If you have a phone number for me, please write me directly (not a comment here) with the number you have; if it is my soon-to-be dropped landline number, I will give you a replacement number.
If you have a phone number for me, please write me directly (not a comment here) with the number you have; if it is my soon-to-be dropped landline number, I will give you a replacement number.
It turns out that it interfaces pretty cleanly to the Microsoft Windows text-to-speech facility, so that it takes less than six lines of code to be able to make the computer talk.
So, just before the holidays, one of the clowns in my unit at work was announcing his impending vacation (we all do, because many of us have specialties, and tickets often get left for those who have the relevant specialty - so letting others know about an impeding absence lets the 'backup guy' for the specialty 'ramp up' to cover the relevant tickets). Being the clown he is, though, he kept asking people "Are you gonna miss me?".
I had my "reply" all set up - I was going to make his computer suddenly say "Yes, I'll miss you. But I'll practice while you're gone, and my aim will improve.". There was a problem, though, which is clearly a bug in the MS TTS engine for US-English. It works fine for Canadian, British, Scottish, Irish, Australian, and New Zealand English, and with odd accents for Indian and Hong Kong English, but... you can't say "miss" with the US-English engine. At least with Windows 7. The US-English engine _invariably_ reads the four-character sequence 'miss' as though it were the eleven-character sequence 'mississippi'.
I have yet to try it on a Windows 10 box. I don't expect MS to be willing to bother fixing it for any earlier version of Windows.
ETA: I've now tried it with Windows 10, and they seem to have squashed the bug.
Today, just because I was in the mood, I tried an experiment with the SodaStream. It didn’t work out as planned.
I happen to like iced tea with mint flavor in it, especially when the weather is excessively summery. Unfortunately, the only commercial mint iced tea that I’ve ever come across is Snapple’s, and it seems to show up for a summer, then disappear for three or four years. And right now, it’s disappeared. So, I decided to try to make my own.
Bigelow has a (bagged) flavor they call Plantation Mint; this is an acceptable black tea (not as nice as most Twinings blends) with a decent mint flavor, not too strong. It also doesn’t need any added sugar when brewed hot or as “sun tea”. This made it a perfect tea for this experiment, as SodaStream says that carbonating after flavoring is a bad idea because you end up with sugar in hard-to-clean–or impossible-to-clean–places in the device. Since the tea in question doesn’t actually need sweetening (and none is listed in the ingredients), I figured that in this case it would be safe to make the tea normally, chill it, and then carbonate it. So I did.
There is a good reason not to carbonate already brewed tea in a SodaStream: It gets very excited and wants to escape the bottle urgently. After cleaning up the resulting mess, I did have enough left to taste, and that little bit is the reason that this is a mostly failed experiment, instead of a completely failed one.
As a carbonated beverage, tea needs sweetening. The mild acidity of the soda and the mild acidity/bitterness (not sure what to call it) of the tannins in tea reinforce each other just enough to be unpleasant. Once you’ve added enough of a sweetener (I was using cane sugar) to cut the acidity, but not enough to make it sweet, it becomes quite tolerable, and, of course, if you like sweeter beverages, you can always add more. I would actually consider doing this again, if I could find a way to carbonate it without it becoming so exuberant.
I find the tea bags in boxes of 25 in my local Stop-and-Shop; Bigelow is a widely-available brand that I would expect to find in any supermarket and many small grocers.
Made with SodaStream
Tea bags (Bigelow Plantation Mint) sold in boxes of 25
0 Cal/fl oz (0kcal/100ml)
The Bigelow Tea Company
Cel-Ray is one of those completely off-the-wall flavors (celery) that turns out to be surprisingly good. It quite definitely fits into the same niche as ginger ale (not ginger beer), but doesn’t seem as sweet as most.
The flavor is principally from celery seed extract, and has a spiciness similar to that of the best ginger ales. It’s a lighter flavor, though, and (in my opinion) more refreshing. It can benefit from the addition of a small amount of lemon juice or lime juice, but far less than the 10% that I cut the Gosling’s Stormy Ginger Beer (from Jerking Around #4) with.
The color is best described as amber, lighter than most ginger ales, and in the LED light in my dining room (where I’ve set up the laptop I’m writing this on), there’s perhaps the faintest shading of the color toward a celery-stalk green.
Like most name-brand sodas, it’s more heavily carbonated than I find ideal. The carbonation is visible, with moderately-sized bubbles adhering to the inside of the glass, renewed as they break away and rise to the top. It doesn’t leave me with a burp bubble, though.
Most of the time, I drink this “stand-alone”, for refreshment. It’s not out of place with a potato knish (with mustard, mind you), a corned-beef sandwich on rye, or any number of other Jewish classics.
I routinely find this at many Jewish delis, including one on the Grand Central Food Court. I can sometimes find it in Stop-and-Shop, Fairway, or DeCicco supermarkets. If you’re in Brooklyn, NY, the iconic Junior’s Restaurant also serves it.
Sold in 12 oz (355 ml) cans (singly in delis and restaurants, six-packs in supermarkets).
11.67 Cal/fl oz (39.45kcal/100ml)
Sweetened with HFCS
Boylan’s Creamy Red Birch Beer is both like and unlike other birch beers - the traditional ‘harsh’ flavor of birch beer is there, but it’s also ‘cut’ a little with the smoothness of a classic vanilla cream soda. It’s not the same flavor you’d get by mixing the two, however; while this has the smoothness of a vanilla cream soda, probably from the vanilla listed as an ingredient, there isn’t so much that you actually taste the vanilla. It’s all birch beer, and quite enjoyable.
The carbonation is on a par with most major-brand sodas; it’s a bit heavier than I prefer, and leaves me with a burpable bubble.
