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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

April 2001 Archives

April 30, 2001

The Book-Scanning Project finally gets their act together. :) We've all been talking about this for so long, and now there's finally a set-up. If you hate CueCats, which are free at any Radio Shack and on the web site, the Mac-Barcode Co. SmartScanner USB Scanner is available for $449, and works with PCs, too!

I'm not strong enough to link this without insisting that it's a joke. Not as funny as this one.

Linus Pauling's Legacy and Vitamin C.

Box Lessons: a three-column layout without tables. (Thanks qJason.)

The Flubs of Jurassic Park. (Thanks danelope.) I didn't read the whole list, but this one's my favorite so far because it exemplifies the effort-in-all-the-wrong-places way the film is built (and makes it so deserving of a flub list like this one):

... Nedry is supposedly having a live conversation on his computer screen to a guy at the dock, the Mate.... Glance down to the bottom of that video window. Plain as day, you can see a little progress bar sliding along there, indicating the playback of a recorded video file.
Flub #71 is a great one-frame render error that apparently made it all the way to the DVD; see the list's screenshots.

Linux From Scratch.

Business.com - The Search Engine for Business Information.

April 27, 2001

The Guide: A Tale of the AI Trail. I thought it was interesting that promotion for the movie A.I. involved what seemed to be a large number of fake web sites, but I just didn't look closely enough. The sites, along with other information you're lead to along the way, form a massive mystery game.

I've always wanted to construct something like this-- a large fictional universe, spanning media, accessible only with a limited number of clues, research skill and a lot of perserverance, that, through the discovery process, forms a multi-homed narrative. Like one big drive-around-a-city scavenger hunts, except with a vast fictional backstory. Or a giant text adventure game, but involving elements of discovery of the real world (and not just discovery through the limited interface of a computer game.)

At first glance of these fan-collected materials, this promotional game could be more fun than the movie. Imagine how satistfying it would be to notice this, even after hearing about it:

On the trailer for the movie (here), if you look at right at the end when it says 'Summer 2001', you can see that there are notches in the words.... In addition to the trailer you can see them on a big billboard advert for the film at Times Square, New York, and presumably any other billboards that exist. These notches correspond to a phone number, (503) 321 5122. If you call that phone number, you call this message:
"Welcome my child. Once upon a time there was a forest, that teemed with life love, sex and violence. Things that humans did naturally. And their robots copied -- flawlessly. This forest is vast and surprising. It is full of grass, and trees, and databanks, and drowned apartment buildings, filled with fish. It can be a frightening forest, and some of its paths are dark, and difficult. I was lost their once -- a long time ago. Now I try to help others who have gone astray. If you ever feel lost, my child, write me at thevisionary.net. And I will leave you a trail of crumbs..."

Do also see the guide's author's weblog, Vavatch Orbital.

Digression: When I was young, say eight years or so, I constructed a small multi-stage thread of a puzzle, with clues scattered through my less-oft-used possessions (mostly books, using word and number puzzles to describe titles and page numbers). The intent was for me (or someone) to find the first clue years later, long after I had forgotten the solutions that completed the thread. Sure enough, several years later I found the first clue, and could not remember the locations of the remaining clues. Unfortunately, I at age eight could not outwit me at age eleven, and the puzzles were relatively easy to solve. But I was impressed that I actually did manage to forget the solutions to my own puzzles, as I had intended, effectively sending myself a message through time.

Next Generation C++ In The Works. Woohoo! This is fantastic news, in ways I'm too tired to rant about. But still, woohoo!

Bill Gates no longer cool. Yet another victory for brick-and-mortar over ones-and-zeros! I say we throw bricks and, uh, mortars through some Windows!-- uh, I mean, windows. I am not confused.

I'm encountering some wonderful geek stories these days, this one quite recent: The $5000 Compression Challenge.

Desktop computer power supplies integrated with batteries.

Change Your Mind. The National Mental Health Awareness Campaign includes television and radio commercials, billboards, print publications, and this web site, NoStigma.org. Slightly interesting list of board of directors.

TiVo 2.0.1 rules! What's your favorite new feature? (I even like the little unmentioned touches, like the new forward/reverse shuttle behavior, and the message scrollbar. Remote control shortcuts are definitely cool.

So what's Standby mode for? Saving power?

