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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

October 2001 Archives

October 31, 2001

Tomorrow it begins.

1,667 words a day. For 30 days. In the hopes the end result will resemble a novel.

Lisa is acting like I'm about to leave town for four weeks. I hope it won't be that bad, but I really don't think I can have anything else planned if I expect to cross the finish line. I am thinking of attending the We Did It party in Oakland on December 1, though...

Over 3,000 participants this year, all over the world. 40+ in the Seattle area alone. I've talked at least five people into doing it, I hope they won't hold me responsible if they, um, don't enjoy themselves.

Happy Halloween, everybody. (And don't forget Sweeney Todd on PBS-- tonight or tomorrow night, check local listings.)

While researching Nerf Crotchbats, Dan discovered a Harvard linguistics course web site that has a transcription of the SNL commercial parody in the International Phonetic Alphabet.

These switchboard transcription course materials are of similar interest in the study of English dialects.

Best 404 page ever.

Earth has a second moon, of sorts.

This plexiglass car MP3 player PC has been popular on the blogs lately. I can't get enough project pages with photos, they're so cool!

Some word count statistics on BrainLog, in preparation for NaNoWriMo:

  • Number of entries: 1551
  • Total words since the beginning: 168,784
  • Average words per entry: 108
  • Most verbose month: May 2000, 12,828 words
  • Least verbose month: February 2001, 398 words (only blogged two days)

Technically, the longest entry is March 23, 2000, at 1125 words, but counting words per entry is actually a bit unfair. Before a certain date, an entire day's worth of posts is stored as one entry.

Keep in mind that to reach 50,000 words in thirty days, I have to average over 1,600 words a day. I'll be shooting for 2,000 words/day with more on weekends, to allow me some editing time near the end, as well as keeping a cushion in case I, say, need to work late one day or something.

October 30, 2001

DVD Sewer notices something fishy with the upcoming DVD release of ET:

As you may know, Universal Studios & Steven Spielberg will be releasing an enhanced "Special Edition" of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial in theaters in March 2002. As part of this release, the film has been enhanced with new special effects, additional footage, and an all-new digitally mastered soundtrack (sound familiar???). Further changes and alterations have been made, as evidenced below. We will not remark on this, but simply leave you with two images, one from the original/current edition of E.T., and the other taken from the new trailer for the Special Edition re-release (included on Universal's DVD release of The Grinch)...

(Somehow I managed to miss the news about the new E.T. Special Edition DVD. Hm.)

TinyApps.Org, "a guide to very small software for your PC." This is a fantastic idea, if only because I'm sick of seeing 2MB installations for screen capture software.

The Museum of Unworkable Devices.

How To Ask Questions The Smart Way:

... [H]ackers have a reputation for meeting simple questions with what looks like hostility or arrogance. It sometimes looks like we're reflexively rude to newbies and the ignorant. But this isn't really true.

What we are, unapologetically, is hostile to people who seem to be unwilling to think or do their own homework before asking questions. ...

The ultimate objection to this way of thinking is that despite (possibly) good intentions of everyone involved, it still generates an intimidating atmosphere for those seeking knowledge. To be honest, however, I owe much of what I know today (about technology, anyway) to that intimidating atmosphere; in order to ask J. Random Hacker a question without pissing them off, I've had to figure out as much as I could about the question before I could ask it. Oftentimes I would find the answer without having to ask, and learn much more in the process. This is surprisingly more efficient than it sounds: the extra stuff I would learn along the way was often necessary to understand the answer I would have received in the first place-- again, especially applicable in the field of technology.

But teaching people to fish by starving them can have casualties, which is why it's important to take the F out of RTFM. Sometimes.

