Are You Getting Truth From Pop Blogs?

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Are You Getting Truth From Pop Blogs?

Xah Lee, 2010-04-09

This page is a comment i wrote after reading this site: The Day I Was Flamed At My Blog (And 7 Steps To Handle Flames With Grace) (2010-04-09), By Celestine Chua. Source (the following is slightly editted and expanded.)

In the past month, i did research into the whole SEO and online blogging scene. I'm a person with academic background. One thing i realized, is that all these blog sites, basically their primary focus is making money. Even though many are honest, valuable (such as problogger which i learned a lot from), but there is certain inherent conflict with real truth. Let me explain a bit.

For example, there are blogs dedicated to writing. If you look at these tips, for example some of the most common are: write concisely, use simple words and avoid big words, try to itemize your points. Now, if you look at pop magazines, e.g. women's mags, typical their headlines is:10 ways to lose weight. 8 secrets of guys you need to know. etc.

In a way, you can see, that these tips about writing, isn't really the real thing. Put it this way, would professional writers (e.g. world class fiction writers, poets, recognized journalist, professors of letters), advice the same type of writing tips as these blogs? likewise, the type of tips given by blogs usually don't really appear in pro circles, e.g. The Elements of Style aka Strunk & White.

In a similar way, with topics regarding how to deal with comments ... academically it is about criticism. The issue of criticism, its nature, value, style, or dealing with it e.g. acceptance level, effects, is a old topic. A common problem from personal blogs to politics.

The blog approach, which is pretty much exemplified in this blog post. It is very valuable for the typical goals of bloggers. However, if you expand the point of view a bit, to what degree you accept negative comments and how you deal with it, and the effect to what is truth in your blog's topic, isn't 100% compatible with the typical advice in blogs.

In a way, after reading much about all these blogs in the past month, one feels that the world of internet has become all these nice 10 ways to xyz, 5 tips you must know. Some other blogs from for example professors, you don't see this, and typically, they have readership maybe 10 subscribers. LOL.

Thinking about this, you can see that in printed periodicals, there are types that cater to mass audience, such as women's magazines, Maxim, Popular Psychology, Popular Mechanics, PC Magazine, gaming mags, hot cars mags, etc. These mag's writing style, title style, seems to be in sync with online commercial blogs. They are that way, i presume because after decades of experiment, that's the style that sells. However, there are also higher class commercial magazines, such as Scientific American, Time Mag, New Yorker, Forbes, in which the writing style is very different. They use a lot highbrow words, and they don't have “n life's secrets” type of titles. Though, these are also mags where making money is their primary goal. So, as a blogger, i think one can also learn from them, depending on your subject area and audience. (possibly already lots of these blogs exists just much less common, or these typers of bloggers haven't caught on with online monetizing yet.)

Me, have always tend to be the type who leave critical comments, typically ostensibly offensive with 4-letter words. Apart from the 4-letter words, my reason is, to grow truth, negative comments is far more important than positive ones. If you look at a typical blog, vast majority of comments are like “thank you”, “great tip”, "i agree". They are of little substance. There are 2 perspectives in valuing feedback. (1) with respect to how it grows your community. (2) with respect to the density, quality, of info of that feedback. For commercial bloggers, 1 is good, but if you really intend to seek “truth”, 2 can be considered.

Here's some rant i wrote about criticism Criticism versus Constructive Criticism was written in the programer community.

Best Unicode Fonts for Emacs

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Best Unicode Fonts for Emacs

Xah Lee, 2010-04-05

This page shows you some of the best Unicode fonts for emacs.

Today, Unicode is getting very popular and is a standard in lots of computer languages and web standards ( XML, Java, C#, Python 3). (see for example: Unicode Popularity On Web) Even if English is your only language, Unicode provide many useful symbols. Here's some example of popular Unicode chars: “ ” ← → ↑ ↓ ⇒ £ € © ® ™ — … ¶ † ● α β ° π ⊕ ⊗ « » 『 』 ✓ ▶ ★ ◇ ♠ ♣ ♥ ♦ ♪ ☺ . Open this file in emacs and see how well your setup does: unicode_chars.txt.

Best Proportional Unicode Font for Windows

If you are on Windows, get Arial Unicode MS.

