June 2009

Browser usage and coding for Internet Explorer 6

Internet Explorer 6 has been the bane of my existence as a web designer for years, particularly since (a) I have no computers that run Windows at home, so IE 6 is not readily available, (b) IE 6 does things in a stubbornly different fashion compared to other browsers, and (c) I’m not that good a web designer. So I can test my designs against Safari and Firefox, and occasionally a more recent version of IE, like IE 7, that does a better (i.e., more standard) job of rendering web pages, but IE 6, not so much — except when I have a spare moment at work. And, a recent check shows that, once again, web pages that look fine in the browsers I do have access to look like crap in IE 6.

It’s Netscape 4 all over again: that old browser did a horrible job of rendering CSS, but its installed base meant that it took years to go away. The question is: has IE 6 gone away yet? Are there few enough people still using it that it’s safe enough to ignore compatibility problems?

Using Google Analytics, I had a quick look at my visitors’ browser usage. The answer is: a definite maybe.

Continue reading this entry »

Using Safari 4


I have to admit that, as a user of Apple’s web browser, Safari, since it came out in January 2003, I’m a little discombobulated by the user interface changes that came with version 4. More than any other update, they’ve changed where everything is: tabs are wider and are closed on the opposite site of the tab; the reload button has been moved from left of the address field to where the SnapBack button used to be; SnapBack appears to have disappeared from the address field (it’s still in the search field); the progress indicator that used to fill the address field has been replaced by “Loading …” at the far right of that field, with no indication of how much of the page has loaded. After six and a half years of using this browser, I have to relearn where everything is.

Gear for photographing the Moon

Photography gear

If you’re at all curious about the equipment I’ve been using to shoot my recent Moon photos, click on the above photo to see the annotations on its Flickr page.

From left to right: a DR-6 right-angle finder for Nikon digital SLRs, which is mounted on my Nikon D90 digital SLR, to which is attached a T-ring for a Nikon F-mount, which allows the camera to connect to my Televue 2× Powermate with its T-ring adapter, which, in turn, is inserted into a two-inch extension tube, which is inserted into the focuser of my Sky-Watcher Equinox 80 apochromatic refractor.

All of which is completely unwieldy on my now surprisingly flimsy Manfrotto tripod. Time for a better mount. For lunar photography, a computerized equatorial mount is overkill; I can do this with a sturdy alt-azimuth mount that would normally be used for observing. Candidates include Astro-Tech’s Voyager, Orion’s VersaGo and Vixen’s Porta II; heavier-duty possibilities include Orion’s SkyView AZ, Sky-Watcher’s HDAZ, and similar mounts. Time to poke around.

More entries below »

The MacBook Pro’s insanely great battery life


MacBook Pro line (Courtesy: Apple)

Early reviews of the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros (or is that MacBooks Pro?) gush about the crazy-stupid battery life afforded by the new machines’ larger, non-removable batteries, which Apple claims last seven hours. “This battery lasts forever,” writes Leander Kahney in his review of the “freakin’ awesome” 13-inch model; he got more than six hours in ordinary use. Anand Lal Shimpi can’t believe that he got more than “eight, freakin’, hours” from the 15-inch MacBook Pro; his multi-page review begins here.

Which is making me rethink my plans to buy a small, Windows-based netbook for autoguiding purposes (see previous entry). While the 10-inch Asus Eee PC 1000HE claims a battery life up to nine and a half hours and costs only $450, the fact is, it would only be used for astrophotography. A low-end 13-inch MacBook Pro, on the other hand, may cost $1,400, but it would certainly not be a one-trick pony — the Windows-only astrophotography software could be installed on a Windows partition, and I’d be much happier with a Mac portable when doing virtually anything else. (It’d be nice not having to wait to get home before processing photos taken on trips, for example.)

In other words, I’ve just rationalized spending an additional $950. Oh hell.

(Image courtesy of Apple.)

Anyone make diapers for garter snakes?

George George is still not dead, but he’s getting increasingly, well, incontinent. You will recall that our male Plains Garter Snake (Thamnophis radix) was rather floppy; in fact, he seemed to be using his front half to drag his back half along like a wagon, as though he’d suffered some nerve damage that prevented the full use of his muscles back there. It seems to be getting worse: now his poop is having trouble clearing the vent, and he’s usually so twisted around back there that he, um, shits himself and needs to be cleaned up. George apparently needs some Depends, though I don’t think they come in his size.

