ADMIN: “The New Look” (Not Really)

Apologies for the look of the site at the moment (a moment which will probably stretch to 24 hours or so). I promise — it will return to the normal layout (including fonts, colors, header image, and what-not).

Thanks for your patience!


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ADMIN: Testing a New Music Player (with Big Daddy’s “Sgt. Pepper” Album)

Big Daddy: 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'For reasons both technical and “political” (dueling Web software standards), I have discovered, the old familiar audio-player thingumabob I’ve been using here for seven years will no longer work in the latest version of the Firefox Web browser. This isn’t a fatal problem, obviously; I can just tell site visitors, “If you want to listen to this music, please use a browser other than Firefox.” Not a particularly elegant solution, though, is it?

Unfortunately, the main browser I’ve been using for a couple years now has been — you guessed it — Firefox. Fortunately, I discovered the audio-player problem while working on my first “real” post in the new design. Unfortunately, of course, I’ve now got seven years’ musical selections effectively unlistenable, on a going-forward basis…

Le sigh.

I’ve looked around for a plugin which my WordPress-based site might use, without being too, y’know, weird. (I don’t care about flashy graphics, and I don’t really want an ultra-compact player which sits up in a tiny corner of the window, and so on, and so on.)

I’m going to use this post to try it out.

The list below includes a few selections from an album called Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, by the group known (at the time) simply as Big Daddy. I’ve mentioned Big Daddy a few times here at RAMH, most notably this early post. For their Sgt Pepper’s project, they refashioned the Beatles’s entire original album as if they’d been recorded in the styles of various 1950s-era rock-n-roll and other popular performers. You will recognize some of those names, perhaps; even if not, the songs rather speak for themselves.

I won’t explain how the various audio-player controls work at this time, but trust you’ll be able to figure them out for yourself. If you DO encounter problems, please let me know in the comments.

(This music player should also scale smoothly in size, depending on the device you’re reading this post from.)

Thank you!

'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' (selections) (Big Daddy)

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RAMH Enters the 21st Century

'Baby Black Hole,' artist's rendering (from NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, via Flickr)

[Image: “Baby Black Hole,” from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Says the description at Flickr: “This is an artist’s impression of a growing supermassive black hole located in the early Universe, showing a disk of gas rotating around the central object that generates copious amounts of radiation. This gas is destined to be consumed by the black hole. The black hole’s mass is less than one hundredth of the mass it will have when the Universe reaches its present day age of about 13.7 billion years.”]

As you can probably tell if you’ve visited Running After My Hat in the past, there’s been significant overhaulage. For starters, compare the size of the image above to the one which heads the previous post, from yesterday. Quite a bit bigger, eh?

Not so obvious: the above image will shrink and grow at smaller and larger screen sizes, respectively. (I artificially limited the maximum display size here to 2048 pixels wide, but that was primarily to keep the file size down. If you click on the header image, you’ll get the whole thing — at 3300 pixels wide. It will probably still display smaller, but trust me, it’s the whole thing, as you can see if you save the enlarged image to your computer.)

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ADMIN: New “Look” Coming

Sooner rather than later, I’m going to be changing over to a new look for Running After My Hat. The changes will possibly be quite startling, and I don’t expect the dust to settle for a while; raggedy loose ends will probably be hanging out here and there for a while.

The last time I changed the look was August, 2011. Here’s how a test page from back then looks (for now!) with the proposed new theme — click to enlarge:

RAMH post of 2011-08-27 (new theme)The theme currently in use here, as of this moment, is just a temporary stopgap — meant as an emergency fix to some problems introduced a couple weeks ago. Among other issues, this current theme is trimming on the right any images wider than 575 or so pixels, which is why the screen capture above looks abruptly chopped off. (If you click it to enlarge it, you’ll see the full width.)

By contrast, here’s how a post from a few days before the last change looked:

Earlier RAMH post, Cutline theme

And finally, here’s how that same “Long, Languorous Tomorrows” post looked before I changed to the theme you’re currently seeing — this is the “look” most RAMH old-timers are most familiar with:

Earlier RAMH post, Leviathan theme

Obviously, the differences are many. And again, the new look is not “final.” (For one thing, I hope to return the “Hats Recently Chased” list of recent posts to the right-hand sidebar, along with the categories list and maybe — maybe — a calendar. Right now the recent posts and categories are all crowded together in the page footer.) I will be trying to retain the color scheme and some other elements which I (even if you) have gotten used to. I want people to continue to know they’re at Running After My Hat, and not lost.

Still, I wanted to give you a heads-up. Feedback, as always, greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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“It’s Working! It’s Working!”

R. Crumb (self-portrait) (click to enlarge)Early in my programming career, I was assigned to a group of somewhere between twenty-five and fifty programmers, ranging in experience from more or less new (like me) to maybe ten years or so. Among the senior staff was a guy named Mike.

Mike fit almost every stereotype of nerd-dom you can imagine. Think of cartoonist Robert Crumb, say (that’s him in the self-portrait over at the right). Mike wore thick black-rimmed glasses; his hair nearly always seemed in need of a good washing; when his suits, ties, shoes, and socks were all on the same fashion wavelength on a given day, it was more or less accidental. He had various skin and dental issues. All of this fed into how he related to the rest of us, which was: barely. He never went out to lunch with anyone, as far as we could tell — in fact, except for occasional odd, misshapen sandwiches of indeterminate ingredients, he seemed not to eat at all. He had a good but rather skewed sense of humor, which could make conversations with him disorienting experiences. (“BE ALERT!” said a sign over his desk, “THE WORLD NEEDS MORE LERTS!”)

But ye gods, could that man code. As I recall, he worked mostly but not exclusively on some large-scale marketing-cum-engineering project (this was a giant telecommunications firm) with a couple dozen other programmers. But he was so good that people occasionally consulted with him on thorny little one-off jobs, when they just couldn’t get some tiny little thing — a subroutine, a calculation — to work quite the way they wanted it to.

I had occasion to bring him just one such chunk of problem code.

I can’t remember what it was supposed to do. But I remember that it was one of my favorite sort of programming: a procedure which could have been written to sprawl across a printout pages in length… but for which I had come up with a tight, intertwined, probably Rube Goldberg sort of nested loop which almost but did not quite do (as I said) as I wanted it to.

Mike looked through the program. He started to laugh — it was a wheezy, phlegmmy noise, not laughter at but laughter with. (He loved this sort of puzzle.)

He told me to leave him alone with the problem, and come back in fifteen or twenty minutes. I left his cubicle, went back to mine, and poked at the problem some more on my own. But I didn’t have to wait fifteen or twenty minutes.

I stood up at my desk, stretched, probably yawned. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eyes, I saw a figure pop up about thirty feet away. Mike, of course. And when I say “pop up” I mean he had done just that, sort of sproing! And he threw his hands in the air, and his head went back, and — laughing — he cried: It’s working! It’s working!

When I got to his office he showed me what he’d done. His solution was ingenious, as I’d expected, but what had truly excited him was a bit of code he’d put into place to assure that the program was functioning properly every step of the way, including every single iteration through that loop-within-a-loop-within-a-loop. In particular, the desktop terminal — we used terminals without screens back then, like sophisticated networked typewriters loaded with thermal paper — was spewing out line after line, overandoverandoverandoverandover, of all the intermediate results en route to the program’s conclusion…

When I’ve shared this story with other programmers, they smile at the image of Mike. Either they’ve known a Mike of their own, or they’ve been somebody else’s Mike (sometimes both). But then when I get to that joyous cry — It’s working! It’s working! — their smiles really grow.

They — we — know what Mike was feeling then. We love that feeling.

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ADMIN: Temporary Site Funkiness

A WordPress logoThe good folks who support the popular WordPress software — used by a bazillion sites, including Running After My Hat — recently introduced a new version. It’s not the first time they’ve done so, not by a long shot, and it’s not even a “major” upgrade.

But it has played holy hell with working on blog posts, for me and many others.

One reason for WP’s popularity is the huge variety of plugins and extensions which independent developers have built for it over the years, to add features to the way blogs run and are built. Another reason is the proliferation of easily installable (and then customizable) themes; think of these as design templates. Put these two reasons together and you’ve got a single big reason why WordPress support can’t identify, in the new version, anything in particular which might be causing problems for bloggers. It seems to work just fine for many… and for many others, it seems to work just catastrophically badly.

I’m somewhere in the middle.But what doesn’t work is driving me crazy.

