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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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.

September 2000 Archives

September 29, 2000

Seattle to become chess Mecca, thanks to the world's top-rated American player, and local boy, Yasser Seirawan.

2D and 3D maze games with no applets, no plug-ins, no DHTML, no nothin'. Kick ass.

CSS Quick Tutorial.

SQLCourse.com has SQL tutorials with an on-line interactive SQL interpreter and practice database. SQLCourse2.com is an intermediate/advanced sequel (get it? SQL).

September 28, 2000

120degrees.com wins a TiVo with a short essay that has nothing to do with TiVos.

I want a GPS, if only to be able to play this game. Apparently, you can play a similar game without a GPS.

Win95 FAQ Part 8: The Internet/other dial-up questions.

Cheese.

Ralph Nader is scheduled to be on Letterman tonight (Thursday).

Oh hey, CBS finally redesigned their friggin' web site so that it friggin' works with Internet Explorer. I remember complaining for the umpteenth time as soon as a month ago... :)

September 27, 2000

The Great TiVo Giveaway Contest: WIN A TIVO WITH 15 MINUTES OF WORK, 30 MINUTES OF WAITING. Bloggers are winning this thing left and right. They're giving away 10 a day through October 31st. Q won one, among many others that have won. I know what I'm doing during my lunch hour tomorrow...

I like this music video homage to Atari 2600 video games.

Ad for Pacific Bell DSL.

Make a complaint about a corporation online, and they will hunt you down and kill you. (Old news, but new to me:) eWatch provides companies reports on what's being said about their companies on-line. While most companies are using this just to gather feedback, many use it to retaliate with "reeducation" programs, one-on-one "customer service" to change the customer's mind and get them to reneg the comments. Some use the service to shut down negative web sites and coerce message board owners to delete messages, sometimes, given the opportunity, with the assistance of police.

Northwest Airlines used eWatch to track down the employees who organized a "sick-out" that almost shut down the airline last Christmas. After having fired the "perpetrators," a decision upheld in the courts, Northwest is now using the service to target angry customers for reeducation.

The above-linked article was published last July, appearing in Business Week's "best of" last week (whatever). See also their interview from last March with eWatch vice president Nancy Sells.

September 26, 2000

I've blogged before about the interactive fiction community, an obsession of mine through most of high school. Now that I have a Handspring (did I mention I got a Handspring?) I can finally try Pilot-Frotz, a Z-code (Infocom game file format) interpreter for the Palm platform. Use the included program (Windows, Linux and C source included) to convert game files (.z1-.z8 files or DAT files off Infocom discs) into PDBs to play. Been playing Hitchhiker's Guide for the umpteenth time on the bus to work lately. See this old article: Running classic interactive text adventures on your Palm device.

See my November 11, 1999 entry with tons of IF links, especially on where to get more text adventure games and other interactive fiction written by the thriving IF community.

The Sound of Music released on DVD when I wasn't looking. A two disc set loaded with features, and pretty inexpensive for what you get.

And just to remind myself of pending pre-orders, American Beauty releases on October 24, and is still available for pre-order for $16.19. The Toy Story/Toy Story 2 Ultimate Toy Box Collector's Edition, 3 discs, releases on October 17.

A new one for the wish list: Chicken Run releases November 21. And if you don't already own it, Wallace & Gromit: The First Three Adventures has been on DVD for a while. Seems like I should grab that one before it goes out of print...

Find the fake author in The Oxford Companion to English Literature. (Thanks librarian.net.)

Ad for the FX Network's The X Show.

September 25, 2000

I am 5' 6" tall.

Until last Saturday night, and ever since high school, I believed my height to be 5' 10". I have no idea why I've had this misconception for so long, though I must have been told I was that height at some point. I can't imagine I'd just make that up out of nowhere, at least not intentionally.

The revelation comes as something of a shock, as if my mother had finally admitted she lied about my birthdate so I could get into pre-school a year early. I had a similar experience when I got to college, though it wasn't necessarily a misconception: I apparently hadn't weighed myself since I was 15 years old and 145 pounds large. Having coincidental access to a fitness room scale one night, I stepped up, only to find that *gasp* I had gained a good 30 pounds in four years.

