Pew Pew Laser Blog

Code. Glass art. Games. Baking. Cats. From Seattle, Washington and various sundry satellite locations.

Past Blogs

Pixels versus Ems.


In CSS, pixels are an easy-to-understand unit of measurement. A pixel is the smallest possible display unit on an electronic device. The most common computer screens are 1280 pixels wide, and 1024 pixels high. Both the iPhone and Pre have a 480 by 320 pixel screen. Pixels are best used when precise positioning of elements is required - such as with images.

Let's take a moment to consider the full implications of a common practice: using pixels to specify text size on a web page. As manufacturers continue to develop monitors with more pixels, the physical screen dimensions tend to stay the same. Therefore, it appears that pixels (or font sizes declared in pixels) are getting smaller, and more difficult to read.

EMs are a little trickier to grok. Ems are relative to the current text size. To quote Robert Bringhurst:

The em is a sliding measure. One em is a distance equal to the type size. In 6 point type, an em is 6 points; in 12 point type an em is 12 points and in 60 point type an em is 60 points. Thus a one em space is proportionately the same in any size.
Ems are best when specifying text size and spacing where you want the user to have the ability to read your content with the text size that's best for them. Font sizes specified with ems will respect operating system or browser changes to default font size that the user has made.

You should avoid using ems when slight variances in size would cause layout problems - such as if a floated item were bumped out of place. Small text size differences may exist even between two computers with the exact same browser and operating system.

A Mythbusters Limerick.


Here is second entry in my series of syllabic poetry for television shows. Mythbusters first ensnared me when, during some channel flipping, I and noticed a show entitled "Exploding Pants". It's been well worth every hour since.

A truth leads to a happy dance
Simplicity over extravagance
The scientific method
mixed with so many explosions
Shhhh. You had me at exploding pants.

Domestic Brilliance.


Plastic tubing on a shower rack The husband is quite brilliant around the house. He devised this elegant solution to preventing the marks that our new metal shower rack kept leaving on the shower tile. He cut some plastic tubing into inch long strips, and sliced down one side of each tube to create a jacket. He then slid the tube jackets around the legs of the shower rack, where they act as a sturdy bumper between tile and rack. How very clever!

Yes, Pedestrian.


That's right, I honked at you. I did it with calm deliberation, and I would do it again.

I stopped the car well before the crosswalk at my red light. You sauntered across your crosswalk well after the flashing hand started. Perhaps you're naturally inattentive. Perhaps your cellphone conversation was particularly engrossing.

I was an alert and conscientious driver. You couldn't even be bothered to hustle across the crosswalk before my light turned green. My honk is your punishment.

Groupon - Better Than Woot.


The internet has finally delivered something even better than Woot. Groupon is the new hotness in daily deals. Instead of Woot's electronic-focused deal-iciousness, Groupon offers local services like restaurants and spas if enough people buy. For instance, today's deal $10 for $25 worth of food from a local pub. I am sorry to have missed a recent brewery tour, pint, and pint glass at Fremont Brewing. I hope that deal comes back.

Groupons are available in Seattle, Portland, Los Angels, San Diego, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Boston, Baltimore, and more.

New Glassblowing Shop.


I've started a Beginner's II glassblowing class at Seattle Glassblowing Studio in downtown Seattle. I switched shops since the shop where I took my first glassblowing class, Art By Fire in Ballard, closed. (Art By Fire still operates a shop in Issaquah, but I couldn't fit an evening class across the lake into my schedule.)

Changing glass shops reminds me of when I switched German language classes in high school. You see, I couldn't fit my vocational high school's German class into my schedule with my electronics engineering major and calculus courses. So I took an evening German class from the community college. Next year, I got on track with the high school class, but I was out of place. While each class probably contained roughly the same volume of learning, we had learned different things. (Apparently, I had also picked up a funny accent.)

In glassblowing class, I'm similarly out of place. In the new shop, the tools are in different places, the conventions are different (such cleaning my own tools, and how the annealer is loaded), and I'm working with a new group of people. (It's so tricky to learn to work with new partners.) I'm also intimidated by the extra 8 hours of shop time that Seattle Glassblowing Studio students have under their belts. Art By Fire's Beginner class was four 4 hour classes, while Seattle Glassblowing Studio's Beginner I class is six 4 hour classes.

In the new class, I have decided to allow myself to suck; or at least to give myself permission to work on learning, rather than being the best. (Everyone likes to be their best.) During this class, I will focus on getting practice under my belt. I will work on making punties and jack lines, and keeping my pieces on center. I will probably not come away with as many "showpieces" as compared with my last class, but I will certainly be a better glassblower. (I will be making plenty of showy work for the second half of year during all of the "quickie" workshops that I've picked up.)

