Alright. I decided I should start sharing my answers to problems I have googled for, to save others the trouble of going through the long process of figuring things out for themselves.

First problem: I am writing a module that displays blocks, and I want to access the node object to use some variables from the page being viewed in order to use these variables to construct some of the contents of the block.

I googled “how to access the node object”, “how to load the node object”, "load node object in custom module" and so on. Could not find the answer.

The answer is extremely simple: The function menu_get_object()

$node = menu_get_object();
// Use node title as alt text and title text on a fancy gif animation.
print '<img src="/welcome.gif" title="' . $node->title . '" alt="' . $node->title . '">';

Note that $node will be NULL if you are not on a node page, i.e a page created by some module. The function itself takes arguments for other modules, if they provide a load object. This is the function from

menu_get_object($type = 'node', $position = 1, $path = NULL)

Here is the decorative output of the code above: