Arnt Gulbrandsen
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A set of cufflinks

Last week I had a set of cufflinks made. What luxury.

They were made out of four old Algerian coins. The silversmith (Geldschneider in Dresden) had used the outer parts of the coins to make rings, and what you see is the remaining inner parts, burnished and polished.

Note the two numbers on the coin in front: That coin was made in 1960 AD written with Latin digits, and in 1380 written with Arabic digits. If they look similar, that's because they are. The area from Morocco to Lebanon uses Arabic digits (that is, 0123). Further east they mostly use ٠١٢٣ instead of 0123, although it's mixed there as well.

Why is the epoch 580, though?

Visual fashion in user interfaces

User interfaces change with the times. A 3½" diskette as an icon in apps may now be obscure because hardly anyone has seen the physical object in 25 years, and applications based on swiping have functional differences from older mouse- or keyboard-based ones. That isn't what I have in mind today. Apps that swipe may be fashionable, but the swiping is at least partly a matter of function. This post is about pure visual fashion — choosing particular kinds of shapes, sizes, fonts, colours, textures and animations instead of other kinds.

I'll discuss a modern, stylish photo from a web site that's 100% about popular fashion, and then a screenshot of a modern, stylish android app. By popular fashion I mean fashion that comes from the vox populi rather than from designers in Paris or the Vogue editors. Instagram's click-fuelled feedback loop produces that, I think, and the photo below is arch-instagram. The app is a high-quality app from a small company. They couldn't be more different, and what I'll describe is their similarity. […More…]

Saudi science fiction

This is what the airport in Dubai showed me on the landing page when I connected to the WLAN there:

I've never been to Dubai, the city. Does it look like that? Maybe the photo borrows a great deal from the style of old science fiction paperback covers, or maybe the city planners in Dubai really like Don Dixon's SF covers and are trying to build a future city in that style. If so, I think they should reread Crash, and maybe High-Rise by J. G. Ballard, an author of fine science fiction. […More…]

Printing RFCs

RFCs now use unicode rather than ASCII. I've been printing RFCs to read them for decades, when I did it last week the result didn't look pretty.

I found a new tool, u2ps, that almost does what a2ps and enscript do not. I had to make one small change, to make it interpret the form feeds in RFCs, then it worked exactly as I needed.

The script I use wraps u2ps to print RFCs double-sided, two RFC pages per A4 page (four per sheet). At heart it's like this short unix command:

u2ps -k -M A4 -s 11.5 --header-right=''
| psnup -2 2>/dev/null
| lpr -o sides=two-sided-long-edge

A correction

John Gruber wrote about Richard Stallman's disgraceful behaviour in September 2019 and again two weeks later. Read that, and maybe the original article too. This isn't about Stallman though, it's about the correction, so today the original article is a digression.

I quote the correction from the original article: [UPDATE 7 OCTOBER 2019: Please read this correction regarding an erroneous allegation originally contained in, but now removed from, this article.]

That's the way to do it. I think that's the best correction I've seen on the web; frank about what the mistake was and that it was a mistake, frank about how and why it happened, apologetic, frank about what changes were made to the original blog posting to correct the mistake, posted as a separate article so it would be on the top of the home page for a while, and last but not least, with links in both directions.

Yes, I post this today because I'm annoyed about a different correction on another site.

On leaving things undocumented

I quote one of the Economist editors on their writing/linking policy: That’s the same that we do in the weekly as well — we’re not big on linking out. And it’s not because we’re luddites, or not because we don’t want to send traffic to other people. It’s that we don’t want to undermine the reassuring impression that if you want to understand Subject X, here’s an Economist article on it — read it and that’s what you need to know. And it’s not covered in links that invite you to go elsewhere. We’ll link to background, and we’ll link to things like white papers or scientific papers and stuff like that. The idea of a 600-word science story that explains a paper is that you only need to read the 600-word science story — you don’t actually have to fight your way through the paper. There is a distillation going on there. (Emphasis mine.)

The same applies to technical documentation: Stick to your subject and document that. Background information is often a digression. It adds bulk, it adds information that someone may appreciate, but quite often it adds no information that you want to convey.

How can you tell whether it's a digression in any single case? If you define the audience and goal of your text, then the goal typically answers that question. Either the text in question helps your specified audience towards the specified goal, or else it's a digression.

The digression may be something you should link to.