When held up to the light—unfortunately, I didn’t have one that I could take a picture with—it’s quite definitely the red that Boylan’s named it; it’s possible that you can get a hint of it by looking at the accompanying picture, up at the top of the soda.
I enjoy this accompanying spicy foods—it goes well next to a chicken-and-andouille-sausage jambalaya.
I find this occasionally at one of the Grand Central food vendors; it’s also an occasional flavor available at my local Fairway. If you like it, stock up; it doesn’t seem to be a regularly-stocked flavor anywhere I’ve found it.
Sold as singleton or four-packs of 12 oz (360 ml) glass bottles.
14.17 Cal/fl oz (47.91kcal/100ml)
Sweetened with Cane Sugar
Boylan Bottling Co.
Much of what I said about the GuS Star Ruby Grapefruit in Jerking Around #3 applies to the Dry Valencia Orange as well – it’s not too sweet, has sediment in the bottle requiring gentle agitation, and is quite refreshing. It’s even almost as tart as the Star Ruby Grapefruit; the difference can be attributed to grapefruit juice being somewhat more tart than orange juice, and the Dry Valencia Orange doesn’t have any grapefruit juice.
While I don’t have anything negative to say about the flavor, I probably won’t be a regular purchaser of this – I can do just as well, in my opinion, by mixing a good brand of orange juice with seltzer. And doing so will probably be cheaper in the long run.
I find this at one of the food vendors in the Grand Central Terminal dining court, and also at a nearby Fairway supermarket.
Sold in four-packs of 12oz (360ml) glass bottles
7.92 Cal/fl oz (26.78kcal/100ml)
Sweetened with cane sugar
It’s been a while since the last one of these, for which I apologise – it’s mostly been a case of too much hands on my time.
This bills itself as “infused sparkling water”, which still meets the definition of “soda”.
When I broke the seal and removed the cap, I was met with the characteristic odor of cucumber - not unreasonable, given the flavor. It wasn't intense, but then, cucumber simply isn't an intense flavor/odor.
The flavor is complex. The cucumber is the single most noticeable flavor, but this is definitely a sparkling mineral water, rather than “regular” water, and the cucumber plus the mineral-ness almost completely overpower the mint. The sweetening is almost imperceptible, and probably does nothing more than bring out what little mint flavor can be detected.
The carbonation is very light – there is a slight hiss and a few bubbles when opening the bottle, but afterward it appears to be still. You can still taste the carbonation in the tingle on your tongue, though.
This is not really something that I’d specifically seek out, but it would be a reasonable choice to go with a salad – especially a greek salad – on a hot summer day. It might also be an interesting choice for the non-drinker at a wine-and-cheese party.
I find this product at a food vendor in the Dining Court at Grand Central Terminal.
I’ve only seen this sold as single glass bottles, 11.2 oz (330 ml)
5.54 Cal/fl oz (18.7kcal/100ml)
Sweetened with beet sugar.
I came to this expecting it to be sweet, as berry-flavored beverages and grenadine-syrup-based flavors usually are. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it isn’t. It doesn’t have the underlying spiciness of the ginger in the Lemon Peel Ginger Root (LPGR henceforth), nor the basic citrus acidity of the lemon, so most people will perceive it to be sweeter, but not nearly as overpoweringly sweet as the typical orange or berry-flavored soda. As with the LPGR, the carbonation is very light, detectable only in the fizziness on the tongue.
I don’t like this as much as the LPGR, and can’t think of any particular food I’d recommend it with - but that’s just because it’s not to my taste. If you don’t favor tart and spicy as much as I do, you’ll probably find this a nice change from cloyingly-sweet berry-flavored beverages.
I find this product at a local ‘gourmet’ deli, and also at one of the food vendors in the Dining Court at Grand Central Terminal.
I’ve only seen this sold as single 20 oz. plastic bottles.
5 Cal/fl oz (16.9 kcal/100ml)
Sweetened with crystalline fructose and sucralose.
Boylan Bottling Co. - note that Boylan’s website has absolutely no mention of this product line anywhere to be found.
There are two differences, in my experience, between ginger ale and ginger beer: ginger beer has a much stronger ginger flavor, and it also usually has a ‘stickier’, more cloying sweetness. Usually, there’s a third difference; ginger beer is darker. Gosling’s follows the pattern for the first two. It differs from other ginger beers that I’ve encountered in that Gosling’s doesn’t color the soda into a darker version of the light amber that has become the ‘conventional’ color of most ginger ales. If it weren’t cloudy, Gosling’s would be a clear and colorless soda; the cloudiness makes it a color best described as off-white. It lets a small amount of light through, but not enough to make out the shape of the logo that’s on the back of the stein pictured.
It is moderately carbonated, forming a layer of bubbles on the inside of the stein that are renewed as they break off and float to the top. The bubbles are larger than those seen in MASH or GuS. It does not seem to leave me with a big bubble to burp up.
The flavor is intensely ginger, much more so than any ginger ale, but consistent with most ginger beers of my experience. This is nothing less than the liquid version of crystallized ginger.
I actually like this a little better with about 10% lime juice; it cuts the sweetness and adds a citrus tang. Lemon juice would probably work as well.
I’d drink this with just about anything, but when cut with lime, it goes very nicely with a curry.
I found this at the lobby concession at the Brooklyn District Attorney's office.
Sold in 12oz cans.
15.83 Cal/fl.oz. (53.54 kcal/100ml)
Sweetened with HFCS.
