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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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 2001 Archives

September 28, 2001

Elusive chess legend may be playing online: British chess grandmaster Nigel Short believes he faced Bobby Fischer. Fischer has also been kicking my ass at Wordox under various pseudonyms for the last two years.

Blood Simple, Director's Cut DVD is now available. Yet another Coen DVD without features... *sigh*

TiVo announces dual tuner support in version 2.5 of its software. Note that so far this only applies to DirecTV TiVo units. While no specific date has been mentioned, there are high confidence reports that it will be out very soon. "All new DIRECTV TiVo combination receivers will be provided with the upgrade automatically after activation of their TiVo and DIRECTV services." Some satelite TV resellers are already advertising the dual tuner feature as built into the unit.

The Slashdot thread has some interesting, if dubious, information. One post mentions that standalone TiVos will get the dual tuner upgrade eventually. Also funny to see how many think that TiVo ought to be commercializing the silly hacks everyone has done to their boxes. (See the TiVo Web Project.)

(Jeez, my links are stale!) A new DirecTV TiVo should be arriving at my door today. Can't wait!

Simsville cancelled. I was really looking forward to this game, intended to be a cross between The Sims and SimCity, where you manage a small portion of a town. But to echo Slashdot's sentiment, if it was cancelled for quality reasons, then more power to them. Maybe they'll try again some other time.

As the CGOnline blurb mentions, The Sims is already getting rather sophisticated add-ons, such as The Sims Hot Date.

Mr. Showbiz is reporting that Seattle's Cinerama will be the first theater in the world to show the new restoration of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey next month. That's several news items in one: 1) The long-awaited restoration of 2001, which Kubrick had intended for January 1, 2001, is finally coming out in October; 2) The Seattle Cinerama will be the first theater to show it, so I'm expecting a great deal of fanfare and very long lines at the ticket booth; and 3) Mr. Showbiz is still up and has fresh content. (No doubt the shut-down plans are still in effect, it's just nice to see that some of my former coworkers are still there running the show.)

See also their review of Apolcalypse Now Redux.

How to extend an Apple AirPort's range.

Ambulan. Dream mobility for mere thousands. :)

September 24, 2001

I'm leaving on a business trip for a few days, if you can believe that. Nothing super special, I just volunteered to go to CMU to help with campus recruiting. As yet another first-time experience (first "business trip", first time in Pittsburgh, first visit to CMU campus) I'm chalking it up as fun, especially since I actually enjoy this kind of recruiting thing. Call me a saavy traveller; I haven't had time to put up pictures of *Disneyland* yet, let alone my big happy blogger road trip, and I just got back from a fabulous vacation to Illinois a couple of weeks ago. Now I'm heading back east for more picture-taking.

On our way back from Illinois, our plane was late getting into O'Hare, which caused us to miss the only connecting flight to Seattle. We ended up overnighting in Phoenix: four hours of sleep before the next flight in, when I'd get home in the middle of a work day I hadn't planned to miss. I'm a pretty patient person (I even had the gall to take enjoyment in experiencing the Phoenix heat in the middle of the night), but it was still frustrating and unpleasant. We got back to Seattle on September 10, 2001. I've got a feeling I'm going to have even more patience for air travel now.

September 22, 2001

Jon Stewart's emotional Daily Show monologue is available as streaming video and as a transcript.

Given the sassy, sarcastic nature of The Daily Show, it was difficult to imagine an appropriate getting-serious-for-a-moment segue back into new programming after the September 11 attack. I could not have prepared myself for, let alone expected, the emotional honesty with which Jon delivered this monologue. The admission that the obligatory "overwrought speech of a shaken host" is more for the benefit of the host than the audience grounded the monologue in a way the monologues of other media personalities haven't quite managed. Through his personal honesty, Jon discarded the artifice of the TV celeb trying to find something appropriate to say, and I can't think of a more appropriate way for a media personality to respond to this tragedy.

September 21, 2001

Why the hell do all digital watches reset to midnight January 1 when all of their buttons are pressed simultaneously? Such as when you bend your wrist back?

This fascinating story on Lego gloomily reports Lego's struggles in the fast-changing modern day toy market. I was disturbed by the trend away from simple bricks and towards less versatile and more specific pieces even when I was a kid; it irked me that I couldn't use the castle wall pieces for anything except castle walls, at least not without uglifying the resulting creation. (I eventually tired of multi-colored cities, and wanted to expand into more aestheticly controlled structures while maintaining the same creative freedom. But Legos are expensive.)

