This is BrainLog, a blog by Dan Sanderson. Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained. See the front page and newer entries.

June 2000 Archives

June 30, 2000

DVD Buying Guide has a DVD tutorial, covering the basics of what you need to know to purchase and use DVD players and DVDs. The main site is information rich, with reviews and comparison charts of players, and lists of links to related resources. Their selection is scant, but their heart is in the right place.

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June 29, 2000

You know we're living in a society!!

-- George Costanza, Seinfeld

Mary Poppins will be released on DVD on June 30. Yet another favorite from my childhood (like everyone else's) that I have yet to see widescreen.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks will be released on DVD on November 7.

Thank you, David Tomlinsin.

The Imposter, the story of Pixelon. Long but fun read.

Good news for my stock options.

Interview with Nick Park and Peter Lord on Chicken Run. (Thanks Robot Wisdom.)

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June 28, 2000

Nothing threatens Microsoft more than platform independence. I've been reading a lot about C# (C-sharp), Microsoft's new programming language. Many of the advantages of Java, but with all the native access to screw things up royally. Says this article:

"It's very different from Java," said David Lazar, a product manager at Microsoft, Redmond, Wash. "Java is trying to solve a different problem. [It] has applications running in different places. What customers really want is to get all of their applications running in one place, and this is what C# [enables them to do]."
And this "one place" is... Windows 2000. (Well, Microsoft's new .NET, actually, but you get the idea.) Why is it that whenever Microsoft says "what customers really want," it sounds more like something that Microsoft wants?

Many thanks to Wendell for mentioning the SubHonker Filter on MetaFilter. I'm glad it's getting exposure. As with all personally developed web apps, the more useful it can be, the more satisfying it is to maintain. And there's that ego thing, too.

TopSecretRecipes.com has reverse engineered Big Mac secret sauce. Fabric of the universe, unravel! (Thanks mathowie of MetaFilter.)

Coppala's Zoetrope Virtual Studios project comes to fruition. (Many thanks to tracy of MetaFilter.)

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June 26, 2000

The desire to slip the surly bonds of earth, which runs through much of technolibertarian thinking, might be called virtuality. Meaning, not "virtue" in the sense of Plato or chastity before marriage, but in the sense of "virtual reality." In the positive sense, virtuality means using computers to overcome boundaries of time and space and physical limitations: It's about email and flight simulators. In the negative sense, it means the same thing, but with the blinding consequences of ignoring the ways, good and real, that we are all grounded in time and space and the realm of the senses....

-- Cyberselfish : A Critical Romp Through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High Tech, Paulina Borsook

XML.org is open for business. "The new online service on Oasis' Web portal site--XML.org--will serve as a library for XML vocabularies, "or schemas," developed by specific industries, such as insurance, health care, and any other industry grappling with data exchange and e-commerce. It will also include general XML specifications, such as the Trading Partner Agreement Markup Language, which provides a common format for companies to define and execute business contracts over the Web."

I had stopped using DVDPriceSearch.com because it kept returning the cursed DVDWave as the top result. john of MetaFilter informed me of their Preferences feature, which allows the exclusion of certain stores. Not bad!

I went looking for downloadable time-zone + daylight saving data for an application, and found a few useful things. NationalAtlas.gov has FTP'able shape files for maps of many kinds. GeoCommunity has time zone shapefiles released under the GPL. For the silly, here's a big-ass JPEG time zone map. But shapefiles and maps don't help; I'm looking for something that could be in, say, a drop-down menu of time zone names (possibly with example location names in the zone).

TimeZoneConverter.com has bunches of interactive resources but no data sets; their reference card option can print a particular time in the current day in a chart with all zones and DS info, but there's no way to get the full dataset. The Date and Time Gateway is another. Time.gov gives official U.S. time in any time zone (with DS), but I need global data.

The JavaScript World Clock Zannah linked to recently comes the closest for providing a data set, with its data in the JS source code. The index isn't as useful (just places, not zone names), but it might be good enough, if it's accurate.