April 25, 2001

This Planet Earth: The Vision and Majesty of NASA's Remove Sensing Legacy. Wow. Must see movies here. Like this fall into Washington D.C. from space.

Playing God: lead AI programmer of Black & White talks about the game and game AI in general.

The Brunching Shuttlecocks: Black and White.

The new PalmOS HandEra has features I didn't know I needed! Linked to Slashdot because it was easier to link. Handera's home page launched today with more info.

The Third Steve.

Just what I need, another addictive TV show. I'm a little late in the game on this one, I realize, but I was making effort to avoid TV when the show quietly started topping ratings charts. Maybe I've been harboring a deeply seated wish for MacGuyver re-runs or something-- you know, from the first few seasons when it was all about the science and nothing about the stupid characters or boy scout morals. (Did I mention I once had a suede leather jacket just like one Mac wore in an episode? Quite the coincidence that that jacket was in the stores about the same time that episode aired... But I digress.)

TV is at its best when it acknowledges its limitations. The good shows seem to be those that realize a television writing and shooting schedule can rarely support full-bodied characters and plots, so they delight in a framework of gimmicks in form and style. This is hardly rare, of course: the basic idea of the crime show format is to tell the stories of the crimes, and use the main characters as storytelling tools and background. I guess it's just refreshing to see C.S.I. spend so much storytelling effort on the crimes and so little on anything else. Seems like other dramas have mistakenly followed ER down the path of a developed backstory-- but that just leads to wedding after wedding after wedding until someone mercifully pulls the plug. But I guess it's early in the series for C.S.I., they still have games they can play.

Then there are those who just don't take themselves seriously at all, which are probably the most refreshing. I guess I'm just looking for an opportunity to mention that I like Nash Bridges. The writers seem to be uniquely aware that there's no way they can get me to care about anything that happens in the show, so they don't try to make me, and I can just enjoy it. I think a main character was killed recently, I can't remember.

Exceptions abounds for any rule of thumb, of course. Despite how they treat their female characters, The West Wing consistently exceeds my expectations. But enough people like WW that I probably don't need to mention it. (Any Republican readers feel alienated by the show?)

And Stargate SG1 is just plain crap, but I like it. Same with Seven Days. I'm done.

Canon GL1. Canon XL1. No new information, I just like looking at them.

April 23, 2001

The Story of Mel.

Advisor Bayesian Algorithm.

The Graphics Programming Black Book is now online, in its entirety.

Challenge Games hacks, rewrites The Legend of Zelda.

Unwrapped: The Mysterious World of Mummies.

SpellChecker.net offers free ad-sponsored spell checking for web apps, as well as inexpensive for-pay ad-free versions.

April 20, 2001

Disney to close down Mr. Showbiz and Wall Of Sound. Two of the oldest and most popular Internet treasures: Mr. Showbiz is almost six years old, and Wall of Sound just had its fourth birthday. Mr. Showbiz just launched a redesign this week-- an understatement, given the new functionality. It could have been the next big entertainment industry web reference. Enjoy it while you can!

Does this mean... ? Yes. But not for a few weeks; there's still this to figure out. Sympathy still welcome.

Project Censored's top 10 underreported stories for the year 2000.

A few links regarding Black & White, that game I mentioned:

3rd Rock cancelled. It was a delightfully creative and talent-packed show while it lasted, but it was getting a little old. I must insist that we give John Lithgow another starring role on a TV series immediately. Or force him to do more movies, I guess.

RFC 3091, specification for a PIgen server. Nice.

Seattle and Portland Lead in Internet Access.

Bart About to Drop His Shorts.

How to build an igloo.

April 19, 2001

A.I. (the movie) goes all out with their web promotion. Check the trailer for the movie, and notice that the credits for the trailer include "Sentient Machine Therapist: Jeanine Salla." Look up Jeanine Salla in Google and go from there. (The article will take you through everything you're supposed to find, in case you miss anything.)

PGP Security's NAI Labs Partner With National Security Agency to Develop Secure Linux. Would you trust your privacy to a Linux distribution released by the NSA?

I want this.

Remember those Sierra graphic adventure games? They ran on a gaming engine known as AGI. Of course, AGI has since been reconstructed for fan use. (Site is often not available, keep trying.)

Debunking the myths of UI design.

It's been weeks, and I still can't get enough: When doves cry (Quicktime movie).

BrainLog. (IE will ask to install a Chinese font.)