GuS stands for “Grown-up Soda” and claims to be “Not Too Sweet”. The Star Ruby Grapefruit flavor lives up to the billing. The soda is a cloudy pink color, and there is a small amount of sediment in the bottom. There are no specific admonitions on the bottle, but a gentle agitation of the bottle before drinking is indicated. It has a quite refreshing, tart citrus flavor, not purely grapefruit (it is mostly grapefruit and orange), with light carbonation amounting to a strong fizz on the tongue. Sweetness isn’t absent, but it’s not the cloying sweetness of too much HFCS - one could almost suppose that it’s no more than the natural sweetness of citrus fruit. There are seven other flavors in the line; I’ve seen “Dry Pomegranate”, “Dry Valencia Orange”, “Extra Dry Ginger Ale”, and “Dry Cola”; the website claims those plus “Dry Root Beer”, “Dry Meyer Lemon”, and “Dry Cranberry Lime”.
I’d want two of these, not one, but it’d be a great referesher on hot days. It would also make a nice palate cleanser.
Sold in four-packs of 12oz (360ml) bottles
7.5 Cal/fl.oz.(25.36 kcal/100ml)
Sweetened with cane sugar
ETA: I find this at a food vendor in the Dining Court at Grand Central Terminal, and also at a nearby Fairway supermarket.
I came across Fentimans when someone mentioned their Victorian Lemonade to me. The local supplier that I found didn’t have the Victorian Lemonade when I went in, but they did have the Shandy (and some of their other flavors), so I grabbed a four-pack to try. Upon reading the label (and confirming by looking up the definition of ‘shandy’), I saw that it was a mix of beer and lemonade. In the case of Fentimans, the 70% beer has been de-alcoholized to 1° proof or less. I was nevertheless dubious, recalling my personal history with beer.
The bottle is the typical brown glass that many beers are sold in, and unlike the generally clear bottles that most sodas are sold in (there are exceptions). Upon opening the bottle, I was met with the distinct odor of beer, which is certainly expectable, but did nothing to assuage my doubts. On pouring into a glass stein, it developed a head much like beer would, though not nearly as long-lasting (but definitely not ‘soda foam’). The color of the shandy is the same sort of amber color one expects from the typical American mass-market lager.
The flavor of this product is definitely affected by temperature. When I originally tried this, not wanting to be surprised immediately before writing this review, I had it quite cold from the refrigerator. Then, the lemonade flavor was quite pronounced, and it wasn’t ‘beery’ at all, except perhaps a little as it hit the back of the throat on the way down.
When drunk closer to room-temperature (in this case, it sat on the table in the bottle for a couple of minutes while I took pictures, then a minute or so more while I dug out my glass stein, then a minute or so more after pouring while I did a visual inspection and took a picture for the second paragraph of this entry), the beer-ness comes forward much more strongly, though it doesn’t get to the point of overwhelming the lemonade.
Edited to add: The carbonation was visible, with myriad small bubble forming on the inside of the stein, and a distinct fizziness on the tongue. It was not a strong carbonation like is common in commercial seltzers, but neither was it the barely-there carbonation of Boylan’s MASH. Overall, it gave a pleasant mouth feel.
I won’t presume to try to make a pronouncement as to whether the beer flavor is ‘good’ or ‘bad’; I’m not a beer drinker, and my experiences and expectations aren’t those of someone who knows beer. However, taken as an entity by itself, I’d occasionally seek this out, just because I needed a change from the same-old-same-old.
I do think it would go well with crunchy salty snacks, or with something like chili con carne. My preference would be for colder, but I can see where this could legitimately be considered ‘better’ when served at or near room-temperature.
Sold as four-packs of 9.3oz (275 ml) bottles.
14 Cal/fl oz (47.3 kcal/100ml)
70% de-alcoholized beer, 30% lemonade
Sweetened with granulated sugar
ETA: I found this at a nearby Fairway supermarket.
MASH meets the definition of ‘soda’ that I mentioned in Jerking Around #0(b) - it’s carbonated and non-alcoholic. Boylan’s, the manufacturer, calls it “a low calorie water drink”. There are four flavors; I’ll be reviewing them all, each in its own entry in this series.
The Lemon Peel Ginger Root is a cloudy lemon-yellow color. The carbonation is very light - about the only sign is in the fizziness on the tongue and a slight pressure release on opening the bottle.
The flavor is quite lemony, with overtones of ginger and the bitterness of most citrus peels - a very nice combination. One can also taste some sweetness, enough to take the edge off the flavors, perhaps a bit more, but definitely not overpowering. It’s perhaps just a bit too sweet to be acceptable as a palate-cleanser, but I would certainly find it more refreshing on hot days than the typical mass-market soda.
I would happily drink this with just about anything, but would recommend it with dishes that have heavy or cloying flavors.
I've only seen this sold as single 20 oz. plastic bottles.
5 Cal/fl oz (16.9 kcal/100ml)
Sweetened with crystalline fructose and sucralose.
Boylan Bottling Co. - note that Boylan's website has absolutely no mention of this product line anywhere to be found.
ETA: I find this product at a local ‘gourmet’ deli, and also at one of the food vendors in the Dining Court at Grand Central Terminal.
While I do not turn up my nose at highly-sugared, very sweet sodas, I don't actually seek them out, and given a choice, will generally choose something tart or even bitter over something sweet. I'm the kind of person who will consider bitter lemon or tonic water to be drinkable, even enjoyable, in its own right, and not strictly as a mixer. I will choose a root beer, birch beer, sarsaparilla, cola, or similar "harsh" flavor over a very sweet fruity flavor like orange or pineapple.
I prefer moderate carbonation; too little carbonation tends to leave a soda too sweet (more carbonation means more carbonic acid, which has a sourness that counters the excessive sweetness of most syrups); too much does uncomfortable things to my upper digestive system (burping is rude, and it's very uncomfortable to have a bubble that needs to be burped up).
In online chat a couple of nights ago, I was discussing the plan for the Jerking Around series, and someone reminded me that "soda" doesn't have a consistent meaning. So, I decided that I need to clarify: for the purposes of these posts,
- a beverage that is both carbonated and non-alcoholic
I had considered adding the qualification "and is not marketed as a replacement for beer", but I decided that even though I'm not a beer drinker, it wouldn't be fair to completely eliminate from consideration such beverages as O'Doul's or Malta. This type of 'soda' is going to be pretty low on the list of sodas to review, though. They'll pop up ... eventually.
