The problem with reading ebooks on the computer

I often download a bunch of ebooks from the internet, usually in PDF or DJVU format. For months, I tried to read these books, yet I never actually got through any single book. Reading on the computer just seemed to be more difficult than reading a printed book, but I couldn’t pinpoint the reason.

But I later realized that the problem was that the scrolling was too fast or too slow. Crucial to a paper textbook is the ability to scan through many pages quickly.

The usual method for scrolling would be the scroll wheel. In the default setting, however, the scroll wheel only scrolls by three lines at a time. This is good enough for web pages and scrolling a short amount, but to scroll through an entire book this way is very tiring.

Another way to traverse pages is to use the page-up and page-down keys, which scrolls the page by one entire screen. The problem with them is that you have to finish reading the very last visible line, before hitting page-down and starting from the very first visible line.

My explanation may not make sense if you’ve never tried to read an ebook this way.

I searched over the Adobe Reader preferences and documentation, but could not find anything about the behavior of the scroll wheel.

The problem was that I had been looking in the wrong place. The scroll wheel settings were in the Windows control panel:

Aha. Now with the scroll wheel moving the page down 8 lines at a time (the default is 3), reading ebooks suddenly becomes so much more pleasant.

A rant about Facebook Fan pages

So I’m on Facebook one day, and in the news feed I see a fan page, “I LOL’D at “. Being used to these fan pages, I click “Become a Fan” before going to the fan page and looking at what it’s actually about.

Going to the fan page, it looks something like this, with a big arrow pointing to the right, with something like “Click X tab”:

I apologize for having to scale down the images. My blog’s width is only 450 pixels.

Fair enough, I go to the CLICK HERE tab. The page looks something like this:

Sometimes it’s even worse, requiring you to invite all your friends before proceeding.

Often it will go one step further and offer you a piece of javascript to invite all your friends (usually without you knowing what it actually does). The code they want you to copy and paste into the browser looks something like this:

javascript:elms=document.getElementById('friends').getElementsByTagName('li'); for(var fid in elms){if(typeof elms[fid] === 'object'){fs.click(elms[fid]);}}

I’m pretty sure it’s not technically possible for them to detect whether you have actually invited any of your friends.

Anyways, supposing we click the next “Click here” button:

Now they link you to some random blogspot page, or whatever hosting site. There’s some javascript popup of some survey you have to complete, before the popup supposedly disappears.

The website owner gets paid a considerable amount for a survey. $1-3 the last time I checked (much more than you could expect to gain from ads).

Of course the surveys themselves try to rip you off, usually demanding your cell phone number to give you a ‘pin code’. You don’t actually get anything, except perhaps a worthless monthly subscription and a bill. Zynga does it too.

Back to the blogspot page. Notice the text:

Depending on your screen configuration, you may or may not be able to see the text. Adjusting the contrast in Photoshop:

Scroll down. Except you can’t scroll down, because there’s some javascript that sets you back to the start of the page when you try to.

By this point, I’ve forgotten what I’m trying to do. Oh yea, there’s supposed to be a funny picture at the end of all this.

And unless you manually remove yourself from the fanpage, others will see that you’ve became a fan of something. This is a chain reaction, seeing that the page currently has 287k fans.

I don’t mind really stupid fan pages. I don’t mind pages like this if there aren’t too many of them. The problem is, there’s such a huge number of similar fan pages.

Advertising is fine, but this is beyond advertising. They are actively scamming the less informed members of Facebook. It’s incredible that this is allowed to happen, and at such an extreme rate.

Projecteuler-solutions and Polymath

Edit (2017): The project has moved to Github.

A couple of months ago (May 2009), I created a project on Google Code to share Project Euler solutions.

At first I started with only a hundred or so answers, but I found more, and people began contributing them, and by July or August I had the answer to every Project Euler problem.

But problems were still coming out, and regular posters like jeneshicc and inamori were less willing to publish their solutions.

So in September, I set up a forum to discuss solutions. This quickly turned into a polymath project.

A polymath project is a large collaborative project, where many people work together on a math problem. The idea was perhaps first inspired by a blog post by Gowers.

