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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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 2002 Archives

April 30, 2002

What's wrong with Hollings' privacy bill.

A very pretty Periodic Table of the Elements. (Thanks Rebecca.)

Google Answers! Give a question you want answered and a price you're willing to pay (as little as $4), and researchers will scour the web for your answer. FYI: Librarians do this for free, are college trained on this very skill, and will use more than just the web in their search for your answer.

5th District GOP hopeful wants a tax on science fiction to fund NASA. It's just like taxing gasoline to pay for road repair! Brilliant! Other spacey ideas mentioned imply Williams is more interested in funding NASA than taxing science fiction (as well as "space, space-related, and science fiction toys, puzzles and games"), perhaps under the belief that science and science fiction is more ubiquitous and more popular than it is.

April 26, 2002

Incriminati [Flash w/ music]. Quick, dude! Your parents are coming! Fun little drag-n-drop game.

Brain Candy will be released on DVD on July 16. (Thanks dollarshort.org.)

Computer Associates is supposedly the world's No. 4 software maker. I know this from an article about a near-miss with a federal inquiry regarding acquisitions of other giant technology companies I've never heard of, which I found because I was trying to figure out what Computer Associates actually sold. I was trying to figure out what Computer Associates actually sold because I've seen several hilarious television ads from them, which I can't link to because AdCritic isn't back up yet. Computer Associates, by the way, sells solutions.

Qarbon ViewletBuilder 3 lets you easily build animated tutorials and presentations quickly and easily. Make animated demonstrations or tutorials of software, including capturing mouse movements and selections, then annotate with titles and even sounds and narration. Your clients can then view the animated demo over the web, using a Java-enabled web browser. Especially impressive: a freeware version is available to download and use! Their web site has a demo presentation.

April 25, 2002

What's new in the new Into The Woods. Milky White is played by an actor. More choreography. Three little pigs. Judi Dench is the voice of the Giant. Two wolves.

Internet Explorer's Back button may be dangerous. I've been worried about next-in-line browser security for a long time (security environments of one site and the next site you visit) just because I'm paranoid, but never got around to testing browsers. What got my attention was noticing unusual (but mostly innocuous) behavior with server referer logs in edge cases. Normally, when I link to a site and you click on that link, the site's logs will show that not only did you visit, but you came from my site. At some point I got the impression that there are circumstances where I don't have to link to the site for my site to show up in their referer logs, but I never got around to verifying this...

Donate to Scarleteen. Straight talk about sex for teenagers deserves support. (Thanks David Chess.)

South downtown pays for beat cops. Finally! Not that I expect beat cops really cut down on crime. The U District is crawling with cops and is still a pretty dangerous neighborhood (editorial referring to this attack and this business closure). But if the U District is notable for police presence, the I District is notable for a lack of police presence. On a good night there is a surprising number of people down here, but most nights it's completely deserted.

April 24, 2002

Five Things You Probably Didn't Notice in The Shining. (Thanks Zannah.)

TextArc, a gorgeous visual interpretation of large texts. See Hamlet drawn in an interactive spiral, or Alice and Wonderland.

Last year's blockbusters and Oscar contenders are setting DVD release dates. Gosford Park, June 25. Lord of the Rings, Fellowship of the Ring, August 6. The Royal Tenenbaums, July 9. Of course, those released earlier last year are already out: The Man Who Wasn't There, Memento, Sexy Beast. Hooray for Netflix for giving me an opportunity to catch up on what I missed last year!

A sin tax on soda? As an on-again off-again Coke addict who could stand to lose a few pounds, I support the idea of campaigning against junk food. Like most junk food, soda is mostly consumed because it's cheap and easily accessible. Soda consumption amounts to mountains of empty calories, and since diet sodas taste like poison, what are students to drink when tap water seems insufficient?

The tax isn’t big enough to change drinking habits, [California State Senator Deborah V. Ortiz] says, but the proceeds would fund school and public health programs to mitigate the consequences of soft-drink consumption. Recent studies show that sodas account for "huge infusions of sugar" and are replacing milk and other nutritious beverages in children’s diets, she adds. The tax money would be used partly to replace funds that schools would lose by dropping contracts with soda companies to sell pop on campus.