While WorldTimeZone.com is another interactive app with no datasets, it seems the easiest to steal from if I wanted. (Mine is a small non-commerical app, so I'm not above stealing.) Elabtorate maps available; large downloads but nice (if a bit cheesily designed).

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June 24, 2000

While spending the day bug stomping in the new SubHonker Filter, I found a little time to implement search for BrainLog.

Note that search is limited to one phrase; it's not indexed keyword search or anything. My cheesy attempt at fancy pull-quotes in the search results doesn't work quite right, but it's good enough. Search results are returned in reverse chronological order (most recent first).

It searches complete texts, including the contents of HTML tags, so you can search for URLs. Text that appears only within HTML tags will return search results without pull-quotes. So searching for Amazon.com isn't totally pointless, but almost.

Check out every entry in which I said "DVD".

As always, please let me know if there are any problems.

The New SubHonker Filter is open for business. It took a couple of long nights, but I finally finished this very useful weblog browsing tool. It's now faster, more robust, with many major interface improvements. The robustness should allow for more users, so spread the word!

I'm afraid I wasn't able to restore the old data file, so current users will need to re-register and re-build their weblog lists. Sorry 'bout that. :)

Feedback, especially bug reports, is most welcome!

June 20, 2000

Apologies to you blog readers that use the SubHonker Filter to read blogs. Something corrupted my data files and was causing bad things to happen, so I took it down until I had time to look at it. I'm trying my best to get it up and running. None of the data was actually lost, thankfully, so I'll try to reconstruct it.

Of course, the new SubHonker Filter is almost ready. I actually spent most of the night trying to finish it instead of fixing the old one, but it's going to be another day or two. So I'll try to rebuild the data file of the old one ASAP.

I use it too, you know, so I'm just as starved as you are. :) I don't keep a list of blog links elsewhere, either, so I'm really stuck until I fix the darned thing...

I'm very happy with my new TV, as anyone would be who has been watching widescreen DVDs on a 19" JCPenny TV (build in 1982) from across the room. The Trinitron is a perfect size, a beautiful flat tube screen, and it's a Sony. Got a good price, too. Magnolia Hi-Fi delivers, both literally and figuratively.

It's a damn shame there's no cable TV in this building.

My 19" JCPenny TV is yours if you come pick it up. Great color picture (seriously, it's in great condition), remote.

Toy Story and Toy Story 2 DVD boxed set is set to release Oct 10. Pre-order at Express.com for $23.99.

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June 19, 2000

While watching a documentary on the notorious filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, I started thinking how it's a shame more well-made documentaries aren't out on DVD and probably never will be. I should start checking my hypotheses before fretting over them.

The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl is out on DVD. A very interesting and well-made documentary that not only raises many interesting questions about her controversial life and work, but confronts her with them. She's very articulate in her old age (90 when the documentary was made) and just as tenacious as she ever was. She speaks intelligently about the craft of filmmaking, when she's not desperately detaching herself from the Nazi Party with interesting but futile arguments on the separation of filmmaking craft and film content. Admire her for her tenacity and talent, despise her for her lack of accountability and hyper-rationalized detachment.

And speaking of documentaries on DVD, Amazon wins ten points for the ability to browse documentaries on DVD. Hands on a Hard Body, Visions of Light, and Crumb are a few in their list. A decent selection, but for documentaries, it could be nicer.

The DVD Journal is what BrainLog would be if I had the time. A lot of time.

DVD Resource's review of the How the West Was Won DVD.

Newsgroups after my own heart:

A non-DVD-related link: Lego bulk ordering. About freakin time, if you ask me!

Syntax Definition for Language Prototyping (someone's thesis I ran across in a Google search).

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June 17, 2000

Does anyone know where to look, on the Internet or otherwise, for out-of-print or rare DVDs? HardToFindCDs.com claims to know of DVDs, though they're only accepting email inqueries right now. And of course there's eBay (careful! many of those aren't rare!). I'm particularly looking for out-of-print Criterion Collection DVDs of 400 Blows and Hard Boiled, though I'm not sure how high I'm willing to go right now...

