows.

In some ways, *NIX currently stands as the Dyson vacuums of the computer world.  Currently, the only mainstream desktop *NIX system is Mac OS X.  Apple only sells OS X bundled with a new PC, effectively making the hardware a giant dongle key for an otherwise awesome operating system.  Linux is another great *NIX system, but fails at the mainstream because it simply requires too much effort for the average computer user, and this failure is its higher cost.

I feel the need to pause and define what I mean as the average computer user.  This is the person who gets their technology news from mainstream media.  This is the person who doesn't realize that Internet Explorer is just a web browser, or even what a web browser is.  It's just “the Internet” to them.  This is the person who thinks that if they get a Mac, the computer will be near-worthless.  This is the person who, rather than upgrading hardware or software, just goes out and buys a whole new computer.

With the idea of the average computer user defined, I can continue.  Since Windows has a critical mass of both software and hardware support, it stands as a de facto standard, but not in the standards-compliant sense.  It is the most easily available thing, and therefore many will opt to purchase it, despite its flaws. *NIX systems fix these flaws, but do so in a way that leaves it incompatible with existing Windows software.  This ultimately means that the user must decide between a system with a higher cost and less compatibility and a system with high compatibility and low cost.

This is where the parallel to Dyson comes in.  Dyson, especially the new "Ball" model, fixes perceived design flaws in existing vacuum cleaners.  However, you're then stuck in a mess where the only manufacturer of equipment for the vacuum is Dyson, and the only way you can be serviced is via Dyson.  Additionally, the vacuum is more expensive than other manufacturers' models. 

Just like with computers, the design flaws get fixed, but only with a higher cost.  For *NIX to get greater traction on the desktop, the cost has to be alleviated.

One interesting aside I'd like to address in a future blog post is the challenges Microsoft faces in getting away from their previous errors.  Another is that I've written this blog post on a new MacBook system, and I'm impressed with the features found in the basic OS X text editor, which include fonts, decent page layout, spell checking, and even kerning.

Monday, June 23, 2008


I've been reading more frequently lately due to the 2 1/2 or so hours I have commuting, so I decided to check out Goodreads to get ideas for books to read. Seems like it's pretty good stuff so far. I've written one review, for A Scanner Darkly, the last book I finished. I'm currently at the beginning of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Here's my review: A Scanner Darkly A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars "A Scanner Darkly" is a mind-bending alarmist tale about America in the 1960s. The story is vaguely auto-biographical, based loosely off Philip K. Dick's own experiences in the turbulent decade. The story documents the life of Bob Arctor, an undercover narcotics agent in the future-1990s. At work, Arctor responds to "Hank" as "Fred," an endlessly shifting coagulation of thousands of people. Through his drug use with housemates Jim Barris and Ernie Luckman, he rapidly devolves into just a borderline junkie. Fred, however, is tasked with monitoring the house, as the police believe that it is at the center of a drug-running operation. Specifically, Fred must focus on Arctor and his relationship with Donna Hawthorne, who is Arctor's main provider of Substance D, nicknamed "Substance Death" or "Slow Death." While in the course of monitoring Arctor, Fred becomes disjointed through heavy use of S.D., and is eventually removed from the case. Donna steps out of her role as "Hank" to bring Arctor/Fred to a New Path clinic, where he is to receive treatment for his fractured mind. At the very close of the book, however, Fred/Arctor discovers a series of small blue flowers, and his instincts kick in to deliver one of these flowers to Donna at the next yearly visit. The flowers are the source of Substance D, and New Path is the creator of the horrid drug they claim to rehabilitate from. The twists at the end create a unique literary view, especially as the "crosstalk" between Arctor/Fred takes stronger and stronger hold. In mid-sentence, German and Latin quotations will appear suddenly in the text, and the total confusion of character as Arctor/Fred rapidly degenerates, and finally is renamed "Bruce" by New Path, puts the reader in the position of having to struggle along with Arctor/Fred as to who he really is. As complex as the book is, it is not Dick's most complicated work. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is a far more complex novel, and explores less the human psyche and more the very definition of humanity and empathy. View all my reviews.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Fratellis in Concert

Ahh, another concert. First one I've been to since December, when I caught Cake at Terminal 5. As always, going to a show and seeing the band live on stage, with the energy of the crowd washing over you, is a completely different experience than simply listening to music on your own.

The opener, Airborne Toxic Event, were great too. Their sound wasn't too far-off from the typical trendy indie-rock group, but they just seemed on when they played.

Have some pictures up on PicasaWeb, but some interesting ones are below.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Classes are over

Classes are over, and finals have begun. No real free time to speak of. Went into NYC for some stuff yesterday morning, worked all afternoon, and went out for a bit at night, and came back and crashed at about 11pm. Early night, for a college student.

As far as the exams go, nothing really out of the ordinary. Two were in class, and I think I did well on both. My final Data Structures project, MrLiquor, was completed and submitted Thursday for a Friday noon deadline. Paper for Computers in Society (7pg) due Tuesday, 11:59p, and I'm working at a pace of 2-a-day. My last two finals are normal finals, Thursday and Friday, in the afternoon sessions. I have been and will be going at a decent page (1 chapter/day) to make sure I'm all prepped and happy by the time the finals start.

