Monthly Archives: October 2007

Avoiding tables with the Place Here Module

Written by Eike Pierstorff

The module uses tables in two places: a) as a wrapper to arrange content items – ‘articles’ as they are now called in Joomla 1.5 – in columns, and b) in the template file to format the articles.

As for a) I added a parameter “Output mode” with the values “table”,”div” and “raw”.

  • table – just works like before
  • div – wraps the articles into div tags. The divs around “leading” articles have the class “mod_placehere_leading”, following articles the class, you guess it, “mod_placehere_following”. No CSS is delivered with the module, so you can/have to style the divs on your own (for example set a width and use a float on “following” articles to get a column effect for the articles)
  • raw just prints the content items on the page, without any additional markup

To get b) rid of the remaining tables you will have to fiddle with the template file. Unlike in the module for 1.0.x the module does not use the content componentes template but has its own template file in modules/mod_placehere/tmpl. Change the HTML but don’t mess with the PHP Code. In time I will attempt to provide a tableless template.

Tested with 1.5 RC3 on PHP 4.4 / Windows XP Home. Available at the download page .

    To the moon!

    Written by Eike Pierstorff

    Autumn is killing me (metaphorically) – with shorter days and the lack of sunlight I’m continually tired, an at the moment I’m glad when I finish paid work in time, so I would ask the people who asked for held for a little more patience (I know I make these excuses quite often, but there you go).

    So while I can’t provide an update on the module I can at least give you a small update on what’s happening in space, because these last few days have been a good time for space exploration.

    At Oktober 21. a soyuz capsule returned to earth from the ISS; part of the crew was Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, the first astronaut from Malaysia. I was actually a little annoyed that his religion was so much a matter of public display – but then it’s probably just fair, Christians did it before with bible readings from orbit, and one has to commend Malaysias religious authorities that they managed to reconcile not religion and rationalism, which I think is impossible, but at least religion and pragmatism in such matters as prayer times and such. But as a life long Saganite I’m much more pleased with international cooperation.

    A new crew member and new equipment is on it’s way to the International Space Station with STS-120 and the Orbiter Discovery. Shuttle Commander Pamela Melroy and her Crew deliver a new module – Node 2 a.k.a “Harmony” – to the station which will mainly serve as a connection point for other modules, including the european Columbus. Speaking as a european I can hardly wait. And it’s time that a bit more science happens at the ISS.

    The International Space Station has been pretty much a failure so far, and I think this can be largely attributed to the fact that construction lags so far behind the planned schedule – Russia had a delay in manufacturing station components and there was another shuttle accident and the thing is by now much more expensive than planned (I nearly wrote “as expected”) and generally things haven’t been going to well. Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy fame hinted somewhat subtle (and a number of commenters brought the point home quite bluntly) that the station should be dropped althogether (if this were possible). I usually agree with what Dr. Plait says, not so much because he’s an expert but more because he is an expert who will happily eat his own words if it turns out he was wrong. But I still think the station should be finished, because if we – and it’s “we”, this is an international project – can’t even finish a project more or less at the front door then how can we ever think about building more ambitious projects (like e.g. interplanetary spacecraft) ?

    But maybe there should be a lesson learned for later projects. I’m all for international cooperation (that Sagan thing again), but if possible partners should contribute complementary, not interdependent parts, so that a mission can still be sucessful when one piece is delayed or even fails.

    Of course some people try to do things on their own (especially since they were obviously shunned from working on the ISS, I hadn’t been aware of that), which makes for the most exciting news – China has sent the Chang’e 1 probe to the moon, and that is only the first step in an rather ambitious space programm that is supposed to sent a man to the moon in the next 15 to 20 years. I guess by now a manned flight to the moon is not so much a matter of available technology and more a question if you are willing to spend the ressources (I’d venture that a moon base would be less expensive than the US war in Iraq…), which makes China the best candidate for a return to the moon – the Chinese seem to only ones willing to pull this off. Perhaps if we ask nicely they will sell us some tickets 😉

    And speaking of the moon, Japan Kaguya probe has now reached an orbit from which it can start scientific observation – it’s a pity I don’t speak japanese (or ‘scientese’ for that matter), but I expect sooner or later some bits of data will trickle down to us english-speaking laypersons.

    As I child I used to watch Space 1999 on television and being a child an sometimes unable to distinguish fiction from reality I was convinced that there would be a permant presence on the moon by the time I would grow up and I could buy a ticket to get there. Most annoyingly this hasn’t happened. But even if I can’t go there I hope somebody will.

      Not a fan yet

      Written by Eike Pierstorff

      Heroes premiered tonight in German television. Overall a good show, but there were one or two things I didn’t like. I mean, young people who suddenly discover special powers that set them apart from the rest of humanity? I heard something like this before, only I guess when the idea was originally conceived in the 1960s it propably made more sense.

      At the beginning of the show there is a professor blathering away how evolution will bring forth special powers like telekinesis or teleportation. Hell, no. We live in 2007, and everybody knows (or should know) that there is no plausible or even possible mechanism for psychic powers – it is much more likely that the woman of the future grows a botox gland, or even that men will aquire the missing take-the-trash-out gene (after all this would possibly help their chances with reproduction). I do not as such have a problem with reel science but frankly I had hopes that such a highly acclaimed show would come up with some new ideas. But then I hope that they used a weak idea to get the show started and won’t get back to the mutant thing as the plot develops, especially since the show has some good characters (“Super-Hiro !”, naturally).

