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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

December 2000 Archives

December 29, 2000

The New York Times does its weblog story. I was kind of hoping the NYT would be my chance for a big mention, but oh well. At least /usr/bin/girl has been mentioned in pretty much every major venue, that's pretty cool.

In the last week that I've been without the Internet, Jason Robards and Victor Borge have died. Two heros, they will be sorely missed. Victor Borge had still been touring in his old age, I believe.

MSNBC actually does a story on the National Film Registry, which added 25 films recently. Neat!

M.U.G.E.N is a no-cost DOS-based fighting game engine, with ample documentation to add your own characters. Neat! (Thanks /usr/bin/girl.)

AccessMicro has a cheap DVD-ROM drive. Only of interest because I'm not getting anything close to promised speeds from my own drive...

December 22, 2000

Ten Passed Technologies:

Long before Microsoft Word's talking paper clip started bending users out of shape, there was a feature-rich but trusty word processor: WordStar. According to telecommunications columnist John Dvorak, Rob Barnaby programmed the first version, released in 1979, in assembly language in four months, a feat that some at IBM later estimated was equal to 42 years of effort by a normal programmer. WordStar was the first word processor to compute page breaks on the fly. It introduced a new way of moving up, left, right or down in a document, by pressing control-E, S, D or X. Variants of this "WordStar diamond" (named for the arrangement of those keys) are still used in some programmers' text editors today. WordStar also offered handy letter-transposing key commands and a view of the document that looked much like the final printout.

By 1984, WordStar International was the country's largest software company, but WordStar2000, released in 1985, fared poorly against rival WordPerfect, and the company fell from its lead position. Still, WordStar laid the groundwork for today's WYSIWYG, or "what you see is what you get," systems. Perhaps its simplicity relative to today's word processors is a virtue rather than a defect: A present-day WordStar Users Group testifies that the influential early application is still in use.

Writing inspired by fortune cookies. From Graphomanic. (Thanks memepool.)

How a New Policy Led to Seven Deadly Drugs. (Thanks geegaw.)

Hollywood Stock Exchange has had an interesting for-pay virtual producer game for a long time now, based on the upcoming comedy about filmmaking, Shadow of the Vampire. Being a (paying) player gets your name on the DVD and earns you a portion of "certain box office bonuses" (which I take to mean a cash return based on how well the film does, but with unspecified details). If I knew about this 10 weeks ago, I might have played. (You can still sign up, with access to all previous weeks' activities, but the truly interactive portions are already over.)

The Google Toolbar is already installed on your system. We appreciate your enthusiasm!

-- Google Toolbar

December 21, 2000

Roger Ebert on memes and how the GOP won the election through deception. Quite insightful for a film critic. :) (Thanks Pith and Vinegar.)

Occasional BrainLog reader and friend Paul had noticed bn.com had stopped resolving to Barnes & Noble's web site one day. After a little checking, it seemed the domain name's registration had expired. Being the publicity-hungry good samaritan that he is, he paid the bill, and received confirmation from Network Solutions that the payment went through. (Paul knew full well that he would not receive entitlement to the name as a result of this action; it merely paid the bill to B&N's account.) A few hours later, the domain name was restored to working order. The Industry Standard picked up the story. The story isn't over until the bricks-'n'-clicks e-tailer responds, of course. Will Paul get his money back? Will Barnes & Noble thank him for his efforts? Will we ever learn what really happened on that fateful day? Stay tuned!

The official O Brother, Where Art Thou? web site has the fantastic new trailer, interviews, and all kinds of great stuff.

The College Board will introduce object orientation into the Computer Science AP test in 2003-2004, using Java as the delivery language. This is a big deal. Java is the logical choice for an instructive object-oriented programming language that's also a practical and valuable industry skill, just as Pascal was for earlier Computer Science concepts (yes, this means the AP test will continue to use Pascal until 2003). More importantly, this assures that many high school CS students will assuredly be taught on Sun technology for many years.