Tough Job Interviews.


Shows like The Next Food Network Star, America's Next Top Model and The Apprentice aren't just reality T.V. shows. They're also incredibly long and gruelingly difficult job interviews. Would you put up with a month long interview process where you had to move in with the other dozen candidates for the job?

Print Style Sheets.


Today, I'll talk about creating tweaking the way that your website will print using print style sheets.

Let's start with the standard disclaimer that electronic screens and paper are different, and that perfect screen to print matching is nigh impossible. The immutable inherent differences between screens and paper: dynamic and interactive abilities, color gamut, author and browser control conspire against perfect matching.

Now on to the good stuff. Here are a couple tips for developing a print style sheet.

What I Love About Windows 7.


We got brand new Windows 7 installs on our work PCs about a month ago, when we switched some of our IT architecture from Widemile to Webtrends. I never used Vista, but I like Windows 7 a lot. Here are some of the things I like about Windows 7:

Shift + Right Click
You can expand the normal right-click menu for the file system by holding down Shift while you click. For instance, when you can get 'Open Command Window Here' and 'Copy as Path' by Shift + Right + Clicking a folder. It does seem a little odd to add a second modifier "Shift" on top of "Right" click, though.
Recent Documents
My vote for the most innovative new UI feature of Windows 7 is the vastly expanded access to recent documents. Instead of being able to access only the 10 most recent documents overall from the Start Menu, each application now contains its own list of recent documents, and these can be accessed either from the application icons on the Start Menu, or by right-clicking the Task Bar. Instead of digging up the document, or launching the application and using its recent documents, you can just go to the application's icon and pick the document.
"Libraries" of documents
Back with Windows 2000, my digital life became much simpler when I finally gave in and started using the My Documents folder - a single place to store all of my documents. Windows 7 expands this concept to collections of similar media in disparate locations called "Libraries". These Libraries are indexed for faster searching, and they're all collected in a special area at the top of the File Explorer. In my Documents Library, I've got not only My Documents, but my public share drive, and the folder on the web server for all my testing. It's very convenient; much more so than the old system of keeping a bunch of shortcuts to those locations in a folder on my desktop.
Simpler window arranging
At work, I frequently compare documents to one another. I also have a rather obsessive compulsive habit of moving even non-full screen windows to perfect align with the top, bottom and sides of my monitor so as not to waste any pixels. With Windows 7, windows will stretch to full height if you drag their edges to the top or bottom of the screen. Even better, you can toss windows to the left or right side of the screen by hitting WindowsKey + LeftArrow or WindowsKey + RightArrow. Hit the Windows Key and an arrow again to move the window around the screen, or even to your other monitors.
Task Bar Window preview
I keep a pretty good amount of windows open at any one time. If you hover over an application in the Task Bar, Windows 7 shows miniature previews of all the windows you've got open for that application. This is another surprisingly handy feature.

Actually, some of these features remind me of existing features on my Macbook Air. What a coincidence.



There is something very special about attending a live sports event with a huge emotional crowd. I've felt it with the Portland Winterhawks, and more recently with the Seattle Sounders FC. The strong human emotions of happiness and anger have a sort of feedback cycle intensifying the crowd's reaction to every call and play. Experiencing the elation of nearly 30,000 people cheering a goal is addicting, and well worth 90 minutes of standing up.

Last Thursday's first playoff match against the Houston Dynamo was an incredibly exciting 0-0 tie. It was amazing how my emotions got away from me - at one point I was furious with Houston's goalie, even though I had no idea why. Next Sunday's match, again versus Houston, will be very exciting. The Sounders have done better than any other rookie team in the MLS this year, but I believe that we have some more wins in us.

Halloween 2009.


Chocolate cupcakes with ghost frosting and eyeballs I made these ghost cupcakes for Halloween this year. I swiped the idea from a picture I saw online, though I can't remember where. These ghostly goodies are constructed from this chocolate cake recipe (bake regular sized cupcakes for 17 minutes), the "Love Buns" topping, and some eyeball sprinkles that I found at Cookies in Ballard. I've very pleased with how cute they looked, but the frosting did fall a little overnight. I think next time I'll try a full on seven minute frosting recipe.

We had just a few folks over for Halloween this year. I thought more people would be coming, but it turns out that we had just the right number for some focused game-playing. We started on the Wii with Boom Blox Blast Party, which is always fun. (We'll be keeping this copy from Gamefly). A bit later in the evening, we played an epic 6 player game of Munchkins (which the husband got for my birthday). The game was just complicated enough to keep everybody interested without being confusing. Munchkins is also, as I mentioned before, hilarious. Remember:

No one can help you! You must face the Gazebo alone.

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