I wouldn't have bothered to check my height if my girlfriend hadn't challenged my dubious self-knowledge while standing at the Bartell Drugs cash register waiting for my check card to clear. I asked the clerk if I looked 5' 10", and she said with a surprised laugh, "Nooo... I'm five-foot-six." I noticed that I was at eye level with the clerk and decided I needed to check.

I'm OK with it. Really, I am. 5' 6" is an average height, or at least fits well with the form factors of everyday life. I'm actually 165 lbs now, thanks to a schedule that tends to overlook meals on a daily basis.

However, this new data made me reconsider what my weight actually ought to be. I know I'm not that healthy, but 165 lbs seemed OK for 5' 10". Ask a disturbing question, get a disturbing answer: Dietitian.com's body calculator says my healthy body weight range is 128 to 156 pounds. I also apparently have a medium frame size for my height, based on elbow breadth. (The other information the calculator gives for me is inaccurate, as I didn't have numbers about my body fat and waist-hip ratio available. How could I be "overfat" if I didn't enter numbers for body fat? And is "overfat" really a word? I mean really.)

The calculator suggests nutritional goals based on what you tell it you want. Give it a go, just remember to double-check your measurements.

P.S. 165 pounds would be my ideal weight if I were 5' 10".

I like how the pommel horse is mic'ed.

Reading and Pronouncing Hebrew. From Introducing Biblical Hebrew.

JewishSource.com: The Source for Everything Jewish.

Handheld Atari 2600. Geeks rule.

September 22, 2000

Are the wheels coming off Sound Transit's light rail? (Seattle-related) This is the train that almost destroyed my apartment, but once that was sorted out, I was kinda looking forward to it.

FightDivx.com is all excited about CyberRebate.com, which has over 800 free-after-rebate items, with free shipping for a limited time. Your rebate check arrives "within 10-14 weeks" (that's a little over 3 months for the math wizards out there). If you think you'll never get the rebates, Cyberrebate offers an on-line rebate tracking service.

FightDivx.com is weird. They started as a anti-Circuit-City-pay-per-view-DVD site, then became a DVD coupon site and newsletter. That's still their main goal, but they get excited about weird things. They're big on buy.com, for example.

God bless public television and its dedication to stage performance. Not to mention the investors of such performance, who spend a little extra money to get quality video to distribute. I wouldn't get to see much of this stuff if it weren't for KCTS 9.

Straight from London, Blast! is now touring the US. Doesn't come anywhere near Seattle, but Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago and D.C. readers may want to check it out.

Radio France (FIP or whatever), a state-run miscellanous French radio station, is pretty funky and streams live on-line. Click the ECOUTER thingy. Look for other French radio stations on-line.

September 20, 2000

The Wall Of Sound Soundbooth is in public beta! I love this thing, probably one of the most exciting things to come from this company. The music is streamed, but on a track-by-track basis, so you can pause or skip a song. The pre-set stations are great, with albums and tracks chosen by real music lovers (the first time I've seen a decent Classical section). The most exciting part, I think, is you can create your own station from categories, specific albums, or specific tracks. (Alas, you can't have a custom station with just one song to temporarily listen to a particular song then ditch it.) And it's free (with a short audio ad every half hour or so).

It is a beta, and I've heard of some Mac and Netscape problems. So you can wait for the full release if you like, but do give it a try.

(Am I naive? Are there other music sites out there that provide this level of control over streamed music?)

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: Contrary to what you've just seen, war is neither glamorous, nor fun. There are no winners, only losers. There are no good wars, with the following exceptions: the American Revolution, World War II, and the Star Wars Trilogy. If you'd like to learn more about war, there's lots of books at your local library, many of them with cool gory pictures.

-- Bart Simpson, "Bart the General," The Simpsons

His Lego marble machine is cute (thanks usr/bin/girl), but this guy is a real hobby geek. Check out his experiments building a megapixel digital camera from a flatbed scanner, or his homemade pipe organ, or his homemade wooden joystick, or his homemade 1-pin dot matrix printer, or his homemade Commodore 64 drum scanner.

