Archive for the ‘nerd’ 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)

\documentclass[12pt]{article}
\usepackage[margin=1in]{geometry}
\usepackage{fontspec}
\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.

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Seasonal pond by Dave 'Coconuts' Kleinschmidt

Okay okay, I know it’s been a while, but first I was writing my thesis, and then being plied with alcohol and mixed emotions as a future alumnus of a wealthy institution of higher education, and finally reverting to my natural, hermit-y state, as per the instructions of not one but two trashy magazines’ horoscopes. Phew.

Anyway, yesterday I went for a truly lovely walk at the Bangor City Forest, which included the absolutely, can’t-believe-I-never-realized-how-fucking-awesome-it-is bog boardwalk. There I met many old plant-y friends, free from the fear of being sucked into the peat and preserved for curious scientists multiple millennia down the road. There was sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia), there was labrador tea (Rhododendron groenlandicum), and of course, there was Sphagnum moss in abundance. Pitcher plants in full flower (Serracenia purpurea) were a special treat. I even made some new friends: the cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), and who can forget cotton-grass (Eriophorum sp, actually a sedge).

You can find some photos here, and the full list of the plants that can be found in the bog here.

(Link: photo from flickr)

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…

This video was made using nearly 300 hand-cut 10×10 cm linolium block prints for The Art of Lost Words project, inspired by the word dehisce, which we coincidentally learned in Botany a couple of weeks ago.  It’s what the anthers of a flower do when they split open and release their pollen.  Back when English was still young and hip, it referred more generally to “release of material by splitting open of an organ or tissue; the natural bursting open at maturity of a fruit or other reproductive body to release seeds or spores or the bursting open of a surgically closed wound.”

(Link: Dehisce linomation print, via boing boing)