October 29, 2001

BlogTracker lets you read your weblogs, your way! One of my pet projects for almost two years now (formerly known as "The SubHonker Filter"), BT needed to be upgraded a bit for the Weblogs.com overhaul, so I took the opportunity to clean up some stuff and add some seriously needed features. I'm hesitant to do a full relaunch, as more weblogs need to migrate to the new Weblogs.com system before it's truly useful, but it's useful enough. I've been rushing to clean it up because it'd be too tempting to work on it instead of my NaNovel next month, over which I'm already a tad nervous. :)

DVD Savant reviews Metropolis. This is not a review of a new Metropolis DVD, alas, but rather of a screening of a new digital restoration. Mr. Erickson might have more difficulty claiming this "THE screening of 2001" if he had seen Apocalypse Now: Redux or the new 2001: A Space Odyssey (which got astonishingly little play in theaters). The good news is that all three of these landmark restorations are likely to make it to brand new feature-packed DVDs, or so I would hope.

Metropolis has been a very difficult film to reconstruct and restore, thanks to a very rocky history scattering many versions across the globe, where they were poorly cared for. I imagine this is also partly why a good version of the film is so terribly difficult to find on DVD (though I've seen screenings of great prints, so why aren't they on DVD?). This article mentions that even more additional material has been found, which will probably make it into future restoration efforts.

See also my July 18th entry on Metropolis, which has all kinds of juicy links about Metropolis on DVD.

Stupid dispute between Disney and Pixar threatens Toy Story 3. I guess it's not that stupid, but if TS3 has a chance of being half as good as the first two, I think Disney should give Pixar a little slack, is what I think!

red robot's journey. Inspired by A Robot Story by Sam Brown, who is famous for the brilliant explodingdog.com where he draws pictures based on viewer-contributed titles.

The official web site for The Man Who Wasn't There, the next Coen Brothers movie, is up.

Photoshop Tennis: Heather Champ versus Derek Powazek.

October 27, 2001

Daylight Saving Time ends at 2am tomorrow morning. Fall back.

SSSCA hearings postponed due to mounting opposition from the "technology community".

October 26, 2001

Tech companies don't like the SSSCA. Some media companies don't like the proposed bill in its current form, though would likely support similar legislation stated differently:

"The MPAA agrees with the goals of the Hollings bill, that is, for the private parties to negotiate an agreement on Internet standards for content encryption, watermarking (and) digital rights management," MPAA President Jack Valenti said in a statement. "When an agreement is reached by the private parties, we will all then together support appropriate legislation regarding copyright protection in digital devices."

Bill Gates Films 'Frasier' Episode, to air November 13, during sweeps.

Why Birds Fly in V Formation.

Have use for the more obscure O'Reilly books, but don't want to buy the books? Subscribe to Safari and have access to pretty much the entire O'Reilly library online (300 volumes now, "the rest later"). At their least expensive plan, you can have access to five books at once for $10/month. It's actually a "point" system, so for $10 you get 5 points that you can spend on books ranging from 1/2 point to 3 points each, with most books 1 point each. You get 10 points for $15. Change which books you have open each month. The full text of the entire library is searchable and browsable. This wouldn't be worth it if you'd only use a few titles, but the library is so large now that it could actually be quite useful for those that dabble in many subjects (assuming you haven't bought them all already). Searchable complete texts can be quite useful.

Safari is also a good way to get access to out-of-print O'Reilly titles.

PuTTY: a free Win32 telnet/ssh client.

PC Power and Cooling, Inc. has ultra-quiet PC power supplies. Hopefully my sig. other will let me keep my servers when they arrive and I get them installed.

October 25, 2001

Now More Than Ever, Humanity Needs My Back To The Future Fan Fiction. (It's likely nobody will laugh as hard as I did at this, but I enjoyed it immensely. :)

The C Terrain, a C programming tutorial:

For a few minutes, let us consider that mu-Pee is a beautiful girl standing at the other end of this terrain and you are a handsome man. Terrain being rough and large, its impossible for you to communicate anything to her. But, you are dying to fall in love with the girl. What will you do? Any suggestions? Ask me, I'll take out a heart shaped balloon, fill it with gas and let it free. What do you think would be mu-Pee's response?

[...]

Now you have the idea, that the programs you write in C, are actually translated to language of mu-Pee by Mr. Compiler. As long as Mr. Compiler is doing his job, you need not worry about the internal functioning of the mu-Pee and hence your computer.