Reminder to self: The John Report With Bob, Seattle's TV haven for local sketch comedy, makes its 2nd season premiere on September 30. Their Summer best-of compilations have been quite enjoyable in the meantime: Saturdays at 11:35pm on KIRO 7. (I ask again: are we going to see a Seattle Sketch Comedy Project 2000?)

Zipple.com, The Jewish Supersite, has Lieberman 2000 yarmulkes. (Thanks q.)

If anyone is still watching Big Brother, you know that outsiders have been paying money to fly airplane banners over the house for the guests to see. The Banner Bunch is partially responsible, and they maintain a list of all of the banners and who flew them. Others have tried to contact the guests with tennis balls and megaphones. Ms. Megaphone has her own site, including maps to the compound and descriptions of her encounters; she seems mostly in support of the guests' morale. Media Jammers is (or was) attempting to support recent plans for an all-cast walk-out, believing such an event would mean something; they also include pleas to contact the FCC, for some reason. Many other sites appear to be anti-George, in reaction to people of his home town banding together to vote out his opponents, claiming this is unfair. BB PlayFair targets George, and has links to similar hate-for-fun sites. BanishGeorge.com believes George should be removed from the house due to "cruelty to animals" because of a slight accident with the dog. Save-George.com hopes to counteract the attacks, as does ChickenGeorgeCentral.com. See more BB "fan" sites at BigBrotherTop50.com. Or don't.

September 15, 2000

$1046.25 after insurance.

Can you believe there are 141 parodies of "The 12 Days Of Christmas"?

The Short Circuit, Special Edition DVD will be released September 19th! Kick ass! Steve Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy rule my world. No high hopes for the commentary; John Badham's WarGames commentary was mediocre. Still fun to have commentary for movies like these, though. (John Badham did direct Saturday Night Fever, after all.)

For my non-blogger readers: weblogs: a history and perspective.

PCrivals.com makes a CPU case out of a cube refridgerator from Wal-Mart. I wish I had time in my life for crafts.

September 13, 2000

Those who seek truth in the arcane language of zeroes and ones will not find it, for mine is a trinary system!

-- "Jesus," Happy Fun Comix

Drooooool...

Also drooooool... Cheaper, too. Kodak has sample pictures for all their digital cameras, makes it easy to browse. No hints on what they do in low light or anything, but in my experience (and for my needs), good color is good color. I think I'd rather have the DC290 to keep my options open, but it's nice that less money gets a decent camera these days.

"I made it through Landover Baptist Hellhouse and only vomited twice!"

Good Technology releases their MP3 player for Handspring. Slashdot readers point out how pointless and expensive this is. One reader mentions another Handspring MP3 player, the MiniJam, scheduled to ship last month, that sounds like a better deal. VisorCentral has a review of the MiniJam. Another Slashdot reader suggests a much better alternative for that price.

Yet another Slashdot reader thinks Palm Pilots and derivatives (Handsprings) are a waste of money entirely. With no growth potential, other PC-based handhelds are already prepared to do much more as soon as a few months from now, and some even run Linux.

He and others seem to be neglecting the idea that the Handspring is prepared to be the multi-use handheld GUI for other devices (not that it's a cost-effective solution for an MP3 player, but it's a good idea in principle), and is only starting with Palm functionality to proliferate the devices. It's platform. It's a device. It's a plavice.

Yet another reader properly mentions: "There's just not that much indexing you can do with an hour or two's worth of music."

The Macintosh Business Expo will be in Seattle September 15 at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center. Free Mac stuff! Or is it usually crap?

September 12, 2000

While I'm still very interested in the Roland RD-600 digital piano, I played an inexpensive digital piano/orchestra at one of Seattles very few piano stores, and was surprised to see it was made by Casio. I've always known Casio to make crap, but the Casio AP-60R Digital Piano has great action, excellent piano sounds, and 200+ other instruments, many of which were pretty good. No pitch wheel (obviously not on a piano, but the other instruments could use it), and no room acoustic emulations (Concert Hall, Auditorium, Small Room). But you can turn off touch sensitivity. Comes with a built-in standard HD floppy drive. The showroom I played in was selling it for $3000, but showroom prices are always a rip off. This store in Montana has 'em for $1300.