OK, so I like making really stupid puns. Sue me.
The pun, in this case, is that the “jerk” in the title is a reference to being a soda jerk - someone who makes sodas from syrup and seltzer in an old-fashioned luncheonette (and there really are still some out there).
Future articles in this series are going to be reviews-after-a-fashion of soda, much the way den/dewhitton has been reviewing beers in his Around the World in 80 Beers posts. Like that ‘quest for beer’, I’m not going to be looking at the ‘big brands’ (e.g., Coke, Pepsi, Fanta, etc.), but will be looking at lesser-known brands and my own experiments with the SodaStream system. Since there is some imprecision with the making of soda in a SodaStream, I’ll make a non-review post in this series explaining certain terms I’ll be using, for those who have SodaStream systems of their own and want to try to reproduce my experiment(s).
Also like the ‘quest for beer’, I’ll post pictures.
Watch the tag ‘soda’ for further developments in this series. It will appear on both Dreamwidth and LiveJournal; my username is the same on both services, and I'll read comments posted to either.
With today’s decision by the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor (Windsor, henceforth), holding that Section 3 of DOMA (and therefore 28 USC 115 s1738C as modified thereby) is unconstitutional, the way has been cleared for same-sex married couples to claim the same Federal rights and benefits that opposite-sex married couples routinely enjoy.
A further effect of this appears to be that even if a same-sex couple married in (for example) New York (where same-sex marriage is legal) moves to a state that does not recognize the same-sex marriage, the access to federal rights and benefits continues unimpaired, because the marriage was legally contracted.
The decision does NOT require that states recognize same-sex marriages contracted in other states; Windsor did not bring Section 2 of DOMA to the attention of the Court.
In the following analysis of possible future attacks on Section 2 of DOMA, all emphasis of quoted sections of the Constitution are mine.
In past online discussion of DOMA, many people felt that it was unconstitutional, citing Article IV Section 1 (the “Full Faith and Credit clause”) of the Constitution. However, the full text of that section is as follows:
Note carefully the second sentence of the section, and most specifically the final clause thereof. Article IV Section 1 is no help in “breaking” DOMA; DOMA is a “general law” that “prescribe[s]” “the Effect thereof”.
I here quote Article IV Section 2 and Article XIV (Amending) Section 1:
Section. 2. The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.
Article XIV (Amending)
Section. 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
These two sections may be of some help in defeating DOMA; it may be possible to argue that the rights and claims entailed in marriage in any given state may not be revoked or abridged if the married couple moves. With respect to Article XIV (Amending) Section 1, another possible argument against DOMA would be that married same-sex couples are denied equal protection under the law.
In attacking Section 2 of DOMA, it may be instructive to look at the Court's decision in Windsor. The Court held that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional as a “deprivation of the equal liberty of persons ... protected by the Fifth Amendment”. I here quote Article V (Amending) for reference:
The Court’s analysis touches on many specific issues, but the theme of the analysis is that the state (New York, in this case) chose to recognize and offer a certain dignity to same-sex couples, the same recognition and dignity offered to opposite-sex couples, but DOMA deliberately and specifically used the same state recognition to degrade that dignity and relegate those relationships to second-class status, unequal under Federal law. It further looks at the specific language in DOMA itself, in the arguments of the supporters, and in the language of the debates on DOMA in Congress, and concludes that the motivation for the passage of DOMA was “improper animus”.
Previous Supreme Court decisions have held that Article V (Amending) applies not only to the Federal government, but to the states severally as well. In addition, Section 1 of Article XIV (Amending) essentially repeats Article V (Amending)’s language with an explicit application to the states severally.
None of this, however, is a “slam-dunk” against Section 2 of DOMA. At best, it is sufficient grounds for a future Supreme Court ruling that a state may choose not to recognize same-sex marriages contracted in another state - but only if it also withholds such recognition from opposite-sex marriages from that same state. The approach then is to render the effect of Section 2 of DOMA null, in challenging the constitutionality of a state’s act to actually deny such recognition - in which event, the Court’s reasoning in Windsor comes into play, and a state’s act of availing itself of the provisions of Section 2 of DOMA is what may be found unconstitutional, not Section 2 of DOMA itself.
In other words: Section 2 of DOMA may be constitutional, either as it stands, or modified to not distinguish same-sex marriages from opposite-sex marriages, but it may not be constitutionally permissible for a state to act in accordance with it to not recognize marriages.
I tried SodaStream's own Sparkling Naturals ginger ale:
- It's much more expensive than the standard Sodastream syrups. Roughly four times the price per liter. The flavor is not significantly different from the standard syrup.
- The seltzer has a much greater tendency to foam up while adding a Sparkling Naturals syrup than with standard syrup. When the instructions say to pour the syrup down the side of the mixing bottle slowly, they mean it.
- The syrup-to-seltzer ratio is pretty close to the 1:5 ratio that Pittsburgh Soda Pop calls for on their syrups, which are billed as all-natural.
- The standard syrups say to store them in a cool, dry place. They don't require refrigeration after opening. The Sparkling Naturals do require refrigeration after opening.
If all-natural ingredients aren't a fetish for you, stick with the standard syrups. There are a few more flavors in the standards than in the Sparkling Naturals.
About three weeks ago, on a whim, I bought myself a Sodastream system. This is basically the latest incarnation of the old make-it-yourself seltzer thingy - it takes water, and injects CO2 into it to make it fizzy. After it makes the water fizzy, you add syrup - it comes with a sampler pack (12 flavors, one bottle each), and places that sell the thingy also sell bottles of syrup good for 12 or 25 bottles each. You're not requires to use their syrups, or any syrup at all. So, I did some experimenting.