He still eats well and has a good disposition. Go figure.

Thinking about another lens or two (or three or four)

Now that I’ve received my first paycheque, I can give some thought to whether I should get any more camera lenses. (I often celebrate a new contract by buying a lens.) I have four lenses in mind, but I’m having some trouble deciding which one to get first.

  1. AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D ($5001). Fast portrait lens. DX crop factor: 127.5mm. Expected uses: portrait photography (girls!), low-light telephoto, astrophotography. Already have the AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D, which fulfils some of these uses. Nikon will probably replace this with an AF-S lens that costs more at some point.
  2. AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED ($6001). Telephoto zoom. DX crop factor: 105-450mm. Expected use: wildlife photography. Already have the AF-S DX VR Zoom-Nikkor 55-200mm f/4-5.6 G IF-ED, which is the DX analogue of this lens. Using the 70-300mm on a DX camera would give me more reach; there are times when 200mm isn’t enough (and I can’t afford fast telephoto primes).
  3. AF DX Fisheye-Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8G ED ($8501). Fisheye lens. Expected use: astrophotography. Wide-field astrophotography would be really impressive with this lens, but it will have to wait until I get a tracking mount. Maybe a one-trick pony until I can find some terrestrial uses.
  4. AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED ($1,0501). Macro lens. DX crop factor: 157.5mm. Expected uses: macro photography (small reptiles), portrait photography, astrophotography. An f/2.8 lens at this focal length has several uses; while it’s the most expensive lens under consideration here, it would probably get the most use overall. And, of Nikon’s three macro focal lengths, this is probably the one to have if I can only have one.

Any suggestions or recommendations?

I’ve already bought all the cheap, general-purpose lenses I will have a use for, so I’m now moving into the realm of lenses to get for specialized purposes. Now I don’t think I can afford to get all four of these lenses — at least not all at once, so I’m going to have to figure out which lens (or lenses) I will have the most use for. It depends on where my photography goes next: if I get into portrait photography for some reason, the 85mm and 105mm macro lenses make sense, for example (the macro lens can double as a portrait lens), whereas wildlife and reptile photography points to the 70-300mm and the 105mm macro. Wide-field astrophotography would benefit from any prime (i.e., non-zoom) lens, but will requires a tracking equatorial mount.

My financial self-discipline demands that I hold off any lens purchase until I have a use for that lens: there’s no point in spending money on a lens and having it sit on a shelf for months, or buying a lens and then trying to figure out what I can do with it. Then there’s the issue of having the time to shoot photos in the first place: I usually don’t have much of that when I’m off earning enough money to buy lenses.

But this is fun to think about anyway. Thinking about buying toys usually is.

1 Canadian MSRP, for reference; I’ve sometimes seen them advertised for less than this.

Bullsnake eggs

Our female bullsnake, Lucy, laid four eggs yesterday, but I do not have high hopes for them: they look rather yellowish and are probably not fertile. (Par for the course.) I expect they’ll collapse fairly soon, but we’ll keep them in the incubator for a while, in case I’m wrong.

The Moon, magnified

I first tried photographing the Moon with my new 2× Powermate on May 8, but my 80-mm Sky-Watcher Equinox refractor couldn’t reach focus with the Powermate. It needed more focus travel, apparently. (The Powermate’s special T-ring adapter1 hadn’t shown up yet, so I connected my camera to the Powermate using my existing T-ring adapter and the Powermate’s two-inch eyepiece adapter.) I had to make do with this shot instead, taken without the Powermate.

I had the Powermate’s T-ring adapter on order at Focus Scientific (great people; shop there); I picked it up on Monday, along with a two-inch extension tube, which I hoped would allow me to achieve focus with all this gear. I got to test this combination out on Thursday night. As you can see, it worked:

Continue reading this entry »

Employment update

Three weeks in, and I’ve decided to go part-time again — which means that I’ll be working three days a week instead of five, but for a longer period of time. (I did this for six months in 2008.) I’ll be able to juggle my multiple responsibilities a little better this way. And also not collapse from exhaustion.