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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

May 2001 Archives

May 31, 2001

To the gang responsible for The Stranger's First Annual Know-It-All Movie Quiz:

First of all, I'm pretty sure I did not win the contest, so please don't consider this a plea to ignore my unfinished answer to the essay question but instead look at the outline on the back. I never should have written an outline to begin with, especially since I knew you were joking when you intimated that an outline was a good idea.

In fact, I'm pretty gullible all around, so it shouldn't surprise either of us that I fell for all of your dirty little tricks. But I love falling for tricks when they are good ones, and I must tell you, I really enjoyed this experience.

I just want you to know that there's someone who appreciates all the work that went into preparing and administering this contest. The construction of the cheatsheets and the accompanying test is, well, inspired. And I'm not talking about the trick no-answer questions (which I answered), or the long lists of extraneous information (which I memorized). I'm talking about how the test can only be passed by the true know-it-alls, by those that jibe with the attitude of the test. The true movie know-it-all knows that it's all about inside baseball, about loving all movies, and about loving that's it's all inside baseball. And that must be understood before the test is even worth attempting.

Head isn't obscure. It's awesome. I know that now.

Please do this again next year. And please promote it better: despite the fact that the odds are better with fewer players, I'd like to see all three classrooms filled to fire code capacity in 2002.

Thank you,
Dan S.

The winner of the contest scored 84 points, which makes me think that if I didn't botch the essay, I may very well have had a chance. Oh well.

Enjoy elaborate movie promotions? Then you might also enjoy the Planet of the Apes geocaching game. Except you have to get out of your chair to play it. Use your GPS and coordinates on the Planet of the Apes web site to find hidden PotA memorabilia.

2001: A Lego Odyssey.

Why Do Mathematicians Now Care About Their Hat Color?

New definition of life rules out ants and infertile humans, but includes parasitic DNA.

The Lonely Astronaut.

Funny Black & White creature stories.

Milko Music Machine! Make moo music! Fun.

May 30, 2001

All philosophers gravitate towards the central mysteries of existence:

  • (particle physics) the smallest things;
  • (cosmology and astronomy) the largest things;
  • (neuroscience and computer science) the most complex things;
  • (metaphysics and theology) ethics and the supernatural.

To go unmoored from the normal concerns of life and to gravitate towards any of the central mysteries is to be voluntarily or not a philosopher.

Eventually the results of such a life become obvious and can be recapitulated in a summary form such as this Mentifex Dossier on the legacy and vestiges of the Mentifex project in artificial intelligence.

-- Introduction to the Mentifex Project

Box Office: Harbor Wins Weekend, Loses War.

My only advice is, if you can get me to offer you $5,000 not to open the door, take the money and go home.

-- Monty Hall

Old story of Marilyn vos Savant's presentation of the Monty Hall Problem. Read to the bottom on the accidental ambiguity in the way vos Savant stated the problem; an interesting dimension that made Let's Make a Deal more than just the one probability problem. I love how Monty Hall himself knows the problem backwards and forewords, but mathematics profs still get tripped up. (Nothing against mathematics profs; it's a tough problem, and anyone who says it isn't is a jerk.)

Frequently Asked Questions about the GNU GPL.

How to solve Lights Out puzzles.

Computer gaming industry a little too porno.

The Simpsons Archive: Jon Vitti Interview (February 1991).

May 25, 2001

Interviews 50 Cents.

Coppola Unspools Four-Hour Apocalypse at Cannes. Apocalypse Now Redux will be released in U.S. theaters on August 15. I was wondering why there wasn't a super-special-edition DVD of the film yet.

Details on the next Coen Brothers movie, from Ain't It Cool News. Warning: spoilers.

Surviving Silicon Alley. "How You Too Can Rise to the Top of the Bottom in New York's Attitude-Ridden Net Scene."

The Chopped-Off Hands of Star Wars. (Thanks /usr/bin/girl.)

Why Cops Shoot. Try it yourself.

Metafilter thread #1142, with over 1100 comments, supported by the sheer will of its contributors. Very silly. It started over a year ago, but I'm told most of the posts actually happened this past month. (Difficult to tell since MeFi doesn't include the year with comment dates.)