It comes with Microsoft Windows Office. If you don't have it, you can download the trial version just to get this font then uninstall Office. It supports all Unicode chars, and is the best quality Unicode font by far.

emacs Arial Unicode MS font

Arial Unicode MS in emacs displaying Unicode chars.

Best Monospaced Unicode Fonts for Windows

GNU Unifont is probably the best one out there. This is the standard font in most linuxes.

You can download here: unifont-5.1.20080907.ttf.zip. Its home page is here: http://unifoundry.com/unifont.html.

Bitmapped Design in Scalable Format

This font has been converted into a scalable format (TrueType) in 2008 by Paul Hardy. However, the font design itself is still based on tiny squares. That means, if you make the font very large, you'll see a lot little squares. Still, this font is quite practical for normal everyday coding and contains practically all Unicode chars.

One advantage of this font in emacs is that when emacs encounter a char that's not in current font, it'll fall back to this one. So, at least all your Unicode will show, may it be math symbols, Chinese, or ancient language.

emacs GNU Unifont

GNU Unifont when enlarged.

Fixedsys and Code2000

There are 2 other Unicode fonts i've tried. Fixedsys is a mono spaced font, and Code2000 is proportional. Both are free. Code2000 practically contains ALL Unicode chars. Fixedsys misses some rare unicode chars. One advantage over GNU Unifont is that these are real scalable fonts. So, when enlarged, they don't show zigzags of squares.

What About Mac?

Apple has very good font technology, including font substitution technology, to the degree that you don't need to worry about it. If you are using Carbon Emacs or Aquamacs Emacs, both will display any Unicode out of the box, and you can easily choose the many beautiful fonts from Mac OS X.

Quickly Switching Fonts

When coding in Python or viewing directories, mono-spaced font is necessary. However, proportional font works great in coding too. Try it. You may be surprised.

Proportional font is easier to read, and shows more characters per line. I got used to using proportional fonts for html, xml, perl, lisp...

One problem is that it is difficult to switch font in emacs. Here's a elisp code that cycle fonts.

(defun cycle-font ()
  "Change font in current frame.
When called repeatedly, cycle thru a predefined set of fonts.
Warning: tested on Windows Vista only."

  (let (fontList fontToUse currentState)
    ;; states starts from 1.
    (setq fontList (list "Courier New-10" "Arial Unicode MS-10"
                         "Unifont-12" "FixedsysTTF-11" "Code2000-11" "Lucida Sans Unicode-10"))
    (setq currentState (if (get this-command 'state) (get this-command 'state) 1))
    (setq fontToUse (nth (1- currentState) fontList))

    (set-frame-parameter nil 'font fontToUse)
    (message "Current font is: %s" fontToUse)
    (put this-command 'state (1+ (% currentState (length fontList))))
    (redraw-frame (selected-frame))

Modify the line on fontList so that you can use this function to cycle among the fonts of your choice.

You can set a shortcut key like this:

(global-set-key (kbd "<C-f9>") 'cycle-font) ; Ctrl+F9

(See: Defining Your Own Keyboard Shortcuts)

Also, if you are not using emacs 23, you probably should upgrade, because emacs 23 switched its internal char encoding to Unicode (utf-8), and has a new font engine that supports operating system's fonts and anti-aliasing. (see: New Features in Emacs 23)

What font are you using? Any suggestions for addition? Please let me know!


Robert Black and Obscenity Charges

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李敖 (Li Ao)'s blog seems to be revived

李敖 (Li Ao)'s blog seems to be revived: http://blog.sina.com.cn/liaoblog (Chinese only).

For those of you don't know who he is, check out past particles:

Google Sidewiki Block

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Google Sidewiki Block

Xah Lee, 2010-04-08

Google has a free browser toolbar. In their toolbar, there's a feature called sidewiki, introduced in 2009-09. It allows any user with Google account to leave a comment on any website. This feature has several social problems, and i as a site owner am rather pissed. This page gives some detail.

I've used Google toolbar once or twice in the past years. Usually, i installed it just to see what it does, as part of the process of being a web programer and technologist. One particular feature useful for webmasters is that it provides a page rank. So that, you can conveniently see any url's page rank as measured by Google. Though, in the past, after 1 hour of use, i find it rather not useful, so i uninstalled it.