The orchestral add-ons of the Casio remind me that, second to touch-sensitive genuine piano key size and action, and quality piano sound, what I really want in a keyboard is the more elaborate and expensive orchestral features. I've just been considering plain pianos for price reasons. Reading about the Yamaha CLP880 Stereo Sampling Clavinova makes my mouth water, but I'd have to hitch a ride to Bellevue just to play one. I can also drool on the Yamaha Product Catalog.

And I've never touched a Roland RD-600. I hear great things, I want one, but I should probably try it first, no?

rec.music.makers.piano FAQ: Digital Pianos. rec.music.makers.piano FAQ.

USA New Gear Price List July 21, 1997. Piano World: Piano Reviews Stories and Commentary. BuyPiano.com, a piano buying service.

Piano World: Digital Pianos. Technics Music Canada - Articles: Digital Piano Buyer's Guide, 1997.

P.S. If anyone can talk me out of the Casio for any reason, please let me know. Doesn't seem right that the keyboard for me is a Casio, especially when the FAQs don't even mention them.

The Annotated Dennis Miller, for Monday Night Football viewers. From Britannica.com.

Death of the Websafe Color Palette? WebMonkey I love it when tests stuff. We need more exhaustive tests across browsers, combined with actual usage stats, reported like this. (Not that their tests were exhaustive, but still very interesting.)

Everything a Hacker Needs to Know About Getting Busted By the Feds. (Thanks Zannah.)

The alt.2600/#Hack FAQ.

September 8, 2000

Reminder: The new This Is Spinal Tap DVD releases on Monday. Pre-order now! If the price you get at Amazon exceeds $19 (under Amazon's new "different prices for different people" pricing strategy), you may want to buy the DVD from the Spinal Tap official online store, which also has Stonehenge candles, lunchboxes and posters.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? will get a limited release (LA/NY) on Dec 22, 2000, and a wide release on Jan 12, 2001 (day after my 23rd birthday, hint hint). Is it me, or did the official O Brother web site use to be more elaborate?

Sound Ideas has sound f/x and music clip-art on CD, and the usual high royalty-free clip-art prices. Some demo sounds are free for the taking.

Snapfish develops film-- prints and scans-- for $1.69/roll, which includes shipping costs. Their web site implies their business model is based on advertising on your online photo album, I think. (Thanks Wisdom.)

The SQL Tutorial, celebrating its fifth year on the Internet, is the only learning and reference resource I've ever needed for (general) SQL in all the years I've been working with databases. It's brief, but it's enough for an introduction and quick refresher. I blog it because it's a favorite resource of mine, but also because I just noticed its maintainer has added exercises at the end. See also the corresponding Yahoo! SQL Club.

September 7, 2000

If you think cryptography can solve your problem, then you don't understand your problem and you don't understand cryptography.

-- Bruce Schneier

Slashdot links to the Library of Congress' posted comments and responses regarding enforcement of the DMCA.

Wooo! Roland RD600 Digital Pianos are down to $1500, with free shipping! More attainable than ever! Still going to be a while before I can spare the money. Of all the toys I've ever wanted, a piano would contribute the most to my life and happiness, I think. Been wanting one ever since I went to college...

Telephone Tape Recording Law. Covers intra- and inter-state calls, one-party consent and two-party consent.

Language Box. (Thanks Zannah.)

A brief history of the development of BASIC. (Thanks Danelope.)

September 6, 2000

I was privileged to see Lisa Koch and Peggy Platt perform at Bumbershoot this year. Apart and as a duo, the two write and perform music and sketch comedy. Lisa and Peggy make up Dos Fallopia, and performed as Dos at Bumbershoot, as well as separately. Lisa Koch's web site has CDs and merchandise for sale, and you can buy the video Dos Fallopia: Pretty Girls, Not Too Bright on Amazon.com. I must remember Lisa and Peggy's Christmas show this year, playing December 1 thru 24 at the Theater Off-Jackson (International District, Seattle, WA).