      In other news, I worked all afternoon to trim my proposal for an essay in a planned SF anthology down to the requested maximum of 750 characters before I realized that I had misread the specs and that they were really asking for 750 words. This is a little embarassing, and usually I would consider it a waste of time, but to bring down a full page to a super-condensed three-liner was in a way a brilliant excercise and so I’m not too sorry. Overall the restored proposal may be too big on words and too weak on theory, so I might have made a fool of myself, but then I loose nothing by trying.

        Space Age

        Written by Eike Pierstorff

        I have to admit that my personal space age started in 1981 when the Space Shuttle launched successfully launched for the first time – the Shuttle was after all the first major development in space exploration I was old enough to appreciate. But for the world at large the space age started fifty years ago, at October 4th 1957 when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the very first artificial satellite into Earth orbit.

        Instead of singing Sputniks praise myself I will leave that to the experts:

        I’m pretty sure that there is something about Sputniks on the pages of the Russian Federal Space Agency, but I haven’t been unable to find it on the english pages (apparently there is something in russian, alas I can’t read that).

        Today is also the third anniversary for the launch that helped Space Ship One, the first privatly owned manned Spacecraft, win the Ansari X-Price. More Info on the Scaled Composites website.

          Gay civil righs activist gets own asteroid

          Written by Eike Pierstorff

          Ha, did I cleverly deceive you with that headline – because, if course, said civil rights activist is propably better known for impersonating the character of Hikaru Sulu, Captain of the USS Excelsior and former Helmsman of the USS Enterprise under Captain what-was-his-name-again. And of course it should read: .. gets Asteroid named after him.

          If the name ‘Sulu’ doesn’t ring any bells (which would mean that you are either quite young, have no access to a TV set or, more propably, that you are dead), I’m talking about actor and community activist George Takei (read his bio on his website). The IAU approved the re-naming of former 994 GT9 to 7307 Takei (which is about as official as it can get). Astronomy Professor Tom Burbine said he “suggested Takei’s name in part out of appreciation for his work with the Japanese American Citizens League and with the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign”.

          I don’t think I’ll be able to see Takei in the sky due to the light pollution here in Berlin, so I rather look out for him in the SciFi series “Heroes” which is scheduled to start on October 10th in Germany.

            The most beautiful thing ever

            Written by Eike Pierstorff

            I’m usually somewhat focused on the achievements of the US-American and Russian space agencys – a habit from back then (forgivable I hope – I am, after all, a cold war kid) so I often forget what excellent work other countries do. Emilia Lakdawallas blog at the planetay society website reminded me of the japanese Kaguya mission that has launched about two weeks ago. Read about the Kaguya mission at the JAXA website, but before you do this click the preview photo below. Kaguya is the first spacecraft that carries a HDTV camera beyond near earth orbit, and the probe took this stunning picture of our home planet (click for the impressive version):

            20071001_kaguya_1.jpg

            This is earth. Looks kinda small, doesn’t it ? Perhaps we should handle it with care, and try not to break it.

              Science breakfast

              Written by Eike Pierstorff

              A couple of days ago I visited a friend to see her and my – what would be the secular equivalent to a godson? My “Darwin-Son”? or “Dawkins-Son”? – well, to see her and her son (of whom I’m obivously quite fond, he’s two and a half and a very bright and lovable child). After some hours of playing ‘Make the Funny Noises’ and ‘Help me Catch the Red Balloon” the child was laid to sleep and we perused my friends library of science fiction series on DVD. I finally fell asleep to an episode of Regenesis (which is acutally quite good, only you shouldn’t try to watch all of it at once).

              The next morning my friend invited her new neighbour for breakfast, which was even more fun than I’d initially thought, because said neighbour turned out to be an astrophysicist from Brazil – she does work on black holes and currently stays in Potsdam for some fellowship thing or something. So we talked about black holes during breakfast (actually I asked some naive or maybe genuinly stupid questions and got some clever answers, but that still counts as talking, right?) before she anncouned that she really wasn’t working on black holes at all – instead she said “I’m working on something really weird”.

              That really cracked me up, because a star collapsing into a singularity is already pretty high on the list of weird things and it was funny that she could easily top that (is it too late for me to become an astrophysicist? The weirdest thing I see in my job is the CSS rendering of IE 6, and that’s rather more annoying than interesting).

              The “really weird” thing is Gravastar Theory. I tried to read up a little on the theory – I read the original paper by Mazur and Mottola and naturally I didn’t understand a word (at least none with more than three letters), so I read another paper I’d found on the internet by two guys names Visser and Wiltshire, which (I think) discussed the merits and faults of the theory and which I didn’t really understand either, so I resorted to the Wikipedia entry which I mostly did understand but which is not particularly exhaustive and obviously lacking even by Wikipedias standards.

              It may be weird, but it’ still interesting (and frankly so was my lecturer) . I should try and get another invitaton for breakfast.