Today, i need a quick way to know Google's page rank of sites again, so i installed again. It has grown, with many other features. One feature i noticed is Sidewiki. Seems very convenient and en-powering to users, i thought.

The first thing i tried is of course to see what user has been saying on my website, xahlee.org. I sure don't want to be left in the dark. After several tries to login thru the toolbar to my google account, but everytime i go to xahlee.org, the sidewiki disappears and my login status on the bar is gray. I was quite puzzled. Perhaps because my browser has denied Google's cookies. But i set Explorer to accept all cookies, i still have this problem. After 30 min, i'm getting annoyed. Does Google block sidewiki for certain sites? For example, i can imagine, google might do that to porn sites.

Searching the web, immediately i found several discussions about the sidewiki problem. Here's some:

  • Sidewiki: Google colonial sideswipe (2009-09-24), By Andrew Keen. Source
  • How do webmasters opt out of sidewiki? (2009-09-25). Source

It turns out, there's no way for site owners to opt out the sidewiki controlled by Google. There are several problems with this.

  • Spamers or people who don't like your site can leave bad comments, and you as the site owner have no way to control that.
  • Google is partially hijacking the user communication out of your site. You have no control of it. Suppose your site lets user leave comment or has dicussion forums, but now with Google sidewik, user may bypass yours.

Also, after 30 minutes, i did not find out any answer of my original question: Does google automatically block certain sites? If so, is there a public list, or policy on this?

I was happy when i discovered the Google toolbar forum. As usual, i trusted Google, and am about to post a nicely written question. Google's webmaster forums have been very helpful to me in the past. But then, i discovered, that Google has shut down the toolbar forum. Announced here:

Closing Google Sidewiki help forum (2010-03-02) By Toolbar Guide Bryan, Google employee. Source

They didn't leave a new url for discussion. Instead, we are told to either use the Help page, or bug report page, or follow them on Google Buzz or Twitter. None of these are designed to support discussions or alternative views.

How To Block Sidewiki

There are several ways, but none are perfect.

Block by URL Redirect

Put the following in your Apache “.htaccess” cofig (code originally from cs1380 in the thread):

# redirect users of Google Toolbar to a notoolbar.html page
RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} GoogleToolbar [NC]
RewriteRule !^notoolbar\.html /notoolbar.html [L]

The problem with this is that any Google Toolbar user will be redirected. This can significantly annoy your site visitors.


You can also insert a javascript that automatically redirect a url by appending to a random "#83795" to the url. Similar to the server redirect. For ready to use code, see: http://code.google.com/p/sidewiki-defeat/.

This solution also have lots of problems. It will introduce many complexities in your url, for your web log, or if you are Google Analytics user. Also screws up your page rank calculation and search engine results.


Demon Blade Chick by Muuten

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Demon Blade Chick by Muuten

Xah Lee, 2010-04-04


Artist seem to be Muuten. This piece is a fan art. The chick is the character Momohime from the vid game Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Source Source

painting exhibition by mathematician Rudy Rucker


There's a painting exhibition in San Francisco, hosted by Science Fiction in San Francisco (SF in SF), featuring the works of mathematician and science fiction writer Rudy Rucker.

Rudy is famous for his books such as “The Fourth Dimension” (1984), Infinity and the Mind (1995), and latest non-fiction on cellular automata: The Life Box, The Seshell, and The Soul (2005). amazon

The painting exhibition will be on from April 9 (Friday) to May 22 (Saturday), at Variety Preview Room in San Francisco. (582 Market Street, San Francisco, CA. (415) 781-3893) (View Map)

You're invited to an opening night party on Friday, April 9, from 6 to 9 pm.

In the closing event on Saturday May 22, from 6 to 10 pm, Rudy will read with author Michael Shea.

Paintings and prints will be for sale at the show during the opening and closing events, or online from Rudy's paintings page.

What's Emacs Custom System and Should You Use It?

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What's Emacs Custom System and Should You Use It?

Xah Lee, 2010-04-06

This page is a tutorial on emacs's Custom system for setting user preferences.

What's Emacs's Custom GUI?

