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 Older entries, from October 1999 through September 2010, are preserved for posterity, but are no longer maintained.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

June 2002 Archives

June 26, 2002

Another BTTF DVD notice: the Back to the Future DVD box set is now available for pre-order (or wishlisting) from Amazon.com. The release date listed is, indeed, December 17, and the pre-order price is $41.24.

Other sources already mentioned are probably better resources for details on the discs than the Amazon.com catalog entry, at least during these early stages. See this report on the region 1 promotional campaign for a feature list. I wonder if the documentary from the VHS collector set of many years ago will make an appearance on these discs; I'm sure most of the footage will appear in some form, but finicky fans demand completeness!

BTTF.com has some fantastic collector's merchandise available. If I weren't trying to cut down on extraneous spending, I'd be ordering one of each. (Except maybe the old McDonalds toys.)

I don't remember enough about the Transformers TV show to make a big deal about the complete first season being released on DVD, but the collector's edition box sure is nifty lookin'. However, a negative Amazon.com customer review illuminates some problems with the set that, if I were a fan, would piss me off.

The first complete version of XPlay released. Use an iPod with your Windows machine, only $30.

June 25, 2002

The International Piano-e-Competition just completed, and winners have been selected, with MIDI files of their performances available for download. See also this NYTimes article. The competition was judged both on-site and remotely via the Internet using streaming MIDI technology and video conferencing software. Pieces were performed on a 9-foot Yamaha concert grand and recorded to MIDI form with a Yamaha Disklavier Pro system, transmitted, then played on a Disklavier Pro for a judge in a remote location. You may have seen the Disklavier in action at any Yamaha piano dealer, an acoustic player piano with a disk drive and MIDI ports. Take these beautiful performances and run them through your chinsey PC sound card! They sound pretty good through my digital piano, mistakes and all.

How to make good quests.

Tativille: Le site officiel de Jacques Tati.

June 24, 2002

Andy: I've written plenty of stuff. I even sold a short story once.
Mr. Pickering: And that makes you a writer? I murdered a man with an axe once. By your liberal definition, I suppose that makes me an axe murderer.
Andy: Well, yeah.

-- Andy Richter Controls the Universe ("Wedding")

Thanks to Gael for re-blogging Colorworks, the on-line custom colored M&M store. As Gael mentions, when they made the blogs a long time ago, they had a very large minimum purchase ($50 worth or something). Now they're $3.99/8 ounce packs of each of 21 colors. Their fancy Flash site is fun too (though there's sound on the front page), such as the pick-and-buy mixing device. Makes me want to throw a party with a colored theme just so I can serve matching candy.

Just want to give a quick shout-out to my favorite brand of computer keyboards, KeyTronic. I think they were originally a Spokane (WA, USA) company, and still have their U.S. operations there. Their keyboards are quiet, durable, they handle beautifully, and the Lifetime Series has a lifetime guarantee. The Lifetime (LT) Series sell for about $40. They're surprisingly hard to find: Amazon has them in their catalog, but may or may not actually have some available to sell. Some are available through zShops sellers. Thankfully, KeyTronic sells directly from their home site.

I tend to pound mine hard enough that the spacebar gets a tad unresponsive after several years of heavy use (I've had two KeyTronic keyboards develop this same flaw in the same amount of time). I just contacted them through their web site, and quickly got a response saying they will replace the keyboard with a newer, upgraded model if I simply send them the label from underneath the keyboard plus the PS/2 connector off the end of the cable. Sure, I'll have to make do with a spare while I wait for the new one to arrive, but still, that's damn good service.

I use the ever-popular Dell QuietKey at work, and I still prefer KeyTronic. The QuietKey is an excellent keyboard, and I can't think of any other brands that would compare to these two. But when I have a choice, I go with KeyTronic every time.

June 21, 2002

Zurück in die Zukunft is available as a 3 DVD region 2 boxed set for EUR 44,99! (Thanks Dan.)

We impatient region 1-ers will have to wait until December 17, 2002 for a Back to the Future DVD release. DVDFile reports that extra features are still being produced for the region 1 discs, so you may want to hold off on ordering the German version just yet (unless you're into that kind of thing).

Salon.com on Pac-Man. 'bout time somebody noticed this kick-ass game!

Why software is so bad ... An informative and accessible article from Technology Review (running on MSNBC) on the unique problems of software quality control.