June 16, 2000

MoneyFactory.com has pics of the new 5 and 10 dollar bills. Not to mention a great looping animated GIF on the front page.

Correspondence between Mark Barrett and Chris Crawford on the art of interactive fiction. (Many thanks grumblebee of MetaFilter.)

Mister Rogers Archives includes episode guides, transcripts and other information on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. See also the official Mister Rogers' Neighborhood site (which has changed since I was last there), and the official Family Communications site, Fred's production company.

I went looking for Mister Rogers pages again to answer two questions: 1) What was the name of the jazz pianist that worked on the show? Does he have any albums?, and 2) Does that "King Friday's welcome to the Internet" sound file that was on the old site still exist somewhere?

ZDNet SalaryZone, yet another tech job salary survey, spreads data across a wide variety of categories.

Builder.com summarizes tech job compensation survey. I'm not doing as well according to this one as with the ZDNet one. It's good to see these, having entered the industry with no clue of what's typical. Is a month too soon to ask for a raise? :) (Thanks /usr/bin/girl.)

Bookface.com, free books online, with advertising.

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June 15, 2000

I've been having too much fun at work implementing a sophisticated data importer. I'm using JFlex and CUP, the Java equivalents of flex (a rewrite of lex, whose Java equivalent is JLex) and yacc, to parse a sophisticated configuration file format that should make the data importer generally useful for just about everybody. The amount of fun that I'm having writing this thing is indicative of my geekiness--something I've been rather out of touch with for a while.

The comp.compilers FAQ has dozens of excellent pointers, most of which involve lex and yacc as compiler centerpieces. If you're just looking for compilers, check out the Catalog of Free Compilers.

compilers.iecc.com has tons of comp.compilers resources, including a searchable archive of messages, an excellent file archive, and Jack Crenshaw's Let's Build a Compiler.

Also from iecc.com: The Garbage Collection FAQ. (That's garbage collection as in automated storage management, not waste disposal. But what's the difference, really?)

ePaper Press has a compact guide to lex and yacc, among other things. (By coincidence, I've linked his compact guide to searching and sorting before.)

Just can't get enough? A UW CS prof has a brief Using lex and yacc guide.

Yacc grammer for ANSI C, for those that learn by example. :)

Jaws: 25th Anniversary DVD will be out July 11. (Just reminding myself. :)

This Is Spinal Tap will be out on Special Edition DVD in September.

The Braveheart DVD finally has a release date. Pre-orders for the disc are topping the charts. Gibson's commentary would be interesting...

The Scream 3 DVD, with commentary by Wes Craven and behind-the-scenes footage, will release July 4. I actually haven't seen it, so I don't know if it's worth owning. But I'm a fan of the series. Boy, aren't my DVD notices boring.

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June 14, 2000

AFI announced their picks for the top 100 comedy movies in a CBS special last night. I was writing down titles of a bunch I haven't seen, and looked up the occasional DVD. It was great to discover that Annie Hall will be released on DVD on July 5, and Harold and Maude will be released on June 27. Update: Wendell of MetaFilter beat me to a Yahoo news article on the list.

DVD Empire has three episodes of My So-Called Life on DVD for $7.95. Heck, I'm enough of a fan of the show to pay $8.


Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Data Structures and Algorithms, complete text with many on-line supplements (animations, code samples). An introductory text, nice to have on the web.

Bookmark dumping ground (unsorted territory):

June 13, 2000

Sometimes the shoddiness of the DVD technology standards and their implementations (both on discs and in players) is too unpredictable for comfort. After hearing much about The Abyss: Special Edition DVD, a 2-disc set with both theatrical and director's versions of the film and tons of extras, I decided to pick it up at a store. I tried to watch it on my Apex DVD player, and discovered that the disc would skip around the chapters at almost every chapter break, as well as occasionally skipping a minute or two. This is likely due to the way the disc was constructed: The Abyss DVD takes advantage of a special feature of the technology that allows for the scenes that both versions share to be stored only once on the disc, with special instructions to the player to jump around the disc while playing the film. This feature is terribly buggy on my Apex, making the disc unwatchable. As is typical with this rather unpredictable technology, reviews of the disc don't mention any known bugs, so it's impossible to determine that a disc will be buggy without buying it and trying it out. What's worse is that most stores take a computer-software-style policy on returns (no refunds for opened packages)--and some will only let you exchange it for an identical item, not understanding the problem.