I can tell a little story about my taking the CS AP exam in Spokane, Washington. I won't, but I will say to all high school students thinking of taking this exam without a prep course: The students taking the prep course get to see the sample code from the test ahead of time. You'll be expected to have studied it, so make sure you talk to the appropriate people to get a copy. It's an easy test and great for self-study, but it does take enough time to complete that you don't want to spend test time reading code if you can avoid it. (At least, that's what it was like when I took it five years ago.)

Walkthrough for American McGee's Alice.

Gamespot UK is giving away a five-foot model of Alice with the Cheshire Cat from American McGee's Alice.

December 20, 2000

If anyone has any advice on diagnosing random (and I do mean random) computer freezes, it'd be greatly appreciated. I've pretty much eliminated software causes by formatting and reinstalling, and have swapped out almost every piece of software, including memory, hard drives and CD-ROM drives. I'd suspect the CPU if the crashes followed an overheat pattern (more frequent the longer it's left on), but that's not the case. Maybe damaged I/O chips. In any case, I'm very much at the end of my very, very long rope.

I'm particularly interested in any diagnostic software or hardware anyone can recommend for rigorous testing of hardware. I don't mean something that tells me the speed on my CD-ROM drive, I mean something that's smart enough to provide access to system info just before a crash. Professional repair software/hardware. Anything.

Thank you for your consideration.

TiVo users, prepare for TiVo software 2.0, headed your way down a long modem call in the middle of the night sometime soon. FAQ discusses what was promised and what was delivered for the DirecTiVo version, so this is about "90%" applicable to the stand-alone units. (Thanks kottke.) See the TiVo Forum FAQ.

The Economist gets ahold of an advance copy of GW's inaugeration speech. (Thanks whim & vinegar.)

Trite Me!, a collection of media-spawned popular cliches. I'd like to see a definitive listing of the sources of these phrases; I know some, but not others. Catch the etymology while we still can.

PoliSci.com, "the most comprehensive political reference source on the internet."

handhelds.org.

Effective Perl Programming (web site for the book).

December 19, 2000

Mr. Steve Martin to host Oscars.

Hot tip! For some reason, Puzz3D Star Wars Episode I R2-D2 puzzles are $4.95 at Amazon.com. I thought it was a mistake when I first saw it, so I bought one. It then went out of stock. I received it today, and by chance they have more in stock and have not changed the price.

For anyone that likes Puzz3D or Star Wars, or just doesn't have a gift for the kids (grown-up or otherwise) yet, this is an excellent deal. Might still be a mistake, so act now.

And you think I'm an Amazon.com freak?

MSNBC's The Year in Pictures 2000.

Wow, bay area backbone problems really put a crimp in my day. At least Matt was smart enough to put haughey.com on separate hosting, so I can watch for status updates, and glimpse the few things posted to MetaFilter this morning (without the full texts or zesty comments, of course).

Did you think pop-up ads, interstitials (ads that delay your visit to a web page), and superstitials (ads that delay your visit to the next web page as you leave the one putting up the ad) were tried, proven faulty and discarded? Think again.

"Rudely interrupted? Hey, we do that with radio, we do that with any serially served medium... It's accepted in other media because they grew up with it." Just because the Internet can involve serial mutlimedia does not make it a serially served medium. Even as Internet multimedia technology diverges from the textual documents we know and love, text is not going away. Certainly neither is the need for responsiveness in interactivity. Delay ads are delays in what is intuitively a smooth interactive experience.

Once again at the risk of promoting the company I work for, I very much like the Walt Disney Internet Group's new "Big Impression" strategy, exemplified by Movies.com, ESPN.com, the new ABCNews.com redesign, and the new redesign of Wall of Sound. A television-size-ratio'd rectange appears near the top of the site, always in the same location, and can contain streamed animation or interactive elements. The unique size catches your attention, and the allowance of full Fkash-enabled animations provide more space to have advertising people will want to see. Particularly cool is how, on many of the sites mentioned, the box contains animated content as well as advertising, essentially a little attention-grabbing serially served TV on the web site. Note that it's not just the novelty of the size or position of the ad that makes it eye-catching, but the content of the ad itself.

