Summary of reading: July - September 2014

  • "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin" by Benjamin Franklin (audiobook) - this book is surprisingly good, especially the first 2/3rds of it or so. Franklin was a very inspiring individual, worth learning from.
  • "Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think" by Peter Diamanidis and Steven Kotler - it's hard to avoid comparing this book to Matt Ridley's "Rational Optimist", if only because the authors quote from Ridley quite a bit. IMHO it's a strictly worse book - the interesting parts can all be found in Ridley's book, just explained better. This is not to say that it's a bad book; I certainly enjoyed parts of it. But if you only have to pick one book on this subject, "Rational Optimist" should be your choice.
  • "Creation: How Science is Reinventing Life Itself" by Adam Rutherford (audiobook) - very interesting book focusing on the biologic origins of life and genetic engineering. The first 2/3rds of the book are superb. The part that came later - about the ethical debate surrounding genetic engineering - I found too polemic and somewhat less interesting. I'd hope for more dive-ins into the latest scientific discoveries. The author does pick that up in the afterword that's actually a long and interesting chapter, describing more of the latest research.
  • "The Philadelphia chromosome" by Jessica Wapner (audiobook) - this is definitely one of the best books I've read this year. A very well put-together account of the research leading to a revolutionary treatment for CML - a type of leukemia. The treatment is one of the first drugs targeted specifically at the core cause of the cancer at the molecular level. Most of the book deals with the basic biological and genetic research, the slow scientific advances during decades, that enabled the drug. It also talks about the clinical trial process of new drugs, FDA approvals, and so on. Very highly recommended for anyone with an interest in biology & genetics.


  • "La Soledad de los Numeros Primos" by Paolo Giordano

Highlighting the active tab in GNOME terminal

On Ubuntu, I like using the default GNOME terminal for all my command-line needs, and I'm a big fan of its tabs. One of the problems with tabs, however, is that it's not always easy to tell which tab you're currently in - which tab is the active one. By default, the terminal application makes a very slight visual distinction between the active and inactive tabs, and it would be really nice if it was more prominent.

Luckily, it isn't difficult to configure GNOME to do this:

Terminal Screenshot

For Ubuntu 14.04, create a file named ~/.config/gtk-3.0/gtk.css, and place the following into it:

TerminalWindow .notebook tab:active {
    background-color: #b0c0f0;

The color itself can be customized, of course. This technique supposedly works on all the latest Ubuntu versions starting with 12.10; it doesn't work on 12.04, though. What did work on 12.04 for me is the technique described in this forum post.

Blogging setup with Pelican

When I launched the new look of the website earlier this week, a lot of people asked me over email what kind of setup I'm using - blogging engine, hosting and so on. Here's a short writeup.

A lot has changed for this website. First of all, I switched my hosting provider from a shared Bluehost account (which I've had for the past 9 years or so) to a VPS on Digital Ocean.

Second, the blogging platform was changed from Wordpress to Pelican. Pelican is a really nice and fast static-site generator with a fairly clean Python codebase. It's easy to use and configure, and the documentation is great; so overall I'd say I'm pretty happy with it. The theme is my hacked up version of one of the existing bootstrap3-based themes. One of the benefits of this is that the site is now much more usable on mobile.

As for moving the existing content from the old Wordpress site, there are two options. For smaller sites you may consider the auto-import capability Pelican has for Wordpress imports. I didn't end up using it because I needed to preserve the exact permalinks of my old website (there are a lot of incoming links to it out there, and it would be a shame to break them all), as well as some other reasons. I just wrote a quick script that did my own importing from a Wordpress XML dump.

Pelican lets older (back-ported) HTML content peacefully coexist with new, ReST-authored content, which is very useful. For preserving the old permalinks, it has the handy save_as and url attributes. Pelican also comes with built-in integration to Google Analytics and Disqus, both of which took about 5 minutes to configure.

All in all, I'm very happy with the transition. Static pages just make more sense for a blog (even a fairly large one with over 1000 articles); the site now feels incredibly fast to me. This is hardly surprising, given that it moved from querying a DB and processing a bunch of PHP on a fairly congested machine to just running a bare web server accessing the filesystem on a reasonably fast, dedicated machine.