The Right to Read, by Richard Stallman. One of the scariest parables I've read in a long time. :)

Complications and Grand Complications. Only of interest to watch enthusiasts and collectors, but it's neat to see what kinds of features watchmakers used to put in mechanical watches. Horology, the Index. Horology on the Internet.

Given the promo matierial, I would have expected Max Payne to be a 3D-Realms-style smart-ass crude reinterpretation of the genre, something I wouldn't be interested in. However,'s review intrigues me to no end:

Interwoven with a realistic, compelling story, a postmodernist's sense of ironic wit and, even more startling, a strong moral tone, Max Payne is the kind of shooter that most gamers have been avoiding for years. Sure, other titles have infused the first- and third-person shooter with substance. ... But if the initial sales deluge holds up, Max Payne may be the one that finally advances the genre, and our expectations for it -- and in the process, it may be the game that finally forces the industry to grow up.

I still smell cheese, but my commitment to the medium runs deep enough to take interest in anything that'd garner this kind of attention.

Finally, A Solution To The DMCA!

while (1==1) {

September 20, 2001

My add-to-weblog bookmarklet doesn't work in IE6 for PC. :( Anyone else having bookmarklet problems in the new browser?

Ikea as the prototypical Teflon multinational. I don't much care for the anti-protester/anti-liberal/anti-anti-globalization tone of this Newsweek article, and facts cited are probably all old news to people more alert than I am, but I was (and still am) looking for substantiation of anti- and pro-Ikea claims. In trying to discuss how Ikea manages to dodge various accusations, the article could well be a clever PR piece contributing to that very effect. (It is Newsweek, after all.)

I'm interested in counter-articles on Ikea if anyone has any. And heck, if you have a labor-friendly furniture chain you'd like to recommend, I'd be interested. (Commentaries on taste are also welcome, though I already understand that McDonald's is lousy food.)

The Lindy Library. Excellent Shockwave demonstrations of dance steps for several dances, with transitions. The sidebar implies a great deal of room to grow, so it looks incomplete, but what's there is very cool.

The significance of the Aeron chair. I don't care what anyone says, I want one. We had nothing but Aerons in my last job-- in the conference rooms and everything-- and I loved it. It's unfortunate that the auction price is awfully close to the retail price; if they were $300, I'd have one by now. and "GEB" FAQ.

American misconceptions about Japan FAQ.

September 14, 2001

Enter the World Intellectual Property Organization essay contest. No, really.

World New York's coverage of the WTC disaster and reactions to it is excellent.

The World Trade towers, exactly two years before the attack. (Thanks jish.)

An uber-geek must-see: A Turing Machine in Conway's Game Life, extendable to a Universal Turing Machine. Something I'd enjoy having as a poster on my wall., The J.S. Bach Home Page.

Flyin' Fido. My sister, now computer savvy, suggested that she and I play some cyberfrisbee sometime. It occurred to me that that was a great idea, but this is the closest I could find. I hope to develop Director skills at some point, so nobody steal my idea. Er, my sister's idea., the freestyle Frisbee page. "Instructional tips, animations and tournament news covering the exciting new sport of Freestyle Frisbee."

Frisbee Physics, a Newton's Apple teacher's guide page. It's actually not that complicated, and the description is short (to accompany a N.A. episode). But lift is cool. I also like the short bibliography.

Try This... Learn more about the three axes of motion. Stand with your arms extended straight out from your sides like the wings of a plane. Bend over at the waist and then bend backwards to imitate pitch. Lean your body from side to side to simulate a roll. Now rotate or twist your body at the waist to do a yaw. What other moves can you imitate? Which ones are the hardest to do?

The Biggest Collection of Patches for Pine. You know, Pine, the email client. You don't use Pine?

September 13, 2001's American Red Cross collection has passed $3 million and continues to grow steadily.

The Internet Fraud Complaint Center recently received several complaints that someone is using the letters, "FBI" or "" in an e-mail address in order to make it seem that the message is coming from an FBI employee. In several cases, the message said, "Your application is approved. Please fill out this form to confirm your identity" and solicited the person's name, address, credit card number and expiration date.

