29 June 2009

Wiedervereinigung jetzt! - auch auf der Schiene.

Die Südthüringer Zeitung schreibt über den Eisenbahnlückenschluss (Eisenach - Meiningen -) Eisfeld - Coburg. Diesmal spielt auch der Güterverkehr eine Rolle.
Der Artikel erwähnt auch eine Streckenneigung der ICE-Trasse von über 2%. In der Tat sind es aber maximal 2% in einigen Abschnitten. (Wikipedia hat die richtige Zahl und belegt sie auch mit Quellen.)

Immerhin sind die Realisierungschancen für diesen Lückenschluss größer als für die Höllentalbahn zwischen Blankenstein und Marxgrün.

Es wird noch lange dauern bis Deutschland auch auf der Schiene wieder zusammenwächst!

28 June 2009

GMail and SPAM from my professor

I am using GMail since 2005 and for the last four years it did an awesome job of keeping me clear from SPAM. I've had months where not a single SPAM message was delivered. Now, suddenly, I am regularly finding some SPAM in my inbox, most of which has the email address from one of my professors set as the sender. At first I thought, he might have caught a virus that's abusing his computer, but that would have stopped by now, so I think that the spammers are just faking his email address. Oddly enough, the university's spam filter marks the message as SPAM, but GMail doesn't filter it out.
I think here's why: the SPF sender authentificationn declares the sender as permitted, so GMail (rightly) assumes that the professor is really the sender, therefore the mail will not go to the SPAM folder. I think this is right: email from somebody who has sent me many non-spam messages and whom I even sent some messages back should always be trusted. The problem seems to be that some spammer has managed to send SPAM from within inside the university.
I will ask our admins to look into this.

24 June 2009

firefox vs web applications, part III

So after all the trouble my idea from the last post gave me, after seeing how Firefox could not really handle different menu/nav/status bar settings for different windows, because new windows would always get it wrong, I thought why can't we just get rid of that menu bar for all windows. Internet Explorer and Google Chrome don't have a menu bar either! Now, how other browsers look is clearly not an argument for me to change my browser, but I know that a lot of other people like to copy things and so I thought: "There must be a Firefox Add-on that gives Firefox a Google-Chrome-like skin." I've used any skins myself, but I know it's a big thing and if it can help me, let's look for it! And indeed! Even on the first page of recommended Firefox Add-Ons I found one that's named "Personal Menu" and it's prime feature is "to disable the menu bar". I installed it and it's great! It offers a few extra buttons for the nav bar (like a bookmarks and a history button) plus one button that can be entirely customized to contain just those few menu items that one personally needs.
Here's how my Firefox looks like now:
I am keeping the location box and the search box, because I use both often. I like how Firefox now manages bookmarks and history from the location bar!

For comparison, on Windows my Firefox still looks as before:

As you can see, I saved some space by getting rid of the refresh/stop/home buttons which I all control by keyboard shortcuts. Actually I also control the back/forward function by keyboard but I felt that a web browser just doesn't look like a web browser without those buttons. Also, I switched to "small buttons".
Now, I saved one line of screen real estate and I like it! On many pages I still need to do F11 (full screen) to read them well, but I think the browser has become better with much effort. That's good!

19 June 2009

Firefox vs web applications part II (notes)

apparently the only way to remove the menubar from a window is to open a new window via javascript (JS) window.open(url, window_name, 'menubar=no'). This code does not work from a bookmarklet (at least not naively), so I wrote a simple "web application launcher page" which contains links to my web applications via JS.
The syntax of the above JS function also supports a parameter 'status=no' to switch of the status-bar, but this is ignored by Firefox. Actually, whatever the parameters for the new window are, Firefox will recognize the "intention" of opening a new window and will then do it using its own parameters: the location bar will always be visible, but grayed-out (read-only, which is very sensible in general, but not so much  for my applications), and the status bar will be just as in the current setting (menu) "View - Status bar". Since the menu is disabled in the new window, I have to disable the status bar manually in my "web application launcher" window and then click on the link, which gives me a new window without status bar. The same is true for the location bar. I have to disable it manually before I click on the JS link. This is more complicated than it should be!
Best would really be to let me disable the menubar manually, too, and then have the browser simply remember the setting of status/menu/location bar for each website where I actively changed it. Being at it once, it should also remember the window size and position for each website where I manually change it.