Gael, the Chocodile Hunter. I haven't seen a Chocodile in ages!

June 20, 2002

Blogathon 2002. I thought about running the Blogathon last year, but decided to just sit back and donate to several charities instead. I doubt I'll be able to run this year, either. But it's good fun, and I'll be putting my money on a few ponies, for sure.

First class postage goes up to 37 cents, effective June 30, 2002. You probably already knew about this, but I tend to find out about postal rate increases from oddball sources, so every time it happens I figure I could very easily have gone weeks without knowing. Same with Daylight Saving Time-- and that happens the same times each year (Spring forward 2am, first Sunday of April; Fall back 2am, last Sunday of October).

The Seattle Times on the public and private domains.

The Philosophy of Kissing.

June 19, 2002

The elusive Wumpus!

The Great Seattle Wumpus Hunt 2002 web site is finally up, with all the clues, answers, and photos. Many thanks to everyone who came, and to the venues that hosted us (wittingly or otherwise).

I first heard about adult scavenger hunts when I was a teenager, and believed that there was probably an entire subculture of clever gaming enthusiasts that assembled clue hunts for their adult friends. There's a story about Stephen Sondheim's affinity for puzzles and puzzle hunts, such as one he threw where players had to visit this house hosted by an old lady (Stephen's mother). The lady would serve you cake, and if you ate it, you lost: there was a clue in the frosting.*

Alas, I'm having a hard time locating any web sites dedicated to the craft of adult puzzle hunts, though perhaps there are a few buried under hundreds of "Internet scavenger hunts" put together by teachers to introduce kids to the Internet, as well as other pages on scavenger hunts for kids. A few sites on this kind of hunt for adults stick out, but they're mostly small companies that offer hunts for hire. This sounds like an excellent excuse for a community web site, but I've got other sites on my project list at the moment.

I found one, and only one, book on the subject, a short, yellow, self-published tome: Treasure and scavenger hunts: how to plan, create, and give them, 2nd edition, by Gordon Burgett. This, and other books by Burgett, are available for purchase in hardcover from Amazon.com, and as MS Word documents sent via email from his web site. It's a pretty good book, saying most of what I would say in such a book, and includes some starter ideas for people who don't know where to begin. A third edition with additional chapters packed with anecdotes of real games would make this a great book. (Burgett shares his own experiences throughout, which greatly adds to the value of the book.) Based on the Wumpus hunt alone, I can tell you that experience with throwing this kind of thing really helps. Maybe I'll get around to setting up a web site after all, just to see who shows up.

Also: Anita posts about a Seattle clue hunt she attended, put on by the Seattle Cacophony Society.

Also: The Annual MIT Mystery Hunt is good for an extremely elaborate laugh.

* * *

* I read this story in either an introduction to or an article about Anthony Shaffer's play Sleuth. Shaffer supposedly partly based the puzzle-loving main character on Sondheim. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find a source for either of these anecdotes. (The edition of the play sitting on my shelf lacks an introduction.)

I did find this discussion between Anthony Shaffer and Stephen Sondheim on the art of murder (NYTimes archive, March 1996). See also more old NYTimes articles on Sondheim.

June 18, 2002

[Posting this a week late:] Jessamyn's last batch of trivia questions was most excellent. The magic words category rocked, if only because I knew most of them and yet they were challenging. Many thanks to Jessamyn for all the hard work!

A special shout-out to the People's Pub, our trivia venue: the team I was on for round three won the second place prize, a pitcher of beer. (While I wasn't technically on the team for the win of the beer coupon we were spending, we got 2nd place again in round three, so I think I was allowed to partake.) However, nobody on the team drank (or at least was interested in drinking at the time). Someone suggested we ask if we can get hot chocolate instead, so we did, jokingly referring to our substitute prize as a pitcher of hot chocolate. The waitress believed they were out of hot chocolate, but would go check anyway.

A good 20 minutes later, the waitress returned to ensure that we weren't going to leave. While the kitchen was out of their regular cheapo hot chocolate stuff, they decided to try and whip something up. It was late, the game was over and we were all tired and wanting to go home, but the special effort was too appreciated to abandon, so we waited. Many minutes later, the waitress handed out six mugs and carried over-- if you can imagine-- a pitcher of hot chocolate. It was warm, creamy and extremely satisfying. It was clear that this wasn't cheapo hot chocolate, but a half gallon of milk carefully heated on a stovetop, to which chocolate syrup was lovingly added. And it was gratis, as the second place prize in someone's trivia game. First prize was cash; I think I prefer second.

