Friday, October 19, 2007

Freedom and the North

Freedom of the press, anyway.

An annual survey was released recently on the freedom of the news media in 169 countries. It's really odd, but there seems to be a trend that northern countries have more media freedom.

Northern Europe1 includes 8 of the 10 most-free news industries and 12 of the top 20!

There's no similar pattern in the Southern Hemisphere. There, countries closer to the South Pole don't have more journalistic freedom than countries closer to the Equator.
                Immigrant Song
           Jimmy Page/Robert Plant

We come from the land of the ice and snow
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow....
The 5 Nordic countries are the superstars - all are among the 10 top countries in the list. These 5 plus 3 other, big countries have land north of the Arctic Circle,2 and the 8 arctic countries are in underlined bold in the list below.

Sadly, the three giants of the Arctic Circle aren't the other three northern countries in the top 10. Only Canada is even in the top 20. The two countries that stare at each other across the Bering Strait aren't quite as hands-off with their news media.

One, at least, is in the top 30% while the other is in the bottom 15%.

The 3 "Baltic States" are also commonly thought of as part of Northern Europe (for sound cultural reasons). They take spots 3, 12, and 23 on the list, and are in red.

Extending the curious correlation of more north ≈ more free,3 Estonia is north of Latvia and also higher on the list. Likewise, Latvia is north of Lithuania as well as higher on the list.

In addition, the British-​Irish Isles (or Irish-​British Isles, or British-​Channel-​Irish-​Man Isles, or....) are often included in "Northern Europe." The Republic of Ireland is #8, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is #24.4 They're listed in blue.

Finally, the other countries bordering the North and Baltic Seas are sometimes thrown in with Northern Europe (and are here in green): Belgium (#5), the Netherlands (#12), Germany (#20), and Poland (not so good at #56).5

So there's an apparent relationship that says countries closest to the North Pole seem to give journalists the most freedom. Is this only a Northern Hemisphere situation? Or does something similar hold in the Southern Hemisphere?

No such luck.

Is it because there aren't any countries inside the Antarctic Circle - "just" the continent of Antarctica? Who knows what lies behind this mystery?

Only one of the nearby countries is in the top 20, with the rest trailing behind. The countries closest to Antarctica are New Zealand (#15), Australia (#28), Chile (#39), and Argentina (#82).

So here are selections from the list that ranks countries by "Freedom of the press": the top 20, the bottom 10, and all the countries mentioned above:

Arctic countries
Baltic States
British-Irish Isles
Baltic/North Sea countries

  1 (tie)   Iceland
  1 (tie)   Norway
  3 (tie)   Estonia
  3 (tie)   Slovakia
  5 (tie)   Belgium
  5 (tie)   Finland
  5 (tie)   Sweden
  8 (tie)   Denmark
  8 (tie)   Ireland
  8 (tie)   Portugal
 11         Switzerland
 12 (tie)   Latvia
 12 (tie)   the Netherlands
 14         Czech Republic
 15         New Zealand
 16         Austria
 17         Hungary
 18         Canada
 19         Trinidad and Tobago
 20         Germany
 23         Lithuania
 24         United Kingdom
 28         Australia
 31         France
 39         Chile
 48         United States of America
 56 (tie)   Poland
 82         Argentina
144         Russia
... and the bottom 10 ...
160         Uzbekistan
161         Laos
162         Vietnam
163         China
164         Burma
165         Cuba
166         Iran
167         Turkmenistan
168         North Korea
169         Eritrea

Arctic countries
Baltic States
British-Irish Isles
Baltic/North Sea countries

1I'm using a broad but standard definition of Northern Europe that includes Belgium, the Channel Island Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and the UK. Oh, all right. And France.

2Iceland just squeaks across the Arctic Circle with the island of Grímsey. The "Northern Countries" boundary can be moved south a couple of degrees, but past 61°N, Scotland's Shetland Islands get included.

Mainland Denmark and most of its islands are safely below the imaginary line, but Greenland and the Faroe Islands give the country standing in the Arctic Circle circle.

3Technically, the relationship between the concepts would probably be better symbolized with "∝" ("is proportional to") rather than "≈" ("is almost equal to"). But then, less technically, "≈" seems less technical than "∝".

4Other entities such as Isle of Man and the Channel Island Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey aren't on the list.

5Okay, and France (#31) has a tiny slice of the North Sea. But it's a Mediterranean country, too. Insert Gallic shrug here.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Happy Leif Erikson Day!

