I converted over the long table of Russian ship names last weekend, a task that, remarkably, turned out to be even more tedious than I had imagined.  Somewhere in the course of doing endless find-and-replace searches to strip out useless tags inserted by Microsoft FrontPage, I realized that managing these things would be a lot easier if only I would step out of 1998 and actually put some of this stuff into a database.  (This would also simplify updates to the air campaign tables, which currently exist as five separate hard-coded web pages.)

So, the lunacy continues: I am now learning MySQL/PHP.  Hope to have a test database up this weekend.

In more substantive news, the Chinese appear to have flown the J-20.  More interesting is the manner of the reveal:

Ma Xing and Zhang Jun may believe their obsession with all things military is just a hobby. That may be true but earlier this week, they saw something that made headlines across the world, and turned them into celebrities.

They got some of the earliest glimpses of China’s first stealth fighter plane.

In December, after word about a possible radar-evading plane circulated on the Internet, both men began monitoring a local airport widely considered the home base of such planes.

This is the PRC, mind you, where traditional attitudes toward “state secrets” are not ordinarily conducive to amateurs watching “local airports” where unannounced fifth-generation stealth fighters happen to be based.  Especially amateurs with websites:

Each time he saw something worthy of sharing, he told his friend, who passed it on to Zhang, 32, another military fan in Jiangsu Province. Zhang posted the information on, a military forum he established in 2004.

On Tuesday, after Ma saw the J-20, he immediately called his friend, and Zhang did not wasted a moment before he posted the news on his website.

Domestic newspapers, such as Shanghai-based Oriental Morning Post, referred to Zhang’s website. Zhang was surprised that even the Wall Street Journal quoted his website.

“I thought the website was just a platform for interaction between military enthusiasts. I did not think that both the domestic and foreign media will be concerned about it,” Zhang said. “The military strength of China is enhancing, which enables the country to have an impact on the international stage.”

Official, unofficial, or “unofficial,” the proliferation of open sources on Chinese military modernization makes for an interesting picture.  The times, they do change.

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Tables Revisited

Well, it turned out that there wasn’t an especially easy solution to the table problem.  There is an updated Stacks plug-in for RapidWeaver that permits the creation of tables with unlimited rows, but each cell is a separate Stacks object, which quickly mires down both editor and browser.  In the end, there still doesn’t seem to be anything better than a manual process:  I ended up creating a “raw” HTML table in Kompozer, applying CSS styles for the various rows, and then pasting the resulting HTML/CSS code into RapidWeaver.  The results seem to be mostly acceptable.

I will probably convert the other two Desert Storm air campaign tables this week, and begin implementing some updates based on more recent sources.  The original trio of air campaign tables was based on the statistical annex to the USAF’s official 1993 five-volume survey.  But Desert Storm began twenty years ago this month, and since then, more detailed accounts of the air campaign have emerged, in some cases correcting errors that appeared in the earlier sources.  Two especially useful works are Craig Brown’s Debrief: A Complete History of U.S. Aerial Engagements 1981 to the Present, and Steve Davies’/Doug Dildy’s F-15 Eagle Engaged — I plan to use both of them to update, validate, and expand my Coalition air-to-air victories table.

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I Hate Tables…

I’m in the process of trying to convert some rather lengthy data tables from my old site to the new format, and not having much success.  HTML tables have always been a pain, and I originally hard-coded tables like this one by hand.  This eventually became too much of a pain to maintain (particularly when I got around to tables like this), and so I began using Microsoft FrontPage as a way to shortcut the process.  This saved my sanity (particularly when it came to color-coding and such), but did some funny things to the code.  That was okay as long as I was still using FrontPage, but has created a bit of a migration issue as I move to a more modern set of tools.  RapidWeaver is fantastic in a lot of ways, but as usual, ease-of-use comes with a price.  From what I can tell, there’s a clever Stacks plug-in for tables that would be perfect…except it only handles 12×12 tables (plenty of columns, but not nearly enough rows).

I’m well past the days when I want to be tinkering with HTML; I almost would prefer re-entering the data by hand (which, unlike sorting through tags, is at least close to the substantive subject matter).  Hopefully there’s a solution somewhere.

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Last September I bought a 13” MacBook Pro, and have been gradually transitioning most of my computing activities over to OS X.  Since then I’ve started using a whole new series of research and productivity applications, including the tools I’m using for this site:

  • RapidWeaver 5:  This template-based design tool allowed me to complete the basic site redesign in under 24 hours; includes built-in modules for blogging, photo albums, and other features.
  • Stacks:  A remarkable plug-in for RapidWeaver that provides easy drag-and-drop layout functionality.
  • Xyle Scope:  A free CSS editor that is useful for template customization.
  • CyberDuck:  A free FTP client.
  • Picasa:  Google’s photo management and retouching app.
  • DEVONthink 2.0:  Information management database, which I’m using to organize my research materials.  This application deserves a series of posts of its own.
  • Scrivener:  The leading writing project manager, which I’m using to plan and draft some of the major sections of the site.

I’ve also tried the demo version of Stylizer, which is a very powerful CSS analyzer that actually permits realtime WYSIWYG CSS editing (I just don’t think that I’ll be doing enough CSS work at this point to justify the purchase).

So far I’ve been very pleased with the workflow and the quality of the tools; while some things in the OS X world remain decidedly odd, for the most part the transition has been pretty seamless.  More on this later.

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