June 14, 2002

Seattle's Waterfront 2002-1907.

While looking for pictures of downtown Seattle, I ran across the Seattle PI's old Scenes of Downtown Seattle page.

Audacity 1.0! This Open Source audio editor that's been in development for three years now has an official, stable release.

It's the season of major Open Source software releases! C'mon, Debian Linux, hurry it up!

Regex Redux. Larry Wall re-invents the old square wheel with a new rounder one. Do you hate regular expressions? You'll hate them a little bit less with Perl 6!

June 13, 2002

eBay Live Auctions item 1834314676 - Capt. Kirk's Bridge Command Chair. I've been going through a Trek fandom rivival recently, thanks to slow summer TV schedules, the SciFi network, and TiVo. Before every episode, I wave my hand and dismiss the show as mere cheesey fun, with low production values and lousy writing. After every episode, I run out into our apartment complex's courtyard and herald Star Trek as the greatest television show ever made.

Like the one where they pick up a band of singing hippies that subsequently try to take over the ship to get to a planet they call Eden, only to find out when they get there that the grass is highly acidic and the fruit is poisonous; Spock takes a liking to them and jams with them on his Vulcan autoharp ("The Way To Eden").

Or the one where they pick up two people in the middle of a race/class war, where with one of them the left side of his face is white and the right side is black, divided straight down the middle, and the other the right side of his face is white and the left side is black, and they've been chasing each other for 300 years, and when they get the Enterprise to take them home to their home planet, they find out that both races wiped each other out in the war, but they beam down to the desolate planet anyway to fight some more ("Let That Be Your Last Battlefield").

Or the one where there's an plague on the ship and the only cure requires a material only found on a particular planet inhabited by some guy who's really secretive, but it turns out he has a wife that's young and beautiful and has the equivalent of 17 PhD's worth of education or something but never knew true love, and Kirk instantly falls in love with her, and the guy knows but doesn't do anything to stop it, and it turns out she's an android he built because he's immortal and lonely and was born on Earth thousands of years ago, and was actually many influential people in Earth's history (like Brahams), and he lets Kirk fall in love with her to awaken her emotions so she will love him eventually, and by the end Kirk is crushed and McCoy says something about "if only he could forget" and leaves the room, and then Spock mind-melds with Kirk and erases his memory ("Requiem for Methuselah").

Star Trek: The Original Series Logbook.

June 12, 2002

The Movie Title Screens Page. Stills of movie title screens from hundreds of movies. (Thanks usr/bin/girl.)

Unofficial Gameboy Advance Software Development Kit.

Mike Daisey has turned his modestly successful one-man show about Amazon.com and the dot-com era into a book.

In case you haven't seen it yet: Jack Valenti's 1982 testimony to the House of Representatives on Home Recording of Copyrighted Works, and how VCRs will ruin the entertainment industry.

June 7, 2002

Mozilla 1.0! Mozilla 1.0! This powerful Open Source web browser is now ready for public consumption (for the most part), on any desktop platform you can imagine. This is a major milestone for web technology and the Open Source movement, and it was a long time coming.

Mozilla fans are quick to point out recent news of yet another security hole in Internet Explorer. IE security holes are a very big deal and Microsoft deserves all kinds of Mr. Yuck stickers for them, and Mozilla may be an excellent escape from such dangerously insecure computing. Murphy's Laws insist it's only a matter of time before we find security holes in Mozilla, though not necessarily as ubiquitos or as devastating as those in IE. But do the drastically different design, implementation and release methodologies and motivations imply Mozilla should be held to a higher standard than Internet Explorer? Is version 1.0 of Mozilla more mature than most 1.0 applications? Certainly it isn't as mature as the market leaders that have been out in the field for years (some are already finding bugs with Moz1.0), but does this milestone mean we're just about ready to diversify the browser market with a powerful, Open Source alternative?