Whether or not a sin tax is the way to go, this seems to be an appropriate way to fund a campaign against soda sponsorship in public schools. If it isn't the government's place to say what's good for people, then why are public schools allowed to accept soda distribution contracts, often exclusive, to install vending machines on campus? Given the choice between a $1 bottle of sugary caffeinated soda available from vending machines every 50 feet and a $2 bottle of juice from the back of the cafeteria, what will most junior high students choose? (And don't tell me soda machines in schools meets a "market demand" just because kids like them and they aren't required to drink soda.) To this end, we could just ban this kind of sponsorship in public schools altogether-- no vending machines, and especially no exclusivity agreements-- but it sounds like schools can't afford not to sign those kinds of contracts.

April 23, 2002

Salon.com: Triumph of the mod. "Player-created additions to computer games aren't a hobby anymore -- they're the lifeblood of the industry."

How to Think About Security, by computer security guru Bruce Schneier.

If security has a silly season, we're in it. After September 11, every two-bit peddler of security technology crawled out of the woodwork with new claims about how his product can make us all safe again. Every misguided and defeated government security initiative was dragged out of the closet, dusted off, and presented as the savior of our way of life. More and more, the general public is being asked to make security decisions, weigh security tradeoffs, and accept more intrusive security.

Unfortunately, the general public has no idea how to do this.

Seattle-area bowling alleys. Hooray!

Do you have Qwest telephone or DSL service? Do you hate it? Sure, we all do! tsewQ.com is "here to unite victims of the unethical, illegal business practices of Qwest/US West. Our goal is to initiate reform in the telecommunications industry and to make Qwest/U S West accountable for its many crimes which include, but are not limited to; WRONGFUL BILLING, ABUSE OF POWER, INTIMIDATION, and DECEPTION."

In particular, the MSN-Qwest deal seems to have all kinds of class-action lawsuit-worthy bits to it. If you don't like MSN as your DSL service provider, you must go 30 days without DSL service and still pay Qwest for that month. My mother tried to cancel the MSN account that came with her Qwest DSL line, and was told she had agreed to a service contract and would have to pay $800 in order to switch to another provider (supposedly the value of the contract). She doesn't recall ever agreeing to any such contract, and I'm confident she was never explicitly told of one.

Anti-phone company sites abounds-- well, at least a few of those are still up.

April 20, 2002

On Saturday, April 20, thousands will converge in Washington, DC, San Francisco, Salt Lake City and Seattle to demand a change of course in the nation's aggressive foreign policy, and a reversal of post-9/11 evisceration of civil liberties. In Seattle, a variety of events are planned throughout the afternoon opposing unjust policies of the IMF and World Bank, US military support of Israel’s unlawful war against the Palestinian people, and expansion of the so-called 'war on terror'.

...

UPDATE: SPD admits to student organizers and faculty that its highly-publicized A20 threat assessment was exaggerated and unsupported by evidence.... SCCC has reversed its decision to close; events will take place as scheduled.

More at Seattle Independent Media Center.

An internal security announcement at my workplace claimed a "news account" cited a protest organization representative as saying civil disobedience is being encouraged. I also overheard that police at first claimed the march would possibly pose a terrorist threat and should be treated as such, but has since backed down on the claim-- though I have no definite source on that bit, so that's possibly as much rumor as the "threat" itself. Nevertheless, any lefty marches in Seattle, no matter how peaceful, tend to bring out the tear gas and pellet gun riot control. Here's hoping for a smooth and productive protest.

April 19, 2002

A.1., an epic tale of a condiment. One of the best film reviews I've ever read. From MetaPhilm.

The Good Life/Good Neighbors Webguide, about the classic BBC sitcom. Solid acting, quality writing and a charming premise and scenarios made this a television show above all television shows. 30 episodes total, including four series of seven episodes each, and two specials.

Videos are available (in NTSC for us US'ers), though I don't think all 30 episodes are represented. Especially good news for US fans: the entire last season will be released on DVD in the U.S. next month, including the Royal Command Performance special!