Most importantly, it demands nothing of the user. TV and radio are non-interactive, banner ads are unintrusive, so is that ad box. Pop-ups, interstitials and superstitials demand a response to continue-- and yes, that includes even a 5 second interstitial, as I have to explicitly close it to make my intuitively instantaneous click as quick as possible. If I were to walk into a bookstore and a billboard dropped from the ceiling, blocking my path until I pushed it out of my way, I'd be pissed, even if it promised to disappear in five seconds.

Oh by the way, when you go to a software download site, click on the Download link, and get a page with an ad that says your download is being "prepared" or something like that, you're being screwed out of five seconds of your life. You think it's "preparing," but it's actually waiting for you to read the ad. OK, I really don't mind this that much, since the download is intended to take a while anyway. But advertisers will lie to you in this way to keep you from getting angry when you have every right to do so. Ever try to "unsubscribe" from a piece of spam, only to find that their server is "down for maintenance"? Or worse, ever receive a piece of spam that claims to be a newsletter you subscribed to, so it's not their fault that they're violating your inbox?

I know I'm preaching to the choir, but it infuriates me to hear ad industry schmucks say, "Everybody stop complaining, we're experimenting with new forms of advertising, and we'll see what works and what doesn't," when our complaints are sole sign that their experiments are failing. What's worse is that that isn't exactly true: sales make up the bottom line, and if someone out there is responding positively to the ad, retailers think that means their ad is cost-effective-- but the ad, especially in the case of email spam, cost almost nothing to produce or place, so it's pretty much always cost-effective.

As the popular free browsers inevitably build in special ad display technology (imagine interstitials between every site you visit, independent of the sites you're visiting, served by AOL-Time-Warner or Microsoft directly), the for-cost-no-ad browsers still won't be able to make enough money to compete, and the no-cost-no-ad options (such as GNU-ish browsers) simply won't be able to keep up with technology that will eventually have real development costs. Not only that, but imagine the network of corporate alliances that would prevent no-ad browsers from using the latest multimedia technology. (*cough*)

OK, I'm done for now. Am I a rant blog yet?

December 18, 2000

Christian Spotlight's Guide to Games. (Thanks memepool.)

I expected these Klein Bottle Caps and Mobius Earbands to be geeky-looking. Instead, they're actually pretty tasteful, leaving the special topological feature up to the astute viewer to discover, or the wearer to explain when I-- er, when the wearer feels comfortable admitting his or her geekiness to a group of people. Aw, the nice blue pattern is back-ordered...

On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences. An oldie but goodie.

Oddworldian, an Oddworld fan site.

MIDI Music, Queen, Beatles, Phil Collins, Lyrics, Poetry. The MIDI sequences on this site are pretty good.

December 17, 2000

I just want a computer that works. Is that too much to ask?

December 15, 2000

Washington Post: FTC Approves AOL-Time Warner Merger.

FTC: AOL/Time Warner.

SatireWire: Nation Having Hard Time Giving Shit About AOL Time Warner.

Coca Cola donates their history of television advertising to the Library of Congress, Library of Congress puts it on the web. (Thanks /usr/bin/girl.)

Palm OS 4.0.

Rule bending games. Cool.

Amazon.com: Build Your DVD Collection.

Never really noticed before that BizRate.com has become quite the little meta-shopping portal, with price comparisons and everything.

December 14, 2000

How to Buy Someone A Gift Not On Their Amazon.com Wishlist Without Knowing Their Mailing Address
Ever looked through someone's wishlist and decided you didn't want to be the one to get them any of that junk? Want a gift to be a special, unexpected surprise, instead of an item they selected that disappears from their list when you buy it for them? Met someone in a chat room and want to surprise them with an OXO Good Grips Y-Peeler? There's a way!