I've already decided I won't be going crazy tonight (thanks, pinkeye!), but I've gone beyond that and decided to sequester myself in either my room or the library until Friday night so I can prep like mad. I don't want any distractions, but I do want A's and B's (although at this point I'd take a C in Probability and Statistics, those tests are grueling). Plus, everyone will be free Friday, and that's always better for relaxing. Free from classes, that is ;)

Friday, April 25, 2008

My Campus Done Gone Nuts

Well, this week has definitely been interesting. I posted 3 alerts from Wednesday's arson incident, since they're all public.

That said, it's not over yet. A fourth unposted alert was sent Thursday morning as an "all clear," and then earlier today (Friday) there was a second incident and now all the freshmen are in the Schaeffer Arena getting interrogated. Should be fun.

Some lucky ones get out of finals today. Oh, well. Sucks for them if they can't make it up.

And now that my study break is over, time to run and take a final. Science Fiction. Fun.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Stevens Arson #2

To: Stevens Community
From: Maureen Weatherall

Stevens Campus Police in cooperation with the Hoboken Police Department, Hudson County Sheriff's Office and the NJ State Police, as well as other jurisdictions, has activated our campus emergency plan.

As a precaution, all access to Residence Halls is being monitored by Stevens personnel. Students will only be allowed into their own Residence Hall after showing ID. There may also be bag searches prior to entry. Please cooperate in helping us maintain the safety of our community.

As an additional precaution, canine units are canvassing the Residence Halls.

All visitors to campus are being required to show ID prior to entering the grounds.

These safety procedures will be in effect until further notice. We will be following the directions of law enforcement experts and will issue a further update early this evening.

Again, please call Dean Ken Nilsen if you have any information about this incident. His number is [redacted].

We are fortunate to have an outstanding campus Police Department and strong cooperation and support from Hoboken, Hudson County and the State of New Jersey. Our primary concern is the safety of every member of our community. We are taking and will continue to take every appropriate action. We thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Stevens Arson #3

To: Stevens Community
From: Maureen Weatherall

As of 6:00 pm on Wednesday, April 23, 2008, all on campus residence halls have been swept and secured. We are continuing the security measures currently in place through out the night. Stevens personnel or a Hoboken police officer will be stationed at each residence hall entry.

Students must have campus ID. Only the residents of each dormitory will be allowed into their building. Visitors are not permitted into the residence halls at this time.

We are now able to provide more information regarding the note left this morning in Davis Hall. The note specified the April 23rd/April 24th overnight period. If there are residents of Davis that are uncomfortable sleeping in their building, Jacobus and Canavan Arena will be open. Please bring your own blankets and pillows.

If observe any suspicious behavior, please call the Center Desk 24hrs a day at (201) 216-5105. Please call Dean Ken Nilsen if you have any information about this incident. His number is (201)745-8216.

Thank you for your continued cooperation and support.

Stevens Arson #1

To: Stevens Community

From: Maureen Weatherall

Date: April 23, 2008

On Tuesday, April 22, 2008, there was a case of arson on the fourth floor of Davis Hall, the Hoboken Fire Department responded and there were no injuries or serious damage. An arson investigation is underway. In addition, a threatening note was found in the fourth floor bathroom on Wednesday, April 23rd at approximately 8:30 a.m.

Effective immediately campus police officers will be posted at the main entry way of Davis Hall and all bags will be checked. The side doors will be closed for entry. Only Davis residents with valid IDs will be permitted in the building.

All members of the campus community are asked to have their Stevens ID available on their person.

Any members of the Stevens community with information about this incident are encouraged to contact Dean Ken Nilsen, 201-745-8216.

An email update will be distributed by 3:00 p.m. this afternoon, April 23, 2008. Please contact Maureen Weatherall, 201-216-5190 with any questions about this advisory.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

CAM Club Updates

Now that I'm Vice President of the Climbing and Mountaineering Club officially (I think), I'm trying to get a trip together for the reading day, April 30th, 2008, to The Gravity Vault in Upper Saddle River. If we can't get it together to go to a rock gym, then the Stevens rock gym will have to do in a pinch.

With finals making everyone go absolutely nuts, this should be a nice respite for those who can go. Even better, some people that were interested but couldn't go before might be able to make it for this trip.

Op-Ed Vent Coming

For "The Stute" this week I just had to rant about the Stevens student body. I'm tired of seeing people shortchange themselves and other students when they cheat and duck their way through school getting grades instead of learning.

When the online edition goes up over the weekend, I'm going to post the full Op-Ed.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Test Post, and other stuff

Just testing to see if I can post stuff with MS Word 2007 in Blogger, and I guess I can if this can be read.

My NCAA pick was… off. Still, all four #1 teams made it to the final four, so that was interesting to watch.

School is getting crazy, Stute is getting crazy, and MAC is getting crazy.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Gravity Vault


Rock climbing is tons of fun.
Go ask anyone.
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