There is also a terribly nasty bug: When I open Facebook in this way without a menu bar (no matter what the settings for status and location bar), it will open without scroll bars, but GMail with the same settings has scrollbars! Fortunately I could fix it by adding "scrollbars=yes" to the window.open() call. Just perplexing that GMail does not need it.

Next step for me is to try living with my javascript launcher page and see if it does the job. Stay tuned and tell me if you find alternative solutions.

17 June 2009

the voice of sounds

In English and French (and consequently IPA), the difference between the sounds of 'p' and 'b' is the the latter is voiced and the former is not. In Mandarin Chinese, the difference between the (Pinyin) 'p' and 'b' is that the former is aspirated and the latter is not. In German the difference between the two is not in voicing, because most consonants in German are unvoiced. Generally the difference seems to be in aspiration (just as in Mandarin), but this is not the entire (scientific) truth. Wikipedia writes:
The nature of the phonetic difference between the voiceless lenis consonants and the similarly voiceless fortis consonants is controversial. It is generally described as a difference in articulatory force, and occasionally as a difference in articulatory length; for the most part, it is assumed that one of these characteristics implies the other.
Lenis and fortis here refers to a whole bunch of consonant pairs, written in IPA: /p-b/, /t-d/, /k-ɡ/, /s-z/, /ʃ-ʒ/. In any case, I have to learn how to properly say the voiced English consonants. I have started this training last year, most notably with my effort to make the word "fog" sound different from a four-letter-word and "bug" sound different from a colloquial unit of currency. I still have to train this a lot, but now I am faced with another problem: the IPA sounds /s-z/ in English are both written as "s" (except in zoo and some American spellings like "digitize", "monetize", "analyze"). Although this sound does not distinguish word pairs as often, it can still lead to non-understanding when pronounced wrongly. Furthermore, with an impeccable accent as a long-term goal, I would also like to distinguish /θ-ð/ which are both written as "th" in English. It's unvoiced in "thaw, think, earth, ..." and voiced in "they, the, this, ...". I will have to look up every word to find out; and then learn it again. Fortunately, as I start writing in Quikscript, I have an easy way to remember all those pronunciations.

PS: posts on Quikscript upcoming. ;-)

15 June 2009

web applications and Firefox

I am currently using the following web applications:
  • GMail
  • Facebook
  • Google Docs
  • Google Reader
All of them come with their own navigation infrastructure and in none of them I need Firefox' menu and address bar. In fact, they take up valuable screen space that I would rather use for the web application. Especially Facebook and Google Reader take up so much space for the own navigation that there is barely enough for the content. To view photos in Facebook or read posts in Google Reader, I often have to F11 Firefox into full screen mode.

Wouldn't it be great if Firefox had a web application mode, just like Google Chrome, where the menu and location bar are not displayed? Given that the navigation bar can already be hidden and shown easily, all the is necessary would be to save the visibility state of the bar per each website! So easy to implement!

I just read about the Mozilla Prism Project which is a Browser specific to web applications, but it doesn't seem to be very popular. Their is also a Prism extension for Firefox which I just tried out, but it just doesn't work. The only way to start a webapplication is to first create a shortcut on the desktop (why not just a bookmark?!). I did that and clicked the shortcut only to be left with an ordinary and empty Firefox window. Sucks!

Currently I am experimenting a little and run my Firefox without any location bar. It's actually not too bad, because I can still use Ctrl-L to type adresses. It's the same behavior only using a little dialog window that disappears after hitting Return. Let's see if that can take away some pressure until the Firefox developers show reason.

14 June 2009

crazy linux: so easy and so complicated

Linux-Fans would probably claim it as an advantage of their OS that you can easily move an installation from one hard-disk or partition to another, only need to update boot-manager and fstab, can even keep all your directory-names.
In reality, this simple maneuver can easily lead to a big mess (as in: the system does not boot any more and gives loads of contradictory messages). Here's what happened to me.