May 24, 2001

Jorn Barger's largescape texture of human history.

Palm Cuts Wireless Model Price; Analyst Cites Glut. $99 for a Palm VIIx, after rebate (with subscription to the network). Woo!

I love it when people do this.

Check it out... I'm updating my "wog."

Telling the Truth About Damned Lies and Statistics. Gotta love books on bad stats! Did you know that every year since 1950, the number of American children gunned down has doubled?

May 23, 2001

Internet Moving Image Archive. Like Gutenberg for movies. From one of the best of the best, Archive.org.

MovieFlix.com also has dozens of full films online for free. Check out Detour, A Boy and His Dog, the original Little Shop of Horrors, Dick Tracy episodes, and an excellent collection of silent films. Too bad the site seems commercially motivated; it probably won't be around for long.

MPAA v. 2600 - Transcript of Second Circuit Court of Appeals Argument.

Long-running 'Simpsons' seeming like a Homeric epic.

No one is more surprised than creator Matt Groening that his show "The Simpsons" is still on the air after 12 seasons, making it the longest-running animated series in TV history. "Trying to surprise people - after having been on the air since 1987 with 'The Tracy Ullman Show' - is just harder and harder," Groening said during a recent Fox network party in Beverly Hills.

Rep. Bob Barr, others challenge House bill to reduce junk e-mail.

An Introduction to Extreme Programming.

Bookmark dumping ground:

May 22, 2001

The Mr. Showbiz Summer 2001 Box-Office Challenge has opened. Mr. Showbiz's popular fantasy movie stock market game will run for another season, supposedly to be carried on by ABC.com after Mr. Showbiz closes.

As my only project for the last solid month, it's good to finally see this out the door. Still plenty to do, though.

Salon.com on "Shrek". "Am I alone in thinking that computer animation is the work of the antichrist?" I have a bunch of responses to this article, all of which welcome this criticism of the format without necessarily agreeing with all of it. But I'm not in a ranting mood, so come up with your own reactions. :)

Awww!

Also: Dognoses!

The Art of the Mix, a community site for the lovers and makers of mix tapes and CDs. As someone starved for new music, playlists are good reading.

Study shows! Winning an Oscar adds four years to your life! "Once you get the Oscar it gives you an inner sense of peace and accomplishment that can last for your entire life." So get cracking, you sorry excuse for a sound editor!

Bookmark dumping ground:

May 21, 2001

The Onion AV Club has a new interview with Andy Richter, and an old interview with the late Douglas Adams.

New plans for the new Seattle library. Still kind of ugly on the outside, but I'm excited anyway. Some neat ideas.

Got Milk? Get Fired. Two journalists for a Fox TV affiliate refused to falsify a news story about recombinant bovine growth hormone milk to appease Monsanto. The affiliate fired the journalists. On August 28, 2000, a jury awarded one $425,000 in damages. Jane Akre writes about the experience, and why it isn't being reported by news media.

Logan's Run will be out on DVD on July 3. Amazon's pre-order price is $11.24 as of this writing. Cool.

MyVideoGames.com has vintage video game commercials.

Bookmark dumping ground:

May 17, 2001

TextFiles.com:

On the face of things, we seem to be merely talking about text-based files, containing only the letters of the English Alphabet (and the occasional punctuation mark).

On deeper inspection, of course, this isn't quite the case. What this site offers is a glimpse into the history of writers and artists bound by the 128 characters that the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) allowed them. The focus is on mid-1980's textfiles and the world as it was then, but even these files are sometime retooled 1960s and 1970s works, and offshoots of this culture exist to this day.

The Upgrade Path: Project ClearPC. I've always wanted to know how a small company starts building things. I know how a small software company starts, but what if you wanted to produce actual things? The pics of the clear PC cases are pretty cool, too.

NetSlaves attempts to put discussion of tech unions in a historical context.

Famous Name Changes.

Pac-Info.com has a huge collection of public records, spanning both the U.S. and Canada, with many records from many specific regions.