RedCard.Com, Seattle theater resource.

Dungeon Master Java, a free implementation of Dungeon Master in Java, includes entire new levels and a level editor.

The Linux Specific Search Engine.

April 18, 2001

1000journals.

Super Plot, a winning entry to 7kb, a contest to design pretty or functional web pages that total 7 kilobytes in size or less. I also like this little game.

7kb is in German. The 5k, a similar contest with slightly different rules, is in English. The entry deadline for 5k has passed, and the entries are available for viewing and judging.

Grapher is another graphing calculator program, written for the 5k contest.

10 tips for PHP scripts. I really like this article for some reason. Good, solid, useful tips for semi-professional PHP.

Focus on the Family contacts Will & Grace story editor.

M.I.T. to put all course materials on the web for the next decade, for free.

Mike Daisey, local comedian, decided to make himself slightly famous as an ex-Amazon.com employee with a silly short film about breaking into his former offices using expired credentials. It seems Mike has decided to take it a step further.

Evolution of the Alphabets.

Ancient Scripts of the World.

What really happened on Mars?

Hands Off My .org.

Putting Palm and Phone in One Hand, or Pocket.

DIY comics, practical advice on the techniques of the art.

This is useful: HTML, XHTML and WML 1.2 tags: proprietary (X)HTML tags.

M-J. Dominus Perl Paraphernalia.

April 17, 2001

Everyone loves Rocky. If you like the sequels too, this five-disc DVD box set will be out April 24. The discs will also be available separately, and Rocky I will have all the same great features.

The Complete Superman Collection will be released in a DVD box set, all four films, on May 1. The first film, of course, will be released separately, with all the same special features. (Also a WB release.)

Can't get enough WB discs? Check this out. Actually a couple of worth-haves under $10.

Should I be boycotting WB for their damned "Regional Coding Enhancement" crap that attempts to break multi-region players? WB makes some good discs...

This disclosure replaces Network Disclosure News #452. This disclosure expands the previous overlay of the 564 NPA over the 360 NPA to an overlay of all of western Washington State (currently with 206, 253, 360, and 425 NPAs), not just the 360 NPA. This Network Disclosure also changes the mandatory dialing date of the 564 NPA overlay from February 1 to October 20, 2001.

-- Qwest Network Disclosure #460

Translation: Western Washington has a new area code.

Steve Martin's Lifelong Education in Art.

WebAttack.com, Internet tool download site.

HTTP Tracer is useful: it listens to your (Windows) stack and monitors and logs all HTTP transactions and their speeds. Watch how long things take to download, what gets cached when, redirects and errors.

Fun pixel place: Habbo Hotel.

Interior Desecrators: Ugly Rooms for the Beautiful People.

Using SSH Tunneling.

MUD Shell. Go north, then delete file.

DeCSS in haiku form.

A rather personal account of the fall of WeLiveInPublic.com. Last time I visited (after Tanya left), WeLiveInPublic.com was quite depressing.

Running a Java App as an NT Service.

April 16, 2001

Mr. Showbiz leaps into the 21st century! A 5-1/2-year-old web site never looked so good.

(Whew! Now maybe I can take a vacation or something. :)

I have about one hundred links I've stowed away for blogging at a later date, but haven't had time to put them up. Now I have to go through them all and weed out the truly stale ones. And I thought implementing scheduled content was going to relieve these problems...

Playing God. Salon on Black & White.

Black & White is everything promised, and perhaps much more. It is a great game, and if it becomes the mass market hit it deserves to be, it should shatter the last arbitrary boundary between culture and technology. And if that happens, and its success carries over to its online versions, it might even change the world.
...
If Aristotle is right, and goodness is the careful cultivation of virtue, then Black & White is a kind of ethics simulator, showing you the sum of your character and the consequences of your actions, physically imprinted on the shape of your world. Other god games give you power; Black and White gives you yourself.

The review may seem over-the-top to some, but I have to say, I concur. I have never seen a system of ethics built into a game like this (tell me about it if you have!). What's more, the game lets you do whatever you want: you can succeed by being either good or evil. The model of the AI creature and the villagers is conditioned by your behavior. When a woman prays for you to find her sick husband who is lost in the woods, and offers to give you a stone you need that's in her hut in exchange, you can: 1) save the husband and receive the stone, 2) save the husband then kill him right after you get the stone, or 3) just smash open the house and take the stone without finding the husband. You can ignore her outright, though you won't get the stone you need to get your creature. But you can.