The FBI does NOT e-mail people soliciting information from them. The FBI does NOT request such personal information from people via the internet.

You should always safeguard your credit card numbers and other personal data.

MathWorld has been taken down due to a copyright lawsuit:

Three and one-half years ago, Eric signed a book deal with CRC in which he agreed to provide printed, camera-ready pages for the encyclopedia. He thought he was selling them a printed snapshot of his existing web site, not the whole web site. CRC now claims that he sold them his whole web site, not just a printed book.

I wish I knew enough about copyright law to say for sure, but Eric sounds very much in the right here. I hope the lawsuit completes in his favor soon, so the web site can be restored. See the FAQ for information, links to news stories, and other documents.

Eric's Treasure Troves of Science is not affected. Yay! Eric's sites are just the kind of thing I hope to do with my copious spare time; I can't imagine a more satisfying hobby/job.


Cray Supercomputer FAQ.

Machines in the Myths: The State of Artificial Intelligence.

Yet Another Society (YAS) "is a non-profit 501(3)(c) corporation for the advancement of collaborative efforts in computer and information sciences." YAS collects donations, solicits sponsors and issues grants for Perl development. YAS recently merged with Perl Monks and Perl Mongers, and joined the Unicode Consortium. Damian Conway's efforts in Perl evangelizing and module development are funded by a YAS grant. Core Perl development and touring conferences sounds quite glamorous, though I'm not sure if that's how he'd describe it. I do like the idea of getting in the thick of an important technology enough to speak at conferences or publish papers, though, and that's how I'd like to develop my tech career if possible. That's many steps down the line, though. Just contributing to any open technology seems like a noble, yet attainable, goal.

What is a B-tree? Had to look it up because I knew a B-tree was not a binary tree, but it was bugging me that I couldn't remember what it was. Even more interesting: M-trees, R-trees, and X-trees. Geek!

September 12, 2001

Anyone who has edited Perl code in Emacs (in CPerl mode, or the older Perl mode) knows that it doesn't properly recognize ${aaa}, because it ignores the first curly after the dollar sign (because it thinks it might be a variable), causing the second curly to screw up the paren matching and identing. I always figured the mode was just coded wrong and needed improving, but was surprised that in many versions of Emacs, nobody had fixed this bug. Nor was there a new CPerl mode available that fixes this.

Only recently did I finally find documentation that described why these problems aren't getting fixed. Emacs is too dumb to parse Perl 5, so programmers just have to live with CPerl's idiosyncracies. CPerl comes with help files that describe work-arounds, which you just have to live with:

  • ${aaa} breaks paren matching and indentation. Instead, use $ {aaa}, which is valid in Perl 5 (though not in Perl 4).
  • $a='500$'; causes the second quote to be ignored, convincing CPerl that the quote is still open. You can change CPerl's mind like this: $a='500$'; # ';
  • Certain regexp paren characters confuse CPerl. For example, s#//#/# looks like a comment and will be colored as such, so if (s#//#/#) will mess up paren matching and indentation. s"abc"def" confuses CPerl "a lot".
  • PODs are only basically understood, and here-documents are not treated at all (though highlighting and indentation are inhibited within the blocks).

It's sad that Emacs has to change before we can get proper coloring and indentation in Perl, but you can't entirely blame Emacs: Perl's syntax is awfully wacky. It seems like that if the Perl interpreter can understand it, Emacs should also be able to, but to expect it to be able to do it on the fly is awfully demanding. Oh well.

Seeing Ear Theatre Presents Brian Denehey in Neil Gaiman's Murder Mysteries. Some great radio theater, free on the web. See also the other two shows: Tales From the Crypt with John Ritter, and City of Dreams. (Thanks harb.)

Software Double Bind. NYT on contradictions in the DMCA.

Quick Reference For Choosing a Free Software License.

Programming in the Ruby language (part 1 of 4). Ruby is apparently a popular object-oriented Perl-like programming language. When there were rumors that Perl and Python were merging, I think this is kind of what they had in mind. With Python 2, Perl 6, a possible C++ version 2, I no longer have a good idea of what the future of practical programming will be like. I'm excited at the possibilities, but I'm also a little nervous, because I don't know what to study.

September 11, 2001

The Economist on today's events.