First: Sodastream's own syrups are comparable in flavor to commercial brands. However, the commercial brands tend not to be first-line brands - Cola is more reminiscent of C&C or Generic Supermarket Brand than Coke or Pepsi; orange is Fanta rather than Sunkist, Lemon-Lime is not up to the 7Up, Sierra Mist, or Sprite level, and their imitations of Mountain Dew and Dr Pepper are recognizeable, but also recognizeably not MD or DP. OTOH, the Crystal Light Peach Iced Tea and the Country Time Half-and-Half (Half lemonade, half iced tea) syrups aren't bad, though neither one is Snapple or Arizona. But then, neither are their originals.
The selection usually available at the places I can find the syrups (Staples and Target) isn't spectacular, so I'm going to try ordering some other, more interesting-to-me flavors from Sodastream. My expectations aren't high, based on experience, but I do expect them to be acceptable. I'll report any unexpected results.
I'll also be going to some other sources for flavors that Sodastream simply does not sell, period. Again, I'll report results.
Some experiment results I can already report:
Based on my experience with certain Starbucks syrups in their hot chocolate, I tried them in soda. Short answer: Even though Starbucks will put these syrups into their cold drinks, they're better in hot. Specifics:
- The Cinnamon Dolce is more Dolce than Cinnamon. It's not bad as an accent to another flavor (I've tried it with orange), but it's not a standalone flavor, although a real cinnamon might well be.
- The Peppermint is ... intense. I like it, but it's not going to be for everyone, and even I would prefer to 'cut' it with other flavors. Chocolate would be good; ginger might work, too.
- Vanilla really doesn't work alone; it's not intense enough. It's a little better 'cutting' another flavor; the 'creamsicle' I got out of mixing it with orange wasn't quite up to Stewart's, but it was credible.
ETA: OK, I should know better when Callahooligans read my journal... Let me rephrase the question: Between which letters on which strips would you cut to accomplish the stated aim?
There’s a viral call-to-action regarding this; I’m specifically NOT chaining into it because the original article is in a locked journal, and the entry in question was not opened to general readership.
Read the article at the link; the gist is that the wording of the bill gives the government and ISPs all the rights/powers they would have had under SOPA/PIPA, essentially ending any shred of on-line privacy, in the name of 'cybersecurity', which is defined to include protection against 'theft of intellectual property' or 'government information'. In addition to allowing ISPs to monitor your usage - and the bill doesn't mean just quantity, it includes content - it grants the government the right to take action against organizations that leak information that the government doesn't want in public - such as the cables in the Wikileaks episode a few months back, or perhaps the Pentagon Papers, or maybe Watergate...
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UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, RIVERSIDE
Research Recruitment Statement
Examining Bases of Knowledge and Attribution in Law
Please Tell Us What You Know About the Law!
We are doing some research to determine how much knowledge the average person has about the law. If you are an American citizen who is old enough to vote and to serve as a juror in criminal and civil trial proceedings, we’re really interested in what you have to say about this topic.
The study will be conducted online at surveymonkey.com, and involves only minimal risk. There are no known harms or discomforts associated with this study beyond those encountered in daily life. It can help us better understand the general population's understanding of law. Participation in this research study is completely voluntary. The alternative to participation is to not participate in this study.
Please take just 30 minutes to take this survey. The survey consent form, which will go into more detail about the study, the risks, and the protections available to you as a research subject is available at the URL below.
If you have any questions about this research, you may contact the investigator of this study, Adam Sanford MA, Department of Sociology, at firstname.lastname@example.org, and the faculty advisor of this study, Robert Hanneman Ph.D., Department of Sociology, 951-827-3638, email@example.com. If you have any comments or questions regarding the conduct of this research or your rights as a research subject, please contact the Office of Research Integrity by phone (951-827-4811/4810/6332), by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or at University Office Bldg #200, Riverside, CA 92521.
You can access the survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/
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I've been asked - not in the comments - why Baen would do some of the things that it does, like releasing these excerpts for free, the Baen Free Library, the freely-sharable CDs bound into new-release hardcovers, the low price on e-books, the lack of DRM, and so on. I've never been able to articulate the reasons well - but Toni Weisskopf, the publisher, has done so, here.
"the Colonel" is Thomas P. Kratman, Baen author. He is writing a series of books which are, in my opinion, very good reads. This series, called either Terra Nova or Legio del Cid, currently consists of the
two three published books A Desert Called Peace and Carnifex and the soon-to-be-published The Lotus Eaters. Colonel Kratman is currently working on the fourth book in the series, The Amazon Legion (no link yet; I'll update this entry and post a new one when there is), and he and Toni Weisskopf, the head of Baen Books, have decided to allow a large excerpt of The Amazon Legion to be widely disseminated. This entry, and the link below to the excerpt, are my contributions to that effort.
Fair Warning: Colonel Kratman has some very definite political views, and those views appear very strongly thoughout this series. Many of the people reading this journal will find those views objectionable. That is your business. The books are nevertheless well-written, with the story well-told, enough so that Colonel Kratman is collecting royalties for having written them, and continuing the story. On that basis, I do recommend them. If you read them and don't like them, please don't complain at me; I have no control over their publication, and I will recommend books that I like, regardless of the political views expressed therein.
And now, without further ado, I present to you... The Amazon Legion (excerpt).
For those who want the actual URL for typing into another browser, it's http://home.cyburban.com/~jzeitlin/
If we go by my time figures, it's been over 36 hours with no useful information and no service. That's not good, by any standards.
I think I need to find a new provider. Admittedly, this is their first serious outage since I'm with them, but after 36 hours they still have absolutely nothing back up?