See also DVDReview's The Abyss Production Diary.

This experience reminded me of an important (perhaps paranoid) rule: Never buy DVDs from stores. You'll want research the discs before buying--especially since information on boxes can be deceiving. I've seen a few make no mention whatsoever of if the movie is full-screen, widescreen, or if both are included. Stores may try to pawn off some of the early single-layer discs, which you just plain don't want.

While the problems with The Abyss are clearly partially due to the way the disc was made, there's just no excusing a crappy DVD player. My new Young Frankenstein disc cannot play the making-of documentary unless I do it scene by scene--it comes out garbled. The disc also introduced my first problem with the parental lock feature (and it's rated PG, for gosh sakes), which I had to disable with the default password that's buried in the back of the manual...

I'm under the impression that if I had a really, really nice DVD player (or just a really nice DVD player), I probably wouldn't have the problems I'm having. Heck, even this Toshiba probably has more stable firmware than my early-generation Apex. (I won't even get into the problems I've had of subtitles and even parental controls getting turned on by default.) That's what I get for wanting the hidden menu...

I've heard so much about the Apex and the hidden menu, but never heard anything about this Raite player, which also does CD-Rs of MP3s, and also has hidden features to turn off Macrovision and region codes (not mentioned in the MP3.com article).

That was fast. But expected.

ireview.mac.com reviews Movies.com.

On-line Guide to Constraint Programming.

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June 12, 2000

If there's any film that needs to be seen the way it was meant to be seen, it's How the West Was Won. Unfortunately for the world, the way this film was meant to be seen is on a gigantic curved screen with 3 projectors and 7-channel surround sound, the 1950s process known as Cinerama.

Thanks to a certain billionaire, as well as the guy who both owned and maintained the print and, IIRC, restored the Peruvian Cinerama projectors for the theater (whose name I can't seem to locate), I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to see the film in the newly restored Seattle Cinerama theater over a week ago with Lisa and (by good fortune) Anita. It was an extraordinary experience I will never forget. I won't blather on about the Cinerama process again (like I did before). But certain aspects of the process had some interesting effects that were great to see and are worth mentioning.

As you know, Cinerama consists of three projectors showing three pieces of a panoramic view across a large curved screen. The three images cannot line up exactly on their edges, so to support the continuity of the panoramic view, the frames must overlap a little. Well-maintained prints and projectors can produce an excellent effect, but there are inevitably blurred seams in the overlap. Knowing this is a "feature" of the process, the makers of How The West Was Won staged elements around the seams during scenes with dialog, placing posts and trees on the seams and keeping people entirely contained in a single frame so as not to blur their faces.

In most cases, scenes of dialog entirely took place in the center frame, with the other two frames containing background action and scenery. There are occasional scenes where characters converse across frames, but according to the excellent newly made documentary about Cinerama, shown (as a work in progress) before the film, this staging is quite difficult to accomplish. Because the Cinerama screen is curved, to support the effect actors must stare off into space at an angle during filming to appear as if making eye contact with the characters in the other frames. When accomplished, this gives an interesting "3-D" effect, with actors' eyelines actually jumping off the screen to meet the curve.

As I'm sure you can imagine, HTWWW is utter garbage on video (and, apparently, on DVD), with the side panels distorted to hell to get it flat. The film contains some spectacular action sequences that are must-see in a Cinerama theater, especially with the extraordinary 7-channel sound. (I guess it helps a little bit to be a film geek to fully appreciate how special the sound is, in this day and age. To see such an obviously old film with 7-channel sound is just mind-blowing.)