Bookmark dumping ground:

May 16, 2001

I might feel different if I planned to visit the Alaskan Wildlife Preserve anytime soon. But I don't know what I would do once I got there, aside from praying that I froze to death before I got eaten by a caribou, or a koala bear, or a bat. I've seen pictures of the Alaskan Wildlife Preserve and I can sum it up in just two words: North Dakota. Do we really need two North Dakotas? I mean, we already have South Dakota as an emergency spare.

-- Scott Adams

Regarding links disappearing in Netscape 4.7 due to blockquote tags, Mr. Dan, through nagging, insults and eventually doing the work for me, has helped me come up with a working cross-browser solution I otherwise wouldn't have had the time to do.

If it weren't for using CSS margins instead of the blockquote tag, all links, including the "0 comments" and such, below this point would be white text on a white background.

Which, as Dan helpfully pointed out, causes the Bookmark Dumping Ground to look something like this in Netscape 4.7 for PC. Dan asked if he was supposed to connect the dots, so I said try it. And he did.

Heh. Microsoft has turned the public's dislike of a paperclip into a marketing device for Office XP: Microsoft Clippit.

Dell CEO Sees PC Replacement Cycle Coming. Even the biggest PC companies are failing because the market has reached saturation. I hope they pull through; sick of supporting my own hardware, I've switched from building my own PCs from parts to buying pre-build systems (well, system, my laptop). Since the whole point was for support reasons, I don't want anyone going anywhere.

Burma - Grace Under Pressure.

Bureau of the Public Debt Homepage.

FreeCell Pro is a greatly souped-up version of the FreeCell game that comes with Windows 95. Includes a solving algorithm, so you can watch the computer tackle the deals that got away. Many, many other features included to support the FreeCell community, such as the ability to copy and paste your solution to a particular deal. (See also my previous FreeCell mention.)

Bookmark dumping ground:

May 15, 2001

I'm distributing "God's Debris" exclusively as an ebook, without going through a publisher. DigitalOwl Inc. is handling the web storefront function. If the ebook sells well it will set a precedent that screws up the entire book industry. If you ever wanted to screw up an entire industry - and who wouldn't - this is your chance.

-- Scott Adams on his new eBook, distributed at Dilbert.com

Columbia House finally has a decent DVD Club. 4 DVDs for 49 cents each to join, commitment of 4 more in two years-- buy your first at the same time as you join and get it for $14.95 plus $1.99 s/h. I see 8 discs I want at an average of about $12/disc after shipping.

Bruce Eckel's MindView, Inc. OOP Resources has a bunch of his books on-line, for free. Includes Thinking in Java, 2nd ed. Very cool.

Server Security: Keeping the "Box" Safe.

Beating the Averages. Paul Graham recounts using Lisp to write Viaweb Store, the hugely popular e-commerce software backing Yahoo! Store.

The Minicomputer Orphanage.

XML Spy, "the first true IDE for XML".

Bookmark dumping ground:

May 14, 2001

The Empire That Was Russia: The Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic Record Recreated (A Library of Congress Exhibition). These are amazing color photographs from around 1910 used a unique (at the time) three-plate process with filters, and have been restored from negatives.

The popular CD creation software package Easy CD Creator has some problems. Easy CD Creator came with my computer, but I haven't installed it since I upgraded to Win2k. Thankfully this article contains the advice that you can do a custom install and leave out the "Take Two" backup program.

Roxio's page on the problem.

The Key Vanishes: Scientist Outlines Unbreakable Code.

I want an atomic digital watch. I do!

Ever wanted a text-area on a web form that supported WYSIWYG formatted text, such as styled text, fonts, and paragraph justification? It's apparently not that difficult to build a HTML WYSIWYG Editor that works within Internet Explorer. IE for PC only, so probably mostly useful for Intranets, but I can easily imagine newspapers that use web-based content database interfaces taking advantage of stuff like this.