I wanted to update my Ubuntu from 8.04 to 8.10 (and maybe 9.x later). One reason to do it is that apparently I can then install Facebook-chat in Pidgin. But this update needs 1.5 Gigs of free space on the root partition and so I had to make a larger partition and move my installation there.

First, it was really easy to create a new partition. Before formatting it, however, I had to restart the computer, just as I would have needed with Windows. Formatting it, was also easy, just call "mkfs.ext3" which I don't remember exactly because it pops up conveniently when pressing TAB at the shell. (Yes, I did partitioning and formatting by hand, because there was no graphical tool for it installed by default and finding one to install would have taken longer...)

Second, I googled on how to copy files, read something about "cp -a" and tried it out. That was a big mistake. The correct command would have been "cp -ax" where the "-x" makes sure that file systems which are mounted under / are not also copied. I was not only so unlucky to waste a lot of time by copying useless stuff (had my windows partition mounted...), it also apparently crashed my computer when it tried to copy some of the virtual file systems under /sys.
After this crash, I copied the remaining data individually (so as to not copy things twice). Since all is working now, I think I didn't miss anything.

Third, making the new partition the one being used is really as easy as changing GRUB's menu.lst and /etc/fstab, and it did it right on the third try, but I still do not know at all what when wrong on my previous tries. On the first try, I just walked into menu.lst and replaced the kernel's root= parameter with the new partition name sda7, ignoring all the fancy UUID names for other partitions which I found very confusing. (And still don't get the point... it makes the system transparent for hard-disk switches, but makes it vulnerable to hard-disk reformatting...).
This first try actually booted my system from the new partition (yay!), but when I typed 'mount' at the prompt, it would show the old partition to be mounted on /. But it actually was the new one. What a blatant lie! This is a severe error on 'mount's side.
Anyway, I decided to do the update of 'fstab', hoping this would solve the problem. I added a line mounting the new partition as /, and changed the line for the old partition to mount as /part1. All obvious things you would think, right? But this actually messed up my boot and brought me more blatant lies. After restarting, there was a weird text-mode message box signed by 'gdm' about X not being able to start. Part of the box was overwritten by a text-mode logon prompt. I logged in and had 'mount' lie to me again. It told me that no partition but the former / was mounted when in fact everything else was mounted. Sucker!
I booted back into the old system (which still worked), google for UUID and then changed the 'menu.lst' as well as 'fstab' to use the UUID instead of /dev/sda7. I also corrected a mistake in fstab where I had typed "default" instead of "defaults". Anyway, in my opinion none of those things should have made a difference, but in reality the new system booted thereafter and I couldn't find any problems any more. Case considered close. Reason for trouble unknown.

It's weird how my perception of computers has changed. It used to be that I wanted to understand how things work, usually helped by reading the manual and trying different things out, and then from that understanding knew how to achieve what I wanted. But now, understanding is totally absent from the process. I just assume that everything will somehow work and when I run into trouble (and only then), I ask Google and try out what somebody else wrote, not even caring who posted it and where.
This is really a black vision of computing; one that's totally opposed to my research approach: in verified programming and refinement, everything is meant to be transparent to people and every step understandable. I really sucks that computers in practice have become like black boxes that we can only control by trial and error, not logic or understanding.
After all, it was easy to copy the Ubuntu installation onto a new partition and I am now happily downloading my update. But the way it went is just not right.

Edit: I had the update run overnight because the download rate was so slow (that's GradHouse...) and it bothered me in the early morning with some decisions that pop up randomly during the update. Overall, Ubuntu now uses 0.9 Gigs more of hard disk space, has a new "switch computer off or change chat status" button, needed reconfiguration of my Quickstart-buttons (those extra keys on the laptop-keyboard), because their keycodes apparently got renamed... Most other things still seem to work and most importantly: I could install Facebook-chat for Pidgin from Google-Code and that works, too. Yay!