Live in Washington State? Not registered to vote, or have moved since your last registered address? Washington State makes it deliciously easy [PDF] to register to vote-- second only to online registration, which will be many years off, I'm sure. With Acrobat Reader 4.0, you can fill out the form in your browser window and print out the completed form. Sign it, mail it in, and you're done. (Thanks Bird on a Wire.)

April 18, 2002

now i remember: Chuck Palahniuk on Memento and note taking. Chuck retells a story from Plato's Phaedrus:

[The great god-king] Thamus ruled that writing was a "pharmakon." Like the word "drug," it could be used for good or bad. It could cure or poison.

According to Thamus, writing would allow humans to extend their memories and share information. But more importantly, writing would allow humans to rely too much on these external means of recording. Our own memories would wither and fail. Our notes and records would replace our minds.

Worse than that, written information can’t teach, according to Thamus. You can’t question it, and it can’t defend itself when people misunderstand it and misrepresent it. Written communication gives people what Thamus called "the false conceit of knowledge," a fake certainty that they understand something.

Contrary to what you may think, I didn't name this weblog "BrainLog" because I think I'm smart. It was intended as an extension of my brain, a place to put information I've picked up and might want to use later, or work through ideas (my own or those of others) to better understand them. What it has become, of course, is a place I put things I haven't read but intend to read later, and often don't. And those cases and cases of books I own, I've never properly read, but keep in case one day I may need their knowledge-- as if that's good enough.

If my weblog upholds Thamus' first point, I dare say weblogs prove to defeat the second. When webloggers read each other's weblogs, pass along information and opinions, exchange emails and post comments, the writing can be questioned, and can defend itself against misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Information technology such as the web optimizes the written word, inheriting advantages and disadvantages of both oral and written communication. No wonder people are so excited about this personal publishing thing-- and no wonder some are quick to decry its approval.

We must not confuse the thrill of acquiring or distributing information quickly with the more daunting task of converting it into knowledge and wisdom.

-- Technorealism (thanks librarian.net)

April 17, 2002

O'Reilly on emergent technologies of our future. I'm particularly amused with the description of how O'Reilly spiders Amazon.com for sales data, and the lauding of XML and web services as the wave of the future. "Amazon-powered library catalogs, anyone?" The thesis seems more timely than it is, with Google's web-service API and all.

April 16, 2002

Gateway Launches Ad Campaign Against Copyright Bill. See the ad, download free music, and read about intellectual property rights from a corporate advocate's perspective at their web site.

"We feel like there's a lack of awareness about this pending legislation," said Brad Williams, director of communications at Gateway.

Williams said Gateway was currently negotiating with several recording companies to make more digital music available on its site.

"It's up to all of us to make buying music about as easy as stealing it," Williams said.

Back to Belltown, by Clark Humphrey. "Belltown is cool. Belltown is crappy. Belltown is cool again. Now Belltown is kind of crappy. Can the pricey neighborhood be revived one more time?" (Thanks Anita.)

This email is to notify you that I received an invasive and illegal automated telephone solicitation this afternoon from your company DHS Enterprises, or 'Your Home Careers.' The use of Automatic dialing and announcing devices to Washington State residents is illegal. Your company now owes me $500 by state law. I have preserved the message that was left on my answering machine as proof for the court.

Response: "Agreed! Here's a check!"

April 15, 2002

Studying life through artificial societies.

Google Begins Making DMCA Takedowns Public.

DVD Benchmark's Progressive Scan Primer. (Thanks qJason.)

We also want to warn you: if you have a progressive-scan DVD player that you are happy with, you probably should not read this report. With some of these artifacts, you are much better off not knowing they are there, because once you start to notice them, they’ll drive you nuts, and then you will inevitably need to replace your player. We’re quite serious here – it’s happened to us....

April 12, 2002

Salon.com: Anti-Trustworthy computing and the dangers of a technological monoculture.

Bank error in your favor. Yeah, that happens.