It's late, late, late, so just a quick one.

In this era, it may seem like nobody named Barney can possibly accomplish anything. Barney Google was a comic strip, Barney Fife was a deputy who couldn't be trusted with bullets, Barney Rubble had that annoying laugh, and, well, Barney T. Dinosaur.

(Although there was also Captain Barney Miller of the 12th Precinct.)

Nevertheless, Bjarni Herjólfsson is thought to be the first European to catch sight of mainland America, in 986. That would be a shade more than 500 years before Cristoforo Colombo (a.k.a. Cristóbal Colón, Christophorus Columbus, and Christopher Columbus) stumbled upon the island of Guanahani and called it San Salvador.

Okay, so Bjarni was a little off-course at the time of the sighting. But Columbus thought he was in an entirely different hemisphere!

It took Columbus two more trips, and six years, to reach the mainland (Venezuela). And it took Leifr Eiríksson (a.k.a. Leif Erikson and Leif the Lucky) eight or ten years to get around to following up on Herjólfsson story and discover Newfies and Labs.

And it took another 964 years, more or less, to establish Leif Erikson Day. Which is today, October 9. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a widely recognized Talk Like a Viking Day. But you can get a Viking name for yourself. As mr_ed I'm Eirík the Berserker, and as Mister Ed, Grím the Drunk.

A few other tweaks to my name give Egill the Violent, Björn Deathbringer and Ásbjórn Doomslayer. And other, quite silly, stuff.

Happy Birthday to Camille Saint-Saëns, Alred Dreyfus, Charles Walgreen, Aimee Semple McPherson, E. Howard Hunt, Fyvush Finkel, John Lennon, Trent Lott, John Entwistle, and Jackson Browne, among many many others.

Including, for the royalty watchers, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent (a.k.a. Field Marshal His Royal Highness Prince Edward George Nicholas Patrick, Duke of Kent, Earl of Saint Andrews, Baron Downpatrick, Royal Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Knight Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George, Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, Aide-de-Camp to Her Majesty).

Note that on this date, the Chicago White Sox finished handing the Cincinnati Reds the 1919 World Series by deliberately losing games. I'll write about more recent sports scandals soon.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Hacking template "No. 897"

"By default, Blogger offers over 30 gorgeous, professionally-designed templates."

Gorgeousness is kinda in the eye of the beholder, though. For example, template "No. 897" creeps me out in some ways. At first I thought it was just the colors, but the star and the secret messages are the biggest problems, I think. Fortunately, they can be eliminated.

"If you're the sort of person who really likes working directly with the code, though, that's fine, too."

"Really like" is too strong. But I'll do it in self-defense. Or to help someone out. Like Carolyn, human mom to Claire, Maddox, Scotty, and Shelby. She wants to get rid of the star at the top of No. 897, too.

So let's do that, plus get rid of the creepy secret messages, plus fix the capitalization at the top. That's pretty low, when a "professionally-designed template" messes with your capitalization!

These are all simple changes, but they require messing with the HTML code for your page. As always, backing up at least what you're starting with is strongly recommended. Remember, you're hacking the work of a gorgeous professional!

Just to be sure that we're on the same page, literally, you get there from the home/dashboard page by clicking on Layout | Edit HTML.

A Star is ... Removed

To do the star project yourself, you need to be able to download a graphics file to your computer; do one bit of very simple, quick editing with a graphics editor that can handle GIF files and preserve transparency; and upload the result to an online internet storage place of your own.

Then you do a quick copy-and-paste text edit to the blog html.

There are ways around the first three requirements if you don't have an editor or your own storage space ... click the link in the sidebar to email me ===>

To get rid of the star, you want to change line 168 (by my count). Let's have a look at the html. Unfortunately, when you copy computer stuff to a blog and use the html tag "<code>," the indentation gets lost. But anyway, here's the context we're looking for:

/* Header
----------------------------------------------- */
#header-wrapper {
background: #fff;
padding-bottom: 4px;

#header .titlewrapper {
background:#269 url("") no-repeat left bottom;
padding:0 0 0 160px;
margin:0 0 10px;
width/* */:/**/auto;

The line we want is this one:

background:#269 url("") no-repeat left bottom;

And the offending graphic that we want to replace is  Download this file to your computer, and fire up your graphics editor.

