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Catz

Some of you know already, but some of you don't. Cookie, my cat of so many summers, has left us at 6/6/11. RIP, my boy.

Deceased pets are usually processed in the Tierkörperbeseitigungsanstalt. Sounds like straight from the Third Reich? Well, it is. These industrial-scale, profit-oriented rendering facilities have been renamed in 2005, but what they're doing has remained the same.

Unthinkable.

Fortunately, many feel the same. We found a beautiful place not far from us, a pet cemetery with a meadow surrounded by birches and pines popular with squirrels. The twittering birds create a lively atmosphere, but it is the squirrels with their hectic activity who give the place this busy, happy note. When we visit Cookie, it is mainly their presence which makes us believe in the land over the rainbow.

And otherwise? Well, we couldn't really live very long in a cat-free vacuum…

Is it ok?

Meet Indy! Indy is a ragdoll, thus the indigo eyes (yeah, I'll purchase a better camera soon…). He's as sweet as he's smart, and he's growing at an alarming rate. We adore him. :)

To grow, however, he needs food, and preferably a really good one. I've looked up the vital values of cat food available via the internet (ignoring supermarket brands such as Whiskas, Kitekat, Felix and anything on that level but pretending to be of premium quality). The price you see there is for mid-sized cans. Indy tried already several of those, but is particularly fond of the snacks (labeled E). Kids. ;)

Katzenfutter

sed RULES

JabRef is the current de facto standard for the management of BibTeX based bibliographies. Since many of my colleagues use JabRef, I had the idea to join the individual bibliographies of those of us working in the same field to form a kind of super-bibliography essentially containing all relevant papers in this field. My companions and me have encountered all kinds of difficulties along this quest (oh holy character encoding!), but we eventuall managed to obtain a functional database free of duplicates and unprintable characters.

As a final polish, I wanted to ensure that proper acronyms and chemical symbols occuring in the references' title would be correctly capitalized after BibTeX/LaTeX compilation, so that, for example, GaN is not represented as gan *shudder*. BibTeX will do that if the characters in question are enclosed by curly braces, like that: {GaN}.

I thought a bit, and came up with the following oneliner:

sed 's/title = \({[^{]\+}\),/title = {\1},/' -i database.bib,

but that didn't seem to work reliably. Hmm. It took me a minute to realize that JabRef inserts linebreaks at will, causing long titles to span over three or even four lines.

After applying

sed '/title/N;s/\n\t/ /' -i database.bib

until the database did not change in size anymore, the above oneliner worked to my full satisfaction. :)

Scalable

So far, I relied on the capability of zim to convert a LaTeX expression to an image when I wanted to insert an equation into a blog entry. I never really liked that, but it at least worked. MathJax, the successor of jsMath, has now reached a maturity that it has become a viable alternative. More than that: MathJax allows the use of native LaTeX code directly in the HTML source, and its rendering is perfectly scalable.

I've set the following example (compare to my previous entry) to a size of 125% and a zoom active on a left click. Note that you need to allow Javascript on this page to actually see the rendered equation. Right-click to obtain the source.

\[\begin{aligned} U(B) = S \int_0^\infty dt \exp(-\Delta x^2/4 D t) \exp(-t/\tau) \cos(g \mu_B B t/\hbar)/ \sqrt{4 \pi D t} \end{aligned} \]

128

Two weeks ago, the Canadian company D-Wave Systems announced the first commercially available quantum computer, the D-Wave One. They claim that it operates on 128 qubits.

Before you panic: most scientists are skeptical about the claims of D-Wave Systems in general, and the actual 'quantum nature' of the D-Wave processor in particular. On the other hand, Lockheed-Martin apparently signed a multi-year contract with D-Wave Systems, and the purported price just for the D-Wave One is $10,000,000.

So perhaps we should worry after all … who knows how many systems they delivered to the NSA or related agencies. ;)

Convergence

Over the past years, the Javascript performance of browsers has become an increasingly important factor for the usability of the web, and with HTML5, it is getting more important than ever in the near future. The developers of the established browsers such as Firefox and Opera have ignored this subject for quite some time, and it was only when Google's Chrome outclassed all of them in this discipline that they woke up. The following plot, based on runs of the Sunspider Javascript Benchmark I made from time to time on one and the same hardware shows that they have done their homework. :)

evolution

More specifically, today's Sunspider run on my trusted E6660 and under Mandriva 2010.2 x86_64 resulted in the following numbers:

Opera 11.11 2109
308.9ms +/- 0.8%
Firefox 4.0.1
318.9ms +/- 1.2%
Chromium 13.0.767.1
339.3ms +/- 2.0%

Other webkit-based browsers such as uzbl and Midori finish the test in about 400 and 450 ms, respectively, owing to an older webkit version. And IE9 … well, I'll check it as soon as I have access to one. ;)

Update: Which happened faster than expected (the early bird catches the worm): here are the corresponding numbers under Windows 7 Premium 64 on an i750:

Opera 11.11 2109
241.6ms +/- 0.5%
Firefox 4.0.1
223.2ms +/- 1.3%
Chromium 11.0.696.68
227.2ms +/- 1.3%
IE 9.0.8112.16421
216.5ms +/- 0.4%

And for completeness' sake, the same under Ubuntu 11.04 on my Mini with an N270:

uzbl 20100403
1330.5ms +/- 1.9%
Firefox 4.0.1
1083.7ms +/- 1.0%
Chromium 11.0.696.68
1711.8ms +/- 2.3%

Firefox is doing an excellent job on all platforms, but the differences between the browsers have shrunk to insignificance anyway. Is this performance convergence suggesting that the development is at the top of the hill? To check, let's not only look at the absolute values, but at the scaling with processor speed. The values above roughly scale like 1:3.5:5.25, and that's just the same scaling I observe when running, for example, Google's V8. The only significant improvement I thus expect in the near future stems from multithreading.