Speaking of mind-blowing, we also saw the original 1952 Cinerama demo film, This Is Cinerama. The print wasn't quite as good as the superbly preserved HTWWW (thanks again, whatever your name is!), but it was still very much worth seeing. Footage shot around the world, with spectacular scenes in Venice and Vienna, and entertaining sequences around the U.S. During the original 1952 showing of the river rafting sequences, audiences were given life jackets and sprayed with water. During our showing last week, special guests in attendance pulled out squirt guns and shot them around the room during the same sequence. Not quite the same, but cute nonetheless. This Is Cinerama was particularly nice to see because it and HTWWW bookend the Cinerama era, so you really see where it started and where it ended.

It sounded like there was talk of making This Is Cinerama and HTWWW annual events at the Seattle International Film Festival, so if they do it next year and you care at all about film, spend the money to get to Seattle and see this thing. You won't regret it.

See also Anita's write-up of the day's worth of films.

Barryploegel.com Will Never Be Accused of Having Too Little Information About Barry Ploegel.

Some info on search algorithms.

Woo! I've won 2 free Snapples! Odds of winning 1:49. I'm so lucky, I think I'll go to Vegas. I can't lose!

Associate Degress of Kevin Bacon, from the Brunching Shuttlecocks.

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June 9, 2000

Oh hi. My blog backlog file has a bunch of stuff in it, but I was waiting until I had time to write up having seen How the West Was Won at the Cinerama last week. But I still haven't had time, so I'll have to do that later. In the meantime, here's more of my usual junk...

Ask Twernt! Now!

I think at least one other blog mentioned it before, but the DVD for Hard Eight (aka "Sydney"), P. T. Anderson's first feature film, is excellent. Two commentary audio tracks (at least one of which is unrelated to the video; just two hours of audio mixed with the film's score) are highly educational, from Philip Baker Hall's wisdom on the craft of acting to the stories behind how the film went through Sundance and on to Cannes. The tracks were recorded after Boogie Nights, and some during Magnolia, so everyone has the opportunity to compare the experiences after the fact. Also included are Anderson's Sundance workshop tapes of scenes from the film, and a deleted scene that could only be recovered from a VHS tape.

Now if only the Coen brothers would get their act together and release DVDs with commentary...

So when the hell will Back to the Future be released on DVD? Here's a clue.

Fight Club is out on DVD finally, in an impressively loaded 2-disc set. Inexpensive, too.

Boogie Nights will get a "Platinum Edition" DVD treatment on August 29, with a second disc of supplementary material. See a few details somewhere on DVDFile's news page.

Terminator 2 will get an "Ultimate Edition" DVD treatment on August 29, with "6 hours of content on one DVD".

While Magnolia will not get a commentary track (because Anderson is "tired of talking about the film"), it will be a 2-disc set, with supplemental material on the second disc. I'm not sure that entirely makes up for it, but it does include a making-of documentary. Since Anderson seems to be into DVD extras enough to produce them himself, I'm expecting good things. Also a release date of August 29, and only $18.

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June 2, 2000

Ever wanted to know how to perpetually calculate the day of the week for any date in your head? Now you can, with the Doomsday Algorithm for the Day of the Week.

Discount DVD Players is listing region-code-free DVD players as low as $279. (Can't link directly; their URL-rewriting for frames is broken. *sigh*) Overall, Discount DVD Players isn't listing any regular DVD players at abnormally low prices...

Delivering The Message: Making Commentary Tracks. (Thanks Bird on a Wire.)

Media companies, set your content free!

The Tony Awards are Sunday, on CBS. Yeah, I almost forgot, too.

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June 1, 2000

DVD Talk chat with Jim Taylor, author of this DVD FAQ (last updated May 23) and DVD Demystified. DVD Talk is pretty neat.

M-W.com improved their spell-correction interface (when you look up a misspelled word in the dictionary--not that I do that). It's the little things.

Drug, Psychotherapy Combined Fight Depression.

Eric Weisstein's World of Mathematics, The Web's Most Extensive Mathematics Resource--and he ain't kidding. I came in looking for an article on circle packing and I just couldn't leave. A huge collection of articles, cross-referenced, with external web references for every article.

The director's commentary on the DVD of Boys Don't Cry is highly instructional.

DVD region code map.

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