WP support offers to bloggers the only solution possible under the circumstances: turn off all plugins and extensions, and set aside whatever theme you’re using — falling back on the default theme for the new version. Then add back into the mix each feature you want or need, one at a time, testing how things go before trying the next. When it breaks again, voilà! — you’ve found the source of the offending glitch(es).

IMPORTANT: Note that none of this applies to site visitors. You don’t have to do anything. These instructions apply just to the people who blog with WordPress (create and update posts, design sites, and so on) and are experiencing problems.

As I said, it may be — is — the only solution possible. But it also has the potential to become one tedious slog, during which one familiar feature or another of the site stops working. (Just for starters, as long as the custom theme is disabled, everything will look different — very, very different.) Please bear with me during this time. I will probably start tinkering with this sometime over the weekend. (And — who knows? — maybe the problem will turn out to be something easily fixable.)

I do have a couple of advantages in the fight:

First, RAMH certainly doesn’t carry a lot of user traffic. So it’s not like many, many people are going to be inconvenienced.

And second, I’ve been working with software a looooong time. (Just this past March was 35 years.) I’ve got some ideas about how to test and diagnose the problems a little bit at a time, based on the nature of the problems I’m having.

(For example, none of my problems seem to be with the site interface as viewed by visitors/readers — “only” with the admin/behind-the-scenes elements. So it’s unlikely that, say, the little audio-player thingum I use for playing music here needs to be disabled.)

Still, it’s going to be a pain in the rear. I’ll probably create tomorrow’s whiskey river post using some other software, then just copy-and-paste it into the editor here, all at one go. After that, even before, don’t be surprised if something you’re used to seeing at the top right here suddenly disappears, or moves to the bottom of the page, or whatever.

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Admin: Clearing Up Some RAMH Clutter, Part 3

Sometime in the next couple of days, I’ll switch Running After My Hat over to its new look. For anyone interested in such matters, I’ve prepared some screen captures to give you an idea of what to expect. Below, I’ll include an annotated version of some of those screen captures in this post, highlighting various features.

If you’d prefer to test-drive it yourself, feel free to just head over to the test site. You’ll find it to be not particularly full-featured: for example, it includes only a few months’ posts, comments, categories, and so on.

And I don’t think you’ll be able to post comments, but am ready to be surprised :).

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Admin: Clearing Up Some RAMH Clutter, Part 2

Briefly: for anyone who’s interested, I’m going to be experimenting with various new “looks” at a special subsite of this one. (I’ll make a bigger announcement when I’m ready to take this live.)

Currently, I’ve imported to the test site only posts and comments and so on from January 1 2011 through the “Admin: Cleaning Up Some RAMH Clutter” post of a week go. Thus, some links to older posts won’t work. Audio files won’t work, at all (although the little “play” widgets appear onscreen). And other stuff will be just plain weird until I fix it. (E.g., a lot of themes seem to have non-hierarchical/nested category lists. I hate that.) Remember that whatever you see there will be transient, until it’s not. :)

In the meantime, feel free to post any comments here if you see anything you like, or anything you don’t like. I probably won’t be paying much attention to comments over at the other place, especially since I haven’t set up reCaptcha or other anti-sp*m measures.


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Do We Ever Really Get It?

[Image: looking up into the Ring Around a Tree playspace/bus shelter in Fuji, Japan. Click to enlarge; see the note at the foot of this post for more information.]

From whiskey river:

I always gained something from making myself better,
better than I am, better than I was,
that most subtle citation:
to recover some lost petal
of the sadness I inherited:
to search once more for the light that sings
inside of me, the unwavering light.

(Pablo Neruda)


We must know that it is not enough just to see what the Mind is, we must put into practice all that makes it up in our daily life. We may talk about it glibly, we may write books to explain it, but that is far from being enough. However much we may talk about water and describe it quite intelligently, that does not make it real water. So with fire. Mere talking of it will not make the mouth burn. To know what they are means to experience them in actual concreteness. A book on cooking will not cure our hunger. To feel satisfied we must have actual food. So long as we do not go beyond mere talking, we are not true knowers.

(Takuan Soho)


If you were to put aside what you know because of what other people told you, how much of what you know do you truly know for yourself?

(John Tarrant)

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Updates: Watson on Jeopardy!

If you were interested in the subject at all, you’ve probably read all about it already. But for what it’s worth, I updated my “What Is Hubris, Alex?” post of a couple days ago with three longish comments recapping the three nights’ programs.

The first one is here; scroll down on that page for the others.

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