I'd like to hear comments about other folks's experiences with their webhosting companies, and recommendations and disrecommendations. Comments will be screened, for now.
One of the nice features about the World Wide Web is that it is possible to do all sorts of nifty things, like changing fonts, showing pictures, playing sounds, and having visual effects. Unfortunately, many people seem to think that "possible" is a synonym for "required". It's not.
Presentation is, as we know, important - You might get roast beef and mashed potatoes in your school cafeteria and at Peter Luger's Steakhouse, and it might even taste the same - but chances are, you're going to be more impressed by it at Peter Luger's, where they try to make it look nice, and serve it with all sorts of ruffles and flourishes, than at the school cafeteria, where they don't have time to do more than scoop it up, plop it onto the plate, and shove it across the counter at you. Some societies practically make a fetish of presentation of food; the Japanese, for example, have such a reputation. There are other examples, and not just in food. But the point is that most of us do realize that presentation is important.
Part of that, especially when presenting information, is to avoid distractions or conflicting messages.
Anything that diverts your visitor's attention from your message is, by definition, a distraction. Garish color combinations, such as red or magenta text on a blue or green background, are distractions. So are color combinations where the foreground and background colors are too similar, like dark gray and light gray (both of those color combination flaws make the text more difficult to read). Animated GIF files are sometimes distractions. Music is sometimes a distraction. Hard-to-read decorative fonts are usually a distraction. Non-static visual effects (blink, marquee, etc.) are generally distractions.
Conflicting messages are a little harder to define. In general, if the message of the text is jarring or inappropriate when viewed in the context of its surroundings, chances are that you've got a conflicting message.
Sometimes, conflicting messages are useful - they're not unknown in public service advertising, for example. However, even there, overuse is a bad thing. Distractions are always bad, although the things that cause them may be appropriate in some contexts (and hence not distractions in those contexts).
I'm not telling you not to use those things. Far from it; they can be useful. I'm telling you not to overuse them, and not to use them where they don't serve a message-enhancing purpose.
Animated GIFs, blinking text, and marquees draw the eye. They're the first things that the visitor is going to look at. If there is a definite direction to motion in an animated GIF, the visitor's attention will be drawn in that direction. If you're going to use these effects, make sure that you want your visitor's attention drawn there first. In any case, think about their use carefully, because even after the visitor has looked at them once, they're always going to be visible "out the corner of his eye", and that's a distraction. Distractions are bad.
There are good color combinations, and bad ones. Good ones provide good contrast, and make the text easy to read. In general, dark text on a light background is better than light text on a dark background (light text on a dark background tends to get "swallowed"). Bad ones make text difficult to read, because they provide insufficient contrast. Some combinations aren't just 'bad', they're downright evil. Those combinations are the ones that simply work wrong with the physiology of color perception. Putting red text on a blue background is an example of an evil color combination. It vibrates. It induces headaches or dizziness. You can't look at it for any length of time.
You'll hear a lot of people say that you should stick to black text on a white background. It's not a bad idea, but there's a case to be made that the normal screen white is a bit harsh - like some bleached semi-glossy papers. Experiment a little. You may find that it's a lot easier to read if you use dark blue/navy text on a background that's just a little bit off pure white - say, just a touch of sky blue, or yellow.
Be careful when fiddling with colors, though; remember that not everyone supports 24-bit color - or even 16-bit color. Netscape has established a de-facto standard set of 216 colors; if you stick to the colors in this so-called Netscape Color Cube, you should be OK on any browser that supports changing the background color. Today, you're probably OK with just about any color, but note that all displays do not display colors with the same accuracy. You still want to be careful, and check your color selections on different displays from different manufacturers, just in case. Sticking to the Web-Safe Colors (formerly the Netscape Color Cube) might still be a good idea.
Background music is one of my pet peeves. Put simply, I don't like it. I don't like it because I generally have my music playing, either on the computer itself, or on the radio. And there's often no way to turn it off; your choice ends up being to either tolerate it, or turn off all computer sounds. However, there are times when including the sound is a reasonable decision - if the sound has a real connection with the page. That means, for example, that it's perfectly reasonable to have the theme from "Murder, She Wrote" playing in the background on a page about the show, or "Hotel California" in the background of a page about the rock group Eagles. What's not reasonable is putting the theme from "Star Wars" in the background on a page that has nothing to do with the movie, simply because you think it's cool music. That's a distraction. Distractions are bad.
Even if you do include background music, don't make it loop forever. The ideal piece of music will be just about long enough for the visitor to the page to read through the page before it ends. Once. Twice, maybe, if your visitor is a slow reader. But too much repetition gets annoying. If the visitor isn't done reading the page after two cycles of the sound file, let them suffer a period of silence. Another thing that gets annoying is cheesy electronic music.
MIDI files are good, in that they don't take up a lot of space. But they don't have the sound of a real recording, and never will. They're always going to sound like cheesy electronic simulations of real instruments. Actually, MIDI simulation of instrument sounds has improved to the point where they're often better than merely tolerable, and "cheesy" no longer applies. It's still better, though, to stick to recordings of real music in formats that have high fidelity.
Other use of sound isn't generally a problem, because it's on the visitor's demand, and the visitor knows what he's getting into. Long pieces, such as recordings of speeches or songs, should have a way to pause them, so that the visitor can leave the machine if necessary and not miss anything. Short items, such as demonstrations of how to pronounce a word, can just be played.
In recent times, multimedia has come to include video, possibly even more than straight audio. When included, the video is automatically going to be the center of attention. Take that into account when you're building your page.
Short form: Make sure that, when you add multimedia effects, you are enhancing your message, not distracting from it. Remember, your main purpose is to deliver a message; you don't want your audience to be distracted from that message, or confused over what that message is.