Handspring announces the Treo. Coming in 2002, this PDA/cell-phone combo has a windowed flip-cover, and an optional thumby keyboard in place of a Graffiti area. I'd groan except for two things: 1) there will be a color version, and 2) it looks deliciously small in their scale photos. A little pricey, though, even for the B&W verison...

If you receive a suspicious package, what should you do? Movies always made me think bombs came in well-made containers with digital timers. Mailroom FBI warnings make me think bombs come in leaky, greasey, smelly paper packages with too much postage. Something tells me the reality is somewhere in between.

October 24, 2001

Does a bear shit in the woods? Does it shit prime numbers?

Best Halloween Costume Ever! (Link and tag stolen from Dan.)

CafePress has colored t-shirts! Requires an up-front set-up fee, but it's still cheaper than traditional screen printing, and all available through their web interface. Also, the colored shirts only support designs based on spot colors, so no photographs or fancy designs (like you can with their white shirts). Available colors are Black, Navy Blue, Orange, Red and Yellow.

Building a Large-scale E-commerce Site with Apache and mod_perl.

The Berry Paradox and Incompleteness.

(Back in March I mentioned this concise article on Berry's Paradox, which is good supplemental reading to the above lecture transcript.)

October 23, 2001

JohnColtrane.com is an amazing site about the jazz artist. The elegant Flash-based interface features an entire album's worth of streamed music (!!) in the background.

Anthrax-contaminated buildings can be cleaned, supposedly.

Someday it would be fun to write my own software for a Gameboy Advance. Blank cartridges are supposedly about $175 ea, so it sounds a little silly, but wouldn't you, if you could?

DomainWatch is a nice little domain name whois service. (Thanks Shawn.)

Ikonboard seems to be the prefered free web message board software for many. Very featureful, easy to manage, and with no built-in ads (just a requirement to preserve a link back to the Ikonboard home page).

Oracle8 Server SQL Reference.

October 22, 2001

The RIAA Wants to Hack Your PC. The Recording Industry Association of America wants to make it legal for copyright holders to hack into your computer and delete files, and be obsolved of any responsibility for data losses caused by their hacking activities. They tried to tack this on to an anti-terrorism bill last week. They have since abandoned this amendment, but will be back with "a more modest approach."

This particular attempt has interesting, specific motivations:

The RIAA's interest in the USA Act, an anti-terrorism bill that the Senate and the House approved last week, grew out of an obscure part of it called section 815. Called the "Deterrence and Prevention of Cyberterrorism" section, it says that anyone who breaks into computers and causes damage "aggregating at least $5,000 in value" in a one-year period would be committing a crime.

If the current version of the USA Act becomes law, the RIAA believes, it could outlaw attempts by copyright holders to break into and disable pirate FTP or websites or peer-to-peer networks. Because the bill covers aggregate damage, it could bar anti-piracy efforts that cause little harm to individual users, but meet the $5,000 threshold when combined.

It gets better! The RIAA also wants to use Denial of Service attacks against suspected pirates:

The new strategy would take advantage of file-swapping networks' own weaknesses, amplifying them to the point where download services appear even more clogged and slow to function than they are today. Because most peer-to-peer services are unregulated, the quality of connections and speed of downloads already varies wildly based on time of day and geographic location.

This use of technology would be considered illegal and immoral under pretty much any circumstances. Two wrongs don't make a right, fellas.

ALICE victorious in AI challenge.

According to Color Census 2000, the number one favorite Crayola color is blue.

FindSounds.com, a sound search engine.

October 20, 2001

SSSCA Hearing October 25th.

SlashDot and NewsForge seem primarily concerned with the SSSCA's impact on Open Source software, and rightly so. The implications of the SSSCA on Open Source software aren't widely understood, nor are the freedom issues behind Open Source software and their importance. Perhaps part of the Open Source concern, the thing that scares me most about the SSSCA is its primary effect: to broadly regulate all data technology to what moneyed industry groups decide.

