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Month: September 2007

Dawn of the pronounced dead

Okay, so this is the worst pun ever, but the good news is that as of yesterday NASAs Dawn Mission is on it’s way. Dawn is a mission to the asteroid belt and more specifically to Vesta and Ceres, two really, really huge rocks in space ( 500 km / 1000 km across) that feature in many science fiction novels as the most likely place for human habitats in the asteroid belt. Oh, and I guess they are of some scientific interest, too. Dawn had been effectivly canceled, was reinstated, then delayed – NASA has a problem with its science budget (I don’t follow american fiscal politics that closely but it would seem that the overall budget woes are due to governmental pressure while the unwise distribution of the remaining funds is a self inflicted problem, but what do I know) – so it’s some relief that things finally got going.

So on the following pages you will find the really interesting stuff about the dawn mission:

My heart really belongs to manned space exploration, but I have to admit that at the moment unmanned probes provide better bang for the buck. And I’m really looking forward to learn more about the asteroid belt and Ceres and Vesta.

    A Problem with Javascript libraries

    A couple of days ago thelist – the mailing list of the evolt web developer community – had a short discussion about javascript libs (like e.g. jquery). Do they help with coding or not – i.e. do they help you to become an actual programmer or are they a simple way to do nifty stuff that you don’t actually understand?

    I couldn’t contribute to the discussion, but still I’d like to mention here one of my problems with libraries. I often take over maintenance for sites that have been deserted by their original programmers, and usually when one of these web geniuses spontaneously combusts he burns with him all documentation. One of the sure signs of a web prodigy is that comments in the frontend code usually fail to tell anything useful. Instead I find little essays on why “Javascript sucks”, which is why they have used this amazing library (usually nebulous 0.1 or the promiscuous 0.0.5 pre-alpha) that allows for otherwise unsurmountable tasks like adding a rollover to an image or toggle display of a named element (and even if they used one of the better known scripting frameworks there are still at least a ten or twelve to choose from). So instead of programming in the one language javascript, which I by and by get the hang of (mostly due to Christian Heilmanns excellent book and web site) I suddenly have to look up documentation for a dozen or so libraries. And sometimes I wonder why my predecessors bothered at all to include a couple of hundred kb worth of Javascript when they then decided to rather use some method they’d concocted themself.

    This is of course not an argument against libraries – I think by now it would be somewhat insane to built a Rich Interface Application without a javascript framework – but I still have to say that the purpose of libraries is often defeated at my end, when simple Javascript would be much easier to understand and maintain.

    My suggestion would be not to use libs for the more mundane tasks but rather small, well documented scripts, never to include a library (or worse, multiple libraries) just because it has one effect that you particularly like and, if you can’t help to use a library then to actually use it and not replace parts of it with your own functions.

    And if you are interested in Javascript your really should visit Chris Heilmanns web page wait-till-i.com (it feels a bit strange to advertise for him, since he’s some kind of web guru and I’m a goofball from Berlin, but still). While many people still look at JS as something that is slapped on top of a web page he sees it as a regular programming task, which means that the task at hand gets analyzed step by step before he starts writing code. I tried it and was amazed how much time you can save by taking the long way round.

      My famous (well, sort of) friends

      I’m almost cured, and will resume work soon.  In the meantime I might as well do a bit of advertising for two friends who managed to get some of their stuff published:

      Jakob has a short story in an anthology published by the german Wurdack Verlag. And Nadja Sennewald – already an established writer – has a new book out, Alien Gender, an Analysis of depiction of gender in TV Science Ficion Series. If you read german and are interested in SciFi and gender politics this might be for you.

        Happy Birthday Voyager

        Voyager 1 was launched Sept. 5, 1977 atop a Titan rocket with a Centaur-6 upper stage. Still operational for 30 years, Voyager 1 is more than 103.2 astronomical units away from the Sun.

        Info at Wired: http://www.wired.com/science/space/multimedia/2007/09/gallery_voyager_30

        A mission that was supposed to last just five years is celebrating its 30th anniversary this fall. Scientists continue to receive data from the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft as they approach interstellar space.

        Info at NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/voyager/voyagerf-20070905.html

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