I think that perhaps it is time to stop, look where we are, and ask ourselves if this is where we wanted to be and where we should be. And then act on the answers as appropriate.
In our last installment, we noted that the response time of a page - how long before the visitor could start reading it - was important. You don't want to lose your visitors because they get bored waiting for the page to display.
Another technique that can improve response is to manage the size of your pages - large pages take longer to load.
Research has been done that indicates that people start to lose patience if there's no visible response within three (3) seconds; once a response starts, it must be useful within about ten (10) seconds, and complete within thirty (30).
modem connection speeds in the United States so-called "First World" countries are largely 33.6 kbps 5 to 10 Mbps for cable, 1 to 5 Mbps for DSL, with 56 kbps becoming more widespread higher speeds expected to be deployed in the not-too-distant-future. However, there are still quite a number of 28.8 kbps modems out there. There are still people on dial-up, but even in those countries where state-owned telephone systems and high expense are the rule, it's not unreasonable to expect a dial-up connection to be at 50 kbps or so, even in the so-called "developing countries". Overseas, the picture isn't quite so rosy. In many countries, state-owned telephone systems are the rule, and modems may be restricted in speed or significantly more expensive than in the US. 14.4 kbps and 9600 bps are still common speeds, especially in the so-called "developing" countries.
My recommendation: Tune your pages for about
20 100 kbps in a perfect Web. In other words, assume that the Web responds instantly, and that visitor's browsers can receive the data at 20 100 kbps. That's 2 10 kbytes per second. That means that the browser should be able to start to display the page after receiving no more than 6 30 kbytes of page material, it should be useful within 20 100 kbytes, and complete within 60 300 kbytes. That includes all text, pictures, tags, stylesheets, and so on. That should account nicely for delays in looking up IP addresses, establishing sessions, normal network congestion, and so on. Some people will see worse response; others will get better response. You can't please everyone; shoot for a happy medium based on your expected audience. Those numbers assume a generic audience, from anywhere in the world. If your pages are only of interest to people in your home town, and you know that everyone in your home town has a 56kbps modem 10 Mbps cable connections, and use the same ISP, you can sensibly design your pages around that fact - which will give you more bytes to play with. You could design general interest pages with 35 kbps 9600 bps in mind, to give acceptable response to virtually the whole world, but that will leave you with lots of teeny-tiny pages that will be an absolute bear to manage, and will lead to a lot of unnecessary clicking on links that amount to nothing more than "continued on next page". That causes even more of a performance hit than having 'oversized' pages does; it takes more interaction between the browser and the server to request a new page than it does to get the next piece of the current page. If you can get the initial response within the limits discussed here, you'll be in good shape, even if it takes more time to download the rest of the page.
The numbers, in this case, refer to the size of the image.
The two browsers with the lion's share of the browser market, Netscape Navigator/Communicator and Microsoft Internet Explorer, All of the major players in the browser market are both 'intelligent' browsers. That means that, given appropriate information, display of a web page can be optimized. One of the possible optimizations is to place the text on the canvas and leave space for the slower-loading pictures. However, in order to do this, the browser needs to know the size of the picture. This, as with the alternative text, is done by adding attributes to the IMG tag - specifically, the 'height' and 'width' attributes. These may be specified in any valid measurement, but the most common by far are pixels or percentage of display size.
The attributes in question follow the expected format:
<IMG src="foo.gif" width="635" height="480">
<IMG src="foo.gif" width="60%" height="60%">
The order in which they are specified doesn't matter, although it is conventional to specify width first.
If you are displaying a picture at other than its actual size, be aware that if the aspect ratio (the relationship between width and height) is not preserved, the picture will appear distorted. If you make a picture larger than its actual size, you will see the effect called pixellation (it will become apparent that the picture is built up out of lots of little single-color squares); if your make it smaller, detail will be lost. Both effects can detract from the appearance of the page; the loss of detail is less noticeable, however, unless the details of the picture are of high importance (as in a reproduction of text). In general, it is best if the picture's actual size and display size are identical.
Note that, regardless of display size, the larger the actual size of the picture, the slower it will load.
Some wWebsite management software (most notably Microsoft FrontPage) generally allows for the generation of 'thumbnails'. These are much-reduced copies of the pictures in question that 'stand in' for the actual picture where only a very small image (up to 100x100 pixels, generally) is needed. Normally, the thumbnails are linked to the full-sized image. The benefit of using thumbnails is that they load faster than displaying the full-sized picture in the same area.
The advantage of specifying the display size, as indicated, is that it becomes possible for the browser to display the text without needing to wait for the images to load first. This allows a faster apparent response time to the user, which reduces the chance that your visitor will lose patience waiting for your page to load, and go elsewhere. And keeping your visitors' interest is what web design is all about.
The same is true on the web - you don't try to describe things in detail when you can put up a picture instead. And the Web makes it easy to put up pictures.
But the title of this article is not an error. And it's just as true as the original. Why?
Put simply, it's because pictures don't always work. You may have inadvertently chosen a format that the visitor's browser doesn't support (stick to GIF and JPEG, although PNG is probably safe as well), or traffic to your server may be so high that graphics are being throttled, or you may have screwed up the link. And what's going to happen? You're going to get a big blank with a little icon in it, saying "there's supposed to be a picture here, but I can't get it".
Or, what if your visitor is blind? Braille-based systems are most likely not going to handle pictures well. Neither will text-to-speech systems.
All this may not be a problem if the picture is simply to add interest, and doesn't itself convey crucial information to the visitor. But more and more, people are using images for things like navigation links and effects on informative text. And when those pictures are unavailable, the site becomes close to useless to the visitor, because most people seem to forget one little thing - the words that are worth the thousand pictures.