Magic Bullet Suite 1.0 announced at the National Association of Broadcasters conference. Developed by The Orphanage, a company founded by former Industrial Light & Magic visual effects artists, Magic Bullet brings professional post-production mastering techniques to Adobe After Effects, allowing filmmakers to (among many other things) maintain a film-like look while transferring between formats, emulate various film stocks, lenses and filters, lab processes and color correction techniques. Mac only (OS 9 and X) to start, with two versions: one limited to NTSC and PAL resoltuions ($995) and another with unlimited resolution support ($1995).

The Tennis Server. Tennis anyone?

April 11, 2002

The Annotated Valenti, from Yale Law School's LawMeme. Deconstructing these kinds of statements from industry folk both helps to expose a hidden agenda and helps to clarify some important points that are difficult to understand (which industry folk would like to confuse in the minds of Congresspersons). It could very well be that Valenti doesn't understand the basic rights the CBTDPA encroaches upon, because the issues are genuinely complicated.

Sony's new Clie might just get me interested in handhelds again. Pics and animated demos are available on the official site.

Who vs. Whom. Lots of resources on the web clarify when to use what pronoun, but I'm more interested in justifications for or against having this distinction in the English language. Use is weakening, and I'm all in favor of evolutionary language and ditching old concepts that are falling out of use. But it's good to understand the reasons why it was ever a rule in the first place.

Ask a Linguist is very old (five years) and very cool. No on-site search, but a site-limited Google search takes care of that.

April 10, 2002

This lettuce shortage is driving me insane. Plain old watery iceberg lettuce is going for $3.50 a head at my local grocery store. Overpriced wilted bagged salads are a good deal in comparison ($3 w/ crutons and Caesar dressing), and most restaurants are also eating the inflated cost to avoid adjusting their menus. Wendy's isn't, because they're buttheads. I can't wait until this nightmare is over.

Is your Windows system tray a little too big? SysTrayX lets you hide icons of your choice into a pop-up menu. (I heard a rumor that Windows XP has its own fancy systray icon hiding feature. This is for the rest of us.)

This'll be the third time I've mentioned Dave's Quick Search Deskbar. Why mention it again? More cool features, of course! Version 2.5.7 was finalized this month. Since the last time I upgraded, more searches have been added and existing searches have been improved. The help window now organizes searches by category in a collapsable list, making it easier to find the feature you want. The right-click calendar now highlights holidays and special occasions (configurable in an XML file); also, the calendar can be configured to use one of several web calendar services. The history (memory of your previous searches) is greatly improved with shell-like recall (ctrl-p and ctrl-n cycle through the history; !prefix will show only searches with that prefix), and history persistence between reboots. You can configure the appearance of the bar and the help window by editing a style sheet (CSS). All searches now have intuitive names (gg for Google, yh for Yahoo, ebay for eBay), with special character shortcuts implemented as configurable aliases (? for Yahoo, % for eBay); you can configure the default (no symbol) searcher (Google by default). The Deskbar is even more configurable by editing a well-commented JavaScript file-- which is even easier to do than it sounds, because a link in the help window opens the appropriate file in Notepad!

They've re-organized the implementation quite a bit, into a bunch of XML and JavaScript files, making it easier to extend without making it harder to use.

April 9, 2002

Boing Boing on mini-SSSCAs and the real threat to our technology rights. Read and link to The EFF's Broadcast Protection Discussion Group (BPDG) weblog (started by Boing Boing Cory).

Myst TV miniseries in the works for Sci-Fi Channel.

The Union of International Associations has various databases, including a databank of tens of thousands of the world's problems-- with descriptions, details, possible solutions, and links to associations and resources dedicated to solving the problems. What's your problem?

The Sims goes MMORPG, beta this summer.

April 8, 2002

SEATTLE ELECTRIC GRIMMELDECK for A Thousand Blank White Cards, of which I am a contributor, as of a little over a month ago. Our last session was yesterday, though it'll be awhile before those new cards are on the site.

Developers of Thief and Deus Ex criticize each other's games.

CJR Inflation Calculator. Enter an amount (in US dollars) and any year in the last two centuries, and calculate the equivalent amount in a recent year (1995-2002). Perhaps I'm just dense, but I don't understand why $100 in 1800 is $1429 in 2002, but $100 in 1900 is $2273 in 2002-- that is, the dollar was worth more in 1900 than in 1800. A look at the conversion chart [PDF] charts this, but doesn't explain it. ($100 in 2000 is $105 in 2002.) More info here.