Congress.org is one of many places where you can look up your representatives' contact information.

October 18, 2001

The GPS Drawing Project encourages you to grab your Global Positioning System and drive around in shapes.

Steve Martin gets a public radio show: Comedy College profiles comedians.

Something Is Killing Off the Sims, and It's Not by Accident.

Experience Zen. Fun interactive presentation on meditation. Not terribly instructive, but fun.

Piano Supplies.com, a division of Piano World.com.

October 17, 2001

New games at Orisinal since I last blogged them: The Truth Is Up There and Chicken Wings are Not For Flying-- two of their best. Bubble Bees is still one of my all-time favorite games, and there are other good ones there, too.

Elmo to begin eating children on January 9, 2002; also awarding prizes.

YMH Digital Music Publishing, a business alliance of three big music product companies, released their first software product: v-Player, a freeware program for learning music available for purchase online.

Music123.com has a closeout sale of the RD600 digital piano, selling for $1539.99.

The Tourist Of Death has become a morbid little Internet meme. His first appearance in a fake 9-11 photo supposedly taken from the top of the WTC just as a plane was coming in has inspired dozens of other fake disaster photos with his presence, including some from movies and video games.

October 16, 2001

The Random Programming Languages List lists some beautiful and ugly toy programming languages. I've always felt that some of the best geek humor is in the form of toy programming languages.

This webring of esoteric languages has more valid URLs. Cat's Eye Technologies seems to be home to a bunch, including their own list of others. The Wierd Programming Language is particularly cool.

PBS to air a new concert version of Sweeney Todd on Halloween Night, featuring Patti Lupone and George Hearn. PBS will even have an accompanying web site. Many thanks to Matt for bringing this to my attention.

I would pay over a hundred dollars for a VHS copy of the original Angela Lansbury Sweeney Todd performance. I would pay three times that for a DVD. Seriously, anybody got a tape I can dub? Our local gourmet video store used to have it; I couldn't find it last time I was there, and their search engine is currently broken. (They required a $300 deposit to check it out, which I didn't have years ago when I was in there frequently.)

Boom Box. This long article on how TiVo will destroy commercial television is neat, if only for the photographs-- which, by the way, have their own behind-the-scenes video and stills. (Thanks hit-or-miss.)

The Ultimate Linux Box 2001: How to Design Your Dream Machine.

October 15, 2001

Lego Mindstorms robot can solve a Rubik's Cube. I sympathize with Anil's geek quotient jealousy; I feel that way every time I find a description of someone's cool electronics projects. I love being able to write software that can do whatever I want, but to build hardware that can do whatever I want? That'd kick ass.

:)

Terror Bill Clears Senate.

With the cooperation of some very large corporations, the W3C was considering allowing companies to patent technology that the W3C standardizes, and collect royalties. Apple and HP have since dropped their support of royalty-bound W3C standards. I'm a little confused about motives all around (I can only assume), but I hope everyone is simply coming to their senses.

I'm no fool, I understand that closed standards are an important hallmark in this industry of ideas. I guess I mostly associate the W3C with somewhat "obvious" standards-- you know, the HTML that you can write by hand. HTML would probably make for a less obvious patent than some awful things we've seen get patented recently, but it still seems like something so basic should be accessible to everyone. More importantly, something so commonplace should be accessible to everyone, but that's a somewhat separate issue.

October 12, 2001

The 5th Avenue Theatre (in Seattle) is currently doing A Little Night Music, one of my favorite Sondheim shows. I just saw it, it was fantastic; a wonderful cast, stellar set design, and a great show all around. The run is almost over, but you may still be able to get tickets to their recently-added American Red Cross benefit performance this Sunday, October 14 at 7pm. 100% of the $25 general admission ticket price goes to ARC. (I paid $55 each for regular tickets, so you'll have a bunch of reasons to feel privileged when you go to Sunday's show.)

If you like TV/movie celebrities in your theater, I should add that Hayley Mills was fantastic. Theater fans will know other names, like Robert Cuccioli and Claire Bloom. But the entire cast is equally strong, so go for the whole lot.