I speak here of the ALT attribute to the IMG tag. One silly little omission that can kill a site. And it's so easy to include, too. All you need to do is change
<IMG SRC="foo.gif" ALT="This is a picture of a foo">
That's it. Now, when your server is throttling so that foo.gif isn't sent to the visitor's browser (or when you link to fpp.gif by accident, and don't realize it), they'll still know what's missing. You can put longer captions in there, too. But the most important use is when you're using graphics as navigation buttons. In that case, they become absolutely essential - otherwise, how will anyone know where they'll lead you - some browsers don't provide useful information about a URL in a status line, and even with those that do, the user may not be in the habit of checking. It's best to play it safe, and make the ALT text provide useful information about what the graphic button does.
The only time that ALT text isn't entirely useful is when you have an imagemap (click on different parts of the picture to go to different pages). In that case, treat it like a regular picture (i.e., give it a good descriptive ALT text), but make sure that you mention that it's an imagemap - and provide plain text links for each region that you've defined, so that your visitor isn't totally dead in the water when the image doesn't come up.
Short and sweet. But, oh, what a difference.
(When I originally wrote this, the HTML specification didn't require the ALT attribute, although it was strongly recommended. In HTML4 and XHTML, it's required. Even if you're writing to earlier HTML specs, use the ALT attribute anyway.)
(This can actually be considered a digression referred to in the introduction. Nevertheless, it should be useful in establishing the context for the rest of this series.)
With all the millions of websites out there, there are, broadly speaking, only two reasons for a website to exist. And every page exists for exactly one of those reasons.
The two reasons boil down to:
- I have this website because I have something to say.
- I have this website because I can.
That's it. 'Having something to say' is a pretty broad topic; it covers everything from 'I'm a major corporation doing image burnishing and product/service selling' right down to 'This is my hobby, and this is what I want to tell you about it'. Whatever the specific reason, it lends legitimacy to the page.
What doesn't is 'because I can'. This is simply showing that you're 'cool', that you know what a web page is, and that you've learned enough about either HTML or a particular HTML-generating tool (which may be a provider's automatic generation software) to be able to create a page that doesn't break when someone goes to look at it. If that's all, why bother? This is the equivalent of a programmer learning a new language and writing the traditional 'Hello, World' program in that language - even if it's his first language, he's going to feel pretty silly about showing it off, especially to other programmers.
C'mon, folks - we already know that the medium is not the message, in spite of any pithy sayings to the contrary - so why use the medium if you have no message?
You'll hear that 'everybody' has a web page. You'll hear that you 'have to' have a web page. Stop for a minute. Think about who's telling you this. Ask yourself where they heard it from, or how they benefit if you do. Ultimately, it's going to come down to somebody trying to sell you something - internet access, web presence, web design services, and so on - or somebody trying to take you for something - essentially free advertising, overpriced addons to the services you really need, and so on. Think carefully. Ask yourself 'Do I really have something to say?'. If the answer is yes, and the cost isn't unacceptable, hey, go for it. If the answer is no, why bother?
(Actually, there used to be a third reason to have a web page - early browsers didn't have 'bookmarks' or 'favorites', so a lot of people set their 'home page' to be a page that had nothing but links to other websites. By the time I wrote this, originally, that usage had largely been relegated to 'legacy' status, and people had mostly converted to using bookmarks/favorites. I don't count this as 'having a message', although it was a legitimate reason to have a web page. Since some early browsers didn't support the file: protocol, allowing the browser to read the page from the user's own computer, it wasn't unusual to have these pages stuck somewhere on a provider's server. I no longer consider this to be a legitimate reason to have a web page; I'm not aware of any browser that fails to have both bookmarks/favorites and the file: protocol.)
The rest of the series will assume that there's a message involved somewhere.
It cannot be emphasized enough that these are my own opinions, and are quite definitely not set in stone. They are, however, generally echoed by authors of books on web page design, with varying degrees of emphasis.
I had thought to attempt to classify errors, but I could not come up with a satisfactory scheme to classify them - quite often, any scheme I came up with ended up placing a common error into multiple classifications, in spite of the fact that I intended the classifications to be disjoint and comprehensive. So, I'm not going to classify them, just go through them one at a time.
I also expect that I will be digressing occasionally, and expounding on general concepts - or perhaps launching into tirades on topics that I have particularly strong feelings about. Bear with me. Don't let it provoke you into flames; try to stick with civilized discussion. As I said, this is my opinion. You're free to ignore it, and I'd quite frankly prefer that to getting involved in pyrotechnics or competitive urination.
I haven't forgotten about the Sudoku techniques question I posted at the end of March. It turns out that doing it the way I'd intended would result in an entry that was massively over any reasonable limit for LJ (or probably any LJ-based site), so I'm working on the full discussion off-line, and then I will break it up and post the pieces one at a time over a period. They'll be tagged 'sudoku' and 'logicpuzzle'.
I also wrote a series of discourses on various aspects of web design several years ago, and posted them on the web space that my ISP provided. They've not been updated; I think I will update them and post the updates here instead of on that space. They'll be tagged 'webdesign'.
Three supermodels are invited into a swanky and exclusive Fifth Avenue shop. They are shown a shelf upon which are five pashminas - three in deep cerulean and two in saffron. All three are then blindfolded, and one pashmina is draped over each. The remaining two pashminas are returned to the shelf. The models are lined up so that none of them can see the shelf.
The third supermodel's blindfold is removed, and she is asked whether she can tell, by looking only at the other two supermodels, what color pashmina she is wearing. She replies that she cannot.
The second supermodel's blindfold is removed, and she is asked whether she can tell, by looking only at the first supermodel (and, obviously, having heard the third supermodel's reply), what color pashmina she is wearing. She, too, replies that she cannot.
The first supermodel, before her blindfold can be removed, says "I am wearing a ___________ pashmina - may I keep it?".
What color pashmina was the first supermodel wearing, and how do you know?