Set a paintbrush to that orange color. The easiest way is to use an eyedropper tool (color picker, whatever) and pick somewhere in the orange. Or you can set the paintbrush to:
  • red 255, green 153, blue 0   -or-
  • red 100%, green 60%, blue 0%   -or-
  • hex xff9900
Now just paint out the star.

Next, upload that modified file to your internet storage space that's online all the time (because people will be looking at it 24 hours a day!).

Plug the internet address of that file in place of the Blogger's "...topleft.gif" in your blog's html, and you're done!

The line should end up looking something like this:

background:#269 url("") no-repeat left bottom;

No More Secrets

There's secret writing in the green box below the orange box that has the star. It's not exactly The Da Vinci Code - it just says "897." I guess it's in case you forget the name of the template you're using. Or in case your readers want to know.

I don't think most do. So there's even more secret code in the html - instructions on how to get rid of the 897 - that's even more secret because YOU can see it and readers can't! (And neither can Blogger's computer!)

About seven "paragraphs" past the section we worked on above is the following:

#header .description span {
/* To remove the word next to the description, delete the following background property */
background:url("") no-repeat left center;
/* Keep everything below */
padding:0 0 0 160px;

The secret instructions are there in a comment. Comments are things for people to read but computers to ignore.

/* Comments are inside a matched set of asterisks, inside a matched set of slashes, like this. */

So the comment says you can get rid of that secret 897 by deleting the line

background:url("") no-repeat left center;

But why delete it when you may want to put it back in? To mystify readers, for example. Why not just "comment it out" by putting the line inside comment markers, like this:

/* background:url("") no-repeat left center; */

Done! "897" is gone!

Now let's get rid of the wacky writing in the dark blue strip across the top. Go back to the first section of code we worked on for the block of orange color. In the very next "paragraph" is this:

#header h1 {
background:url("") no-repeat left top;
padding:70px 0 30px;
line-height: 97px;
font: $titleFont;

The strange hieroglyphics in the background go away if you comment out the line that specifies the background graphic like this:

/* background:url("") no-repeat left top; */

No more artsy half-numbers and gobbledygook.

Raise the Capital(s)!

How weird, to make all your capital letters lower-case without even asking! Just weird. Well, while we're in this "paragraph," let's just comment out another line:

/* text-transform:lowercase; */


I hope that these notes helped or amused you. Or, if your blog blew up, I hope you saved a backup. "There's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip," but "All's swell that ends swell."

And it's more important to have fun than to be earnest. Well ... it's more fun to have fun than to be earnest...!

Friday, October 5, 2007


mr_ed:  Tucker kicked me off "his blog," which was actually my blog until my big handsome husky hijacked it.   ;-)   I'm afraid I must have embarrassed him in front of some female Siberian Huskies.

I didn't mean to - I was just playing with him and teasing him. But he's not feeling quite up to snuff. His post-pneumonia breathing problems are flaring up a little, so he's a bit cranky even though all of the foster dogs that annoyed him have been adopted out.

So how about some October 5 observations? This won't be an extremely long rant because it's just too late after typing up Tucker's latest blog and whatnot.

First off, October 5 doesn't exist in Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain! No, wait. It does exist, but didn't in 1582. Neither did October 6 through 14. These countries were early adopters of Pope Gregory's new calendar. The effects of new technology - ten days disappeared, poof!

In the area of flight technology ... on this date Robert Goddard was born (1882), Wilbur Wright flew 24 miles (1905), aerial combat first resulted in a kill (1914), the largest dirigible up to that time crashed with more deaths than the later Hindenburg disaster (1930), Canadian pilots shot down the first German jet (1944), the first Canadian astronaut went into space (1984), and an Indonesian plane crashed on take off killing 137 (1991).

In communications technology ... Louis Lumière was born (1864), the first World Series baseball game was broadcast (by radio - 1921), Truman gave the first White House address to be televised (1947), Monty Python's Flying Circus was first broadcast (1969), and PBS became a network (1970).

Hmmm. The Fermi breeder reactor suffered a partial core meltdown (1966), and secret Israeli nuclear wepaons were revealed (1986).

Linux (kernel only, remember) version 0.02 was released, just a couple of weeks after v. 0.01.

Birthdays, well, not so many as sometimes. Denis Diderot, Chester A. Arthur, Ray Kroc, Allen Ludden, Bil Keane, Bill Dana, Václav Havel, Bernie Mac, and Michael of the Andretti clan.

And many, many other people have been born on this date, of course. And there have been other major events. And then again, many events didn't happen on October 5 - but really, there's no time to list them all.