Speaking of Sondheim, if I haven't mentioned it already, the Broadway version of Assassins, originally set to debut next month, has been cancelled in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11. Assassins is an important show that deserves Broadway treatment, but its already-controversial treatment of its subject matter could very easily be very unpopular so soon after the attacks. It doesn't do anybody any good to release the show at a time where it could so easily be misunderstood (and potentially be a huge financial failure). I hope those involved in the production decide to revive the effort, say, six months from now. I was very much looking forward to Assassins on Broadway, and will continue to look forward to it until the time is right.

A little good news: it sounds like Into The Woods will get a Broadway revival soon.

Sondheim.com has lyrics on the front page as a sort of reaction to 9-11, from both Assassins and Into The Woods. A message in the chat boards (now the entirety of Sondheim.com beyond the front page, and not much to it, either) astutely suggests that ITW has many themes relevant to war.

Lindqvist.com explains the Bert+Osama Reuters photo.

Noam Chomsky on MSNBC.com.

Understanding Turbans.

Atollo is a brick-building toy garnering geek attention from its ability to create complex shapes using only two kinds of pieces. Atollo was recently mentioned on Slashdot, and was immediately "Slashdotted". I'm often amused by the Slashdot effect and its unintended consequences. For those that don't know, the "Slashdot effect" (being Slashdotted) is when a highly trafficked website, especially a weblog, mentions a small website, and all the readers of the weblog visit the website virutally simultaneously, overloading the small website's server and making it unavailable in a matter of hours or minutes. (The effect has been renamed "the MetaFilter effect" in the case of MetaFilter; it's all the same thing.) Sometimes this results in the maintainer of the web site putting up a message greeting Slashdot or MetaFilter readers.

I was amused in this case because according to the message Atollo put up, the mention on Slashdot has actually resulted in a spike in demand for the product, as well as for the website. Weblogs are great word-of-mouth mechanisms.

Even before the Atollo mention, I'd been thinking about how many different kinds of building toys there are out there, and which ones were more successful than others. It's interesting how many "classic" building toys there are, and how difficult it must be for a new kind of building toy to break into the market. MemePool did the work for me of trying to think of a bunch of others and link to their websites.

A nice, fair Linux v. Windows 2000 review, with good advice for IT folks attempting to integrate both in an office environment.

Tools to Check Your Site. (Thanks Absolute Piffle.)

October 11, 2001

Buy Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inqu... and get Motorcycle Basics Manual (Haynes Automotive Repair... at an additional 5% off Amazon.com's everyday low price.

-- Amazon.com

The ACLU has a chart of Wiretapping Provisions of Anti-Terrorism Legislation being considered by Congress, compared to current law. See also the CDT's guide (PDF format).

I am so doing this.

October 10, 2001

Amazon.com implements paginated wish lists! Hooray!

Scott Adams: Storytelling in Computer Games, Past Present and Future. Lots of transcript and audio of Scott Adams on interactive fiction.

Moulin Rouge will be out on DVD on December 18. Two discs with tons of features, including two commentaries (one on production, another on writing), lots of behind-the-scenes footage, re-cut scenes, early drafts of the screenplay, multi-angle dance sequences, music videos, easter eggs, and more! I'd ask someone to get it for me for Christmas, but I think I'm going to pre-order it instead.

Quake: The Movie.

TV, film execs reassess scheduling, content in the wake of the disaster, including the removal of a twin-towers scene in the new Spiderman movie.

KITT vs. Megacar. (Thanks danelope.)

October 8, 2001

Sweet Fancy Moses presents Amazon.com Customers Comment on the American Film Institute's Top 20 Films of the 20th Century. (Thanks Listology.)

Rec.Music.Makers.Piano FAQ Locator Page.

Salon has a nice little article on how Microsoft uses filename extensions as monopolistic practice.

A key point behind a lot of how Microsoft abuses its position in the industry is near the end of the article: "The power of "default" settings lies in users' ignorance and inertia." This is also what makes the government's task a difficult one: the only real good way to fight this manipulation of the mainstream user is to mandate software design, which is exactly what the government wants to avoid (and probably should).

