Supersonic Man

March 5, 2016

how fascism survives

Filed under: Rantation and Politicizing,thoughtful handwaving — Supersonic Man @ 9:19 am

Can fascism be friendly?  We think of fascism mainly by remembering its most virulent examples — the ones with brutal repression and all-out warmongering.  Those regimes usually self-destruct in a generation or two, and overt examples such as Syria are now rare.

But can fascism stick around long term by toning down the violence?  How would you recognize it — what would be its remaining characteristics?  Peaceful fascism would be a single-party government which primarily promotes, and/or is primarily supported by, the major business interests of its homeland, with plenty of patriotic nationalist rhetoric, and optionally some military belligerence against manageable enemies.

Viewed in this light, fascism is abundant around the world today.  China’s government calls itself communist but nowadays is actually fascist.  Putin’s Russia is fascist — this being a more traditional specimen.  Even some very benign and peaceful regimes are technically fascist, such as Japan in the second half of the 20th century, and Singapore to this day, both of which had grest success with their business interests.  And some not-so-peaceful and not-so-successful examples are around too, for instance in Central Asia.

In this light, yes, we’ve certainly got fascists here.  After 9/11, some neocons came pretty close to openly advocating single-party rule and suppression of dissent.  Fortunately our tradition of democracy was too strong for them to ever quite dare being open about it — such ideas didn’t publicly go beyond the level of trial-balloon anonymous leaks.

And then as now, such movements don’t lack for willing followers, here or anywhere.

February 20, 2016

the one magical issue that lets anyone identify crooked politicians

Filed under: Rantation and Politicizing — Supersonic Man @ 1:03 pm

I have found a pretty near foolproof way to separate the decent politicians from the crooked ones.

Normally, we are trained to judge politicians by whether they agree with our values.  We support the ones who agree with us on the classic left-vs-right divisive issues, and bitterly oppose those on the other side.  But the thing is, that doesn’t really help you tell whether that politician will stand by you or sell you out.

February 9, 2016


Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry,the future!,thoughtful handwaving — Supersonic Man @ 11:45 am

Battery technology is going to be extremely important to our future.  If someone just came up with a rechargeable battery that improved the energy density of lithium-ion cells by a factor of, say, about six, the effects would be tremendous.  It wouldn’t just suddenly make the electric car really competitive with fossil-fuel powered cars, it could pretty near wipe out small internal combustion engines altogether.  Motor scooters, lawnmowers, maybe even chainsaws would go electric, as would heavy trucks and buses.  The reduction of air pollution would be dramatic.  Vacuum cleaners would start going cordless.  Laptop computers could start being as powerful as desktops.

We could build robots that could walk around for longer than fifteen minutes before needing to plug themselves in.  We could make strength-enhancing exoskeletons.  All kinds of high powered portable doodads.

Also, the economics of shifting from fossil fuels to renewables would become a lot more attractive than they already are.

February 8, 2016


Filed under: fun,Hobbyism and Nerdry,life — Supersonic Man @ 1:00 pm

I’ve always been fascinated by the hymn (if such it is) “Jerusalem”, or “And Did Those Feet In Ancient Time”, by William Blake and Hubert Parry.  In the British Isles, particularly in England (where it’s almost become an unofficial national anthem), it’s inescapable, but here in the States we’re not often exposed to it.  In my younger days I would catch glimpses of it, you might say — a fragment of a verse stuck into an episode of Monty Python, for instance.  And it always seemed to have a magic about it — some quality that other such songs did not possess.  That effect starts with William Blake’s words, which are an odd mix of religion, patriotism, and activism which sound like an inspiring call to arms, but which still mystify us as to exactly what we’re being called to do:

December 19, 2015

A historical timeline of the word “nerd”

Filed under: fun,Hobbyism and Nerdry — Supersonic Man @ 4:22 pm

An expanded version of this post has been moved to my website.  This is just an early draft — the official version is quite a bit longer, and has pictures.

Note that the “previous post” button below this post doesn’t work.  This is due to an outright bug in WordPress — maybe more than one.  I found this post to be difficult to compose, due to both the website and their mobile app misbehaving.  That’s one reason new material rarely gets written in this blog, and in the cases where it does, why it doesn’t remain here. (more…)

December 13, 2015

A missing piece in the puzzle of misogyny?

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry,Rantation and Politicizing,thoughtful handwaving — Supersonic Man @ 10:41 am

A year or two ago there was a lot of discussion about misogyny among video gamers, due to a stink raised over something called “gamergate”.  This turned out to be only the most visible of a large number of cases of a certain core part of “gamer culture” being agressively hostile to women — a syndrome that also seems to rub off on some related cultural areas such as comic book fandom.  I recently ran into some people discussing this, and one of them mocked these gamers as being afraid to catch cooties.  And with a little distance from the original furor, that made me realize something. It’s a bit speculative, but I think it’s something that will eventually need society’s attention.

March 12, 2015


Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry — Supersonic Man @ 8:16 pm

Well I guess there’s one category of post I can still put here: nerd notes that none of my friends care about.  These may end up being little more than notes to myself.

I’ve been looking at the Javascript property window.devicePixelRatio.  It’s a way to compensate for the way that browsers more and more often separate the definition of a CSS “px” from a physical device pixel.  It started with Apple’s “retina” iPhones, which had twice the pixel density but didn’t want to display web pages half as big because of it.  So they set up the browser so that one “px” would be two physical pixels.  As phone displays got denser, a bunch of other manufacturers followed suit: on my HTC One, for instance, it’s three physical pixels per “px”.  And this value is reflected in the Javascript API with the property window.devicePixelRatio.