Long-time BrainLog readers may remember a "feature" I used to do called The Bookmark Dumping Ground, where I clear out my lists of web sites I wanted to remember but weren't necessarily blog-worthy. Often these are articles or resources I wanted to return to later for a closer look, or are lists of sites I found while researching a particular subject. I dumped them onto the blog so I had a searchable forum for all of my bookmarks, with short descriptions, and so I could throw away my lists. Well, my lists have grown again, and it's time to dump!

To visit old bookmark dumping grounds, just do a search for "bookmark dumping". No guarantees that these pages are still there, even for the links I'm about to post. Feel free to post comments indicating the new locations of any of these pages, or any related resources you've found useful.

Bookmark dumping ground:

May 11, 2001

Double clicking on innocent looking files may be dangerous. (Thanks q.)

Paul McCartney on Wingspan, the new CD collection and documentary project recounting McCartney's post-Beatles band, Wings. The two-CD, 40-song album hit stores last Tuesday, and the documentary airs tonight on ABC.

Dvorak is a simple abstraction of fantasy card games that can be played with stand-alone decks, in Nomic/Blank Card Game style, and even online in a MUSH. Cards are either things or actions, and pretty much all the other rules are up to the game-- or up to you, depending on how you're playing.

Anti-bullying vote blocked in Olympia. "A bill aimed at curtailing bullying and harassment in schools stalled out in the Legislature after Christian conservatives complained that it amounted to a gay rights measure." That is, bullying and harrassment ought to be allowed because Christians ought to be allowed to beat up homosexuals.

Getting A Job In The Game Development Industry.

Apocamon: The Final Judgement. Pokemon meets Revelations.

May 10, 2001

Must see: DizzyCity has 360 degree panoramic views of every intersection in Manhattan. Some holes in the map, or maybe server problems, but otherwise a very cool site. Lisa gave me a walking tour of where she used to live, from her old apartment building to the local grocery stores. Great stuff.

OpenCola, Version 1.0. In yet another attempt to suck up to the naturally fanatical geek community, OpenCola comes with a stupid Perl poem on the can, and a recipe for homemade cola that they are pretending makes OpenCola the first consumer product released under the GPL. Not quite, of course: the recipe is not the actual recipe for the OpenCola product (to be expected given the nature of mass soda production).

Another homemade cola recipe. (I dunno, I think I'd rather try the more specific syrup formula mentioned above. Vanilla, cinnamon, lime and sugar? At least this one includes extract of cola, though the 15lbs sugar : 1gal water ratio is... well, probably realistic...

Brilliant: Disney has opened a new technical support web site for Disney DVDs. I need to ask them why my Toy Story II disc flips into pan-n-scan mode in the middle of a particular scene on my player.

God Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder.

Slashdot feature: Why Aren't You Using An OODMS?.

May 9, 2001

The New Stanley Kubrick Collection is available for pre-order, and will be released June 12, 2001. I've mentioned this before: this is a new release of a previous box set that was met with reviews ranging from disappointed to angry. The new set features Dolby sound, (I think) restored picture, Eyes Wide Shut (the censored U.S. version, grr) and a 9th disc containing a new documentary.

I too must link Vector Park, which must be seen to be believed. Do see most everything at The Ganzfeld as well.

Seattle vegetarians are suing McDonald's for using beef fat to make their french fries. "... [A]ny vegetarian who ate McDonald's fries after 1990 believing they contained no meat can be a party to the suit here or to suits he plans to file in other states."

For decades, the fries were made in 93% beef tallow, giving them their unique flavor-- and more saturated beef fat per ounce than a McDonald's hamburger. In 1990, McDonald's announced that they were switching to pure vegetable oil. However, a small amount of beef fat is still used, listed as "natural flavor" in the ingredients.

I'd say "what's a vegetarian doing in a McDonald's?", except that McD's is trying to cater to a veggie audience these days, with some restaurants serving meatless meals-- with a side of fries. (I can't seem to recall any examples, however. I try to avoid McD's these days.)

I was a little surprised to see some bloggers dismiss this as a non-issue, or an example of an excessive lawsuit. Religious vegetarianism is a big deal, and it is irresponsible for a meat product to be listed as "natural flavoring". Is peanut oil also a natural flavoring?