  1. Put an item from the recipient's wishlist into your shopping cart.
  2. Put the item you wish to buy them into your shopping cart.
  3. Remove the first item from the cart.
  4. When you check out, you will be asked to provide a shipping address. The recipient's "wish list address" will be one of the choices. Select it, and you're good to go!
Now if only everyone I knew made a friggin' wishlist already...

About.com's Interactive Fiction editor Stephen Grande has a nice article on Warez, Abandonware, and the Software Industry. This is particularly relevant to the IF community, as the classic text adventures are mostly very old, not profitable enough for the copyright holders to distribute. This is how extending the duration of copyrights causes works of art to wither and disappear, when returning the art to the public domain would have allowed the work to flourish and survive with public support. Or so say supporters of abandonware, who distance themselves from pirates as much as possible: they're not just taking what they want, they're taking back what's rightfully theirs-- a right granted by the lack of support from the original copyright holder.

Playstation 2 doesn't live up to the hype, but it's not its fault.

So what PS2 games are there, anyway?

My Conservative Girlfriend. Funnier than it reads.

Batik SVG Toolkit.

December 13, 2000

Sequel to PBS's 1900 House: Frontier House. Two families. 1800's Montana. No grocery stores. And a third household: "friends" or "an unmarried couple." No million dollars. Sign me up! (AP story.) (Thanks Robot Wisdom.)

A.I. teaser trailer. Image is too small to read the text; it's the same text as on the poster. I'll link a better version as I find one. (Thanks filmfodder.)

Will Google's Purity Pay Off?

FDA/ORA Compliance Policy Guides, Chapter 5, Foods, Colors and Cosmetics.

CNN article on the Blue Men Group. (Thanks girlhacker.)

December 12, 2000

Bird On A Wire's 2nd Annual National Film Registry Contest is on! Predict which films you think will be added to the National Film Registry this year, and you could win prizes! Eligible movies are American-made, over 10 years old, and not already in the list (the criteria for the list itself). The NFR is a part of the Library of Congress, and Registry films are actively preserved by the LOC.

In the event of a tie, Bird on a Wire will pick a winner by whim, so as long as you choose eligible films, you have a good chance of winning. Pick up to 25 films. Deadline for submissions is December 25.

Digital Photography For What It's Worth. A great collection of hints, tips and information, especially for Olympus digital cameras.

Google Toolbar, the most useful IE (for Windows) add-on yet. This easily beats Yahoo! Companion; if the Google bar had Yahoo's global bookmarks service, it'd be almost perfect.

Malcolm in the Middle to be made into a movie.

The Adrenaline Vault discusses End User License Agreements in computer games.

"Yeah, well I patented screwing your mom. But it got revoked for "prior art"."

December 11, 2000

CinemaNow's first of a three-part interview with Kevin Smith. (I totally fell for CinemaNow's cheesy slogan: "Like watching? Love making!")

I was a little thrown by the vague mention of Kevin's relationship with the Fletch films, and it took me a few clicks to remind me that Smith is set to write and direct a new film in the series. (Damn, I love the View Askew web site. I wish I had a web site that well built.)

Dimension Films to develop film based on American McGee's Alice, Wes Craven to direct. Alice, an action-horror video game adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, has been very well received.

Brian De Palma's Sisters gets Criterion treatment.

HOT AIR: Postal Experiments. (Thanks Robot Wisdom.)

The Physics of Gridlock. (Thanks kiplog.)

ZDNet's Digital Cameras buyer's guide.

December 8, 2000

The New Venue Aggressively Boring Film Festival, the film festival for your Palm Pilot, has ended and the films are now available for download, or just viewing on the web site. NV snagged an article in the New Yorker.

decapitalization of E. E. Cummings. (Thanks geegaw.) See also Norman Friedman's follow-up article.

