Archive for the ‘links’ Category

If you know me at all you know that I love LaTeX.  It let’s you specify the content and logical structure of your document and takes care of making it look nice, including tricky mathematical expressions, yadda yadda yadda.

One thing that LaTeX is really bad at, though, is font support.  This isn’t a problem for the most part, and I’ve actually come to prefer the look of Computer Modern (the only real font ever created using Knuth’s Metafont language, and instantly recognizable to LaTeX geeks the world over).  But if you need to, say, typeset something in Arial (shudder), there isn’t exactly an easy way to do it, and god forbid that you might want to use a font that’s not freely available (like, just an arbitrary example, Times New Roman).

Enter our hero, XeTeX (and it’s big sibling, XeLaTeX).  XeLaTeX extends the low-level typesetting engine of TeX to use modern font/typography technology.  This includes support for Unicode, and super-slick typography conventions like OpenType and Apple Advanced Typography (AAT), which allow the typesetting of scripts with complicated rules for combining symbols (like Tibetan) and different writing directions (e.g. right-to-left scripts such as Arabic and Hebrew).

The really great thing about XeTeX, for my current purposes, is that it allows you to typeset almost anything using any font installed natively on your computer.  That is, XeTeX essentially adds that drop-down font-selection menu that every other text editor has.

As an example, I will show you how stupid-easy it is to typeset a document in 12 pt. Times New Roman (with 1-inch edges, not that it matters)

\setmainfont[Mapping=tex-text]{Times New Roman}

Yes, folks, it really is that easy: just two lines of code (above and beyond the usual documentclass/geometry combo), and nothing whatsoever that needs to be converted using FontForge, etc.  The only trick is that, instead of running latex, you run xelatex (which is easy to automate using emacs and AUCTeX).

As you can probably tell from the snippet above, the package you want to use is fontspec, which is the LaTeX interface for XeTeX’s font-specification system, and its documentation has lots of good examples.

From this morning’s Post, a delightfully breathless story about how cold it was this weekend:

Many Washingtonians exulted in a sunny Saturday, but their delight came on a day that could also be described as the coldest since March.

But about eight hours earlier, the mercury had dipped to 35 degrees. It had not fallen so low since March 25, when it was 34. The 35-degree reading was seven degrees below normal and eight degrees above the record for the date, 27 degrees, which was set in 1930.

While I do enjoy a good chilly New England fall day as much as anyone, I also enjoy that reasonably temperate (aka bikeable) weather like this lasts until the middle of November, and I’m especially stoked for spring, which from what I’ve heard is actually a Real Season here, not some godforsaken mud/snow/rain event that happens sometime between April and June.

There are more concrete benefits, too.  The combination of temperate weather and our row house apartment which has all of two dozen feet of walls exposed to the outside air also means that we haven’t had the heat or AC on for a couple of months and are basically paying nothing in utilities.  Win all around.

The downside, of course, of the mercury never dipping below freezing for fully half of the year, is that there will be very little real, snowy winter weather. You can’t have everything weather-wise, I suppose, so I’ll just have to wait until the holidays to get a dose of Maine winter.

Hanging out by the pool by Dave 'Coconuts' Kleinschmidt

Not exactly breaking news, but I finished my bike. It’s now immortalized in the Great Shrine of the Fixed-Gear Bicycle, FGG (number 10,280).  This thing makes getting around the city much, much more fun.

(Link: photo from flickr)

DC (bike) blogs

So I’m moving to DC soon, and in preparation I’ve been scoping out DC-oriented blogs. There are certainly plenty out there: the Washington Post of course, and DCist, as well as more Columbia Heights-specific things like Prince of Petworth and New Columbia Heights. But my favorite so far is ReadysetDC, which has a art/design/fashion slant and a DAILY BIKE FEATURE. Its appeal to me is self-explanatory.

Slate has a great and somewhat snarky review of east-coast Chinatown busses and their competitors, with and eye to towards the predilections of hipsters, or maybe just the young and not-yet-wealthy. Money quote: “If you can still appreciate the charm of cracking open a $2 beer, you will find much to appreciate about budget bus lines.”

Awesome miscellanea

  • Freelance science and health journalist and mental_flosser Maggie Koerth-Baker is guest-blogging at boing boing. So far she’s got posts on how to colonize a nation, a proposed expedition to the center of the earth, and Scutigera coleoptrata, the house centipede (including such fun facts as

    2) Scutigera Coleoptrata are Efficient: They’re actually capable of eating several other bugs at once, noshing on one meal while holding onto another with one of their 30 legs. They usually hunt at night, waiting for prey to get close enough that they can jump onto it, lasso it in, or whip it into submission.

  • The March issue of The Atlantic has a neat article on class in America that looks at changes over the last 25 years. Most notable is the rise of the bohemian “creative type” X-ers as a social class all their own, and how this is related to and affected by the economic boom and impending doom.
  • Today on my bike ride I had to ford the Green River. There’s a small bridge that’s out on Water Street, and the presence of actual construction workers prevented me from using their little foot bridge like I did last time. This brings the number of things I’ve survived in real life that you can die from in Oregon Trail to two.
  • My wheels are trued and tensioned and beautiful. Assuming they pass muster with Paul at the Spoke, all I need to do now is…everything else.

He lost his leg because he sacrificed it to save a kid from getting run down by a truck on the cruel, cruel streets of New York City. Was homeless for a while, and then someone gave him a bike. Now he is gainfully employed, and probably the chillest person I have ever seen.

And he rides a fixie.

Link: YouTube (via The Sometimes Angry…)

Looks like we are baby-stepping towards the singularity:

Brain on a chipAn international team of scientists in Europe has created a silicon chip designed to function like a human brain. With 200,000 neurons linked up by 50 million synaptic connections, the chip is able to mimic the brain’s ability to learn more closely than any other machine.

Although the chip has a fraction of the number of neurons or connections found in a brain, its design allows it to be scaled up, says Karlheinz Meier, a physicist at Heidelberg University, in Germany, who has coordinated the Fast Analog Computing with Emergent Transient States project, or FACETS.

I think this is very cool, for a couple of reasons…