The American Red Cross could use volunteers to help with their emergency phone bank. Seattle residents can volunteer for tonight (11:30pm-6am) or tomorrow (1:30pm-6pm) by calling (206)-726-5362. Training will be provided.

Slashdot is a good source of NYC Disaster links, as is Kottke.

Google's cache of the Red Cross's blood donation page gets you the info while Red Cross's site is down.

NYC Check-in: NYC'ers (and others endangered by today's events) can post "I'm OK" notes here, and others can check to see if their loved ones have posted anything. Use this if you can't get through by phone or email, and spread the word, because it doesn't work if your NYC friends don't know about the page.

There are many ways to contribute funds to the American Red Cross to help with relief efforts. 1-800-HELP-NOW is their monetary donation line. If you can't get through, has set up a donation page using their tip jar mechanism. (Of course, Amazon is waiving its tip jar service fee-- 100% of your donation goes to Red Cross.), CNN's chronology of this morning's attack.

Seattle residents wishing to donate blood to relief efforts in New York City are asked by the Puget Sound Blood Center to please read this press release first:

It is not necessary for everyone to donate blood today. The need for blood will be ongoing over the [next] several weeks, so donors are encouraged to call 1-800-398-7888 for an appointment or to request an appointment online at

Don't let this announcement discourage you from donating, of course, it's just that it isn't worth rushing the blood center today to give, since they're already booked. In addition to the main centers, you can also search for blood drives, though with the generous outpouring of support I'm noticing, I bet they'll be quite busy as well.

Note that there is an especially critical need for blood type O. Blood is classified by types based on the presence or absence of certain molecules, namely the A, B, and Rh (or D) antigens. Blood with the A antigen is of type A, blood with the B antigen is type B, blood with both A and B is type AB, and blood with neither is type O. Additionally, blood is Rh+ (or just "positive") or Rh- ("negative") given the presence or absence of the Rh antigen. If blood with either the A or B antigen is transfused into someone whose blood normally does not possess that antigen, a fatal condition can result; it is therefore best that someone in need receive blood that matches their type. In emergencies, type O blood can be given to anybody, because it possesses neither A nor B antigens. For the same reason, recipients with blood type O can only receive blood of type O. So O is always in demand, especially in major emergencies.

I can't tell with minimal casual research how the Rh antigen affects donations and transfusions; I imagine it's ideal if the Rh factor matches as well, but it isn't mentioned as a conflict in the few sources I've checked. Anyone?

It's nice to see that my blood type, O positive, is supposedly the most prevalent "in the general population," considering the limited number of options I'd have if I needed blood. Still, the best blood in your time of need is your own blood; it's probably worth having some stored away for your own use (in a blood bank), just in case.

September 7, 2001

Shakespeare Porn:

Shakespeare scholars of a more traditional sort might dismiss these X-rated adaptations as nothing more than video-store giggle fodder. But Richard Burt, a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, sees a lot more going on here. In Unspeakable ShaXXXspeares: Queer Theory and American Kiddie Culture (St. Martin's, 1998) and in a number of articles he has published in recent years, Burt argues that these porn adaptations, along with other "dumbed-down" versions of Shakespeare, can provide insights into not just the plays themselves but also the larger workings of American culture in the post-Cold War world. He says a prime motivating force behind these unorthodox renditions is "a new form of cultural imperialism in which Shakespeare is regarded as a native export, as if the United States could claim anything as its own."

XiaoXiao is a small, slick Flash game in the series of ultra-popular stick figure fighting animations.

Candy from strangers. Worth mentioning in addition to the webcam-as-kiddie-porn debate is the more general phenomenon of anonymous, low-commitment low-obligation gift giving. People will buy things for other people even without the webcam, just to be nice, and even for complete strangers. At least, I do. It's a phenomenon made possible only by the address-hiding wish list feature of web stores such as

Did you know that celebrities have wish lists? Can you imagine how many people buy rich celebs stuff off their wish lists anonymously, just for the kick of giving famous people presents? Don't you wish you were a celebrity with a wishlist?

Draft specification for the D Programming Language. While D doesn't seem prominent enough to gain wide acceptance, the design decisions come from an extensive practical background in compiler design.

Trek Today's write-up and the official word on the upcoming Star Trek: The Motion Picture DVD release. The only Trek film not yet on DVD, ST:TMP will get fully remastered and some visuals redone, ala Star Wars Special Edition. A whole extra disc of extras, too. Due in November.