There were previous successful attempts at polymath projects. One I found particularly interesting was this one by Terry Tao, which is about Q6 of the International Math Olympiad. This “mini-polymath” project is similar to Projecteuler-solutions in the way that both are solving already-solved problems with an unknown (but existent) solution.

I feel that this project (specifically its forums) provides a good example of a successful polymath project. From September to present, the community has solved 24 Project Euler problems. Some easier problems were mostly of individual effort (just posting the answer), while more difficult problems were of a group effort. A particularly hard problem (257 I think) took the community over a week.

Even though the project has existed for months, I still get emails and forum posts suggesting that I take the whole thing down.

Experiences with Projecteuler-solutions

Overall, I think the project is very successful. Right now, there are 200 registered users (albeit a lot of them spammers), and over 900 posts.

There are perhaps 10 or 15 serial contributers: people who come up with good insights for multiple problems.

Then there are many more people who occasionally come up with something useful. Of course, any new information is welcome in such a group effort.

There have been a couple of trolls. Although they do not contribute to problems, they provoke some entertaining discussions. As they do not really get in the way of solving the problems, I don’t ban them.

More recently, there has been a lot of spammers, linking to porn sites and similar crap. They were a bit harder to deal with, since I hosted the forums on forumer, which does not allow me to install better Captcha’s to stop the bots. What I eventually did was to limit thread creation to a specific group, which stopped the spammers.

Here are some impressions I got from being a moderator:

  1. The group effort is very powerful. No matter how hard the problem is, I’m confident that it will be solved eventually. Any individual will give up after some amount of time, but it’s much harder for the entire group to give up. Until it is solved, someone is always trying the problem.
  2. Much of the work is done offline. On one hand, we have a lot of low-quality observations. On the other hand, we have posts that make giant leaps of progress, but are done by one person. Indeed, for easier problems one person can come up with the entire solution. But for harder problems, multiple of these ‘giant leaps’ are required, sometimes by different people building up from the work done by others.
  3. The forum is probably the best format for this kind of project. The other polymath projects used the wiki format. I think forums are better because ideas are ordered chronologically making it easier to view progress, whereas in a wiki the ideas are organized by topic and many mini-discussions arise, while less is being discussed about the problem as a whole.
  4. The community usually does fine without any moderation. Members can create topics, work on the problem, and come up with solutions on their own. Even trolls are dealt with by the community, and I’m rarely forced to ban them.

Perhaps Forumer is not the best service to host such a project. I am not able to install most plugins, such as support for code syntax highlighting, for Latex, and for custom Captcha’s. But since my parents won’t pay for my own server hosting, I think Forumer is a good free service.

The new TI-84+ OS: 2.53MP

So apparently TI has released a new operating system for the TI-84+, more than two years after the previous version. The last OS update was in 2007 with version 2.43.

Although it was released officially on February 15, it was leaked at least a few weeks earlier. I’ve tested the leaked version too.

The most notable change seems to be the MathPrint feature, which formats expressions graphically instead of linearly as in older versions:

However, this pretty printing sometimes fails for very complex expressions. For example, it cannot render more than 4 nested levels of exponents. If you need to do stuff like that, however, you can still switch back to classic (no-mathprint) mode.

Excluding the Mathprint feature I think there are several new functions and a bunch of new B_CALLs which I’m not going to cover here.

There are some things that aren’t so great about this update. For one thing, Basic programs seem to run much slower than before, perhaps with a 2-4x decrease in speed (not measured, just a guess).

This doesn’t really matter since you can always disable Mathprint and the speed returns to normal.

Also a few applications (mostly ones that use undocumented features) are broken.

Perhaps most annoying is this screen:

What annoys me here is that this screen shows up every time you turn on the calculator. Yes TI I already know about the new goddamn ALPHA key feature!

Of course, you can make it ‘not show again’ but that only lasts until the next RAM reset. Mostly likely the state of the screen is stored in some variable that gets cleared on ram reset. If you reset your ram often, like I do, this screen quickly gets very annoying.

I think TI could have done better with this screen.

It surprises me that only the 84+ gets an OS update. The latest 83+ OS was 1.19, released in 2006. Perhaps this is coming to the 83+ as well?

Overall there’s quite a lot of new features. My calculator is starting to feel more and more like a TI-89. Yay.