8 June 2009

a thought to be explored

Emigration to another country is an intrinsically egoistic act. Leaving family and friends behind, separating children from their classmates and grand parents just to accomplish one's own goals. Unsocial and egoistic. (I am excepting those, of course, who are emigrating to save their lives.) For people from poor countries it is often the only way to get ahead, but for those from well-developed countries it is an all the more individualistic act.

Egoism alone is not a problem. It is a natural part of human character and live. But if you have a regular instream of egoists into one country (all leaving their social networks behind), then it's no wonder that this country creates a very individualistic and less social culture.

7 June 2009

what's wrong with North Americans?

I don't know if the following is specific for North American dating or just a byproduct of a global trend of superficiality.

From another Blog: Man fells for woman who turns out to be a liar.

Here's the comment which I left on that blog:
I am here as a foreign observer to find out what’s wrong with North American culture. A culture in which people fall in love with what other people say, instead of falling for what they are. It is our greed which enables such exploits. Not a greed for money, but a greed to be awesome, be superior and to be around awesome and superior people. Attraction based on the other’s rank in society (be it their job or education) cannot be true attraction.
Usually the North American system of being confident and showing off one’s awesomeness works pretty well… (and it discriminates against foreigners who have been raised to see modesty as a virtue)… it’s only in cases like this, when we can see that something’s fundamentally wrong with this society. Not just something wrong with the liars, but also with those who go for the superficial awesomeness, instead of profound goodness.
I hope nobody is thinking that I hate Americans. While being critical of many things here, I also enjoy many other things. I've met many people here whom I like. I just point at some of the off-putting situations to find what is wrong. Things which I think do not go as wrong in other cultures as they do here. But since evidence is very anecdotal, what can I say? It is well-established that many immigrants prefer to make friends with people of their own cultural background, but the differences in the cultures are very hard to pin down. As one acquaintance put it Yesterday: "I just find that I am most comfortable in this group of people." And she was referring to a group of people with different Eastern and Western European backgrounds. Not people from one specific culture, but none of them grown-up in North America. Is that my new culture?

Favorite quotes from "factory girls"


在家里没什么事做,所以我出去。 At home there was nothing to do, so I went out.

出去 -- literally "to go out"-- is the Chinese word for leaving your home to work somewhere else. To migrate.

Women make up more than one-third of China's migrants. They tend to be younger than their male counterparts and more likely to be single; they travel farther from home and they stay out longer. They are more motivated to improve themselves and more likely to value migration for its life-changing possibilities. In one survey, men cited higher income as he chief purpose of leaving home, while women aspired to "more experience in life." Unlike men, women had no home to go back to.

Women who had moved up from the assembly line disdained the men back in the village, but city men looked down on them in turn. 高不成低不就。

To die poor is a sin.

The continuing link to a family farm has stabilized China in an age of mass migration. Its cities have not spawned the shantytown slums of so much of the developing world, because the migrant who fails in the city can always return home and find someone there. (...) A married couple might go out together, leaving young children in the care of their aged parents. In the city, a migrant may look desperate, but almost every migrant has a farm to fall back on.


Both of the women were enrolled at Mr. Wu's school. They had shaved their heads to express their commitment, as Buddhist monks did when joining a monastery. To learn English, it was necessary to renounce the world.

She sometimes didn't understand what her students said; occasionally she corrected them when they were in the right. Often she answered their questions incorrectly. But she had the right instinct when it came to teaching, and somewhere along the way she had figured out the secret of learning a foreign language, which started with being unafraid.

The easiest thing in the world is to loose touch with someone.

The only person you can rely on is yourself.

Life plans

She had made up her mind, she told me. "I want to learn English so I can live a happier life."
"I would like a child to grow up to have a happy life and make contribution to society," she said.
"A contribution to society?" I asked her, startled. "What do you mean?"
"I don't mean to be a big scientist or something like that," Chunming said. "How many people can do that? I think if you live a happy life and are a good person, that is a contribution to society."

What did I get out of this book? Most readers highlighted the horrible conditions in the factories, but to me this is nothing new and I know that it is even worse in other countries. Two things shine out for me: the typically Chinese character and how Chinese people deal with things, and the general historic idea of migration which is strengthened in this book by going back to the author's own family who's history started when her ancestor moved to Mandchuria a couple hundred years ago.