My only complaint so far is that whenever a villager dies, a woman's voice whispers, "Deaaaaaaaathhhhh..." Awfully disturbing, especially at 2am.

Jason's Incredible Day.

When I move to NY, I'm totally taking you out to dinner, Jas.

Sub-Pixel Font Rendering Technology. I'm not sure why or how, but the sample pictures seem to look pretty good on my CRT, even though the page insists that only LCD screens can. And I'm not sure how this can work on my screen unless this kind of thing has already been implemented in my video card.

In addition to having a nice short domain name, this guy also has an investigation into the Zip/Jaz drive Click of Death.

Bureau of Prisons Execution Manual.

Webvan facing end of road? Now how will downtown Seattle residents get their groceries?

Kozmo Seattle shuts down. *sigh*

MSN Gaming Zone - Atomica.

Multiplayer Java racing/shooting game.

Another fun Java game: WebWar.

Another fun Java game: Fill It!.

Popular with the blogs: Bilbana, slot car racing on the web!

April 13, 2001

Cyberrebate gets good reviews, with no reports of missing rebate checks. As much as I like the idea of free Color GameBoys, however, I'm not sure I want to lend $700 to a stranger even if they promise to return it within three months. This has got to be illegal, and I don't mean that in a too-good-to-be-true kind of way. Anyone have any experiences to report with Cyberrebate?

Fightdivx likes Cyberrebate.

Stardock: Object Desktop - WindowFX.

I can't help but wonder how these major DVD sellers on eBay and Half.com-- the ones with thousands of transactions to their credit and their entire catalog online-- actually operate. I've had nothing but good experiences with these resellers so far, with plastic-wrapped DVDs in as-new-as-it-gets condition, shipped promptly, at prices lower than most places, sometimes much lower. These sellers never have their own receipt system or branded packaging or anything, not even a web site.

Recently, I purchased a DVD boxed set on Half.com, and on the plastic wrap was a ShopKo price sticker. Of course, the price on the sticker was much more than I paid. It would be comforting to know if it is common for resellers such as those who populate sites like Half.com to get overstock from store chains in this form. I'd just assume that it was legitimately acquired stock if it weren't for the fact that this particular reseller seems to deal in wares in a wide variety of conditions, from new to like new to less than represented. I have nothing against this particular reseller; my transaction was flawless, and the product was indeed new. But I'd like to know what kind of businesses I'm supporting when I'm getting my DVDs on the cheap.

Anyone have any insight on this? Besides how I should never trust an anonymous seller?

April 12, 2001

Ladies and gentlemen, BrainLog reaches a milestone! Since BrainLog began, October 22, 1999, I have made 1000 posts! Of course, that's going by the database entry IDs. When I switched to a database system, all previous entries were inserted as one entry per day, so the actual link count is much higher.

The Internet Toaster becomes a reality.

None Dare Call It Treason. Vincent Bugliosi writes for the Nation to help ensure that the US Supreme Court goes down in history as criminals for their, um, handling of the 2000 election. Some obvious points, some shots outside the domain of the issue, but ultimately a worthy recap.

If none of the undervotes were counted because of the various standards to count them, then to be completely consistent the Court would have had no choice but to invalidate the entire Florida election, since there is no question that votes lost in some counties because of the method of voting would have been recorded in others utilizing a different method.

Gallery of CSS Descramblers. Some very clever encodings of the source code are included, such as this Minesweeper game (here are the mines). Here's decss.zip embedded in a PNG scan of the Superior Court of California injunction.

Here's a wonderfully elaborate encryption of, uh, Not the DeCSS Source. As we all know, the DMCA makes breaking an encryption system-- any encryption system-- without authorization illegal.

Note: Under the DMCA, ROT13 is considered "use protection," and so the output of this program has been double-encrypted through ROT13 so as to protect its output. Replace the "decrypt - see note" in the command above with some means of decrypting double-ROT13 (also known as ROT26), in order to make the output usable.

(For the non-geeks: ROT13 is a simple encryption scheme where letters are "rotated" around the alphabet 13 places. Imagine a decoder ring, with an alphabet on the inside ring and an alphabet on the outside ring. In ROT13, A's become N's, B's become O's, and so forth. Double-ROT13, or ROT26, is the alphabet rotated 26 places. *cough*)

Collection of DeCSS distributions, in multiple languages.