The issue of registered file types is also what motivates competitors to aggressively steal file type associations when their application is installed, and even defend the association when other applications try to steal them for themselves. Applications, especially media file players like RealPlayer, have had to force an awkward file type management system upon users to stay competitive.

One could say that this is where the article's argument falls apart: Any program can be aggressive about file types, it's not limited to MS products. But the article is talking about bundling issues. The operating system maintains a system of default applications, and allowing alternate software-- such as, say, Netscape-- to be bundled with computers isn't enough if it isn't very easy for the user to change their defaults.

October 1, 2001

Congress Plans DMCA Sequel: The Security Systems Standards and Certification Act (SSSCA). (See also this Wired article.) This early draft of the SSSCA calls for digital rights management to be required by law in all personal computers. Imagine if all computers everywhere could only use data certified by a third-party company. Imagine if all non-compliant technology (regardless of how it is used) was outlawed.

Assuming writing letters to congresspeople is still an effective way to communicate public interest (is it?), the time to write those letters is now, while this threat is still being drafted.

Thankfully (and predictably), the PC industry doesn't like it.

How to lobby effectively for your Constitutional rights.

Talking to Your Child About the WTC Attack.

I enjoy Microsoft FUD because it's just so blatant. I won't recount the whole Microsoft-and-Java story, as great a story as it is, but you can see what I mean from the Microsoft Technologies for Java page. MS wants to drop support of Java applets from their web browser, but they don't want to seem like the result is a broken browser, so they continue to make "the Microsoft virtual machine for Java" available. So the next time you visit a page using Java applets with Internet Explorer 6, you will automatically be given the opportunity to download a big ol' plug-in: "Download your free copy of the Microsoft VM (build 3802) for Microsoft Internet Explorer today. Connection fees may apply." Connection fees?

See more wonderful features of IE6, including MSXML 3.0. I didn't think it was possible to embrace and extend XML. *smirk*

UW Outreach has a new Game Programming Certificate Course for experienced C++ programmers. Neat!

Eugene Scalia, the Ergonomic Enemy:

... Scalia refers to repetitive-stress injuries, which afflict 600,000 American workers annually, as "junk science," "quackery," and "strange." Though ergonomics is a well-documented science, he paints repetitive-stress injury as a "psychosocial issue"--in effect, calling those who suffer from it fakers. "The evidence is clear," Scalia has written, "that the employees most likely to complain of musculoskeletal discomfort are those who do not like their jobs."

If I had work-related musculoskeletal discomfort, I wouldn't like my job, either.

NIST Plans to "Stabilize" Kilogram Standard. I didn't realize it needed stabilizing, but I can understand that it'd be more accurate to define mass in terms of other things besides a hunk of metal. (Below the article, Global Engineering Documents says they'd "like to know how you feel about an electronic standard for mass." I think it's fantastic, and plan on telling them so the next chance I get!)

New Visors released. The two new models aren't all that impressive, I'm afraid. The Visor Neo is 8MB, has the new faster processor, and comes in three colors. The Visor Pro is 16MB, has the new faster processor, and is rechargable. Both have grey-scale screens; I was hoping we'd get better, cheaper color screens on new models, but I guess they haven't figured out how to make them thinner yet. Still, I'd love a rechargeable Visor, so the Pro or the existing color Prism are both interesting options.

We've needed major strides in the Palm OS-based palmtops for a while now, and these aren't exactly them. If I were still actively trying to work a portable device into my lifestyle, I'd probably go with an WinCE-based device. I gave up on my old Visor because it got a little too unreliable: dying batteries erasing data (mostly thanks to a bug that appears to disable auto-shut-off after a HotSync), third-party add-on programs crashing the device in weird ways requiring a hard reset (which erases data), and repeated lost connections during syncs (possibly due to AvantGo, but could also be due to the other USB devices I have connected...?). And I don't have a bus commute any more, nor do I ever leave my desk at work, so...