I'm a week late, but I gotta link the NYTimes article on Craig Mundie's speech. For those that haven't heard (or known for a while now), Microsoft's position on open source software-- software that's free to distribute, change and redistribute-- is morally wrong. If it's a threat to Microsoft, it's a threat to the world at large.

Linus responds to Mundie.

Scientists invent tractor beam. It's about time!

Starfleet Database: Chronology. (Thanks danelope.) Nice to see an online fan-created version of the remarkably thorough reference works to the fictional Star Trek universe, such as the Star Trek Encyclopedia, this Star Trek Chronology, and countless others.

May 8, 2001

The Keyboard Kaleidoscope Show, free online intermediate-level keyboard/piano instruction in streaming media format. This kind of thing is what the web if for, if you ask me. Some great stuff here.

I recently had a rather rough introduction to the concept of 'adware', software that piggybacks on other software that you install, for the purposes of displaying advertising on your computer. Such software displays ads without giving any indication of what program is causing it, without having asked your permission to install itself, and no obvious way to uninstall it-- in some cases, it can't be uninstalled by uninstalling the program it came with.

Such a trojan horse, no better than malicious computer viruses that use similar tactics, can also take the even more insideous form of 'spyware'. This kind of software monitors your use patterns and transmits that information over the Internet to a company that processes and sells that information, all without your consent or knowledge.

I don't mind ad-sponsored software or services. If I'm explicitly agreeing to a contract where I allow ads on a web page or even a piece of software in exchange for free use, then I can consider that the cost of the software, and decide to use it or not use it based on how intrusive I find it. But this kind of adware is often dissociated with the sponsored program enough that any mainstream user would have no idea how it got there, and certainly not know how to get rid of it. I consider myself to be an advanced computer user and I had to ask in message forums what the hell it was.

Thankfully, such trechery can't go unchecked on an Internet full of smart, determined and pissed-off users. Adware, Spyware and Advertising Trojans lists offending programs and has detailed removal instructions. SpyChecker offers a database to look up software to check for known offenses. The Spyware Infested Software List is a long list of software that sends information over the Internet without your knowledge or explicit consent. The Gibson Research Corporation web site has more information on Internet traffic monitoring and ad/spyware detection.

In my case, the offending program was BearShare, a Gnutella client for Windows. Apparently I was informed of the software being installed, but it was never made clear what the software was, only that it was "required". It installed a piece of adware called SaveNow, and a browser plug-in for New.net, a company trying to usurp ICAAN's control over domain names. (I'm intentionally not linking to these due to my objections with their business models. You can look them up on your own if you like-- just don't let them install any software if they ask. :) Enough people object to this behavior that BearShare is now officially BewareShare. (I also have reason to suspect, with minor confirmation from others, that BearShare has actually modified my system in a way that makes it prone to crashing, even after uninstalling BearShare. Probably not intentional or even related, but it brings up another good point about software being installed unknown to the user: software is sometimes poorly written, and has bugs, and if you don't know what's running on your computer, it's virtually impossible to figure out how to fix problems.)

So if you're getting extra pop-up ads these days, you may be affected. SaveNow, for example, will open an ad for DealTime whenever you visit a competitor, such as Amazon.com, saying that you can get a better price somewhere else. I would think the industry at large would detest this kind of advertising, and I hope it suffers a quick and painful death.

Netflix lists some DVDs with great features, including great commentaries, alternative/deleted scenes, and more. Hmmm... A comprehensive list of great commentaries would be totally worth building... Something else to add to my personal project list...

Metamath. Brain full.

Gates is still cool!

Keyless remote entry mysteriously stops working in Bremerton, WA. Weird.

Microsoft to Offer High-Speed MSN with Qwest. That is, all existing Qwest DSL customers will now have to use MSN. Hm.

May 7, 2001

It appears that under certain circumstances, this weblog displays links as white-on-white text in Netscape. I've had frustrations with CSS in Netscape before, and I don't have time to fix it right now. My apologies to NS users; I'll get around to a redesign someday.

A boy without mischief is like a bowling ball without a liquid center.