I haven't had any problems with Moz1.0 yet, and I'm making it my browser of choice until I do. Tabbed browsing rules, though I already miss Opera's "use tabs for all windows opened by the page" feature (pop-up ads would get trapped as tabs-- not that I used Opera all that much). The supporting suite of apps, including a email client, news reader, and web page editor, is solid enough to recommend to my parents. (I can't wait for Mozilla Calendar; when properly integrated with Mail, bye bye Outlook!) And Mozilla's facilities for web developers, including the DOM browser and color-coded View Source, are slick. I intend to support Mozilla in all my web designs and applications with as much priority as Internet Explorer (though I've already been trying to do this for Netscape 6.2).

Don't like the Seattle Public Library's Java applet catalog interface? A new web interface is out for beta testing, and works with most popular browsers. The Java applet version is being discontinued. The Telnet version is still the fastest and easiest to use, despite the pages of "announcements" and such. (I once wrote a script for Lisa for her birthday that interfaces with the telnet connection to download her list of checked out materials and due dates. Aren't I sweet! She adapted it into a web page, and her weblog readers really dug checking her list regularly. Weirdos. It's no longer linked from her weblog; I wonder if she'd get mad if I linked to its new location. :)

June 6, 2002

My life so enriched by the Conan the Barbarian action figure question of a couple of weeks ago, I requested that Jessamyn do a Toys category for bar trivia the following week. She did, and I couldn't go. *sigh* See Jessamyn's trivia question archive.

For the film Conan the Barbarian, action figures were made, but after Mattel learned of all the sex and violence in the movie, they shut down the action figure line. However, the dolls were used and later became their own line of villains and heroes. Who were they?

The latest issue of Games Magazine (August 2002) has a nice feature article on 1000 Blank White Cards, the freeform creative game of... cards. The article includes a brief interview with our very own Zannah, who is given credit for sparking 1KBWC in Seattle with her BWC site shortly after the original web site was created. Also mentioned is Nina's Seattle Electric Grimmeldeck, imported from Cambridge in early 2000, toward which Lisa and I are contributors. (Lisa's "Hats back in style" card has been the poster card for the Grimmeldeck web site ever since she drew it, though probably just by coincidence. :)

1KBWC is an attractive idea for a fun social activity, and has supposedly caught on in various parts of the world in various ways. But it's still a little surprising to see an article like this, as if the game has taken the world by storm. Its roots are in Madison and Boston, dated "mid-1990s", and Seattle seems to get credit as the first major branch-out, but the number of people involved in those first three steps seems unusually small for a phenomenon. (Are there any other BWC communities in Seattle beyond Z's and N's?)

So it's even more surprising that 1000 Blank White Cards is mentioned in the latest edition of Hoyle's Rules of Games. Nina has a quote (see the December 29 entry). It's listed as a "children's game," as if to say no creative, virtually non-competitive game could possibly be enjoyed by adults. To Hoyle's credit, it's a difficult game to classify, as it's barely a game. I certainly enjoy the mention either way.

I can't find a web presence for Games Magazine. Not even for their publishing house, Kappa Publishing. Anyone know of any official sites?

And speaking of game magazines, here's a bibliography that might come in handy. Abstract Games magazine looks worth looking into.

June 5, 2002

Salon.com remembers BBSes. Before the wide availability of Internet access, we used to use our modems to call other people's computers on the phone, and leave messages that would be read by other people that would call in later in the day, and read other people's messages. Most people running these "bulletin boards" only had one spare phone line, so only one person could call in and read and post messages at a time. Instead of 56,000 bits per second like today's modems or 256,000 bits per second like today's cable modem broadband connections, we would usually connect at 2400 bits per second, or sometimes as few as 300 bits per second. Computers that accepted phone calls and stored the messages often didn't have hard drives, and would load and save these messages directly to a floppy disk-- similar to the 3-1/2 inch slot that goes unused on modern-day PCs, except it was 5-1/4 inches and the disk was actually floppy. I am not making this up!

SimCity for Palm. This is an official version of the original SimCity for Palm devices, with excellent color graphics (that also work on black and white devices). $29.95.

While I have limited use for a PDA these days (I live across the street from my office), I still crave a good, rechargable, color PDA toy. The Handspring Visor Prism seemed to be a nice option for a while, but eventually better devices appeared on the market (even WinCE devices like the iPaq seemed cooler), and the Prism has been discontinued anyway (though you can still buy them for $300). Indeed, Handspring discontinued all of their Visor line to concentrate on their new Treo cell phone PDAs. A color version of the Treo was inevitable, but I didn't expect one so soon: the Treo 270 features a CSTN 160x160 12-bit color screen, a backlit keyboard, and enhanced battery life. I also didn't expect Handspring to backfill their product line with a color Treo PDA that isn't a cell phone, which might very well be my entry point. Though my cell phone is GSM, which means I could switch to a Treo 270 and not have to change my cellular service...