Guy hooks up his camera to his car to automatically take a picture every mile from the Statue of Liberty to the Golden Gate Bridge. A 35-mm film camera, no less. Kodak has all his pictures up, browsable individually or viewable as movies.

April 3, 2002

In the back of my mind, I have been waiting for this for a long time: De Niro and Queen Pledge 'We Will Rock You'. (I didn't expect De Niro's involvement, but that's cool. :) Another part of my brain is suspicious of the merits of the idea. But whatever.

Instructions on how to improve your handwriting in 340 days or less (or maybe more...). The rest of this site is, alas, quite broken, but this article is still up.

Corporation Reaches Goal, Shuts Down. I can't decide if the fact that Dell is struggling to stay alive despite its #1 status, thanks to market saturation, makes this bittersweetly funny, or just funnier.

Want a hacked, upgraded TiVo, but don't want to hassle with the hacking yourself? PVRJoe's sells pre-hacked TiVos, up to 295 hours. Series 2 TiVos available up to 210 hours. PVRJoe's also offers upgrade kits, including pre-prepped hard drives (no PC required) and an instructional video on how to perform the hack yourself.

April 2, 2002

It's great that chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Senator Leahy opposes the CBDTPA, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't continue to write our senators and congresspeople! What is needed is an on-going, organized, funded campaign to defend the rights of people against the will of powerful corporations that have their own on-going, organized, funded campaigns. The lack of organization is why letters from little people get ignored. We can't just cut and paste a form letter every time a bill comes up, we need to foster proper attitudes and relationships with our representatives. To whom can I donate money to continue fighting this fight? The EFF?

Security at VeriSign's Network Operations Center, one of the hearts of the Internet.

The Future of MMORPGs.

Table of Condiments That Periodically Go Bad. (Thanks Did You Know.)

April 1, 2002

The secret technology behind Google's amazing accuracy. Clean execution and cute birdie pictures, this probably deserves 1st prize for this year's 4/1 on the web. Web humor is all about effort and attention to detail.

Desperate, last minute dot-com mergers seem to be a popular theme this year: kuro5hin acquires Metafilter, renames it Met4filter (bonus points for the domain name). You've got Blogs! AOL buys into homegrown media. Welcome to the Microsoft Directory Project. The BrandLands (bonus points for "Grimacing?", probably the only thing I've seen today that made me laugh out loud).

Low effort entrants are barely worth the time, but: yabe, ecalptekraM enilnO s'dlroW ehT. Today, Martha Stewart teaches us how to make ice cubes.

This is probably my personal favorite, since I'm not entirely sure it's a joke: April Fool's Day traditions in the media violate a sacred trust. A genuine thesis with a horrific suggestion:

Unfortunately, the risk is real that real news might slip through the cracks amidst the April-Fool's-themed pablum. World events do not cease while the Media frolic about, and the problem is doubly true in light of recent terrorist events. (One need only ask himself whether anyone would have paid heed if the World Trade Center attacks had been scheduled not for September 11 but for April 1.)

Bonus points for linking The Museum of Hoaxes.

Any others that made you chuckle?

Toynbee ideas in Kubrick's 2001 resurrect dead on planet Jupiter.

I want to know who is responsible for all the pi graffiti scattered around Seattle. It's so pervasive it's difficult not to find one, at least in some neighborhoods, even though it must have happened at least a few years ago. I'm guessing it's one person or group, as opposed to a tagger meme, because each instance is devoid of creativity or intelligence; usually just the pi symbol drawn in permanent marker, though the medium varies. The pervasiveness seems to be the point, but its pointlessness makes its pervasiveness annoying, a talentless "art project" splattered all over my city.

Speaking of unwanted signage: Work from Home, unwelcome Herbalife Signs.

When elephants dance, another well-written summary of intellectual property issues.

After some rapid growing pains with their ordering site (God help anyone selling a popular product over a tiny web server), Portable Monopoly is now accepting pre-orders for their Game Boy Advance lighting kit. Pre-order requires a $10 deposit, cost of the kit is $35.