I'm enjoying Amazon.com Music Essentials by Style, both for shopping for others and for myself.

Joel on Software: User Interface Design for Programmers.

December 7, 2000

Fans of Tomb Raider will get their first glimpse of the movie at the official web site on Friday (tomorrow).

From the miniworld of flip flop flyin' comes mini-MOMA.

From 0sil8: 0. Pick up telephone. 1. Dial 1-800-555-TELL. 2. Say "Extensions." 3. Dial or say 05118. (Not available outside of the US.) TellMe.

The Ethics of Information Architure. (Thanks Anil Dash.)

Rear Window, Collector's Edition DVD will release on March 6. Documentary, production photos, re-release trailer, and the script.

GameSpot Presents: 3D Shootout 2000. Only cuz I'm thinking of getting a decent card; I'm sick of being left out on all the great immersive gaming that's out these days. realMyst is out, and I'm not even sure if it'll run on my computer...

December 6, 2000

WebReference.com tutorializes the building of phpHoo, Yahoo-style directory software in PHP and MySQL.

I'm always looking for new DVD review sites, such as Told You So Productions.

fairvote.org voter turnout essay contest winners.

Sound effects to calm your child. Who woulda thought that the crying child was actually asking to listen to five minutes of a vacuum cleaner?

December 5, 2000

James Gleick's home page. Nice domain name. (Thanks kiplog.)

John Prine Lyrics.

Guitar sheet music for "Sam Stone" by John Prine.

Lyrics for "The Twentieth Century Is Almost Over" by Steve Goodman and John Prine.

National Voter Turnout in Federal Elections: 1960-1998.

Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) Faces Big Test. I'm a little miffed that the whole MP3 thing is being used as a key example; it's a stickier issue than the more direct threats to our freedom the DMCA imposes. (Certainly parts of the DMCA are intended to directly address Napster and MP3 distribution, though I'm too lazy to look them up for you. :)

Antitrust could potentially be a pretty cool movie. Tim Robbins, Ryan Philippe, and Rachael Leigh Cook in a sharp-looking high tech thriller-- I like the trailer, anyway. I know I'm falling for a cheap targetted marketing gimmick, but I'm a tad charmed by the web site's short interview with the executive director of Linux International, Jon 'maddog' Hall. I'm slightly impressed with Jon's short layman's-terms answers to these four short generic industry questions, but I just like the fact that it's on the web site.

Could be really bad, too; "high tech" movies (especially thrillers) have a poor track record. I cherish Sneakers, but it's really not that great a movie. Anyone want to chime in with counter examples?

December 4, 2000

The official site of the upcoming remake of Rollerball appears to have a merchandising tie-in with Rollerball inline skates, a pre-existing company that sells skates with spherical wheels.

What do you mean, you've never heard of Rollerball? On the 1975 original starring James Caan: The Unofficial Movie Website; Salon's review of the DVD (with, it sounds like, a killer director's commentary). On the remake: Coming Attractions; Movies.com.

Star Wars Technical Commentaries: Endor Holocaust. (Ripped off from the schizophrenic corpus of twernt. WTF is an understatement.)

buy.com (boo? hiss?) is selling the Gladiator 2 DVD set for $16.99. I've never seen the film, but it looks like it's (at least) a must-rent for the commentary and extras. This glowing review commends the DVD for its crystal clear transfer, though an Amazon.com user review hints that cheaper DVD players may not be powerful enough to decompress it cleanly.

Se7en will get New Line Platinum DVD treatment, December 19. Definitely good news, especially for anyone that bought the earlier "flipper disc" release. New Line Platinum Series releases rule, for the most part. DVDReview.com gets a sneak peak.

Timecode will get its DVD release on December 26, 2000.

Enjoyed George Lucas in Love? A VHS release of the 9 minute short was the #1 seller at Amazon.com for weeks, at $7/tape. Now you can own it on DVD for $11. ("Popular in: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (#15), Microsoft Corporation (#2).")