So far, no problem — everybody gets a display that works pretty well on their mobile device regardless of its density.  Where things get awkward is when this comes back to the desktop browser.  Chrome and Firefox now support devicePixelRatio in Javascript.  But unlike the mobile browsers, the value is changeable: it varies depending on the zoom selected by the user, whereas on a phone, zooming means just changing your area of view over a layout that mostly remains fixed.  In Chrome, it starts as 1.0, but if you hit ctrl-plus, it becomes 1.1, then 1.25, then 1.5, then 1.75, and so on.  In Firefox, it goes from 1.0 to 1.25 to 1.5 to 1.76470589 (don’t ask me to explain that last one).

What bugs me is that Firefox does not start out at 1.0.  Since a year or two ago, they take the initial ratio from the host operating system’s monitor pixel density setting, which in Windows is controlled by the desktop text size setting.  When you pick “smaller”, the ratio is 1.0, for “medium” it’s 1.25, and for “larger” it’s 1.5… and like a lot of people, I use “medium”.  So Firefox starts out at 125% zoom on every website, unless you install an add-on to change that behavior.

And mostly, this larger zoom is a good thing.  It makes the website look about the size it was intended to look.  But there’s one situation where this zoom ratio is bad, and that’s when viewing images at full size.  See, the browser has to resize the image in much the same way that you’d do in a program like Photoshop, and if you’ve messed around with resizing in such programs, you’ve likely noticed that the results are worst when the amount of change in size is small.  Cut a picture to half size or blow it up triple, and the results are no worse than you’d expect, but magnify or shrink it just a little and you get a ton of extra blurriness.  (Or pixelated graininess, depending on the type of size-changing you select.)  This is because changing sizes by a small ratio, such as 1.25, combines the imprecision of both formats.  Each image’s pixelization process involves a roundoff error in where a given picture detail is located, and resizing adds together the roundoff error of both scales.  When you change by a large ratio, the amount of detail in the picture is nearly identical to what you could see in the smaller of the two sizes, but with a small fractional ratio, the result is not much better than half as sharp as it would be if it were created originally in either of the two sizes.

So, when my website hosts large images and I don’t want them fuzzified, I’d like to find a way to fool browsers into showing the image at exactly a 1.0 pixel ratio, if it’s attempting to use an awkward ratio like 1.25.  If the ratio gets to 1.5 or higher, fine, resize it, but if you’re trying to resize it a little bit, I’d much rather have 1.0.  That’s why I’m investigating window.devicePixelRatio: so I can make a Javascript hack that will change the sizing of images so that, should I so desire, they look their best and sharpest rather than looking correctly proportioned to the text and stuff around them.  Sometimes the proportion doesn’t matter.

Unfortunately, IE 10 also looks at the Windows desktop size setting, and starts out with an initial zoom of 125%… but it does not support the devicePixelRatio property.  So for now, if I make such a fix, it’ll basically be for Firefox only.

…Unless, that is, I make a separate CSS media query for each individual pixel ratio.  There probably aren’t that many to be found out in the wild: 1.1, 1.25, and 1.33 are probably about it for common cases.  But on the other hand, I don’t want these rules to snap in and out of action as the user zooms through the different ratios. JavaScript would be better because it could change the picture’s size once, and then any zooming done after that has no unexpected effect.

March 1, 2015

winding down

Filed under: life,the future!,thoughtful handwaving — Supersonic Man @ 7:26 pm

Nobody reads this blog. Even the index page of my personal website gets a lot more interest than this blog does. Even my secondary website for superhero movies does.  The only time I get a noticeable number of readers here is when I link a post from social media.

And yet, some of my most serious recent writing is here, because today’s social media sites — the ones with people you know on them, anyway — generally suck for long-form writing.  So what I’m doing is extracting the major posts from this blog, and putting them onto my main website as permanent pages.  This makes sense because some of them were already being subjected to repeated revisions.

Since many of these posts were about topics having to do with the future, or at least with science, the new website section where they’re being put is called The Future!.  Check it out.  Back here, meanwhile, a number of posts are now just one line pointers to the website.

There are still some longer posts that haven’t been moved, mainly political ones.  Maybe I’ll grab some of those in a second wave, or maybe not.  Also, lots of bird pictures — I have never updated the ancient photography section of my website to include my current bird photography.  That needs doing someday.

In any case, the point is that I’m no longer going to be investing effort in this blog.  The number of new posts will be significantly reduced and at some point will probably cease.

February 19, 2015

reactionless drives

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry — Supersonic Man @ 8:37 am

This post has been promoted to a permanent location on my website, here.

January 23, 2015

Old fears of consumerism

Filed under: Rantation and Politicizing,thoughtful handwaving — Supersonic Man @ 7:56 am

Do you remember how, back in the fifties and sixties and seventies, everyone was worrying about how consumerism and advertising and keeping-up-with-the-Joneses-ism was going to be bad for society, because it would push everyone to constantly spend all their money on useless stuff they didn’t need, to benefit manufacturers and advertisers more than themselves?  I wonder why it never occurred to us back then that the Powers that Be could easily cut out the middleman, and get that money with a lot less effort by simply not paying decent wages anymore.

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