Financial book keeping

Online banking could greatly simplify financial book keeping, if only the web interfaces the banks provide wouldn't be lacking even the most basic functionality for this task. Rather obvious requests such as "show me the temporal evolution of the overall balance on my bank account for the past two years" or "let me look how much cash I drew from the ATM in XYZ avenue in May 2010" are well beyond the capabilities of the online services of any major German bank.

C't 4/10 discussed various possibilities to approach this problem in a user context. A basic perl script for downloading the transactions from an account with Deutsche Bank was presented as example. As I'm a customer of Deutsche Bank, that was just perfect. ;)

The script is very easy to configure, but all you get after downloading the transactions is a list of entries, and you still haven't got a clue when and where you have spent all this money.

A graphical representation would certainly help ... and can easily be obtained by some bash basics and gnuplot magics. Magics? Well, the following plot shows two features of gnuplot which are not as easily attainable with other programs: the data are plotted vs. date and cumulated on-the-fly.

balance

Better Heise

Most of the people I know read the Heise newsticker and occasionally entertain themselves in the associated forum. Out-of-the-box, however, the Heise experience is not a pleasant one:

Heise on chromium

If visited with an unmodified browser, the Heise page is dominated by ads of mostly enervating character. Consequently, essentially all visitors of the Heise pages employ ad- and script-filters of some kind, a strategy explicitly recommended in publications by Heise for security reasons.

Despite these recommendations, Heise recently started a campaign aimed specifically at users of the Adblock+ filter for Firefox, trying to convince them to forfeit their self-defense and to abandon all their ad filters. The obvious contradiction as well as the technical shortcomings of the campaign resulted in its complete failure (when, as in my case, ad blocking was performed by other means, the Heise "personal message" even remained invisible). The resulting mockery is well deserved.

Heise doesn't realize that their greatest asset is the very crowd they just try to scare away. It's not only the ads, also the infamous redesign of their web presence a couple of years ago contributes to its remarkably poor usability and the resulting frustration of its users. Fortunately, this crowd is persistent and does not give up easily.

Most users of Firefox will be familiar with the extensions Stylish, Greasemonkey, and Linkification. The former two allow the installation of userstyles and userscripts which may profoundly modify the appearance and usability of a website such as heise.de. The latter turns the inactive links in the heise forum in active, clickable ones.

Now, all this is well known, but what's rarely communicated is the fact that the same is possible with other browsers as well. If you are using Opera, for example, just copy the following scripts in appropriate directories in your Opera profile and link to them in the site preferences:

heise style heise forum script linkification

The Heise page without ads and with the above style viewed in uzbl:

Heise on uzbl

Generation JPEG

Young people are often called admiringly (and indiscriminately) digital natives, as they grew up with digital technology and are implicitly assumed to be proficient in using it. In the media, it doesn't take much to qualify for a membership in this digital upper class. Putting ones' data on the cloud, revealing ones' personal history and interests on various social networks, or writing arbitrary one-liners on other popular platforms – that all will do.

I'm surrounded by people having their own blogs and publishing videos on youtube, which seems to qualify even for the upper echelon of the digital natives' society. To my utter disappointment, I found most of these people to belong to the most computer-illiterate individuals I ever met.

As an example, lets take a very common task: the creation of simple artwork for a publication to be typeset by LaTeX. Normal people would use a vector drawing suite such as Inkscape, produce the graphics and export it either as eps or directly as pdf. Digital natives craft their graphics by Powerpoint (TM) and export them as jpeg. When noticed about the huge margins (Powerpoint always exports the whole page), they use Photoshop to cut the margin and use the opportunity to export the graphics with a lower quality (preferably the lowest) to increase the compression artifacts decrease the file size.

When talking to them, I quickly found that they don't know any other graphics format, nor do they notice the compression artifacts. Their ocular vision and associated cerebral reception is entirely adapted to jpeg. It's the next step of evolution: Homo JPEGiens.

Apocalypse

Most of you know that part of my roots are in Japan. I'm thus much concerned about the disastrous developments after Fridays' earthquake of magnitude 9 with an epicenter about a 130 km east of Sendai. What followed is a scenario taken straight from hell: a devastating Tsunami, and a serious crisis for the nuclear power stations at the coast.

The good news is that all my family and friends are fine, since they all live in the Osaka area (so, perhaps 800 km southwest from the epicenter). There, the quake was noticeable, but not threatening. The Tsunami was felt as a 30 cm wave – once again, a signature rather than a threat. What people are afraid of now is the potential nuclear meltdown in the Fukushima power stations and its possible consequences, particularly after the announcement that Fukushima 3 is running partly on Plutonium. Let's hope for the best.

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