New Blogging Tools

Last week I upgraded this blog to WordPress 1.5. I remain very impressed with this application, not for any particularly “killer” feature, but simply because it just seems to work so well. I recently helped my house-mate set up his own blog and he hardly needed my help at all, it was that easy.

In this new version of WP I particularly like the new themes system which makes it considerably easier to customise the layout of the various pages, and the fact that registered users automatically have their details filled-in when they post a comment. My own theme is based on Steam as I am not a fan of fixed-width layouts.

On the subject of blogging tools, I have also discovered a neat new tool for blogging off-line. I have been rather underwhelmed by various blogging “clients” I have tried in the past as they seemed to offer little over WP’s excellent web interface (especially when augmented with the spell checking plugin). However I recently discovered mtsend.py, a small Python script that allows you to write an entry in your favourite text editor and then post by invoking the script from the command-line. It’s not going to replace the web as my primary interface, but it will make it easier to write entries when I’m disconnected from the ‘net.

Thesis Submission!

I actually finished binding the third copy of my thesis at 15:55 yesterday afternoon. Unfortunately, this being Cambridge, the Board of Graduate studies closes at 4pm so I had to wait until this morning to actually submit my thesis… but now it’s DONE! 🙂 I shall have to prepare for the viva at some point, but for the moment I am looking forward to a bit of a rest and preparing for my trip to Australia.

The final word count was 42,776. Many thanks to everyone who proof-read chapters for me!

Highlighting “TODO” Items in LaTeX

Several people have asked me how I make TODO appear in the margin of my thesis wherever I want to highlight an area that needs further work. The trick is to define a new LaTeX command called “todo” in your pre-amble:
\newcommand{\todo}[1]{\marginpar{\textsf{\textbf{TODO}}}
\texttt{\small{TODO:#1}}}

(all on one line)

TODO items can then be marked up in the text as:
\todo{Add a reference here.}

Memories of Canada

Looking through my home directory this evening I came across some notes I made about my experiences in Canada (sadly now over three years ago!). Here’s what I had to say:

Vancouver

A lovely city, very laid back, with “big city” amenities, without all the usual noise, dirt, etc.

Places to stay: The downtown HI is good but lacks atmosphere. Jericho Beach is great if you want to hang-out on the beach for a few days, but it’s a bit of a pain to get into downtown. GVB is clean, central & has a very friendly atmosphere, plus they organise trips to the pub every night! Highly recommended.

Night-life: Good party town (something of the ‘Amsterdam’ of N. America!). The Stone Temple on a Thursday night has hi-balls (shot+mixer) for $1! [Unfortunately I doubt this is still true!]

Stuff todo: For the ultimate ‘Canadian’ experience, you have to go rollerblading in Stanley Park. The views from Canada place are superb & the Lookout tower was surprisingly interesting.

Places to go:

  • Whistler: The town lacks any character what so ever, but views from top of mountain are superb.
  • North Vancouver: There’s a great indoor market at the sea bus terminal. Capilano Suspension Bridge was a little disappointing but worth seeing (go to Lynn Canyon Prov. Park for same sort of experience on a smaller scale & less comercialised). Climbing Grouse Mtn is a lot harder than it first appears — it’s a very steep climb — but rewarding if you are up to it.
  • Seattle: Pretty downtown skyline & generally a nice place, but not a “must see” tourist destination. The Underground History Tour is excellent, as is (so I have heard) the Experience Music project. The HI hostel on Vashon Island is a very cool place to stay, but getting there without a car was a pain.

S5: A Simple Standards-Based Slide Show System

One of the problems of using LaTeX for presentations[1] is that positioning graphics is annoyingly fiddly. The web’s cascading style sheets — with it’s highly flexible and very powerful layout abilities — ought to be ideal for producing presentation slides, and indeed somebody has produced an impressive framework for doing so.

[1] Don’t get me started on Powerpoint — producing anything with more than one mathematical formula is as annoying as positioning graphics in a LaTeX slide.

TARDIS spotted in Monmouth

Since I’m spending so much time thesis-writing at the moment, sadly Dr. Who is currently the highlight of my week. :-/

This week’s storyline was excellent — classic Dr. Who — and the exterior of the undertaker’s house was very recognisably filmed in Agincourt Square, Monmouth, where I went to school. What a pity the current Doctor is so stupid he had to be saved by Charles Dickens… 🙁

I’m also not convinced by the sans-cliffhanger-ending format. I can understand the BBC wanting to move away from the old format of stringing storylines out for three or four 30 minute episodes, but they could have retained the spirit of the cliffhanger by ending each episode with a cliffhanger that begins the next storyline: each episode already has a preview for the following week anyway.

Oh well, now all I have to do is find some way of sneaking away from next Saturday’s family party for 45 mins to watch it. 😉