God bless inexpensive digital filmmaking: Duality.

April 6, 2001

Replay TV pulls a fast one:

Somewhere in there among the contract law statutes has to be something the prevents the party of the first part from sticking it to the party of the second part this way. It is like buying a house with a nice formal dining room and discovering, a year later, that the former owner has snuck back into the dining room and opened up a convenience store.

Woohoo! Lisa noticed that Jacques Tati's Playtime will get the Criterion treatment for DVD release! It's one of Lisa's favorite films, and I like it too. We always hoped Criterion (or anybody) would pick it up for a solid DVD release, but I never thought it would happen.

I recommend Playtime to anyone with a bit of patience. It's a comedy, but it's quite unlike any comedy you've probably seen before. I'm told Tati other works are similar, but I haven't seen any others yet. Worth a rent for anyone in the mood for something very off-beat.

The Onion Infographic: Disney's Cost-Cutting Measures.

Post Office May End Saturday Delivery.

Sarah Flannery awarded The Register's Codebreaker book prize for In Code: A Mathematical Journey. Sarah rose to fame for her work on the Cayley-Purser algorithm, a form of public-key cryptography based on matrix multiplication, at the age of 16. See her HTML paper on the algorithm.

Set IMAX free!

Spy Kids may very well become the first children's film I'll see in the theater in many years. The Bond-ish children's film was written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, and clips I've seen look quite fun. The reviews are in, with 64 out of 69 fresh tomatoes. Sounds like it's being compared to Willy Wonka in the breadth of its fantasy and the darkness of its edge.

Bang re-invents push technology on the web, tackling a key problem with push: bandwidth. I don't know enough about what's been tried with push, though Akamai-style power could be a substantial improvement over, say, Java applets or Shockwave programs. It'd be cooler if there was a feasable push technology already built in to everything so we hobbiests could use it, but this stuff often requires too much power for small-scale operations anyway.

April 5, 2001

Seattle Times does their weblog story. And I'm not in it.

405: The Movie has been released on video, with behind-the-scenes footage. If you haven't seen 405 yet, download it now.

Cast Away will be out on DVD on June 12; you can pre-order now. Nifty features, including director's commentary by Zemeckis, and The Charlie Rose Show with Tom Hanks. I'd prefer running commentary by Hanks for this one, but these Charlie Rose shows are surprisingly worthy DVD extras. (Rushmore, Criterion Ed., includes a Charlie Rose show with Bill Murray. Any other discs with CR shows?)

Very cool: FilmWise offers weekly "Invisibles," stills from movies with the actors removed, with their clothes still in place. Guess the film. See also their Oscars contest.

The recent patch to Internet Explorer to plug a dangerous security hole only made things worse.

Saturn rules. A great month to change jobs, sounds like. Or stay in the same job, I can never tell with these damned things. Alls I know is that it says I'm a good person and good things will happen to me, though I should expect challenges and to work hard.

Seriously, though, I didn't realize horoscopes could actually be kind of fun if they're well-written.

Joel on Software Strategy Letter IV: Bloatware and the 80/20 Myth.

April 4, 2001

Get Rid of ICQ Bloat and Adds!

The quest for an ICQ-compatable chat client continues. Miranda ICQ, an ICQ clone for Windows, comes close, but just isn't functional enough to use. It's open source, so maybe I just need to get some Windows programming books and finish the damn thing myself.

I can't get MyCQ to work at all.

ICQ has released an API for developers. Interesting license agreement.

Treeclimbing.com has everything you've ever wanted to know about cat rescue.

Gosh darn it, I was seriously thinking of doing this for a long time now. I didn't realize how plausible it was, however.

Salon.com on Wizards of the Coast. (I'm a little behind in my blogging, can you tell?)

The Myth of 800x600.

George Carlin's home page.

Neat idea for a Handspring module: Margi System's Presenter-To-Go lets you load PowerPoint or HTML presentations into the module, then connect the module to a digital projector or monitor at your presentation's location, which you can control via an included IR remote. Seems like a secure, dependable, portable way to give similar presentations in many client/third-party venues, less expensive or delicate than laptop computers. I imagine teaming hordes of salespeople invading small business conference rooms.