Emacs has a textual GUI system for setting user preferences . It lets you customize emacs without needing to know much emacs lisp. You can call it by “Alt+x customize”. Try it. You'll see that things are simple to understand. You can just use the mouse and click buttons to change emacs's many complex setting.

You can also call “customize-group” to customize a particular mode directly. For example, type “Alt+x customize-group”, then give “dired”. That page will let you change dired's settings. Another way is to customize a variable directly if you know a variable's name. For example, type “Alt+x customize-variable”, then “auto-save-default”.

emacs custom system

Emacs textual GUI based Custom system for setting user preferences.

When you are done, press the “Save for future sessions”. After you are finished, emacs will insert elisp code like this into your init file:

  ;; custom-set-variables was added by Custom.
  ;; If you edit it by hand, you could mess it up, so be careful.
  ;; Your init file should contain only one such instance.
  ;; If there is more than one, they won't work right.
 '(abbrev-mode t)
 '(auto-save-default nil)
 '(comment-column 2)
 '(current-language-environment "UTF-8")
 '(default-input-method "latin-1-prefix")
 '(ffap-newfile-prompt t)
 '(font-lock-maximum-decoration 2)
 '(indicate-empty-lines nil)
 '(initial-major-mode (quote text-mode))
 '(initial-scratch-message "")
 ;; ...

The emacs's Custom system is very convenient. It provides a easy way for people not familiar with lisp, and it works in terminal on remote machines too because it is a textual based GUI. For emacs beginner, this is a great way to explore. However, it has its flaws.

Some advanced emacs user have a habit of using this Custom system whenever possible. So, they avoid a bunch of manually created “(setq ‹variable name› ‹value›)” in their emacs init file. This can keep the variable settings neat.

However, other advanced emacs users totally avoid this Custom system, because the Custom system put all variable settings into one alphabetical list. These emacs users prefer to group similar customizations together so that they have better control.

How to Move Things Out of custom-set-variables

It is easy to move variables in or out of this “custom-set-variables” system. For example, if you have:

 '(abbrev-mode t)
 '(auto-save-default nil)
 ;; ...

The equivalent would be:

(setq abbrev-mode t)
(setq auto-save-default nil)

Should You Use Custom?

If you move things manually out of the code generated by Custom, note that the Custom system may get confused. For example, if you call “customize-group”, then “abbrev”, the values displayed there for Abbrev Mode may not reflect the actual value, because you've set abbrev-mode variable outside the custom system. If you went ahead and use the Custom anyway and save for future session, emacs will generate the code, so in effect you have 2 places in your init file both trying to set the same variable. It'll still work, because the generated code is at the bottom of your init file (presuming you just have one simple init file), but can be a potential problem.

For me, i don't take the effort to move things out of the auto generated code.

The Custom system isn't ideal neither. Because sometimes when you read online, often you can just grab some code such as “(setq abbrev-mode t)” and put in your init file. Very convenient. You don't need to know if that variable is part of the Custom system. (The Custom system does NOT include all possible variable settings)

For emacs blog writers, it is also much easier to just say “put this code snippet in your .emacs”. It is more difficult to give direction on how to do the same thing thru Custom system. And for many customizations that's more than just setting of variables, it cannot be done thru the Custom system.

So, there's no ideal choice here about whether you should be using the custom system. My advices is just don't fret about it either way. Though, you should avoid setting a variable in more than one place. You'll see why later.

Also, even though the Custom is a GUI, but it is not quite intuitive. When i first tried the Custom, i already have 5 years of daily emacs experience, but i was still quite confused on what each customization item is supposed to do.

See also: Organize Your .emacs in 5 Minutes.


World Multiconference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics ???

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World Multiconference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics ???

Xah Lee, 2010-04-04

Starting about 2005, i regularly receive email asking me to participate a conference, called World Multiconference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics (WMSCI). Here's one of such email i got today:

Dear Xah Lee:

As you know the Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon affirmed that design is an essential ingredient of the Artificial Sciences Ranulph Glanville, president of the American Society for Cybernetics and expert in design theory, affirms that "Research is a variety of design. So do research as design. Design is key to research. Research has to be designed." An increasing number of authors are stressing the relationships between Design and Research. Design is a mean for Research, and Research is a mean for Design. Design and research are related via cybernetic loops in the context of means-ends logic. Consequently, we invite you to submit a paper/abstract and/ot to organize an invited session in the International Symposium on Design and Research in the Artificial and the Natural Sciences: DRANS 2010 (http://www.sysconfer.org/drans) which is being organized in the context of The 14th World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics: WMSCI 2010 (http://www.sysconfer.org/wmsci), 2010 in Orlando, Florida, USA.