Kazoo, one of Seattle's many fine sketch comedy groups, also made a most worthy appearance at Bumbershoot. On the web site you can listen to MP3s of some of their material, purchase their new (and first) CD, and subscribe to their mailing list. The CD is pretty good, but only in their live show will you see Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade" being read while grapes are thrown into the reader's mouth from across the stage.

Looking for more Seattle-based sketch comedy? Try the Seattle Sketch Comedy Project web site and browse the bios for links to home pages. "The Seattle Sketch Comedy Project is already waist-deep in planning for the 2000 show, which we are hoping to expand into a multi-day festival." Hey Keister. It's September. Give us a date already.

The AV Club interviews Michael McKean.

A study of Ikea, from the Department of Business Studies at Uppsala University. (Thanks Lake Effect.)

Cringely declares PayPal the de facto micropayment standard. You can always send two cents to mail@dansanderson.com. Should I make a button?

September 5, 2000

Digital Convergence responds to the flack it's getting-- see below. Nothing surprising in the response: You're stealing our intellectual property! You risk ruining our crappy business model! That's about it. Slashdot responds to DC, point by point.

Digital Convergence, makers of the free barcode scanner available at Radio Shack, is issuing cease and desist letters to people who have reverse engineered the output of the device and write their own software. DC claims infringement of "intellectual property rights owned by Digital Convergence."

What intellectual property?

Before the Digital Milleneum Copyright Act, reverse engineering was legal. Reverse engineering involves no contact with intellectual property, consisting only of observing the behavior of a physical product, which we are supposed to own when we buy it. I suppose DC could have put a "license" card underneath the plastic bag, using "contract" law to subvert actual law-- but they didn't even do that. (Even then, I believe they could only "license" the software, which nobody has to use anyway thanks to the simplicity of the device. --Is this correct?)

After the DMCA, reverse engineering is illegal except when done for "interoperability." A Slashdot reader rightly points out that in the case of the CueCat, virtually all software that comes as a result of reverse engineering is for interoperability with a piece of hardware (the scanner). This, of course, does not excuse that part of the DMCA, but makes a point about the flaw in DC's claim.

Obviously, DC is worried that other companies can exploit the proliferation of the devices with their own software, undercutting DC's business model of becoming a bar code scanner portal. But DC wanted to do this very very cheaply, and so made a simple plastic device with virtually no encryption instead of a real device with proprietary drivers.

Not that encryption is the solution, of course. What makes DeCSS (you've heard me talk about DeCSS before) so interesting, but sometimes difficult to understand, is that it involves many layers of many issues, including both using and forgoing traditional concepts of property. The DC case, if it ever becomes a case, boils DeCSS down to its chewy reverse engineering center.

Incidentally, you probably wouldn't be using an inexpensive PC if it weren't for reverse engineering. But you already know that story.

DivX threatens piracy of movies on the Internet. Note that this is not the Circuit City invention of one-use DVDs on modem-enabled players, but rather compression software named after it as a joke. DivX is a rehashed (and illegal) hack of Microsoft's own rehashed hack of the new high quality video compression scheme MPEG-4. Once you get the video data off the DVD (with something like, say, DeCSS), movies can be compressed for transmission across the Internet in reasonable time. DivX: Now that's illegal.

The history of the laugh track. From TV Party.com.

September 1, 2000

Meat is Good Food. (Thanks Metascene.)

This Is the Title of This Story, Which Is Also Found Several Times in the Story Itself. (Thanks Neale.)

I don't know if there are any User Friendly fans out there, but you are one of them, you should avoid the new Flash animation at all costs. The voice casting is the obsolute worst it could have been, with actors (are those even actors?) with no sense of comic timing. Not to mention being poorly drawn. The strip itself can be cute in the three pane format, and it probably could have worked as animation with sharper, geekier writing and real actors. And real animators.

Another pretty good analysis of C# and Java and stuff.

You have to be a wicked cool blogger to find something like this. But I didn't find it. Twernt did.