Seattle Cable Franchise Boundaries (map), from the Seattle Office of Cable Communications.

Incidentally, has been named "Best Local Government Web Site" by Government Technology magazine and the Center for Digital Government. Did you know you can pay parking and traffic tickets online in Seattle? Almost makes me wish I had a car!

September 6, 2001

The Censored Cartoons Page. Includes some links to streaming video.

nasa fakes moon landing!

HistoryWired: A few of our favorite things. From the National Museum of American History.

42 Up will get a DVD release on August 28.

Citizen Kane will be released on DVD on September 25th. Two discs, with commentaries by Peter Bogdanovich and Roger Ebert. Will also include the complete two-hour documentary "The Battle Over Citizen Kane."

Gandhi gets a DVD release on August 28. A few extras, including vintage newsreel clips, the making of the photo montage, and more.

Netscape recently made core JavaScript 1.5 documentation available: the Guide and the Reference. See also Netscape's JavaScript Documentation Index.

September 5, 2001

Seattleites that haven't seen this yet: Busview is a Java applet from the University of Washington that shows the location of buses in real time. You can select specific routes, look around the map, and even set alarms that go off when your bus is about to arrive at a particular location (though I'm not entirely sure how to get alarms to work; the little clock in the help file isn't showing up for me). I heard about this a long time ago, but I hadn't seen it until now for some reason.

The UW ITS Research Program runs, which also provides live bus data in the form of time tables. These tables are available for WAP devices as well.

Car drivers might be interested in the real-time WSDOT Puget Sound Traffic Conditions map. Some local cable companies carry an entire channel devoted to displaying this real-time map, along with live images from highway cameras.

A game theory perspective on political correctness. (Thanks Whump.)

The Piececlopedia, an encyclopedia of chess variants. (Thanks Robot Wisdom.)

Fingered by the movie cops. This is already a typical example of how the DMCA is just bad law.

Eight held in $13 million McDonald's games scam. An employee of the marketing firm running McDonald's contests (such as the Monopoly sweepstakes) has been stealing the major winning game pieces before they were distributed. Despite knowing that the major prizes were not available to the general public, McDonald's proceeded with the latest contest at the request of the FBI, so evidence could be collected against the perpetrators. To make it up to their customers, McDonald's will be running a $10 million giveaway in September. (Thanks /usr/bin/girl.)

September 4, 2001

Qwest Asked to Credit Users Over Virus. I've expressed my strong mixed feelings on the issue before, but ultimately it seems like the outage was severe enough that Qwest should give discounts even if it wasn't their "fault", necessarily. I wonder if the virus has caused enough bad PR for Qwest that it threatens to switch their users to cable modems, or if they will in the future if they don't offer some reparations.

I do think Qwest was doing their damnedest to rush repair information to its users as quickly as possible. In addition to putting an informative message at the top of their tech support phone tree and at the front of their web sites, they also sent out unsolicited postal mail describing the problem and the fix, and made unsolicited phone calls to all DSL customers as a check-up.

On the other hand, these little Cisco routers are marketed as self-contained, self-sustaining devices that don't require maintenance. Qwest, Cisco and experienced sysadmins knew about the exploit in the router software for almost a year before this happened, and no effort was made to inform mainstream users and businesses of the vulnerability and how to fix it. Once again, I can't help but think that Qwest is negligent in not offering a known working solution (erasing and replacing the CBOS, then reconfiguring) simply because the support costs are a little high, and instead insisting that our hardware is suffering from some kind of natural disaster and it can't be helped.

By the way, in case I haven't mentioned, Qwest has dropped support for the Cisco 675 in all new installations, so if you have a 675 and you move (like I just did), you'll have to buy a new Cisco 678. I'm still waiting on mine. *sigh* I miss my DSL.

Days of the week and months of the year in many different languages. (Thanks LaxeFXDan and whim & vinegar.)

Cringely tells you how to roll your own DSL.

Telephone Exchanges, Gone But Not Forgotten. This weird blog-like story from AARP has a few neat links about telephones and area codes. What jumped out at me was the mention that and both have reverse lookup functionality, even including partial phone number searches. I guess I always figured that power was considered too invasive to put into public hands, but I never really had a good explanation for that assumption.