I do not know this organization, nor do i remember ever having contacted them. I don't know how they got my email or know that i'm involved in the computer science community. Though, after getting a few of their email, one clearly gets a sense that it is a scam, soliciting innocent idiotic academics (those with PH Ds.).

Here's what Wikipedia has to say about them: World Multiconference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics. Here's a juice quote:

WMSCI attracted publicity of a less favorable sort in 2005 when three graduate students at MIT succeeded in getting a paper accepted as a "non-reviewed paper" to the conference that had been randomly generated by a computer program called SCIgen.[8] Documents generated by this software have been used to submit papers to other similar conferences. Compare to the Sokal affair.

WMSCI has been accused of using spam to advertise its conferences.[8]

Now and then, whenever i got their email, the curiosity in me do lookup the several terms cited in their email, partly to check the validity. For example, in this one, it mentiones Herbert Simon. Another one i recall i got recently mentioned Science 2.0. Both of the terms i haven't heard of before.

One'd think that it is easy to tell scam from real science, but with today's science proliferation, it's actually not that easy. Even if you are a academic, it's rather common that many new science terms you never heard of, because there are tremendous growth of new disciplines or cross disciplines, alone with their new terms. Cross-discipline is rather common and natural, unlike in the past where science is more or less clearly delineated hierarchy like Physics, Math, Chemistry, biology, etc and their sub-branches. However, many of today's new areas is a bit questionable, sometimes a deliberate money making scheme, which i suppose is the case for WMSCI. Many of these, use terms like “post-modern”, “new-age”, “science 2.0” to excuse themselves from the rather strict judgement of classic science. Many of these terms such as “systemics”, “cybernetics”, “infomatics” are vague. Depending on the context, it could be a valid emerging science discipline, but it could also be pure new-age garbage. And sometimes, nobody really knows today.

In the past 2 decade, there are quite a few cases where peer reviewed papers published in respected journals are exposed as highly questionable or deliberate hoax, arosing massive debate on the peer review system. The peer-review system itself can't hold all the burden, but part of it has to do with the incredible growth of sciences and limitation of the single human mind to make sense of them all. For examples, see:

  • Sokal Affair (The Sokal Affair was a publishing hoax perpetrated by Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University. In 1996, Prof. Sokal submitted an article to Social Text, an academic journal dedicated to postmodern cultural studies.)
  • Bogdanov Affair (Twin brother physicists published in peer reviewed journal that was accused to be random mix of physics jargons)
  • Jan Hendrik Schon (German physicist who briefly rose to prominence after a series of apparent breakthroughs that were later discovered to be fraudulent.[1] Before he was exposed, Schön had received the Otto-Klung-Weberbank Prize for Physics in 2001, the Braunschweig Prize in 2001 and the Outstanding Young Investigator Award of the Materials Research Society in 2002, which was later rescinded.)

When it comes to philosophy, it is worse. For example, there's this Hegel (1770-1831), i personally regard him as the worst mumble-jumbo scumbag.

In the computer science or programing area, which i'm personally a expert, there are quite a huge number of wishy-washy shit. Examples include: Extreme Programing (espousing that programing should be done by 2 males sitting in front of a computer together, one code while the other sucks his cock.), Universal Modeling Language (which supposes that this pseudo-language solves the world's problems), Design Patterns (which peddles best practices under the aegis of OOP and jargonism.), and, of course there's Larry Wall, whose crime is too numerous to list. (disclaimer: opinion only.)

Even in the area of math, i'm reminded of the guy Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983). Personally, i despise his name.

On the other hand, there's Stephen Wolfram, with his A New Kind of Science. It has received criticism from many scientists and mathematicians as garbage, exasperated by Wolfram's megalomania personality. Personally i respect his work highly. (See also: Notes on A New Kind of Science.)