Here is my book review on Amazon.com.

I am currently a foreign student in North America (just like the author's grand father), but I am facing the decision whether to return some day or stay here as a migrant. One thing is for sure: I will not go back to my ancestor's village. 家里没有什么做,所以我要出去。 At home there is nothing to do, so I have to go out.

4 June 2009

Antwort von Hebie

Vor kurzem habe ich der Firma Hebie geschrieben, ob sie nicht wohl einmal eine Version ihres wunderbaren Chaingliders für Falträder anbieten will. Hier die sehr schöne Antwort:

Sehr geehrter Herr Will,

Ihre Nachricht hat uns sehr erfreut und die Runde im Haus gemacht.

Faltrad und CHAINGLIDER passen in der Tat perfekt zusammen. Leider zieren sich die Faltradhersteller noch etwas. Ihre Mail kam jedoch zur richtigen Zeit zu uns, da wir momentan eine diesbezügliche Investitionsentscheidung treffen müssen. Sie stützt das Vorhaben, das dennoch nicht ganz einfach ist wegen hoher Investitionskosten und Unsicherheiten seitens der Hersteller.

Vielen Dank auch für die mitgesandten Daten, die sich mit den unseren großenteils decken. Allerdings falten die meisten Räder in Europa wohl über die Kette.

Mit freundlichen Grüßen!
Met vriendelijke groet!
Best wishes!
Med venlig hilsen!

Dominik Peitsch


Sandhagen 16
33617 Bielefeld
Amtsgericht Bielefeld, HRA 8234
Geschäftsführer:  Dirk Niermann

Und hier meine ursprüngliche Nachricht:

Sehr geehrter Hersteller excellenter Fahrrad-Komponenten!

Ich bin seit drei Jahren zufriedener (und zuweilen geradeheraus begeisterter) Nutzer des Hebie Chaingliders. Die Begeisterung hat auf einige Familienmitglieder umgeschlagen, die jetzt auch ihr Fahrrad umgerüstet haben, bzw. gleich ein mit Chainglider entworfenes Rad gekauft haben.

Zu gern würde ich einen Chainglider auch an meinem Faltrad einsetzen! Neben dem Schutz der Hose und Schutz der Kette bietet sich am Faltrad noch ein weiterer, entscheidender Vorteil: wenn das Rad gefaltet ist, muss man immer aufpassen, wo und wie man es anfasst, und wo und wie man es abstellt, damit man sich nicht selbst die Hände oder womöglich noch anderen Menschen die Hosen, Kofferräume, oder Gardinen mit Kettenfett verziert.

Die meisten Falträder haben ein festes Rahmendreieck hinten, welches die Kette beim Falten in Form belässt, so dass man den Chainglider genauso aufziehen kann, wie bei einem großen Fahrrad. Der vordere Teil des Chaingliders passt sogar schon auf mein Faltrad! Problem ist nur, dass ein Faltrad wegen der kleineren Räder auch ein kleineres Kettenritzel verwendet (angenommen hier, das vordere Kettenblatt ist nicht größer als normal). Persönlich habe ich ein 14er Ritzel an meinem Fahrrad. Die 3-Gang-Modelle von Dahon haben alle ein 13er Ritzel. Die mit Inter-8 Schaltung ein 16er. Daraus ergibt sich der Vorschlag, ein Chainglider Hinterteil für Ritzel von 13 bis 16 Zähnen zu entwickeln und verkaufen.
Den Faltradmarkt würde dies revolutionieren, weil die verschmutze Hand/Gardine/Kofferraum damit endlich der Vergangenheit angehören würde! Allein Dahon hat in der ersten Jahreshälfte 2007 über 180'000 Fahrräder verkauft und mindestens 20% davon sind mit Nabenschaltung ausgerüstet. Der Markt für Falträder wächst schneller als der für Fahrräder allgemein!
Überlegen Sie sich mal, in diesen Zukunftsmarkt einzusteigen -- ich wäre Ihr erster Kunde!
beste Grüße,
Robert Will