I still have my old Handspring Visor, and only stopped using it because I was having crashing problems, and it wasn't rechargable. I can't justify the cost of a new PDA, but they're still fun to look at.

Nice to see the kids computer game Facemaker has a modern-day counterpart. Not terribly interesting, but I remember it from my childhood.

June 4, 2002

Merriam-Webster Unabridged, $4.95/mo or $29.95/year.

Encyclopedia Britannica, $9.95/mo or $69.95/year.

Oxford English Dictionary, $550/year.

I received a mailing today for a book club that supposedly includes OED Online access with membership. Might actually be worth it.

UHF on DVD to be released on June 4 (tomorrow). (Thanks Bryan.) The Amazon.com listing doesn't mention the commentaries, but if Weird Al's official site says it's got commentaries, it's got commentaries.

They Might Be Giants have scheduled their next Seattle performances: 7/20/02 at the Paramount, and 7/21/02 at the EMP, as part of the EMP Kids' Concert Series, I presume to promote their "1st album for the whole family". No chairs, standing only. (I take it this means the chairs are actually removed to allow more people in; I didn't know The Paramount had that ability.) Tickets are still available.

Meanwhile, the TMBG documentary "Gigantic" will be showing at the Seattle International Film Festival on Thursday (June 6), 9:30pm at the Broadway Performance Hall. This showing is sold out.

June 3, 2002

Wumpus

The Great Seattle Wumpus Hunt 2002, a seven-clue scavenger romp across downtown Seattle that Lisa and I designed over the last couple of months, occurred this past Saturday. Much fun was had by all. I didn't sleep the night before, too busy finishing up the final touches on the game, so I was a little wigged out for the actual game and subsequent party, but it was still very fun. Having never done this kind of thing before, I learned a lot from the experience, and look forward to applying that knowledge toward a sequel.

Wumpus hunters in attendance are invited to send me feedback about the game: was it too easy? Too hard? Which parts? Puzzle design is difficult, and my expectations for what was easy and what was hard were way out of proportion from the actual reaction of players.

Yes, there will be a web site containing all the clues and pictures and stuff, so others can play along. And I promise I won't put it off like my road trip website. :) People who couldn't make it (or didn't hear about it in time to attend) can grab a souvenier at their local newsstand any time between now and Wednesday evening: see page 30 of last week's issue of The Stranger. Horny Toad was part of the game.

Many, many thanks to all who came. Also thanks to The Stranger's ad production department (who gave us a special rate), and to the Belltown Pub & Café for putting up with our ever-changing demands and pretty much letting us own the place for a day, even though fewer people came than was expected (they even set up tables for us in case we overflowed our private room), and we showed up and left much earlier than was planned.

There will be an Episode II! Probably not until next year, but it will happen. In the meantime, others are encouraged to throw their own scavenger hunts, so I can actually play one for once.

Hmm... See Seattle has Seattle hunts and scrambles for hire, $10 per person, $200 minimum; limousines are extra. Sounds like a quick and easy party right there. Also, US Scavenger Hunt is a company for hire that designs hunts tailored to groups, mostly Fortune 500 companies looking for employee bonding activities. I didn't know you could make a living designing scavenger hunts! :)

Also accomplished this weekend: I upgraded our TiVo from a 30-hour capacity to a 150-hour capacity. 150 hours. Of television.

The TiVo hacking community has got the upgrading procedure down to a few simple steps, and Hinsdale's guide mentions everything you'll need. That said, I'm grateful I had the absolute simplest configuration (a DirecTiVo with only one hard drive in it), and even then it was a pain getting my desktop computer (actually one of my servers) to work with the new drive. The ancient BIOS didn't like the huge drive much at all, but thankfully I figured out the boot disk could see it even if the BIOS couldn't. Also, the simple instructions assume you a) have a desktop PC, and b) that PC's main operating system is Windows. I'm sure it's possible to back up your TiVo to non-Windows OSes, but I so desperately wanted this to be a simple procedure that I just didn't do the back-up. Probably not a smart thing to do, but it all worked out in the end.

I can automatically record every episode of Star Trek. Twice.