-- Homer Simpson

Microsoft shelves Office XP subscription plan. Very smart: crippling Office just opens the door for competing products to acquire market share without changing the way they do business. I refuse to pay hundreds for crippled software, and had been planning to avoid the XP products for this reason. I think I'm still going to wait a few years before going past the "2000" line (Windows 2000, Office 2000); I think I can manage. If by 2005 I need a new word processor, no doubt there will be a non-subscription option available. Whether that option is MS Word or Corel WordPerfect is Microsoft's decision at the moment, and it'd be pretty dumb if they allowed the latter to be that option.

Most of my intellectual property-related blatherings on this weblog are meant to chronicle (and understand) this movement by I.P.-driven industries to convince us that we no longer own anything, while the companies own everything. Traditionally, if you buy a toaster, you are completely within your right to do anything you want with it, because it's yours, you own it. I.P. such as software, or DVDs, gets sticky; you can't easily copy and distribute a toaster like you can a music CD, so traditional ideas of property aren't sufficient to sustain an I.P. industry. The DVD-CCA essentially instituted a combination of laws and contract-enforced technology standards to retain ownership and control of all DVD players, as if we're licensing the software that controls DVD players instead of owning a device that can play DVDs like toasters make toast. I don't pretend to know what the solutions are to the problems I.P. industries face. I just don't think revoking my legitimate freedoms is the answer.

While I believe the actual definition of these freedoms includes the ability to, say, copy DVDs, it is clear that the act of piracy is not one of these freedoms. However, exploiting monopoly power to eliminate all ability to copy DVDs goes too far, and infringes what I'm calling legitimate freedoms. A more obvious example of this exploitation is region coding, which serves virtually no purpose except to give studios price-fixing powers over distribution.

I grew up with computers that came with programming languages either built into or bundled with the operating system. That is, I always had full control of the entire computer, with a relatively small knowledge gap between me and that control. (After all, you have to know how to use anything you own in order to use it.) A Commodore 64 has an operating system that's virutally nothing but a programming language. The Kaypro 4 came with a couple of versions of BASIC. Heck, Microsoft was founded on the business of making versions of BASIC for different computers, such as the Commodore Amiga's AmigaBasic. When the Amiga OS stopped including AmigaBasic, I recognized that a fundamental right had been taken away from me: the right to be able to control my computer. The cost of a C++ compiler was prohibitive enough that I felt shunned by a new class barrier, as if only people with money deserve to be able to program computers. (This was before there was an Open Source community to address the need for freely available advanced programming packages like GCC.)

I don't expect everyone to be able to program computers. The natural progression is toward more complicated systems, widening the necessary knowledge gap. Assuming that this natural progression involves taking away the user's ownership of their computer is an obvious fallacy. However, this conclusion is becoming more evident with I.P. industries. The only thing stopping me from making my DVD player ignore the DVD industry's price-fixing mechanism of region codes is my lack of access to knowledge of how to do that, and to institute enforced region coding in the first place is to exploit that gap.

Tangent to this discussion are the attempts to exploit our recent obsession with no-cost software and services while trying to maintain sustainable business models. Somehow it was decided that if we're not paying money for software or services, we don't have any rights to our own computers. More on that tomorrow. Needless to say, the apparent conclusion by the software licensing trend that we don't have any rights even if we are paying money for it is even more disturbing.

Super-Accurate Atomic Clock Hates Sundays. Where do I sign up to be a leader of frequency and time?

Extra, Extra: On the Set of Angelina's Life. A coworker of mine took a day off work to be an extra, and wrote an article about it. I wanted to do this when I heard about it, but it didn't occur to me that I could take a day off of work. :)

New iBook! I know you'd still rather have a Titanium, but you can't afford one, now can you?

I can't say I'm too excited about Jurassic Park III, especially considering the fact that its release date is July 18, but I have yet to see a trailer (attached to The Mummy Returns, which I probably won't see). William H. Macy, sure; Sam Neill, OK. But virtually no Spielberg involvement, and a rumored ever-changing script... Dan's JP3 Page is following the rumors closely.

I've never seen a fansite dedicated to a studio before: Steven Spielberg & DreamWorks SKG Fansite.